Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War

By Benjamin P. Thomas; Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

"AT PRESENT," Theodore Tilton wrote of his friend Edwin McMasters Stanton in 1870, "he is, perhaps, the least popularly understood and appreciated of any of our first-class statesmen."1 The same is true today.

This misunderstanding and lack of appreciation do not mean that Stanton has been ignored for ninety years. No one dealing with the vital political center of the nineteenth century has failed to consider his career. As Tilton said, Stanton was of "first-class" importance. He fought on the front lines of the party battles in the age of Jackson. Secession raised Stanton's significance to a higher level. He entered Buchanan's cabinet and helped to inspire that President with an enhanced sense of the powers of his office and of the dignity of the nation.

Then, as War Secretary under Lincoln, Stanton worked to guide the Union's search for the men and measures adequate to crush the rebellion. Partly due to his efforts and ideas, the North by 1865 had come to something remarkably like modern concepts of total war. In our current concern with increasing the fighting strength of the military forces while retaining civilian direction over the military establishment, there are lessons we may learn from Stanton's successes and failures.2

Continuing in the war office under Lincoln's successor, Stanton found that issues almost as disruptive as those that had ruptured the Union in 1860 had come to the fore. His decision to defy Andrew Johnson helped to bring on the only impeachment a President of the United States has suffered.

Considering the exacerbating nature of the controversies in which Stanton played a part, it is little wonder that disagreement should exist among those who deal with him. But the large literature on Stanton

____________________
1
Sanctum Sanctorum ( New York, 1870), 217.
2
T. Harry Williams, Americans at War: The Development of the American Military System ( Baton Rouge, 1960), 47-81; General Sir Frederick B. Maurice, Governments and War: A Study of the Conduct of War ( London, 1926), 118-23.

-xiii-

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