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Simon Cameron


SIMON CAMERON, born in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, March 8th, 1799, was left an orphan at the age of nine years, and acquired his education by a diligent improvement of all the facilities which he could secure, while an apprentice in a newspaper and printing office. As such he worked at "the case" in Harrisburg, Pa., and at Washington, D. C., finally striking out on his own account as editor of the "Pennsylvania Intelligencer", at Doylestown, Pa. In 1822 he became the publisher and editor of a newspaper at Harrisburg, which strongly advocated the claims of General Jackson for the Presidency. In 1832 he was President of the Middletown Bank, which he had established; and of two Railroad Companies, as well as holding the responsible position of Adjutant-General of the State. In 1845 he was elected United States Senator from Pennsylvania, and served until 1849; and in 1851 was re-elected for the term ending in 1863, voting in that body, amongst other things, for Douglas' proposition to extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. After the repeal of that Compromise, in 1854, and the attempt to force slavery on the people of Kansas, he identified himself with the "People's Party" in Pennsylvania; in 1856 voted for Fremont for the Presidency; and in the Chicago Convention of 1860, was spoken of as a candidate for the same high office, having the third place on the first ballot after which his name was withdrawn.

President Lincoln, on his accession to office, March 4th, 1861, nominated Mr. Cameron for Secretary of War, and he resigned his seat in the United States Senate to accept the place in the Cabinet. The condition of the Department of War at the time when he took charge of it, is thus briefly but graphically described by him: "Upon my appointment to the position, I found the department destitute of all means of defence, without guns and with literally no prospect of purchasing the material of war. I found the nation without any army, and there was scarcely a man throughout the whole War Department in whom I could put any trust. The Adjutant-General deserted; the Quartermaster-General ran off; the Commissary-General was on his death-bed; more than half the clerks were disloyal."

This condition of things, in a capital menaced by a well organized rebel army without, and by hordes of traitorous officials and spies within, was truly appalling; but Mr. Cameron possessed nerve and loyalty, and was nobly seconded by the loyalty of the Northern States. All that man could do, he did; and shared, with his great Chief, the awful burden of anxiety which accompanied those earlier months of the war for the suppression of the rebellion. He made strenuous efforts to secure the countermanding of the order for battle, which resulted so disastrously in the failure in the first Bull Run fight, in which he lost a brother, Colonel James Cameron, who was killed while leading a charge of the New York 79th (Highlanders) regiment.

In his Annual Report to the President, of the operations of his department, December 1st, 1861, he spoke boldly and at considerable length of the policy (to which he had become a convert) of recognizing slavery as the Union's real assailant, and fighting her accordingly. This portion of the Secretary's report was stricken out by President Lincoln (who had not, at that time, reached this point, to which he was afterwards forced by the necessity of events), and a more moderate and briefer allusion to the subject was substituted therefor.

After ten months of anxious and unfaltering attention to the weighty duties devolved upon him, Mr. Cameron, whose health was seriously impaired, resigned, January 13th, 1862, and was succeeded as Secretary of War by the late Edwin M. Stanton. He was then sent as Minister to St. Petersburgh, but soon returned, arriving in the United States in November, 1862. In 1864, he was a delegate to the Baltimore Convention, as well as to that of the " Loyalists " at Philadelphia in 1866, and in January, 1867, again took his seat in the United States Senate from Pennsylvania, as a Union Republican (succeeding Edgar Cowan, Democrat) for the term ending 3d of March, 1873. In February, 1871, he succeeded Mr. Sumner as Chairman of the 
Committee on Foreign Affairs; and has served conspicuously on the Committees on Military Affairs, Ordnance, etc.

Mr. Cameron has great experience in political affairs, and possesses executive ability of a high order. He has for many years past ruled his party in Pennsylvania, sometimes, as in the late nomination for Governor, carrying matters with a very high hand, and securing the nomination of men personally distasteful to a considerable portion of the party, but by thorough discipline he has usually succeeded in securing their election. Sometimes he has carried this imperialism a little too far, and has defeated the objects he desired to accomplish.

An active business life and great skill in financial movements have resulted in accumulating for Mr. Cameron a very large fortune, and his influential connection with the great railroad and mining corporations has enabled him to exert more political power than he could otherwise have done. For years rumors of his connection with jobs and corruption have been rife, and the numerous "jobs" which were perfected during his service in President Lincoln's Cabinet were adduced as evidence of the truth of these rumors. In any great national disaster or struggle, the cormorants are sure to gather and seize on their prey, and Secretary Cameron's rather loose notions on this subject made him less careful than he should have been, and undoubtedly led in part to his resignation. That he was a partner in or personally cognizant of these frauds, is wholly improbable, but he had not that quick eye to detect fraudulent intention in others, nor that stern and inflexible determination to punish it, which was so grand a characteristic of Secretary Stanton.

Since the war, whether in public or private life, save for the domineering spirit to which we have alluded, Mr. Cameron's course has been without reproach, and in his position as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, his fine abilities and his large knowledge of our relations to the European Governments, have made him an able successor to Senator Sumner, if the change was needful. We need not say that Senator Cameron is a staunch supporter of President Grant.


Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872  

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