Edwin M. Stanton

 
Born:   December 19, 1814  
Died:   December 24, 1869
Buried:   Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, District of Columbia
 

Biography Source: Civil War 100 by Robert Wooster

 
Secretary of war from 1862 to 1868, Edwin McMasters Stanton was second only to Seward among the most influential cabinet advisers of Abraham Lincoln. Although he could be brusque, hot-tempered, and overbearing, Stanton possessed honesty and foresight; his effective management greatly aided the development of the Union war machine. After the war, he opposed the lenient policies of Andrew Johnson on the restoration of the former Confederate states. Johnson's attempt to fire Stanton led the House of Representatives to impeach him.

Born in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1814, Edwin Stanton attended Kenyon College before being admitted to the bar in 1835. Specializing in patent law, contract law, and land title issues, Stanton became a nationally known figure. During one case he headed a team of lawyers, including Abraham Lincoln, that challenged Cyrus Hall McCormickís patent of the reaper. "Why did you bring that d-----d long armed ape here?" wondered Stanton about the future president. "He does not know anything". Lincoln acknowledged being "roughly handled by that man Stanton". In 1859 Stanton was the first American lawyer to use successfully the defense of temporary insanity to save his client and friend, future Union general Daniel Sickles, from the charge that he murdered his wifeís lover, the son of Francis Scott Key.

In December 1860, in hopes of salvaging his tainted administration, President James Buchanan appointed Stanton his attorney general. The lame-duck Buchanan administration, beset by corruption and the threat of secession, seemed on the verge of collapse. Stanton forcefully denounced secession and helped convince Buchanan not to surrender Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Stantonís presence within the cabinet is generally credited with having helped to restore a modicum of order to the discredited administration during its last months.

With Abraham Lincolnís presidential inauguration, Stanton a Democrat, returned to private life. He acted as legal counsel for a number of prominent Northerners, including Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Gen. George B. McClellan, who would soon rise to command of the Army of the Potomac. Chafing at the new regimeís seeming inability to control events, Stanton privately lambasted "the imbecility of this administration." However, Secretary Cameronís incompetence, dubious integrity, and premature announcement of his intention to arm slaves led Lincoln to exile him to the U.S. ministry in Russia. In January 1862 the president appointed Stanton to head the War Department.

Lincoln respected Stantonís integrity and Unionism and valued the political benefits of having a Democrat in his cabinet. Stantonís energy and obvious administrative abilities paid huge dividends. The two developed a close working relationship. Although the short, secretive Stanton often clashed with other cabinet members, Lincoln felt comfortable enough with Stantonís stern management to turn his attention to affairs outside the often maddening, but essential, bureaucratic entanglements and contractual bargaining of the War Department. On most issues, such as his revision of the War Departmentís earlier harsh policies towards political prisoners and his opposition to McClellanís continued service, Secretary Stantonís judgment proved sound. His biggest mistake came in April 1862 when, erroneously assuming that the war would soon end, he ordered that all recruiting offices be closed. The uncharacteristic error slowed the flow of Northern recruits just as the war entered its second year.

Three years later, on the eve of the Northís triumph, John Wlikes Booth fatally shot President Lincoln. Stanton uttered perhaps the most memorable tribute to the murdered president. As Lincoln died, Stanton his face covered with tears, raised his hat, briefly placed it atop his head, then removed it. "Now," mourned Stanton, "he belongs to the ages."

Stanton continued to serve as secretary of war for Andrew Johnson, but bitterly opposed what he believed to be the new presidentís overly lenient policies toward the toward the former Confederate states. In early 1867 Congress attempted to protect Stanton's continued presence in the cabinet by passing the Tenure of Office Act, which prohibited the president from removing government officials appointed with the advice of the Senate without that bodyís consent. Johnson suspended Stanton on August 12, 1867, temporarily replacing him with Ulysses S. Grant. In December, there was a failed attempt to impeach Johnson. In January 1868, however, the Senate refused to accept the suspension, and Stanton briefly returned to office. The president then attempted to fire him, but the latter barricaded himself in his office and the House of Representatives renewed its impeachment proceedings. In the end, an implicit compromise was reached: The Senate failed by one vote to convict Johnson, and Gen. John Schofield replaced Stanton in the War Department.

After six and a half years in government, Stanton briefly resumed his legal practice in 1869. On December 20, the Senate confirmed his appointment to the Supreme Court, but he died three days later. Stanton's effective War Department management was crucial to the North's victory, thus meriting his high ranking in the present volume.