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Lincoln's Cabinets

Lincoln's first term as President began on March 4, 1861, his second term exactly four years later. He surrounded himself with men who shared his views on slavery. Many of his cabinet members were much better educated than Lincoln, and no doubt some, or maybe all, felt that they could do a better job. However, it is a tribute to Lincoln's management style that he was able to keep the cabinet moving in the right direction, despite the efforts of some of its members.

Following are brief accounts of the men who served under Lincoln:

Vice President, first term: Hannibal Hamlin (1861-1865)

A former Democrat from Maine, Hamlin's anti-slavery feelings saw him jump to the Republican party when it formed in 1856. He had served in the Maine state legislature, Congress, and the Senate, and had been Governor of Maine. In 1837 Hamlin led a movement to eliminate the death penalty in Maine. He became Lincolnís running mate in 1860 to balance the ticket both geographically and politically. Once in office he was chagrined to see how little importance the Vice Presidency held, and he was often absent so he could spend time in Maine. He even served a two month stint in the Maine Coast Guard while Vice President. Hamlin lost the bid for the 1864 Vice Presidential nomination to Andrew Johnson, who appointed him collector of the port of Boston after he took over as President. Hamlin quickly found himself in disagreement with Johnsonís Reconstruction policies and only held the job for a year. He returned to the Senate in 1869, and later served as minister to Spain. Years after leaving public office he claimed that he was the first person to be shown Lincolnís draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Vice President, second term: Andrew Johnson (1865)

Born in North Carolina, Johnson moved to Tennessee and served in several public offices, ranging from mayor to governor, then served in the United States Senate. Like Lincoln, he had little education and was taught to read by his wife. A vocal opponent of slavery, he served as a Brigadier General in the Union Army. He won the nomination for Vice President on the first ballot in 1864, defeating the incumbent Hannibal Hamlin. Following Lincoln's death, Johnson assumed the presidency but lacked Lincoln's flexibility and finesse in dealing with Reconstruction. Criticized for failing to grant clemency to Mary Surratt for her role in the assassination of Lincoln, Johnson claimed that he never saw the plea until after she had been hanged. Politically he was up against the Radical Republicans in Congress, most of whom felt that Johnson had overstepped his bounds with some of the policies he had implemented while Congress was in recess. By 1867 they had passed a number of resolutions which imposed restrictions on the President. On February 24, 1868 the beleagured Johnson was impeached for allegedly violating the provisions of the Tenure of Office Act by dismissing Secretary of War Stanton. The move fell one vote short of passing. In 1875 Johnson returned to the Senate, only to die a few months later.

Secretary of State, both terms: William Henry Seward (1861-1865)

A graduate of Union College in New York, Seward was also anti-slavery and served as Governor of New York. He was also a United States Senator. His anti-slavery position was made known in such a vocal manner that many considered him to be a radical, although he eventually moderated his stance. He unsuccessfully sought the presidency on two occasions, 1856 and 1860. When Lincoln offered him the cabinet post he was reluctant to accept, believing he would have problems with several of the members already seated. He eventually accepted and became known as an excellent diplomat. Seward was one of those also attacked in Lincoln's assassination plot. He survived his wounds and became known for his purchase of Alaska in 1867.

Secretary of the Treasury, first term: Salmon Portland Chase (1861-1864)

Born in Hew Hampshire, Chase moved to Ohio and served as Governor of that state. As a devout Episcopalian, he was extremely anti-slavery. A graduate of Dartmouth, he became an attorney, gaining the nickname ďAttorney General for runaway negroesĒ for his legal work on behalf of runaway slaves. Chase also wanted the 1860 Republican nomination for president but garnered only 45 votes on the first ballot, whereupon he threw his support to Lincoln. Lincoln rewarded him with the position of Secretary of the Treasury, a position he resigned from the Senate to accept. Never particularly close to Lincoln, he had many conflicts with other cabinet members which led to his resignation on December 20, 1862, along with Sewardís. Lincoln refused them both. Among Chase's accomplishments as Secretary of the Treasury were the financing of the war, the development of a national banking system to ensure a national currency, and the printing of the first paper currency, although he was somewhat reluctant to do this. He tried to resign a second time on May 11, 1863 after a disagreement with Lincoln concerning a political appointment, but again Lincoln refused it. Finally, when Lincoln refused to support a nominee of Chases, Chase resigned a third time on June 29, 1864. This time Lincoln accepted. He sought the presidential nomination again in 1864 but supported Lincoln after losing to him. He was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in October, 1864, succeeding Roger Taney, and he served as the presiding officer at Andrew Johnsonís impeachment. He is honored by having his photo on the modern $10,000 bill.

