October 15, 2016

“Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Scandalous Secretary of War”

On the evening of Saturday, October 15, I spent a couple hours in the study of historian Paul Kahan in Philadelphia. The only thing was, I was a couple thousand miles away in my home in Washington State at the time! Obviously, it was through the magic of the Internet that Mr. Kahan was able to regal us with a presentation about Simon Cameron, Secretary of War in Lincoln's cabinet. His knowledge of Cameron and the inner workings of 19th Century American politics came from his research for the biography of Cameron titled "Amiable Scoundrel".

It was a fascinating lecture for me, since I know next to nothing about much of the political side of the Civil War. Like everyone else, what little I did "know" was that Cameron was corrupt and a manipulator. Well, as Kahan pointed out, this was true of the vast majority of politicians in the days of the "spoils" system as it was called. In fact, Kahan found that Cameron, unlike how he has been portrayed, was much more effective in politics and even somewhat ahead of his time. He noted that Cameron argued for the emancipation of slaves and their enrollment in the Army as early as 1861- much earlier than Lincoln was prepared to take that step. In fact, Kahan argues that this was more of a reason for his dismissal from the cabinet than was any corruption or graft that he was involved in.

Kahan showed that after the War, he was able to once again become a force in national politics. Great talk and it was nice not having to fight traffic and weather to get to a venue when you could watch it in your own home! I look forward to more and more presentations like this and I hope many others will take advantage of it. -
Mark Terry
Having read Amiable Scoundrel, I was thrilled to talk with Paul Kahan and to have him answer my questions about Lincoln’s Secretary of War. No doubt, Cameron faced daunting challenges to recruit, cloth, arm and train such an unprecedentedly large army. Moreover, his background prepared him for a life in politics, not as an executive administrator. So, it was his strength that became his weakness.

Paul is a fine lecturer. His passion for his subject matter is contagious. He was so very well prepared, and yet his enthusiasm gave us the opportunity to delve deeply into the real man and his times.

Inasmuch as this was the first time that PSCWRT has had an online lecture, I am most thankful that it was Paul Kahan who helped us break the ice with such a wonderful presentation. -
Mike Movius
I thought Paul's talk was very interesting.  It was obvious that he had done his research on Simon Cameron and was very knowledgeable about the politics of the era.  I think Paul is an excellent speaker particularly considering he didn't have the benefit of seeing the reactions of his audience.

Looking forward to more such events. -
Cheryl Nunn
It was an interesting lecture on Simon Cameron, Lincoln's first Secretary of War.  Historians have written much more about Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's second Secretary of War.  I never realized, until this presentation, what an influential politician Cameron was, especially in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  I really enjoyed the question & answer part of this event.  Paul Kahan was obviously very knowledgeable about Cameron.  A former governor and US Senator, Cameron played a vital role in both of Lincoln's campaigns for President.  

I look forward to future Webcam Presentations at the Puget Sound Civil War Roundtable. -
Rick Solomon