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Edwin McMasters Stanton

In office
December 20, 1860 – March 4, 1861
President James Buchanan
Preceded by Jeremiah S. Black
Succeeded by Edward Bates

In office
January 20, 1862 – May 28, 1868
President Abraham Lincoln (1862-1865)
Andrew Johnson (1865-1868)
Preceded by Simon Cameron
Succeeded by John M. Schofield

Born December 19, 1814(1814-12-19)
Steubenville, Ohio, U.S.
Died December 24, 1869 (aged 55)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic/Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Lamson Stanton
Ellen Hutchison Stanton
Alma mater Kenyon College
Profession Lawyer, Politician
Religion Methodist

Edwin McMasters Stanton (December 19, 1814 – December 24, 1869) was an American lawyer, politician, United States Attorney General in 1860-61 and Secretary of War through most of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era.


Early life and career

Stanton between 1852 and 1855, with his son, Edwin Lamson Stanton (1842–1877).

Stanton was born in Steubenville, Ohio, the eldest of the four children of David and Lucy Norman Stanton. His father was a physician of Quaker stock. Stanton began his political life as a lawyer in Ohio and an antislavery Democrat. After leaving from Kenyon College in 1833 to get a job to support his family, he was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1836. Stanton built a house in the small town of Cadiz, Ohio, and practiced law there until 1847, when he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He resided at one point in Richmond, Ohio, in what is now Everhart Bove Funeral Home.

Law and politics

In 1856, Stanton moved to Washington, D.C., where he had a large practice before the Supreme Court. In 1859, Stanton was the defense attorney in the sensational trial of Daniel E. Sickles, a politician and later a Union general, who was tried on a charge of murdering his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key II (son of Francis Scott Key), but was acquitted after Stanton invoked one of the first uses of the insanity defense in U.S. history.[citation needed]


Attorney General

In 1860 he was appointed Attorney General by President 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.

Time of War

Civil War

Stanton was politically opposed to Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860. After Lincoln was elected president, Stanton agreed to work as a legal adviser to the inefficient Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, whom he replaced on January 15, 1862. He accepted the position only to "help save the country." He was very effective in administering the huge War Department, but devoted considerable amounts of his energy to the persecution of Union officers whom he suspected of having traitorous sympathies for the South, the most famous of these being Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter. Stanton used his power as Secretary to ensure every general who sat on the court-martial would vote for conviction or else be unable to obtain career advancement.

On August 8, 1862 Stanton issued an order to "arrest and imprison any person or persons who may be engaged, by act, speech or writing, in discouraging volunteer enlistments, or in any way giving aid and comfort to the enemy, or in any other disloyal practice against the United States."

Edwin Stanton (Secretary of War) Salmon Chase (Treasury secretary) President Lincoln Gideon Welles (Secretary of the navy) William Seward (Secretary of State) Caleb B. Smith (Cabinet) Montgomery Blair (Cabinet) Edward Bates (Attorney General) Emancipation Proclamation draft Unknown Painting use cursor to explore or button to enlarge
Lincoln met with his cabinet on July 22, 1862 for the first reading of a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The president recognized Stanton's ability, but whenever necessary Lincoln managed to "plow around him." Stanton once tried to fire the Chief of the War Department Telegraph Office, Thomas Eckert. Lincoln prevented this by praising Eckert to Stanton. Yet, when pressure was exerted to remove the unpopular secretary from office, Lincoln refused. His high opinion of Stanton can be seen from the following quote:

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.

—President Abraham Lincoln[1], on Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton

Lincoln's last act as President was overriding Stanton's decision supporting the execution of George S.E. Vaughn for spying. Lincoln pardoned Vaughn one hour before the President was assassinated.[2]

The Running Machine
An 1864 cartoon featuring Stanton, William Fessenden, Abraham Lincoln, William Seward and Gideon Welles takes a swing at the Lincoln administration.

Stanton became a Republican and apparently changed his opinion of Lincoln.

