Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Benjamin W. Crowninshield (1817–1818): Secretary of the Navy

Benjamin Crowninshield was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1772, and began his professional life in the business of commercial shipping, working for a number of years as a merchant in the employ of his father's merchandising firm. In 1811, however, he left private business for public service, spending one year (1811) in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and another with the state senate (1812).

Despite having relatively little political experience, Crowninshield ascended to President James Madison's cabinet in 1815, becoming Madison's choice to fill the position of secretary of the Navy. Crowninshield remained at that post when James Monroe succeeded Madison as President in 1817, but he resigned the following year, leaving Monroe's cabinet in 1818.

Crowninshield resumed his political career in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, serving for one year in 1821. He gained a seat in Congress two years later, representing Massachusetts in the U.S. House from 1823 to 1831 and serving for one term as chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs. Crowinshield would return to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for one more year (1833) before retiring from politics. He died in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1851.