Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

John B. Floyd (1857–1860): Secretary of War

John Buchanan Floyd was born in 1806 in what is now Blacksburg, Virginia. The son of a noted Virginia politician, Floyd attended Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) and graduated from the College of South Carolina (now the University of South Carolina) in 1826. He then studied law, moved to Arkansas, and established a practice.

By 1839, Floyd had returned to Virginia, where he capitalized on his father’s reputation and became a leading politician himself. A Democrat, Floyd sat in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1847 to 1849, and served as governor of Virginia from 1849 to 1852. He then retired from politics and resumed his law practice, but soon returned to the public arena as a state delegate from 1855 to 1856.

In the presidential election of 1856, Floyd backed James Buchanan and was rewarded for his support when Buchanan offered him the war portfolio in 1857. A southern sympathizer, Floyd used his position as secretary of war to benefit the South, arranging for thousands of dollars in government bonds, as well as armaments and material, to be shipped from northern locations to the South.

After he resigned in 1861 following a disagreement with Buchanan, Floyd returned to Virginia and served as a brigadier general in the Confederate army. Floyd was relieved of his command by Confederate president Jefferson Davis when he abandoned his men. Despite a poor military record, the Virginia legislature restored Floyd’s command and promoted him to major general.

Floyd returned home to Virginia in 1863 because of ill health and died in 1863. Five years later, the United States Supreme Court found that as secretary of war, Floyd had been involved in corruption, ruining his reputation.