Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Russell Alger (1897–1899): Secretary of War

Considered one of the nation's worst secretaries of war, Russell Alger's frequent mistakes led to his dismissal during the Spanish-American War. Born in Ohio in 1836, Alger was orphaned at the age of 12. He studied law and began a practice in Cleveland. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Alger rose through the ranks to become colonel of the Fifth and Sixth Michigan Regiments. After the conflict, he founded the Manistique Lumber Company, becoming one of the wealthiest men in Michigan.

In 1884, Alger won a close governor's race to become the Republican governor of Michigan for a single two-year term. After a failed 1892 bid for the Michigan state presidential nomination, he was appointed by President McKinley as secretary of war. Alger would resign in August 1899, having been accused of gross incompetence. He would later run successfully for a U.S. Senate seat for the state of Michigan, and he served in the Senate from 1902 to 1907. Alger would die in office on January 24, 1907.