Lincoln, The Mind Changer

Edwin M. Stanton was Mr. Lincoln’s Quaker Secretary of War. You may need a moment to wrap your head around that one.

Granted, Mr. Stanton was not exactly a practicing member of the Society of Friends in his adult years. He was raised a Quaker, with all that implies. A Quaker is to war what Mr. Lincoln was to most mirrors; unsightly.

Years before Mr. Lincoln chose Mr. Stanton as his “Mars” they were almost co-counsel in a large patent infringement case. Mr. Stanton was already a well known attorney, while Mr. Lincoln was little more than a failed store keeper, a bankrupt and a small town lawyer.  Mr. Lincoln had, however represented the McCormick Farm Implements Company in a successful litigation in Illinois. When a much larger case concerning their patents arose in Ohio, Mr. Lincoln was asked to join Mr. Stanton and other famous attorneys to try the case.

Mr. Lincoln was so angular in shape he could never get clothes to fit. He always had pants six inches too short for this long legs. His shirts and coats hung off him like his shoulders were coat hangers. He was just not sartorially resplendent. Mrs. Lincoln would remember the best fitting suit ever to drape her husband was the one made to fit for his funeral.

To be blunt, Mr. Lincoln was plain, the kind of plain that calls up the word homely, and no one ever disputed this fact. Add to these rustic features the ill shape of his clothes and his back-woods accent, and you get the picture; Jed Clampett in the Oval Office. Mr. Stanton, bluff and contemptuous in most matters, would not shake Lincoln’s hand, speak to him or even acknowledge his presence. When Mr. Lincoln accepted his rebuff, Mr. Stanton was heard to call him a “backwoods baboon.”

And, years later, Mr. Stanton was asked to serve as Secretary of War in the cabinet of the same gorilla. Stanton hated Lincoln’s stories, of which Lincoln had hundreds. He was one of the few men in history who could walk away from Lincoln in full anecdotal windage to “go and do his job.”

Stanton did not long outlive Lincoln. He exhausted himself in his war work. He even ran the government in the absence of Mr. Seward after Lincoln’s murder. History records it was Stanton’s great wrath that brought doom upon the Booth conspirators, including persons who had little or nothing to do with them. Mr. Stanton, unlike Mr. Lincoln, was an efficient and thorough hater. Peers had to invoke Lincoln’s memory to keep Stanton from hanging Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Stanton once barricaded himself in his War Office rather than surrender his post to the incoming administration, which he abhorred. Mr. Stanton exhausted himself and died early of respiratory illnesses, while waiting on an appointment to the Supreme Court.

Along the way, Mr. Stanton came to love Abraham Lincoln. Along with Seward, who had once assumed he would run the government instead of Lincoln, Stanton came to rank Lincoln as the best of them all.

At Lincoln’s bedside on Saturday, 15 April, 1865, at about 7:22 am, after the surgeon said, “It is over. The President is no more,” it was left to Edwin M. Stanton to pronounce the benediction over our President.

“Now,” Mr. Stanton said, “he belongs to the ages.”

Mr. Lincoln had changed Mr. Stanton’s heart.



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