tv Amiable Scoundrel CSPAN August 23, 2017 5:46am-6:20am EDT
>> testimonial. back when the earth was new and heaven was just a whisper, back when the names of things haven't had time to stick, back when the smallest breeze melted summer and autumn, when all the poplars quivered sweetly and rank-and-file, the world called and i answered. each glans ignited. i caught my breath and swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet how could i count my blessings when i didn't know their names? back when everything was still to come, walk it out everywhere. i gave my promise to the world and the world followed me here.
you are watching book tv on c-span2 in prime time, television for serious readers. tonight, a look back at some of our stops on our c-span city tour. >> this is the most talented and important political theater in american history that people have not heard of. he was without a doubt the most talented political machine builder, the most talented politician of his generation. people talk about the age of andrew jackson but in many ways we should at the age of simon cameron. this is a man whose political skills were undeniable and a man who built a political machine that lasted far beyond any of those constructed by his contemporaries. he was a man who mastered his moment and when he was born in 1979 the last year of george washington, he died in 1889 he
rose to the top of the first pennsylvania than america's political elite. i think one of the reasons that he is languished historically is because of this outsized reputation as for corruption. it goes something like this. the congressma congressman from pennsylvania well-known abolitionist was meeting with president lincoln in the first term and he happened to ask stevens what do you think about cameron and as the secretary of
the war in the stevens said i don't think that he would steal a red-hot stove and this is lincoln who loved a good joke particularly of simon cameron's expense. he repeated this joke during the tang cabinet meeting and he was aghast because the whole thing, the whole premise of the joke is that he is totally corrupt. so cameron ran into stevens shortly after the meeting and said why would you say something like that i demand a retraction so a few weeks later stevens is meeting with the president and before he gets up to leave he gets up and says the last time we met i said this events wouldn't steal a red-hot stove and i take that back. and of course that is just the light blinking even more. he is irredeemably corrupt and foremost historians that everything you need to know about cameron he wouldn't steal a red-hot stove or maybe you would. but when i think we began scratching away at this reputation, we find that there's a whole lothereis a whole lot ot
a wildfire and in many ways he had been i don't want to use the word victim but certainly victimized by an undeniably humorous story. the reputation for corruption goes back to the late 1830s when he was selected by president martin van buren to adjust the claims of the winnebago native americans under the terms of the treaty the united states signed with the winnebagos and this year it wasn't unusual for them to sign treaties with native americans. typically what would happen is the treaty would mandate, they would pay and then often times the united states would be responsible for the tribe staff. this was the case with the winnebago treaty. typically what would happen if the federal government would send commissioners out to meet with the tribes to discuss who was actually eligible to receive money and try to figure out who the tribes actually owed money
to. cameron was sent out in 1839 and gets to wisconsin where he finds that the goal that was supposed to pay the claims haven't been forwarded by the local army officer so he is a crackerjack job educating the claims but without any goal he ends up paying the native americans and the traders with whom they had negotiated he pays them in the notes drawn in the bank of middletown that is in pennsylvania so to cameron this makes sense. he's got to know he can pay the native americans and is totally consistent with the terms of the treaty but through the political enemies in pennsylvania and washington this looks like a swindle, this looks like he is paying native americans into paper currency and he himself is going to be paid back in gold. and it's important to remember 1840s a presidential election year so as we are moving to 1839, the drumbeat against martin van buren, the sitting
president is getting louder and more vicious and by charring him as corrupt, they can tie him to the president and hopefully elect a weighed in 1840 and that is actually what happens. they charge him with being the great winnebago chief and this slander follows him throughout his political life and creates a narrative where he is hopelessly and irredeemably corrupt. he uses the government to make money. he is not above native americans and this becomes the dominant narrative about him so when his political enemy is charged with rivalry or corruption or it is the pre-existing narrative but if you investigate the individual cases, what you find is there's a lot of smoke but very little fire and most of that charge him with corruption do so for partisan reasons and the war department and both
investigate the so-called winnebago fraud and find that there is absolutely no no wrongdoing on his part. the first elected office is in 1845 when he assumes the senate seat vacated by his friend and political patron james buchanan. buchanan is going to the cabinet as secretary of state they decide to take over the political office but there is a really important step between the 1820s.
