Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

George W. Campbell (1814): Secretary of the Treasury

George Washington Campbell was born in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, on February 9, 1769, and came to the United States with his family in 1772. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1794 and after passing the bar, he opened a law practice in Knoxville, Tennessee. Campbell began his political career as a representative for Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1803 to 1809, serving additionally as chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means during his final term.

Upon returning to Tennessee in 1809, Campbell made use of his law education to serve as judge on the state Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals until 1811. He returned to legislative duty in 1811 as a U.S. senator, serving until 1814.

In 1814, President James Madison appointed Campbell secretary of the Treasury. He had a short and stormy tenure. When he took office, the nation's finances were in disarray because the charter for the First Bank of the United States had expired, and funds had not been appropriated for the War of 1812. Campbell needed to sell government bonds to raise money for the war effort but he had a hard time generating enthusiasm for the program. He resigned after only seven months in office because of poor health.

Campbell returned to the Senate in 1815, and he remained there through 1818, serving as chairman of the Committee on Finance. After resigning from Congress, Campbell accepted an offer from President Madison in 1818 to become U.S. minister to Russia. After three of his children died in Russia from typhus, he was allowed to resign in 1820 and return to the United States.

After returning from Russia, Campbell retired from politics permanently, with the exception of five years on the French Spoliation Claims Commission (1831-1835). In 1835, he resumed the law practice he had given up in 1802 before joining Congress, a practice he continued until his death on February 17, 1848, in Nashville, Tennessee.