When Edwin was an infant, his father began studying to be a doctor. He set up a practice in the family home in 1818. He hoped his oldest son would also be a doctor.
|Stanton birthplace, Steubenville, Ohio|
After Edwin, three more children were born: another son, Erasmus Darwin who was born in 1816, and two daughters, Oella, born in 1822, and Pamphila, born in 1827.
|Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio|
In the summer of 1833, cholera swept through eastern Ohio. Edwin was boarding at the home of Dr. H. Howard, who had four daughters. Ann Howard, one of the daughters, served him lunch on August 9. He returned to the bookstore. One hour later, Ann collapsed; by 4 p.m. she was dead. Her family, fearing contamination from the plague, buried her immediately. When Edwin heard this, he was concerned that she might have been buried alive. Along with a young medical student, another boarder of the rooming house, he exhumed the coffin and at the risk of contamination, examined the girl to be certain she was not still alive.
While living in Columbus, he met Mary Lamson at Trinity Episcopal Church; they fell in love, and planned to marry.
Dissatisfied with the pay at Turnbull's store, and hoping to be able to support a wife, Edwin gave up his plans to return to college, and decided to become an attorney.
He began studying law with Daniel Collier in Steubenville.
On December 31, 1836, he married Mary Lamson in Columbus, and they lived in a rented house in Cadiz.
|Judge Benjamin Tappan|
Darwin graduated from medical school and set up a practice across the river from Steubenville in Holliday's Cove, Virgina. His mother and sister, Pamphila, went to live with him there. He married in July 1839, and Lucy and Pamphila Stanton moved back to Ohio to live with Edwin and Mary in Steubenville.
The Reverend Samuel Longden of Greencastle, Indiana, related the following:
A young man named Burney, who was a member of my church, employed Mr. Stanton to bring suit against Dr. Barnes, for malpractise. The case primarily was that of luxation of the knee-joint backwards. The surgeon treated the young man for fracture of the tibia, and continued the mistreatment until the patient was crippled for life. When the trial came on Mr. Stanton had in court the bones of the human leg in normal and many abnormal conditions. He had spent several days in the office of Dr. Thomas Cummings studying fractures, dislocations, and general surgery, and was able to put the expert witnesses all to rout. He was clear, masterful, and convincing. The jury believed him implicitly, for he was an honest man. In my long career I have never heard from the rostrum, the pulpit, or the bar such absolutely convincing argument and forcible oratory as I heard from Edwin M. Stanton before he was thirty years of age. They tell me that in court, warring for his clients, he was sometimes like an iron avalanche; but I must aver that in society he was as sweet and gracious and altogether as attractive as any man I ever met, and a good man, too.On March 11, 1841, the Stanton's first child, a daughter, Lucy, was born. Years afterward, Stanton said that the happiest hours of his life were passed in the little brick house on Third Street, holding Lucy on his knee while Mary prepared the meals.
Their infant daughter died in August of that year after a long illness. Mary had recently lost her sister, and became ill herself. The following year, their son, Edwin Lamson, was born on August 11, 1842. On their sixth wedding anniversary in December, Stanton wrote to Mary:
We six years ago were but lovers . . . We are now parents; a new relation has taken place. The love of our offspring has opened up fresh fountains of love for each other. We look forward now to life, not for ourselves only, but for our children. I loved you first for your beauty, the grace and loveliness of your person. I love you now for the richness and surpassing excellence of your mind. One love has not taken the place of the other, but both stand side by side. I love you now with a fervor and truth of affection which speech cannot express.
But the most devastating change in his life came with the death from "fever of his wife on March 13, 1844. He wrote to a friend:
This calamity has overwhelmed me. I know not where to look or whither to turn. We were both young and happy in each other, looking forward to a long life of joy and happiness. . . . A few days ago I laid her in her grave . . .Ann Elliot, a seamstress, made Mrs. Stanton's grave clothes, and was compelled to alter the garments several times to suit Stanton. She later said
He wanted his wife to look, when dressed for the grave, just as she did seven years before at the marriage altar. "She is my bride and shall be dressed and buried like a bride,"said he, as he sat by her side moaning and weeping.
His sister, Pamphila, met her future husband Christopher Parsons Wolcott when he was studying law with Edwin Stanton. In 1844, Pamphila and Wolcott married on April 18 and moved to Akron, Ohio.
|Christopher Parsons Wolcott|
|George Wythe McCook|
George's younger brother, born in 1837, had been named Edwin Stanton McCook in honor of Stanton.
|Edwin Stanton McCook|
Stanton and McCook were both friends of Clement Vallandigham, with whom McCook had attended Latin school. Their law practice was active and full of incident; Joseph M. Rickey of Cleveland, Ohio, wrote:
Mr. Stanton and Roderick S. Moodey, an attorney of distinguished ability, conducted a trial in the old courthouse when I was deputy clerk. Moodey, after examining a witness, turned him over to Stanton, who opened on him a raking fire of questions. Moodey, in sympathy for the wounded feelings of his witness, turned to Stanton and remonstrated. Stanton, in a gutteral tone, ordered Moodey to make his appeal to the Court and "quit whining." Moodey retorted: "I don't think a whine is any worse than a bark" — giving peculiar emphasis to the word "bark" in imitation of the bull-dog voice of Stanton. Quickly and imperiously Stanton replied: "Oh, yes, Mr. Moodey, there is a difference — dogs bark and puppies whine." Moodey was bursting with rage. The court, seeing the rising storm, adjourned. Moodey returned during the recess and paced the corridors. As soon as Stanton and his partner McCook appeared, arm-in-arm, Moodey flung his coat, and pounced onto Stanton with the fury of a panther. Spectacles, papers, and hat flew in all directions. In a moment the stalwart McCook snatched Moodey away and bystanders gathered up Stanton's scattered things. When court was called the case proceeded as if nothing had occurred. Stanton and Moodey soon became friends and their intimacy grew warmer as they advanced in life.
He bled to death in a few moments, in the presence of his mother. Neighbors came in and I sent William Inglebright over the river to Steubenville to carry the news. Edwin M. Stanton came over at once, but on seeing how terrible the happening was, lost self-control and wandered off into the woods without his hat or coat. John Knox, assisted by William Brown, brought him back, and Dr. Sinclair, fearing a second suicide, ordered Knox and Samuel Filson to watch him every moment.Stanton took Darwin's widow and her three children into his house in Steubenville, where they lived with him, his son, and his mother.
|Stanton home in Steubenville|
Events of the past summer have broken my spirits, crushed my hopes, and without energy or purpose in life, I feel indifferent to the present, careless of the future - in a state of bewilderment of end of which is hidden.
At the first meeting of the Steubenville city council, in January, 1847, an ordinance was adopted creating the office of city solicitor, and Stanton was unanimously elected to the position. The city was troubled with a rough and dangerous element coming from trade on the Ohio River, and petty crimes were numerous. At the first trial after his appointment, there was a great gathering of offenders in court. Stanton called them the "rats of Steubenville," and declared that he intended to "trap and exterminate them all." Stanton brought the city back to comparative security.
John Mullen of Columbus, Ohio, became first an errand and houseboy and then hostler for Stanton. He remembered Stanton's life in Steubenville:
I came to Mr. Stanton early in 1847. I had lost my mother and in the fall father followed her. My heart was broken entirely. I had a sister, but she was young like myself, and what could we do alone in a strange country? I was moaning and crying when Mr. Stanton came to me and wiping away the tears with his soft silk handkerchief, said, oh, so kindly: "Never mind, Johnnie; I will be your father. You can live with me. I will care for and clothe you; send you to college and build a house for your sister." So I was comforted, for no one could have been more kind and loving than he was to me.
After the middle of 1847 Mr. Stanton spent only a portion of his time in Steubenville, but he kept his house and yard up beautifully, and as long as he lived called it home. In the yard were roses and many kinds of flowers which he loved, and the finest lawn ever seen in town. He said, "Always keep mother in money; give her what she wants."
When we fell short of money during Mr. Stanton's absence I went to Colonel McCook and got more. No one about the house wanted for anything. In fact, the neighbors thought that the young children of Stanton's sister and sister-in- law, who lived with him, were too luxuriously provided for.
