Saturday, March 9, 2013

Simon Cameron, born March 9, 1799

Simon Cameron was born in Maytown, Pennsylvania, the third son of Charles Cameron, a poor tailor, and Martha Pfoutz. When he was six, the struggling family moved to Sunbury. He was orphaned at nine.  At eleven, he was apprenticed to a printer, Andrew Kennedy, editor of the Northumberland Gazette

He was 62 years old when the Civil War began.

Washington, D.C. - 1822
He was editor of the Bucks County Messenger in 1821. A year later, he moved to Washington, D.C., and studied political movements while working for the printing firm of Gales and Seaton.  He married Margaret Brua and returned to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where he purchased and ran the Republican in 1824.

Cameron served as state printer of Pennsylvania from 1825 until 1827 and was state adjutant general in 1826. He constructed several rail lines and merged them into the Northern Central Railway.  In 1829 he was appointed adjutant general of the state militia by Governor Shulze, his sister-in-law’s brother. Though he served but two years, he was known as “General” to the end of his life.

He founded the Bank of Middletown in 1832 and engaged in other business enterprises. In 1838, President Van Buren appointed him as commissioner to settle claims of the Winnebago Indians of the Wisconsin Territory for lands taken from them by the federal government. Cameron was accused of cheating the Indians,.  Rumors of alleged corruption provided his "Great Winnebago" nickname.
Cameron House and Bank, 
Middletown, Pennsylvania
Cameron became a Whig member, and later, around 1845, a Democrat. He was elected to replace James Buchanan in the United States Senate in 1844, serving until 1849.  He switched to the Republican Party. In 1856, Cameron was again elected to the United States Senate.
Cameron was nominated for president, but gave his support to Abraham Lincoln at the 1860 Republican National Convention.  Lincoln, after his election, appointed Cameron Secretary of War.  
Lincoln's Cabinet with Cameron as Secretary of War
There were charges of corruption in the War Department's awarding of contracts; Cameron himself was accused of profiting from the war by diverting traffic to his Harrisburg to Baltimore Railroad. Because of the allegations, he was forced to resign early in 1862.  Pennsylvania congressman, Thaddeus Stevens, when discussing Cameron's honesty with Lincoln, told Lincoln that "I don't think that he would steal a red hot stove."  When Cameron demanded Stevens retract this statement, Stevens told Lincoln "I believe I told you he would not steal a red-hot stove. I will now take that back."
John Usher, who also served in Mr. Lincoln's cabinet, recalled a dinner party where Cameron defended himself against any involvement in corrupt contracts, saying: "If I have any ability whatever, it is an ability to make money. I do not have to steal it. I can go into the street any day, and as the world goes, make all the money I want. It was absurd to accuse me of that. When the war broke out I knew that the railroad from Baltimore to Harrisburg, the Northern Central of Pennsylvania, was bound to be good property; the soldiers and people devoted to the preservation of the Union traveling to Washington would necessarily be transported over it. The stock was then worth only a few cents on the dollar. I knew that from the very necessity of the case it would advance in value to par or nearly so. I bought large blocks of this stock, and told Mr. Lincoln if he would give me ten thousand dollars I would make him all the money he wanted." Cameron said the President declined his offer.
It was harder to defend himself against charges of incompetence. “We were entirely unprepared for such a conflict, and for the moment, at least, absolutely without even the simplest instruments with which to engage in war,” Cameron later remembered. “We had no guns, and even if we had, they would have been of but little use, for we had no ammunition to put in them – no powder, no saltpetre, no bullets, no anything.”
Cameron served until removal in January 1862 for mismanagement, corruption and abuse of patronage.  Simon Cameron was succeeded as Secretary of War by Edwin Stanton, who had been serving as a legal advisor to the War Secretary. Cameron then served as United States Minister to Russia Cameron did not rush to Russia. He had no desire to experience Moscow in winter and never did. He waited until May to leave and came back in November 1862—spending most of his time in travels across Europe.  Stopping in England, France, Italy and the German states, Cameron was shopping for furnishings for his new house. In the parlor are two 14-foot tall pier mirrors as well as mirrors above the fireplaces which came from France. The fireplace mantles are hand-carved, Italian marble, and the alcove window glass is from Bavaria.  He also had the floor lowered 3 feet into the basement in the front section of the house because the 11-foot ceilings in the parlor could not accomodate his new 14-foot mirrors. 
Cartoon from February 1862: "Good-by . . . I'm off for Russia!
Cameron's brother, James Cameroncolonel of the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, was killed in action at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

In 1866, Cameron was again elected to the Senate and served there until 1877, when on assurances from the Pennsylvania General Assembly that his son, James Donald Cameron, would be the successor to his seat, he resigned. His son had already been named as Secretary of War in 1876.
Cameron House
Cameron retired to his farm at Donegal Springs Cameron Estate near Maytown, Pennsylvania, where he died of a stroke on June 26, 1889 at the age of 90. 

He is buried in the Harrisburg Cemetery in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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