January 7

This Day in History

Civil War

Jan 7, 1864:

Former Lincoln cabinet member Caleb Smith dies

On this day in 1864, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Caleb Blood Smith, who served from 1861 to 1862, dies in Indianapolis. Smith played a major role in managing relations with Native Americans during the Civil War.

Smith was born in Boston in 1808 and raised in Cincinnati. Educated at the College of Cincinnati and Miami University, he practiced law in Indiana and became involved in state politics there. A member of the Whig Party, Smith served in the Indiana state legislature before being elected to Congress in 1842. He opposed the expansion of slavery, and fought hard against the 1845 annexation of Texas. After serving on the United States-Mexico Boundary Commission in the late 1840s, Smith left public life to work for the railroads in Ohio. As the Civil War drew near, he became active in the Republican Party. He was a delegate to the 1860 convention and became one of Abraham Lincoln's most enthusiastic supporters. As president, Lincoln rewarded Smith by naming him to the cabinet post.

In this role, Smith supervised Indian agents in the West and worked with Secretaries of War Simon Cameron and Edwin Stanton to forge Native American policy. However, Smith was generally disliked by most members of the cabinet and was described by one insider as a man with "neither heart nor sincerity about him." He found himself overworked and increasingly at odds with the rest of the administration on key issues such as the emancipation of slaves.

Interior Secretary Smith resigned at the end of 1862 and Lincoln appointed him district judge in Indianapolis. Smith died suddenly at age 55 on January 7 while working at the federal courthouse.

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