Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Elihu Root (1901–1904): Secretary of War

Elihu Root took charge of the nation's foreign affairs during his four and a half years as secretary of war under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. Born on February 15, 1845, Root spent his youth in upstate New York. After graduating from Hamilton College in 1864 and law school at New York University in 1867, Root became one of the most prominent lawyers in the state.

Involved in New York state's Republican politics, Root was appointed to head the War Department on August 1, 1899, which underwent considerable reform during his tenure. After resigning as secretary of war on November 27, 1901, Root practiced law briefly until replacing John Hay as secretary of state in July of 1905. While America's chief diplomat, Root was instrumental in composing articles of government for Cuba -- codified in the Platt Amendment -- and fleshing out the details of the Roosevelt Corollary. Root improved U.S.-Latin American relations while in office, becoming the first secretary of state to travel outside of the United States on official business

After he left the Cabinet, Root served one term as U.S. senator from New York. For his diplomatic efforts, he was awarded the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize. Root stayed active in foreign affairs, accepting President Wilson's appointment to head a diplomatic mission to Russia in 1917, representing America at the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922, and becoming the first president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He died on February 7, 1937.