United States Secretary of War

The secretary of war was a member of the U.S. president's Cabinet, beginning with George Washington's administration. A similar position, called either "Secretary at War" or "Secretary of War", had been appointed to serve the Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation between 1781 and 1789. Benjamin Lincoln and later Henry Knox held the position. When Washington was inaugurated as the first President under the Constitution, he appointed Knox to continue serving as Secretary of War.

United States Secretary of War
Flag of the Secretary of War
Last in office
Kenneth C. Royall

July 19, 1947 – September 18, 1947
United States Department of War
StyleMr. Secretary
Member ofCabinet
Reports toPresident of the United States
SeatWashington, D.C.
AppointerThe President
with Senate advice and consent
Term lengthNo fixed term
PrecursorSecretary at War
Formation1789
First holderHenry Knox
Final holderKenneth C. Royall
Abolished1947
SuccessionSecretary of the Army
Secretary of the Air Force

The secretary of war was the head of the War Department. At first, he was responsible for all military affairs, including naval affairs. In 1798, the secretary of the Navy was created by statute, and the scope of responsibility for this office was reduced to the affairs of the United States Army. From 1886 onward, the secretary of war was in the line of succession to the presidency, after the vice president of the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President pro tempore of the Senate and the secretary of state.

In 1947, with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947, the secretary of war was replaced by the secretary of the Army and the secretary of the Air Force, which, along with the secretary of the Navy, have since 1949 been non-Cabinet subordinates under the secretary of defense. The secretary of the Army's office is generally considered the direct successor to the secretary of war's office although the secretary of defense took the secretary of war's position in the Cabinet, and the line of succession to the presidency.


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