Abel P. Upshur

Abel P. Upshur

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Abel Parker Upshur was an American lawyer
Law of the United States
The law of the United States consists of many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United States Constitution, the foundation of the federal government of the United States...

, judge and politician
Politics of the United States
The United States is a federal constitutional republic, in which the President of the United States , Congress, and judiciary share powers reserved to the national government, and the federal government shares sovereignty with the state governments.The executive branch is headed by the President...

 from Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

. Upshur was active in Virginia state politics and later served as Secretary of the Navy
United States Secretary of the Navy
The Secretary of the Navy of the United States of America is the head of the Department of the Navy, a component organization of the Department of Defense...

 and Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 during the Whig
Whig Party (United States)
The Whig Party was a political party of the United States during the era of Jacksonian democracy. Considered integral to the Second Party System and operating from the early 1830s to the mid-1850s, the party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic...

 administration of President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 John Tyler
John Tyler
John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States . A native of Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before being elected Vice President . He was the first to succeed to the office of President following the death of a predecessor...

. Upshur was instrumental in negotiating the secret treaty that led to the annexation of Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 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
Official function
An official function is either an event, such as a convention, that has an official purpose for one's employment, vocation or profession-whether run by a person, institution or governmental agency-or an official duty....

 on board the steam warship .

Early life and career


Upshur was born in Northampton County, Virginia
Northampton County, Virginia
As of the census of 2010, there were 12,389 people, 5,321 households, and 3,543 families residing in the county. The population density was 63 people per square mile . There were 6,547 housing units at an average density of 32 per square mile...

, to Littleton Upshur and Anna (née Parker) Upshur. He was one of twelve children. His father—described as a "staunch individualist and rabid Federalist"—was a plantation owner, a member of the Virginia Legislature, and a Captain during the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

.

Upshur attended Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 and Yale College
Yale College
Yale College was the official name of Yale University from 1718 to 1887. The name now refers to the undergraduate part of the university. Each undergraduate student is assigned to one of 12 residential colleges.-Residential colleges:...

; he was expelled from the former for participating in a student rebellion. He did not graduate, returning to Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, to study law. Upshur was admitted to the bar in 1810; he briefly set up practice in Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

, Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

, but returned to Virginia after the death of his father, where he set up a thriving law practice and became active in state politics.

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

Political career


Upshur was elected to a term in the Virginia House of Delegates
Virginia House of Delegates
The Virginia House of Delegates is the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly. It has 100 members elected for terms of two years; unlike most states, these elections take place during odd-numbered years. The House is presided over by the Speaker of the House, who is elected from among the...

 in 1812, was Commonwealth's Attorney
Commonwealth's Attorney
Commonwealth's Attorney is the title given to the elected prosecutor of felony crimes in Kentucky and Virginia. Other states refer to similar prosecutors as District Attorney or State's Attorney....

 for Richmond (1816–1823), ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

, 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.

Throughout his political career, Upshur was a stalwart conservative and advocate for states' rights
States' rights
States' rights in U.S. politics refers to political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government. It is often considered a loaded term because of its use in opposition to federally mandated racial desegregation...

. He opposed democratic reform at the Virginia Convention of 1829–30, and during the nullification movement
Nullification Crisis
The Nullification Crisis was a sectional crisis during the presidency of Andrew Jackson created by South Carolina's 1832 Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared by the power of the State that the federal Tariff of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within...

 in South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

, 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
Joseph Story
Joseph Story was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845. He is most remembered today for his opinions in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee and The Amistad, along with his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, first...

, 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
John Tyler
John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States . A native of Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before being elected Vice President . He was the first to succeed to the office of President following the death of a predecessor...

 became President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 in 1841 and selected him to become the 13th United States Secretary of the Navy
United States Secretary of the Navy
The Secretary of the Navy of the United States of America is the head of the Department of the Navy, a component organization of the Department of Defense...

 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
Board of Navy Commissioners
The Board of Naval Commissioners was a United States Navy administrative body in existence from 1815 to 1842, with responsibility for the Navy's material support. The three-member Board was created as part of an expansion of the U.S. Navy Department at the end of the War of 1812. The system was...

 with the bureau system
United States Navy bureau system
The "bureau system" of the United States Navy was the Department of the Navy's material-support organization from 1842 through 1966. The bureau chiefs were largely autonomous, reporting directly to the Secretary of the Navy and managing their respective organizations without the influence of other...

, regularization of the officer corps, increased Navy appropriations, construction of new sailing and steam warships, and the establishment of the United States Naval Observatory
United States Naval Observatory
The United States Naval Observatory is one of the oldest scientific agencies in the United States, with a primary mission to produce Positioning, Navigation, and Timing for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense...

 and Hydrographic Office.

