Edwin M. Stanton

“Spoke very Kindly of General Lee and Others”

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First Despatch from Secretary Stanton

War Department, Washington, April 15 – 1:30 a.m.
Major General Dix, News York:

Last evening at about 9:30 o’clock, at Ford’s Theatre, the President, while sitting in his private box with Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Harris and Major Rathbun, was shot by an assassin, who suddenly entered the box and approached behind the President.
The assassin then leaped upon the stage, brandishing a large dagger or knife, and made his escape in the rear of the theatre.

The pistol ball entered the back of the President’s head, and penetrated nearly through the head. The wound is mortal.

The President has been insensible ever since it was inflicted, and is now dying.

About the same hour an assassin, whether the same or not, entered Mr. Seward’s apartments, and, under pretense of having a prescription, was shown to the Secretary’s sick chamber. The assassin immediately rushed to the bed and inflicted two or three stabs on the throat and two in the face.

It is hoped the wounds may not be mortal. My apprehension is that they will prove fatal.

The nurse alarmed Mr. Frederick Steward, who was in an adjoining room, and he hastened to the door of his father’s room, when he met the assassin, who inflected upon his one or more dangerous wounds. The recovery of Frederick Seward is doubtful.

It is not probable that the President will live through the night.

General Grant and wife were advertised to be at the theatre this evening, but he started to Burlington at six o’clock this evening.

At a Cabinet meeting, at which General grant was present, the subject of the state of the country and the prospect of a speedy peace were discussed. The President was very cheerful and hopeful and spoke very kindly of General Lee and others of Confederacy, and the establishment of government in Virginia.

All the members of the Cabinet, except Mr. Seward, are nor in attendance upon the President.

I have seen Mr. Seward, but he and Frederick were both unconscious.

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War

Edwin M. Stanton to John A. Dix, April 15, 1865

On the following forenoon, Stanton, in an official letter to the American minister at London, gave a more detailed account of Lincoln’s death. Considering the circumstances under which this communication was composed, it is a masterly effort. 2    2 Ibid., pp. 784-85  

(“Why was Lincoln murdered?” https://archive.org/stream/whywaslincolnmur00eise/whywaslincolnmur00eise_djvu.txt)

War Department
Washington City, April 15, 1865 — 11:40 a.m.

Hon. Charles Francis Adams,

Minister of the United States to Her Britannic Majesty:

Sir: It has become my distressing duty to announce to you that last night His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, was assassinated about the hour of 10:30 o’clock in his private box at Ford’s Theater in this city. The President about 8 o’clock accompanied Mrs. Lincoln to the theater. Another lady and gentleman were with them in the box. About 10:30, during a pause in the performance, the assassin entered the box, the door of which was unguarded, hastily approached the President from behind, and discharged a pistol at his head. The bullet entered the back of his head and penetrated nearly through. The assassin then leaped from the box upon the stage, brandishing a large knife or dagger and exclaiming “Sic semper tyrannis,” and escaped in the rear of the theater. Immediately upon the discharge the President fell to the floor insensible, and continued in that state until 7:20 o’clock this morning, when he breathed his last.

About the same time this murder was being committed at the theater another assassin presented himself at the door of Mr. Seward’s residence, gained admission by pretending he had a prescription from Mr. Seward’s physician, which he was directed to see administered, hurried up to the third-story chamber, where Mr. Seward was lying. He here encountered Mr. Frederick Seward, struck him over the head, inflicting several wounds, and fracturing the skull in two places, inflicting, it is feared, mortal wounds. He then rushed into the room where Mr. Seward was in bed, attended by a young daughter and a male nurse. The male attendant was stabbed through the lungs, and it is believed will die. The assassin then struck Mr. Seward with a knife or dagger twice in the throat and twice in the face, inflicting terrible wounds. By this time Major Seward, the eldest son of the Secretary, and another attendant reached the room, and rushed to the rescue of the Secretary. They were also wounded in the conflict, and the assassin escaped. No artery or important blood vessel was severed by any of the wounds inflicted upon him, but he was for a long time insensible from the loss of blood. Some hopes of his possible recovery are entertained.

