Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Paul Hamilton (1809–1812): Secretary of the Navy

Paul Hamilton was born in St. Paul's Parish, South Carolina, on October 16, 1762. As a young man, he joined the fight for the colonies' independence. He had several years of military service with local militia and the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He began his career in public service as a parish tax collector and justice of the peace while living as a "gentleman planter" in St. Paul's Parish.

Hamilton entered state politics in 1787 upon earning a seat to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he remained until 1789. A member of South Carolina's Federal Constitutional Convention in 1789, Hamilton went on to sit in the state senate for a number of years, serving in 1794 and from 1798 to 1799. By 1800, he had become South Carolina's comptroller of finance. Leaving that office in 1804, Hamilton ascended to the position of governor of South Carolina, serving for a single term (1804-1806). At Hamilton's behest, his home state received its first state college, now the University of South Carolina.

In 1809, newly elected President James Madison appointed Hamilton to his cabinet as secretary of the Navy. During his tenure, Hamilton advocated for increased naval preparedness by building new ships and increasing coastal fortifications but the U.S. Congress was unwilling to allocate the funds until 1812. He supported the Naval Hospitals Act of 1811, which established naval hospitals. He also encouraged the development of the steam engine for warships. Hamilton served until December 1812 when he resigned. Subsequently he retired from political life and returned to South Carolina. He died in Beaufort, South Carolina, on June 30, 1816.