American politician who was active in public life from approximately 1845 to 1877.
Served as Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln during the first months of the American Civil War. Relieved from this position in 1862 for reasons which are under debate.
Some historians believe that Lincoln ejected Cameron from the cabinet for disagreeing with the President regarding the arming of freed slaves. In this version of the historical account, Cameron refused to redact the following passage from his annual report to Lincoln, written in December, 1861:
It is already a grave question what shall be done with those slaves who were abandoned by their owners on the advance of our troops into southern territory, as at Beaufort district, in South Carolina. The number left within our control at that point is very considerable, and similar cases will probably occur. What shall be done with them? Can we afford to send them forward to their masters, to be by them armed against us, or used in producing supplies to sustain the rebellion? Their labor may be useful to us; withheld from the enemy it lessens his military resources, and withholding them has no tendency to induce the horrors of insurrection, even in the rebel communities. They constitute a military resource, and, being such, that they should not be turned over to the enemy is too plain to discuss. Why deprive him of supplies by a blockade, and voluntarily give him men to produce them?
The disposition to be made of the slaves of rebels, after the close of the war, can be safely left to the wisdom and patriotism of Congress. The Representatives of the people will unquestionably secure to the loyal slaveholders every right to which they are entitled under the Constitution of the country.
Lincoln refused to take such a position with regard to arming freed slaves against the Confederate States of America
, and so posted Cameron to a diplomatic position in Russia
where he would be less bothersome.
However, there are those that see Cameron's removal from the cabinet and posting in Russia as a result of scandalous corruption within the US Army, not of any principled stance concerning slavery on Cameron's part.
Freedmen and Southern Society Project
Cameron is attributed with the following famous quote by Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th Edition; ISBN 0-316-08277-5 (p. 422):
An honest politician is one who when he's bought stays bought.