Immediately upon the death of the President notice was given to Vice-President Johnson, who happened to be in the city, and upon whom the office of President now devolves. He will take the office and assume the functions of President to-day. The murderer of the President has been discovered, and evidence obtained that these horrible crimes were committed in execution of a conspiracy deliberately planned and set on foot by rebels, under pretense of avenging the South and aiding the rebel cause. It is hoped that the immediate perpetrators will be caught. The feeling occasioned by these atrocious crimes is so great, sudden, and overwhelming that I cannot at present do more than communicate them to you at the earliest moment.

Yesterday the President called a Cabinet meeting,at which General Grant was present. He was more cheerful and happy than I had ever seen, rejoiced at the near prospect of firm and durable peace at home and abroad, manifested in marked degree the kindness and humanity of his disposition, and the tender and forgiving spirit that so eminently distinguished him. Public notice had been given that he and General Grant would be present at the theater, and the opportunity of adding the lieutenant-general to the number of victims to be murdered was no doubt seized for the fitting occasion of executing plans that appear to have been in preparation for some weeks. But General Grant was compelled to be absent, and thus escaped the designs upon him.

It is needless for me to say anything in regard to the influence which this atrocious murder of the President may exercise upon the affairs of this country, but I will only add that horrible as are the atrocities that have been resorted to by the enemies of this country, they are not likely in any degree to impair that public spirit or postpone the complete and final overthrow of the rebellion.

In profound grief for the events which it has become my duty to communicate to you, I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Edwin M. Stanton 3     3 Ibid., loc. cit.

Edwin M. Stanton to Charles Francis Adams, April 15, 1865

“He is Capable of More than that”

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Philadelphia Lawyer George F. Harding said: 

“I did not meet Stanton after that until he had been in the Cabinet some months. Much interest had been aroused by remarkable passages in certain state papers, which were thought to be quite beyond anything that could be expected of Lincoln, and which admirers of Seward and Chase had attributed to them. I thought Stanton abler than either Seward or Chase and that he was their author. When I met him next, after the usual salutation, I referred to a paper of that character which had recently appeared and said to him, JI know who is the author of that..’ Stanton asked, ‘Who do you suppose?,’ and I replied ‘You.’ ‘Not a word of it, not a word of it,’ he said. ‘Lincoln wrote it-every word of it. And he is capable of more than that. Harding, no men were ever so deceived as we at Cincinnati.’ And then he launched forth into a eulogy of Lincoln so emphatic that I could hardly credit it. Never afterwards would any disparagment of Lincoln be tolerated by Stanton or members of his family. “

–Abraham Lincoln quarterly. [Vol. 4, no. 3]

Lincoln Appointed Stanton as Secretary of War

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Philadelphia Lawyer George F. Harding said: 

“I had been retained by a group of reaper manufacturers East and West to resist McCormick’s charge of infringement. The interests at stake were large and there was money enough at our disposal to enable us to do whatever we thought would conduce to success. Watson, afterwards president of the Erie Railroad, was associated with me and had much to do, under my direction, in the preparation of the case, for which he was especially well qualified. The suit against Manny et al., pending in Illinois, was regarded as a test case. It was expected to be tried before Judge Drummond, and the Illinois defendants wished to bring in local counsel. I appreciated the advantage of having an associate who understood the judge and had his confidence, but felt that we were not likely to find a lawyer there who would be of real assistance in arguing such a case. Arnold, then Congressman from the Chicago District, was selected by me as probably the best for our purpose but we found he was not available because of some adverse retainer. Someone then suggested a Springfield lawyer whose name was given as ‘A. Lincoln’ or ‘Abe Lincoln.’ I was not inclined to have him brought into the case but, perhaps under some pressure from Illinois clients, Watson and I concluded to give the matter consideration and Watson went to Springfield to look Lincoln over, with authority to retain him if he concluded it was best. I had already expressed my preference for having Stanton as my associate in the argument, knowing him and having a high regard for his ability.