their influential throughout the state. party leaders etc. and what that does is make him politically prominent even though he doesn't hold elected office until the 1840s. by the time we get to delete 20s, cameron is a well-known and well-respected political operative. he is james carville in the 19th century so when he decides to replace james buchanan in the senate in 1845, he's able to do that because he has almost 20 years of bridge building throughout this state. and i really want to emphasize the importance of the state's political power to the national political identity. most of the most important political figures of this area of sand to national political office because they control or have at their disposal a very
powerful base of people in their states. and i think that is reflected in his political career. it's important to remember that to become a senator, you don't face the voters, you get elected by the state legislature with the idea that you are going to represent the state's interest so in order to get elected. cameron did that through the cultivation of the media and the bank of middletown where again, he provided low-cost or no-cost credit to influential political leaders and legislators. so, cameron rises to lincoln's radar by being the man who by 1860 is in control more or less of consulting as republican party. it's important to point out that cameron started out politically as a democrat. kenya runs for the senate in
1845 as a democrat, that as we get into the 1850s increasingly the issue of slavery is tearing the political parties apart. and one of the key things to understand about the political career is that he always sees himself as a pennsylvanian first and democrat or republican second. he believes that he is in the senate to protect pennsylvania's industrial interest and to advocate for pennsylvania's political rights and political interest and he does that consistently throughout his career. his frequent but he migrates from the know nothing party to the democratic party and republican party as a total lack of principle but in reality, cameron has a very well-developed sense of principle but he's operating under. he is a pennsylvanian first and when he sees a party as protecting those interests and being in favor of those
but when cameron goes to the republican national convention in 1860, they are in a strong position not so much to get the nomination, but to ensure whoever gets the nomination was there time and in fact they reach out to the people and say we need your help securing the nomination and we get the nomination and win the election and promised you a cabinet seat. they throw their support behind lincoln, lincoln gets the nomination and cameron works very aggressively to win pennsylvania or abraham lincoln which he succeeds in doing so beginning in november 1860, cameron expects he will be rewarded with a seat in the cabinet. lincoln ends up trying to renege
on that bargain as new yorkers who were irritated by the place in the cabinet conspired to work against cameron but ultimately, he succeeds and he's taken into the cabinet where he has a very rocky tenure for about ten months. as i understand the negotiations in chicago, it is politically vague about which to seek he would be offered. he seems to prefer being the secretary of treasury basesecren the idea that he was a businessman with years of experience building canals and the banking industry and the newspaper industry and that would be very valuable as an experience to the secretary of treasury. when cameron and lincoln get on that pass and decide which is the he's going to get, the only seat is lef that is left is the secretary of war and in fact he
says you should pick someone was for the secretary of war. pick someone that wants to make a reputation in this office. and lincoln says no, i want you for this office. initially cameron declined but the day before the inauguration he says okay i will take secretary of war. historians pointed to this saying he didn't believe there was a war coming. if you look at the man he ends up taking into the cabinet initially, he has a fairly compete fairly experienced when it comes to the military. he had been a visitor to west point which essentially meant he was on the board of directors and oversaw military education and he served briefly as the pennsylvania adjunct general which meant he oversaw the state militia. so he does have some military
experience and is advocating the fact there is a war coming into the south is going to resist and perhaps he understood that cameron was somewhat farsighted as to the challenges that lincoln would face a. that they must have trusted the military judgment. they are easy to get along with and typically these are used to describe lincoln but she's out of character in his dealings with cameron. he's difficult and likes
watching cameron's worm and we see this in two instances. first up is the pure code between the election in november 1860 and the inauguration of 61. this has to do with the fact link and is pressured by those in virginia and also to a lesser extent people in new york that were opposed to the lincoln taking people into the cabinet. they are dealing with this very important politician and it is a shocking departure from the normal behavior.
