Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869), one of the 19th century's most impressive legal and political minds, wielded enormous influence and power as Lincoln's secretary of war during most of the Civil War and under Johnson during the early years of Reconstruction. In the first full biography of Stanton in more than 50 years, William Marvel offers a detailed reexamination of Stanton's life, career, and legacy. Marvel argues that while Stanton was a formidable advocate and politician, his character was hardly benign. Climbing from a difficult youth to the pinnacle of power, Stanton used his authority - and the public coffers - to pursue political vendettas. He also exercised sweeping wartime powers with a cavalier disregard for civil liberties.
Though Lincoln's ability to harness a cabinet with sharp divisions and strong personalities is widely celebrated, Marvel suggests that Stanton's tenure raises important questions about Lincoln's actual control over the executive branch. This insightful biography also reveals why men like Ulysses S. Grant considered Stanton - who was unashamed to use political power for partisan enforcement and personal preservation - a coward and a bully.
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I'm sure that Mr. Marvel knows more about Edwin Stanton than I do, however I am left needing information from another source. The view of Stanton in this book is much different than that I found in other books (Lincoln's Rivals, other books on Lincoln.) With so many uses of "likely", and other assumptive words, and so many pejorative adjectives to describe Stanton and his actions, one should not use this book as a sole source of information. Mr. Stanton may well be the despicable character described, but I perceive so much bias that I'll have to do my own research elsewhere to gain a more informed viewpoint.
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