Rebel Advantages at Opening of War—They knew all about the Army Officers—Early Contrast of Rebel Enthusiasm and Union Indifference—Importance of Mr. Stanton's Post—His Birth and Ancestry—His Education and Law Studies—County Attorney—State Reporter—Defends Mr. McNulty—Removes to Pittsburg—His Line of Business—The Wheeling Case—He Removes to Washington—His Qualifications as a Lawyer—He Enters Buchanan's Cabinet—His Unexpected Patriotism—His Own Account of the Cabinet at News of Anderson's Move to Sumter—The Lion before the Old Red Dragon—Appointed Secretary of War—"Bricks in his Pockets"—Stanton's Habitual Reserve—His Wrath—"The Angel Gabriel as Paymaster"—Anecdotes of Lincoln's Confidence in Stanton—Lincoln's Affection for him—The Burdens of his Office—His Kindness of Heart within a Rough Outside—The Country his Debtor.

Mr. Greeley, in his History of the American Conflict, gives a survey of the advantages possessed by the rebels at the commencement of the war, in the martial character of their leaders. Jefferson Davis was a regularly educated graduate of West Point, who had been five years at the head of the War Department of the United States, and while in that situation had matured his future plans. He and his successor, Floyd, up to the year 1861, had arranged the United States military service to suit themselves, and left it in precisely the best condition for their designs. "They knew every officer in the United States service, knew the military value of each, whom to call away and organize to lead their own forces, and who, even if loyal, would serve their purposes better being left in our armies than taken into theirs."

"On the other hand, President Lincoln, without military education or experience, found himself suddenly plunged into a gigantic and to him unexpected war, with no single member of his cabinet even pretending to military genius or experience, and with the offices of his army filled to his hand by the chiefs of the rebellion. Whereas the whole rebel officers were enthusiasts who had forsaken all old connections to join the new army, the officers remaining were some of them old and feeble, like Scott, and others of that moderate kind of nature which inclines to remain stationary with the old institutions, rather than to make a fiery forward movement. Some two hundred of the very bravest and most skilful of our army officers went over to the new cause, to which they carried all the enthusiasm of youth and hope. Lincoln, in fact, was in the condition of a man who should be put to a naval race in an old ship from which his competitors had taken their pick of all the best sails, spars and hands.

"It is notorious that during the first year or two of the war, while with every Confederate officer the rebellion was an enthusiasm and a religion, for which he was willing at any moment to die, there were on the Union side many officers, and those of quite high rank, who seemed to take matters with extreme coolness, and to have no very particular enthusiasm for fighting at all. These officers seemed to consider secession as a great and unlucky mistake—a mistake, too, for which they seemed to think the intemperate zeal of the Black Republicans was particularly in fault, and their great object seemed to be to conduct the war with as little fighting as possible, using most conciliatory language, and always being sure to return fugitive slaves whenever they could get a good opportunity, thus apparently expecting in some favorable hour to terminate hostilities with another of those grand compromises which had been tried with such signal success in years past."

The advancement of Stanton to the post of Secretary of War, was a movement made after it became somewhat more a settled point than at first appeared, that war should mean war.

His position during the whole war was, next to that of the President, the most important, responsible and influential civil post in the United States, and his services as an organizer, an administrative and executive officer, and as a fearless, energetic, resolute, powerful, and patriotic citizen, were perhaps as nearly indispensable to the success of the nation in the war as those of any other one man. Yet the recorded materials for preparing an account of him are excessively scanty; far more so than for any of his companions in the chief offices of Mr. Lincoln's cabinet. This fact is in a certain sense a very creditable one to him; since it is the result of his lifelong practice not to talk about himself, and not to talk about his work, but only to do it.

Edwin M. Stanton was born at Steubenville, in Ohio, in the year 1815. His ancestors were of the Quaker persuasion, as were those of Mr. Lincoln and Attorney General Bates. His parents removed to Ohio from Culpepper county, in the mountain region of Virginia. Stanton received the usual school training of a country boy, became a student of Kenyon College, in 1833, but only remained a year and left. This was the end of his scholastic education. It is easy, to those who know the decisive, impetuous, self-reliant nature of the man, and who remember the rough, plain, independent atmosphere of the backwoods country where he grew up, to imagine how easily any supposed indignity from his instructors would drive him out of their precincts, or how readily he would give up the idea of further studies as unnecessary, if his supply of money failed. However this was, he took up an employment which allowed him to continue some kind of mental training, for he became a bookseller's clerk at Columbus. He also studied law, and in 1836 was admitted to the bar. He first opened an office at Cadiz, Harrison county, Ohio, and his robust force and direct sense quickly gave him the best of whatever practice the country afforded. He became the county prosecuting attorney in about a year; in another he had removed to the larger business center of his native place, Steubenville. His practice rapidly increased, and during three years from 1839 he was Reporter of the Ohio Supreme Court decisions. During his career at Steubenville, he was the counsel of Caleb J. McNulty, clerk of the House of Representatives, on his trial for embezzling public money, and cleared him. This case made a good deal of noise in its day.

