Today’s post comes from Nikita Buley, an intern in the National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications.
In the late 1700s, as Americans fought for their independence, most men were clean-shaven. As we moved into the 1800s, however, facial hair—elaborate facial hair, at that—came back into style.
Despite this shift, many men remained clean-shaven. A smooth face was often considered more professional and refined, but facial hair denoted ruggedness.
It is not a huge surprise, therefore, that many of President Lincoln’s cabinet members had no facial hair.
Montgomery Blair was an abolitionist despite his upbringing in a prominent slave-holding family in Franklin County, Kentucky. He was also one of the founders of the Republican party. President Lincoln appointed Blair as his Postmaster General in 1861, then replaced him in 1864, following Blair’s own suggestion. Blair told his wife that the President “acted from the best motives” and that “it is for the best all around.” He campaigned for Lincoln’s reelection and remained close with Lincoln’s family.
Simon Cameron was orphaned at age nine and apprenticed to printer and editor Andrew Kennedy. He entered into journalism, and later rail line construction and banking, among other business enterprises. He was first elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1844, but eventually switched to the Republican party. Although Cameron was nominated as a presidential candidate in the 1860 election, he gave his support to Lincoln at the Republican National Convention. President Lincoln named Cameron as his Secretary of War as part of a political bargain, but Cameron resigned early in 1862 due to corruption accusations.
Salmon Chase, a lawyer, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1830. After his wife’s death in 1835, Chase began defending fugitive slaves and associated himself with the anti-slavery movement. Shortly after his election to the Senate in 1849, he realized the futility of convincing Democratic leaders to oppose slavery and became a leader in the movement to found the Republican party. Chase served as Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 to 1864, during which time he formed a detailed proposal for a national banking system and convinced Congress to pass the reform.
William Seward, President Lincoln’s faithful Secretary of State, served in Lincoln’s and then Johnson’s cabinet from 1861 to 1869. He opposed the spread of slavery, and when he was denied the Republican Presidential nomination in 1860, he supported Lincoln with a speaking tour in the West. As Secretary of State, he advocated expansionist policies, but opposed intervention. He survived an assassination attempt on April 14, 1865, by Lewis Powell, a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth. During Johnson’s presidency, he defended moderate reconciliation policies in the South and successfully obtained the Alaskan territory from Russia.
On an related note, Seward’s third son, Gen. William H. Seward, Jr., had a rather spectacular mustache.
Caleb Blood Smith had a significant influence on Lincoln’s Republican nomination, and as a reward, Lincoln appointed him as Secretary of the Interior. However, his health was declining, and he deferred most of his work to Assistant Secretary of the Interior John Usher, the former Attorney General of Indiana. Smith resigned in December 1962, and Usher took his place.
During his time as Secretary of the Interior, from 1863 to 1865, Usher was regarded as “a good worker, as good a liver, an able lawyer,” and “a gregarious man” by journalist Noah Brooks and by historians Elmo Richardson and Alan Farley, respectively.