(August 14, 1773 - March 20, 1844) was an American lawyer, soldier and politician who served as United States Secretary of War from 1828 to 1829.
He graduated from Yale College in 1791, studied law in Litchfield, Connecticut, was admitted to the bar, and commenced practice in Canandaigua, New York in 1793. He served as clerk of Ontario County from 1797 to 1804 and was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1802 and again in 1828.
In the fall of 1809, Porter moved to Black Rock, New York and was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the Eleventh and Twelfth United States Congresses, serving from March 4, 1809 to March 3, 1813, but declined renomination. During his service in Congress, he was a leading figure among Congressional "war hawks" and Chairman of the Committee that recommended preparation for war with Great Britain. At the same time, from 1810 to 1816, he was a member of the Erie Canal Commission, a commission on inland navigation established in 1810 by the New York state Legislature to survey a canal route from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes.
During the War of 1812, Porter was initially quartermaster general of the New York State Militia from May to October 1812. He participated in and criticized General Alexander Smyth's abortive operations against British Canada in 1812, culminating in a bloodless duel between the two. The historian John R. Elting wrote of the duel, stating "Unfortunately, both missed." He later raised and commanded a brigade of New York militia that incorporated a Six Nations Indian contingent and led his command with distinction. For his actions, he was presented a gold medal under joint resolution of Congress dated November 3, 1814 "for gallantry and good conduct" during the Battle of Chippewa, the Battle of Niagara, and the Battle of Erie.
Porter was Secretary of State of New York from February 1815 to February 1816. He was also elected to the Fourteenth United States Congress. Although his term in Congress began on March 4, 1815, the actual Session began only in December, and he took his seat on December 11, 1815. On January 23, 1816, he resigned, having been appointed a Commissioner under the Treaty of Ghent, which caused a controversy as to the constitutionality of sitting in Congress and holding this commissionership at the same time.
In 1817, his political friends of Tammany Hall printed ballots with his name and distributed them among their followers to vote for Porter for Governor of New York at the special election which was held after the resignation of Governor Daniel D. Tompkins. DeWitt Clinton, the otherwise unopposed candidate, was fiercely hated by the Tammany organization, and Porter received about 1,300 votes although he was not really running for the office. Porter became a regent of the University of the State of New York in 1824, and served in that capacity until 1830.
From May 16, 1828 to March 9, 1829, Porter served as Secretary of War in the Cabinet of President John Quincy Adams, and was an advocate for the removal of Eastern Indians beyond the Mississippi. He moved to Niagara Falls in 1836 and was a presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1840. He died at Niagara Falls in 1844, and was interred in Oakwood Cemetery. Fort Porter and Porter Avenue at Buffalo were named in his honor.
US politician, general of the War of 1812 and Secretary of War.
Painting by Daniel Huntington after Matthew Harris Jouett, Oil on canvas, 1873 (US Army Center of Military History)