Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

John Bell (1841): Secretary of War

John Bell was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on February 15, 1797, and graduated from the University of Nashville in 1814. He read law under an attorney in nearby Franklin and was admitted to the bar in 1816. From 1817 until 1819, he served as a representative in the Tennessee state legislature.

Bell became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1826 and served in that body until 1841; from 1834 to 1835, he was its Speaker. Originally a Jacksonian-Democrat, Bell changed parties in 1836 and became a Whig. In 1841, he served as secretary of war in the cabinets of Presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, resigning from that post on September 12, 1941.

Bell later served as a U.S. Senator from 1847 to 1859 and was the presidential candidate for the American or Constitutional Unionist Party in the 1860 elections John Bell died near Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee, on September 10, 1869.