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Abraham Lincoln, Volume I by John T. Morse

Stanton had abused the administration with violence


The

absence of the secretary of war from these meetings was due to the fact that a change in the War Department was in process contemporaneously with them. The President had been allowed to understand that Mr. Cameron did not find his duties agreeable, and might prefer a diplomatic post. Accordingly, with no show of reluctance, Mr. Lincoln, on January 11, 1862, offered to Mr. Cameron the post of minister to Russia. It was promptly accepted, and on January 13 Edwin M. Stanton was nominated and confirmed to fill the vacancy.[159] The selection was a striking instance of the utter absence of vindictiveness which so distinguished Mr. Lincoln, who, in fact, was simply insensible to personal feeling as an influence. In choosing incumbents for public trusts, he knew no foe, perhaps no friend; but as dispassionately as if he were manoeuvring pieces on a chessboard, he considered only which available piece would serve best in the square which he had to fill. In 1859 he and Stanton had met as associate counsel in perhaps the most important lawsuit in which Mr. Lincoln had ever been concerned, and Stanton had treated Lincoln with his habitual insolence.[160] Later, in the trying months which closed the year 1861, Stanton had abused the administration with violence, and had carried his revilings of the President even to the point of coarse personal insults.[161] No man, not being a rebel, had less right to expect an invitation to become an adviser of the President; and most men, who had felt
or expressed the opinions held by Mr. Stanton, would have had scruples or delicacy about coming into the close relationship of confidential adviser with the object of their contempt; but neither scruples nor delicacy delayed him; his acceptance was prompt.[162]

[Illustration: Edwin M. Stanton]

So Mr. Lincoln had chosen his secretary solely upon the belief of the peculiar fitness of the individual for the special duties of the war office. Upon the whole the choice was wisely made, and was evidence of Mr. Lincoln's insight into the aptitudes and the uses of men. Stanton's abilities commanded some respect, though his character never excited either respect or liking; just now, however, all his good qualities and many of his faults seemed precisely adapted to the present requirements of his department. He had been a Democrat, but was now zealous to extremity in patriotism; in his dealings with men he was capable of much duplicity, yet in matters of business he was rigidly honest, and it was his pleasure to protect the treasury against the contractors; he loved work, and never wearied amid the driest and most exacting toil; he was prompt and decisive rather than judicial or correct in his judgments concerning men and things; he was arbitrary, harsh, bad-tempered, and impulsive; he often committed acts of injustice or cruelty, for which he rarely made amends, and still more rarely seemed disturbed by remorse or regret. These traits bore hard upon individuals; but ready and unscrupulous severity was supposed to have its usefulness in a civil war. Many a time he taxed the forbearance of the President to a degree that would have seemed to transcend the uttermost limit of human patience, if Mr. Lincoln had not taken these occasions to show to the world how forbearing and patient it is possible for man to be. But those who knew the relations of the two men are agreed that Stanton, however browbeating he was to others, recognized a master in the President, and, though often grumbling and insolent, always submitted if a crisis came. Undoubtedly Mr. Lincoln was the only ruler known to history who could have cooeperated for years with such a minister. He succeeded in doing so because he believed it to be for the good of the cause, to which he could easily subordinate all personal considerations; and posterity, agreeing with him, concedes to Stanton credit for efficiency in the conduct of his department.


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