Simon Cameron

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Pennsylvania elected a governor in 1844, and Democrats had been divided between supporters of Henry A. P. Muhlenberg and of Francis R. Shunk. Muhlenberg got the nomination, but soon thereafter died, and Shunk was chosen as gubernatorial nominee. Shunk was elected, but former Muhlenberg supporters, including Cameron, feared they would not receive patronage. This divided the party as it prepared to elect a senator in January 1845, and when it became clear that Senator Buchanan would become Polk's Secretary of State, a second seat would also have to be filled. [28]

The factions remained apart as the legislature prepared to fill the seat held by Senator Daniel Sturgeon. [29] Cameron wrote to Buchanan in December 1844, hinting at his interest in the seat, [30] but both factions had candidates in mind. Neither had enough support to be elected by the legislature when it met in January 1845, and as a compromise, Sturgeon was re-elected. [31]

Buchanan resigned following Polk's inauguration in March 1845, and the legislature prepared for an election to fill the remaining four years of his term. Governor Shunk's faction nominated George W. Woodward, as they had to fill Sturgeon's seat, and he gained a majority in the Democratic legislative caucus, though some legislators remained away. Cameron worked to unite the minority of the Democratic Party with the Whigs and Native American Party (or Know Nothings) to gain a majority in the legislature and elect himself. Since the election and especially in his inaugural address, it had become clear that Polk did not support a protective tariff; most of the dissenting Democrats did, as did Cameron and the Whigs. Cameron also held similar views to the Whigs on internal improvements, and found them willing to support him—he hinted to the nativists that he supported increasing the residence time for immigrants to gain citizenship. To the outrage of the mainstream Democratic Party, on March 13, 1845, Cameron was elected on the fifth ballot with 66 votes (including 16 from Democrats), to 55 for Woodward, and six votes scattered. [32] [33]

Cameron began his first term in the Senate with little long-term support in the legislature, since he was alienated from many of the Democrats and was viewed by the Whigs as the lesser evil to Woodward, to be replaced in better times. [34] Alleging that Cameron had gained the seat by corrupt means, the Democratic caucus sent letters to Vice President George M. Dallas (a Pennsylvanian) and also to Buchanan. [35] The two officials, in their replies, refrained from attacking Cameron personally, though they decried the lack of party loyalty which made his election possible. [36] Although nothing came of this, it added to a growing rift between Buchanan and Cameron. [37]

Events of first term (1845–1849)

On the day of his election, Cameron wrote to Buchanan, asking him to assure Polk that no one in the Senate would support the administration with more good will than he. Nevertheless, having been elected by uniting disaffected Democrats and the minority parties against the candidate of the Democratic caucus, he found that neither Democrats nor Whigs were willing to fully accept him as a political fellow. Immediately after being elected senator, Cameron went to Washington, where on March 15, 1845, his credentials were laid before the Senate, which was in special session, by Vice President Dallas. On March 17, he was presented to the Senate by Senator Sturgeon, and was sworn in. Three days later, the Senate adjourned until December 1845. [38]

Polk declined to consult Cameron on Pennsylvania federal appointments, [39] though he had been advised by his brother-in-law, James Walker, to make an ally of Cameron, especially since the administration had only a narrow majority in the Senate. Angered, Cameron struck back, defeating the nomination of Henry Horn to the lucrative position of Collector of Customs for the Port of Philadelphia, which Polk pressed repeatedly. Cameron also defeated the nomination of Woodward to the Supreme Court, the latter likely with Buchanan's help. Polk eventually nominated another Pennsylvanian, Robert C. Grier, as a justice; Grier was confirmed, but the president never forgave Cameron. [40]

Cameron and Polk also differed on the tariff. The Whig-backed Tariff of 1842 was protectionist in nature, rather than for the sole purpose of raising government revenue, and Polk's administration sought to revise it through the Walker tariff (named of the Secretary of the Treasury, Robert J. Walker, an advocate of free trade). Cameron felt free to oppose it as he owed no debts to Polk and the Pennsylvania legislature had passed a resolution asking the state's congressional delegation to oppose the legislation. He gave a lengthy speech against the tariff in July 1846 opining that it would harm Pennsylvania's iron foundries, and opining that no native of the state could support the bill. This was a comment aimed at Vice President Dallas; nevertheless, Dallas's tie breaking vote in favor paved the way to the bill's enactment. [41]

