Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Smith Thompson (1819–1823): Secretary of the Navy

Smith Thompson was born in Dutchess County, New York, on January 17, 1768. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1788, studied law, and was admitted to the New York bar in 1792. Thompson was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1800 and represented Dutchess County at the state constitutional convention in 1801.

That same year, he declined appointment as district attorney but was subsequently tapped as associate justice for the New York Supreme Court (1802-1814), rising to the post of chief justice in 1814. In the interim, he would also serve as a regent of the State University of New York (1813).

President James Monroe made Thompson his secretary of the Navy, a post Thompson would hold from 1819 to 1823. After Thompson's time in the cabinet, President Monroe appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served from 1823 to 1843. Along the way, he would be presented with honorary law degrees from Yale (1824), Princeton (1824), and Harvard (1835), and ran unsuccessfully as a New York gubernatorial candidate (1828). Smith Thompson died in Poughkeepsie, New York, on December 18, 1843.