Secretary of the Treasury, second term: William Pitt Fessenden (1864-1865)

Fessenden was a graduate of Bowdoin College, the same institution that produced General Joshua Chamberlain. Fessenden served in his state legislature and Congress. Backed by an anti-slavery faction, he won election to the United States Senate, where he gained a reputation as an outstanding debater. Under pressure from Lincoln and Chase, he reluctantly supported the National Currency Act of 1863, which established a national banking system. Initially he thought Lincoln was a puppet of Sewardís but gradually he reconciled himself to Lincolnís leadership abilities. Never a strong supporter of Lincoln, Fessenden resigned his cabinet post after only eight months, returning to the Senate where he served as chairman of the joint committee on Reconstruction. Fessenden cast a ďnot guiltyĒ ballot at Johnsonís impeachment proceedings. Two of his sons, Francis and James, served as Union Generals.

Secretary of the Treasury, second term: Hugh McCulloch (1865)

Also a Bowdoin graduate, McCulloch had been a lawyer and a banker. He was anti-slavery but strongly believed that the white race was superior to the black. Lincolnís first choice for the post was Edwin D. Morgan, who turned it down. Lincoln then offered it to McCulloch, his second choice, because of his known financial expertise. McCulloch held the position throughout Andrew Johnson's term as well. Considered flexible, Lincoln trusted McCulloch so much that he had what amounted to free rein. McCulloch left the cabinet in 1869 to become a partner in a London banking house, although he returned to Washington to serve again as Secretary of the Treasury from 1884 to 1885.

Secretary of War, first term: Simon Cameron (1861-1862)

A former Senator from Pennsylvania, Cameron had grown wealthy from working in construction, banking, and insurance. Another contender for the 1860 presidential nomination, he finished third on the first ballot, behind Lincoln and Seward. He threw his support to Lincoln only after wrangling a promise from Lincoln's staff that he would be given a cabinet post. Lincoln was unaware of this deal at the time it was made, but he decided reluctantly to honor the promise once elected. Cameron refused to follow Lincoln's directions and his term was marked by scandals and corruption, ultimately leading to a censure vote from the House of Representatives. He recommended to Lincoln that he call up the 75,000 volunteers after the firing on Fort Sumter, and he supported the freeing and arming of slaves as soldiers. This latter position he outlined in his annual report, sending copies to the news media without Lincolnís permission. Seeking a way to get rid of him gracefully, in January, 1862 Lincoln appointed him Minister to Russia, ending his time on the cabinet. He served as an honorary citizen pallbearer at Lincolnís funeral, and in 1867 he won re-election to the Senate.

Secretary of War, first and second terms: Edwin McMasters Stanton (1862-1865)

Stanton was born in Ohio and attended Kenyon College. An eminent lawyer, he had served as President James Buchanan's Attorney General and was appointed as Secretary of War by Lincoln in 1862 to replace Cameron, despite the fact that he believed that Lincoln suffered from ďpainful imbecility.Ē The two would work well together, however, and eventually he seemed to lose his animosity. He generally opposed Lincolnís lenient position on clemency but stood beside him with respect to generals who did not produce the desired results. Stanton restored respectability to the position and remained in the post under Johnson, his management style earning him the reputation of being a tyrant. After seeing some emaciated Union prisoners who had been released, he retaliated by reducing rations to Confederate prisoners by 20 percent. Stanton was the only cabinet member to take Lincolnís security seriously, and after the assassination he became preoccupied with bringing the killers to justice. He became an opponent of Johnson's Reconstruction policies and Johnson asked for his resignation, which Stanton refused to tender. Johnson summarily suspended Stanton, who was quickly returned to the post by the Senate. Johnson suspended him again only to learn from the Senate that he did not have the power to do so. Following Johnson's impeachment, Stanton resigned. He was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1869 but died four days after receiving the appointment.

Attorney General, first term: Edward Bates (1861-1864)

Born in Virginia, Bates moved to St. Louis and had held several minor offices in the state of Missouri, eventually working his way up to state legislator. He was opposed to the extension of slavery into the territories. His supporters had tried to get the nomination for him for president in the 1860 election but were unsuccessful, Bates receiving only 48 votes on the first ballot out of the 233 needed for nomination. After Lincoln was nominated Bates strongly supported the future president. When Lincolnís handling of habeus corpus was challenged in the Supreme Court, Bates presented the governmentís position in front of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. There he argued that the three distinct branches of government were independently soverign, meaning the judiciary could not impose its will on the executive branchís method of putting down the insurrection. He served as Lincoln's Attorney General until November 24, 1864, when he suffered a stroke, at which time he resigned and returned to Missouri politics.