Secretary of State


In July 1843, President Tyler appointed Upshur United States Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

, to succeed Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

, who had resigned. His chief accomplishment was advocating for the annexation of the Republic of Texas
Republic of Texas
The Republic of Texas was an independent nation in North America, bordering the United States and Mexico, that existed from 1836 to 1846.Formed as a break-away republic from Mexico by the Texas Revolution, the state claimed borders that encompassed an area that included all of the present U.S...

 as a slave state. Upshur and Texas ambassador Isaac Van Zandt
Isaac Van Zandt
Isaac Van Zandt was a political leader in the Republic of Texas. Van Zandt County, Texas, was named in his honor....

 worked closely on the treaty of annexation until Upshur's death. He was also heavily involved in the negotiations in the Oregon boundary dispute
Oregon boundary dispute
The Oregon boundary dispute, or the Oregon Question, arose as a result of competing British and American claims to the Pacific Northwest of North America in the first half of the 19th century. Both the United Kingdom and the United States had territorial and commercial aspirations in the region...

 and was a strong advocate of bringing the Oregon Country
Oregon Country
The Oregon Country was a predominantly American term referring to a disputed ownership region of the Pacific Northwest of North America. The region was occupied by British and French Canadian fur traders from before 1810, and American settlers from the mid-1830s, with its coastal areas north from...

 into the union. He was eventually willing to settle on the 49th parallel
49th parallel north
The 49th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 49 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean....

 compromise, although negotiations were not finished until after his death (and after the end of Tyler's term).

The USS Princeton explosion



On February 28, 1844, while joining the President and many other dignitaries for a Potomac River
Potomac River
The Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, located along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. The river is approximately long, with a drainage area of about 14,700 square miles...

 cruise on the new steamship , Secretary Upshur and several others were killed when one of the ship's guns exploded. He is buried at the Congressional Cemetery
Congressional Cemetery
The Congressional Cemetery is a historic cemetery located at 1801 E Street, SE, in Washington, D.C., on the west bank of the Anacostia River. It is the final resting place of thousands of individuals who helped form the nation and the city of Washington in the early 19th century. Many members of...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

.

Legacy


Two ships have been named in his honor:
  • The destroyer
    Destroyer
    In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

      was originally commissioned in 1920, and later a Lend-Lease
    Lend-Lease
    Lend-Lease was the program under which the United States of America supplied the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, Free France, and other Allied nations with materiel between 1941 and 1945. It was signed into law on March 11, 1941, a year and a half after the outbreak of war in Europe in...

     ship for Great Britain
    Great Britain
    Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

    .
  • The Military Sea Transport Service ship 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 to evacuate 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, it was used to ferry troops and supplies to Vietnam, then used as the vessel that carried the first attempted prisoner exchange in Vietnam.


These places have been named in his honor:
  • Upshur County, West Virginia
    Upshur County, West Virginia
    As of the census of 2000, there were 23,404 people, 8,972 households, and 6,352 families residing in the county. The population density was 66 people per square mile . There were 10,751 housing units at an average density of 30 per square mile...

  • Upshur Streets in northwest Washington, D.C.
    Washington, D.C.
    Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

    , Arlington, Virginia, Maryland, and northwest Portland, Oregon
    Portland, Oregon
    Portland is a city located in the Pacific Northwest, near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 Census, it had a population of 583,776, making it the 29th most populous city in the United States...

    .
  • Upshur County, Texas
    Upshur County, Texas
    As of the census of 2000, there were 35,291 people, 13,290 households, and 10,033 families residing in the county. The population density was 60 people per square mile . There were 14,930 housing units at an average density of 25 per square mile...

    • Another victim of the USS Princeton explosion was Secretary of the Navy Capt. Thomas W. Gilmer. The city of Gilmer, Texas
      Gilmer, Texas
      Gilmer is also the name of a county in West Virginia.Gilmer is a town in and the county seat of Upshur County, Texas, United States. It is best known for being the birthplace of popular music singer Johnny Mathis. The population was 4,799 at the 2000 census...

      , was named for him; Gilmer is Upshur County's county seat
      County seat
      A county seat is an administrative center, or seat of government, for a county or civil parish. The term is primarily used in the United States....

      .
  • Mount Upshur, aka Boundary Peak 17, a summit on the Alaska-British Columbia border near Hyder, Alaska
    Hyder, Alaska
    Hyder is a census-designated place in Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, Alaska, United States. At the 2000 census the population was 97. Hyder has achieved fame as a point in Alaska accessible to automobile and motorbike travelers in Canada who want to say that they have been to Alaska...

    .

Further reading

  • Hall, Claude Hampton
    Claude Hall
    Claude Hampton Hall, Sr. , was an historian of primarily American diplomacy who spent his entire academic career at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas...

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

External links