Facial Hair Friday—Edward Bates

Edward Bates, Attorney General in the Lincoln administration. (ARC 528314; 111-B-4168)
Edward Bates, Attorney General in the Lincoln administration. (ARC 528314; 111-B-4168)

Edward Bates was living quietly and comfortably in 1860. He had been out of public life for two decades but now was being courted by backers for the highest office in the land. The new Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States was wide open, and a number of contenders were vying for the prize.

Those who urged Bates to put his hat in the ring considered his standing as an elder statesman of Missouri (he’d arrived in St. Louis in 1814 and been a delegate to the state constitution convention) and his previous public service (state legislator, U.S. Representative, judge). Perhaps they were also swayed by his impressive whiskers, which give him a patriarchal air.

Bates did not win the nomination—a beardless lawyer from Illinois won the party’s backing and the Presidency. When the newly be-whiskered Abraham Lincoln was filling his Cabinet, though, he called on Bates to be his Attorney General. Bates was part of the unlikely “team of rivals” brought together by Lincoln. Two other former Presidential candidates, William Seward and Salmon P. Chase, were brought into the Cabinet as Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury. (Another member of the Cabinet, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton has been a Facial Hair Friday honoree.)

President Lincoln himself remarked on Edward Bates’s facial hair. He teased his Attorney General about the contrast between his dark hair and his white beard, saying that Bates talked more than he thought, using “his chin more than his head.”

Longing for private family life, Bates resigned his office after Lincoln’s reelection in 1864. His view of the President had changed considerably over the past four years. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her book Team of Rivals, Bates “initially viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning but incompetent administrator [but] eventually concluded that the president was an unmatched leader, ‘very near to being a perfect man.'” This month marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s first inauguration.

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