Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Hamilton Fish (1869–1877): Secretary of State

Hamilton Fish was born in 1808 in New York City. He graduated from Columbia University in 1827, studied the law, was admitted to the state bar in 1830, and then established a law practice in Manhattan. From 1832 to 1833, Fish served as commissioner of deeds for the city and county of New York before making a failed bid for the New York Assembly.

The loss soured Fish on politics for a decade, and it was not until 1842 that he ran for office, this time winning a seat in the United States House of Representatives. A Whig, Fish served from 1843 to 1845 before being defeated in his reelection effort. Fish went down to defeat again in 1846, this time in his race for lieutenant governor of New York. He gained the post, however, when he was nominated to fill a vacancy in 1847. A year later, he won the gubernatorial election and was inaugurated as governor of New York in 1849.

Fish was governor for one term before heading to the United States Senate, where he served from 1851 to 1857 before resigning his seat. In 1861, he served on a board of commissioners visiting Union captives in Confederate prisons and was integral in negotiating a prisoner exchange program with the Confederate government.

After an initial refusal to join President Ulysses S. Grant’s cabinet in 1869, Fish soon accepted Grant’s offer of becoming secretary of state, a post he intended to occupy only for a short time. His tenure lasted eight years, however, and Fish left the position only at the end of the Grant administration in 1877. Thereafter, he focused his attention on his legal practice and real estate holdings. Hamilton Fish died in 1893.