Stanton: Lincoln’s War Secretary

In This Review

Stanton: Lincoln’s War Secretary
By Walter Stahr
Simon & Schuster, 2017
17 pp.
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With cities and college campuses around the United States engaged in bitter debates over the fate of memorials to the Confederacy and its leaders, Stahr’s timely biography of Edwin Stanton, who served as President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, brings an important reminder of just how wrenching and transformational the Civil War was. Stanton was responsible for the recruitment, supply, and coordination of the unprecedented military machine that the Union assembled during the war, and also played a critical role in the suppression of Confederate sympathizers and antidraft activists in the North, which led to thousands of arrests and trials by military commission. A longtime Democrat, Stanton would go on to forge close links with the Radical Republican faction, and in the shocking days following Lincoln’s assassination and the attempted assassination of Secretary of State William Seward, Stanton was the virtual ruler of the United States. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson demanded Stanton’s resignation after Stanton sided with Republicans who wanted to take a harder line on Reconstruction in the South. That dispute led to Johnson’s impeachment and trial. Few Americans have been at the center of so many consequential political storms; this long and thorough (at times a bit too thorough) account sheds new light on some of the most important events in the history of the United States.