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Henry Skillman Breckinridge
United States Assistant Secretary of War

In office
President Woodrow Wilson
Preceded by Robert Shaw Oliver
Succeeded by William Moulton Ingraham
Personal details
Born May 25, 1886
Chicago, Illinois
Died May 2, 1960 (aged 73)
New York City, New York
Resting place Lexington Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Princeton University, Harvard Law School
Religion Episcopalian

Henry Skillman Breckinridge (May 25, 1886 – May 2, 1960) was an American lawyer and politician, best known as Charles Lindbergh's attorney during the Lindbergh kidnapping trial and the only serious opponent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 Democratic primaries. He was the United States Assistant Secretary of War from 1913 to 1916.

Life and career

Born in Chicago, Illinois, son of Joseph Cabell Breckinridge, Sr. a member of the prominent Breckinridge family, he graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. In 1913 at the age of 27, he was appointed United States Assistant Secretary of War by President Woodrow Wilson, a fellow Democrat. At the same time, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was Roosevelt himself. Breckinridge resigned, along with Secretary Lindley M. Garrison, in 1916.

He was also a member of the fencing teams at the 1920 and 1928 Summer Olympics, and was captain of the latter. At the 1920 Games, he won a bronze medal in the team foil event.[1][2] During World War I, he served as commander of a battalion.

After the war, he went to New York and soon became a prominent attorney. He was president of the Navy League of the United States from 1919 to 1921 and at that time organized the first Navy Day, which was celebrated in 1920. In 1933 he was counsel to the Joint Congressional Committee to Investigate Dirigible Disasters.

In 1934, he ran for U.S. Senator from New York as the nominee of the "Constitutional Party," to oppose Roosevelt's New Deal policy, but polled only 24,000 votes, half as much as the Communist vote, and one eighth as much as the Socialist candidate Norman Thomas. Breckinridge, a strong opponent of the New Deal, was the only serious candidate opposing the highly popular incumbent Roosevelt in the 1936 Democratic primaries. FDR was otherwise opposed within the party only by favorite son candidates. Breckinridge's test of the popularity of the New Deal among Democrats failed, as he lost by wide margins. However, in New Jersey, President Roosevelt did not file for the preference vote and lost that primary to Breckinridge. Roosevelt did receive 19% of the vote on write-ins. Roosevelt's candidates for delegate swept the race in New Jersey and elsewhere. In other primaries, Breckinridge's best showing was his 15% in Maryland.

Roosevelt won a total of 4,830,730 votes in all state primaries combined (93.19%) against Breckinridge's 136,407 (2.63%).

Breckinridge endorsed Republican nominee Alf Landon against Roosevelt in the general election.

He died in New York City on May 2, 1960.


Breckinridge was married three times:

  • First on July 7, 1910, to Ruth Bradley Woodman and by this marriage had two daughters: Elizabeth Foster, who married John Stephens Graham, and Louise Dudley; he was divorced from his first wife in 1925
  • Second in Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 1927, to Aida de Acosta; he was divorced from his second wife in 1947
  • Third on March 27, 1947, to Margaret Lucy, daughter of John Raymond Smith of Gloucestershire, England, a horticulturist, and by this marriage had a daughter, Madeline Houston.

Electoral history

New York Senate election, 1934[3]

  • Royal S. Copeland (Democratic, Incumbent) - 2,046,377 (55.34%)
  • Ernest Harold Cluett (Republican) - 1,363,440 (36.87%)
  • Norman Thomas (Socialist) - 194,952 (5.27%)
  • Max Bedacht (Communist) - 45,396 (1.23%)
  • Henry S. Breckinridge (Constitutional) - 24,241 (0.66%)
  • William Sheafe Chase (Law Preservation) - 16,769 (0.45%)
  • Olive M. Johnson (Socialist Labor) - 6,622 (0.18%)

United States presidential election, 1936 (Democratic primaries)[4]

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt (Incumbent) - 4,830,730 (93.19%)
  • Henry S. Breckinridge - 136,407 (2.63%)
  • Upton Sinclair - 106,068 (2.05%)
  • John S. McGroarty - 61,391 (1.18%)
  • Joseph A. Coutremarsh - 39,730 (0.77%)
  • Al Smith - 2,974 (0.06%)
  • Charles Coughlin - 2,854 (0.06%)
  • John Nance Garner - 108 (0.00%)
  • William E. Borah - 87 (0.00%)


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