With himself Mr. Stanton was not so liberal. He smoked cigars and wore very good clothes, but had no other personal extravagances. . . . He had no wine on the table; did not keep it in the house. He belonged to no gay clubs and gave no time to pleasure. His clothing was always of very fine material but modestly made up, and in winter and on chilly evenings he wore a heavy military cloak. He was a princely-looking man, with dark, silken, flowing beard; very polite though reserved.
. . . On returning home after considerable absences, Mr. Stanton invariably brought presents for all, including the servants. He never came to Steubenville without visiting the grave of his wife. When at home for any length of time he went twice weekly to her resting-place. . . . He wept and was very sad at these times, and his mind seemed to slip way back into the past. His grief made such an impression on me that I thought he would never marry again . . .
Mr. Stanton was liberal not only to the great number in his house, but to the churches. He gave freely to all. I was a Catholic and he gave money to me to spend as my own for church purposes. I recollect that he entertained Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati in his own home and always listened to the Archbishop's sermons in Steubenville. He liked Purcell because he had brains.
He sought and cultivated smart men, and he loved little children. I do not think he cared for women generally. He did not seem to know many of them and spent no time with those he did know. But he loved his son Eddie passionately. . . . He mourned deeply over the loss of an eye by his son Eddie, and was ever warning the lad to be careful of his health.
In the summer of 1848 I took the horses and carriage over to Pittsburgh — a very long, rough drive. On arriving I went for my meal to the St. Charles Hotel, where Mr. Stanton boarded. I was very hungry, but as I did not know how-to order from a fancy French bill-of-fare, and was too much scared by the splendor of the surroundings to ask questions, I had nothing to eat except a glass of water and a couple of crackers that happened to be left near my plate. As I came out of the grand dining hall Mr. Stanton noticed that I looked crestfallen and asked me if I had a good meal. I told him the truth. He enjoyed the joke but promptly took me to a fine restaurant and, ordering a heavy meal for me, told the waiter to see that I made no mistake this time. When I saw him pay a dollar for it I was astonished, truly. I wrote back to my friends in Ireland that in America a snug little hostler like myself, when away on a journey, could have grand dinners in gilded dining halls at the master's expense of a dollar each, and everybody should make haste to come over.
As to work, Samson could not outdo him. Frequently, at 10 or 11 at night I have taken the cart and gone with him to the office to fetch a load of law books to the house, and whenever I did that, I do not believe he slept a wink but plowed and studied and thought and walked up and down the room all night.
. . . He was the best and kindest friend I ever had and the best man who ever lived in Steubenville. If every person, living and dead, who was ever aided and befriended, or defended without fee by Mr. Stanton, were to rise up and make a procession in his honor, it would be long indeed, and the character of those in it would astonish the world. God bless him, God bless him forever!
The questions involved were new and important, affecting the commerce of the river and the prosperity and development of numerous cities. In order to strengthen the basis for what he proposed to do, he boarded the steamer Hibernia No. 2, with witnesses and ordered the commander to proceed down the river. He knew that the steamer could not pass under the bridge. The tall chimneys, extending nearly eighty feet above the water, were carried away. He began a suit against the stockholders of the bridge company for damages and secured the consent of Pennsylvania to employ state sovereignty in a suit to abate the bridge as a public nuisance.
While interviewing pilots at the Pittsburgh wharves, he fell into the hold of the Isaac Newton and suffered a compound fracture of the knee, an injury which compelled him to walk with a limp for the remainder of his life. He was taken to Steubenville on the next steamer and transferred to his house on a stretcher, where, under the care of Dr. Tappan, he lay practically helpless for weeks. He continued to study and prepare his cases, attend to correspondence, and send out papers for service. The Reverend George Buchanan, calling upon him at this time, found him propped up in bed, surrounded by law books and legal documents. "This is a lucky accident," observed Stanton to his pastor, "for I shall be a good lawyer by the time I get well."
On February 25, 1850, Stanton was admitted to the bar of the United States Supreme Court on motion of Reverdy Johnson, and made his first argument in the bridge case before the full bench. The owners of the bridge contended that the Court had no jurisdiction. Labored and exhaustive arguments followed, involving constitutional points and questions of practice in equity. Chief Justice Taney and Justices Wayne and Curtis personally thanked Stanton for the learning and array of new facts brought before them; and held that they had jurisdiction.
Oella, Stanton's oldest sister, filed for divorce in 1854 from Dr. Benjamin Tappan. Stanton employed Roderick S. Moodey to try the suit, while Stanton himself assisted as counsel advisory. The suit ended in a decree of divorce and a judgment of fifty thousand dollars.
Late in 1854, Stanton was engaged to defend a suit between Cyrus H. McCormick and John Manny. McCormick invented, patented, and built a machine for reaping grain which had become a great success. About twenty years later, John H. Manny of Wisconsin produced a successful apparatus for harvesting grain, and turned out four hundred machines. McCormick, in November, 1854, brought suit to prevent the manufacture, sale, and use of the Manny reaper and mower as an infringement upon patents taken out by him in 1847.
There were something over a dozen lawyers connected with the case. Peter H. Watson of Washington, George Harding of Philadelphia, and Stanton of Pittsburgh were the leading counsel for Manny, and Reverdy Johnson and E. N. Dickerson for McCormick. At some point, Abraham Lincoln was retained because he was licensed to practice in Illinois, and a Chicago court hearing was anticipated. Lincoln gave the case careful preparation.
However, two weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin the first hearing was transferred to Cincinnati, Ohio. An agreement between opposing counsel limited participation to two attorneys for each side. Lincoln was denied any role in the trial. In addition, Stanton and Harding ignored Lincoln, never including him in consultations, meals or social gatherings. Judge John McLean entertained all the lawyers at a dinner at his home, but Lincoln was not invited. Lincoln also learned that the brief he had prepared had not been opened, and that he would have no role in the trial. Lincoln was described by Harding as “a tall rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing.” Stanton later reportedly said to a friend that Lincoln was a “long, lank creature from Illinois, wearing a dirty linen duster for a coat, on the back of which the perspiration had splotched two wide stains that, emanating from each armpit, met at the center, and resembled a dirty map of a continent.”
Lincoln watched the proceedings as a spectator, and was impressed with Stanton's speech in court. After the court ruled in favor of Manny, Lincoln returned to his office and home in Springfield, Illinois and told his law partner that he had been “roughly handled by that man Stanton.” Following the trial, the Manny legal team’s Watson sent Lincoln a check for his participation. Lincoln returned it, saying he had contributed nothing to the trial, but Watson sent it back to him. Ultimately, Lincoln cashed the check – and also recognized that Stanton's knowledge and skills, if not his conceit and arrogance, would be of great value to the country.
Stanton had been courting Ellen Hutchinson, the daughter of wealthy Pittsburgh merchant, who had been disappointed in a previous romance. In addition to being wary of another suitor, she was concerned by his obsession with work, his impatience, and his indifference to the feelings of others. Stanton wrote to her:
There is so much of the hard and repulsive in my - (I will not say nature, for that I think is soft and tender) but in the temper and habit of life generated by adverse circumstances, that great love only can bear with and overlook.
|Ellen Hutchinson Stanton|
|Stanton and his son, Eddie|
I have not suffered a minute from seasickness, nor has Eddie. Almost every one else was sick — some very severely. The first few days out, the weather was very cold, rough, and disagreeable, which brought on a sharp attack of asthma — the hardest I have had. It lasted several days, but is gradually disappearing under the genial influence of the tropics. If I could have been seasick I think it would have relieved me, and in this respect I shall not experience one of the benefits anticipated from the voyage. Sunday we spent at Kingston, Jamaica, where the ship takes on her coal. The scenes at the wharf and at the church — which were the two points of observation that I selected — afforded a strange and very interesting exhibition. Here the extremes of the Jamaican social system were encountered. The products of the island have greatly diminished and the estates grown ruined and neglected since the Emancipation. The whites say this is owing to the oppressive exactions and burdens of the Government, which destroy all hope of improvement and repress all exertion. I saw no indication of unwillingness in the blacks to labor; but the complaints of want of work are very great. I had several applications by smart, active fellows to go with me, because, they said, they could get no employment; all our passengers had similar applications.Stanton studied Spanish on the trip, as many of the documents were in that language; after nearly a year of work, he succeeded in breaking up a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Limantour was indicted and fled the country. Before returning in January, 1859, Stanton gathered the Spanish and Mexican land laws and decisions and the documents relating to grants and reversions. His fee was twenty-five thousand dollars, and the Government paid his expenses to, from, and in California.