A longtime supporter of the annexation of Texas, [42] Cameron backed the declaration of war against Mexico and the Mexican–American War, He opposed, however, the annexation of land where slavery might flourish, and supported the Wilmot Proviso (introduced by Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot) which would ban slavery from lands gained from Mexico. At the same time, he stated that the people of Pennsylvania had no desire to interfere with slavery in Southern states where it was legal. [43] Cameron's view on slavery prior to 1861 was that it should be the decision of each state or territory whether to be slave or free, but he sought to guard Pennsylvania's interest by limiting the spread of slavery. [44] He expected that in due course, Southern states would themselves abolish slavery. [45]

Polk was not a candidate for re-election in 1848, and Secretary of State Buchanan sought the Democratic presidential nomination. Cameron was a delegate from Pennsylvania to the 1848 Democratic National Convention and in common with the state's other delegates, supported Buchanan on each ballot. The nomination went to Michigan Senator Lewis Cass, and Cameron was accused of working behind the scenes to defeat Buchanan. [46] The Whigs nominated General Zachary Taylor of Louisiana for president, with his running mate former congressman Millard Fillmore of New York. In the fall elections, the Pennsylvania Whigs carried the state for Taylor and Fillmore (who were elected), with a majority for their party in both houses of the state legislature. Cameron's term in the Senate was up in 1849; the Whigs wanted to elect one of their own, while many Democrats still resented the manner in which he had been elected. Cameron apparently had no supporters in the Democratic caucus; he received no votes in the legislature's balloting for senator, in which Whig James Cooper was elected. [47] [48]

Out of office (1849–1857)

Once his term in the Senate expired in March 1849, Cameron returned to Pennsylvania and devoted his time to his business enterprises. [49] This did not mean he cloistered himself from politics; his business activities, including railroads and banking, routinely brought him into contact with politicians, and he retained his interest in public affairs. [50] The Democrats recaptured the state legislature in 1850, and Cameron hoped to succeed Sturgeon in the election the following January, but failed to gain enough votes. [51] Nevertheless, the new senator, Richard Brodhead, soon became a political ally of Cameron. [52]

Cameron and Buchanan continued to grow apart, even as Buchanan prepared to seek the 1852 Democratic presidential nomination. In 1850, trying to diminish any southern support the former secretary might get, Cameron sent Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis a thirty-year-old news article showing that Buchanan had signed an anti-slavery petition. In response, Buchanan had friendly newspapers attack Cameron. The two battled at the 1851 Democratic state convention which nominated William Bigler for governor; though Bigler was elected, Buchanan blamed Cameron for the fact that the Whigs had taken control of the state senate. Pennsylvania's delegation to the 1852 Democratic National Convention, which included Cameron, was instructed to vote for Buchanan; nevertheless, Cameron worked for the nomination of Cass and the evident dissension in his home state's ranks hurt Buchanan's chances. The nomination went to former New Hampshire senator Franklin Pierce. Once elected, Pierce declined to return Buchanan to the cabinet, and Cameron was successful in getting a number of his allies federal positions. [53]

Pennsylvania's next Senate election was in 1855; in the 1854 legislative elections, the Whigs won a majority, which would ordinarily make it very difficult for Cameron to regain the seat. Many members of both the Whig and Democratic Parties were Know Nothings, who sought restrictions on immigration and immigrants, but who also, in the North, opposed the spread of slavery, an issue on which Cameron might find common ground with them. In addition, being a party with few prominent leaders, it was a route to political power for Democrats who wished to avoid Buchanan's hold on the state party, especially after the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 cost the party support in the North. [54] Cameron worked to appeal to the Know Nothing caucus. When the caucuses met in early 1855, Cameron was the choice of the Know Nothing caucus, but disputes about voting meant about half the caucus left and refused to be bound by the outcome. When the legislature voted on February 13, 1855, Cameron had a plurality, but not a majority. Faced with a deadlock, the legislature postponed its voting for two weeks, but when voting resumed, it remained deadlocked, and the senatorial election was postponed, effectively until the next legislature met in 1856, allowed Governor James Pollock to make a temporary appointment. [55] When the 1856 legislature met, the Democrats had a majority, and Cameron did not attempt to win the seat, which went to Bigler. [56]

Second term as senator (1857–61)

1857 election

The various factions that opposed the Democrats and the Kansas-Nebraska Act began to coalesce by 1856 into what became known as the Union Party, or Republican Party. Cameron was aligned with many of the new party's views and also saw an opportunity to return to the Senate. He was prominent at many of the meetings that shaped the new party. He attended the 1856 Republican National Convention that nominated former California senator John C. Frémont for president. With Buchanan the Democratic nominee for president, and Pennsylvania a crucial state in the election, Cameron was considered as Frémont's running mate, but William Dayton was chosen. Buchanan won Pennsylvania by fewer than three thousand votes, and Frémont blamed the decision not to choose Cameron as critical to the outcome. The Democrats had a narrow majority in the Pennsylvania legislature against the combined forces of the Republicans and Know Nothings. [57]

