Stanton, Edwin M.

Born: 1814-12-19 Steubenville, Ohio

Died: 1869-12-24 Washington, DC

Edwin M. Stanton, attorney and U.S. secretary of war under Abraham Lincoln, attended local academies and apprenticed in a bookstore in his native Steubenville, Ohio before attending Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio for a year beginning in 1831. Following a short period of employment in a Columbus, Ohio bookstore, Stanton read law in Steubenville, then commenced the practice of law in 1836 in Cadiz, Ohio. Stanton was elected prosecuting attorney of Harrison County, Ohio in 1837 and served as recorder of the Ohio Supreme Court, 1842 to 1845. He relocated to Pittsburgh in 1847, and from there, practiced law in both Pennsylvania and Ohio. Stanton first met Lincoln in 1855, when both men were retained as defense attorneys for the Rockford, Illinois manufacturing firm of Manny & Company against a charge of patent infringement by mechanical reaper manufacturer Cyrus H. McCormick in the case of McCormick v. Talcott et al. Lincoln had apparently been recruited for the defense when the trial was scheduled to be heard in Chicago and hiring a local Illinois attorney was deemed prudent. When the trial was instead held in Cincinnati, Stanton and fellow defense attorney George Harding blocked Lincoln’s participation in the trial.

Desiring to expand his practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, Stanton moved to Washington, DC in 1857. In politics, Stanton was a Democrat from his early days, and though he disapproved of slavery and the domination of the party by southern slaveholders, he also supported the enforcement of all laws created to protect the institution of slavery. Above all, Stanton favored the Union, and to this end supported John C. Breckinridge for president in the 1860 election. Late in 1860, James Buchanan appointed him U.S. attorney general and he served in this role through the end of Buchanan’s term in March 1861, advocating strongly against secession. In the early days of the Lincoln administration, Stanton gave legal advice to Secretary of War Simon Cameron, and when Cameron resigned the position in January 1862, Lincoln promptly appointed Stanton as his replacement. Stanton remained in this role through the remainder of Lincoln’s presidency and into the administration of Andrew Johnson, and his initial dislike and distrust of Lincoln gave way to friendship over the course of their close working relationship overseeing the prosecution of the Civil War. Over the course of the war, Stanton changed his political allegiance to the Republican Party, which he saw as more compatible with the goal of preserving the Union, and he helped ensure Republican success in the 1864 election by utilizing mass furloughs to allow soldiers in key states to vote. Following Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton used the War Department to pursue the conspirators and was personally involved in their prosecution before a military commission.

Stanton married Mary A. Lamson in 1836 and the pair had two children. Following her death, he wed Ellen Hutchison in 1856, with whom he had an additional four children. Stanton was a member of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Washington, DC.

William B. Skelton, “Stanton, Edwin McMasters,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 20:558-62; A. Howard Meneely, “Stanton, Edwin McMasters,” Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928-1936), 17:517-21; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Steubenville, Jefferson County, OH, 58; McCormick v. Talcott et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009),; Harry E. Pratt, The Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln (Springfield, IL: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1943), 54-56; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Ward 4, District of Columbia, 261; Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1887), 11:240-41; 12:73, 77; The National Republican (Washington, DC), 25 December 1869, 1:5-8; Gravestone, Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, DC.