tv Amiable Scoundrel CSPAN January 21, 2017 12:00pm-12:34pm EST
welcome to harrisburg on book tv. it has a population of just under 50,000. named to the the state capital 1512. it began as a small farming village and became the center of industry and manufacturing until his decline in the 1970s. today is largest economic drivers are state and federal government with the help of our cable partners for the next 90 minutes will learn about the history and the literary scene we begin our
special feature with a look at simon cameron. >> simon came in as the most talented political leader in american history that people haven't 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 we should talk about 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. he was a man mastered his moment. he was born in 1799. he died in 1889 and during that 90 year timeframe he
really rose to the top of first pennsylvania and then america's lead. it's unfortunate that his name has become shorthand for corruption and sharp dealing because in reality history has so much to tell us about american politics one of the reasons the outside. there is a great story that every student of the american civil war has heard. a wall no abolitionist was meeting with president lincoln early in the first term in the lincoln happen to ask him what he think about cameron as secretary of war. and he said i don't think he would feel that.
loved a good joke particularly at simon cameron's expense. the whole thing is that he is totally corrupt he ran into stevens shortly after the meeting and said why would you say something like that. a few weeks later stevens is made with the president and he happens to say the last time we met i take that back. of course that ignites him even more. cameron is corrupt. everything you need to know about simon cameron. or maybe he would. but when i think we begin to scratch in the way of that reputation we find a there's a whole lot of smoke and a whole lot of fire. certainly victimized by an
undeniably humorous story. the corruption goes back to the late 1830s he was selected by president martin van buren to adjust the claims under the terms of the treaty. it wasn't unusual for them to sign treaties and what would happen was the treaty would mandate the native americans in gold and oftentimes the united states would be responsible for the tribe's death. and that was the case with the winnebago treaty. the federal government would send commissioners out to meet with the tribes discussed who was actually eligible to receive money cameron was sent out in 1839 he gets there where he finds that the goal
that was supposed to put pay has not been forwarded by the local army officer. the traders with whom they have negotiated he pays them in notes. he can pay the native americans and is totally consistent with the terms of the treaty. but to his political enemies in pennsylvania and in washington this looks like a swindle. it looks like he is pain native americans and he himself is good to be paid back in gold. it's important to remember that it's a presidential election year. is removing through. against martin van buren is getting louder and more vicious. they can tie cameron to the
president and hopefully elect awake they this slander follows cameron through his clinical life. hopefully in irredeemably corrupt. he uses the government to make money he's not above fleecing or defenseless native americans. when his political enemies charge him or charge him with spoils and ship if it's that pre-existing narrative. but if you investigate the individual cases what you find is there is a lot of smoke but very little fire. most of the people who charged cameron with corruption do so for partisan reasons and the war department in the house both investigate there's
absolutely no wrong doing on cameron's part. it is in 1845. when he assumes the pennsylvania senate seat vacated by his friends and political patrons there going in as secretary of state and he decides to take over his friends political office. it's a really important step in between the 1820s and cameron becoming senator. that is the founding bank. it provides a really effective way of building his political prestige. he can extend to politically
influential people throughout the state. politicians, party leaders et cetera. and what that does is make him politically prominent even though he doesn't hold elective office by the time we get to the late 1820s cameron is a well-known and well-respected partisan political operative. he's james carville in the 19th century. and 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 the state. and i really want to emphasize the importance of state political power to national political identity. most of the important political figures of this area ascend to national political office because they control where they have at their disposal a very powerful base of people in their state. and i think that that is reflected in a political
career. you don't face the voters you get elected by the state legislature that you're going to represent the state's interest. so in order to get elected you need the support of the state legislature prominent party officials and cameron did that. he did that through his cultivation of the media and he did that through the bank of middletown. he provided a low cost or no cost credit to him for lunch peoples -- to him for winchell people by 1860 is in control more or less of pennsylvania's republican party. it's important to point out that he have started out as a democrat. he rents for the senate in 1845 but as we get into the 1850s increasing the issue of
slavery is tearing the parties apart. he always sees himself as a pennsylvanian first and a democrat or republican second. he's in the senate to protect pennsylvania's industrial interest and to advocate the political rights in political interest and he does that consistently throughout his career. for historians to pointed to the fact that he migrates from the democratic party to the republican party as evidence of his total lack of principle. in reality he has a very well developed sense of principle that he's operating on. he is a pennsylvanian first when he sees the parties as protecting those he is willing to work with them. but when he sees it operating against those principles he opposes them.