Once the presidential election was over, Republicans considered how to obtain the Democratic votes needed to gain the senatorship. Cameron had the support of Representatives David Wilmot and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, who were convinced Cameron could win. Cameron kept his plans as quiet as possible; unnerved by rumors and the memories of Cameron's controversial victory in 1845, Democrats nominated John W. Forney, [58] a journalist and loyal Democrat. Forney had gotten President-elect Buchanan to write a letter of support to show to legislators, but there were three Democratic members who disliked Buchanan and the letter helped them decide to vote for Cameron. They secretly met with Cameron's managers, who told the Republicans and Know Nothing legislators that there would be Democratic votes, and obtained an agreement to support Cameron on the first ballot. In the election on January 13, 1857, Cameron was elected without a vote to spare, to the shock of many legislators and observers. The three Democrats were expelled from their hotels in Harrisburg, and each lost his re-election bid. [59] Cameron was informed of his election by his son, Donald Cameron, who leapt out of a window at the rear of the legislative chamber, and raced to his father's hotel. [60]

The election of Cameron, given the Democratic majority in the legislature, was seen as a great victory for the Republicans, and an embarrassment for President-elect Buchanan. The Democrats alleged bribery, [61] and the legislature formed a committee to investigate, but the majority found no evidence to substantiate any charges. Similarly, shortly after Cameron's swearing-in, Senator Bigler presented a petition signed by 59 members of the legislature asking the Senate to investigate the circumstances of Cameron's election, but the Senate soon dropped the matter, finding there was no proof of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, like the Winnebago matter, the circumstances of the 1857 election gave Cameron a reputation for corruption that proved impossible to shake. [62]

Prelude to war

Cameron quickly became one of the leaders of the Republican minority in the Senate. [63] He had returned to a Senate far less congenial than the body he had left eight years before, with members deeply divided over slavery. Nevertheless, he maintained friendships with Southern senators. [64] The divisions manifested themselves during the Senate's debate over whether to adopt President Buchanan's recommendation that Kansas Territory be admitted to the Union under the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. Cameron engaged in a verbal battle in March 1858 with Missouri's James S. Green, during which each called the other a liar, and Green suggested the two should fight a duel. The matter was settled, as was usual in such cases, with formal apologies before the Senate. [65] [66] Nevertheless, remembering the recent beating of Charles Sumner, Cameron made a pact with Zachariah Chandler of Michigan and Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio that they would take each other's part in another such incident. [67]

Cameron's view concerning slavery remained much as it had during his first term in the Senate. He opposed its spread, believing it to be against Pennsylvania's interest for it to do so, but thought Congress had no power to do anything about it where it already existed. He also, beginning in about 1859, employed as a servant an escaped slave named Tom Chester. Cameron arranged for him to be educated; he later emigrated to Liberia and became that country's minister to Russia. [68]

Although like most Republican senators, Cameron distrusted President Buchanan, he supported the administration when the president asked for funds for troops in case there should be conflict with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah Territory. Republicans feared Buchanan would use the troops to support pro-slavery elements in Kansas. Cameron was one of only four Republicans to vote in favor. [69] In 1858, Cameron campaigned for the Republicans in Pennsylvania, who were rewarded with control of the state House of Representatives, although Democrats maintained a one-vote majority in the state Senate, Democrats previously had a majority of Pennsylvania's seats in the federal House of Representatives; they were reduced to five out of twenty-five seats. [70] Cameron's influence in Harrisburg allowed him to choose the new officers of the state House, and continued victories in the 1859 state elections magnified his status in Pennsylvania. [71]

A persistent opponent of slavery, Cameron switched to the Know Nothing Party, before joining the Republican Party in 1856. [72]

Election of 1860

Presidential nomination

The year 1860 was a presidential election year, and Cameron sought the presidential nomination, believing that Pennsylvania's strength at the nominating convention would be sufficient to win. [73] Not all Pennsylvania Republicans supported Cameron, and there were rumors that he had made a deal with the Democrats, or that his candidacy was a stalking horse to build support for the frontrunner, New York Senator William H. Seward. This was supported by a visit Seward had paid to Harrisburg in 1859, in which he had been feted by Cameron. Afterwards, Seward had written to his political manager, Thurlow Weed, that Cameron had promised the ultimate support of the Pennsylvania delegation, though it might initially vote for Cameron. The rumors that Cameron would support Seward were damaging since the New Yorker's abolitionist leanings limited his support among Pennsylvania's conservative voters. Kahan suggested that the fact that Cameron hosted both Seward and another presidential hopeful, Governor Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, in 1859, meant that he was trying to keep good relations with the major contenders for the nomination and place himself in a position to be a kingmaker. [74] There was little support for Cameron outside of Pennsylvania. [75] One of the other contenders, former representative Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, downplayed suggestions Lincoln might take second place on a ticket led by Cameron, Lincoln's supporters discussed the possibility of Cameron as vice presidential candidate, hoping it might win the crucial state of Pennsylvania. [76]