Sickles had been less than a model husband. He drew censure from the New York State Assembly for bringing with him to the chambers a known prostitute and madam, Fanny White. George Templeton Strong, another New York lawyer, had written in his diary:
Sickles belonging to the filthy sediment of the profession [lawyer], and lying somewhere in its lower strata. Perhaps better to say that he’s one of the bigger bubbles of the scum of the profession, swollen and windy, and puffed out with fetid gas.
Dear sir with a deep regret I enclose to you address the few lines but an indispensible duty compels me so to do seeing that you are greatly imposed upon.
There is a fellow I may say for he is not a gentleman by any means by the of Phillip Barton Key and I believe the district attorney who rents a house of a negro man by the name of Jno. A Gray situated on 15th street btwn K & L streets for no other purpose than to meet your wife Mrs Sickles. He hangs a string out of the window as a signal to her that he is in and leaves the door unfastened and she walks in and sir I do assure you with these few hints. I leave the rest for you to imagine. Most Respfly Your friend R. P. G.
Sickles confronted Teresa with the letter. Although she initially denied everything, on Saturday, February 26, Teresa wrote out a confession describing her meetings with Key at a vacant house on 15th Street that Key had rented for their assignations. It began:
I have been in a house in Fifteenth Street, with Mr. Key. How many times I don’t know. I believe the house belongs to a colored man. The house is unoccupied. Commenced going there the latter part of January. Have been in alone and with Mr. Key. Usually stayed an hour or more. There was a bed in the second story. I did what is usual for a wicked woman to do.
Daniel Sickles proceeded directly to the residence of the U. S. Attorney General and turned himself in. On the following Thursday, a grand jury brought an indictment against Sickles for murder. On March 5, 1859, a front-page illustration on the cover of Harper's Weekly showed Sickles shooting an unarmed and prostrate Key, while Sickles' friend Butterworth looked on. The other major national weekly, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated, published a similar drawing on the same date.
|Daniel Sickles, Teresa Sickles, and Phillip Barton Key|
|The Sickles Trial|
As he came in his manner appeared excited. There was something strange and unusual about it. His voice was somewhat different from the manner in which I had usually heard him speak. He advanced and took me by the hand. I think he then said, “A thousand thanks for coming to see me under these circumstances.” He had scarcely repeated these words, when I saw a great change in his appearance. He became very much convulsed indeed. He threw himself on the sofa, covering his face with his hands. He then broke into an agony of unnatural and unearthly sounds, the most remarkable I have ever heard —something like a scream, interrupted by violent sobbing. From his convulsed appearance he was in the act of writhing. His condition appeared to me very frightful, appalling me so much that I thought if it lasted much longer he must become insane. He was indulging in exclamations about dishonor having been brought on his house, his wife and child. He seemed particularly to dwell on the disgrace brought upon his child. Should think this continued ten minutes. Endeavored to pacify him. I turned from him to go for a physician myself, but he seemed to stop a little these violent exclamations, and finally they broke down. The spasms became more violent till they ceased. I think I must have been there something over half an hour. I accompanied him from there to the jail.
|Robert J. Walker|
There are two classes of cases in which a man may be exempted from judicial punishment for killing, namely, self-protection, which is a natural right, and, secondly, the defense of one’s household from a thief or robber.
But there is a third class, arising from the social compact, for the law holds family chastity and the sanctity of the marriage bed, the Matron’s Honor and the Virgin’s Purity, to be more valuable and estimable in law than the property – or life — of any man.
The present case belongs to that class.
. . . One, that the act of the prisoner at bar is justified by the law of the land under these circumstances; the other, that whether justified or not, he is free from legal responsibility by reason of the state of the prisoner’s mind.
“The family,” says a distinguished moralist, “is the cradle of sensibility, where the first lessons are taught of that tenderness and humanity which cement mankind together; and were they extinguished, the whole fabric of society would be dissolved.”
If the adulterer be found in the husband’s bed, he is taken in the act, within the meaning of the law. If he provides a place for the express purpose of committing adultery with another man’s wife, and be found leading her, accompanying her, or following her to that place for that purpose, he is taken in the act. If he not only provides but habitually keeps such a place and is accustomed, by preconcerted signals, to entice the wife from the husband’s house, to accompany him to that vile den, and if he be found watching her, spyglass in hand, and lying in wait around the husband’s house, he is taken in the act. If, moreover, he has grown so bold as to take a child of the injured husband, his little daughter, by the hand, to separate her from her mother, to take the child to the house of a mutual friend in order to enjoy the mother, it presents a case surpassing all that has ever been written of cold, villainous, remorseless lust.
Who, seeing this thing, would not exclaim to the unhappy husband, “hasten, hasten hasten to save the mother of your child. Although she be lost as a wife, rescue her from the horrid adulterer; and may the Lord, who watches over the home and the family, guide the bullet and direct your stroke.” [Applause here].
The death of Key was a cheap sacrifice to save a young mother from the horrible fate which, on that Sabbath day, hung over this prisoner’s life and the mother of his child. The husband here beheld the adulterer in the very act of withdrawing his wife from his room, from his presence, from his arm, from his wing, from his nest; meets him in that act and slays him; and we say that the right to slay him stands on the firmest principles of self-defense. [Thunderous applause and cheers.]
On the twentieth day of the trial the case was submitted to the jury, who within an hour returned with a verdict of not guilty. At the words “not guilty,” pandemonium broke out in the court. The audience cheered, defense attorneys embraced, and bystanders dashed off to spread the word. Ten of the jurors joined in the celebration. The verdict had taken them so long to reach, one explained, because one member of the panel requested time to pray
before voting not guilty. Daniel Sickles had been acquitted of the murder in the first successful use of the insanity defense in the United States.
Dan Sickles was not just a free man; he was the man of the hour. But those who stood by him
during his trial turned against him. On July 23, 1859, Harper's Weekly reprinted a story from the New York Herald, stating that Sickles intended to reconcile with his wife. He had abandoned the idea of suing for divorce. Instead he and his wife had agreed to bury
“the past in the grave of oblivion.” More startling still, “it is said their love is greater than ever.” Mr. Sickles’s political and personal friends "are much disappointed at this event.” Sickles wrote to the Herald an explanation of his decision:
If I ever failed to comprehend the utterly desolate position of an offending though penitent woman—the hopeless future, with its dark possibilities of danger, to which she is doomed when proscribed as an outcast—I can now see plainly enough in the almost universal howl of denunciations with which she is followed to my threshold, the misery and perils from which I have rescued the mother of my child.Southern diarist Mary Chesnut observed Sickles “sitting alone on the benches of the Congress . . . He was as left to himself as if he had smallpox.” A friend of hers said that killing Key “was all right . . . It was because he condoned his wife’s [adultery], and took her back . . . Unsavory subject.” Sickles decided not to run for another term.
Sickles continued to have high regard for Stanton. Sickles was widowed in 1867 when Teresa died of tuberculosis at the age of 31. He married a second time in Spain; in 1872, when his only son was born in Madrid to his second wife, Sickles named him George Stanton Sickles.
|Edwin and Ellen Stanton|
|The Stantons' home in Washington, D.C.|
In December 1860 Stanton gave up his successful and lucrative law practice for the appointment of United States Attorney General in the presidential administration of James Buchanan.
He strongly opposed secession, and is credited by historians for changing Buchanan's governmental position away from tolerating secession to denouncing it as unconstitutional and illegal. On December 20, South Carolina passed its ordinance of secession and left the Union. On December 26, 1860, Stanton wrote to a friend, W. B. Copeland, Pittsburgh, in response to a letter of congratulation about his new position:
I am deeply penetrated by the kindness manifested by your note, received this morning. After much hesitation and serious reflection, I resolved to accept the post to which in my absence I was called, in the hope of doing something to save this Government. I AM WILLING TO PERISH IF THEREBY THIS UNION MAY BE SAVED. We are in God's hands and His almighty arm alone can save us from greater misery than has ever fallen upon a nation. I devoutly pray for His help; all men should pray for succor in this hour. No effort of mine shall be spared.Early in the morning of December 27, the president's cabinet learned that Major Robert Anderson had, on the evening of the 26th, abandoned Fort Moultrie, spiking the guns behind him, and occupied Fort Sumter. The President exclaimed, on hearing the news: "My God, are calamities never to come singly? I call God to witness that you gentlemen, better than anybody, know that this is not only without but against my orders. It is against my policy."
