Isaac Toucey (1792-1869)

Isaac Toucey

Hon. Isaac Toucey

Isaac Toucey was born November 5, 1792 in Newtown, Connecticut. Following his general schooling, Toucey studied law and began practicing in Hartford. When the Democratic Party was formed in Connecticut, he became involved with the political party and in 1822 was appointed to the position of State Attorney. He held this position until 1835 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives – a position he held until 1839.He ran for Governor of Connecticut in 1845 but lost to Roger S. Baldwin, a Whig candidate. He ran again in 1846. With no candidate receiving 50% majority of the votes, the State Legislature was assigned the task of determining the next governor and elected Toucey into office. In 1847, Toucey did not receive the Democrats nomination to run for Governor again.

President Polk appointed Toucey to U.S. Attorney General in 1848. He served in this position for three years, leaving when Zachary Taylor became president. In 1850, he was elected to the Connecticut Senate and in 1851 to the U.S. Senate where he settled until 1857 when James Buchanan was elected 15th President of the United States. President Buchanan appointed Toucey to U.S. Secretary of the Navy. Toucey’s position as Secretary of the Navy concluded in 1861 with the election of Abraham Lincoln who appointed Toucy’s Connecticut rival, Gideon Welles, to the position. He returned to law in 1861 and, having removed himself from politics, lived a much more private life until his death in 1869.

Toucey’s legacy is mixed with positives and negatives. In general, he is seen as a man of integrity and great conviction. His service as Secretary of the Navy has certainly been criticized. While it seems historians generally accept the notion that Toucey inherited a navy that was inadequate in terms of size, condition, and technology, Toucey’s inability to improve the navy although he was continuously denied funding to do so has tarnished his reputation. In addition, when Toucey took the position, it was customary to deploy navy ships all over the globe. When an incident arose in Paraguay in 1855, President Buchanan requested, and congress approved, an expedition of ships be sent to the area. While the incident was handled quickly and peacefully, these ships remained in the area of South and Central America until 1860.

When Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861 and was ready to commence what is now known as the American Civil War, it was determined that the U.S. Navy was not prepared to fight. Toucey himself was accused of supporting the Confederate Army by manipulating the placement of Navy vessels, such as those still in South and Central America, making them inaccessible for the purpose of the war. An investigation in 1864 revealed that Toucey had in fact created a plan in the event of war and, in fact, it was President Buchanan who refused to implement it. While Toucey was cleared of all charges and even oversaw the Navy’s major accomplishment of laying the first trans-Atlantic cable (1858-1859), the damage to his career and legacy had already been done.

(Note: There are discrepancies regarding Isaac Toucey’s year of birth.  Years range from 1792 until 1798.  The date November 5, 1792 reflects reports most notably by

Connecticut State Library. Isaac Toucey: Governor of Connecticut (1846-1847). Accessed at on January 28, 2011.
The New York Times. “Obituary: Hon. Isaac Toucey, Ex-Secretary of the Navy.” July 31, 1869.
Wikipedia.  Isaac Toucey.  Accessed at on January 28, 2011.

Photo Credit: Isaac Toucey between 1855 and 1865, Library of Congress