18 January 2010

ch.15: A Death in the White House

Part of Lincoln’s political acumen is that he was able to navigate all the personalities in his cabinet. Simon Cameron was most likely included in the administration because of a deal made at the 1860 Republican convention. Cameron always had the reputation of being a shady, backroom, cigar-smoking politician. Lincoln probably didn’t want him, but a deal was made and Cameron became part of the team.

Maybe during peacetime, Cameron could have handled his duties. But a corrupt politician trying to operate the growing War Department during an internal rebellion—that’s asking a little too much. Lincoln found a way to gracefully let Cameron go and hired Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War. Stanton was a strong personality but an extremely competent administrator. He took a corrupt department and turned it around. It’s difficult to see how the Union could have conducted the war without Stanton’s efficiency. And as we are learning in Team of Rivals, Lincoln was able to deal with these personalities. He gave Stanton room to do his job even when the new secretary annoyed friends and politicians alike. Lincoln handled these situations.

The tragedy in this chapter is the death of Lincoln’s son Willie. The book includes many references and quotes on what a bright and vivacious boy he was. Even reading this book now, I become teary-eyed when I get to this chapter. With all the political problems and difficulties that Lincoln and Mary had to endure, this was a devastating blow. Mary never fully recovered and Lincoln spent much time trying to assuage her grief—all the while conducting a Civil War (a war that wasn’t going very well).

Notice in the chapter how unimpressive the medical community was. Once Willie became sick, the medical establishment could do little—they didn’t understand much about germs, viruses, and infections yet. They were still bleeding people. Doctors didn’t do much except hope that the patient recovered.                

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, even in the context of so many who died during the Civil War, the death of little Willie and the devastaing effects it had on his famous parents is heart-breaking to read about.

    Tim Utter