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Edwin McMasters Stanton
Edwin M. Stanton

25th United States Attorney General
In office
December 20, 1860 – March 4, 1861
President James Buchanan
Preceded by Jeremiah S. Black
Succeeded by Edward Bates

27th United States Secretary of War
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
Signature Edwin M. Stanton's signature

Edwin McMasters Stanton (December 19, 1814 – December 24, 1869) was an American lawyer and politician who served as Secretary of War under the Lincoln Administration during the American Civil War from 1862-1865. Stanton's effective management helped organize the massive military resources of the North and guide the Union to victory.

After Lincoln's assassination, Stanton remained as Secretary of War under President Andrew Johnson during the first years of Reconstruction. He opposed the lenient policies of Johnson towards the former Confederate States. Johnson's attempt to dismiss Stanton led the House of Representatives to impeach him.

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. He also was thought to have said, "I love this country more than myself."

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."

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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 Lorenzo Thomas. However, this was overruled by the Senate, and Stanton barricaded himself in his office when Johnson tried again to replace Stanton with General 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 [[[:Template:SCOTUS URL]] 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.


File:The situation.jpg

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. Stanton Middle School in Hammondsville, Ohio is named after 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 CSS 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[]

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