I knew Mr. Stanton. He related fully to me the proceedings of the preliminary meeting between the President and the South Carolina commissioners and of the scene in the cabinet consultation, which he had just left. He was full of wrath. He said that I must go to both Black and Buchanan and protest against the fatal course the administration was pursuing. He told me that the so-called ambassadors had actually rented a house in Washington — which I subsequently learned was a fact — expecting to remain permanently as representatives of the South as a foreign nation.
He said that he had informed the President that the South Carolina agents were traitors; that the President had no power to negotiate with them, and that I must tell the President that if he should continue negotiating with traitors he would place himself on the same plane with traitors and be liable to impeachment if not something worse.
He advised me also that he would seek Black that evening and prepare, as attorney general, an objection to the President's communication to the so-called ambassadors. I was deeply impressed by his aggressive manner and the grave facts he disclosed. It was audacious to obey his request to personally advise the President what he should do, but the more I thought of it, the more important it seemed, and I went. On returning, I found Judge Black at Willard's Hotel and suggested to him that any officer negotiating with these gentlemen from South Carolina might be getting his neck into a halter. He was frightened by that color of affairs. I do not think he had appreciated the full significance of the situation, as I know I had not before listening to Stanton, whose head was clear and who turned the whole course of events at that time and prevented a disgraceful chapter in our history. Black, too, changed, and when we were through our conversation, took his carriage and drove away to see Stanton.
In January, 1861, when Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson Davis left Washington for the South, they rode together to give notice that they wished to retain their pew in Epiphany Episcopal Church. As they turned to go Mrs. Davis said with a confident smile: 'You keep the cushion, too, for we shall need it soon — when we come back.' Mr. Davis added: 'Yes, keep the cushion for us till we return.' And so they left us fully expecting to be back here within a brief period at the head of a nation which, in the meantime, they had broken in twain and reunited on a new basis.On February 8, 1861, the Provisional Confederate States Congress meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, adopted a constitution; on February 9 it elected and swore in Jefferson Davis as president. Stanton received a program of the proposed inauguration ceremony from his friend Judge Archibald Roane of Alabama. Reading it in cabinet consultation, he said:
Such a proceeding cannot be permitted to take place within the confines of this nation. It is not a mock affair, but an earnest and desperate effort to break up this Union. It is just as much our duty to save the country from destruction by slave-holding John Browns as by abolition John Browns.
It is never too late to save the country. We are not helpless. If we supinely permit some upstart to be elected and inaugurated as president at Montgomery, we shall have to permit the same performance here in Washington, if undertaken. If we permit the secessionists to seize the Federal property and archives in South Carolina and Alabama, shall we not be obliged to permit them to seize and use the Federal buildings and records here in Washington? Would you, Mr. President, abdicate if Davis should come, which he may do, and demand possession of the White House? Shall we offer no resistance if the secessionists come here and attempt to seize the public records? If we do not resist them there, we cannot resist them here. If you would not abdicate in Washington, you cannot abdicate in Charleston or Montgomery. Mr. President, there must be no so-called inauguration of another president while you occupy that high office, never, never!The reply was that the army and navy were in such a crippled condition that nothing could be done. Stanton urged Buchanan to ask Congress to strengthen the army and make it adequate to threatened emergencies, but without results. He then went to his cousin, Benjamin Stanton, who was an Ohio congressman and chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs, and begged him to put forward a bill for an immediate increase in the number and equipment of the military forces. His cousin complied, but the Democrats largely opposed the measure, saying that if there were any real necessity for increasing the military strength of the country, the President himself would urge Congress to do it.
The dreadful disaster of Sunday [Battle of Bull Run] can scarcely be mentioned. The imbecility of this administration has culminated in that catastrophe, and irretrievable misfortune and national disgrace are to be added to the ruin of all peaceful pursuits and national bankruptcy as the result of Lincoln's 'running the machine' for five months. . . The capture of Washington now seems to be inevitable . . .Stanton's oldest son, Eddie, was attending Kenyon College; his father advised him not to volunteer for active service. In October, Ellen Stanton gave birth to James Hutchinson Stanton, who they called "Jamie." Around that time, Stanton and George McClellan had become colleagues: Ellen wrote to Eddie about newspaper accounts which described Stanton as "General McClellan's confidential adviser." On November 1, Lincoln placed McClellan in charge of all Union armies.
It was harder for Cameron 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.
Cameron was replaced as Secretary of War by Stanton in January 1862. Ellen was against him accepting the post: with his acceptance to join Lincoln's cabinet, he sacrificed a yearly income of $40,000 to $50,000 as a successful lawyer for a cabinet salary of just $8,000. In addition to the money, he was taking on a challenging post; Colonel A. P. Heichold of Pennsylvania said
On the day Stanton was sworn in, his Department resembled a great lunatic asylum more than anything else.On January 24, Stanton wrote a public to an editor of the New York Herald Tribune, Charles Anderson Dana:
As soon as I can get the machinery of the office working, the rats cleared out, and the rat holes stopped we shall move. This army has got to fight or run away; and while men are striving nobly in the West, the champagne and oysters on the Potomac must be stopped. But patience for a short while only is all I ask, if you and others like you will rally around me.
|Charles Anderson Dana|
Washington Jan 24, 1861 [i.e. 1862]
The most welcome congratulations that I have received were from you. You are right in supposing my acceptance of the War office means “thoroughness, earnestness, & no compromise.” Believe me, I shall not do the Lords work deceitfully—and I am Secretary only because I had despaired of seeing it done at all. But I shall need the support of every true man—the sappers and miners about Washington are more dangerous than the Manassas rebels. I rejoiced exceedingly at the Tribunes treatment of my nomination, it gave my heart confidence & strength. Are we never to meet until I send a Provost Marshal after you? I beg you to give my compliments to Mr Greely & believe me to be Truly Yours
Edwin M Stanton
I shall rely upon the earnest men of the day to tell me whatever I ought to know. Many things will escape my observation, many may be far beyond my power but if you see them tell me of them and I will thank you
Stanton enlarged and rehabilitated the War Department building when he became Secretary, raising its height from two to four stories. But one building could not contain all the functions of the wartime department: by the end of the war, the department was spread over 11 buildings. The War Department, located where the Old Executive Office Building now stands to the west of the White House, was a frequent destination for President Lincoln, who gave Stanton the nickname of "Mars," God of War.
|James W. Ripley|
|Joseph G. Totten|
General Montgomery C. Meigs, quartermaster-general, was crucial to the war effort. Before Stanton had been in office two weeks, he persuaded Congress to authorize the appointment of two more assistant secretaries, bringing the total to three, forty-nine clerks, four messengers, and two laborers, and the further addition of ten non-commissioned officers to the adjutant-general's staff. New jobs brought a rush of eager applicants, but Stanton gave preference to soldiers unfit for field service because of wounds or minor physical defects.
In May, 1862, Stanton asked his brother-in-law, Christopher Wolcott, to be First Assistant Secretary:
I know I ought not to ask it of you, and fear the work will kill you, but I do not know where to look for aid, and if I do not have it now, I must give up myself.
stood behind a high, slightly inclined table . . . with a piece of paper before him and a pencil in his hand. Around the room stood his visitors, who stepped up one by one to this high table, stated his business as briefly as possible and in the hearing of everybody, and received a prompt and final answer as rapidly as words would convey it.
Business in the War Department began officially at nine o’clock. As Stanton’s carriage turned off Pennsylvania Avenue around that time, the doorkeeper would stick his head inside and announce: "The Secretary." The word spread; stragglers and loungers scurried to their desks and the place quivered with activity. Alighting from his carriage, Stanton was usually beset by favor-seekers, waiting on the sidewalk. He might stop for a word with a soldier or a needy-looking woman, but he would curtly tell the others to go to his reception room upstairs.
