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New Biography Of Lincoln's Secretary Of War Reveals A Resilient Man, Haunted By Grief

NPR's Ron Elving reviews a massive new tome on the life of Edwin Stanton, certainly one of the most contentious and controversial figures in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet of rivals.
Source: Liam James Doyle

If you've heard of Edwin Stanton, it's probably because of what he did after Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865. Even as the Civil War president lay dying, Stanton went to work in an adjoining room — issuing orders to protect other leaders, directing generals' movements and informing the nation of Lincoln's death. He also began the search for the assassin and his co-conspirators.

"He did not announce that he was taking charge: he simply was in charge," writes historian Walter Stahr in Stanton: Lincoln's War Secretary.

Stanton's aggressive tactics that night and over the ensuing weeks have contributed to the dark side of his reputation. Some have seen him using the tragedy to empower himself, or even suspected him of involvement in the plot.

Why, such inquirers ask, were the president, vice president and secretary of state all targeted for attack but (apparently) not the war secretary, who

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