06437 - Edwin M. Stanton; United States Secretary of War, 1862-1868 [LC-DIG-cwpb-06437]
Edwin Stanton was an improbable choice to be part of Lincoln’s cabinet during the war. As the U.S. Attorney General under Buchanan, Stanton had opposed secession. However, he politically opposed Lincoln during the 1860 campaign. Yet his love for the Union was strong. Stanton agreed to become the legal advisor to Secretary of War Simon Cameron. Within the year it became clear to Lincoln that Cameron was ineffective and the real man for the job was Stanton.
Putting aside their political differences, Stanton joined the Cabinet in January of 1862, replacing Cameron as Secretary of War. With his legal background, Stanton used the power of court-martial against officers suspected of supporting the South. Stanton made it clear not to trifled with him. Officers not supporting him or the Union could expect an inglorious end to their military career. One of the most high profile court-martial cases was against Major General Fitz John Porter. As chief of staff under McClellan he had risen quickly, but with McClellan’s departure Porter quickly followed. Arrested in November of 1862 for his actions at the Second battle of Bull Run (2nd Manassas) which had been fought in August of that year, Porter was quickly found guilty and in January of 1863 dismissed from the Army.
Lincoln recognized that Stanton was both an effective Secretary and an overbearing tyrant. Feeling that the strong arm approach worked best with the Military, Lincoln allowed much of Stanton’s orders to stand. He then worked behind the scenes to minimize possible negative impact on the Army. When Stanton became unpopular and was vilified in the press, popular opinion called for him to replace Stanton. Lincoln, however, came to his support stating, “Without him I should be destroyed.”
After Lincoln had been shot, Stanton arrived at the boarding home and took charge of the scene. As Mary Lincoln became inconsolable and eventually unbalanced, Stanton ordered her from the room and insisted that she not be allowed back in. Upon Lincoln’s death, it was Stanton, his one-time political rival that spoke the words, "Now he belongs to the ages”.
During the Johnson administration Stanton continued as Secretary of War. Nevertheless, he clashed often with the new President. In 1868 Johnson chose to replace Stanton with Lorenzo Thomas. The Senate felt that since the President needed their approval to confirm a Cabinet Secretary, they must also confirm his dismissal, which they did not. Stanton refused to leave and barricaded himself in his office.
The Senate saw this as pure breach of Presidential powers and moved to impeach Johnson. By a single vote Johnson was able to survive, but Stanton was out.
Later that year Grant was elected. In 1869, when an opening on the Supreme Court became available, Stanton was nominated and confirmed. Four days after the confirmation, and prior to swearing in, Stanton died. Since he never took the oath, he is not listed as a Supreme Court Justice. Today, he is remembered as the catalyst for Johnson’s impeachment and for the immortal words he uttered upon Lincoln’s death.