Edwin Stanton was smart, strong-minded, and outspoken. Even some of the people who respected him didn't like him. Stanton suffered from asthma all his life, sometimes to the point of convulsions. Perhaps that helped shape his personality as a fighter.
At age thirteen, Stanton was apprenticed to a bookseller who encouraged the young man's love of reading. He attended Kenyon College for two years but had to leave for lack of money. He returned to his hometown of Steubenville, Ohio, where he studied law under a family friend. At age twenty-one, he began earning a reputation as a very good lawyer.
Stanton first got involved in politics when he joined an anti-slavery society in 1837. He first met Abraham Lincoln when they argued against each other before the Supreme Court. Stanton, who didn't think much of Lincoln at the time, was rude to him.
President Buchanan appointed Stanton as attorney general in 1860. Even though this meant giving up his very profitable private law practice, Stanton accepted the position to serve his country.
When it became clear that Lincoln needed a new Secretary of War to manage the war effort, Lincoln appointed Stanton to the position. In the War Department, people sometimes found him hard to get along with. He could be arrogant and outspoken, and had many enemies. But Stanton was fair and efficient. He helped convince Lincoln to allow African-Americans to serve in the Union Army. Even though some Republican Party leaders urged Lincoln to replace the unpopular Stanton, Lincoln refused.
When Richmond fell, Stanton resigned as secretary of war to return to private practice. Lincoln refused his resignation, and Stanton agreed to stay on. After Lincoln's assassination, Stanton gave up his plans to retire and worked hard to bring the guilty parties to justice. He believed the assassination was part of a larger Southern conspiracy.
Stanton argued frequently with Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson, about how to deal with the South. President Johnson finally ordered Stanton to resign, but he refused. Johnson suspended him but Congress restored him to the War Office. Finally, Congress impeached the president. He was acquitted by one vote. Then Stanton resigned.
Stanton had been interested in serving on the Supreme Court for many years, and President Ulysses Grant appointed him to this post. Unfortunately, Stanton died before he could take on his new job.