A Want of Personal and Political Integrity

President-elect and Mrs. Lincoln celebrated the New Year by holding a reception in their Springfield home. Many attended, including one man who refused to leave until Lincoln had to have him forcibly removed. Soon after the festivities ended, the president-elect got back to work on forming his new administration, which would begin in March.

In late December, Lincoln had met with Senator Simon Cameron, boss of the powerful Pennsylvania Republican machine. Since Cameron and his state had done so much to help get Lincoln elected, Lincoln intended to appoint Cameron to his cabinet. But now the president-elect was having second thoughts. Allegations of vast corruption swirled around Cameron, and as such he had many political enemies. One of them, Alexander K. McClure, came to Springfield to tell Lincoln that Cameron was unfit to hold any office in Lincoln’s administration. When Lincoln demanded that McClure prove his accusations, McClure replied that if “you throw upon us the disagreeable duty of establishing his want of personal & political integrity, it will be done with fearful fidelity.”

McClure then produced documentation on several unscrupulous transactions directly involving Cameron, including having bribed the Pennsylvania legislature to gain his Senate seat. This clearly upset Lincoln, and the next day he wrote a harsh letter to Cameron informing him that his name had been withdrawn from cabinet consideration. He began, “Since seeing you things have developed which make it impossible for me to take you into the cabinet.”

Lincoln hinted that there was more evidence of Cameron’s wrongdoing besides just McClure’s proof, something of a “more potent matter… wholly outside Pennsylvania… I am not at liberty to specify it. Enough that it appears to me to be sufficient.” Lincoln concluded, “And now I suggest that you write me declining the appointment, in which case I do not object to it being known that it was tendered you. Better do this at once, before things so change, that you can not honorably decline, and I be compelled to openly recall the tender.”

Cameron was out, but Lincoln still needed a Pennsylvanian in his cabinet. On the morning of the 6th, the president-elect met with Gustave Koerner and Norman Judd to ask their opinion on who from Pennsylvania should be appointed. Both men emphatically opposed Cameron, even though Lincoln said he had received more endorsements for him than anyone else in the state. Koerner argued that Cameron’s corruption would stain the administration, but Lincoln replied, “I know, but can I get along if that State should oppose my administration?”

Meanwhile, Cameron’s supporters would not take no for an answer. J.P. Sanderson and Edgar Cowan came to Springfield on the 13th and told Lincoln that Cameron was greatly offended by Lincoln’s recent letter and would not decline the appointment. Fearing that “the army of Cameron’s friends” would oppose his administration, Lincoln quickly wrote to Cameron apologizing that his “feelings were wounded by the terms of my letter.” Lincoln explained, “I wrote that letter under great anxiety, and perhaps I was not as guarded in its terms as I should have been; but I beg you to be assured, I intended no offence.” He urged Cameron, “Destroy the offensive letter, or return it to me.”

Lincoln then wrote a replacement letter, backdated to January 3, in which he used more delicate language to inform Cameron that he still could not consider him for the cabinet. Knowing this letter would be made public, Lincoln acknowledged that Cameron had come to Springfield in December “at my invitation, and not upon any suggestion of your own,” and that Lincoln had offered him “a place in the cabinet.”

However, due to an “unexpected complication,” without “any change of my view as to the ability or faithfulness with which you would discharge the duties of the place,” Lincoln asked “that you relieve me from great embarrassment by allowing me to recall the offer.” Hoping to end the Cameron headache once and for all, Lincoln announced, “I now think I will not definitely fix upon any appointment for Pennsylvania until I reach Washington.”

But the lobbying did not stop. New York editor Alexander Cummings and Congressman James K. Moorhead came to Springfield and told Lincoln that despite his request that Cameron remove himself from cabinet consideration, Cameron still expected to be given a cabinet post. Lincoln mollified the men by writing a letter to Cameron asking him to come back to Springfield and talk it over, but that letter was never mailed. Lincoln then turned to other matters within his administration.



  • Holzer, Harold, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1861. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2008.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.

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