A Civil War Biography

Simon Cameron

Cameron was born 8 March 1799 in Maytown near Harrisburg, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Orphaned at nine, he was apprenticed to a printer then entered the field of journalism. By 1821 he was editor of the Bucks County Messenger. He moved to Washington DC in 1822 and studied the various political movements while working in the printing firm of Gales and Seaton. Joseph Gales and William W. Seaton were the two most famous chroniclers of the political workings in the US Congress of the times. Cameron joined the Whig Party.

With a new wife, Margaret Brua, he returned to the Harrisburg area in 1824 where he purchased and ran the Republican, a local newspaper. He served as the state printer of Pennsylvania from 1825 until 1827 and was the state adjutant general in 1826. Cameron engaged in many business enterprises including constructing several rail lines which he merged into the Northern Central Railroad of which he became president. He worked as a bank cashier then founded the Bank of Middletown in 1832. In 1838 he was appointed by President Martin Van Buren a commissioner to settle claims of the Winnebago Indians.

Cameron was elected as a member of the Democratic party to the US Senate in 1844 to fill the Pennsylvania seat vacated by James Buchanan who resigned to run for the presidency. Cameron served in the Senate from 13 March 1845 until the term expired on 3 March 1849. He switched to the Know Nothing Party in 1855 then joined the Republican party before the elections of 1856. Constant switching of parties gained Cameron a reputation as a political opportunist. He was again elected to the US Senate to represent his native state in 1856 taking his seat on 4 March 1857. He sought the Republican nomination for president in 1860 but failing that supported Lincoln.

He resigned from the Senate on 4 March 1861 and the following day became Lincoln's Secretary of War. When Cameron refused Lincoln's order to remove a passage in the Secretary of War's 1862 annual report calling for freed slaves to be armed and used against the Confederacy, Cameron was removed from his cabinet post on 14 January 1862. Ironically Edwin M. Stanton, Cameron's legal advisor at the time, who, unbeknown to Lincoln had written the offending passage, was named to succeed Cameron. Cameron is most known for centralizing recruiting in the War Department. He was criticized for favoritism in awarding departmental positions and contracts and was censured by the House for contract manipulations.

Cameron was named US Minister to Russia. He would hold that position only until the fall of 1862 when he resigned and returned to his home in Pennsylvania where he stayed out of politics until 1866. In 1866 Pennsylvania voters again sent Cameron to the US Senate. He took his seat on 4 March 1867 and remained in the Senate, having been reelected in 1872, until he resigned 12 March 1877 with assurances from the Pennsylvania legislature that his son, James Donald "Don" Cameron, who had served in Grant's cabinet as Secretary of War from 22 May 1876 until the end of Grant's second term, would be elected his successor. The elder Cameron retired from his active business pursuits and traveled extensively in Europe and the West Indies, eventually returning to his farm at Donegal Springs, Pennsylvania where he died on 26 June 1889.

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