Henry Skillman Breckinridge
Breck 3295488946 211613c77c o.jpg
United States Assistant Secretary of War
In office
May 6, 1913[1] – February 10, 1916[2]
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byRobert Shaw Oliver
Succeeded byWilliam Moulton Ingraham
Personal details
BornMay 25, 1886
Chicago, Illinois
DiedMay 2, 1960 (aged 73)
New York City
Resting placeLexington Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Ruth Bradley Woodman
(m. 1910; div. 1925)

(m. 1927; div. 1947)

Margaret Lucy Smith
(m. 1947)
RelationsSee Breckinridge family
Parent(s)Joseph Cabell Breckinridge Sr.
Louise Ludlow Dudley
Alma materPrinceton University
Harvard Law School
Medal record
Men's fencing
Representing  United States
Olympic Games
Bronze medal – third place 1920 Antwerp Foil, team

Henry Skillman Breckinridge (May 25, 1886 – May 2, 1960) was an American lawyer and politician who was a member of the prominent Breckinridge family and served as the United States Assistant Secretary of War from 1913 to 1916. During the Lindbergh kidnapping trial he served as Charles Lindbergh's attorney. Breckinridge opposed the New Deal from the right. As an opponent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 Democratic primaries he polled less than 3 percent of the vote.

Early life

Breckinridge was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 25, 1886 to Louise Ludlow Dudley and Joseph Cabell Breckinridge, Sr.[3] Among his many siblings was older brother was Joseph Cabell Breckinridge Jr., an officer in the United States Navy in the Spanish–American War who died while serving on the torpedo boat USS Cushing. Another older brother, Scott Dudley Breckinridge, was a physician and fellow Olympian.[4]

Unlike his father's cousin, John Cabell Breckinridge, a Confederate major general and former Vice President of the United States, his father Joseph was a Union Army officer from Kentucky during the American Civil War who served as Inspector General of the Army and was a major general of volunteers in the Spanish–American War.

His paternal grandfather was Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, a Presbyterian minister, politician, public office holder and abolitionist. His maternal grandfather was Ethelbert Ludlow Dudley, a prominent physician in Lexington, Kentucky.[5]

After graduating from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, he began practicing law in Lexington, Kentucky.[6]


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 Franklin Roosevelt. In 1914 was given charge of rescuing Americans trapped in Europe by the outbreak of World War I in August. Observers at the time and historians since give him poor marks for his sloppy work and disregard of duties. Much more important was Herbert Hoover, an engineer who volunteered to help and took change of operations.[7][8] In 1916, Breckinridge resigned, along with Secretary Lindley M. Garrison, who was "advocating a larger army in opposition to the President's views."[6] During World War I, he served as commander of a battalion.

He was a member of the US fencing teams at the 1920 and 1928 Summer Olympics, and was captain of the latter.[9] At the 1920 Games, he won a bronze medal in the team foil event.[10][11]

New York lawyer

After the war, he went to New York City 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.[12] 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,"[13][14] to oppose Roosevelt's New Deal policy,[15] but polled only 24,000 votes, half as much as the Communist vote, and one eighth as much as the Socialist candidate Norman Thomas.

1936 Democratic primary

In the 1936 Democratic primaries, Breckinridge, a strong opponent of the New Deal, was the only serious candidate opposing the highly popular incumbent Roosevelt. 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.[16] 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.[17][18]

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.[19]

Personal life

Breckinridge was married three times. His first marriage took place on July 7, 1910, to Ruth Bradley Woodman (1888–1941) in Geneva, Switzerland.[20] Ruth was the daughter of Edgar Horace Woodman,[20] a lawyer who served as mayor of Concord, New Hampshire in 1883 and 1884.[21] Before they divorced in 1925, Ruth and Henry were the parents of two daughters:[22]

He married for the second time on August 5, 1927, to socialite Aida de Acosta (1884–1962) in Washington, D.C. Aida, the first woman to fly a powered aircraft solo, was a daughter of Cuban emigre Ricardo de Acosta, who was a steamship-line executive and sugar refiner. Before their marriage, Aida was married to Oren Root IIII, a son of Oren Root II and nephew of Elihu Root.[26] In New York, they lived at 455 East 57th Street.[25] After twenty years of marriage and a three year separation, they divorced in 1947.[27][28]

Breckinridge married for the third, and final, time on March 27, 1947, to Margaret Lucy Smith (1913–2011), daughter of horticulturist John Raymond Smith of Gloucestershire, England. Together, they lived at 67-38B 190th Lane in Fresh Meadows, Queens,[6] and were the parents of one daughter:[29]

Breckinridge died at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City on May 2, 1960.[6]

Electoral history

New York Senate election, 1934[30]

