Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Lucius Q. C. Lamar (1885–1888): Secretary of the Interior

A son of landed Georgia aristocrats, Lucius Lamar was born in Putnam County in 1825. He graduated from Emory College in 1845, married the college president’s daughter, and was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1847.

After briefly teaching mathematics at the University of Mississippi, Lamar embarked on a political career, winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1857. During the secession controversy of 1860, Lamar supported the Democratic nomination of Jefferson Davis for president and wrote the secession ordinance for his adopted home state. He served briefly in the Confederate army and also acted as a diplomatic envoy in Europe for the Confederate government.

In 1872, Lamar was elected to the House of Representatives and served behind a special waiver of his Confederate disability. Lamar became a strong supporter of reconciliation between North and South and spoke at Senator Charles Sumner’s funeral in 1874. He was elected by the Mississippi legislature to the U.S. Senate in 1876.

When the Democrats regained the White House in 1885 -- the first time they did so since the Civil War -- Grover Cleveland nominated Lamar to be secretary of the interior. Cleveland meant the nomination to symbolize national reconciliation in politics. Lamar went on to protect Native American lands from development and encourage some bureaucratic reforms.

In 1887, Cleveland nominated Lamar for the Supreme Court. The former Confederate won confirmation by a narrow margin and served on the high court until he died in 1893.