Simon Cameron

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Simon Cameron
Smn Cameron-SecofWar.jpg
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1867 – March 12, 1877
Preceded byEdgar Cowan
Succeeded byJ. Donald Cameron
In office
March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1861
Preceded byRichard Brodhead
Succeeded byDavid Wilmot
In office
March 13, 1845 – March 3, 1849
Preceded byJames Buchanan
Succeeded byJames Cooper
United States Minister to Russia
In office
June 25, 1862 – September 18, 1862
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Preceded byCassius Clay
Succeeded byCassius Clay
26th United States Secretary of War
In office
March 5, 1861 – January 14, 1862
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Preceded byJoseph Holt
Succeeded byEdwin Stanton
Personal details
Born(1799-03-08)March 8, 1799
Maytown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 26, 1889(1889-06-26) (aged 90)
Maytown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (before 1849)
American (1849–1856)
Republican (1856–1877)
Spouse(s)Margaret Brua

Simon Cameron (March 8, 1799 – June 26, 1889) was an American businessman and politician. He represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate and served as United States Secretary of War under President Abraham Lincoln at the start of the American Civil War.

Born in Maytown, Pennsylvania, Cameron made a fortune in railways, canals, and banking.[1] As a member of the Democratic Party, he won election to the Senate in 1845, serving until 1849. A persistent opponent of slavery, Cameron briefly joined the Know Nothing Party before switching to the Republican Party in 1856. He won election to another term in the Senate in 1857 and sought the Republican presidential nomination at the 1860 Republican National Convention. After the first ballot of the convention, he withdrew his name from consideration in favor of Lincoln, who went on to win the Republican nomination.

After Lincoln won the presidential election of 1860, he appointed Cameron as his first Secretary of War. Cameron's tenure was marked by allegations of corruption and lax management, and he was forced to resign early in 1862. He briefly served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia later that year. Cameron made a political comeback after the Civil War, winning election to the Senate in 1867. From this post, Cameron built a powerful state party machine that would dominate Pennsylvania politics for the next seventy years. He served in the Senate until 1877, when he was succeeded by his son, J. Donald Cameron.

Early life[edit]

Simon Cameron was born in Maytown, Pennsylvania in 1799,[1] to Charles Cameron (d. 16 January 1814), son of Simon Cameron and Martha Pfoutz (1771-1830)[2] (daughter of Conrad Pfoutz / Foutz (1734 - 20 November 1808)[3], a ranger during the American Revolution,[4][5] and Elizabeth Cameron (1733-1827)), and his wife Martha McLaughlin (d. abt. 10 Nov 1830), daughter of Hugh McLaughlin.[6]

But the above personal information does not match the story that he was orphaned at nine and later apprenticed to a printer, Andrew Kennedy, editor of the Northumberland Gazette before entering the field of journalism. It may be that he was apprenticed to Kennedy at age nine (~1808) for a then standard period of seven years, and continued as a journeyman printer at age 16 (~1815). He was the third of five sons; they had three younger sisters.[6]

He was editor of the Bucks County Messenger in 1821. A year later, he moved to Washington, D.C., and studied political movements while working for the printing firm of Gales and Seaton. On 17 October 1822 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Cameron married Margaret Brua (1794-1875),[7] daughter of Peter Brua (19 Feb 1771 – 1 Jan 1842) and Catherine Rupley (1777 – 19 Jan 1832),[8] the daughter of Johann Jacob Rupple alias Lieut. Jacob Rupley.[9][10] Cameron purchased and ran the Harrisburg Republican in 1824.

Portrait of Simon Cameron by Freeman Thorpe

Cameron served as state printer of Pennsylvania from 1825 until 1827 and was state adjutant general in 1826. He constructed several rail lines and merged them into the Northern Central Railway. He founded the Bank of Middletown in 1832 and engaged in other business enterprises. In 1838, he was appointed as commissioner to settle claims of the Winnebago Indians. This role would later haunt him politically, as he acquired the derisive nickname "Winnebago Chief" after allegedly cheating the tribe in a supply contract.[11]


Cameron as a senator favoring greenbacks, Harper's Weekly, June 6, 1874

Cameron began his political career as a Democrat, supporting the campaigns of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.[12] He was elected to replace James Buchanan in the United States Senate in 1845, serving until 1849.[1] A persistent opponent of slavery, Cameron switched to the Know Nothing Party, before joining the Republican Party in 1856.[13] In 1857, Cameron was again elected to the US Senate.[1]

