Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

George W. McCrary (1877–1879): Secretary of War

George Washington McCrary was born in 1835 near Evansville, Indiana. He taught school, studied law, and was admitted to the Iowa state bar in 1856.

McCrary served in the Iowa state assembly from 1857 to 1860, in the state senate from 1861 to 1865, and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1869 to 1877. In 1876, he was chairman of the House Committee of Elections, the group that debated the disputed presidential election between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes. The committee suggested that an electoral commission hear evidence on the matter; the election was eventually decided in the favor of Hayes -- by one vote. McCrary is thought to have been the key figure in Hayes’s election, a plausible theory given Hayes’s appointment of McCrary as secretary of war.

McCrary served in the cabinet from 1877 to 1879, during which time he worked to end Reconstruction in the South and to reform the civil service. He resigned in 1879, when Hayes appointed him to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. McCrary remained in that position until 1884, when he became chief counsel for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. George Washington McCrary worked in that capacity until his death in 1890.