Freedom, Union, and Power: Lincoln and His Party during the Civil War

By Michael S. Green | Go to book overview

4
Lincoln's Warring Cabinet:
Many Secretaries, One Ideology

BY THE MORNING after his victory, Abraham Lincoln had made a wish list of Cabinet members based on two key considerations: political ancestry and geography. Senator William Henry Seward of New York, once a Whig, was first. Former Democrat Salmon Chase of Ohio represented radicals; Edward Bates of Missouri, in many ways still a Whig, came from a border state. The next tier of choices was a pastiche: William Dayton of New Jersey, Montgomery Blair of Maryland, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, Caleb Smith of Indiana or Norman Judd of Illinois, and Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts or Gideon Welles of Connecticut—all balanced by previous affiliation and region, all moderate or conservative. This Cabinet was unique in including Lincoln's opponents for the nomination and in its inexperience: except Seward, none had been a national leader as a Whig or Democrat, or had served in a Cabinet. In the end Lincoln appointed many of his choices, but his political manager, Leonard Swett, doubted that he would succeed. Given "the fiery crucible of treason in which we are being tried, " he said, "It is … unanimity of sentiment and action he wants."1

These concerns proved prescient in some ways, unfounded in others. The Cabinet members divided as much as they united, or so it seemed. Still the classic study, Burton Hendrick's Lincoln's War Cabinet depicts a petty, intelligent, able, and ambitious group, subtly managed by a shrewd president to whom each, at least at some point, considered himself superior. Students of the Cabinet and Civil War politics have been kinder to Lincoln and certain ministers than have others, but have generally followed Hendrick's lead. And, to be sure, any assessment of the Cabinet, and of Lincoln's relations with them, must examine party politics. Each minister was involved in the affairs of his state and with those who shared his radical, moderate, or conservative place on the Republican spectrum; what each did in his capacity as a Cabinet

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