Stanton Lincoln’s War Secretary

Courier Book Reviewed by Jay Jorgensen (Available at Our Online Store)

Stanton Lincoln’s War Secretary by Walter Stahr is an excellent biography of an integral member of Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet. The author is an outstanding historian who is well suited for writing this biography. Previously he has written Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable man and John Jay: Founding Father. All three biographies have been very well received, and rightfully so.

Edwin Stanton was born in Ohio in 1814, and admitted to the Ohio bar as a practicing attorney in 1835. Through hard work and determination, he quickly established himself as one of the preeminent lawyers of his generation. Stanton was engaged in a number of high profile cases, including the murder trial against Daniel Sickles. His defense in that case saw the first successful use of the temporary insanity defense. Active in Democratic politics, Stanton served a brief (December 1860-March 1861) period as President James Buchanan’s Attorney General. When Abraham Lincoln sought a replacement for Simon Cameron as Secretary of War, Secretary of State William Seward recommended Stanton for the position. It was in that role as Lincoln’s Secretary of War for the remainder of the Civil war that Edwin Stanton provided stellar service to the country. He and Lincoln developed an excellent working relationship as the war ended.

Mr. Stahr covers the life of Edwin Stanton in clear, concise prose. His purpose in writing this biography “is to tell the whole life story of this important, interesting, contradictory, controversial man.” (p.6) The author made extensive use of primary sources, including manuscripts, newspapers, and U.S. Congressional documents. His scholarship is amply reflected in the more than 100 pages of notes contained in the book.

Stanton provides readers with an excellent portrait of an important American. The major focus (approximately two-thirds of the book) is on the last seven years of Stanton’s life (he died on December 24, 1869), representing his service as Secretary of War for Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Even with the minority of the book chronicling Edwin Stanton’s life prior to his service as Secretary of War, Stahr gives readers a full account of the part of Stanton’s life, and helps show how those experiences led him to Lincoln’s Cabinet.

This is an excellent biography that belongs on the shelves of anybody who is interested in Lincoln’s Cabinet.

Title: Stanton Lincoln’s War Secretary

Author: Walter Stahr

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Pages: 768

Price:$32.50

Soft Cover