The year also would see elections for governor of Pennsylvania, and for a legislature that would choose who would fill Senator Bigler's seat. In February 1860, the party state convention endorsed Cameron as Pennsylvania's favorite son candidate for the Republican nomination for president, and chose Andrew Curtin as gubernatorial candidate. There was a strong dislike between the two men, and their supporters, but no one wanted a breach within the party. [77] Curtin had little appetite for a deal between Cameron and Seward, since if Seward headed the ticket, his unpopularity in Pennsylvania might affect Curtin's own election. [78]

In mid-March, Cameron told Seward that he wanted to meet with Weed in advance of the 1860 Republican National Convention in May in Chicago. Confident that Seward would gain the nomination, and of Cameron's support, Weed did not meet with Cameron. [79] Kahan suggested that if the two had met, Cameron would have demanded a cabinet seat for his support, something Weed wanted to avoid. [80]

In Chicago, supporters of his rivals worked to stop a Seward victory on the first ballot, and selected Lincoln as the candidate with the most support. Although Lincoln had instructed his people to make no deals that would bind him, his manager, David Davis, reasoned that Lincoln, not present at the convention, was in no position to judge what had to be done to get him the nomination, and would have to fulfill whatever deals they made. It is unclear if an explicit deal was made to bring Cameron aboard the Lincoln bandwagon, but at the minimum, Davis and others pledged that Cameron would be treated as generously as if he had supported Lincoln from the start. [81] William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, later wrote that Davis and his fellow managers "negotiated with the Indiana and Pennsylvania delegations and assigned places in the cabinet to Simon Cameron and Caleb Smith, beside making other ‘arrangements’ which [Davis] expected Mr. Lincoln to ratify. Of this he [Lincoln] was undoubtedly unaware." [82]

According to Bradley, Cameron could not have delivered the delegation to Seward had he wanted to, given the opposition to the New Yorker in the state. [83] On the first ballot, a divided Pennsylvania delegation came together to cast 471/2 votes of 54 for Cameron, [84] as Seward had a plurality, with Lincoln behind him and Cameron third. [85] On the second ballot, Lincoln received 48 votes from Pennsylvania, as he almost erased Seward's lead. On the third, on which Lincoln was nominated, Lincoln's Pennsylvania vote increased to 52. [86]


The understanding between Lincoln's backers and Cameron's became public almost at once, with one newspaper printing that the senator had been promised the Treasury Department. In the campaign, Cameron was a strong supporter of Lincoln, stating that he welcomed Lincoln's nomination "in a most cordial and emphatic manner". [87] In August, Cameron wrote to the presidential candidate, pledging that Pennsylvania would vote for him, and "the state is for you and we all have faith in your good intentions to stand by her interests". [87] Cameron also sent a contribution of $800 to Davis. [87] To establish his soundness on the tariff question, which was important in Pennsylvania, Lincoln had Davis show Cameron excerpts from speeches he had given in the 1840s; Cameron wrote to Lincoln that he was pleased with their content. [88] Cameron also campaigned for Curtin, though antagonism between the two continued. [89]

On October 9, 1860, Pennsylvania state elections were held. Curtin was easily elected, and Republicans increased their margins in both houses of the legislature. This meant that Senator Bigler would almost certainly be replaced by a Republican, and if Cameron resigned to accept high office, his successor would also be a Republican. Republican Party leaders did not rest on their state laurels but pressed for a heavy majority for Lincoln. On Election Day, November 6, 1860, Republicans flipped Pennsylvania to their party, something confirmed by a telegram from Harrisburg to Lincoln's headquarters in Springfield after midnight, "Hon. A. Lincoln: Pennsylvania, 70,000 for you. New York safe, Glory enough. S. Cameron." [90]

Secretary of War


Simon Cameron SCameron.jpg
Simon Cameron

In drafts Lincoln made of his cabinet following the election, Cameron was omitted. [91] Given the divisions between Cameron and Curtin supporters in Pennsylvania, Lincoln planned to exclude Cameron from the cabinet, [92] hoping both factions would accept New Jersey's William Dayton, like Cameron a strong protectionist, Within days, though, Lincoln began receiving many letters urging him to make Cameron Secretary of the Treasury. [93]

