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Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, had a cabinet filled with political rivals and large political personalities whom he relied upon to win the Civil War. Learn how Lincoln adeptly handled the differences and difficulties within his cabinet during his presidency in this video lesson.

President Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most famous men in American history. He is widely regarded as one of the best presidents in history. Many would say he was the greatest president.

Millions of Americans learn, or have learned, about Lincoln in school, gaining a better understanding of the man who saved the United States and led the country toward freedom for all during the Civil War.Yet, far less is known about Lincoln’s cabinet – the men who helped the president accomplish all that he did. Like any president, Lincoln relied on his cabinet members for advice and help. And, like many presidents, Lincoln had difficulties and successes in relying on his cabinet members.

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Political Rivals

In 1860, when the young Republican Party was searching for a nominee for president, Abraham Lincoln was one of several prominent names that were considered. Many of these individuals ended up having prominent roles in the years to come. Here are just a few of them:William Seward, a senator from New York and former governor of New York, was perhaps the front-runner, having made a name for himself through years of public service.

As a senator, Seward spoke out on a number of issues, including many anti-slavery issues, gaining the reputation of being an opponent of Southern slave holders. Seward spent many years as a Whig, and became a Republican once the party emerged in the mid-1850s as a response to the growing spread of slavery and the threat of slavery emerging in the Western territories of the United States.Another prominent Republican, and fellow Whig, was Ohio Governor Salmon Chase.

Like Seward, Chase was a strong opponent of slavery and slave-holding Southerners. During the 1840s, he became a part of the Free Soil Party, opposing the spread of slavery into Western territories. In the 1850s, he became the governor of Ohio, a growing and influential state. It was this office that catapulted him onto the national scene, making Chase a contender for the Republican nomination in 1860.Another prominent Republican contender was Edward Bates, a long-serving statesman from a prominent family who resided in Missouri for most of his life and career. As an attorney and Whig politician, Bates rose in national prominence, being considered for several national offices before contending for the Republican nomination in 1860.When Lincoln won the Republican nomination, and when he was elected president in November 1860, he faced the task of leading a deeply divided country.

One of the first steps he took to address that problem was asking some of his political rivals and competitors to be a part of his cabinet. Seward, Chase, and Bates were just a few of the men who Lincoln included in his initial cabinet.

Cabinet Members

Lincoln’s original cabinet consisted of Salmon P.

Chase as the Secretary of the Treasury, William Seward as the Secretary of State, and Edward Bates as Lincoln’s Attorney General. After asking his three competitors for the nomination to join the cabinet, Lincoln then included others, such as Gideon Welles as Secretary of the Navy, Simon Cameron as Secretary of War, Montgomery Blair as Postmaster General, and Caleb Smith as Secretary of the Interior.For Lincoln’s cabinet, there were difficulties from the beginning. One of the problems with Lincoln’s original cabinet was his selection of Pennsylvanian Simon Cameron as his Secretary of War.

With the Civil War beginning in April 1861, this was obviously an important position. Cameron had made an attempt at the 1860 Republican nomination, but eventually gave his support to Lincoln, earning himself a cabinet post.Cameron, however, was a poor Secretary of War, and needed to be replaced.

In early 1862, he left the administration, being replaced by Ohioan Edwin Stanton, a Democrat who was loyal to the Lincoln administration. This was one of the best moves of Lincoln’s entire presidency, as Stanton became an extremely effective Secretary of War, helping Lincoln to run the War Department and wage war against the Confederacy.

Successes ; Difficulties

Lincoln relied on his cabinet for advice on numerous matters throughout his presidency.

One such example was the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln wrote the original proclamation in July 1862, and was prepared to issue the document then. It was only at the advice of Secretary of State William Seward that Lincoln decided to wait for a Union victory before issuing the document. The Battle of Antietam in September 1862 was such a victory, and Lincoln issued the document soon after the battle.

While Lincoln did rely on his cabinet for some of his successes, he did run into problems with his advisers as well. In late 1862, Lincoln encountered a crisis with his cabinet. Following big setbacks in the mid-term elections of that year, as well as the Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, many began calling for Lincoln to shake up his cabinet to serve the country better.Some in Congress suspected that Seward and Chase did not get along, and that the rivalry was affecting the president and the war effort. Lincoln handled the crisis well, bringing his critics in the senate into a meeting with his entire cabinet to express his resolve to continue forward. Lincoln kept Seward and Chase in his cabinet through the crisis, and his administration was all the better for it.

Over time, changes did occur in Lincoln’s cabinet. While Seward and Stanton stayed on for the remainder of Lincoln’s presidency, Salmon Chase posed a problem for Lincoln in 1864. Chase was a very effective Treasury Secretary, printing paper money to help pay for the cost of waging war against the Confederacy.Yet, by 1864, his dissatisfaction with Lincoln had grown, and he hinted at running for the presidency himself. Chase offered Lincoln his resignation that year with an eye toward higher office, which Lincoln accepted. In late 1864, Lincoln named Chase to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a post which Chase easily rose to and thrived in, remaining in that position until his death in 1873.With Lincoln’s reelection in 1864, there were some changes to his cabinet and administration, most notably being that Vice President Hannibal Hamlin was replaced by Andrew Johnson, a senator from Tennessee who had remained loyal to the Union.

This proved unfortunate, as when Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, it was Johnson, a Democrat from the South, who assumed the presidency and was responsible for the first stages of Reconstruction following the Civil War.

Lesson Summary

Today, we recognize Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest of the American presidents. Yet, like all presidents, Lincoln relied on many others to accomplish what he did. Lincoln’s cabinet was not always a cooperative working body. From the beginning, it was formed by men who opposed one another in an attempt to become president.

Yet, Lincoln’s political skill meant he could manage a cabinet of different personalities and interests while managing to fight and win the Civil War. His cabinet assisted Lincoln in important decisions, such as when to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, but also caused him difficulties, such as the cabinet crisis in late 1862. Ultimately, however, Lincoln proved to be a great leader, in part because of how he managed to get the most help out of his cabinet, an important part of his legacy as one of America’s greatest presidents.

Learning Outcomes

Upon your completion of this video, you might be able to:

  • Name major players in Lincoln’s cabinet
  • Understand how Lincoln used his cabinet to make decisions which affected the country
  • Realize that, at times, cabinet members became less useful and had to be replaced
  • Recall that the selection of Andrew Johnson as V.P. was seen as an outright mistake after Lincoln’s assassination

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