Simon Cameron
Smn Cameron-SecofWar.jpg
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1867 – March 12, 1877
Preceded byEdgar Cowan
Succeeded byJ. Donald Cameron
In office
March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1861
Preceded byRichard Brodhead
Succeeded byDavid Wilmot
In office
March 13, 1845 – March 3, 1849
Preceded byJames Buchanan
Succeeded byJames Cooper
United States Minister to Russia
In office
June 25, 1862 – September 18, 1862
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Preceded byCassius Clay
Succeeded byCassius Clay
26th United States Secretary of War
In office
March 5, 1861 – January 14, 1862
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Preceded byJoseph Holt
Succeeded byEdwin Stanton
Personal details
Born(1799-03-08)March 8, 1799
Maytown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 26, 1889(1889-06-26) (aged 90)
Maytown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (before 1849)
American (1849–1856)
Republican (1856–1877)
SpouseMargaret Brua

Simon Cameron (March 8, 1799 – June 26, 1889)[1] was an American businessman and politician. He represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate and served as United States Secretary of War under President Abraham Lincoln at the start of the American Civil War.

A native of Maytown, Pennsylvania, Cameron made a fortune in railways, canals, and banking.[2] He was elected to the United States Senate as a member of the Democratic Party in 1845. A persistent opponent of slavery, Cameron briefly joined the Know Nothing Party before switching to the Republican Party in 1856. He won election to another term in the Senate in 1857 and provided pivotal support to Abraham Lincoln at the 1860 Republican National Convention.

Lincoln appointed Cameron as his first Secretary of War. Cameron's wartime tenure was marked by allegations of corruption and lax management, and he was demoted to Ambassador to Russia in January 1862. Cameron made a political comeback after the Civil War, winning a third election to the Senate in 1867 and building the powerful Cameron machine that would dominate Pennsylvania politics for the next seventy years.

Early life

Simon Cameron was born in Maytown, Pennsylvania in 1799,[2] to Charles Cameron (d. January 16, 1814) and his wife Martha Pfoutz (d. abt. November 10, 1830).[3]

Cameron was the third of five sons, and had three younger sisters. One story claimed that Cameron was orphaned at nine, and later apprenticed to a printer, Andrew Kennedy, editor of the Northumberland Gazette before entering the field of journalism. If Cameron were apprenticed to Kennedy at age nine (c. 1808) for a then-standard period of seven years, he would have become a journeyman printer at age 16 (c. 1815).[3]

On October 17, 1822 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Cameron married Margaret Brua (1794-1875).[4]

Pre-political career

As a young man Cameron's prudent investments in publishing, banking, manufacturing and railroads provided both a financial bankroll and wide insights into key Pennsylvania industries.

Cameron was editor of the Bucks County Messenger in 1821. A year later, he moved to Washington, D.C., and studied political movements while working for the printing firm of Gales and Seaton. Cameron purchased and ran the Harrisburg Republican in 1824.

Portrait of Simon Cameron by Freeman Thorpe
Portrait of Simon Cameron by Freeman Thorpe

Cameron became the state printer of Pennsylvania from 1825 until 1827, and was state adjutant general in 1826. He constructed several rail lines and merged them into the Northern Central Railway, of which his son became Vice-President. Cameron founded the Bank of Middletown in 1832 and engaged in other business enterprises.

In 1838, he was appointed as commissioner to settle claims of the Winnebago Indians. This role would later haunt him politically, as he acquired the derisive nickname "Winnebago Chief" after allegedly cheating the tribe in a supply contract.[5]

Prewar politics

Cameron began his political career as a Democrat, supporting the campaigns of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.[6] When Democrats factionalized in 1845, Cameron created a coalition of insurgent protectionist Democrats,[7] anti-Catholics,[8] and mainline Whigs to win election to complete the term of James Buchanan.[2]

A persistent opponent of slavery, Cameron switched to the Know Nothing Party, before joining the Republican Party in 1856.[9] In 1857, Cameron was again elected to the US Senate.[2]

He waged a bitter dispute with governor-elect Andrew Curtin, but nevertheless in 1860 made himself the state's "favorite son" at the Republican national convention. He was not a serious contender for the presidency, but his control of the large Pennsylvania delegation gave him tremendous influence over the ultimate result.

At the 1860 Republican National Convention, Cameron controlled the votes of the Pennsylvania delegation. He delivered those votes to Abraham Lincoln for the nomination for President, which proved decisive. In return, Lincoln's managers promised a Cabinet post for Cameron.

