Military Wiki
Abel Parker Upshur
15th United States Secretary of State

In office
July 24, 1843 – February 28, 1844
President John Tyler
Preceded by Daniel Webster
Succeeded by John C. Calhoun
13th United States Secretary of the Navy

In office
October 11, 1841 – July 23, 1843
President John Tyler
Preceded by George E. Badger
Succeeded by David Henshaw
Personal details
Born (1790-06-17)June 17, 1790
Northampton County, Virginia, U.S.
Died February 28, 1844(1844-02-28) (aged 53)
Potomac River
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Dennis Upshur (died 1817)
Elizabeth Ann Brown Upshur
Alma mater Yale University
Princeton University
Profession Politician, lawyer
Religion Episcopalian

Abel Parker Upshur (June 17, 1790 – February 28, 1844) was an American lawyer, judge and politician from Virginia. Upshur was active in Virginia state politics and later served as Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of State during the Whig administration of President John Tyler. Upshur was instrumental in negotiating the secret treaty that led to the annexation of Texas to the United States and played a key role in ensuring that Texas was admitted to the United States as part of the Union. He was among six people killed when a gun exploded during an official function on board the steam warship USS Princeton.

Early life and career

Upshur was born in Northampton County, Virginia. He was one of twelve children.[1] His father Littleton Upshur—described as a "staunch individualist and rabid Federalist"[1]—was owner of the plantation Vaucluse,[2] a member of the Virginia Legislature,[1] and a Captain during the War of 1812.[1]

Upshur attended Princeton University and Yale College;[2][3] he was expelled from the former for participating in a student rebellion.[1][2] He did not graduate, returning to Richmond, Virginia, to study law.[1] Upshur was admitted to the bar in 1810; he briefly set up practice in Baltimore, Maryland,[3] but returned to Virginia after the death of his father,[2] where he set up a thriving law practice and became active in state politics.[3]

Upshur married Elizabeth Dennis on February 26, 1817; she died in childbirth in October 1817.[4] He remarried in 1824 to Elizabeth Ann Brown; they had one daughter.[4]

Political career

Upshur was elected to a term in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1812, was Commonwealth's Attorney for Richmond (1816–1823), ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress, returned to the legislature from 1825 to 1827, was elected to the Virginia General Court in 1826, and was an influential delegate to the Virginia State Constitutional Convention of 1829–1830.[2][3]

Throughout his political career, Upshur was a stalwart conservative and advocate for states' rights. He opposed democratic reform at the Virginia Convention of 1829–30, and during the nullification movement in South Carolina, he defended the principle of nullification and the state itself in a series of letters entitled "An Exposition of the Virginia Resolutions of 1798". Upshur's view of the Constitution received its fullest expression in his 1840 treatise in response to Judge Joseph Story, A Brief Enquiry into the Nature and Character of our Federal Government: Being a Review of Judge Story's Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States.

Secretary of the Navy

Upshur's political reach became national when John Tyler became President of the United States in 1841 and selected him to become the 13th United States Secretary of the Navy in October of that year. His time with the Navy was marked by a strong emphasis on reform and reorganization and efforts to expand and modernize the service. He served from October 11, 1841, to July 23, 1843, and among his achievements were the replacement of the old Board of Navy Commissioners with the bureau system, regularization of the officer corps, increased Navy appropriations, construction of new sailing and steam warships, and the establishment of the United States Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office.

Secretary of State

In July 1843, President Tyler appointed Upshur United States Secretary of State, to succeed Daniel Webster, who had resigned. His chief accomplishment was advocating for the annexation of the Republic of Texas as a slave state. Upshur and Texas ambassador Isaac Van Zandt worked closely on the treaty of annexation until Upshur's death. He was also heavily involved in the negotiations in the Oregon boundary dispute and was a strong advocate of bringing the Oregon Country into the union. He was eventually willing to settle on the 49th parallel compromise, although negotiations were not finished until after his death (and after the end of Tyler's term).[5]

The USS Princeton explosion

On February 28, 1844, while joining the President and many other dignitaries for a Potomac River cruise on the new steamship USS Princeton, Secretary Upshur and several others were killed when one of the ship's guns exploded. He is buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C..


One ship has been named in his honor:

  • The destroyer USS Abel P. Upshur was originally commissioned in 1920, and later a Lend-Lease ship for Great Britain.
  • In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Abel Parker Upshur was named in his honor.

(There was also a Barrett Class Military Sea Transport Service ship named USNS Upshur, but according to official USN records, this later vessel was named for Major General William Peterkin Upshur, USMC, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, who died in a plane crash in Sitka, AK, 1943, while he was Commander, Headquarters of the Department of the Pacific. It was originally laid down as a passenger-cargo vessel, the President Hayes, but was acquired by the US government in 1950 for the Korean War, and renamed for Secretary Upshur. It was later used to ferry troops and supplies during the Cold War including the evacuation of the civilian and dependent population of the US base at Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, and during the Vietnam War to ferry troops and supplies to Vietnam. It later became the vessel that carried the first prisoner exchange in Vietnam.)[citation needed]

These places have been named in his honor:

  • Upshur County, West Virginia
  • Upshur Streets in northwest Washington, D.C., Arlington, Virginia, Maryland, and northwest Portland, Oregon.
  • Upshur County, Texas
  • Mount Upshur, aka Boundary Peak 17, a summit on the Alaska-British Columbia border near Hyder, Alaska.[6]


Further reading

  • Hall, Claude Hampton, Abel Parker Upshur: Conservative Virginian, 1790–1844. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1963.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Webster
U.S. Secretary of State
Served under: John Tyler

July 24, 1843 – February 28, 1844
Succeeded by
John C. Calhoun
Government offices
Preceded by
George E. Badger
United States Secretary of the Navy
October 11, 1841 – July 23, 1843
Succeeded by
David Henshaw

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).