Mr. Stanton never neglected anything. Every day's work was complete before he left the office at night, and frequently he did not leave at all at night but the next morning. His wife, who could see that he was destroying himself, frequently came at midnight or a little later, for the purpose of inducing him to go home. I have known him many times to keep on nevertheless with work that he regarded as important until nearly or quite daylight, Mrs. Stanton patiently but anxiously waiting for him.Stanton's biographer Frank A. Flower said that
The furniture of Stanton's office was of the simplest kind. The only luxury was an old haircloth lounge, from which the covering was half-worn. On this, during great battles or important military manoeuvres, when he dared not be away from the telegraph instrument day or night, he secured little rest. Here, too, during many an anxious night, Lincoln stretched himself while reading despatches and consulting with the Secretary.
Stanton’s private secretary, E.A. Johnson wrote of the relationship between Lincoln and Stanton:
No two men were ever more utterly and irreconcilably unlike. The charity which Stanton could not feel, coursed from every pore in Lincoln. Stanton was all dignity and sternness, Lincoln all simplicity and good nature . . . yet no two men ever did or could work better in harness. They supplemented each other’s nature and they fully recognized the fact that they were a necessity to each other.
The President's relationship to Secretary Stanton was another instance of Mr. Lincoln's marvelous self-control. Where the good of the nation was involved he didn't even see things that related to himself alone. Secretary Stanton was a strong man and devoted to his country. I believe, too, that he loved the President. But while he recognized Mr. Lincoln's greatness and was loyal, those traits of Mr. Lincoln's which was antipathetic to his character irritated him sometimes almost beyond endurance. Mr. Stanton was not a man of much self-control. The President's tenderness of heart seemed to him weakness. The fondness for reading and for jesting, which every day restored the balance in the President's overweighted mind, seemed to Mr. Stanton something approaching imbecility. He was furious once when Mr. Lincoln delayed a cabinet meeting to read the witticisms of Petroleum V. Nasby. When the President, during hours of anxious waiting for news from a great battle, was apparently absorbed in Hamlet, Mr. Stanton, whose invectives were varied, called him, I have heard, 'a baboon.'
Was there ever such inability to appreciate what is going on in an awful crisis? Here is the fate of this whole republic at stake, and here is the man around whom it all centers, on whom it all depends, turning aside from this momentous, this incomparable issue, to read the...trash of a silly mountebank!
It was an interesting and pleasant sight, that of Mr. Lincoln seated with one long leg crossed upon the other, his head a little peaked and his face lit up by the animation of talking or listening, while Mr. Stanton would stand sidewise to him, with one hand resting lightly on the high back of the chair in the brief intervals of that everlasting occupation of wiping his spectacles.Dana wrote that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was
impulsive, warm-blooded, very quick in execution, perhaps not always infallible in judgment. I never knew a man who could do so much work in a given time. He was a nervous man, a man of imagination, a man utterly absorbed in the idea of the republic one and indivisible; and he lived for it, wore himself out in the service, and shortly after he ceased to serve in that office he passed into another world, entirely exhausted, consumed by his devotion to public duties.
During the many weeks when his family was away, Lincoln seemed to crave such company, in particular reaching out not only to the soldiers but also to a shifting handful of aides and colleagues who became close friends and helped alleviate some of his loneliness. Many of these friendships were temporary or superficial, but one in particular had lasting consequences for the Union cause. Lincoln's second secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, also maintained a cottage at the Soldiers' Home. Here, he and his children interacted with the president and helped cement a partnership that contributed mightily to the Union victory.Working with Lincoln, Stanton changed his opinion, telling Peter Watson, his former associate on the McCormick-Manny case: "No men were ever so deceived as we at Cincinnati."
Stanton's friendship with Lincoln was also deepened in 1862 when both families suffered the loss of a son. Lincoln's son Willie died in February and Stanton's infant son James died in July. Stanton was summoned from the Soldiers Home early one morning, called back to the Stanton home in Washington. He left a note for President Lincoln to "get your breakfast at my house" at 9 A.M. He added: "If my child is not dying I will be in town as early as possible." But James, who was less than a year old, died on July 8, 1862.
Just a month later, Stanton's sister, Oella, died on August 2. On the eve of the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862, John Hay and President Lincoln went to visit General Henry Halleck at his office. Hay wrote in his diary that Halleck
was at dinner & Stanton came in while we were waiting for him and carried us off to dinner. A pleasant little dinner and pretty wife as white and cold and motionless as marble, whose rare smiles seemed to pain her. Stanton was loud about the [George McClellan] business. He was unqualifiedly severe upon McClellan. He said that after these battles, there should be one Court Martial, if never any more. He said that nothing but foul play could lose us this battle & that it rested with [McClellan] and his friends. Stanton seemed to believe very strongly in Pope. So did the President for that matter.
By early 1863, the Union had the majority of prisoners, thousands of whom did not wish to be exchanged and returned to the South. Agreeing to Lincoln that it was inhumane to force these captives to return, Stanton set a new policy: prisoners would be screened, and the most promising could be enlisted to serve the Union cause. Confederate authorities, taking offense at the success of Stanton's policy, used it was an excuse to delay regular exchanges of the Northern soldiers they held.
In addition, Jefferson Davis declared Benjamin Butler and his officers to be felons "deserving of capital punishment," and announced that no more Union officers would be released on parole until Butler had been punished. Davis also warned that any Negroes taken in arms, together with their white officers, would be dealt with according to the Confederate state's statues for the suppression of slave insurrections. This made Union officers liable for the death penalty for inciting blacks to revolt, and essentially condemned Negro troops to death or slavery. Prisoner exchanges virtually stopped.
|Lincoln's Cabinet in 1862|
In September, after the battle of Antietam, Lincoln said that he was ready to issue a proclamation which said that on January 1, 1863, all people held in slavery in states still in rebellion were to be declared free. Stanton continued to advocate for the enlistment of Negroes into the Union armies as a military necessity. By the end of November, Lincoln agreed with him. Stanton organized a Bureau of Colored Troops in the War Department under the charge of Major Charles W. Foster.
|Charles W. Foster|
"modest, honest, and judicial. . . . not an original or brilliant man, but sincere, thoughtful, deep, and gifted with a courage that never faltered. Although quiet and hard to know, he loved a humorous story and the company of his friends."
|Charles Anderson Dana|
at Grant's Headquarters
Attacks on Stanton at the time were so persistent and vicious that his old friend and former tutor at Kenyon College, the Reverend Herman Dyer of New York, wrote a letter in reference to them, to which Stanton responded:
Washington, D. C, May 18, 1863.
My Dear Friend:
Yours of the 10th is welcome as an evidence of the continued regard of one whose esteem I have always been anxious to possess. I have been very well aware of the calumnies busily circulated against me in New York and elsewhere respecting my relations to General McClellan, but am compelled from public considerations to withhold the proofs that would stamp the falsity of the accusations and the base motives of the accusers, who belong to two classes:
First — Plunderers who have been driven from the Department when they were gorging millions;
Second — Scheming politicians, whose designs are endangered by an earnest, resolute, and uncompromising prosecution of this war as a war against rebels and traitors. A brief statement of facts of official record, which I can make to you confidentially, will suffice to satisfy yourself that your confidence in me has not been misplaced.
When I entered the cabinet I was and had been for months the sincere and devoted friend of General McClellan, and to support him and, so far as I might, aid and assist him in bringing the war to a close, was a chief inducement for me to sacrifice my personal happiness to a sense of public duty. I had studied him earnestly with an anxious desire to discover the military and patriotic virtue that might save the country, and if in any degree disappointed, I had hoped on, and waited for time to develop. I went into the cabinet about the 20th of January.
On the 27th the President made his Order No. 1, requiring the Army of the Potomac to move. It is not necessary, nor perhaps proper, to state all the causes which led to that order, but it is enough to know that the Government was on the verge of bankruptcy, and at the rate of expenditure the armies must move or the Government perish.
The 22d of February was the day fixed for movement, and when it arrived there was no more sign of movement on the Potomac than there had been for three months before. Many, very many earnest conversations I had held with General McClellan, to impress him with the absolute necessity of active operations or that the Government would fail because of foreign intervention and enormous debt. Between the 22d of February and the 8th of March the President had again interfered, and the movement on Winchester and to clear the blockade of the Potomac was promised, commenced, and abandoned. The circumstances cannot yet be revealed.
. . . To enable McClellan to transport his force, every means and power of the Government were placed at his disposal and unsparingly used. . . .
