Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Cornelius N. Bliss (1897–1899): Secretary of the Interior

Besides earning a living as a successful New York merchant, Cornelius Newton Bliss had many political connections. His only foray into politics, however, would be as secretary of the interior from 1897 to 1899. Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1833, Bliss moved to Louisiana early in life after his father died. Unhappy with New Orleans, Bliss moved to Boston, becoming a partner in the milling and dry goods firm of J.S. and E. Wright in 1866; he would later become head of the company, a role he played until his death. Having been a leading member of the New York Republican Party, Bliss served as chairman of the Republican State Committee for President McKinley in 1896.

Following McKinley's victory in the 1896 presidential election, and at the urging of the President-elect and Elihu Root, Bliss accepted and was confirmed as secretary of the interior on March 5, 1897. While in office, Bliss focused on both forestry and Indian affairs. Yet Bliss soured on the daily management of the Interior Department, resigning his post on February 19, 1899.

Famed for his rejections of political posts, Bliss turned down an offer to appear on the Republican ticket as McKinley's running mate in 1900. In addition to his milling business, Bliss would run Theodore Roosevelt's campaign for election in 1904. He died on October 9, 1911.