Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Benjamin F. Tracy (1889–1893): Secretary of the Navy

Benjamin Franklin Tracy was born in 1830 near Owego, New York. He studied law and was admitted to the New York state bar in 1851. Two years later, Tracy, a Whig, became district attorney for Tioga County, but he was reelected in 1855 as a Republican, having helped to organize the new party in Tioga County.

In 1862, Tracy was elected to the New York Assembly and helped recruit soldiers to fight for the Union in the Civil War. He went on to serve as a colonel in the 109th New York Volunteers. He was promoted to brigadier general, was awarded the Medal of Honor, and, in 1864, served as commander of the 127th Colored Regiment. Later that year, he became commandant of the Elmira (New York) prisoner of war camp.

At war’s end, President Andrew Johnson tapped Tracy to serve as district attorney for the eastern district of New York. Tracy had entered private practice by 1873, but he returned to public service in 1881, when the governor of New York appointed him chief justice of the New York State Court of Appeals, a post he held for one year.

In 1888, President Benjamin Harrison made Tracy his secretary of the Navy. During his tenure, Tracy called for a powerful “two-ocean navy” that could win battles easily. Following his four years in the cabinet, Tracy served as counsel for Venezuela, made a failed bid to become the mayor of New York, and joined a New York law firm. Benjamin Franklin Tracy died in 1915.