Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

James M. Porter (1843–1844): Secretary of War

James Madison Porter was born in 1793 near Norristown, Pennsylvania. After attending Princeton College, he studied the law and worked in Philadelphia for a court law clerk. During the War of 1812, Porter raised a volunteer militia of Philadelphia area men, helped defend Fort Mifflin until regular troops arrived, and was promoted to the rank of colonel.

By 1813, Porter had retired from active service, had been admitted to the state bar, and had established his own law practice. He moved in 1818 to Easton, Pennsylvania, where he was appointed deputy attorney general for Northhampton County. Over the next two decades, he helped found Lafayette College, where he served as a member of the board of trustees and taught as a professor of jurisprudence and political economy.

In 1839, Porter became the presiding judge of the Twelfth Pennsylvania Judicial District, a post he held for one year before he resigned to resume his law practice. In 1843, President John Tyler tapped Porter to become his secretary of war. But owing to Tyler’s troubled relationship with the Senate, the President named Porter his secretary ad interim, hoping that after time, the Senate would approve Porter’s nomination.

Porter served for almost one year before his nomination was refused by the Senate. He then left Washington, D.C., and returned to Pennsylvania, where he served in the state legislature and as presiding judge of the Twenty-Second Pennsylvania District. After a debilitating stroke in 1855, James Madison Porter died in 1862.