Autographs of President Lincoln and His Incomparable “Team of Rivals” Cabinet, Donated to Raise Funds For Sick and Wounded Union Soldiers

Lincoln and his entire cabinet - including Seward, Stanton and Chase - signed this document in 1864 for a Sanitary Fair

Only a handful have survived and reached the market

President Lincoln’s cabinet included his three major rivals for the Republican nomination for President in 1860—William H. Seward (Secretary of State), Salmon P. Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), and Edward Bates (Attorney General). It also included Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy), head...

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Autographs of President Lincoln and His Incomparable “Team of Rivals” Cabinet, Donated to Raise Funds For Sick and Wounded Union Soldiers

Lincoln and his entire cabinet - including Seward, Stanton and Chase - signed this document in 1864 for a Sanitary Fair

Only a handful have survived and reached the market

President Lincoln’s cabinet included his three major rivals for the Republican nomination for President in 1860—William H. Seward (Secretary of State), Salmon P. Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), and Edward Bates (Attorney General). It also included Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy), head of the Connecticut delegation and a chief Chase supporter. Rounding out the cabinet were Montgomery Blair as Postmaster General (Blair had been a prime Lincoln supporter at the Republican Convention), Simon Cameron as Secretary of War and Caleb Smith as Secretary of the Interior. Some of these men had been effectively promised positions as part of the negotiations that led to Lincoln’s nomination at the Republican national convention in May 1860, and as an additional wrinkle, they were not in accord with the inclusion of each other in the cabinet. There were worries about both geographic distribution and balance between former members of the Whig and Democratic Parties. There were also differences over ideology, ethics and personality. “No President ever had a Cabinet of which the members were so independent, had so large individual followings, and were so inharmonious,” noted New York politician Chancey Depew. Getting them to work together in harmony would require the skill of a brilliant and masterful leader, and the country had that man in its new president – Abraham Lincoln.

In January 1862 Simon Cameron was replaced as Secretary of War by Edwin M. Stanton, who had met Lincoln when they were both attornies in the same case. Stanton snubbed Lincoln, called him “a low cunning clown” and nicknamed Lincoln “the original gorilla.” This appointment was very much of one piece with his original cabinet selections – chosing a man he knew to be superlatively qualified regardless of that man’s opinion of him or opposition to him. Caleb Smith resigned to become a federal district judge at the end of 1862. Lincoln appointed John P. Usher as his successor; Usher had been Smith’s assistant secretary. During 1864, Lincoln resisted pressure to replace Usher as Secretary of the Interior with someone of greater stature and political influence, preferring to go with Usher’s experience.

How could Lincoln do this, look past the politics, oppositions, insults, snubs and the rest? Certainly he was no man to hold a grudge, and he was known as a shrewd judge of people who understood human nature. He also possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires. But really the reason was much more than that. Joseph Medill, the editor of The Chicago Tribune and one of Lincoln’s most loyal supporters, asked the President after the 1860 convention why he had made these appointments. “We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet,” Lincoln replied. “These were the very strongest men. I had no right to deprive the country of their services.” He further expanded on his motivations on May 9, 1864, saying “There is enough yet before us requiring all loyal men and patriots to perform their share of the labor…and sink all personal considerations for the sake of the country.” And that was the heart of it, the ability and indeed willingness to “sink all personal considerations.”

It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual (and successful) cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war. And the results? Of these men, three are considered the greatest ever to hold their offices, and one the second greatest. Seward is considered the best Secretary of State in the country’s history, keeping Britain out of the Civil War (which would have had ruinous consequences) and later acquiring Alaska; Stanton is likewise viewed as incomparable as Secretary of War, organizing and operating the largest and most complex machinery of war the country had ever seen; and Welles managed the naval effort that effectively blockaded the Confederacy, the success of which is held by many to have been the most significant factor in winning the war. Coming in second at his post was Chase, who ran the entire financial structure of the wartime government and invented the concept of paper fractional currency to help pay for it. He is ranked as Secretary of the Treasury only by Alexander Hamilton himself. Bates was key in defending the legality of the war, and in sustaining wartime measures proposed by Lincoln, such as the arrest of southern sympathizers in the northerners. He is known for writing an attorney general opinion that repudiated the Dred Scott opinion, and held that race and color could not disqualify a person from citizenship under the Constitution. Usher at Interior championed the cause of Native Americans on reservations in the Southwest.

The United States Sanitary Commission cared for the Union’s sick and wounded soldiers and promoted clean and healthy conditions and army camps. It held fairs in certain large cities around the country, mainly in 1863-4, to raise funds for its activities. Lincoln’s personal assistance to benefit these fairs is well known, as he contributed notes, documents and signatures to be sold or auctioned at the fairs.

Document Signed, Washington, entitled “Autographs of the President and Cabinet, 1864”, signed by the President and his Team of Rivals: Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward, Edwin M. Stanton, Edward Bates, Salmon Chase, Gideon Welles, Montgomery Blair, and John P. Usher.

This piece itself is a great rarity, as this is just our second one like it in all these decades. Moreover, we can only find four meeting its description in public sale records going back 40 years.

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