The Great Winnebago Chief

Simon Cameron got his start by swindling Native Americans in Pennsylvania, earning him the nickname: “The Great Winnebago Chief.”

Cameron founded the Bank of Middletown and went into politics. His most famous quote: “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, stays bought.”

He lusted for the job of Secretary of the Treasury (to be close to the money no doubt), but settled for Secretary of War. Known as “the Czar” in his home state, he controlled many political patronage jobs, all of which provided kick-backs in one form or another.

Cameron brought one of the most talented lawyers in the country onto his staff, Edwin McMasters Stanton, who invented the temporary insanity defense to get a rich client off a murder charge, thus earning him the respect of rich people everywhere. Stanton convinced Cameron to publish a War Department edict seizing rebel property, including slaves. It was basically an emancipation proclamation and biggest forfeiture case in history rolled into one. Lincoln was furious about the edict and eventually fired Cameron for it, although Lincoln never learned Stanton had been the true instigator of the plan.

Lincoln asked fellow Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens about Cameron’s reputation. Stevens replied: “I do not think he would steal a red-hot stove.” After Cameron demanded a retraction, Stevens allegedly said: “I believe I said you would not steal a red-hot stove. I now take that back.”

With Cameron gone, Stanton was able to move into the top position at the War Department, and with war looming, his fortunes were about to explode as the War Department would soon be in charge of millions in government contracts.

Before being shipped to Russia as ambassador, Cameron advised Lincoln on how to become rich. Cameron was investing heavily in railroads knowing their stock would take off as soon as hostilities commenced. Railroad tycoons were going to control the future economy. Cameron suggested Lincoln give him $10,000 to invest so he could become independently wealthy too, but Lincoln declined the offer.

I believe Lincoln was murdered not because the South wanted revenge, but because after the war was over, Lincoln wanted to go easy on the South, but powerful business interests wanted to pillage and plunder. But the key man in the assassination plot had to be the notoriously conspiratorial Edwin Stanton.