Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War

Undoubtedly the most effective Secretary of War, or Secretary of Defense, that the nation has ever had, brilliant. irascible Edwin M. Stanton loved the Union and was determined to do whatever it took to make certain that it prevailed over the Confederacy.  A Democrat who supported the pro-slavery Breckinridge in the 1860 election, the War converted Stanton into a radical Republican.   At first a harsh critic of Mr. Lincoln, Stanton and Lincoln had worked on the McCormick reaper patent case together in 1857 and Stanton had not been impressed by him,  after his appointment he swore that he would make Abe Lincoln President of the United States.  In accomplishing that Stanton spared the feelings of no man, especially that of Mr. Lincoln, as recalled by Congressman George W. Julian:

It is related that a committee of Western men, headed by [Congressman Owen] Lovejoy, procured from the President an important order looking to the exchange of Eastern and Western soldiers with a view to more effective work. Repairing to the office of the Secretary, Mr. Lovejoy explained the scheme, as he had done before to the President, but was met by a flat refusal.
    ‘But we have the President’s order sir,’ said Lovejoy.
    ‘Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?’ said Stanton.
    ‘He did, sir.’
    ‘Then he is a d—d fool,’ said the irate Secretary.
    “Do you mean to say the President is a d—d fool?’ asked Lovejoy, in amazement.
    ‘Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that.’
    The bewildered Congressman from Illinois betook himself at once to the President, and related the result of his conference.
    ‘Did Stanton say I was a d–d fool? Asked Lincoln at the close of the recital.
    ‘He did, sir; and repeated it.’
    After a moment’s pause, and looking up, the President said:
    ‘If Stanton said I was a d–d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.

If a president could feel the wrath of Stanton, mere generals had good reason to deal carefully with the man Lincoln referred to simply as “Mars”.  Stanton brought efficiency into the War Department and a fiery urgency to prosecute the War to a successful conclusion.  He did not suffer fools at all, and this made him highly unpopular.  Lincoln refused persistent demands to fire him:

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.

After Lincoln breathed his last it was left to the fierce Stanton, with tears in his eyes, to utter the immortal words:  Now he belongs to the Ages.




Published in: on January 14, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War  
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