Today’s post comes from Nikita Buley, an intern in the National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications.
Since the new film Lincoln has spent a few weeks in theaters, we thought it’d be interesting to learn more about President Lincoln’s fantastically hairy cabinet.
First up is Gideon Welles, who served as President Lincoln’s and then as President Johnson’s Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869, the longest anyone had held the position. Born to an esteemed Connecticut family, Welles had facial hair almost as prodigious as his political presence.
Gideon Welles graduated from what is now Norwich University in Vermont with a degree in law. However, he found he had a knack for journalism and became editor and part owner of the Hartford Times in 1826. That year, he was also elected to the legislature. As a Jacksonian Democrat, Welles supported wide-spread enfranchisement and President Jackson’s anti-bank campaign. In 1836, Jackson appointed Welles as the postmaster of Hartford, Connecticut, until William Henry Harrison removed him in 1841.
When the “slavery issue” emerged in the 1850s, Welles became a major figure in the newly formed Republican party, serving as Republican national committeeman and member of the party’s national executive committee. He also helped establish the Hartford Evening Press to support the party. He was a strong advocate for Lincoln and abolition, and was rewarded with appointment to President Lincoln’s cabinet. Throughout his career, Welles was regarded as an unusually astute, methodical, and poised politician.
After President Johnson’s impeachment, Welles retired from politics. However, he remained active by writing, editing, and publishing articles. He also wrote several books and edited his personal journals, which have since become important resources for understanding Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War period.