Sesquicentennial News---A Democrat, Edwin M. Stanton Predicted Peace, Got War

The Open Salvos Fired In A Great Calamity, Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 12, 2011.

While lawyers are encouraged to anticipate the worst thing that can happen, U.S. Attorney General Edwin M. Stanton in January 1861 was optimistic about a peaceful resolution of differences between Northern and Southern states.

"I have never doubted that we should in the end pass safely through the present troubles," he wrote to his brother-in-law, James Adam Hutchison Jr., in a letter dated Jan. 15, 1861. Stanton's letter to Hutchison, a Pittsburgh lawyer, is in a collection of family correspondence and photographs in the archives at the Heinz History Center.

That correspondence offers a glimpse into the life and thinking of a man who would become a member of Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet and one of his closest advisers during the Civil War. The conflict began 150 years ago today with the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter.

Stanton, who grew up in Steubenville, attended Kenyon College, studied law and began his professional career in his native Ohio. In 1847 he relocated to the booming industrial city of Pittsburgh. His first wife, Mary, had died in 1841 while he was still building his Ohio law practice. Following a two-year courtship, he married Ellen Hutchison in 1856. Sixteen years younger than her new husband, she came from a wealthy and socially prominent Pittsburgh family.

After Stanton and his family moved to Washington, D.C., he maintained close ties to his wife's Pittsburgh relatives, keeping in touch via letters to various family members. The material dealing with Stanton and the Hutchison family was donated to the history center in 2001 by Terry H. Wells, of Evanston, Ill., a descendant of the Hutchison family. While James Adam Hutchison moved to Chicago after the Civil War, family members maintained their links to Allegheny County, according to David Grinnell, chief archivist at the history center. Many are buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.

Stanton usually wrote in a firm hand, using dark ink on fine paper that has deteriorated little in the past century and a half. It is, nevertheless, occasionally difficult to make out some of his words. Mr. Grinnell, chief librarian Art Louderback and archivist Susan Melnick all gathered around to help transcribe one of Stanton's letters last week.

An anti-slavery Democrat, Stanton became U.S. attorney general during the final months of the disastrous administration of President James Buchanan. While sympathetic to the "South" and its "Peculiar Institution," as slavery was sometimes called, Buchanan believed that secession was illegal. Unfortunately, he also believed there was nothing he could do as president to stop states from breaking up the union.

Historians credit Stanton with stiffening Buchanan's spine during the period between the election of Lincoln in November 1860 and his inauguration the following March.

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Text and Image Source:
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette April 12, 2011

Caption: The letter from Edwin M. Stanton to his brother-in-law, dated April 15, 1861: "It is now certain that we are about to be engaged in a general civil war between the Northern & Southern states. Every one will regret this as a great calamity to the human race," Stanton wrote.
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