Edwin Stanton is remembered today for having served as Lincoln’s Secretary of War and for having been dismissed from that post by Andrew Johnson in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Few realize that he was also nominated to the Supreme Court and confirmed as an associate justice. I sure didn’t. It took me a moment to process this message when I first saw it:
Lincoln had actually considered Stanton as one of many candidates to replace Chief Justice Taney in 1864. Grant didn’t even want to nominate Stanton. He had another Supreme Court nomination pending, that of Ebenezer Hoar (whose nomination I was searching for when I found Stanton’s). Grant really wanted Hoar confirmed, and the Senate really wanted Stanton nominated. Grant envisioned the Stanton choice as part one of an implicit tit-for-tat agreement. As you can see, he sent Stanton’s name to the Senate on December 20, 1869. The Senate confirmed Stanton by a 46-11 vote that same day. (It rejected the Hoar nomination a month and a half later, though. Jerks.)
But our bespectacled friend didn’t get the chance to serve. He died of a coronary thrombosis four days after he was confirmed. That someone so closely associated with the military reconstruction of the South was precluded from sitting on the Court at this time was a major loss to history, indeed. President Buchanan nominated Stanton to be Attorney General in late 1860 as a means of reaffirming his public commitment to the perpetuity of the Union. Stanton was a firm defender of those passages of Buchanan’s Fourth Annual Message denying the constitutionality of secession. Had he served, might he have authored Texas v. White? Joined Field, Chase, Bradley, and Swayne in the Slaughter-House Cases? The justice nominated in his stead, William Strong, joined Miller’s majority opinion, after all. Strong also authored Knox v. Lee; would Stanton have seen things differently and given the closely decided Legal Tender Cases an altogether different legacy? Perhaps he’d have served on the Electoral Commission of 1877, having to choose between a Democrat and a Republican willing to compromise Reconstruction into oblivion.
A bit eerie seeing 12/20/1869 on the nomination and 12/24/1869 on the tombstone, is it not?
And here’s an absolutely outrageous “obituary” that appeared in a Southern newspaper (no idea which one) shortly after Stanton’s death. I found it among the papers of the House Select Committee on Reconstruction.
A BAD man has gone to his long account. A villain has shuffled off this mortal coil. A despot has kicked the bucket. There was great rejoicing in Pandemonium yesterday. . . . The most exquisite tortures served STANTON enjoyment. The tyranny of TIBERIUS was forgotten in his enormities. He reveled for several years in tormenting all over whom he had power . . . he died, and a little soul steeped in sin went to the devil.