Welles, Gideon

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Welles, Gideon

Gideon Welles (wĕlz), 1802–78, American statesman, b. Glastonbury, Conn. He was (1826–36) editor and part owner of the Hartford Times, one of the first New England papers to support Andrew Jackson. An organizer of the Jacksonian forces in Connecticut, Welles served in the state legislature (1827–35). He was three times elected state comptroller of public accounts and was postmaster of Hartford. He was also chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing for the U.S. navy (1846–49). Leaving the Democratic party on the slavery issue, he helped found (1856) the Hartford Evening Press, a Republican paper, and in 1861 became Secretary of the Navy in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet. Incorruptible, efficient, and something of a curmudgeon, Welles built the powerful Union navy of the Civil War. The construction of the Monitor and the other ironclads resulted largely from his support, and the victorious admirals David C. Farragut and David D. Porter were men of his choice. One of the first to recognize Lincoln's essential greatness, he thoroughly disliked some of his cabinet colleagues, notably William H. Seward and Edwin M. Stanton. Welles was a moderate who favored Lincoln's Reconstruction plan and, retaining his post under Andrew Johnson, stood by the President in his struggle with the radical Republicans in Congress. He returned to the Democratic party in 1868. Welles wrote Lincoln and Seward (1874), and his salty diary (ed. by H. K. Beale, 3 vol., 1960) is of immense value to the historian.

See A. Mordell, ed., Selected Essays by Gideon Welles (1959); H. K. Beale, ed., Diary of Gideon Welles (3 vol., 1960); biographies by R. S. West, Jr. (1943) and J. Niven (1973).

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