Appointed by President Grover Cleveland
Walter Quintin Gresham was born on a modest farm in Harrison County, Indiana, on March 17, 1832. His ancestors were English and Scotch-Irish. Before he was two years old, his father, who was the county sheriff, was killed by an outlaw. As he grew up, several local politicians recognized the boy's talents and superintended his education. He attended the local country schools and May's Academy at Corydon. After a year in Indiana University's preparatory department, he read law with a prominent local Whig lawyer and was admitted to the bar in 1854.
Gresham's Whig mentors pushed him toward a career in their own party, but after the Whig collapse in the mid-1850s, he enlisted in the anti-Nebraska movement and affiliated briefly with the Know-Nothings. By 1856 he had joined the Republican Party and four years later won election to the state legislature, where he served a single term during the winter and spring of 1861. In the summer he joined the Union army and by the end of the year was named colonel of the 53rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, attached to the Army of the Tennessee. In August 1863, he won promotion to brigadier general, but his military career was cut short the following June when he was wounded during William T. Sherman's Atlanta campaign. He left the army with the rank of brevet major general.
After the Civil War Gresham resumed the practice of law at New Albany, Indiana. In 1866 and 1868 he ran for Congress in a heavily Democratic district and lost both times. He had for years been at odds with Oliver P. Morton, the leader of the Indiana Republican Party, and when his wartime friend, President Ulysses S. Grant, offered him appointment as federal district judge for Indiana, he accepted in September 1869. For the next decade he remained ambivalent about returning to active politics. In 1880 he made a clumsy bid for the U.S. Senate but lost to Benjamin Harrison, who replaced Morton as leader of the state party and as Gresham's political nemesis.
In 1883 President Chester A. Arthur surprised Gresham with appointment as postmaster general. During the year and a half he held that office, he won praise for