“Watson reached Springfield rather late in the day and found Lincoln was not at his office that evening but could probably be seen at his house. He went to the house, found it a small frame structure, not such as would indicate that its occupant was a lawyer of the standing required for this case. There was neither door bell nor knocker, and he rapped with his knuckles. A woman’s head came out of the window of the second floor, asking ‘Who is there?’ Watson explained that he was from a distance and wished to see Mr. Lincoln. Then came the question, ‘Business or politics?’ When told it was business, she (Mrs. Lincoln) indicated her satisfaction by the modified tone in which she shouted, ‘Abe, here is a man wants to see you on business’ (I am not certain whether she said ‘man’ or ‘fellow’). Steps were heard coming down the stairs and the door was opened by a very tall man having on neither coat nor vest, who said he was Lincoln and was just putting up a bed. He took Watson into the small, plainly furnished room, which evidently served, among other purposes, as the reception room. Watson was satisfied that he was not the associate we wanted, but, after some conversation, concluded that Lincoln had qualities which might be rather effective in that community, that it would be unwise to incur his hostility by turning him down after consulting him, and paid him a retainer (at which he seemed much surprised), arranged for quite a substantial fee to be paid at the close of the litigation, and left him under the impression that he was to make an argument and should prepare himself for it.

“Returning to Philadelphia, he reported to me what he had done and why, that he thought we should keep Lincoln in line but, without disabusing him, quietly employ Stanton, toward whom I had already been inclined, and ultimately find a way of sidetracking Lincoln. His description of Lincoln confirmed me in thinking that it would be quite out of the question to have him take part in the argument. We retained Stanton, but said nothing to Lincoln about super I seding him. The subsequent arrangement, by which the case was argued in Cincinnati before justice McLean, judge Drummond coming there to sit as associate, removed the principal object we had in employing Lincoln. He came to Cincinnati with his argument prepared, and without an intimation that other arrangements had been made. Stanton and I went there determined that he should be altogether dispensed with. We went together to the Burnet House, the principal Cincinnati Hotel, and there first saw Lincoln, standing on the platform at the head of the steps ascending from Third Street, a tall rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end of the handle. I can see distinctly now that umbrella and Lincoln standing there with it. He was introduced to Stanton and me. We barely exchanged salutations with him, and I proposed to Stanton that he and I go up to the court. Lincoln said, ‘Let’s go up in a gang.’ Stanton drew me aside, saying, ‘Let that fellow go with his gang. We’ll walk up together.’ We did. (I should here explain that the Federal Court was then just above the Burnet House, in the same block, and the Burnet House then had its principal entrance from Third Street up a high flight of stone steps.)

“Stanton managed to make it plain to Lincoln that we expected him to withdraw, and, upon his offering to do so, he was taken at his word instantly, and treated as no longer connected with the case. The hearing lasted about a week, and Lincoln was a close observer throughout. We were all at the same hotel. Neither of us ever conferred with him, ever had him at our table or sat with him, or asked him to our room, or walked to or from the court with him, or, in fact, had any intercourse with him. He sent to me, through Watson, a roll of manuscript which he said contained the argument he had intended to deliver, and which he wished me to make any use of I thought proper. I was so sure that it would be only trash on which I had no time to waste that I never glanced at it or even unrolled it. He afterwards asked Watson if I had read it, and when told that I had not, asked to have it returned to him, intimating that he wished to destroy it. It went back unopened.

“During the week Justice McLean entertained counsel on both sides at dinner in his fine residence at Clifton, one of the suburbs of Cincinnati. Lincoln was not invited. When we left for home, I think neither of us said goodbye to him. I heard afterwards that he had paid my argument the compliment you have mentioned. 

“When the fees were paid for services in the Manny case, Watson disbursed the funds and sent Lincoln a check for the fee he was to have received for his argument. Lincoln returned it, saying he had made no argument, and was entitled to no pay beyond the original retainer. Watson returned the check to him, writing that he was there prepared to render the service and was as much entitled to the fee as if he had made the argument. It was then accepted, and I have heard that when it came back to him, he recognized it as a kind of provident provision for meeting the expenses of a campaign which he otherwise could not afford, and applied it accordingly. About this I have no direct knowledge. 

“When Lincoln was named for President by the party to which I belonged, my disgust was such that I felt that I could not vote for him and I did not intend to, but the situation had become so ominous by election day that I finally took a Lincoln and Hamlin ballot, closed my eyes, and with great reluctance dropped it in the box. Stanton, a very pronounced Democrat, though an opponent of slavery, did his best to defeat Lincoln, taking the stump against him and attacking him savagely. When, early in the war, it became evident that Cameron must be superseded as Secretary of War and that the co-operation of Union Democrats must be recognized and encouraged, Watson, whose regard for Stanton dated from the case at Cincinnati, devoted himself to pressing Stanton for war secretary, and procured baskets full of petitions for his appointment. Lincoln had understood that Stanton was to blame for his humiliation at Cincinnati, and had so far acquitted me as to ask me to become Commissioner of Patents-an office which, of course, I declined at once. Stanton’s attack on him and ridicule of him during the campaign must have further exasperated him, and there was probably no man in the country towards whom he had reason to feel so much personal resentment. When convinced that the interest of the nation would be best served by bringing Stanton into his cabinet, he suppressed his personal resentment, as not many men could have done, and made the appointment.