At the 1860 Republican National Convention, Cameron controlled the votes of the Pennsylvania delegation. He delivered those votes to Abraham Lincoln for the nomination for President, which was decisive. In return, Lincoln's managers promised a Cabinet post for Cameron. When Lincoln became President, he reluctantly appointed Cameron Secretary of War. His tenure was marked by allegations of corruption and lax management, and he was forced to resign early in 1862. His corruption was so notorious that US Representative Thaddeus Stevens (also from Pennsylvania), when asked whether Cameron would steal, said: "I don't think that he would steal a red hot stove."[1] (Cameron demanded Stevens retract this insult. Stevens said to Lincoln "I believe I told you he would not steal a red-hot stove. I will now take that back.") Cameron was succeeded as Secretary of War by Edwin Stanton, who had been serving as Cameron's legal advisor. Cameron then served as Minister to Russia.[1]

Cameron's brother, James Cameron, colonel of the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, was killed in action at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

Simon Cameron

Cameron made a political comeback after the Civil War, building a powerful state party machine that would dominate Pennsylvania politics for the next seventy years.[13] In 1866, Cameron was again elected to the Senate. Cameron convinced his close friend Ulysses S. Grant to appoint his son, James Donald Cameron, as Secretary of War in 1876.[13] Later that year, Cameron helped Rutherford B. Hayes win the Republican nomination in 1876.[13] Cameron resigned from the Senate in 1877 after assuring that his son would succeed him. Though Cameron had intended for his son to succeed him as head of the state machine, Matthew Quay ultimately succeeded Cameron as the party boss.[14]

Later life[edit]

Cameron retired to his farm at Donegal Springs Cameron Estate near Maytown, Pennsylvania where he died on June 26, 1889.[1] He is buried in the Harrisburg Cemetery in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.[1] Cameron County, Pennsylvania, and Cameron Parish, Louisiana, are named in his honor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Cameron, Fritchie are luminaries of era". Intelligencer Journal. 2011-02-07. Retrieved 2016-11-11.
  2. ^ Martha Foutz, in North America Family Histories, accessed February 2018.
  3. ^ Find-a-Grave: Conrad Foutz, accessed February 2018.
  4. ^ Wikitree: Conrad Foutz, accessed February 2018.
  5. ^ Conrad Foutz of the Lancaster County Militia, Seventh Battalion, second class, under Capt. McKee, 1781; SAR Application, citing Pennsylvania Archives Fifth Series, Vol. VII, page 732.
  6. ^ a b [1] Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Mennonite Vital Records, 1750-2014 for Charles Cameron, accessed February 2018.
  7. ^ Marriage of Simon Cameron and Margareth Brua; Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records; Reel: 691, via paid subscription site accessed February 2018.
  8. ^ Find-a-Grave: Catherine Rupley Brua, accessed February 2018.
  9. ^ Margaretta Brua, in the U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, accessed via paid subscription site in February 2018.
  10. ^ Find-a-Grave: Johan Jacob Rupple, accessed February 2018.
  11. ^ McPherson, James M. (1988). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-503863-7. p. 260
  12. ^ "Simon Cameron". Tulane. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d "Simon Cameron Historical Marker". Explore PA WITF. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  14. ^ Blair, William Alan (April 1989). "A Practical Politician: The Boss Tactics of William Stanley Quay". Pennsylvania History. 56 (2): 78–89.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bradley, Erwin Stanley (1966). Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Secretary of War: A Political Biography. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. LCCN 65020756.
  • Crippen, Lee Forbes (1942). Simon Cameron, Ante-Bellum Years. Oxford, Mississippi: Mississippi Valley Press. ISBN 0306703629.
  • Kahan, Paul (2016). Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-1-61234-814-8.

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James Buchanan
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Daniel Sturgeon
Succeeded by
James Cooper
Preceded by
William L. Dayton
Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee
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Jesse D. Bright
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Richard Brodhead
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: William Bigler, Edgar Cowan
Succeeded by
David Wilmot
Preceded by
Edgar Cowan
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Charles R. Buckalew, John Scott, William A. Wallace
Succeeded by
J. Donald Cameron
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John Sherman
Chair of the Senate Public Buildings Committee
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Oliver P. Morton
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Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
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Hannibal Hamlin
Political offices
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Joseph Holt
United States Secretary of War
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Edwin Stanton
Diplomatic posts
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Cassius Clay
United States Minister to Russia
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Cassius Clay
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