Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Nathan Goff Jr. (1881–1881): Secretary of the Navy

Nathan Goff Jr. was born in 1843 in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). He attended Georgetown University and graduated from the University of the City of New York (1866) with a degree in law.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Goff served in the Union Army’s Virginia Volunteer Infantry. He saw action at several battles, was taken prisoner, and ultimately became a brigadier general. Following the war, Goff was admitted to the West Virginia bar, established a law practice, and, in 1867, was elected to the West Virginia state House of Delegates.

In 1868, President Andrew Johnson tapped Goff to become the United States attorney for West Virginia, a position Goff held until 1881. Later that year, President Rutherford B. Hayes named Goff to head the Navy Department for the last two months of his administration. Incoming President James Garfield reappointed Goff to the position of United States attorney for West Virginia.

In 1870, and again in 1874, Goff, a Republican, made two failed attempts to become a U.S. Congressman, and he was equally unsuccessful in his 1876 bid to become governor of West Virginia. In 1882, however, he won his election to the U.S. House of Representatives and served there from 1883 to 1889. Goff was elected governor of West Virginia in 1888, but controversy surrounded the election, and Goff never assumed the office. Instead, he served as a judge on the Fourth Judicial Circuit from 1892 to 1913, at which time he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Goff remained in the Senate from 1913 to 1919; illness prevented him from running for reelection. Nathan Goff Jr. died in 1920.