Attorney General, second term: James Speed (1841-1865)

Born in Kentucky, Speed studied law at Transylvania University. He served in the Kentucky state legislature and ardently opposed Kentucky's secession movement. Early in the war he worked to smuggle weapons into the state for use by Union sympathizers. His brother Joshua was one of Lincolnís closest friends, leading to charges of cronyism by Lincolnís opponents. Appointed to succeed Bates after Joseph Holt turned down the appointment, Speed continued to serve under Johnson until he resigned in 1866 under disagreement with Johnson's Reconstruction policies. He returned to Kentucky to practice law, making an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1867.

Postmaster General, first term: Montgomery Blair (1861-1864)

An 1835 graduate of the United States Military Academy, Blair served in the Seminole War, then resigned to study law. He served as Dred Scott's attorney in the famous Supreme Court case. He was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention as a supporter of Edward Bates, strongly believing that James Buchananís weak administration had allowed the secessionist movement to grow from a small minority to its 1860 stature. Blair is credited with reducing departmental deficits and establishing military post offices. He advised Lincoln not to execute Confederate prisoners in retaliation for the Fort Pillow Massacre. Blair did not get along well with Seward, Chase, and Stanton, his fellow cabinet members, and he was often out of step with Lincoln himself. While he supported the Emancipation Proclamation, he believed that separation of the races must follow. His many clashes with Lincoln led the President to ask for his resignation, which he tendered on September 23, 1864. He later returned to the Democratic party, the party he had left during the free-soil movement.

Postmaster General, second term: William Dennison (1864-1865)

Dennison had served in the Ohio legislature and had also been governor and postmaster general of that state. A graduate of Miami (Ohio) University, he was a lawyer and banker by trade. Dennison strongly favored reinforcing Fort Sumter before it was fired on, saying to Lincoln, ďIf blood must flow, better for it to flow at Charleston than at Washington." He was a leading force in getting Ohio prepared for the war, often using his position to authorize expenditures without the proper appropriations. Dennison served as presiding officer at the 1864 Baltimore convention that renominated Lincoln. He remained as Postmaster General under Johnson following Lincolnís death, but his opposition to Johnsonís Reconstruction policies led to his resignation in disgust in 1866.

Secretary of the Navy, both terms: Gideon Welles (1861-1865)

A native of Connecticut and a former Democrat, Welles had little naval training to prepare him for his cabinet position. He had served as an editor of a number of Hartford newspapers and had unsuccessfully sought the gubernatorial bid in 1856. He proved to be extremely loyal to Lincoln and more than efficient. Welles clashed with Seward on a regular basis, so it was ironic that the two of them were among the first to know about Lincolnís intent to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. They were also the only two members of the cabinet to serve the entire time of Lincolnís administration. For that reason, a diary that Welles kept has become an important source of information on the internal workings of Lincolnís time in office. Welles did an excellent job in keeping politics out of the navy yards, and as early as 1861 he ordered the Navy to shelter and employ fugitive slaves. He remained in the office under Johnson and was looked on as a positive influence in times of cabinet turbulence.

Secretary of the Interior, first term: Caleb Blood Smith (1861-1863)

Smith was born in Boston, moved to Cincinnati, and ultimately settled in Indiana. He attended Miami University in Ohio. An attorney and former member of the Indiana House of Representatives, he served as House Speaker from 1835 to 1837. In 1842, Smith won a seat in Congress, serving three terms. As a delegate to the peace convention in Washington in 1861, Smith worked desperately, and unsuccessfully, to head off the war. Smith seconded Lincolnís nomination at the 1860 Republican Convention and received his appointment through a promise made by Lincoln's managers in return for Smith's support at the convention. As a Cabinet member, however, he was relatively indifferent and he felt that Lincoln made all the important decisions on his own, without consulting the Cabinet. He strongly opposed the use of black soldiers. Ill health forced Smith to resign his Cabinet post, and he became a judge in the United States District Court for Indiana, a position he held until he died in January 1864.

Secretary of the Interior, first and second terms: John Palmer Usher (1863-1865)

An attorney from Indiana who had also served as his stateís Attorney General, Usher served the Lincoln Administration as Assistant Secretary of the Interior. He was then appointed to fill the remainder of the term of Caleb B. Smith as Secretary of the Interior. Usher was a strong proponent for colonization of blacks, as well as an advocate for the transcontinental railroad. He had been an unsuccessful candidate for Congress. He was reappointed in Lincolnís second term and also served briefly under Andrew Johnson. After his resignation he moved to Kansas, becoming chief counsel for the Uniion Pacific Railroad, a position he held until his death.