there's no doubthere is no douby fired him from the cabinet. he sends cameron in a letter in january of 1861 that says i'm accepting the letter and i'm going to gratify you by leaving the cabinet and pursuing a diplomatic post. the problem is he hadn't resigned. even the letter was obnoxious and rude. he very infrequently so i two i ainsert you have to write anothr
letter this is going to kill his political career so he sent a letter back allowing him to submit a letter of resignation. it is another instancthere's ane house of representatives in 1862. it's mostly covering the administration and coming to the defense. they would take an insult to the face and turn it around to a joke with malice toward none.
this becomes thso this becomes t during the early part of the w war. the arm army had only about 16,0 men and most of them are out west. blink anlincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers. it's going to require explosive growth overnight. you have a country that is designed to equip, clothes and train the troops. it's being asked to do all of that times five so the unprecedented challenge is administratively one of the predecessors had ever seen. in addition he is coming against a pervasive american fear of the standing armies.
americans have an anti-military tradition they want to keep the army small because if they don't do that army might be used to strip away their rights. cameron is now trying to grow the army by a factor of five overnight. he's got this bureaucracy at the war department that was divided into these bureaus overseen by the ancient generals most of whom are not talking to each other and the staff resigns to join the confederacy and the professional army does the same thing so here we are facing these challenges to grow the army by a factor of five coming into clothes, feed, equip those men and it's just shocking then you add the fact he's not an administrator, he's a politician and the skills that got him and
are not the same skills that will help them succeed. that being said i want to point out historians have been unfair. when you look at the scope of the challenges and his total lack of preparation, he dealt with them about as well as anyone would have expected. could it have been substantially worse, absolutely. had he been secretary of war and any other era i think that he would have performed admirably in that job. the book book's most surprising revelation and the reason behind the dismissal from the cabinet historians have repeated the lie that cameron was dismissed from the cabinet due to issues of corruption and they point to a story from the fall of 1861 where a bunch of new york bond traders come to the white house
and say we are not going to sell any more federal government bonds unless you dismiss him from the cabinet because of corruption. and lincoln is alleged to have said to bring me one proven instance of corruption and simon cameron is out of the cabinet. so the bond salesman of course were never able to do that and so lincoln doesn't fire cameron in the autumn of 1861. and you know, historians point to this story as widespread as proof of simon cameron corruption but also be pointed f it as but a great guy and lincoln was here he was defending simon cameron. the reality is far less rosy than the scenario would say. lincoln turned to the secretary has the bond salesman and says if i gave in to them the next thing with the people coming in and i would have no cabinet left so he defends cameron at least in part as a way of ensuring the integrity of his cabinet.
