In those long-ago days, blogs had not yet been invented. So people wrote in “diaries” instead. Gideon Welles, one of these “diarists”, during his time as Secretary of the Navy under Abraham Lincoln, was in the habit each evening of devoting his time to writing in the diary, recalled his son, Edgar T. Welles, in the Preface to the published version of Gideon Welles’ diary.
In 1980, someone known only as “The Phantom” suddenly appeared before an appraiser with an old trunk. The trunk contained letters written by Abraham Lincoln to Gideon Welles. The letters were potentially explosive. They could have caused the history of Civil War naval battles to be re-written. But “The Phantom” quickly disappeared, along with the trunk filled with letters. (“The Mystery Behind Lincoln’s Lost Letters”, by Monte Burke. Forbes.com, April 24, 2009)
Correspondence between Gideon Welles and Abraham Lincoln has the advantage of Welles having been “the lone member of the 16th president’s cabinet – known as the ‘Team of Rivals’ – whom Lincoln considered a friend.” (Burke, op. cit.)
Gideon Welles, in Lincoln’s inner circle and privately recording his impressions each evening, could not dare to publicly reveal what he knew at the time. Only later, in 1911 and over thirty years after Welles’ death, was the diary first published.
Gideon Welles writes he was first introduced to Edwin Stanton (image at top) by Abraham Lincoln in January 1862. Those were trying times in Washington. “A majority of the resident population, and particularly of those who formed the resident élite of society, were Secessionists, or in sympathy with Secessionists. A feeling of bitterness pervaded the whole community, and the members of the Court Circle, which had been in the fashionable ascendant during the administrations of [Franklin] Pierce and [James] Buchanan, did not conceal their dislike, detestation, and hate of the Black Republicans, intensified among the masses in the District [of Columbia].”
Edwin Stanton was “not fond of the gayeties and parties of Washington… The Secessionists distrusted him, and neither of the parties confided in him in the early days of the [Civil] War. The [Lincoln] Administration did not consider him one of its supporters, though he was on friendly terms with [William] Seward.”
Although at the time Gideon Welles did not well-know Edwin Stanton, from “current rumors” he “was not very favorably impressed in regard to Mr. Stanton. His remarks on the personal appearance of the President were coarse, and his freely expressed judgment on public measures unjust.”
“I have reason to know,” added Welles, “that he [Stanton] was engaged with discontented and mischievous persons in petty intrigues to impair confidence in the Administration.”
Upon the departure of Simon Cameron as Secretary of War, “it was a surprise, not only to the country but to every member of the Administration but the Secretary of State [Seward], that Stanton was selected [as Cameron’s replacement]. He was doubtless the choice of Mr. Seward, who influenced the President and secured the appointment.”