Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

David R. Francis (1896–1897): Secretary of the Interior

A son of Kentucky pioneer stock, David Rowland Francis was educated at a rural girls academy and attended the University of Washington in St. Louis, graduating in 1870 with the hopes of beginning a career in law. Francis settled for a profitable business career in St. Louis instead.

Francis became active in politics in 1884 as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. The following year, he was elected mayor of St. Louis, and his administration was noted for its efficiency and ethical conduct. Francis won the governorship of Missouri in 1888, serving a constitutionally mandated single term and returning to his business exploits in 1893.

After the resignation of Secretary of the Interior Hoke Smith in 1895, President Grover Cleveland nominated Francis for the post. Francis was sworn in on September 1, 1895, and served the remaining seven months in the Cleveland administration. As secretary of the interior, Francis backed forest conservation and urged Cleveland to declare 21 million acres of forest as reserves.

Francis’ support of gold-backed currency cost him politically in Missouri for a decade. He would lose his last electoral contest in a Senate primary against James Reed. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson selected Francis to be the American ambassador to Russia. Francis served in that capacity during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and died in 1927 after a decade of ill health.