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Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet

President Lincoln’s Cabinet

Secretary of State – William Seward

William Seward, the former Governor of the state of New York, was the odds-on-favorite to win the Republican nomination for President in 1860. Narrowly defeated by Lincoln at the Republican National Convention in 1860, Seward reluctantly accepted the position of Secretary of State. Seward was an excellent choice and would become Lincoln’s most trusted advisor. He was a staunch abolitionist and superb politician who spoke out vociferously about the evils of slavery. He was widely credited from preventing foreign intervention in the Civil War. On April 14, 1865, Seward was severely wounded by Lewis Powell in his Washington home as part of a larger assassination plot that would claim the life of President Lincoln. Seward remained Secretary of State during Andrew Johnson’s presidency and was widely criticized for the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million dollars. The purchase, which would become known as “Seward’s Folly,” was, in time, to prove his foresight and genius. He died on October 10, 1872, at the age of 71.

Secretary of War – Edwin M. Stanton

Edwin M. Stanton became War Secretary after Lincoln dismissed the original War Secretary Simon Cameron in 1862. Lincoln had long been impressed with Stanton, despite the fact that Stanton had felt quite the opposite at first and had called Lincoln a “gorilla” in the past. The disagreeable and sometimes grumpy Stanton was reluctant to accept the position, but conceded in an attempt to “save the country.” Stanton proved a wise choice as War Secretary. His management of the massive efforts required to sustain the Union Army and its movements helped perpetuate the Union cause. Stanton, however, could be quite argumentative and sometimes even refused the president’s order or to carry out his wishes.

As time progressed, Stanton became a great admirer of the president. It was Stanton who first arrived at the scene at the Petersen House following the President’s assassination. It was he, upon Lincoln’s death, who uttered the famous words “Now, he belongs to the ages.” He also helped organize the search for John Wilkes Booth and the trials and executions of his co-conspirators. Stanton continued as Secretary of War during Johnson’s presidency. Disagreements between he and Johnson, however, led to his dismissal. It was the questionable legality behind this dismissal by President Johnson that resulted in Johnson’s impeachment, making him the first president to be impeached.

Secretary of the Treasury – Salmon P. Chase

Salmon P. Chase, the former Governor and Senator of Ohio, was bitterly disappointed at his failure to receive the Republican presidential nomination in the Election of 1860. Despite his acceptance of the position of Secretary of Treasury, Chase was outwardly jealous of Lincoln and often served his own interests in a quest to secure the nomination in the 1864 Election. Chase, however, proved an excellent Treasury secretary and ingeniously managed the finances of the Union during the Civil War. His ideas to issue paper currency and to sell debt to pay for the war effort helped to keep the Union financially solvent during the war.

Throughout Lincoln’s administration, Chase would threaten to resign his post because of perceived slights or disagreements with other cabinet members. Lincoln, who understood Chase’s contributions rebuffed his resignation letters time and time again until finally, in 1864, much to the surprise and chagrin of Chase, accepted his resignation. Lincoln then appointed William Fessenden to replace him. To placate Chase, however, Lincoln nominated him to the vacant position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which Chase held until his death in 1873 at the age of 65.

Attorney General – Edward Bates

Edward Bates, a popular Missouri Senator and Representative, was one of three “political rivals” that ran against Lincoln in the Presidential Election of 1860. In 1861, Lincoln appointed Bates as Attorney General. Although he was born in Virginia, Bates became the first cabinet member who lived west of the Mississippi River. Unlike the majority of Lincoln’s cabinet, however, Bates never joined the Republican Party, and remained a Whig throughout his tenure. He believed in the preservation of the Union and of the need for internal improvements. Although Bates was an abolitionist, he was known to believe in the inferiority of Blacks, though he did side with Lincoln in his decision that Black soldiers in the Union Army should receive the same pay as White soldiers. He was more radical than Lincoln in his beliefs of how the South should be treated after the war. He believed in total and universal amnesty to all officers of the South, and in the restoration of property rights. Bates resigned in 1864, discouraged by the increasing influence of Radical Republicans.

Postmaster General- Montgomery Blair

Montgomery Blair, who came from a prominent political family, was named Postmaster General in Lincoln’s Cabinet. Although he did an admirable job as Postmaster General, Blair was hot-tempered and frequently clashed with other members of the cabinet. Blair was not as staunch in his abolitionist views as other cabinet members, and spoke out against Lincoln’s plan for emancipating the slaves. He also believed that Lincoln should have dealt severely with the secessionist states after the war. Radical Republicans, who believed in the total and complete emancipation of the slaves, despised Blair, who spoke out against them, and ultimately caused Lincoln numerous political headaches. In 1864, Lincoln accepted Blair’s resignation (which was probably a nice way of dismissing Blair), as an attempt to keep the Radical Republicans happy. Despite the resignation, Blair continued to campaign for Lincoln in the Election of 1864, but switched to the Democratic Party in 1865.

Secretary of the Navy – Gideon Welles

The staunch abolitionist Gideon Welles was named Secretary of the Navy in Lincoln’s cabinet. Welles was an excellent choice for this post and his organization of the Union Navy and its efforts to blockade southern ports was extremely effective. Under his leadership, the Navy became ten times larger during the Civil War than it was before the war. His blockades worked to strangle the finances of the South, disabling them from much of their exporting and importing.

Despite his success in Lincoln’s cabinet, Welles is probably best known for the diary he kept during his tenure as in Lincoln’s and Andrew Johnson’s cabinets. His three volume diary provided valuable insight into the inner-workings of Lincoln’s wartime cabinet.

Personal Assistant – John Nicolay

The appointment of John Nicolay as his private secretary in 1861 was Abraham Lincoln’s first appointment as president. Nicolay and John Hay, another of Lincoln’s assistants, lived together in a room in the corner of the second floor of the White House. Hay’s position often caused him to clash with Mary Todd Lincoln, who could be critical over his handling of social events and budget of the White House. After the president’s death, Nicolay and Hay collaborated on a biography of the President, which became the definitive source about Lincoln’s life during that time, and which Nicolay would consider his life’s work.

Personal Assistant – John Hay

John Hay was the assistant private secretary of the President. The appointment of his position was urged by his friend John Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary. The well-liked Hay would become a surrogate son to Lincoln, and would become great friends with the president’s son, Robert. Hay was indispensable to Lincoln in performing administrative tasks and was often wrote letters or newspaper correspondences on the President’s behalf. Like John Nicolay, Hay often clashed with Mary Todd Lincoln and even referred to her at least once as “hellcat.” Hay, who had boundless admiration for the President, collaborated with Nicolay to produce a comprehensive biography on Lincoln that would become the definitive source on Lincoln at the time. Unlike Nicolay, Hay enjoyed an active and successful political career after the Civil War. He would serve as Secretary of State under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. Today, the famous Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. stands where Hay once lived.

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