In 1848, his business still increasing, Mr. Stanton removed again, this time to Pittsburg, where he remained until 1857, becoming without question the first lawyer at that bar, and beginning to be employed in many of that important and vigorously contested class of cases which are carried up to the United States Supreme Court at Washington. One of these, the Wheeling Bridge case, is perhaps that in which Mr. Stanton gained his greatest reputation as a lawyer. It is a curious illustration of his carelessness about his reputation, that not long ago, when an intimate personal friend of Mr. Stanton wanted a copy of his argument in this case to use in a biographical sketch, the Secretary was unable to furnish it.

In 1857 he removed once more, to Washington, still following his business. This now began to consist largely of heavy patent cases, a peculiar and difficult but very gainful department of legal practice. It is observable that the class of cases in which Mr. Stanton has been prominent, are those in which the executive mental faculties have most to do with the subject-matter—patent cases, land cases, vigorous controversies between great corporations about travelled routes or conflicting rights. Such cases arise among executive men, and Mr. Stanton's immense endowment of executive energy qualified him to succeed easily in dealing with them.

Mr. Stanton was naturally a Democrat; the vigorous traits of his character harmonizing spontaneously with the rough, aggressive energy of the Jacksonians. Probably his politics may have had some influence in causing Attorney-General Black to employ him, in 1858, to go to California and argue for the United States some very important land claim cases there. At any rate, if he had not been a Democrat, and a thoroughgoing one, he would not have been selected by Mr. Buchanan in December, 1860, to succeed Mr. Black as Attorney-General, when on Mr. Cass' resignation Mr. Black became Secretary of State.

The gang of treasonable schemers who were in those days using their high positions to bind the country hand and foot, as securely as they could, in preparation for secession, undoubtedly had reckoned that in the new Attorney-General, if they did not find an ally, they would not encounter an obstacle. But his patriotism was of a very different kind from that of too many of his party. When the question before him, instead of being one of high or low tariff, or of one or another sort of currency, became a question whether he should go with his party in permitting his country to be ruined, or should join with all true patriots irrespective of party considerations, to preserve his country, he did not hesitate at all. He neither made allowances for the disreputable fright of old Mr. Buchanan, nor the far more disreputable schemes of the traitors who were bullying the feeble and helpless Old Public Functionary; but stood firmly amongst them all, a fearless and determined defender of the rights of the national government.

Mr. Stanton once gave a curious and striking sketch of the manners of Mr. Buchanan's cabinet in those days. While speaking of the results of Anderson's move to Sumter, he remarked:

"This little incident was the crisis of our history—the pivot upon which everything turned. Had he remained in Fort Moultrie, a very different combination of circumstances would have arisen. The attack on Sumter, commenced by the South, united the North, and made the success of the Confederacy impossible. I shall never forget our coming together by special summons that night. Buchanan sat in his arm chair in a corner of the room, white as a sheet, with the stump of a cigar in his mouth. The dispatches were laid before us; and so much violence ensued that he had to turn us all out of doors."

What sort of a scene, and what sort of language and goings on are covered under that phrase of Mr. Stanton's, those who are familiar with the manners of the old Red Dragon of slavery, under moments of excitement, may imagine. Oaths and curses, threats of cutting out hearts and tearing out bowels, were usual amenities, forms of argumentation and statement quite familiar, on such occasions. Mr. Stanton, as any one may see by a glance at his head, is one of those men built on the lion pattern, a man who never knew what fear was—a man, also, awful and tremendous in powers of wrath and combativeness, and we may be sure at this moment the lion stood at bay, and that his roar in answer to the dragon's hiss, was something to shake the cabinet and frighten poor Mr. Buchanan quite out of his proprieties. We may be sure the traitors did not go without a full piece of Stanton's mind, stormed after them with shot and shell, worthy a future Secretary of the War Department.

