Abraham Lincoln and Executive Power Print E-mail
We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution
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Edwin McMasters Stanton (1814–1869)

Upon the death of Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton remarked, “Now he belongs to the ages.” However, his initial impression of Lincoln’s abilities was far from favorable: he vastly underestimated Lincoln’s intelligence.

Stanton, a Democrat, had been named attorney general by Lincoln’s predecessor, President James Buchanan. He remained in Washington upon Lincoln’s election and served as legal adviser to Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron. When the president removed Cameron from office in 1862, he appointed Stanton in his place.

Despite his belief that the war would be short, Stanton doubled the size of the War Department building and appointed dozens of new clerks and two new assistant secretaries. His impatience with General George B. McClellan’s war plans dovetailed with Lincoln’s own, and the two men at last found common ground, developing a close relationship.

Stanton’s role as secretary of war included responsibility for the safety of President Lincoln. When the president was assassinated, Stanton followed every lead available to track down the killers, believing the assassination was the result of a Confederate plot. Robert Todd Lincoln remembered that Stanton visited him every morning for more than ten days after Lincoln’s death and grieved.

Appointed to the supreme court by President Ulysses S. Grant, Stanton died before he could take office.