Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Secretary Stanton
By Henry Wilson (1812–1875)
 
[Born in Farmington, N. H., 1812. Died in Washington, D.C., 1875. From an Article in “The Atlantic Monthly,” 1870.]

WHEN in the winter of 1863 the faithless Legislature of Indiana was dissolved, no appropriations had been made to carry on the State government or aid in putting soldiers in the field; and Governor Morton was obliged, without the authority of law, to raise more than a million and a quarter of dollars. In his need he looked to Washington for assistance. President Lincoln wished to aid him, but saw no way to do it, as no money could be taken from the treasury without appropriation. He was referred to Mr. Stanton. The Secretary saw at a glance the critical condition in which the patriotic governor, who had shown such vigor in raising and organizing troops, had been placed. A quarter of a million of dollars were needed, and Mr. Stanton took upon himself the responsibility, and drew his warrant upon the treasury for that amount, to be paid from an unexpended appropriation made, nearly two years before, for raising troops in States in insurrection. As he placed this warrant in Governor Morton’s hands, the latter remarked: “If the cause fails, you and I will be covered with prosecutions, and probably imprisoned or driven from the country.” Mr. Stanton replied: “If the cause fails, I do not wish to live.” The money thus advanced to the governor of Indiana was accounted for by that State in its final settlement with the government.
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  The remark just cited illustrates another prominent trait of Mr. Stanton’s character,—his intense and abounding patriotism. It was this which emboldened him in his early struggle with treason in Mr. Buchanan’s cabinet, upheld him in his superhuman labors through the weary years of war, and kept him in Mr. Johnson’s cabinet when not only was the President seeking his removal, but the tortures of disease were admonishing him that every day’s continuance was imperilling his life. It was this patriotism which invested the Rebellion, in his view, with its transcendent enormity, and made him regard its guilty leaders and their sympathizers and apologists at the North with such intense abhorrence. It also made him fear the success of a party of which he was once a member, and which now embraces so many who participated in the Rebellion or were in sympathy with it; and he was loath to remove the disabilities of unrepentant Rebels, or to allow them a voice in shaping the policy of States lately in insurrection. This feeling he retained till the close of his life. On the Saturday before his death, he expressed to me the opinion that it was more important that the freedmen and the Union men of the South should be protected in their rights, than that those who were still disloyal should be relieved of their disabilities and clothed with power.  2
  This patriotism, conjoined with his energy, industry, and high sense of public duty, made him exacting, severe, and often rough in his treatment of those, in the military or civil service, who seemed to be more intent on personal ease, promotion, and emolument than upon the faithful discharge of public duty. It led him, also, warmly to appreciate and applaud fidelity and devotion, wherever and however manifested. Honest himself, he, of course, abhorred everything like dishonesty in others; but his patriotism intensified that feeling of detestation in cases of peculation or fraud upon the government. He laid a strong hand upon offenders, and no doubt saved millions of dollars to the nation, by thus restraining, through fear, those who would otherwise have enriched themselves at their country’s expense. This spirit of patriotic devotion indeed often inspired measures which brought upon him great and undeserved censure. The people were anxious for war news. The press were anxious to provide it. Mr. Stanton knew that the enemy largely profited by the premature publication of such intelligence, and he was anxious to prevent this. Consequently he made regulations which were often embarrassing to newspaper correspondents, and sometimes he roughly and rudely repelled those seeking information or favors.  3
  Towards the close of the war his intense application began to tell on even his robust constitution, developing a tendency to asthma, which was exceedingly distressing to him and alarming to his friends. Consequently he looked forward to the cessation of hostilities, anxious not only that his country might be saved from the further horrors and dangers of civil war, but that he might be released from the burdensome cares of office. After the election of Mr. Lincoln and a Republican Congress, in 1864, which he justly regarded as fatal to the Rebellion, he often avowed his purpose to resign at the moment hostilities should cease. When, therefore, the news of Lee’s surrender reached Washington, he at once placed his resignation in the President’s hands, on the ground that the work which had induced him to take office was done. But his great chief, whom he had so faithfully and efficiently served, and who, in the trials they had experienced together, had learned to appreciate, honor, and love him, threw his arms around his neck, and tenderly and tearfully said: “Stanton, you have been a good friend and a faithful public servant; and it is not for you to say when you will no longer be needed here.” Bowing to the will of the President so affectionately expressed, he remained at his post. Little did he then imagine that within a few hours his chief would fall by the assassin’s hand, and the Secretary of State lie maimed and helpless, and that the country, in that perilous hour, would instinctively turn to him as its main reliance and hope.  4
 
 
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