A Postal Revolution and a Political Upheaval

Politics and Resignation

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Lincoln’s Cabinet, left to right: Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War (sitting); Salmon P. Chase Secretary of Treasury; Lincoln; Gideon Welles, Secretary of Navy (sitting, back); William H. Seward, Secretary of State (sitting, front); Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of Interior; Montgomery Blair; Edward Bates, Attorney General (sitting). Courtesy Library of Congress

Montgomery Blair was recognized throughout his political career as a very outspoken man. He stood up for what he believed in and was unafraid to make enemies, even in a political atmosphere where all of the odds were against him. President Lincoln, in choosing his cabinet members, “collected under his wing nearly all the disappointed men whom he had defeated in the convention in an attempt at party conciliation.”(1) “Nearly all the disappointed men” meant that Lincoln chose three of the men who had run against him for the Republican Party nomination to fill his cabinet; William Seward became his Secretary of State, Salmon P. Chase became his Secretary of the Treasury, and Edward Bates became his Attorney General. In adding to this group, he selected three former Democrats, including Blair—despite the disapproval of some of his confidants(2)—to fill the three remaining positions. Gideon Welles was chosen as the Secretary of the Navy and Simon Cameron, the Secretary of War, though Cameron was replaced in early 1862 by William Stanton.(3) To finish the Cabinet, Caleb B. Smith from Indiana was chosen as the Secretary of Interior.(4) As these men came from vastly different political circles, there was little cohesion among them.

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Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Wells was one of Blair’s few supporters inside the Cabinet.

Montgomery Blair was disliked from the beginning by many other cabinet members, particularly Secretary of Treasury, Salmon P. Chase and Secretary of State, William Seward. Blair shared distaste for both Secretaries, though Chase and Secretary of War Stanton were his two greatest enemies within the Cabinet: “Blair's dislike for Stanton bordered on hatred; his contempt for Chase ran dark and deep. Egotistical, valuable, and indiscreet, he broadcasted his opinions of both men in conservative and Republican circles…"(5) Blair’s outward opinions of his fellow Cabinet members did not help him in political circles and he was despised by many. A cool correspondence from Blair to Chase regarding the transport of Treasury Department mail during war time illustrates Blair’s thoughts towards the Secretary of Treasury. In mid-1863 Chase had requested a more secure transport of Treasury Department mails through Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, in the event of a Confederate invasion of the North. To this Blair curtly responded, “I have the honors to say that the measure seems impracticable…the right of the [Treasury] Department to order such services is questionable, even for additional conversations.”(6) The fulfillment of Chase’s request was out of the question and Blair is clear it was ridiculous and completely unnecessary. Chase and Blair had many disagreements throughout their time together in the cabinet, though he did not care for most of the other cabinet members either. At one point, Blair advised Lincoln that he should replace all cabinet members except for Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, whose politics were most in line with his own; himself; and perhaps Attorney General Edward Bates, only because he liked Bates as a person.(7)

1) Kelly, i.
2) When Lincoln brought up Blair’s name, one confidant remarked, “Has he been suggested by any one except his father, Francis P. Blair, Sr.?,” implying that the only reason Blair was being considered at all was because of his family background, quoted in Goodwin, 288.
3) Ibid, xvi.
4) Ibid, 287.
5) John Niven, Gideon Welles; Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy (Oxford: Oxford UP. 1973), 471, Google Books, accessed June 19, 2014.
6) Montgomery Blair, Letter to Salmon P. Chase, June 5, 1863, National Archives.
7) Goodwin, 519.