THERE was one man who profited greatly by Lincoln's death; this man was his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton.
Brusque, insolent, cruel, Stanton was without doubt the most unpopular member of Lincoln's administration; but the President, in spite of strong pressure, had been loath to let him go while the conflict was raging; he seemed to think that no one else could do the work as well.
"Find the man," he had said. "Show me that he can do it. He shall."1
After the war was over, however, it seemed only a question of time when Lincoln would divest himself of a Secretary who was fast becoming both a personal and political liability to him.
No author has ever painted a picture of Stanton that was acceptable to all. "The character and career of Edwin M. Stanton," wrote De Witt, "are so enveloped in enigma that we are compelled to pause . . . to gain, if possible, some adequate conception of the man." But difficulties presented themselves even to this careful investigator.
. . . alternately appearing and disappearing before the eye of the inquirer . . . there are two Stantons -- one the direct contradictory of the other. Listening to the chorus of panegyrists, we see a war-minister greater than the elder Pitt; an organizer of victory more skilful than Carnot . . . Listening to the voice of his detractors, we see . . . a life-long dissembler . . . a Cabinet officer obsequious to his superiors or his equals . . . to the point of servility, and insolent . . . to his inferiors to the point of outrage;