Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

William T. Barry (1829–1835): Postmaster General

William Taylor Barry was born in 1785 near Lunenburg, Virginia. He was educated at local academies before attending Transylvania University (Lexington, Kentucky) and then graduating from William and Mary College in 1803. After graduation, he studied the law, was admitted to the state bar in 1805, and began a law practice in Lexington.

Around this same time, Barry began to pursue a political career, serving in the Kentucky state House of Representatives for two terms before being elected to fill a vacancy in the United States House of Representatives in 1810. He served for a year before returning to Kentucky. Shortly after his return in 1811, Barry volunteered for service in the War of 1812.

In 1814, he returned to the Kentucky House of Representatives, but was again tapped to fill a congressional vacancy, this time serving as a United States senator from 1814 until he resigned in 1816 when he became a judge of the Circuit Court for the Eleventh District of Kentucky. Barry held this position for a year before returning to the practice of law. He did not stay out of politics for long, however, for in 1817 he returned to the Kentucky State Senate, where he served until 1821, leaving only to become the lieutenant governor of the state.

In 1822, Barry became a professor of law and politics at Transylvania University before becoming Kentucky's secretary of state in 1824. A year later, he became the chief justice of the newly formed state court of appeals, but was voted out of office in 1826. Barry attempted a comeback in 1828 when he ran for governor, but his bid was unsuccessful.

Soon thereafter, President Andrew Jackson offered Barry the post of postmaster general. Barry accepted and was the first person to hold that position on the cabinet level. His tenure, from 1829 to 1835, was beset with charges of corruption, allegations that forced the President to ask for Barry's resignation in 1835. Jackson tempered this blow, however, by making Barry envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Spain. William Taylor Barry would never fulfill these duties, for he died of a heart attack in 1835 on the way to his posting in Madrid.

For further reading:

Barry, William T. "Letters of William T. Barry." William and Mary College Quarterly 13 (1904-5): 236-44; 14 (1905-6): 19-23, 230-41.