Lincoln may still have been unaware of the understanding made at the convention; his advisor, Leonard Swett, wrote to Cameron on November 27, 1860, that Lincoln was not bound by any such bargain. Swett sent a copy to the president-elect, who did nothing initially, but asked Weed for his view on Cameron on December 20. Cameron had reneged on his support for Seward, Weed's candidate, and Weed advised excluding Cameron in favor of a trustworthy Southerner. Cameron would not visit Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois without an invitation, and, after sending Swett to Pennsylvania to confer with him, [94] Lincoln felt compelled to invite Cameron, who arrived on December 30, 1860. [93] Others urged Lincoln to leave Cameron out of the cabinet, citing the Winnebago affair or the allegations of bribery in his elections to the Senate; former congressman George N. Eckert wrote, "I wish to say to you that under no circumstances or contingency will it answer to even dream of putting Simon Cameron in the Cabinet. He is corrupt beyond belief. He is rich by plunder— and can not be trusted any where." [95]

Upon his arrival in Springfield, Cameron met with Lincoln for several hours, first at the president-elect's law office and then at the senator's hotel. Both men were personable in nature, and the meetings were enjoyable; at their conclusion, Lincoln offered Cameron a place in the cabinet, either as Secretary of the Treasury or of War. At Cameron's request, Lincoln gave him the offer in writing, which he regretted soon thereafter, as no sooner had Cameron left town, that a fresh flood of anti-Cameron communications came to him, and he met with Alexander McClure, a member of a faction in Pennsylvania opposed to Cameron. Lincoln wrote to withdraw the offer, asking Cameron to keep it confidential, unless he chose to publicly decline, in which case he had no objection to the offer being made public. [96] One reason for Lincoln's about-face was that he had asked Cameron to keep the offer confidential, which he had not done. [97] Cameron complained to Lincoln's associates about the president-elect's conduct, but did and said nothing publicly, and in fact arranged for Lincoln and his family to use a luxurious Pennsylvania Railroad car for the journey to Washington. [98]

In early January, after meeting with Chase, who he wanted in the cabinet, Lincoln told two of his advisers, "I am in a quandary. Pennsylvania is entitled to a cabinet office. [Lincoln had received] hundreds of letters, and the cry is 'Cameron, Cameron!' … The Pennsylvania people say: 'If you leave out Cameron you disgrace him.'" [99] Lincoln decided not to offer Cameron the Treasury post, but to hold out the possibility of another appointment. [100] On January 13, Lincoln sent Cameron a letter stating he meant no offense by the previous letter, and stating that he had no doubt Cameron would perform the duties of a cabinet secretary "ably and faithfully". [101] Cameron continued to press Lincoln by displaying the December 31 letter offering a post without showing the January 3 one rescinding the offer. With much of Lincoln's cabinet undetermined by the end of January, Herndon wrote, "Lincoln is in a fix. Cameron’s appointment ... bothers him. If Lincoln do[es] appoint Cameron, he gets a fight on his hands, and if he do[es] not he gets a quarrel deep-abiding, & lasting ... Poor Lincoln! God help him!" [102]

At the behest of Cameron supporters Lincoln met with, the president-elect offered another meeting in Springfield, but Cameron refused, and the matter was still unresolved when Lincoln left for Washington. When the train passed through Pittsburgh, Lincoln was met with a group of Cameron supporters who insisted he be appointed to the cabinet. [103] In Philadelphia, other Cameron acolytes buttonholed Lincoln, both in the lobby of his hotel, and at his room. Tired of this, he hinted he might keep holdovers from the Buchanan cabinet rather than appoint Cameron. [104]

Cameron's opponents in Pennsylvania, likely out of fear the state would go unrepresented in the cabinet, dropped their opposition to him. [105] When Lincoln stopped in Philadelphia, a group of supporters of Governor Curtin told him that Curtin now supported Cameron's cabinet bid. [106] Lincoln still made no decision until after he reached Washington, when after much soul-searching he decided to appoint Cameron to the cabinet. Cameron still wanted the Treasury position, which went to Chase, and only reluctantly accepted War. [107] After discussions between the two on February 28 and March 1, 1861, Lincoln nominated Cameron to be Secretary of War on March 5, 1861, the day after he took office as president. [108]

He broke with Lincoln and openly advocated emancipating the slaves and arming them for the army at a time when Lincoln was not ready to publicly take that position. [109] Cameron's tenure as Secretary of War was marked by allegations of corruption and lax management.