Mr. Stanton's appointment as Secretary of War was January 20, 1862; his predecessor, Mr. Cameron, having resigned a week before. This appointment was probably in a great measure due to the fresh recollection of the fearless vigor with which Mr. Stanton, along with Messrs. Dix and Holt, had asserted the rights of the nation under Buchanan. Mr. Lincoln, in making his selection, had the double good fortune of appointing a man of first-class merit for the position, and one whose "section" was in the right part of the country. It is on record that "in answering some questions on the subject, he observed that his first wish had been to choose a man from a border state, but that he knew New England would object; that on the other hand he would have also been glad to choose a New Englander, but he knew the Border States would object. So on the whole he concluded to select from some intervening territory, 'and to tell you the truth, gentlemen,' he added, 'I don't believe Stanton knows where he belongs himself!' Some of the company now said something about Mr. Stanton's impulsiveness, to which Mr. Lincoln replied with one of those queer stories with which he used to answer friends and enemies alike; 'Well,' said he, 'we may have to treat him as they are sometimes obliged to treat a Methodist minister I know of out West. He gets wrought up so high in his prayers and exhortations that they are obliged to put bricks in his pockets to keep him down. We may be obliged to serve Stanton the same way, but I guess we'll let him jump a while first!'"

The existence of the country was bound up in the war, and it was a matter of course that the War Department should attract the greatest part of Mr. Lincoln's solicitude and attention, and that he should be more frequently and confidentially in intercourse with its Secretary, than with the other Departments of the Government. Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton had never met, it is said, until when the Secretary received his commission from the President; nor had Mr. Stanton any knowledge of the intention to appoint him until the day before the nomination.

Mr. Stanton's Secretaryship is a noble record of vast energy, untiring labor, thorough patriotism, and fervent and unfailing courage. Mr. Lincoln, a shrewd and wise judge of men, knew him familiarly, and loved and valued him more and more the longer and closer was their intercourse. Indeed, Mr. Stanton is probably a man closely shut up and inexpressive of his good and loveable traits and sentiments, beyond almost any one living; and it must have required the whole tremendous pressure and heat of the war, to soften his iron crust sufficiently to let even the keen eyed President find out how human and noble a heart was silently beating inside. The most interesting of the scanty anecdotes which are in existence about the Secretary are such as show the unlimited trust which Mr. Lincoln came to bestow upon him, or the rough and vigorous utterances by which he customarily revealed when he revealed at all, anything in the nature of feelings on his official duties or in reference to the war. Like many other men of real goodness hidden beneath a rugged outside, Mr. Stanton's most utterable sentiment was wrath, and he often, as it were, shot out a sentiment of goodness inside of a bullet of anger, as a gruff benefactor might fling a gift at his intended beneficiary. Such was the "jumping" which Mr. Lincoln proposed to allow, before keeping down his energetic Secretary with bricks in his pockets. Such was the strong figure in which one day he conveyed to a brother Secretary his views on the fitness of appointees. Mr. Usher, when Secretary of the Interior, once asked Mr. Stanton to appoint a "young friend," paymaster in the army. "How old is he?" asked Stanton, in his curt manner. "About twenty-one, I believe," said Mr. Usher; "he is of good family and of excellent character." "Usher," exclaimed Mr. Stanton, in peremptory reply, "I would not appoint the Angel Gabriel a paymaster if he was only twenty-one!"

There was just as much unceremoniousness, and even very much more peremptory force and earnestness in the vigorous rebuke which Mr. Stanton administered to Mr. Lincoln on the night of March 30, 1865, for the unseasonable favors which he was inclined to offer to the rebels, to the detriment of justice and of the paramount rights of the nation. On this occasion, while the last bills of the session were under examination for signing, and while the President and all with him were enjoying the expectation of to-morrow's inauguration, a dispatch came in from Grant, which stated his confidence that a few days must now end the business with Lee and Richmond, and spoke of an application made by Lee for an interview to negotiate about peace. Mr. Lincoln intimated pretty clearly an intention to permit extremely favorable terms, and to let his General-in-Chief negotiate them; even to an extent that overpowered the reticent habits of his Secretary of War, who, after holding his tongue as long as he could, broke out sternly:

"Mr. President, to-morrow is inauguration day. If you are not to be the President of an obedient and united people, you had better not be inaugurated. Your work is already done, if any other authority than yours is for one moment to be recognized, or any terms made that do not signify that you are the supreme head of the nation. If generals in the field are to negotiate peace, or any other chief magistrate is to be acknowledged on this continent, then you are not needed and you had better not take the oath of office."

"Stanton, you are right," said the President, his whole tone changing. "Let me have a pen."

Mr. Lincoln sat down at the table, and wrote as follows:

"The President directs me to say to you that he wishes you to have no conference with General Lee, unless it be for the capitulation of Lee's army, or on some minor or purely military matter. He instructs me to say that you are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political question; such questions the President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to no military conference or conventions. In the mean time you are to press to the utmost your military advantages."

