Bates, Edward (1793–1869)

views updated

BATES, EDWARD (1793–1869)

A St. Louis attorney and whig leader, Edward Bates, a moderate on slavery, opposed the lecompton constitution and repeal of the missouri compromise. In 1860 he sought the Republican presidential nomination, and from 1861 to 1864 he was President abraham lincoln'sattorney general and most conservative adviser. In response to ex parte merryman (1861) he defended Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus on the weak rationale that the three branches of government were co-equal and that Chief Justice roger b. taney therefore could not order Lincoln to act. Bates personally disliked the suspension but thought it preferable to martial law. The confiscation acts undermined Bates's sense of property rights, and his department rarely supported these acts. Bates strongly supported the emancipation proclamation, but he insisted it be limited to areas still under rebel control. He believed that free blacks could be United States citizens because he narrowly construed dred scott v. sandford (1857) to apply only to Negroes "of African descent" suing in Missouri. Bates supplied legal opinions to support the legal tender statutes, but he opposed the admission of West Virginia on constitutional grounds. He also opposed the use of black troops and retaliation for atrocities by Confederates committed on black prisoners of war. Nevertheless, he urged Lincoln to give Negro soldiers equal pay once they were enlisted. Bates consistently urged Lincoln to assert his constitutional role as commanderin-chief when Union generalship was poor. Bates had a broad view of his office and exerted a greater control over the United States district attorneys than his predecessors.

Paul Finkelman


Cain, Marvin E. 1965 Lincoln's Attorney General: Edward Bates of Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

About this article

Bates, Edward (1793–1869)

Updated About content Print Article