Quoted in Abraham Lincoln quarterly. [Vol. 4, no. 3]

“Act from a Favorite Child”

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There was one night when Mr. Lincoln came alone, and invited me to sit for a while. After half an hour, Mr. Stanton, who had followed in pursuit, entered the box unannounced, and seated himself, giving me a glance that might have been construed as a suggestion that I was in the way. Mr. Lincoln introduced me to the Secretary, and after an interchange of courtesies, I was about to withdraw, when Mr. Lincoln asked me impressively to remain. Inferring that my presence might be useful to him, I sat slightly behind them and in the center, leaving the President in front nearest the stage, and the Secretary beside him and slightly to his left. Now this of itself would scarcely deserve chronicling, but the incident illustrates the masterful, somewhat aggressive methods of the Secretary, and the gracious, forbearing nature of the President, who, with ever polite tenacity, insisted on having hie own way .

Mr. Stanton immediately began a conversation in a low tone of voice, the nature of which I made it my business not to hear. Mr. Lincoln responded in a short sentence and let his eyes drift away to the stage. Mr, Stanton resumed in a longer statement. Mr. Lincoln turned quietly, nodded two or three times gently, and again his eyes sought the stage. This was repeated, Mr. Stanton’s speeches, always low, as both were in sight of the audience, growing in length, and Mr. Lincoln listening, nodding in an affable manner that said neither yes nor no, and then turning to the stage. This continued for some minutes until Mr. Lincoln’s nods grew more infrequent, till finally he would do the nodding while his face wae turned away, and he was apparently occupied with the performance. Then Mr. Stanton twice deliberately reached out, grasped Mr. Lincoln by the lapel of his coat, slowly pulled him round face to face, and continued the conversation. Mr. Lincoln responded to this brusque act with all the smiling geniality that one might bestow on a similar act from a favorite child, but soon again turned his eyes to the stage.

I had pushed myself a little to the rear, to indicate that I was not listening, and in fact, I don’t think I heard a word from first to last. I imagined that Mr. Stanton might be pursuing a subject that Mr. Lincoln had come away from the White House to avoid, and that Mr. Lincoln was not so much interested in the play, as desirous that Mr. Stanton should think he was.

Finally, impressed with the futility of his efforts, Mr.Stanton arose, said good-night and withdrew. Mr. Lincoln vouchsafed no explanatoin to me, but appeared to get much satisfaction out of the play.

Quoted in Leonard Grover,“Lincoln’s Interest in the Theater,” Century (1909), pp. 946, 944-45.

“Now He Belongs to the Ages”

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At 7:22 a.m., April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead. Stanton’s concise tribute from his deathbed still echoes. “Now he belongs to the ages.

Quoted in David Donald, Lincoln, p. 599. As David Donald notes, witnesses thought they heard several variations of Stanton’s utterance, including “He belongs to the ages now,” “He now belongs to the Ages,” and “He is a man for the ages.” Donald, Lincoln, p. 686, endnote for p. 599 beginning “to the ages.”  (Quoted in Doris Kearns Goodwin,“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”,pp. 743 )

Instantly the news spread through the city. At eleven o’clock I was myself standing before the house in which Mr. Lincoln was lying. The crowd was rapidly increasing; squads of soldiers were coming, too, and soon formed in line on the pavement. At that moment all were silent, and no one exactly knew what had happened. Suddenly I heard Booth’s name muttered by the crowd: he was the assassin, it was said. A few minutes later we heard that Mr. Seward had been murdered at his house, and soon after rumors were current of similar deeds perpetrated upon Mr. Stanton and General Grant. Then the aspect of the crowd changed all of a sudden. Until then it had seemed panic-stricken; all at once it became infuriated. Everyone thought himself in the presence of mysterious enemies hidden in the darkness of night, and from whose murderous steel it became incumbent to save those who were yet alive.

