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1862 December 24: Secretary of State Charles Sumner

December 29, 2012

If you have seen the movie “Lincoln,” you will know one of the key players was Secretary of State Charles Sumner.  But he was not in President Abraham Lincoln’s first cabinet; his first secretary of state was William H. Seward.  Here we have several articles, all from the December 24, 1862, issue of The Prescott Journal, discussing whether or not Seward is out and Sumner is in.

— The news from Washington is startling—Secretary Seward has resigned—Charles Sumner has been tendered the portfolio of the State Department, and the indications are of a general reconstruction of the Cabinet.  Such are the reports, and if facts, we accept them as the earnests of a vigorous war policy, and the guarantees of a speedy suppression of the rebellion.—St. Paul Press.


Resignation of Secretary Seward.


NEW YORK, Dec. 20.

The Washington Star of yesterday evening says a caucus of Republican Senators was held on the 16th, and a resolution offered requsting [sic] the President to dispense with the services of Seward was discussed.  The result was sixteen in favor against thirteen.  On the 17th another cacus [sic] adopted a substitute recommending the President to partiaally [sic] remodel his Cabinet, which was unanimously agreed to.  The conservatives believed it would be regarded as a general injunction to the whole Cabinet to resign.  On being informed of the act the Secretary and also the Assistant Secretary of State,¹ sent in their resignations requesting their immediate acceptance.  The Post’s Washington correspondent says :  It is rumored this afternoon that the entire Cabinet will retire, leaving the President free to construct a new Cabinet.  This is probally [sic] incorrect, but it is not all improbably that Messers. Blair² and Bates [Edward Bates] have tendered their resignations.  One of the shrewdest politicians in Congress this morning expressed the hope that the President would accept the resignation of every man, civil or military, who shall offer it, with one solitary exception, and that man should be M. Chase [Salmon P. Chase].  He would not accept Chase’s resignation in any contigency [sic] for the sake of the nation.

A gentleman brings us the report that Charles Sumner has been tendered the port-folio of State.  Mr. Sumner is perhaps, of all our statesmen, the most conversant with foreign affairs.


The Star of to day says that Seward has resigned.



The President has acknowledged the reception of the resignations of the Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, and the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Chase, and has informed them after due deliberation he has come to the conclusion the acceptances of their resignations would be incompatible with the public welfare.  The President has therefore requested both to resume their respective functions.

They have resumed their places at heads of their respective departments.

1.  William H. Seward’s son, Frederick W. Seward, was the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of consular service, but he did not resign and served in this position until 1869.
2.  Montgomery Blair (1813-1883) was Lincoln’s Postmaster General. He was despised by the Radical Republicans in Congress, and by most of the rest of Lincoln’s cabinet. He was an opponent of emancipation. He will not resign until September 1864.

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