Lincoln's assassination

When Stanton came to the Peterson House, he took charge of the scene. Mary Lincoln was so unhinged by the experience of the assassination that Stanton had her ordered from the room by shouting, "Take that woman out and do not let her in again!" At Lincoln's death Stanton remarked, "Now he belongs to the ages," and lamented, "There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen." He vigorously pursued the apprehension and prosecution of the conspirators involved in Lincoln's assassination. These proceedings were not handled by the civil courts, but by a military tribunal, and therefore under Stanton's tutelage. Stanton has subsequently been accused of witness tampering, most notably of Louis J. Weichmann, and of other activities that skewed the outcome of the trials.

Though from the start Booth was known for certain to be the murderer, in the search for his conspirators scores of suspected accomplices were arrested and thrown into prison. The suspects were finally winnowed to the eight prisoners—seven men and a woman—considered guilty enough to try in court. The eight suspects were: Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O'Laughlen, Lewis Powell, Edmund Spangler, and Mary Surratt.[3]

Stanton ordered an unusual form of isolation for the eight suspects. He 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 bags be worn by the seven men day and night to prevent conversation. Hood number eight was never used on Mrs. Surratt, the owner of the boarding house where the conspirators had laid their plans. A ball of extra cotton padding covered the eyes so that there was painful pressure on the closed lids. No baths or washing of any kind were allowed, and during the hot breathless weeks of the trial the prisoners' faces became more swollen and bloated by the day. The prison doctor began to fear for the conspirators' sanity, but Stanton would not allow them, nor the rigid wrist irons and anklets, each connected to a ball weighing seventy-five pounds, to be removed.[4]

Andrew Johnson's administration

Stanton continued to hold the position of secretary of war under President Andrew Johnson until 1868. The two clashed over implementation of Reconstruction policy, so Johnson removed Stanton from the Cabinet and replaced him with General Ulysses S. Grant. However, this was overruled by the Senate, and Stanton barricaded himself in his office when Johnson tried again to replace Stanton with General Lorenzo Thomas, while radical Republicans initiated impeachment proceedings against Johnson on the grounds that Johnson's removal of Stanton without Senate approval violated the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson escaped conviction by a single vote in the Senate, in part because of a secret agreement with Senate members to abide by the Republican legislations.

U.S. Supreme Court moment

After this, Stanton resigned and returned to the practice of law. The next year he was appointed by President Grant to the Supreme Court, but he died four days after he was confirmed by the Senate. He died in Washington, DC, and is buried there in Oak Hill Cemetery. Stanton did not take the necessary oath of office, according to the Supreme Court's official list of justices, which notes that:

"The acceptance of the appointment and commission by the appointee, as evidenced by the taking of the prescribed oaths, is here implied; otherwise the individual is not carried on this list of the Members of the Court. Examples: ..... Edwin M. Stanton who died before he could take the necessary steps toward becoming a Member of the Court."


Edwin Stanton married Mary Lamson on May 31, 1836. They had two children, Lucy Lamson Stanton (b. March 11, 1837; d. 1841) and Edwin Lamson Stanton (b. August 1842). Mary Lamson Stanton died on March 13, 1844.

Stanton married again in 1856 to Ellen Hutchinson. Mr. Stanton had four children with his second wife: Eleanor Adams Stanton (b. 9 May 1857), James Hutchinson Stanton (b. 1861; d. July 10, 1862), Lewis Hutchinson Stanton (b. 1862), and Bessie Stanton (b. 1863). Mr. Stanton is enumerated with his family in the 1860 Census. At this time, his profession is noted as lawyer, his real estate value is $40,000, and his personal assets valued at $267,000. The family had four servants living with them.


The Situation
A Harper's Weekly cartoon gives a humorous breakdown of "the situation". Stanton aims a cannon labeled "Congress" on the side at President Andrew Johnson and Lorenzo Thomas to show how he was using congress to defeat the president and his unsuccessful replacement. He also holds a rammer marked "Office Bill" and cannon balls on the floor are marked "Justice". Ulysses S. Grant and an unidentified man stand to Stanton's left.

