Many historians consider Abraham Lincoln to be the greatest president. One reason for this is that Lincoln daringly appointed his rivals for top cabinet positions.
Abraham Lincoln made history when he selected his political rivals for important jobs in his cabinet. Lincoln’s appointments of Secretary of State William Seward, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, Attorney General Edward Bates, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ultimately helped the Union win the Civil War. More importantly, these diverse men helped President Lincoln save the nation and become arguably America’s greatest commander-in-chief.
William Seward: Secretary of State
Republican New York senator William Seward was an 1860 presidential candidate. He would ultimately lose his party’s nomination to Lincoln. As secretary of state, Seward differed with President Lincoln in regards to whom the president should choose for top cabinet positions. He also disagreed with Lincoln as to whether or not Fort Sumter, South Carolina, should be resupplied as tensions grew between the North and South– perhaps the most crucial decision of the entire Lincoln presidency. Despite their extreme differences, Lincoln and Seward were good friends.
Salmon P. Chase: Treasury Secretary
Like Seward, Salmon P. Chase, a radical senator from Ohio, was one of Lincoln’s Republican rivals for the 1860 presidential nomination. Seward was only able to secure 49 of the 233 votes necesary to become his party’s nominee. After the Civil War broke out in 1861, Treasury Secretary Chase, whose primary job was to finance the war, became very frustrated with the conflict’s slow pace. Chase resigned in June of 1864 and competed once again against Lincoln for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. After Lincoln was re-elected to the presidency in November of that year, he made Chase the U.S. chief justice.
Edward Bates: Attorney General
Attorney General Edward Bates was a conservative from Missouri, a slave-holding border state. Bates was also an 1860 presidential candidate. His supporters believed he was the ideal candidate to prevent Southern secession. As attorney general, Bates openly opposed Lincoln’s loose management style and did not get along with other cabinet members. Still, he respected his boss. Nevertheless, Bates resigned from his post after Lincoln’s 1864 re-election.
Edwin Stanton: Secretary of War
Edwin Stanton was a prominent lawyer and had served as attorney general under Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan. Stanton thought Lincoln was incompetent and too inexperienced to hold the nation’s highest office. Even though Stanton criticized Lincoln, he became the president’s secretary of war in 1862 after the office’s previous holder, Simon Cameron, resigned amidst a scandal. Stanton was ruthless and efficient, as well as very controversial. He, like Seward, became one of Lincoln’s close personal friends.
- Goodwin, Doris Kearns. “The Master of the Game,” excerpted from Abraham Lincoln: An Illustrated History of His Life and Times, p. 85. New York: TIME Books, Time, Inc., 2009.