The President then read over what he had written, and then said:

"Now Stanton, date and sign this paper, and send it to Grant. We'll see about this peace business."

An account which appeared in a Cincinnati paper during the war, of a curious transaction at Washington, shows that Mr. Lincoln was as steady in trusting to Mr. Stanton's own wisdom in action, as he was ready to acknowledge the justice of the Secretary's reproofs on a question of constitutional propriety. This account is as follows:

"While the President was on his way back from Richmond, and at a point where no telegraph could reach the steamer upon which he was, a dispatch of the utmost importance reached Washington, demanding the immediate decision of the President himself. The dispatch was received by a confidential staff officer, who at once ascertained that Mr. Lincoln could not be reached. Delay was out of the question, as important army movements were involved. The officer having the dispatch went with it directly to Mr. Stanton's office, but the Secretary could not be found. Messengers were hastily dispatched for him in all directions. Their search was useless, and a positive answer had been already too much delayed by the time it had occupied. With great reluctance the staff officer sent a reply in the President's name. Soon after, Mr. Stanton entered himself, having learned of the efforts made to find him. The dispatch was produced, and he was informed by the officer sending the answer, of what had been done.

"'Did I do right?' said the officer to the Secretary.

"'Yes, Major,' replied Mr. Stanton, 'I think you have sent the correct reply, but I should hardly have dared to take the responsibility.'

"At this the whole magnitude of the office and the great responsibility he had taken upon himself, seemed to fall upon the officer, and almost overcame him; and he asked Mr. Stanton what he had better do, and was advised to go directly to the President, on his return, and state the case frankly to him. It was a sleepless night to the officer, and at the very earliest hour consistent with propriety he went to the White House."

Here the officer, scarcely even by the accidental interposition of the President's son, was able to reach him, as there were strict orders for his privacy just then. At last, he entered the President's room, and, the story continues,

"The dispatch was shown him, and the action upon it stated frankly and briefly. The President thought a moment and then said, 'Did you consult the Secretary of War, Major?' The absence of the Secretary at the important moment was then related to Mr. Lincoln, with the subsequent remark of Mr. Stanton, that he thought the right answer had been given, but that himself would have shrunk from the responsibility.

"Mr. Lincoln, on hearing the story, rose, crossed the room, and taking the officer by the hand, thanked him cordially, and then spoke of Mr. Stanton as follows:

"'Hereafter, Major, when you have Mr. Stanton's sanction in any matter, you have mine, for so great is my confidence in his judgment and patriotism, that I never wish to take an important step myself without first consulting him.'"

Only a few days before his death, Mr. Lincoln gave a still more striking testimony of the affectionate nature of his regard for Mr. Stanton. This was when Mr. Stanton tendered him his resignation of the War Department, on the ground that the work for whose sake he had taken it, was now done.

"Mr. Lincoln," says a witness, "was greatly moved by the Secretary's words, and tearing in pieces the paper containing the resignation, and throwing his arms about the Secretary, he said, 'Stanton, you have been a good friend and a faithful public servant, and it is not for you to say when you will no longer be needed here.' Several friends of both parties were present on this occasion, and there was not a dry eye that witnessed the scene."

Mr. Stanton occupied a situation of torturing responsibility and distracting cares. He bore burdens of perplexity and doubt and apprehension such as might tax the stoutest nerves. His only mode of meeting and repelling the dashing waves of hourly solicitations and the thousand agencies which beset a man in his position, was to make himself externally as rugged and stern as a rock.

But those who knew him intimately, as did Lincoln, and as did many others who were drawn towards him, interiorly, during the wrench of the great struggle, knew that deep within there was a heart, warm, kind, true and humbly religious—deeply feeling his responsibilities to God, and seeking with honest purpose to fulfil his duties in the awful straits in which he was placed. To a lady for whom he had performed in the way of his office some kindness, and who expressed gratitude, he writes:

"In respect to the matter in which you feel a personal interest and refer to with kind expressions of gratitude towards myself, I am glad that in the discharge of simple duty I have been able to relieve an anxious care in the heart of any one, and much more in the hearts of persons, who although personally unknown to me, I have been accustomed from early youth to reverence.

"In my official station I have tried to do my duty as I shall answer to God at the Great Day, but it is the misfortune of that station—a misfortune that no one else can comprehend the magnitude of, that most of my duties are harsh and painful to some one, so that I rejoice at an opportunity, however rare, of combining duty with kindly offices."

It remains to be seen what further services, if any, Mr. Stanton will render to his country in a public capacity. Should he again be a public servant, it will be as it has been, the United States, and not he, who will be the obliged party.

Frederick Douglass

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