The Secretary of War was
a member of the United States President's Cabinet, beginning with George Washington's administration. A similar position, called either "Secretary at War" or "Secretary of War," had been appointed to serve the Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation between 1781 and 1789. Benjamin Lincoln and later Henry Knox held the position. When Washington was inaugurated as the first president under the Constitution, he appointed Knox to continue serving.
The Secretary of War was the head of the War Department. At first, he was responsible for all military affairs, including naval affairs. In 1798, the Secretary of the Navy was created by statute, and the scope of responsibility for this office was reduced to the affairs of theUnited States Army. From 1886 onward, the Secretary of War was third in the line of succession to the presidency, after the Vice President of the United States and the Secretary of State.
In 1947, with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947, the Secretary of War was replaced by the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Air Force, which, along with the Secretary of the Navy, have since 1949 been non-Cabinet subordinates under the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of the Army's office is generally considered the direct successor to the Secretary of War's office although the Secretary of Defense took the Secretary of War's position in the Cabinet, and the line of succession to the presidency.