during the first four years he is a democrat. but he is one of the biggest pains in the neck to the democratic president he defeats his nominees for various political offices. one of the signature initiatives. in a lot of ways he has identified as a democrat but it would be more accurate to call him a pennsylvanian rather than a democrat and he would make that argument if he was here. when he is our political office he uses his wealth and political connections to really reinforce his political machine. a group of people who were willing to support him because of the personal attachment to him. they depend on his access to
federal and state for their own livelihood. they are committed to voting for him for both principal and pragmatic reasons. and by the time we get to the 1850s we've seen the collapse and its replacement by the republican party. he has partisan political experience probably the most talented political operative at least in the state of pennsylvania if not nationwide. and he controls pennsylvania's republican party. and the person that controls that is in a really strong position. because pennsylvania has a second highest number second-highest number of electoral votes in the united states. so to be the guy that controls the state puts you at a really enviable position. you might not become president but you will certainly have a very large voice and who is going to become president. so when cameron goes to the
the republican national convention in 1860 they are in a really strong position. not so much to get there guy the nomination but to ensure whoever gets the nomination that they are there guy big time. the fact is when they reach out to cameron's people and say we need your help securing the nomination if we get the nomination and we went the election we promised you a cabinet seat. they throw their candidate support behind lincoln lincoln gets the nomination and then they work very aggressively to win pennsylvania for abraham lincoln. and so beginning in november 1860 he expects he will be rewarded with a seat in lincoln's cabinet. because the political enemies here in pennsylvania as well as new yorkers who are
irritated by a pennsylvanian place in the cabinet conspired to work against cameron ultimately he succeeds and he is taken into lincoln's cabinet. as i understand the negotiations in chicago it's relatively vague about which cabinet seat they seem to prefer secretary of treasury based on the idea that he was a businessman with years of experience building canals in the banking industry in the newspaper industry. that would be very valuable experience as secretary of the treasury. when they ultimately get down to the brass tacks decide there's only seat that's really left the secretary of war.
someone that wants to make reputation in this office. i will take secretary of war. they had pointed to this as proof that they did not believe there was a work coming. why would they put this in the secretary of war. cameron actually has a fairly fairly experienced when it comes to the military. he had been a visitor to west point which meant he was on the board of directors. he oversaw military education at west point and he served briefly at the state in general which meant he oversaw the state militia. so meager as it was cameron does have some military experience and he is advocating the fact that there is a war coming.
and perhaps he understood that cameron was somewhat farsighted as to the challenges that lincoln would face. he ask them to go to washington and meet with leaders in the army to accept preparation for the integration in for potential military conflict. they must have trusted the military judgment. then i have the best relationship. and typically these are words used to describe it. it's out of character in his dealings with cameron. he's difficult he is irrational. and we see this in two instances the first is that
timeframe between the election and the integration in march 1861. where he does everything in his power to renege on the agreement to take them into the cabinet. this has to do with the fact that he is pressured by the political opponents here in pennsylvania and also to a lesser extent they are opposed to lincoln taking a pennsylvanian into his cabinet. and he deals with them very abruptly. he is actually quite rude in dealing with this very important politician. it is a really shocking departure. from the normal behavior when dealing with clinical problems. the end characteristic relationship is them dealing with firing him.
he does so in a really aggressive and brusque way. they send them a letter in january 1861 with the designation. cameron had not resigned. lincoln was excepting a resignation before he have submitted it. even a lincolns lover -- letter was brusque. went to lincoln and said if you write him another letter. this is just too were rude into obnoxious. and so they write a far more genial letter and asking them
to actually submit it. there is also another incident where they are censured with the house of representatives. they come to cameron's defense. it's a very tepid defense. mostly about covering his administration and less about actually coming to cameron's defense. this is a man who would take an insult to the face and would turn around and turn it into a joke. they say in the second inaugural address and it came it cameron becomes the focal point of a lot of that. it's really astonishing when we stand back and look at the american army on the eve of
the american civil war. they have only about 16,000 men in it. most of them are out west. when lincoln following the firing calls for 75,000 volunteers. that is a fivefold expansion. it's going to require explosive growth overnight. you have give a country that is designed to equip, feed it is now been asked to do all of that times five. they face it really unprecedented challenges administratively that none of his predecessors have ever seen. he is cutting against a persuasive american fear of standing armies. they have an anti- military tradition. they want to keep it small.
cameron is now he has this creaky bureaucracy that is divided into these eight bureaus that are overseen by these ancient generals most of whom are not talking to one another. most of the staff resign. and most of the leading army officers does the same thing. here you are simon cameron facing this unprecedented challenges needed to grow the army and needing it yesterday. it is just shocking. and then you ask about the fact that cameron is not an administrator. he has a politician. in the skills that got him into the position are not the skills that i can help them succeed. i think historians had been unfair.
