Edwin M. Stanton

“He Is Capable Of More Than That”

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Philadelphia Lawyer George F. Harding said: 

“I did not meet Stanton after that until he had been in the Cabinet some months. Much interest had been aroused by remarkable passages in certain state papers, which were thought to be quite beyond anything that could be expected of Lincoln, and which admirers of Seward and Chase had attributed to them. I thought Stanton abler than either Seward or Chase and that he was their author. When I met him next, after the usual salutation, I referred to a paper of that character which had recently appeared and said to him, JI know who is the author of that..’ Stanton asked, ‘Who do you suppose?,’ and I replied ‘You.’ ‘Not a word of it, not a word of it,’ he said. ‘Lincoln wrote it-every word of it. And he is capable of more than that. Harding, no men were ever so deceived as we at Cincinnati.’ And then he launched forth into a eulogy of Lincoln so emphatic that I could hardly credit it. Never afterwards would any disparagment of Lincoln be tolerated by Stanton or members of his family. “

–Abraham Lincoln quarterly. [Vol. 4, no. 3]

“Act From A Favorite Child”

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There was one night when Mr. Lincoln came alone, and invited me to sit for a while. After half an hour, Mr. Stanton, who had followed in pursuit, entered the box unannounced, and seated himself, giving me a glance that might have been construed as a suggestion that I was in the way. Mr. Lincoln introduced me to the Secretary, and after an interchange of courtesies, I was about to withdraw, when Mr. Lincoln asked me impressively to remain. Inferring that my presence might be useful to him, I sat slightly behind them and in the center, leaving the President in front nearest the stage, and the Secretary beside him and slightly to his left. Now this of itself would scarcely deserve chronicling, but the incident illustrates the masterful, somewhat aggressive methods of the Secretary, and the gracious, forbearing nature of the President, who, with ever polite tenacity, insisted on having hie own way .

Mr. Stanton immediately began a conversation in a low tone of voice, the nature of which I made it my business not to hear. Mr. Lincoln responded in a short sentence and let his eyes drift away to the stage. Mr, Stanton resumed in a longer statement. Mr. Lincoln turned quietly, nodded two or three times gently, and again his eyes sought the stage. This was repeated, Mr. Stanton’s speeches, always low, as both were in sight of the audience, growing in length, and Mr. Lincoln listening, nodding in an affable manner that said neither yes nor no, and then turning to the stage. This continued for some minutes until Mr. Lincoln’s nods grew more infrequent, till finally he would do the nodding while his face wae turned away, and he was apparently occupied with the performance. Then Mr. Stanton twice deliberately reached out, grasped Mr. Lincoln by the lapel of his coat, slowly pulled him round face to face, and continued the conversation. Mr. Lincoln responded to this brusque act with all the smiling geniality that one might bestow on a similar act from a favorite child, but soon again turned his eyes to the stage.

I had pushed myself a little to the rear, to indicate that I was not listening, and in fact, I don’t think I heard a word from first to last. I imagined that Mr. Stanton might be pursuing a subject that Mr. Lincoln had come away from the White House to avoid, and that Mr. Lincoln was not so much interested in the play, as desirous that Mr. Stanton should think he was.

Finally, impressed with the futility of his efforts, Mr.Stanton arose, said good-night and withdrew. Mr. Lincoln vouchsafed no explanatoin to me, but appeared to get much satisfaction out of the play.

Quoted in Leonard Grover,“Lincoln’s Interest in the Theater,” Century (1909), pp. 946, 944-45.

“Now He Belongs To The Ages”

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 At 7:22 a.m., April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead. Stanton’s concise tribute from his deathbed still echoes. “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Quoted in David Donald, Lincoln, p. 599. As David Donald notes, witnesses thought they heard several variations of Stanton’s utterance, including “He belongs to the ages now,” “He now belongs to the Ages,” and “He is a man for the ages.” Donald, Lincoln, p. 686, endnote for p. 599 beginning “to the ages.”  (Quoted in Doris Kearns Goodwin,“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”,pp. 743 )


Instantly the news spread through the city. At eleven o’clock I was myself standing before the house in which Mr. Lincoln was lying. The crowd was rapidly increasing; squads of soldiers were coming, too, and soon formed in line on the pavement. At that moment all were silent, and no one exactly knew what had happened. Suddenly I heard Booth’s name muttered by the crowd: he was the assassin, it was said. A few minutes later we heard that Mr. Seward had been murdered at his house, and soon after rumors were current of similar deeds perpetrated upon Mr. Stanton and General Grant. Then the aspect of the crowd changed all of a sudden. Until then it had seemed panic-stricken; all at once it became infuriated. Everyone thought himself in the presence of mysterious enemies hidden in the darkness of night, and from whose murderous steel it became incumbent to save those who were yet alive.