Cameron was sworn in as Secretary of War on March 12, 1861. The week's delay in swearing-in was because Cameron was in Pennsylvania and has been taken by some historians to mean that, even amid the rapidly-worsening secession crisis, that Cameron did not take his new position seriously. Kahan pointed out that at Lincoln's first cabinet meeting, on March 6, there was no mention of the increasingly-desperate situation at Fort Sumter. At the cabinet meeting of March 15, Lincoln asked his cabinet members for their views on Sumter and Cameron stated that the fort, isolated in the harbor of seceded Charleston, South Carolina, should not be resupplied since it could not be held indefinitely. [110]

On April 18, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded from the Union, the Virginia militia seized Harpers Ferry, an important work station on the rival Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's main westward line and a strategically important connection between Washington, D.C., and the American West.[ citation needed ]

Under threats of destruction or confiscation from the Governor of Virginia and mayor of nearby Charles Town, B&O president John Work Garrett asked Cameron to protect the B&O. Instead, Cameron warned Garrett that passage of any Confederate troops over his line would be treason. Cameron agreed to station troops to protect other rail lines, including the Pennsylvania, but flatly refused to help the B&O. [111] The B&O had to repair damaged line at its own expense and often received late or no payment for services rendered to the federal government. [112] The Harpers Ferry Bridge was blown up by order of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson on June 14.[ citation needed ]

On June 20, 1861, Jackson seized Martinsburg, another major B&O work station. Within weeks, Jackson began confiscating locomotives, train cars, and track for Confederate use in Virginia. [lower-alpha 1] [113] With B&O's main line into Washington inoperative for over six months, the North Central and Pennsylvania Railroads profited from overflow traffic.[ citation needed ]

These problems were partially alleviated by the summer 1861 Union victories at the Philippi and Rich Mountain, and vigorous army and company work crews which reduced the main line gap to 25 miles between Harpers Ferry and Back Creek. [114] However, with no help from Secretary Cameron, Garret appealed to others, including Reverdy Johnson, General George McClellan, and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.[ citation needed ]

The gap created in the B&O line dramatically affected civilian life as well. The B&O was forced to arrange to have its coal shipments brought to the capital via the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, but as winter began, coal prices soared in Washington. Western farmers could also not get their produce to markets because of the B&O gap. Finally, Samuel M. Felton, the President of PW&B Railroad notified newspapers of the War Department's discrimination against the B&O.[ citation needed ]

Cameron's corruption became so notorious that Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens, asked whether there was anything Cameron would not steal, said, "I don't think that he would steal a red hot stove." [2] Cameron demanded Stevens retract this insult, and so Stevens said to Lincoln, "I believe I told you he would not steal a red hot stove. I will now take that back."[ citation needed ]

In January 1862, President Lincoln removed Cameron in favor of Edwin M. Stanton, a Pennsylvania lawyer who had been serving as Cameron's legal advisor. [115] Furthermore, on January 31, Congress passed the Railways and Telegraph Act, creating the United States Military Railroad and allowing it to seize and operate any railroad or telegraph company's equipment, although Stanton and USMRR Superintendent Daniel McCallum would choose to allow civilian operations to continue. [116] In February 1862, Union forces recaptured Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry, and work crews continued replacing wrecked bridges and equipment, although bushwhacker raids continued. [117]

After Stanton's promotion, Cameron became Minister to Russia. [2]

Postwar political boss

Cameron as a senator favoring greenbacks, Harper's Weekly, June 6, 1874. Nast asks Pardon.jpg
Cameron as a senator favoring greenbacks, Harper's Weekly, June 6, 1874.

Cameron made a political comeback after the Civil War, building a powerful state Republican machine, which would dominate Pennsylvania politics for the next 70 years. [72] In 1866, Cameron was again elected to the Senate.

Cameron convinced his close friend Ulysses S. Grant to appoint his son, J. Donald Cameron, as Secretary of War in 1876. [72] Later that year, Cameron helped Rutherford B. Hayes win the Republican nomination for President. [72] Cameron resigned from the Senate in 1877, after ensuring that his son would succeed him.

In the 1880 United States presidential election, Cameron and his son, along with Roscoe Conkling and John A. Logan, led the conservative, anti-Blaine, Stalwart faction of the Republican Party in their advocacy of nominating Grant for a third, non-consecutive presidential term. [118] The Stalwarts were ultimately thwarted when the Blaine faction formed an alliance with the Half-Breeds to nominate James A. Garfield, who would triumph in the general election over Democratic opponent Winfield Scott Hancock.

Personal life

Cameron's brother James was Colonel of the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was killed in action at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.


