Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Caleb Cushing (1853–1857): Attorney General

Caleb Cushing was born in 1800 in Salisbury, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College in 1817, studied the law, was admitted to the state bar in 1821, and then established a successful law practice. In 1834, he was elected to the House of Representatives and served four terms in Congress before leaving, in 1843, to become President John Tyler’s commissioner to China.

During the Mexican-American War, Cushing used some of his own money to raise an army and ultimately became a brigadier general. Though his nomination as President Tyler’s secretary of the treasury had been rejected three times by the Senate in 1843, ten years later, Cushing had greater success as President Franklin Pierce’s nominee for attorney general; Cushing was confirmed in 1853.

After serving for Pierce’s entire four-year term, Cushing became the permanent president of the National Democratic Convention and was then sent by President James Buchanan to South Carolina to try to prevent the state’s secession. Once the Civil War erupted, Cushing performed several secret diplomatic missions for President Abraham Lincoln. Following the war, he served as counsel for the United States and as special minister to Colombia for President Andrew Johnson.

Though President Ulysses S. Grant had nominated Cushing to become chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, Cushing had the President withdraw his name. In subsequent years, Cushing served as American minister to Spain. Caleb Cushing died in 1879.