The first floor of the house where Mr. Lincoln had just been carried was composed of three rooms, opening on the same corridor. It was in the third, a small room, that the dying man lay.

His face, lighted by a gasjet, under which the bed had been moved, was pale and livid. His body had already the rigidity of death. At intervals only the still audible sound of his breathing could be faintly heard, and at intervals again it would be lost entirely. The surgeons did not entertain hope that he might recover a moment’s consciousness. Judge William T. Otto, a thirty years’ friend of Mr. Lincoln’s, was standing at the bedside holding his hand; around the bed stood also the Attorney-General, Mr. Speed, and the Rev. Mr. Gurney, pastor of the church Mr. Lincoln usually attended.

Leaning against the wall stood Mr. Stanton, who gazed now and then at the dying man’s face, and who seemed overwhelmed with emotion. From time to time he wrote telegrams or gave the orders which, in the midst of the crisis, assured the preservation of peace. The remaining members of the Cabinet and several Senators and generals were pacing up and down the corridor. Thus the night passed on. At last, toward seven o’clock in the morning, the surgeon announced that death was at hand, and at twenty minutes after seven the pulse ceased beating.

Everyone present seemed then to emerge from the stupor in which the hours of night had been spent. Mr. Stanton approached the bed, closed Mr. Lincoln’s eyes, and drawing the sheet over the dead man’s head, uttered these words in a very low voice: “He is a man for the ages.”

Quoted in Marquis de Chambrun [Charles Adolphe Pineton], “Personal Recollections of Mr. Lincoln,” Scribner’s 13 (January 1893)


In the dark night of another day of evil the most sorrowful heart by the bedside of the murdered President throbbed in the bosom of his Secretary of War, and his voice it was which spoke his grandest eulogy in the words, ” There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen !”

Lucius E. Chittenden,”Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration” P186.

“If Stanton Said I was a Damned Fool”

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Lincoln, however, had the highest opinion of Stanton, and their relations were always most kindly, as the following anecdote bears witness: A committee of Western men, headed by [Congressman Owen] Lovejoy, procured from the President an important order looking to the exchange and transfer of Eastern and Western soldiers with a view to more effective work. Repairing to the office of the Secretary, Mr. Lovejoy explained the scheme, as he had before done to the President, but was met with a flat refusal.

“But we have the President’s order, sir,” said Lovejoy.

“Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?” said Stanton.

“He did, sir.”

“Then he is a d-d fool,” said the irate secretary.

“Do you mean to say the President is add fool?” asked Lovejoy, in amazement.

“Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that.”

The bewildered Illinoisan betook himself at once to the President, and related the result of his conference.   

“Did Stanton say I was a d-d fool? “asked Lincoln at the close of the recital.

“He did, sir, and repeated it.”

After a moment’s pause, and looking up, the President said, “If Stanton said I was a d-d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.”

Whether this anecdote is literally true or not, it illustrates the character of the two men.

George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872, pp. 211-12.

“He is the Rock on the Beach of our National Ocean”

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The son of a man who had befriended Lincoln in the days of his poverty, desired a certain army appointment. Congressmen Julian of Indiana and Lovejoy of Illinois went to Lincoln, who indorsed the application and sent them with it to Stanton.

“No,” said the Secretary.

“Let us give his qualifications,” suggested the Congressmen.

“I do not wish to hear them,” was the reply. “The position is of high importance. I have in mind a man of suitable experience and capacity to fill it.”

“But the President wishes this man to be appointed,” persisted the callers.

“I do not care what the President wants; the country wants the very best it can get. I am serving the country,” was the retort, “regardless of individuals.”

The disconcerted Congressmen returned to Lincoln and recited their experience. The President, without the slightest perturbation, said:  

“Gentlemen, it is my duty to submit. I cannot add to Mr. Stanton’s troubles. His position is one of the most difficult in the world. Thousands in the army blame him because they are not promoted and other thousands out of the army blame him because they are not appointed. The pressure upon him is immeasurable and unending. He is the rock on the beach of our national ocean against which the breakers dash and roar, dash and roar without ceasing. He fights back the angry waters and prevents them from undermining and overwhelming the land. Gentlemen, I do not see how he survives, why he is not crushed and torn to pieces. Without him I should be destroyed. He performs his task superhumanly. Now do not mind this matter, for Mr. Stanton is right and I cannot wrongly interfere with him.”

Quoted in “Edwin McMasters Stanton: The Autocrat of Rebellion, Emancipation, and Reconstruction”,By Frank Abial Flower, p. 369-370.