when you look at the scope of the challenges he faced i think when you look at his total lack of preparation for them he actually dealt with them about as well as anyone could have expected. was he the world's greatest secretary of war. could it had been substantially worth it. have he been secretary of war in any other era i think he would've performed admirably in that. i think the most surprising is the reason behind the dismissal. cameron was dismissed from the cabinet. and they point to a story from the fall of 1861. where a bunch of bound traders say not to sell any more federal bonds.
bring me one proven instance and he's out of the cabinet. and these are never able to do that. so lincoln doesn't fire cameron in the autumn of 1861. historians point to the story as a widespread proof of his corruption but also they point to it as what a great guy lincoln was. the reality is far less rosy than that scenario. they turned to the secretary and say if i gave it to them the next thing would be people coming for that. soon i will have no cabinet left. he defense and at least in part of your way. ultimately they do fire cameron. it has nothing to do with corruption.
and here we need to take a step back and talk a little bit about the attitude towards the issue of slavery. conservative on the issue of slavery. by which i mean he didn't like slavery but he didn't believe the federal government have the power to interfere where it already existed. it was sanctioned by the constitution. that was regrettable. there was nothing pennsylvania could do. if pennsylvania decided it did not want to be a slave state its right to not have slavery should be protected. one of the things that really irritates him his what he sees as a slave attack on the northern states right to not be slave states. as part of the compromise of 1850 it had instituted a more
aggressive fugitive save -- slave law the city officials even in free states were required to help recapture escaped slaves. if they got to pennsylvania the city officials were required to spend tax money to try to recapture that he said i respect south carolina's right. again this is all predicated on the idea that states have a constitutional right to decide whether they want to be free states or whether they want to be on the attitudes about race come from his consistent advocacy that they should enlist african-americans. he begins making that point.
this is can be a long drawn out war. only on the confederate armies but also the infrastructure and there is no bigger or more important infrastructure than slavery. they are coming by the dozens across our lines lets drain manpower from the south and let's win this war. if we do the slave states that don't leave the union will immediately go over to the confederacy. throughout the summer as it goes very portably. they begin making this point even more aggressively. and it is clear that drumbeat is falling on deaf ears. they begin taking his
criticism public. he is seen in the country -- company of army officers and in fact he's actually at the speech standing next to a politician who argues for this. he doesn't say anything but his very presence there speaks volumes about where his heart is on the issue. it is not until he publicly comes out in support of and listing african-americans that they decide he has to go. he requested support. his first support. in order to force the puck president's hand he sends that up to the press before giving it to the president.
fearing that it's gonna cost him support in the border states there try to get all of the copies of the report back. and now the story is not only secretary for advocates the enlistment is now president lincoln tries to squelch recommendation by his cabinet official. it really exposes the faultlines in the administration. from that moment his time in the cabinet is limited. he is marginalized and in january 1862 he puts him out of the cabinet unceremoniously. so he returns to the senate in 1867 and begins his third longest stint he's in the senate.
he is a leading voice and also for some political positions. he becomes a very aggressive voice for black rights in the united states believing that that the war does and these questions have a responsibility to continue the work. to redeem the state and to remove any sort of political disabilities that southern blacks are having. the advocate to amend the state constitution to bar african americans from voting. you see these incredibly progressive stances on issues
of race. but he has a long career after the war. he lives another 12 years his advice is much sought after by democratic presidential candidates. and local political leaders state political leaders he is referred to as a sage. he is a widely regarded as one of the grand old men of american politics. his political career starts really at the beginning of the political era. and that was driven by the spoils system the idea was political leaders sought office and rewarded their supporters with the spoils of that office.
cameron is a young man when that system is just coming into existence he retires in the late 1870s in large part because the era of that spoils system is coming to a close. increasingly parts of the party are committing themselves to civil service reform. the idea that we shouldn't hire people because they are cronies we should hire them because they're competent and their job should not depend on republican being president or a democrat being president. in a lot of ways we live in a post- civil service era where you get government jobs and they are civil service jobs. if you're qualified for the job regardless of your political identity you should be hired. it doesn't always work out that way.
there much left cameron could see that an increasingly he was a man out of step where politics was increasingly going. he built a political machine based on attachment to him cemented by his access to state and federal patron it. it was clear that system was under assault. you begin to see an erosion of the clinical machines. he built the most successful state political machine in our history. it controls pennsylvania into the 1930s. he controls pennsylvania for nearly 50 years after his death. one of the reasons i wrote the book was to remind people that there's more to cameron than just that famous story.
this is a human being with nuance in ideas he wasn't this villain is a person and his career has a lot to teach us about the way in which politics work book tvs exploration cooper ringer talks with his book slavery in the underground railroad. >> i've always been interested in local history with the involvement of slavery and this area pennsylvania. we think it's it as a southard institution. i found