Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

James D. Cameron (1876–1877): Secretary of War

James Donald Cameron was born in 1833 in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Following his graduation from Princeton University in 1852, Cameron returned to his hometown, where he began work at a bank founded by his father, Simon Cameron -- first as a clerk, then as cashier, and ultimately as president.

In 1863, during the Civil War, Cameron became president of his father’s railroad, the Northern Central, and used it to transport Union troops. He served as president of the Northern Central until 1874, at the same time cultivating Republican ties within the national party. Cameron served as delegate to both the 1868 and 1880 Republican National Conventions; by 1876, Ulysses S. Grant had tapped him to take over the War Department for the last ten months of his term.

Although a potential candidate to become secretary of war for President Rutherford B. Hayes, Cameron was passed over, much to his father’s intense dismay. In protest, the elder Cameron resigned his Senate seat on the condition that the Pennsylvania legislature elect his son to assume it. The body complied, and James Cameron served in the Senate from 1877 to 1897. During that time, he served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee as well as several congressional committees. James Donald Cameron died in 1918.