Edwin Stanton

By Smith, Breanna | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Edwin Stanton


Smith, Breanna, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Edwin Stanton is best known as the secretary of war under President Abraham Lincoln, but he first made a name for himself years earlier as the lawyer who helped to preserve Pittsburgh's position as the hub of the steamboat industry.

Born Dec. 19, 1814, in Steubenville, Ohio, Stanton was the eldest of four children. He studied at Kenyon College before passing the bar exam in 1835.

He opened a law practice in his hometown in 1839 and became a successful attorney. Looking to further his career, Stanton moved to Pittsburgh in 1847.

The highest profile case of Stanton's legal career came in 1850 when he went before the U.S. Supreme Court to represent Pennsylvania in a case against the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Co.

Stanton argued that the Wheeling Bridge, built only 90 feet above the water, was too low for many ships to pass under, and cities upstream from the bridge, including Pittsburgh, would see the industries that rely on this key river route collapse.

The Supreme Court ruled in his favor and declared that the Ohio River was effectively a national navigable stream, establishing a precedent that helped ensure open river commerce and sustain Pittsburgh's thriving economy.

The case lifted Stanton's national profile and in 1856, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he became President James Buchanan's attorney general.

When Lincoln took office, Stanton became a legal adviser before he was appointed secretary of war in January 1862, less than a year after the Civil War began. …

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