ultimately, linking does fire cameron but again it has nothing to do with corruption and everything to do with the issue of slavery and here we need to take a step back and talk a little bit about the attitude towards the issue of slavery and his attitudes towards race. cameron is a conservative on the issue of slavery by which i mean he didn't like slavery that he didn't believe the government have the power to interfere where it already existed. he believed slavery was sanctioned by the constitution. one of the things that you could hit him in the late 1850s when he's seen as slave states attack on northern states rights it's
the right to not be slave states. as a part of the compromise in 1850 the federal government had instituted a more aggressive fugitive slave law which mandated among other things the state officials even in the free states were required to help recapture escaped slaves so if onone escaped from maryland ando to pennsylvania, pennsylvania state officials were required to spend money to try to recapture the slave and he sees this as hideous. he says i respect south carolina's constitutional right to be a slave state so why isn't south carolina respecting and loving this state right to be a free state. but again this is all predicated on the idea that states have a constitutional right to decide whether or not they want to be free states were they want to be slave states. but the biggest statement on his attitude about race comes from his consistent advocacy of the
army should enlist african americans. and he begins making that point early in the war as early as april of 1861 he says to the president this is going to be a long drawn out war and it's going to require us to make it not only on the confederate armies but also the confederate infrastructure if there is no bigger or more important infrastructure than slavery. let's enlist the escaped slaves coming in by the dozens across the lines, let's augment our power, drain and cover from the south and let's win this war and lincoln says we can't do that because if we do, slave states who don't leave the unio union e so-called border states will immediately go over to the confederacy. throughout the summer, as you know, the war goes very poorly for the union, cameron begins making the point even more aggressively and says let's enlist african americans, and it's clear that drumbeat is
falling on deaf ears. so cameron begins taking his criticism public. throughout the autumn of 1861, he is seen in the company of army officers and politicians that are advocating these thin things. it is not until he publicly comes out in support of enlisting african-americans that lincoln decides he has to go into the heavens in early december shortly before president clinton submits the first annual report to congress he requests reports from the various cabinet parties. he submits his report to the board department and includes the paragraph for the enlistment of african-americans but to force his hand he sends the
draft to the press before giving it to the president. if you get to the president that is aghast at this recommendation hearing that it's going to cost him support in the border states and he orders the postmaster general to try to get all of the copies of the report back. blair isn't able to do that, the report ends up in the newspaper along with the amended report that he forced hi his camera ino issue and now the story is not only the secretary of war advocating the enlistment of african-americans, it is now president lincoln tries to squelch the recommendation by the cabinet officials and it really exposes the fault lines in lincoln's administration. and from that moment, cameron's time in the cabinet is limited. he's marginalized throughout the summer of 1861 and in january of 1862 lincoln moved him out of the cabinet ceremoniously so cameron returns to the senate in 1867 and begins to serve the
pickup is third in the longest stay from december of pennsylvania he's in the senate from 1867 to 1877 where he is a leading voice for pennsylvania centrist but also for some very progressive political positions including the enfranchisement of african-americans. he becomes a very aggressive voice for black rights in the united states believing that the war does not end at these questions and got grant elected in 1868 has a responsibility to continue the work done by the lincoln administration to redeem the states and to remove any sort of political disabilities that southern blacks are having. and in fact when the state level advocates. vigorously to amend pennsylvania's state constitution, which has been amended in the 1830s to bar african-americans from voting.
so again, we see these incredibly progressive stances on the issues of race. even after he retires in 1877 he lives another 12 years. he and hiand his advice and exps much sought after by democratic presidential candidates, republican presidential candidates, local political leaders in harrisburg, state political leaders comey is referred to. from the new york senator to the victor the spoils and the idea was political leaders sought offense and reworded their
political supporters for government jobs, patronage, the contracts, etc.. cameron is a young man when that system is just coming in to existence. he retired in the late 1870s in large part because of that spoils system coming to a close. increasingly the republican party and parts of the democratic party are committing themselves to civil service reform. the idea that we shouldn't hire people because they are cronies but we should hire people because they are competent and the jobs shouldn't depend on a republican being president or democrats being president. and in a lot of ways, we live in a post-civil service area when you get government jobs or civil service jobs.
cameron could see that in the 1870s and he was a man out of step where the politics was increasingly going. they built a political machine based on the attachment cemented by his access to state and federal patronage and it was clear that system was under assault for you begin to see an erosion of the political machines. he controls pennsylvania for nearly 50 years after his death. one of the reasons i wrote the
book is to remind people that there is more than just a story. this was a human being with nuance and ideas and he was sent this bill in that he was a person and his career has a lot to teach us about the way politics worked in the 1820s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. >> it was built in only 17 none of this action in world war ii by one week. turned into a museum in 2004 it attracts over 1 million tourists annually. up next the continue the feature on the literary life as we talk