Stanton, Edwin M.

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Stanton, Edwin M. (1814–69), secretary of war under President Abraham Lincoln, was born in Steubenville, Ohio, 19 December 1814.Admitted to the bar in 1836, Stanton made a quick reputation for brilliance. Moving to Pittsburgh in 1847, he won national attention by representing Pennsylvania before the Supreme Court in an interstate commerce suit. A growing Supreme Court practice took him to Washington, D. C. in 1857.

In 1858, Stanton exposed a conspiracy to defraud the government of some $150 million worth of land in California. This catapulted him into the office of U.S. Attorney General when President James Buchanan reorganized his cabinet in December 1860. Democrat Stanton opposed slavery and supported the Wilmot Proviso, but accepted the Dred Scott decision. He tried to strengthen Buchanan's policy against secession and to reinforce Fort Sumter.

Stanton returned to private life when Buchanan's term ended. He distrusted Lincoln and befriended Gen. George B. McClellan when he took charge of army operations and openly derided Lincoln and his administration. Nevertheless, Lincoln invited him to replace Simon Cameron as Secretary of War in January 1862. Inheriting an administrative shambles, Stanton soon restored honesty and order.

Brusque and intemperate with people, rigid and vigorous in pursuit of victory, Stanton made few friends in his department or the cabinet, but he and the president gradually forged mutual admiration. Lincoln trusted Stanton's judgment and came to rely heavily on his advice. An active war secretary, Stanton lost faith in McClellan. In September 1863, Stanton's dispatch of 23,000 men from east to west in less than seven days to reinforce Gen. William S. Rosecrans ranks as a logistical marvel. An early admirer of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, he pushed his advancement, and enthusiastically approved his appointment as general‐in‐chief of the Union armies in 1864.

Meddling in civil affairs, Stanton censored newspapers and had citizens arrested for suspicion of disloyalty. Although Stanton and Grant got along well, the general disliked the secretary's abrupt and severe rebuke of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman for his proposed surrender terms to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.

Lincoln's assassination released a fanatical streak in Stanton, who pushed the execution of Mrs. Mary Surratt and tried to implicate Jefferson Davis in the assassination plot. President Andrew Johnson kept Stanton at his post—an error he soon regretted. Although Stanton did a masterful job in demobilizing the Union armies, he joined the Republican Radicals against presidential reconstruction policies. He did, however, oppose the Tenure of Office Act (aimed at keeping him in office).

When Johnson asked for his resignation in August 1867, the secretary refused to leave office until Congress reconvened in December (he argued that since the Tenure of Office Act had been passed over Johnson's veto, it was law). Johnson suspended him but was overridden by the Senate in January 1868. The president dismissed Stanton in February 1868, but Stanton held on and even ordered the arrest of Adjutant‐General Lorenzo Thomas, whom Johnson had named as secretary ad interim. Stanton resigned when Johnson's impeachment failed. Appointed by President Grant to the Supreme Court, Stanton died on December 24, 1869, four days after his confirmation.


Frank A. Flower , Edwin McMasters Stanton: The Autocrat of Rebellion, Emancipation, and Reconstruction, 1905.
Benjamin P. Thomas and and Harold M. Hyman , Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War, 1962.

Frank E. Vandiver

Stanton, Edwin Mcmasters

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Edwin McMasters Stanton served as U.S. attorney general from December 1860 to March 1861, at a time when the southern states were moving toward secession from the Union. He later served as secretary of war during the u.s. civil war under President abraham lincoln and was a key figure in the events that led to the impeachment of President andrew johnson.

Stanton was born on December 19, 1814, in Steubenville, Ohio. He attended Kenyon College and studied law. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1836 and began his law practice in Cadiz, Ohio. From 1837 to 1839, Stanton was a county prosecutor. In 1842 he was elected reporter of the decisions of the Ohio Supreme Court. In

1847 Stanton moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he established a successful law practice.

A skilled trial and appellate advocate, Stanton soon established a specialty in litigating federal law issues. In 1856 he relocated to Washington, D.C., where he argued several important cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1858 he successfully defended the state of California in land fraud cases involving Mexican land acquired by the United States.

President james buchanan asked Stanton to serve as attorney general in late 1860, as Buchanan's term drew to a close. Southern politicians, worried that the next president, Abraham Lincoln, would implement antislavery measures, discussed secession from the Union. Stanton was a Democrat but he opposed slavery. He counseled Buchanan not to abandon Fort Sumter, a fortification in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, that was held by Union forces. Stanton also secretly advised Republican leaders of cabinet discussions involving secession.

In 1862 President Lincoln appointed Stanton secretary of war. During the remainder of the Civil War, Stanton proved to be an effective administrator, minimizing corruption and increasing the efficiency of the military by ensuring that the necessary supplies and troops were available. He continually argued for a more aggressive prosecution of the war, a position that provoked violent quarrels with military commanders.

