Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Scandalous Secretary of War
Simon Cameron was Abraham Lincoln’s first Secretary of War. He served for 1 year. This is the textbook description of the subject. Amiable Scoundrel details much more about this polarizing figure in American History. Cameron was from Pennsylvania, his early life consisting of a foster family upbringing and apprenticeship after his father’s untimely death. He would forge a friendship with future President James Buchanan which would lead to a patronage appointment as a commissioner dealing with a treaty with the Winnebago Indians. Unfortunately, this would lead to calls of corruption, allegations of fleecing the Winnebagos in shady deals where he stood to gain. Cameron denied any impropriety. He would be elected as Senator in 1845, despite controversy involving his courting of various groups such as Whigs, Nativists, and Democrats. He would be involved in the battle over the annexation of Texas. He would be in and out of power from 1849-1857. His anti-slavery views would engender resentment and disdain among Southern colleagues. His concerns always revolved around his home state and how it would affect his constituents. He would appointed Secretary of War after helping secure Lincoln’s nomination. Cameron would face troubles in an underprepared army as well as calls to arm the slaves. He would be forced out in 1862, but would become minister to Russia in 1862. His re-election to the senate in 1867 kept him involved and relevant in Republican politics until his death at the age of 90.
Paul Kahan’s biography of Simon Cameron is a two sided look at a man who may not have been given a fair shake while alive or even years after. Kahan views Cameron as a flawed, but influential and decent politico who abhorred slavery, loved his state, and knew how to make deals to benefit the greater good. This book is essential for any civil war historian’s library as well as pre-civil war history.