Lincoln’s initial choice to lead his War Department was Senator Simon Cameron, described as “the Pennsylvania opportunist, and successively Democrat and Know Nothing before affiliating with the Republicans.” Lincoln was under intense pressure from Pennsylvania Republicans to appoint Cameron to the cabinet, though the latter’s troubled past warned against it. In 1838, Cameron was appointed to settle claims of the Winnebago tribe in Wisconsin and “besides other irregularities Cameron had given to the red men depreciated notes on his own bank – all of which brought against him the first of many charges of dishonorable dealing and earned for him the derisive sobriquet of the “Great Winnebago Chief.” Indeed, “Cameron” and “corruption” became synonymous terms.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Lincoln’s War Department
“The most flagrant malfeasance was in the War rather than Navy Department, for the War office had at its disposal many fat army contracts. Conditions in this department were made even worse by the fact that the code of political ethics of Secretary of War Simon Cameron made it impossible for him to play the role of crusader in eliminating sharp practices.
Indeed, his handling of the financial affairs of the department were scandalous in the extreme. The most glaring favoritism was shown. Some manufacturers could get contracts while others could not. Middlemen abounded and easily obtained lavish contracts, which they sold to manufacturers at high profit.
One gun manufacturer endeavored in vain to secure business from the War Department, but got orders for 200,000 guns from middlemen who, though unable to manufacture the guns, knew how to get contracts. Many contracts went to subcontractors.
Either through criminal negligence or criminal collusion on its part, the War Department under Cameron permitted and even encouraged fraud of the grossest character. Moreover, contractors frequently besieged Republican leaders with appeals to intercede for them with Cameron in the award of contracts.
Cameron conducted the War Department as if it were a political club house; he used contracts freely to pay off old political debts and to shower additional favors upon his henchmen.
Representative Henry L. Dawes, of Massachusetts . . . declared that Cameron used fat contracts to win political support at meetings “where the hatchet of political animosity was buried in the grave of public confidence and the national credit was crucified between malefactors.”
(Lincoln and the Patronage, Harry J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Peter Smith, 1964, excerpts pp. 147-148; 150)