Edwin M. Stanton

I’m pretty sure that the Bingham book is the only biography that I want to write, but I’ve been getting more interested in Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War.  Stanton was Bingham’s professional and political rival in Eastern Ohio (they debated each other during the 1840 campaign, with Stanton taking the Democratic side and Bingham supporting the Whigs), though Stanton was far more successful in private practice.  He eventually moved to Washington and became a leading member of the Supreme Court bar. He was also a crack trial lawyer.  In 1859 he successfully defended Daniel Sickles on a murder charge (Sickles killed his wife’s lover, the son of Francis Scott Key) by basically inventing the temporary insanity defense.

In 1860, Stanton became Attorney General in the Buchanan Administration and then moved to the War Department as a legal advisor under Lincoln, which was somewhat unusual for a Democrat. When Secretary of War Simon Cameron was fired in 1862, Stanton took his place.  His tenure during the War is generally seen as a success, but the more pertinent point for legal scholars is that he played a critical role in the implementation of Reconstruction via military occupation.  His dismissal by President Johnson was the basis for Johnson’s impeachment, and I want to know more about Stanton’s journey from orthodox Democrat to Radical Republican.

In 1869, President Grant nominated Stanton to the Supreme Court and he was confirmed, but he tragically died four days later.  Stanton was 55.  The prospect of someone so intimately involved with Reconstruction being on the Court is intriguing and losing that service was unfortunate.

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