Cameron retired to his farm at Donegal Springs near Maytown, Pennsylvania where he died on June 26, 1889, at the age of 90. [2] He is buried in the Harrisburg Cemetery in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. [2]

Though Cameron also had intended for his son to succeed him as head of the state machine, Matthew Quay ultimately succeeded Cameron as the party boss. [119]


According to historian Hans L. Trefousse, Cameron ranks as one of the most successful political bosses in American history. Cameron was shrewd, wealthy, and devoted his talents in money to the goal of building a powerful Republican organization. He achieved recognition as the undisputed arbiter of Pennsylvania politics. His assets included business acumen, sincere devotion to the interests and needs of Pennsylvania, expertise on the tariff issue and the need for protection for Pennsylvania industry, and a skill at managing and organizing politicians and their organizations. He cleverly rewarded his friends, punished his enemies, and maintain good relations with his Democratic counterparts. His reputation as an unscrupulous grafter was exaggerated by his enemies; he was in politics for power, not profit. [120]

Biographer Paul Kahan says Cameron was very good as a "back-slapping, glad-handing politician," who could manipulate congressmen. But he was too disorganized, and inattentive to the extremely complex duties of the largest and most important federal department. He paid too much attention to patronage and then not enough to strategy. [121]

Cameron County, Pennsylvania, and Cameron Parish, Louisiana, are named in his honor, as are:


  1. Fourteen locomotives and 83 rail cars were dismantled and sent south by Jackson's troops at Martinsburg, and another 42 locomotives and 386 cars were damaged or destroyed. The B&O water station and machine shops were also destroyed, and 102 miles of telegraph wire was removed before federal control was restored in March 1862.

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James Donald Cameron was an American politician from Pennsylvania who served as Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant and in the United States Senate for nearly twenty years. In May, 1876 Cameron was part of a Cabinet realignment by President Grant, having been appointed after a brief tenure by Secretary Alphonso Taft, whom Grant appointed U.S. Attorney General. Former Secretary William W. Belknap had resigned from office, was impeached by the House for taking kickbacks from the Fort Sill tradership, put on trial in the Senate and acquitted. Secretary Cameron was one of two father-son combinations that served as Secretary of War. Cameron's father, Simon Cameron, served in that office under President Abraham Lincoln. The other father-son combination was Secretary Alphonso Taft and his son Secretary William Howard Taft. During Cameron's tenure the U.S. military was challenged by the Great Sioux War and by the threat of a second Southern secession after the controversial election of President Rutherford B. Hayes that ended Reconstruction. Cameron proved to be an energetic administrator and his appointment as Secretary of War launched his lengthy political career in the Senate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edgar Cowan</span> American politician

Edgar Cowan was an American lawyer and Republican politician from Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate during the American Civil War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1910–11 United States Senate elections</span>

The 1910–11 United States Senate election were held on various dates in various states. As these U.S. Senate elections were prior to the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, senators were primarily chosen by state legislatures. Senators were elected over a wide range of time throughout 1910 and 1911, and a seat may have been filled months late or remained vacant due to legislative deadlock. However, some states had already begun direct elections during this time. Oregon pioneered direct election and experimented with different measures over several years until it succeeded in 1907. Soon after, Nebraska followed suit and laid the foundation for other states to adopt measures reflecting the people's will. By 1912, as many as 29 states elected senators either as nominees of their party's primary or in conjunction with a general election.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Presidency of James Buchanan</span> United States presidential administration from 1857 to 1861

The presidency of James Buchanan began on March 4, 1857, when James Buchanan was inaugurated as 15th president of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1861. Buchanan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, took office as the 15th United States president after defeating former President Millard Fillmore of the American Party, and John C. Frémont of the Republican Party in the 1856 presidential election.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Buchanan</span> President of the United States from 1857 to 1861

James Buchanan Jr. was an American lawyer, diplomat, and politician who served as the 15th president of the United States from 1857 to 1861. He previously served as secretary of state from 1845 to 1849 and represented Pennsylvania in both houses of the U.S. Congress. He was an advocate for states' rights, particularly regarding slavery, and minimized the role of the federal government preceding the Civil War. Buchanan was the last president born in the 18th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stephen A. Douglas</span> American politician and lawyer (1813–1861)

Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician and lawyer from Illinois. A senator, he was one of two nominees of the badly split Democratic Party for president in the 1860 presidential election, which was won by Republican Abraham Lincoln. Douglas had previously defeated Lincoln in the 1858 United States Senate election in Illinois, known for the pivotal Lincoln–Douglas debates. He was one of the brokers of the Compromise of 1850 which sought to avert a sectional crisis; to further deal with the volatile issue of extending slavery into the territories, Douglas became the foremost advocate of popular sovereignty, which held that each territory should be allowed to determine whether to permit slavery within its borders. This attempt to address the issue was rejected by both pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates. Douglas was nicknamed the "Little Giant" because he was short in physical stature but a forceful and dominant figure in politics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1858–59 United States Senate elections</span>

The 1858–59 United States Senate elections were held on various dates in various states. As these U.S. Senate elections were prior to the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, senators were chosen by state legislatures. Senators were elected over a wide range of time throughout 1858 and 1859, and a seat may have been filled months late or remained vacant due to legislative deadlock. In these elections, terms were up for the senators in Class 2.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1876–77 United States Senate elections</span>

The 1876–77 United States Senate elections were held on various dates in various states, coinciding with Rutherford B. Hayes's narrow election as president. As these U.S. Senate elections were prior to the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, senators were chosen by state legislatures. Senators were elected over a wide range of time throughout 1876 and 1877, and a seat may have been filled months late or remained vacant due to legislative deadlock. In these elections, terms were up for the senators in Class 2.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1866–67 United States Senate elections</span>

The 1866–67 United States Senate elections were held on various dates in various states. As these U.S. Senate elections were prior to the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, senators were chosen by state legislatures. Senators were elected over a wide range of time throughout 1866 and 1867, and a seat may have been filled months late or remained vacant due to legislative deadlock. In these elections, terms were up for the senators in Class 3.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1860–61 United States Senate elections</span>

The 1860–61 United States Senate elections were held on various dates in various states. As these U.S. Senate elections were prior to the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, senators were chosen by state legislatures. Senators were elected over a wide range of time throughout 1860 and 1861, and a seat may have been filled months late or remained vacant due to legislative deadlock. In these elections, terms were up for the senators in Class 3.

War Democrats in American politics of the 1860s were members of the Democratic Party who supported the Union and rejected the policies of the Copperheads. The War Democrats demanded a more aggressive policy toward the Confederacy and supported the policies of Republican President Abraham Lincoln when the American Civil War broke out a few months after his victory in the 1860 presidential election.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1867 United States Senate election in Pennsylvania</span> Class III U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania

On January 15, 1867, Simon Cameron was elected to the United States Senate by the Pennsylvania General Assembly for the third time; it had previously chosen him in 1845 and 1857. The legislature voted for Cameron over the incumbent, Senator Edgar Cowan, who though a Republican was endorsed by the Democratic legislative caucus. With the Republican Party holding a large majority in the legislature, the main battle was for its endorsement: the caucus of Republican legislators had voted for Cameron over Governor Andrew Curtin.

The presidential transition of Abraham Lincoln began when he won the United States 1860 United States presidential election, becoming the president-elect of the United States, and ended when Lincoln was inaugurated at noon on March 4, 1861.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1899 United States Senate election in Pennsylvania</span>

An election for the United States Senate was held by the Pennsylvania General Assembly beginning on January 17, 1899, to fill the seat then held by Matthew Quay for a six-year term beginning March 4, 1899. Quay was a candidate for re-election, but he was damaged by a pending indictment for involvement in financial irregularities with state money; his trial took place during the three months that the legislature attempted to resolve the Senate deadlock, and he was acquitted the day it adjourned, having failed to elect a senator. Quay was appointed to the Senate seat by the governor, but the Senate refused to seat him on the grounds that the governor lacked the constitutional authority to make the selection, and the seat remained vacant until the next meeting of the legislature, in 1901, when Quay was elected.


  1. Baker, Jean (1999). "Cameron, Simon". American National Biography . New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0400195.(subscription required)
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  118. Banks, Ronald F. (June 1958). The Senatorial Career of William P. Frye, p. 5–6. The University of Maine. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  119. Blair, William Alan (April 1989). "A Practical Politician: The Boss Tactics of William Stanley Quay". Pennsylvania History. 56 (2): 78–89.
  120. Hans L. Trefousse, "Cameron, Simon" in John A. Garraty, Encyclopedia of American Biography (1974), pp 165–167
  121. Paul Kahan, Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War (2016) p167.


Further reading

Simon Cameron
Smn Cameron-SecofWar.jpg
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1867 March 12, 1877
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Daniel Sturgeon
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: William Bigler, Edgar Cowan
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Charles R. Buckalew, John Scott, William A. Wallace
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Public Buildings Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by United States Secretary of War
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Minister to Russia
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Oldest living U.S. senator
Succeeded by
Preceded by Most senior living U.S. senator
Sitting or former

Succeeded by