Edwin McMasters Stanton

Date of Birth

Dec. 19, 1814

Date of Death

Dec. 24, 1869

Letters Authored


Letters Received


Edwin McMasters Stanton was born 208 years ago.
153 years ago, Edwin McMasters Stanton passed away at the age of 55.

Letters Authored in Collection


Edwin McMasters Stanton served as Lincoln’s Secretary of War during the Civil War and afterwards in Andrew Johnson’s Administration. He served in this capacity from 20 January 1862 until 28 May 1868. It was Stanton who said upon Lincoln’s death, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

The Stanton letter was written while Mr. Stanton was on an extended business trip to San Francisco, and its substance pertains to his impression of that city and more importantly, his impression of the Chinese immigrants who lived and worked there. During this period of his life, Mr. Stanton was a practicing attorney in Washington D. C.


Edwin McMasters Stanton (December 19, 1814 — December 24, 1869) was an American lawyer, politician, United States Attorney General in 1860-61 and Secretary of War through most of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era.
In 1856, Stanton moved to Washington, D.C., where he had a large practice before the Supreme Court. In 1859, Stanton was the defense attorney in the sensational trial of Daniel E. Sickles, a politician and later a Union general, who was tried on a charge of murdering his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key (son of Francis Scott Key), but was acquitted after Stanton invoked the first use of the insanity defense in U.S. history. In 1860 he was appointed as Attorney General by President James Buchanan. Although a staunch conservative Democrat, he strongly opposed secession, and is credited by historians for changing Buchanan's position away from tolerating secession to denouncing it as unconstitutional and illegal.
Stanton was politically opposed to Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and referred to him as the "original gorilla." After Lincoln was elected president, Stanton agreed to work as a legal adviser to the inefficient Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, whom he replaced on January 15, 1862. He accepted the position only to "help save the country." He was very effective in administering the huge War Department, but devoted considerable amounts of his energy to the persecution of Union officers whom he suspected of having traitorous sympathies for the South. The president recognized Stanton's ability, but whenever necessary Lincoln managed to "plow around him." Stanton once tried to fire the Chief of the War Department Telegraph Office, Thomas Eckert. Lincoln prevented this by defending Eckert and told Stanton he was doing a good job. This led to Eckert keeping his job. Yet, when pressure was exerted to remove the unpopular secretary from office, Lincoln replied, "If you will find another secretary of war like him, I will gladly appoint him." Stanton became a Republican and changed his opinion of Lincoln. At Lincoln's death Stanton remarked, "Now he belongs to the ages," and lamented, "There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen." He vigorously pursued the apprehension and prosecution of the conspirators involved in Lincoln's assassination. These proceedings were not handled by the civil courts, but by a military tribunal, and therefore under Stanton's tutelage. Stanton has subsequently been accused of witness tampering, most notably of Louis J. Weichmann, and of other activities that skewed the outcome of the trials.

Lincoln met with his Cabinet for the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation draft on July 22, 1862. (See the portrait above)L-R: Edwin M. Stanton, Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln, Gideon Welles, Caleb Smith, William H. Seward, Montgomery Blair, and Edward Bates.

Stanton continued to hold the position of secretary of war under President Andrew Johnson until 1868. His relations with the president were not good, and Johnson attempted to remove Stanton from the Cabinet and replace him with General Lorenzo Thomas. Stanton, however, barricaded himself in his office, and the radicals in Congress, claiming that Johnson's actions violated the Tenure of Office Act, initiated impeachment proceedings against him. This was the primary count for which Johnson was impeached. After this, Stanton resigned and returned to the practice of law. The next year he was appointed by President Grant to the Supreme Court, but he died four days after he was confirmed by the Senate, and before he could assume his seat. He died in Washington, D.C., and is buried there in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Edwin Stanton married Mary Lamson 31 December 1836. They had two children, Lucy Lamson Stanton (b. 11 March 1840) and Edwin Lamson Stanton (b. August 1842). Mary Lamson Stanton died 13 March 1844.

Stanton married again in 1856 to Ellen Hutchinson Mr. Stanton had four children with his second wife: Eleanor Adams Stanton (b. 9 May 1857), James Hutchinson Stanton (b. 1861), Lewis Hutchinson Stanton (b. 1862), and Bessie Stanton (b. 1863)
Mr. Stanton is enumerated with his family in the 1860 Census. At this time, his profession is noted as lawyer, his real estate value is $40,000, and his personal assets valued at $267,000. The family has four servants living with them.