Skip to main content

Did Stanton Betray Lincoln?

March 2023
1min read

It is a murder mystery—or an essential part of one: the nagging questions about Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Why did he refuse the escort the President asked for when he called at the War Department the day of his assassination? The reason Stanton gave for not letting Maj. Thomas Eckert go with Lincoln was urgent business at the telegraph office, which the major supervised. When the President went into that office and repeated his request, Eckert, in virtual insubordination, gave the same excuse. The record proves that no dispatches were sent from the office that night; indeed, neither Stanton nor Eckert showed up there. In the event, the substitute bodyguard proved criminally neglectful.

After the tragedy Stanton went out of his way to tell a congressional committee, which was asking a different question, that Lincoln’s last visit to the department took place two days before the fatal night, and soon he contradicted himself, putting the time one day later. From Stanton also came a description of that final meeting: rejoicing in common over approaching victory; expressions of mutual affection and admiration. Nobody confirmed this touching encounter, though it was not described as occurring in private. It appears, too, that Stanton had dissuaded General Grant from accepting the President’s invitation to join the party at Ford’s Theatre. Why? What a distressing list of unanswered questions!

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "December 1990"

Authored by: Tom Carter


Authored by: Richard Brophy

Like any other popular art, jigsaw puzzles can tell us a lot about pieces of the past

Authored by: The Editors

The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron

Authored by: The Editors

The Story of the United States Portrayed on its Postage Stamps

Authored by: The Editors

We asked dozens of historians to play detective and tell us what case in all of American history they would most like to see cracked

For a good part of his life, the governor of New York has used history as a guide—and a solace

Authored by: Judith Dunford

Fewer than half of O. Henry’s short stories actually take place in New York, but we still see the city through his eyes

Authored by: Jeffrey W. Miller

In the early sixties it was going to revolutionize American education. By the early seventies it had confounded a generation of schoolchildren. Today it is virtually forgotten. But as we head toward another round of educational reforms, we should recall why it went wrong.

Authored by: Carmine Prioli

Giving the men who died aboard America’s first battleship a decent funeral took fourteen years, three-quarters of a million dollars, and some hair-raising engineering. But in the end, they did it right.

Featured Articles

Famous writers including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts turned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into our country’s first conservation project.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.

Roast pig, boiled rockfish, and apple pie were among the dishes George and Martha enjoyed during the holiday in 1797. Here are some actual recipes.

Born during Jim Crow, Belle da Costa Greene perfected the art of "passing" while working for one of the most powerful men in America.