What motive can I have to thwart General McClellan? I am not now, never have been, and never will be a candidate for any office. I hold my present post at the request of the President, who knew me personally, but to whom I had not spoken from the 4th of March, 1861, until the day he handed me my commission. I knew that everything I cherish and hold dear would be sacrificed by accepting office. But I thought I might help to save the country, and for that I was willing to perish.
If I wanted to be a politician or a candidate for any office, would I stand between the Treasury and the robbers who are howling around me? Would I provoke and stand up against the whole newspaper gang in the country, of every part, who, to sell news, would imperil a battle?
I was never taken for a fool, but there could be no greater madness than for a man to encounter what I do for anything less than motives that overleap time and look forward to eternity.
I believe that God Almighty founded this Government, and for my act in the effort to maintain it I expect to stand before Him in judgment.
You will pardon this long explanation which has been made to no one else. It is due to you, who was my friend when I was a poor boy at school, and had no claim upon your confidence and kindness. It cannot be made public for obvious reasons. General McClellan is at the head of our chief army. He must have every confidence and support, and I am willing that the whole world should revile me rather than to diminish one grain of the strength needed to conquer the rebels. In a struggle like this, justice or credit to individuals is but dust in the balance. . . .
You will, of course, regard this explanation as being in the strictest confidence, designed only for your information upon matters where you have expressed concern for me. The confidence of yourself and men like you is full equivalent for all the railing that has been or can be expended against me; and in the magnitude of the cause all merely individual questions are swallowed up. I shall always rejoice to hear from you, and am as ever,
Truly yours, Edwin M. Stanton.
|Edwin Stanton in 1863|
|Clement L. Vallandigham|
|George Gordon Meade|
General Grant, in Cairo, Illinois, received an order to travel immediately to Louisville, Kentucky, where an officer from the War Department would meet him with instructions. Stanton met him for the first time, and gave him Lincoln's orders putting him in command of a new Military Division of the Mississippi.
Galt House, Louisville, Ky., October 18, 1863.
General George H. Thomas
General: General Grant, who bears this brief note, will thank you in behalf of the people, the War Department, and myself, for the magnificent behavior of yourself and your gallant men at Chickamauga. You stood like a rock and that stand gives you fame which will grow brighter and brighter as the ages go by. God be praised for such men at such a time. You will be rewarded by the country and by the Department.
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.Montgomery Meigs wrote:
After returning from Louisville, in October, 1863, where he met Grant personally for the first time, Secretary Stanton frequently reverted to the General, saying he liked him because he "never complained, never disobeyed orders, never talked politics, never wanted what the Government could not furnish" — qualities which he characterized as the very opposite in others whom he named. He was thoroughly rejoiced to meet a commander who cared nothing for neck-ties, drawing-room frippery, and military tail-feathers, exclaiming: "Grant is splendid. He takes secession by the throat, not, like some of our Potomac milliners, by the tail."
|Stanton in 1864|
Dana was Assistant Secretary of War from 1864 to 1865. General James Wilson wrote that President Lincoln "appears to have taken Dana into his inmost confidence...and to have consulted him fully about the amendment to the Constitution to legalize the abolition of slavery, about the admission of Nevada as a State, and generally about where to get necessary votes in Congress to carry through the various policies of his administration."
The massacre at Fort Pillow in April 1864, in which the Confederate victors slaughtered captives as they surrendered, so greatly enraged the North that Lincoln sought Stanton's opinion as to what course should be taken after the event. On May 5, 1864, Stanton responded with his plan:
First — That of the rebel officers now held as prisoners by the United States there should be selected by lot a number equal to the number of persons ascertained to have been massacred at Fort Pillow, who shall immediately be placed in close confinement as hostages to await such further action as may be determined.
Second — That Generals Forrest and Chalmers and all officers and men known, or who may hereafter be ascertained, to have been concerned in the massacre at Fort Pillow be excluded, by the President's special order, from the benefit of his amnesty, and also that they, by his order, be exempted from all privilege of exchange or other rights as prisoners of war, and shall, if they fall into our hands, be subjected to trial and such punishment as may be awarded for their barbarous and inhuman violation of the laws of war toward the officers and soldiers of the United States at Fort Pillow.
Third — That the rebel authorities at Richmond be notified that the prisoners so selected are held as hostages for the delivery up of Generals Forrest and Chalmers and those concerned in the massacre at Fort Pillow, or to answer in their stead, and in case of their non-delivery within a reasonable time, to be specified in the notice, such measures will be taken in reference to the hostages, by way of retributory justice for the massacre of Fort Pillow, as are justified by the laws of civilized warfare.
Fourth — That after the lapse of a reasonable time for the delivery up of Chalmers, Forrest, and those concerned in the massacre, the President proceed to take against the hostages above selected such measures as may, under the state of things then existing, be essential for the protection of Union soldiers from such savage barbarities as were practised at Fort Pillow and to compel the rebels to observe the laws of civilized warfare.
Fifth — That the practise of releasing, without exchange of equivalent, rebel prisoners taken in battle be discontinued, and no such immunity be extended to rebels while our prisoners are undergoing ferocious barbarity or the more horrible death of starvation.
Sixth — That precisely the same rations and treatment be henceforth practised in reference to the whole number of rebel officers remaining in our hands as are practised against either soldiers or officers in our service held by the rebels.
My reasons for selecting the officers instead of the privates for retaliatory punishment are:
First, because the rebels have selected white officers of colored regiments and excluded them from the benefit of the laws of war for no other reason than that they command special troops, and that, having thus discriminated against the officers of the United States service, their officers should be held responsible for the discrimination; and,
Second, because it is known that a large portion of the privates in the rebel army are forced there by conscription, and are held in arms by terror and rigorous punishment from their own officers. The whole weight of retaliatory measures, therefore, should, in my opinion, be made to fall upon the officers of the rebel army, more especially as they alone are the class whose feelings are at all regarded in the rebel States or who can have any interest or influence in bringing about more humane conduct on the part of the rebel authorities.
A serious objection against the release of prisoners of war who apply to be enlarged is that they belong to influential families, who, through representatives in Congress and other influential persons, are enabled to make interest with the Government. They are the class who, instead of receiving indulgences, ought, in my opinion, to be made to bear the heaviest burden of the war brought upon them by their own crimes.
It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once either directly or indirectly. If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated."
|Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldiers' Home|
One evening, in the summer of 1864, I rode out to the Soldiers Home with important dispatches for the President and Secretary of War, who were temporarily domiciled with their families on the grounds of the Home. I found Stanton reclining on the grass, playing with Lewis, one of his children . . . He invited me to a seat on the greensward while he read the telegrams; and then, business being finished, we began talking of early times in Steubenville, Ohio, his native town and mine. One of us mentioned the game of 'mumble-the-peg,' and he asked me if I could play it. Of course I said yes, and he proposed that we should have a game then and there. Stanton entered into the spirit of the boyish sport with great zest , and for the moment all the perplexing questions of the terrible war were forgotten. I do not remember who won.
When Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney died in October 1864, Stanton wanted to be named as his replacement. In addition, two other members of the cabinet, Edward Bates and Montgomery Blair, also wanted the post. However, Lincoln, along with General Grant believed that Stanton was more important to the Union cause as Secretary of War, and Salmon Chase was appointed instead.
Barnes, keep me alive till this rebellion is over, and then I will take a rest . . . a long one, perhaps.By late November, Stanton was back in the War Department office, working 15-hour days. It was at this time that Lincoln, speaking of Stanton to two congressmen, said:
His position is one of the most difficult in the world. Thousands in the army blame him because they are not promoted and other thousands out of the army blame him because they are not appointed. The pressure upon him is immeasurable and unending. He is the rock on the beach of our national ocean against which the breakers dash and roar, dash and roar without ceasing. He fights back the angry waters and prevents them from undermining and overwhelming the land. Gentlemen, I do not see how he survives, why he is not crushed and torn to pieces. Without him I should be destroyed. He performs his task superhumanly.According to Doris Kearns Goodwin in Team of Rivals:
Lincoln's liberal use of his pardoning power created the greatest tension between the two men. Stanton felt compelled to protect military discipline by exacting proper punishment for desertions or derelictions of duty, while Lincoln looked for any "good excuse for saving a man's life." When he found one, he said, "I got to bed happy as I think how joyous the signing of my name will make him and his family and his friends."In January, 1865, Stanton visited Savannah, Georgia to investigate the negro and cotton problems. Besides making a personal survey of the new situation in which the war had placed the colored people, he wished to learn their hopes and wants from their own lips. Having given a public audience to them, he selected twenty representatives and wrote down the testimony given by each, putting numerous questions to them. General Townsend offered to get a clerk, or to do the writing himself, but Stanton replied that if he made the record with his own hand he "would be sure that nothing had been lost."
