Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Alexander H. H. Stuart (1850–1853): Secretary of the Interior

Alexander Hugh Holmes Stuart was born in 1807 in Staunton, Virginia, attending the College of William and Mary before graduating from the University of Virginia in 1828, the same year he established his law practice in Staunton. From 1836 to 1839, Stuart served as a Whig in the Virginia House of Delegates. He was then elected to the United States House of Representatives, where he served a single term (1841-1843).

In 1850, President Millard Fillmore tapped Stuart to become his secretary of the interior. During his three-year tenure, Stuart introduced a civil service system for evaluating employees, urged the creation of an agricultural bureau, and lobbied for a building to house the department. When the Whig Party dissolved in 1856, Stuart became a member of the Know-Nothing Party, which also soon disappeared from the political scene. In 1857, he was elected to the Virginia state senate and, during his tenure, served as chairman of the committee that investigated John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry.

Though he served as a delegate to the 1861 convention that discussed Virginia's secession from the Union, Stuart opposed the move. Because of his age, he did not take up arms during the Civil War; after the conflict, he was a central figure in Virginia's reconciliation with the North. Though he was elected to the United States Congress in 1865, he was prevented from assuming his seat because of his southern roots.

In 1873, Stuart was elected to a three-year term in the Virginia House of Delegates before serving as rector of the University of Virginia from 1876 to 1882, and then again from 1884 to 1886. From 1871 to 1889, he served as trustee of the Peabody Fund. Alexander Hugh Holmes Stuart died in 1891.