Secretary of War

Simon Cameron
Simon Cameron

When Lincoln became President, he reluctantly appointed Cameron Secretary of War. Cameron arranged for Pennsylvania Railroad Vice President Thomas A. Scott as his Assistant Secretary of War.[10]

He broke with Lincoln and openly advocated emancipating the slaves and arming them for the army at a time when Lincoln was not ready to publicly take that position.[11] Cameron's tenure as Secretary of War was marked by allegations of corruption and lax management.

B&O Railroad scandal

On April 18, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded from the Union, the Virginia militia seized Harpers Ferry, an important work station on the rival Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's main westward line and a strategically important connection between Washington, D.C., and the American West.[citation needed]

Under threats of destruction or confiscation from the Governor of Virginia and mayor of nearby Charles Town, B&O president John Work Garrett asked Cameron to protect the B&O. Instead, Cameron warned Garrett that passage of any Confederate troops over his line would be treason. Cameron agreed to station troops to protect other rail lines, including the Pennsylvania, but flatly refused to help the B&O.[12] The B&O had to repair damaged line at its own expense and often received late or no payment for services rendered to the federal government.[13] The Harpers Ferry Bridge was blown up by order of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson on June 14.[citation needed]

On June 20, 1861, Jackson seized Martinsburg, another major B&O work station. Within weeks, Jackson began confiscating locomotives, train cars, and track for Confederate use in Virginia.[a][14] With B&O's main line into Washington inoperative for over six months, the North Central and Pennsylvania Railroads profited from overflow traffic.[citation needed]

These problems were partially alleviated by the summer 1861 Union victories at the Philippi and Rich Mountain, and vigorous army and company work crews which reduced the main line gap to 25 miles between Harpers Ferry and Back Creek.[15] However, with no help from Secretary Cameron, Garret appealed to others, including Reverdy Johnson, General George McClellan, and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.[citation needed]

The gap created in the B&O line dramatically affected civilian life as well. The B&O was forced to arrange to have its coal shipments brought to the capital via the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, but as winter began, coal prices soared in Washington. Western farmers could also not get their produce to markets because of the B&O gap. Finally, Samuel M. Felton, the President of PW&B Railroad notified newspapers of the War Department's discrimination against the B&O.[citation needed]

Cameron's corruption became so notorious that Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens, asked whether there was anything Cameron would not steal, said, "I don't think that he would steal a red hot stove."[2] Cameron demanded Stevens retract this insult, and so Stevens said to Lincoln, "I believe I told you he would not steal a red hot stove. I will now take that back."[citation needed]

In January 1862, President Lincoln removed Cameron in favor of Edwin M. Stanton, a Pennsylvania lawyer who had been serving as Cameron's legal advisor.[16] Furthermore, on January 31, Congress passed the Railways and Telegraph Act, creating the United States Military Railroad and allowing it to seize and operate any railroad or telegraph company's equipment, although Stanton and USMRR Superintendent Daniel McCallum would choose to allow civilian operations to continue.[17] In February 1862, Union forces recaptured Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry, and work crews continued replacing wrecked bridges and equipment, although bushwhacker raids continued.[18]

After Stanton's promotion, Cameron became Minister to Russia.[2]

Postwar political boss

Cameron as a senator favoring greenbacks, Harper's Weekly, June 6, 1874.
Cameron as a senator favoring greenbacks, Harper's Weekly, June 6, 1874.

Cameron made a political comeback after the Civil War, building a powerful state Republican machine that would dominate Pennsylvania politics for the next seventy years.[9] In 1866, Cameron was again elected to the Senate.

Cameron convinced his close friend Ulysses S. Grant to appoint his son, J. Donald Cameron, as Secretary of War in 1876.[9] Later that year, Cameron helped Rutherford B. Hayes win the Republican nomination for President.[9] Cameron resigned from the Senate in 1877, after ensuring that his son would succeed him.

In the 1880 United States presidential election, Cameron and his son, along with Roscoe Conkling and John A. Logan, led the conservative, anti-Blaine, Stalwart faction of the Republican Party in their advocacy of nominating Grant for a third, non-consecutive presidential term.[19] The Stalwarts were ultimately thwarted when the Blaine faction formed an alliance with the Half-Breeds to nominate James A. Garfield, who would triumph in the general election over Democratic opponent Winfield Scott Hancock.

Personal life

Cameron's brother James was Colonel of the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was killed in action at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.