1936 United States presidential election (Democratic primaries)[31]

See also


  1. ^ "Assistant Secretary of War". The Chronicle. 9 May 1913. p. 1. Archived from the original on 8 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  2. ^ "Last Day In Office". The Salt Lake Tribune. 11 February 1916. p. 3. Archived from the original on 8 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ Brown, Alexander The Cabells and Their Kin: A Memorial Volume of History, Biography, and Genealogy (1895).
  4. ^ "DR. S. D. BRECKINRIDGE, GYNECOLOGIST, WAS 59; Kentucky Practitioner, Former National Fencing Champion" (PDF). The New York Times. 2 August 1941. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  5. ^ Dorman, John Frederick (1982). The Prestons of Smithfield and Greenfield in Virginia: descendants of John and Elizabeth (Patton) Preston through five generations. Filson Club. p. 113. ISBN 9780960107216. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d "Col. Henry Breckinridge Dies; Ex-Assistant Secretary of War; Wilson Cabinet Aide at 27-- Was Intermediary in the Lindbergh Kidnapping" (PDF). The New York Times. 3 May 1960. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  7. ^ Branden Little, "Evacuating Wartime Europe: US Policy, Strategy, and Relief Operations for Overseas American Travelers, 1914-15." Journal of Military History 79.4 (2015) pp 929–958.
  8. ^ George H. Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Humanitarian, 1914-1917 (WW Norton & Company, 1983) pp 1–14.
  9. ^ "Henry Skillman Breckinridge". Olympedia. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  10. ^ "Olympics Statistics: Henry Skillman Breckinridge". databaseolympics.com. Archived from the original on 2010-10-07. Retrieved 2010-04-22.
  11. ^ "Henry Skillman Breckinridge Olympic Results". sports-reference.com. Archived from the original on 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2010-04-22.
  12. ^ Breckenridge, Henry (16 June 1924). "DEMOCRATIC IDEALS OF 1924; Henry Breckinridge Calls for a Return to Woodrow Wilson's Policies" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  13. ^ "BOOM IS STARTED FOR BRECKINRIDGE; Aide to Wilson Now Seeking Senatorial Nomination on Independent Ticket" (PDF). The New York Times. 7 August 1934. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  14. ^ Gruin, Frederick (23 September 1934). "BRECKINRIDGE OUTLINES HIS POLITICAL BELIEFS; Candidate for the Senate, He Declares His Stand for Recovery 'Along Constitutional Lines'" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  15. ^ Breckinbridge, Henry (26 October 1934). "TAMMANY IN WASHINGTON.; Col. Breckinridge Sees National Spoils System as an Issue" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  16. ^ "ROOSEVELT IS CRITICIZED; Breckinridge Says He Has Lost 'Moral Right' to Jersey Support" (PDF). The New York Times. 13 April 1936. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  17. ^ "Breckinridge to File as Foe of New Deal In the Maryland Presidential Primary" (PDF). The New York Times. 3 March 1936. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  18. ^ The Associated Press (5 May 1936). "ROOSEVELT CARRIES MARYLAND BY 5 TO 1; Returns Show Breckinridge Trailing Everywhere in Preferential Ballot. POLL INSTRUCTS 16 VOTES Jackson's Candidate for House Is Victor Over Curran Rival in Baltimore" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  19. ^ The Associated Press (4 May 1936). "Breckinridge Assails Roosevelt" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  20. ^ a b "No title". The Advocate-Messenger. 19 Jul 1910. p. 8. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  21. ^ Bell, Charles Henry (1893). The Bench and Bar of New Hampshire: Including Biographical Notices of Deceased Judges of the Highest Court, and Lawyers of the Province and State, and a List of Names of Those Now Living. Houghton, Mifflin. p. 764.
  22. ^ "DIVORCE IS GRANTED TO HUSBAND AND WIFE; Geneva Court Issues Decree to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Breckinridge Without Blame to Either". The New York Times. May 10, 1925. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  23. ^ Staff (October 29, 2005). "Elizabeth Graham, WASHINGTON, D.C. -". Concord Monitor. Retrieved 26 March 2016.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ Flint, Peter B. (21 October 1976). "John Graham Dead; Ex‐Treasury Official A Member of A.E.C". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  25. ^ a b "Shot Kills Daughter of Col. Breckinridge; Girl, 17, Discharges Own Rifle by Accident". The New York Times. 21 July 1934. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  26. ^ "OREN ROOT ENGAGED.; Nephew Of Secretary Root to Wed Miss Ada de Acosta" (PDF). The New York Times. 31 January 1908. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  27. ^ "Henry Breckinridge Seeks Reno Divorce" (PDF). The New York Times. 18 February 1947. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  28. ^ "Divorces Henry Breckinridge" (PDF). The New York Times. 28 March 1947. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  29. ^ a b Hess, Stephen (2017). America's Political Dynasties. Routledge. p. 558. ISBN 9781351532143. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  30. ^ Our Campaigns – NY US Senate Race – Nov 06, 1934
  31. ^ Our Campaigns – US President – D Primaries Race – Feb 01, 1936