by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
It would seem, from his commentary about others, that Stanton had an inflated concept of his own abilities. He was definitely not a practitioner of the Christian virtue of having a meek and humble spirit (James 4:6). He often spoke abusively of Lincoln and others in the administration. He referred to Lincoln as “the original gorilla. After becoming Secretary of War his disposition toward Lincoln did not improve. At one point he said to Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, Well, all I have to say is, we’ve got to get rid of that baboon at the White House!
W. C. Prime, who did a biographical sketch of General McClellan that was in McClellan’s book, said that the abolition of slavery was really a war measure. McClellan’s success in 1862 would have been disastrous to the plans of Radical Republicans, Shoud the Union have been restored at that point, the plans of the radicals would have come to naught. Therefore, McClellan could not be allowed to succeed.
Prime’s assessment of Stanton was interesting. He said: “Mr. Stanton was a lawyer of moderate abilities, a man of peculiar mental constitution. Without moral principle or sense of personal honor, he was equally ready to change front in public politics and to betray private friendship, and was therefore eminently suited to the purposes for which he was selected by the men with whom he had formed a secret alliance…Those who knew him were in the habit of describing him as one of those who ‘always kick down the ladder by which they have climbed.’ His ambition was unbounded and his self-reliance absolute.”
Part of Stanton’s problem with McClellan may well have been McClellan’s view of government, which was probably built on McClellan’s Christian faith. According to McClellan: “The only safe policy is that the general government be strictly confined to the general powers and duties vested in it by the old constitution, while the individual states preserve all the sovereign rights and powers retained by them when the constitutional compact was formed.” Such a view was hardly entertained by the denizens of the Lincoln administration and may well explain why McClellan had to go not too far down the road.
Needless to say, this viewpoint was anathema to someone like Stanton. According to the book The Lincoln Conspiracy by David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier Jr., Stanton, as Secretary of War, controlled the nation’s military news through nationalization of the telegraph wires. He controlled the transportation system. His control over the lives of private citizens was said to be almost complete. Even President Lincoln was denied the right to see telegrams that came to the War Department.
According to The Lincoln Conspiracy the United States was perilously close to dictatorship in 1864. The authors noted: “All the elements were in motion: transportation and communication were nationalized, the writ of habeas corpus suspended, military tribunals had replaced civilian trials. Thousands of people were jailed without charge and held without trial. Dictatorship was an evil lurking behind the scenes. The name of the would-be dictator was not discernable to the public.”
Some have claimed the President Lincoln was a would-be dictator. Clinton Rossiter wrote a book, Presidential Dictatorship, in which he pointed to Lincoln as the one that fulfilled such a role. While no one can argue that Lincoln usurped power while he was president, it might seem more appropriate to assign the role of true dictator to the one who was in a position to deny Lincoln access to information that came into the War Department. That man was Edwin Stanton.
Lafayette Baker, (another sterling individual that was no saint), head of the Secret Service (police), said in his cipher-coded manuscript: “I admit my hatred and contempt for Edwin M. Stanton, but I also swear that what I am saying is true. Stanton felt Lincoln, Johnson, and Seward would have to be executed. He told me it would be done quite legally, and in the proper manner for such officials.” Baker was a notorious liar, so whether Stanton actually said this to him or not may be up for grabs. However, you must admit that it does seem to be in keeping with Stanton’s mentality.
When General McClellan pointed out his opinion that emancipation should be accomplished gradually, and that blacks should be prepared for it via education, recognition of the rights of family, marriage, etc., he ran afoul of the Radical Republicans who had another agenda. When McClellan pointed some of this out to Senator Charles Sumner, the Massachusetts radical, Sumner replied that such points did not concern him, and that all that must be left to take care of itself. In other words, let’s just go ahead and do this, kick the can down the road, and let someone else worry about all the nasty details.
Sumner’s attitude was strongly akin to that of the Leftist radicals in the 1960s, who felt that it was perfectly okay to tear society down with no clear picture of what to replace it with. Needless to say, those that financed the Leftist radicals and orchestrated their efforts, definitely had an idea of what to replace society with, and they are still working on that. From what I have seen of their efforts so far, I am not impressed.
Unlike our latter-day radicals, though, Sumner, Stanton, Thaddeus Stevens, and their Radical associates did have something in store for a defeated South, almost a kind of reverse slavery as it were, with uneducated blacks being given the immediate vote and white man having all rights taken away from them. This was a situation guaranteed to produce racial animosity. That was the name of the game in the South.
There were theological changes in the wind, too, but these were not as readily discernable yet. That would take another five years or so.
More to come, so hang in there.