That same month, Francis Preston Blair went to Richmond to discuss the possibility of peace negotiations with Jefferson Davis. Davis agreed to send Peace Commissioners to Washington "with a view to secure peace tot he two Countries." Lincoln consulted Stanton, who said:
There are not two countries. . . . Tell Davis that if you treat for peace, it will be for this one country . . .
Jefferson Davis predicted that before another year had passed, the South would be able to secure peace on its own terms, holding onto secession and slavery. He announced
I can have no "common country" with the Yankees. My life is bound up in the Confederacy; and, if any man supposes that, under any circumstances, I can be an agent of reconstruction of the Union, he had mistaken every element of my nature!The Union army took control of the Confederate capitol, Richmond, Virginia, on April 3, 1865. A crowd gathered at the War Department in Washington, D.C. and called for Stanton: His aide, A.E. Johnson, recalled:
As he stood upon the steps to speak, he trembled like a leaf, and his voice showed his emotion.The crowd cheered, and a smiling Stanton led them in singing The Star-Spangled Banner. That night, Seward joined other guests for dinner at Stanton's home.
On April 4, Lincoln visited Richmond. When the presidential party reached the landing, Lincoln was surrounded by black laborers who were cheering and shouting. A crowd was around Lincoln as he walked up the street to the mansion that Jefferson Davis had abandoned two days earlier.
|Lincoln and son Tad in Richmond, Virginia, April 4, 1865|
From Washington 6 P.M. 5th 1865
About two hours ago Mr Seward was thrown from his carriage his shoulder bone at the head of the joint broken off, his head and face much bruised and he is in my opinion dangerously injured. I think your presence here is needed. Mrs Lincoln with a party of friends left here this morning in the Monohanset for City Point. Please let me know when you may be expected
Secy of War
|Telegraph from Stanton to Lincoln|
April 5, 1865
When Lincoln returned to Washington, he immediately went to see Seward at his home. When he got back to the White House, Stanton rushed in with a telegram from General Grant:
General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this afternoon upon terms proposed by myself.Lincoln hugged Stanton and then went to tell his wife the news. Although it was late in the evening, Stanton went to Seward's home the share the telegram with him. At dawn the next day, Stanton ordered a five-hundred gun salute. The morning newspapers announced the surrender.
The next day, because of his own health problems, Stanton gave Lincoln his letter of resignation, but Lincoln rejected it. Stanton's biographer, Fletcher Pratt, reported that the president said:
Stanton, you cannot go. Reconstruction is more difficult and dangerous than construction or destruction. You have been our main reliance; you must help us through the final act. The bag is filled. It must be tied and tied securely. Some knots slip; yours do not. You understand the situation better than anybody else, and it is my wish and the country's that you remain.
Stanton and his wife entertained the Grants at a reception and dinner at their home on the night of April 13; a band serenaded the house, and the Stantons, Grants and other guests came out on the steps to listen. A crowd had gathered outside to cheer Stanton and Grant. After the guests left, Stanton worked into the early morning completing a provisional plan for the military government of the South which Lincoln had asked him to prepare; Stanton had asked Grant's thoughts on the matter. Lincoln had invited Grant to attend a cabinet meeting the next day.
On the evening of Friday, April 14, 1865 Stanton visited the home of Secretary of State William Seward before returning home. He and his wife had been invited to join the Lincolns at the theater, but Stanton declined, as he rarely enjoyed theatrical performances. He was just undressing for bed when two clerks from the War Department came banging at the door, shouting that the president had been shot and Seward had been attacked. Stanton had left Seward only a short time before, and said, "Oh, that can't be, that can't be so!" When another clerk arrived to inform his of what had happened at the Seward home, Stanton took a carriage back to their house on Lafayette Square. He found Seward, his son and nurse all severely injured and under the care of doctors. According to Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, who arrived at about the same time, blood was everywhere. Stanton, Welles and Montgomery Meigs then rushed to the Petersen House, where Lincoln had been taken after he had been shot at Ford's Theater.
Booth biographer Michael W. Kauffman wrote that after Stanton's arrival at Petersen House on the night of President Lincoln's assassination:
After consoling Mrs. Lincoln, Secretary Stanton was briefed on the overall situation. Then, bracing himself, he went to the back bedroom. As he looked down at the president, Surgeon General Barnes whispered the obvious: Mr. Lincoln cannot recover. Acknowledging with a faint nod, Stanton lowered himself into a chair next to the bed. All eyes turned to him in anticipation of some pronouncement, but instead he burst into loud, convulsive sobs.
That night I was awakened from a sound sleep with the news that Mr. Lincoln had been shot and that the Secretary wanted me. I found the President lying unconscious, though breathing heavily, on a bed in a small side room, while all the members of the cabinet and the Chief Justice with them, were gathered in the adjoining parlor. They seemed to be almost as much paralyzed as the unconscious sufferer within the little chamber. Mr. Stanton alone was in full activity.
|Illustration of Death-bed of Lincoln|
passed back into the room where the president lay. There were gathered . . . about twenty-or twenty-five in all, I should judge. The bed had been pulled out from the corner and owing to the stature of Mr. Lincoln, he lay diagonally on his back. He had been utterly unconscious from the instant the bullet plowed into his brain. His stertorous breathing subsided a couple of minutes after seven o'clock. From then to the end only the gentle rise and fall of his bosom gave indication that life remained.
The surgeon general was near the head of the bed, sometimes sitting on the edge thereof, his finger on the pulse of the dying man. Occasionally he put his ear down to catch the lessening beats of heart. Mr. Lincoln's pastor. The Reverend Doctor Gurley, stood a little to the left of the bed. Mr. Stanton sat in a chair near the foot on the left, where the pictures place Andrew Johnson. I stood quite near the head of the bed and from that position had full view of Mr. Stanton across the president.
I cannot recall a more pitiful picture than that of poor Mrs. Lincoln, almost insane with sudden agony, moaning and sobbing out that terrible night. Mr. Stanton attempted to soothe her, but he was full of business, and knew, moreover, that in a few hours at most she must be a widow. She entered the room where her husband lay motionless, but the surgeon announced that death was fast descending; she then fainted and was practically helpless.
According to Colonel A. F. Rockwell, who was present in the room:
During twenty minutes preceding the death of the President, Mr. Stanton stood quite motionless, leaning his chin upon his left hand, his right hand holding his hat and supporting his left elbow, the tears falling continually.
The Reverend Dr. Gurley stepped forward and lifting his hands began “Our Father and our God” and I snatched pencil and notebook from my pocket, but my haste defeated my purpose. My pencil point (I had but one) caught in my coat and broke, and the world lost the prayer, a prayer that was only interrupted by the sobs of Stanton as he buried his face in the bedclothes. As “Thy will be done, Amen” in subdued and tremulous tones floated through the little chamber, Mr. Stanton raised his head, the tears streaming down his face. A more agonized expression I never saw on a human countenance as he sobbed out the words: “He belongs to the angels now.”
|Illustration: "Death of President Lincoln, the Nation's Martyr"|
|Reward poster for Booth, Surratt, and Herold|
|Lock of Booth's hair|
|Lewis Powell / Payne|
Stanton ordered Payne, O'Laughlin, Spangler and Atzerodt confined below deck on the monitor Montauk, which was anchored near the Nay Yard.
The other male prisoners were placed in the hold of the monitor Saugus. Each prisoner had an iron ball weighing seventy-five pounds attached to his leg by a heavy chain and wore handcuffs joined by an iron bar. Later, for more security, Stanton ordered eight heavy canvas hoods made, padded one-inch thick with cotton, with one small hole for eating, no opening for eyes or ears. Stanton ordered that the hoods be worn by the seven men day and night to prevent conversation.
|Canvas Hoods for Prisoners|
General Joseph Holt, Judge Advocate General of the Army, was responsible for conducting the trial of the conspirators. The military commission began on May 9, and reached a verdict on the last day of June.