The first floor of the house where Mr. Lincoln had just been carried was composed of three rooms, opening on the same corridor. It was in the third, a small room, that the dying man lay.

His face, lighted by a gasjet, under which the bed had been moved, was pale and livid. His body had already the rigidity of death. At intervals only the still audible sound of his breathing could be faintly heard, and at intervals again it would be lost entirely. The surgeons did not entertain hope that he might recover a moment’s consciousness. Judge William T. Otto, a thirty years’ friend of Mr. Lincoln’s, was standing at the bedside holding his hand; around the bed stood also the Attorney-General, Mr. Speed, and the Rev. Mr. Gurney, pastor of the church Mr. Lincoln usually attended.

Leaning against the wall stood Mr. Stanton, who gazed now and then at the dying man’s face, and who seemed overwhelmed with emotion. From time to time he wrote telegrams or gave the orders which, in the midst of the crisis, assured the preservation of peace. The remaining members of the Cabinet and several Senators and generals were pacing up and down the corridor. Thus the night passed on. At last, toward seven o’clock in the morning, the surgeon announced that death was at hand, and at twenty minutes after seven the pulse ceased beating.

Everyone present seemed then to emerge from the stupor in which the hours of night had been spent. Mr. Stanton approached the bed, closed Mr. Lincoln’s eyes, and drawing the sheet over the dead man’s head, uttered these words in a very low voice: “He is a man for the ages.

Quoted in Marquis de Chambrun [Charles Adolphe Pineton], “Personal Recollections of Mr. Lincoln,” Scribner’s 13 (January 1893)

In the dark night of another day of evil the most sorrowful heart by the bedside of the murdered President throbbed in the bosom of his Secretary of War, and his voice it was which spoke his grandest eulogy in the words, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen!

Lucius E. Chittenden,”Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration” P186.

“If Stanton Said I was a Damned Fool”

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Lincoln, however, had the highest opinion of Stanton, and their relations were always most kindly, as the following anecdote bears witness: A committee of Western men, headed by [Congressman Owen] Lovejoy, procured from the President an important order looking to the exchange and transfer of Eastern and Western soldiers with a view to more effective work. Repairing to the office of the Secretary, Mr. Lovejoy explained the scheme, as he had before done to the President, but was met with a flat refusal.

“But we have the President’s order, sir,” said Lovejoy.

“Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?” said Stanton.

“He did, sir.”

“Then he is a d-d fool,” said the irate secretary.

“Do you mean to say the President is add fool?” asked Lovejoy, in amazement.

“Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that.”

The bewildered Illinoisan betook himself at once to the President, and related the result of his conference.   

“Did Stanton say I was a d-d fool? “asked Lincoln at the close of the recital.

“He did, sir, and repeated it.”

After a moment’s pause, and looking up, the President said, “If Stanton said I was a d-d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.”

George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872, pp. 211-12.

“He is the Rock on the Beach of our National Ocean”

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The son of a man who had befriended Lincoln in the days of his poverty, desired a certain army appointment. Congressmen Julian of Indiana and Lovejoy of Illinois went to Lincoln, who indorsed the application and sent them with it to Stanton.

“No,” said the Secretary.

“Let us give his qualifications,” suggested the Congressmen.

“I do not wish to hear them,” was the reply. “The position is of high importance. I have in mind a man of suitable experience and capacity to fill it.”

“But the President wishes this man to be appointed,” persisted the callers.

“I do not care what the President wants; the country wants the very best it can get. I am serving the country,” was the retort, “regardless of individuals.”

The disconcerted Congressmen returned to Lincoln and recited their experience. The President, without the slightest perturbation, said:  

“Gentlemen, it is my duty to submit. I cannot add to Mr. Stanton’s troubles. His position is one of the most difficult in the world. Thousands in the army blame him because they are not promoted and other thousands out of the army blame him because they are not appointed. The pressure upon him is immeasurable and unending. 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. He performs his task superhumanly. Now do not mind this matter, for Mr. Stanton is right and I cannot wrongly interfere with him.”

Quoted in “Edwin McMasters Stanton: The Autocrat of Rebellion, Emancipation, and Reconstruction”,By Frank Abial Flower, p. 369-370.