Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Henry C. Payne (1902–1904): Postmaster General

Born on September 23, 1843, in Ashfield, Massachusetts, Henry Clay Payne was unable to fight for the Union during the Civil War because of poor health. He settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he worked as a cashier before achieving success in the insurance business. Entering politics, Payne formed a Young Men's Republicans Club in 1872 to support the reelection of President Ulysses S. Grant, who rewarded Payne by appointing him postmaster general of Milwaukee.

Payne would also invest in public utilities such as railways, the telephone service, and electric lighting. Aside from becoming vice president of the Wisconsin Telephone Company, Payne's potentially greatest private accomplishment was the establishment of the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company. He was a member of the Republican National Committee between 1880 until his death, becoming vice chairman and, ultimately, chairman of the Republican Party. In that post, Payne was instrumental in convincing Theodore Roosevelt to run alongside William McKinley in the presidential election of 1900.

Later, President Roosevelt would name Payne, his benefactor and friend, postmaster general in 1901 despite Payne's poor health. A scandal left over from previous administrations would break during Payne's tenure, however, hurting his effectiveness. He died while still a member of the cabinet, with the President by his side, on October 4, 1904, in Washington, D.C.