A distinctive engraved portrait of Stanton appeared on U.S. paper money in 1890 and 1891. The bills are called "treasury notes" or "coin notes" and are widely collected today. These rare notes are considered by many to be among the finest examples of detailed engraving ever to appear on banknotes. The $1 Stanton "fancyback" note of 1890, with an estimated 900-1,300 in existence relative to the millions printed, ranks as number 83 in the "100 Greatest American Currency Notes" compiled by Bowers and Sundman (2006). Stanton also appears on the fourth issue of Fractional Currency, in the amount of 50 cents. Stanton Park, four blocks from the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., is named for him, as is Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville, Florida. A steam engine, built in 1862, was named the "E. M. Stanton" in honor of the new Secretary of War. Stanton County, Nebraska is named for him.

In popular media

  • In the 1930s, a book written by Otto Eisenschiml accused Stanton of arranging the assassination of Lincoln. Although these charges remain largely unsubstantiated, Eisenschim's book inspired considerable debate and the 1977 book and movie, The Lincoln Conspiracy.
  • In 1930, Stanton was portrayed by Oscar Apfel in the movie Abraham Lincoln.
  • In 1972, Stanton appears in Philip K. Dick's We Can Build You in the form of a self-aware, cybernetic automaton.
  • In 1980, Stanton was portrayed by Richard A. Dysart in the TV movie The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd.
  • Stanton appears prominently in the alternate history Civil War trilogy by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen.
  • Stanton Davis Kirkham was named after Stanton by his father, Murray S. Davis, one-time confidential military aide to Stanton during his period as Secretary of War. (Source: "Olden Times in Colorado" by Carlyle Channing Davis.)
  • In the Clive Cussler thriller novel, 'Sahara', Stanton is described as being behind a cover-up of Lincoln's kidnapping and later death, in Confederate custody, aboard the ironclad 'USS Texas'. Lincoln's body is later recovered by Dirk Pitt and given a state funeral in the Lincoln memorial.

See also


  1. ^ Swanson, James L. Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. 6th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. pp. 426-427. ISBN 978-0060518493
  2. ^ Lincoln in story; the life of the martyr-president told in authenticated anecdotes,by Silas Gamaliel Pratt - New York, D. Appleton and co., 1901 (available on]
  3. ^ Kunhardt, Twenty Days, pg. 186
  4. ^ Kunhardt, Twenty Days, pg. 186


  • Bowers, Q.D., and Sundman, D.M., 2006, 100 Greatest American Currency Notes, Whitman Pub., Atlanta, GA, 134 p.
  • Bissland, James. "Blood, Tears, and Glory". Wilmington, Ohio: Orange Frazer Press, 2007. Explains Stanton's key role in winning the Civil War.
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005) on Lincoln's cabinet.
  • Harold M. Hyman, "Johnson, Stanton, and Grant: A Reconsideration of the Army's Role in the Events Leading to Impeachment," American Historical Review 66 (October 1960): 85-96, online in JSTOR.
  • Hendrick, Burton J. Lincoln's War Cabinet (1946).
  • Kunhardt, Dorothy Meserve, and Kunhardt Jr., Phillip B. Twenty Days. Castle Books, 1965. ISBN 1-55521-975-6
  • Meneely, A. Howard, "Stanton, Edwin McMasters," in Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 9 (1935)
  • Pratt, Fletcher. Stanton: Lincoln's Secretary of War (1953).
  • Simpson, Brooks D. Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868 (1991)
  • Skelton, William B. . "Stanton, Edwin McMasters"; American National Biography Online 2000.
  • Stanton, Edwin (Edited by: Ben Ames Williams Jr.) Mr. Secretary (1940), partial autobiography.
  • Thomas, Benjamin P., and Hyman, Harold M. Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War (1962), the standard scholarly biography.
  • William Hanchett The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies (1983); demolishes the allegation that Stanton was the center of the plot to assassinate Lincoln.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Jeremiah S. Black
United States Attorney General
December 20, 1860 – March 4, 1861
Succeeded by
Edward Bates
Political offices
Preceded by
Simon Cameron
United States Secretary of War
January 20, 1862 – May 28, 1868
Succeeded by
John Schofield