Cameron retired to his farm at Donegal Springs Cameron Estate near Maytown, Pennsylvania where he died on June 26, 1889, at the age of 90.[2] He is buried in the Harrisburg Cemetery in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.[2]

Though Cameron also had intended for his son to succeed him as head of the state machine, Matthew Quay ultimately succeeded Cameron as the party boss.[20]


According to historian Hans L. Trefousse, Cameron ranks as one of the most successful political bosses in American history. Cameron was shrewd, wealthy, and devoted his talents in money to the goal of building a powerful Republican organization. He achieved recognition as the undisputed arbiter of Pennsylvania politics. His assets included business acumen, sincere devotion to the interests and needs of Pennsylvania, expertise on the tariff issue and the need for protection for Pennsylvania industry, and a skill at managing and organizing politicians and their organizations. He cleverly rewarded his friends, punished his enemies, and maintain good relations with his Democratic counterparts. His reputation as an unscrupulous grafter was exaggerated by his enemies; he was in politics for power, not profit.[21]

Biographer Paul Kahan says Cameron was very good as a “back-slapping, glad-handing politician,” who could manipulate congressmen. But he was too disorganized, and inattentive to the extremely complex duties of the largest and most important federal department. He paid too much attention to patronage and then not enough to strategy.[22]

Cameron County, Pennsylvania, and Cameron Parish, Louisiana, are named in his honor, as are:


  1. ^ Fourteen locomotives and 83 rail cars were dismantled and sent south by Jackson's troops at Martinsburg, and another 42 locomotives and 386 cars were damaged or destroyed. The B&O water station and machine shops were also destroyed, and 102 miles of telegraph wire was removed before federal control was restored in March 1862.


  1. ^ Baker, Jean (1999). "Cameron, Simon". American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0400195. (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Cameron, Fritchie are luminaries of era". Intelligencer Journal. February 7, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  3. ^ a b [1] Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Mennonite Vital Records, 1750-2014 for Charles Cameron, accessed February 2018.
  4. ^ Marriage of Simon Cameron and Margareth Brua; Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records; Reel: 691, via paid subscription site accessed February 2018.
  5. ^ McPherson, James M. (1988). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-503863-7. p. 260
  6. ^ "Simon Cameron". Tulane. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  7. ^ Simon Cameron. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  8. ^ Park, David. Cameron, Simon. House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d "Simon Cameron Historical Marker". Explore PA WITF. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  10. ^ Daniel Carroll Toomey, The War Came by Train: the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad during the Civil War (Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum 2013) p. 61 ISBN 978-1-886248-01-4
  11. ^ Kahan, Amiable Scoundrel pp 192-194
  12. ^ Toomey pp. 41, 61-62, 83-84
  13. ^ Toomey pp. 82-83
  14. ^ Toomey pp. 108-110
  15. ^ Toomey pp. 82-84
  16. ^ Toomey pp. 62-63
  17. ^ Toomey pp. 63, 181
  18. ^ Toomey pp. 108-109
  19. ^ Banks, Ronald F. (June 1958). The Senatorial Career of William P. Frye, p. 5–6. The University of Maine. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  20. ^ Blair, William Alan (April 1989). "A Practical Politician: The Boss Tactics of William Stanley Quay". Pennsylvania History. 56 (2): 78–89.
  21. ^ Hans L. Trefousse, "Cameron, Simon" in John A. Garraty, Encyclopedia of American Biography (1974), pp 165-167
  22. ^ Paul Kahan, Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War (2016) p167.

Further reading

U.S. Senate Preceded byJames Buchanan U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania 1845–1849 Served alongside: Daniel Sturgeon Succeeded byJames Cooper Preceded byWilliam L. Dayton Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee 1845–1846 Succeeded byJesse D. Bright Preceded byRichard Brodhead U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania 1857–1861 Served alongside: William Bigler, Edgar Cowan Succeeded byDavid Wilmot Preceded byEdgar Cowan U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania 1867–1877 Served alongside: Charles R. Buckalew, John Scott, William A. Wallace Succeeded byJ. Donald Cameron Preceded byJohn Sherman Chair of the Senate Public Buildings Committee 1867–1871 Succeeded byOliver P. Morton Preceded byCharles Sumner Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 1871–1877 Succeeded byHannibal Hamlin Political offices Preceded byJoseph Holt United States Secretary of War 1861–1862 Succeeded byEdwin Stanton Diplomatic posts Preceded byCassius Clay United States Minister to Russia 1862 Succeeded byCassius Clay Honorary titles Preceded byJoseph Cilley Oldest living U.S. senator 1887–1889 Succeeded byDavid Meriwether Preceded byHenry Foster Most senior living U.S. senatorSitting or former 1889 Succeeded byAlpheus FelchJames W. Bradbury