After the assassination of Lincoln in April 1865, Stanton played a leading role in the investigation and prosecution of the conspirators. Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, retained Stanton as secretary of war, but they soon clashed over Johnson's Reconstruction program for the South. Stanton sought stricter policies against the South and worked with the Radical Republicans in Congress, who were Johnson's bitterest enemies, to achieve his aims.

In 1867 Johnson asked Stanton to resign because of this betrayal, but Stanton refused. He defended his actions under the tenure of office act (14 Stat. 430), which prohibited the removal of any federal official without senatorial consent when the official's appointment had originally been approved by the Senate. The

Radical Republicans had passed this act in 1867 over Johnson's veto as a way of preventing the president from removing officials opposed to his Reconstruction policies.

Johnson ignored the Tenure of Office Act and appointed Lorenzo Thomas secretary of war. Johnson's action led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives, but the Senate acquitted him by one vote in 1868. After the acquittal Stanton finally resigned his cabinet post.

Stanton returned to private practice but his health was failing. In 1869 President ulysses s. grant appointed Stanton to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he died on December 24, 1869, in Washington, D.C., before he could assume the position.

further readings

Pratt, Fletcher. 1970. Stanton: Lincoln's Secretary of War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Thomas, Benjamin Platt, and Harold M. Hyman. 1980. Stanton, the Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Edwin McMasters Stanton

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Edwin McMasters Stanton

Edwin McMasters Stanton (1814-1869), American lawyer, was a member of both James Buchanan's and Abraham Lincoln's Cabinets.

Edwin M. Stanton was born in Steubenville, Ohio, on Dec. 19, 1814. He attended a private school and a Latin academy, but on his father's death in 1827 he was forced to accept a job in a local bookstore. After working there for 3 years he borrowed enough money from his mother's lawyer to enter Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. At the beginning of his second year, family finances became so strained that he had to return to his old employer.

However, Stanton wanted to study and did so in a law office in Steubenville. In 1835 he passed his bar examination. Later that year he became a partner in a law office in Cadiz, Ohio. His reputation as a capable lawyer was soon established, and he was now able to take care of his own family and to marry Mary Lamson. He moved back to Steubenville, where he formed a partnership.

Stanton had meanwhile been dabbling in local politics, and in 1837 he was elected county prosecuting attorney on the Democratic ticket. In 1842 he was appointed reporter of the Ohio Supreme Court and was gaining a reputation as a hardfisted, ingenious lawyer. A move to Pittsburgh in 1847 opened the way for Stanton to become connected with cases in which large sums of money were involved and to which national attention was attracted. He was important in the famous McCormick patent infringement case and, especially, the revelation of frauds in California land grants. He was soon well known and was in 1860 named U.S. attorney general in President James Buchanan's Cabinet. Stanton became secretary of war in President Lincoln's Cabinet in 1862. He reorganized the War Department and did a creditable job of meeting army needs. Yet his blunt and high-handed manner made enemies, and he played no little part in the divided character of Lincoln's Cabinet.

After Lincoln's assassination, Stanton went on to serve President Andrew Johnson, but he supported the Radical element in Congress against both the President and the Supreme Court. When Johnson asked for Stanton's resignation, Stanton refused; Johnson suspended him and ordered Ulysses S. Grant to take over the department.

Five months later, with the Radicals in control of Congress, the Senate voided Johnson's suspension and ordered Stanton to return to his department. In response Stanton remained day and night in his office while President Johnson's appointee was refused control. Not until Johnson's impeachment trail did Stanton resign. Broken in health and in dire financial straits, he died in Washington on Dec. 24, 1869, just a few days after Grant, now president, named him to the Supreme Court.

Further Reading

The most complete work on Stanton is Benjamin P. Thomas and Harold M. Hyman, Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War (1962). Another biography is Fletcher Pratt, Stanton: Lincoln's Secretary of War (1953). Stanton figures prominently in studies of Lincoln's administration: Burton J. Hendrick, Lincoln's War Cabinet (1946), and James G. Randall, Lincoln, the President (4 vols., 1946-1955). Intimate views of Stanton and other members of Lincoln's government are in Howard K. Beale, ed., The Diary of Gideon Welles (3 vols., 1960).

Additional Sources

Thomas, Benjamin Platt, Stanton, the life and times of Lincoln's Secretary of War, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. □

Stanton, Edwin McMasters

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Stanton, Edwin McMasters (1814–69) US political leader. Attorney general under President Buchanan and associated with southern Democrats, he was a firm unionist and was appointed secretary of war by Abraham Lincoln (1862). He retained his office under Andrew Johnson and attempted to mediate between the president and the Republican Congress over Reconstruction. Johnson's efforts to dismiss Stanton led to his own impeachment. Stanton was forced to resign (1868) after Johnson was acquitted.