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EDWIN M STANTON ` MASTERS (1814-1869), American statesman, was born at Steubenville, Ohio, on the 19th of December 1814. He attended Kenyon College at Gambier, Ohio, from 1831 to 1833, was admitted to the bar in 1836, was prosecuting attorney of Harrison county in 1837-1839, and practised in Cadiz, 0., until 1839, when he returned to Steubenville. In 1847 he removed to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where he took a leading place at the bar. One of his most famous cases was that of The State of Pennsylvania v. The Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company (1849-1856), in which, as counsel for the state, he invoked successfully the aid of the Federal government in preventing the construction of a bridge over the Ohio river at Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) - on the ground that the structure would interfere with the navigation of that stream by citizens of Pennsylvania. His large practice before the United States Supreme Court caused him to remove to Washington in 1856. In 1858 he was sent to California by the United States attorney-general as special Federal agent for the settlement of land claims, and he succeeded in breaking up a conspiracy by which the government would have been defrauded of vast tracts of land of almost inestimable value. Before the Civil War Stanton was a Democrat, opposed to slavery, but a firm defender of the constitutional rights of the slaveholders, and was a bitter opponent of Lincoln, whose party he then hated and distrusted. In the reorganization of President Buchanan's cabinet in 1860 Stanton became attorney-general, and he did what he could to strengthen the weak policy of the president in the last months of his administration. Although he had often violently denounced President Lincoln, the latter thought he saw in Stanton a good war minister, and in January 1862 invited him into his cabinet. In his administration of the war office Stanton was vigorous, rigid, and often harsh, and his peremptory manner, in speech and correspondence, was the cause of considerable friction between the war department and the generals, one of the last and most conspicuous instances being his controversy with General Sherman over the terms of surrender granted to J. E. Johnston's army. But he removed a horde of fraudulent contractors, kept the armies in the field well equipped, and infused energy into procrastinating generals. Not the least of his achievements was the peaceable disbandment of 800,000 soldiers at the end of the war. Remaining in the cabinet of President Andrew Johnson, Stanton exerted all his energies toward thwarting the policies of that executive, especially those related to the reconstruction of the Southern states. He expressed disapproval of the Tenure of Office Act, making the consent of the Senate necessary for the removal of civil officers, and drafted the supplementary act on Reconstruction, passed over the president's veto on the 19th of July 1867. Stanton was finally asked to resign, and on his refusal to do so the president suspended him (Aug. 12) from office and appointed General Grant (who had disapproved of the secretary's removal) secretary ad interim. When the Senate, however, under the terms of the Tenure of Office Act, refused (Jan. 13, 1868) to concur in the suspension, Grant left the office and Stanton returned to his duties. On the 21st of February 1868 Johnson appointed General Lorenzo Thomas secretary of war ad interim, and ordered Stanton to vacate, but on the same day the Senate upheld Stanton, and by way of reply the secretary made oath to a complaint against Thomas for violating the Tenure of Office Act, and invoked military protection from General Grant, who placed General E. A. Carr in charge of the war department building, while Congress came to Stanton's rescue by impeaching the president, the principal article of impeachment being that based on the removal of Stanton (see Johnson, Andrew). When the impeachment proceedings failed (May 26) Stanton resigned and returned to the practice of law. In 1869 President Grant appointed him a justice of the United States Supreme Court, but he died on the 24th of December, four days after his appointment. Stanton had a violent temper and a sharp tongue, but he was courageous, energetic, thoroughly honest and a genuine patriot.

See George C. Gorham, Life and Public Services of Edwin M. Stanton (2 vols., Boston, 1899), and Frank A. Flower, Edwin McMasters Stanton: The Autocrat of Rebellion, Emancipation, and Reconstruction (New York, 1905).

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