Stanton, Edwin M. (1814–1869)

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STANTON, EDWIN M. (1814–1869)

A prominent antebellum attorney, Edwin McMasters Stanton was an active member of the Supreme Court bar and was the chief government investigator and counsel in the California land claims cases. In 1859 he successfully defended Congressman Daniel Sickles in a murder trial with the then novel defense of temporary insanity.

In 1860 Stanton became james buchanan's lame duck attorney general. An ardent Unionist, Stanton urged support for the garrison at Fort Sumter and the arrest for treason of the South Carolina commissioners. During the interregnum Stanton secretly met with Republican senators informing them of the administration's complicity with secessionists. He also worked secretly with General Winfield Scott to move troops to protect Washington while preventing the shipment of arms to the South.

As secretary of war (1862–1868) Stanton vastly reduced corruption and political influence on promotions, while building a highly efficient military. Stanton was an early advocate of emancipation and the use of black troops. Zealous in supporting the Union, Stanton used the War Department to arrest civilians suspected of treason, disloyalty, or disrupting recruitment and rigorously enforced internal security. During the 1863 and 1864 elections Stanton furloughed troops so they could return home to vote, used the army to intimidate opponents, and allowed officers to campaign.

After abraham lincoln's assassination Stanton was ruthless in finding and prosecuting anyone connected with John Wilkes Booth's plot. Despite President andrew johnson's opposition, Stanton supported the civil rights act of 1866 and the freedman ' sbureau, while working closely with Congress to support military reconstruction. Stanton's backing of generals sympathetic to congressional goals prevented Johnson from implementing his reconstruction program. Fear that Johnson would fire Stanton led to the tenure of office act and then to impeachment proceedings when Johnson tried to replace Stanton. Stanton aided the impeachment managers by giving them war department documents and information, lobbying wavering senators, and writing "anonymous" editorials denouncing Johnson. After Johnson's acquittal Stanton resigned. In 1869 President ulysses s. grant nominated Stanton to the Supreme Court, but he died before confirmation.

Paul Finkelman


Thomas, Benjamin P. and Hyman, Harold M. 1962 Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War. New York: Knopf.

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Stanton, Edwin M. (1814–1869)

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