It found all the prisoners guilty of conspiring to murder Lincoln, Johnson, Seward and Grant. O'Laughlin, Mudd and Spangler were sentenced to hard labor; Payne Herold, Atzerodt and Surratt were sentenced to death by hanging.
|July 7, 1865|
Photograph by Alexander Gardner
Johnson was committed to the doctrine of states' rights. He believed that reconstruction amounted to no more than a resumption by the rebelling states of their rights and duties under the Constitution, and he stressed rights more than duties. Stanton strongly disagreed with Johnson's plan to readmit the seceded states to the Union without guarantees of civil rights for freed slaves. Stanton initially thought that the Freedmen's Bureau, established as an autonomous unit of the War Department by Congress, would give the Southern Unionists and Negroes adequate protection. The Bureau became a kind of welfare agency for blacks, and it also took over the administration of justice in cases where the rights of Negroes were involved. By the summer of 1865, however, Stanton was coming to believe that Johnson's pardon policy was return to power in the south the same men who were responsible for the war, and for shedding the blood of the Union army. Southerners chose their wartime leaders to represent them in Congress, and some called for Congress to grant compensation for emancipated slaves, appealed for a general amnesty, and restitution of confiscated property. Equally disturbing were the "Black Codes" being enacted: now that blacks were no longer property, new laws were put in place to keep the "freedmen" in their place. Stanton was increasingly disgusted that the South intended to continue with the same beliefs, leaders, and powers that had led to the war.
On April 2, 1866, Johnson proclaimed that the rebellion was ended and that the Southern states were now back in the Union. At the end of April, the Congressional Joint Committee on Reconstruction introduced a proposed Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. One section was designed to prevent racial discrimination by states. In another section, the committee had acceded to Johnson's contention that suffrage was a matter for the states to decide, and did not impose Negro voting on the South. However, the war increased the South's representation in the House of Representatives by making the three-fifths clause in the Constitution obsolete. The slaves who were formerly counted as 3/5 of a person for representation now would be counted as one person - and yet, not being permitted to vote, the South would be rewarded with increased representation and power for its white representatives in Congress.
Johnson and Stanton clashed over implementation of Reconstruction policy. In May 1866, Johnson leaked information to the Associated Press about a contentious cabinet meeting, and it appeared in newspapers the next morning.
In 1866, both Stanton and his wife were ill, and she made him promise to resign. In October he wrote Ellen, who was staying with family in Pittsburgh,
As yet I have said nothing about leaving the Cabinet to the President, but am only waiting to finish some business.Johnson's political purges of officeholders had prompted the Senate to retaliate with a tenure-of-office bill in early 1867, providing that persons holding appointments from the President and Senate should continue in their posts until the Senate sanctioned their removal by the President. Johnson vetoed both this and the reconstruction bill passed by Congress; both vetoes were overridden by Congress.
|Cartoon of Andrew Johnson|
|Cartoon featuring Grant, Stanton, Thomas and Johnson|
Mr. Stanton's enjoyment of the surroundings astonished me. The evening of his arrival he immediately went out of the house and ran across the garden like a boy, exclaiming: "How delightful the air is. I can breathe! See, I can breathe!" His terrible enemy, asthma, retired for a moment and the weary war-worn veteran threw aside his armor and, forgetting the nightmare horrors from which he had so recently emerged, drank in the repose and recreation he so greatly needed. All the sternness and severity of his countenance passed away. He joked and laughed with the children; rode often with my young daughter in a single carriage; walked alone in the grove and garden and when, late in the evening, we gathered in the library, discussed various subjects or told us stories of the war.
Your love is the only solace that supports me in despondency, and ill health, and many cares.After the funeral, Stanton went to Gambier to spend his 52nd birthday with his mother and Pamphila, before returning to Washington.
In January, the Senate ordered that Stanton return to the War Department and cabinet. On January 14, Grant left the War Department and Stanton returned. He drew the $3,000 due as his salary for the period of suspension, and got back to work. He intended to resign soon after resuming office, but was convinced by Republicans to stay and resist Johnson. He wrote his sister, Pamphila,
I do not want to remain . . . but do not feel at liberty to give up immediately.
The trial went on for weeks; finally, senators voted on May 16, 1868: 35 voted to convict. Thirty-six votes were needed to carry the verdict. Stanton relinquished the office and sent his letter of resignation to the president.
Stanton was almost without funds at this time. They sold what assets they could, and cut back on expenses. In spite of his poor health and finances, Stanton spoke in support for Grant in the presidential race that fall.
Late in July 1869, Stanton, who had continued to suffer from severe asthma, had a relapse; his doctor suggested that Stanton draw up his will. He and Ellen went to New Hampshire, then to Boston, where they were guests of wealthy friends during August. In September they stayed at the Hoopers' home in Cape Cod. He wrote to his mother on September 18,
I have this summer been diligently seeking health on mountains and the seashore, hoping to find some place where we could be free from asthma. But my search has been in vain and tomorrow I start home scarcely as well as when I set out.
Stanton's health continued to fail. One of his last letters was to his longtime colleague, Peter Watson:
Washington, November 25, 1869.
P. H. Watson, Esq.
My dear Friend:
Contrary to my hope when I last saw you, my health was not restored so that I could engage in business for a livelihood. My strength rapidly declined in the summer, and with reluctance I was compelled to leave home.
Some months on the mountains and seashore of New England, with absolute rest, effected some improvement, and I am now better than for the last twelve months, and am steadily but slowly improving. My medical advisers, everywhere, enjoin abstinence from any employment taxing my physical strength, so that I have been forced to decline numerous professional engagements that, had I been strong enough, would have provided for my necessities.
I am entirely out of money. Traveling, educating, and providing for my children, and other necessary expenditures, have quite exhausted my last winter's supply furnished by Mr. Witt's kindness, so that I am compelled to apply to you for aid. I know you will be glad to aid me if in your power. I have valuable property here and in Ohio, and on the Monongahela, not encumbered, but unproductive. I have not been able to give my attention towards disposing of it, and my protracted and serious illness has cut off my professional supplies.
Please let me know whether you can help me or not. Five thousand dollars would carry me through another year; even less would drive the wolf from the door.
With kindest regards to you and Mrs. Watson and the children, I remain,
Ever yours, Edwin M. Stanton.
|Ulysses Grant, 1869|
On December 19, Stanton's 54th birthday, President Grant called at their home to inform them of the nomination. On the 21st, after his doctor had refused to permit him to go personally to the White House to thank Grant, Stanton wrote a note of acceptance to the president:
It is the only public office I ever desired and I accept it with great pleasure.
His funeral was held on December 27th. From his home, the funeral cortege went to Oak Hill Cemetery. The hearse was drawn by four gray horses draped in black and the coffin and the grave were heaped with floral tributes. More than 100 carriages of mourners followed. Onlookers lined the streets; President Grant ordered the public offices closed and flags flown at half-staff.
|Stanton Grave, Oak Hill Cemetery|
when I recall the kindness of your father to me, when my father was lying dead and I felt utterly desperate, hardly able to realize the truth, I am as little able to keep my eyes from filling with tears as he was then.Rumors circulated that Stanton had committed suicide out of remorse for hanging Mrs. Surratt, cutting his own throat as his brother Darwin had, and that his wife had sealed the coffin to prevent anyone seeing the wound.
Stanton had taken a large pay cut to serve as Secretary of War, and his finances were in bad shape when he died. The court appointed as appraisers General J. K. Barnes and General Thomas M. Vincent, who listed the property of the estate so as to enable the executors to turn over one-third to Stanton's mother and two-thirds to his widow. The Steubenville house sold for $7,500 ; the K Street house in Washington for $41,000 ; other property for approximately $5,000. Congress voted to Mrs. Stanton a sum equal to the annual salary of an associate justice — $5,000 — and there was $10,000 life insurance, which was promptly paid. A testimonial fund of nearly $100,000 was raised, mostly in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.
In the 1930s, a book written by Otto Eisenschiml accused Stanton of arranging the assassination of Lincoln; his signature work, Why was Lincoln Murdered?, was published to mixed reviews and a national furor. In it, he postulated that Stanton had plotted to kill Lincoln due to marked political and personal differences. He used circumstantial evidence to build his case, including Stanton's hiring of a bodyguard named John Parker to protect the president. Parker was absent from his post when assassin Booth entered the presidential box at Ford's Theater.
~ Charles A. Dana