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Abraham Lincoln on an Army Paymaster Appointment, Thinking that the Instability of Judge David Wilmot Might be the Cause of “a good deal of unnecessary trouble”
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ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Autograph Letter Signed, to Edwin M. Stanton, July 6, 1864, Washington, D.C. On Executive Mansion stationery. 2 pp., 5 x 8 in.

Inventory #26762       Price: $32,500

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Executive Mansion,

                                                                        Washington, July 6, 1864.

Hon. Sec. of War

My dear Sir:

            Hon. Mr Tracy, of Pennsylvania, is here saying that a Col Allen McKean has been nominated, and confirmed by the Senate, and that his commission is withheld, upon a charge presented and pressed by Judge Wilmot, which charge is rather old, and was well known to Judge Wilmot when, two years ago, he wrote a letter, urging McKean to be a candidate for Congress.[1] I believe this Senate also had knowledge <2> of this charge. My estimate of Judge Wilmot was shown by my appointment of him to the Claims Court; and yet I do think his instability, proceeding from bad health, is leading him to give us a good deal of unnecessary trouble. I think in this case, Mr Tracy’s wishes better be followed, unless there be something more serious than I have heard of.

                                                                        Yours truly

                                                                        A. Lincoln


Historical Background
In 1846, then Congressman David Wilmot of Pennsylvania introduced an amendment to prevent slavery in any land acquired as a result of the Mexican War. Abraham Lincoln, in his one term in Congress, opposed the war and supported the Wilmot Proviso. In 1860, at the Republican National Convention, Wilmot was instrumental in turning Pennsylvania’s delegation to Lincoln. After the election, he declined a cabinet position, but served the remainder of Simon Cameron’s term in the U.S. Senate after Lincoln appointed Cameron as Secretary of War. Once the term ended in 1863, Lincoln appointed Wilmot as a judge of the U.S. Court of Claims.

Col. Allen McKean had been a candidate in several elections. In mid-September of 1862, a mass meeting in Towanda voted to “repudiate the dictation of Wilmot & Co” nominating a people’s ticket of “independent” Republicans, including Henry Wells Tracy from Towanda for Congress and Col. Allen McKean for the legislature. According to a newspaper report, “Our correspondent informs us that the movement will prove a success, and that the reign of infernal Republicanism is at an end even in ‘my district’—a favorite expression of Proviso David.... Every loyal citizen will wish them God speed, in breaking up such a nest of traitors as has, since 1848, disgraced the once Democratic county of Bradford.”[2] Whether McKean was working politically for or against Wilmot at this point remains unclear.

On February 8, 1864, Lincoln had forwarded to the Senate a list from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton of nominees for additional paymasters in the Army. On February 23, the Senate approved the list of nominees, including McKean. However, three days later, the Senate, on the motion of Senator Jacob M. Howard of Michigan, requested that the President return the resolution approving of “McKane” for reconsideration.

On March 2, 1864, Judge David Wilmot wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton with “a statement of facts with a view to stop the issuing a commission”. After McKean left the office of prothonotary of Bradford County, the Pennsylvania Auditor General settled his accounts and found him to have defaulted on over $5,300.  McKean appealed in Dauphin County. As a trial would involve 12 years of records that were 150 miles away, the legislature authorized the Bradford County Court to appoint three competent men from other counties to examine the records. The investigation began, but the Civil War interrupted their work. McKean “professed great anxiety to go to the defence of the State.” The time for the investigation expired, and the commissioners asked the legislature for an extension. Wilmot reported that “Such a law will undoubtedly pass at the present session, and McKeans accounts with the State be legally adjusted, when I fully believe it will be found that he is a defaulter to a much larger amount than the ballance reported against him by the accounting officer of the commonwealth.” Wilmot closed questioning, “whether it is proper to place the public monies in the hands of a man who stands a defaulter on the books of the auditor’s office of the State, and where trial is now in progress, for the money of the ballance due the State.”[3]

Henry Wells Tracy had won election to the 38th Congress (1863-1865) and visited President Lincoln on behalf of McKean’s nomination. In response to this letter from President Lincoln, Stanton ordered Col. James A. Hardie, inspector general, on July 31 to “issue the commission as directed by the President,” and it was made effective from February 23, 1864. Due to an error in addressing, McKean did not receive his commission until August 18.

It seems that Wilmot’s concerns were justified. After serving for a brief time as an Additional Paymaster under this commission, an army Board of Examination reported on April 26, 1865, that it found Major McKean unreasonably slow and “greatly inaccurate in his information in answering questions relating solely to his duties, and incorrect in all his computations.”[4] McKean tendered his resignation on May 15, 1865.

Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869) was born in Steubenville, Ohio, and graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in 1834. In 1836, he married Mary Ann Lamson (1813-1844), and they had a son and a daughter, though their daughter died as a toddler. Stanton commenced his political life as an Ohio lawyer and antislavery Democrat. In 1856, he married Ellen Hutchinson (1830-1873), and they had four children over the next seven years. Stanton served as U.S. Attorney General under President James Buchanan in the winter of 1860-1861, during which time he strengthened the Administration’s resolve against secession. Appointed as Lincoln’s Secretary of War in early 1862, Stanton brought civilian-style order to the Army and War Department, improving the efficiency of the armed forces. His earlier success as a Pittsburgh lawyer honed his skills in negotiation and communication, allowing him to work with Congress and the president to ensure appropriate involvement in the conduct of the war by each branch of government, as specified by the Constitution. Continuing in the cabinet of President Andrew Johnson, Stanton clearly articulated the Army’s role as a major agent in the implementation of Reconstruction policies. Disagreements on Reconstruction led to Stanton’s ouster and eventually to Johnson’s 1868 impeachment. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Stanton to the Supreme Court, but Stanton died before he could take the oath of office.

Henry Wells Tracy (1807-1886) was born in Pennsylvania and studied law. He became a merchant and road contractor in Pennsylvania and Maryland, eventually settling in Towanda, Pennsylvania. A delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention, he served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1861 and 1862 and represented Pennsylvania in Congress from 1863 to 1865 as an Independent Republican. He served as collector of the port of Philadelphia in 1866 and continued working as a merchant.

Allen McKean(1808-1886) was born in Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel McKean (1787-1841), a Congressman and U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. Allen McKean became a teacher, justice of the peace, and officer in the militia. From 1848 to 1860, he served as prothonotary in Towanda, Pennsylvania. Originally an independent Democrat, then a Whig, he joined the Republican party in the 1850s. In the early 1860s, he was narrowly defeated for several local offices as the candidate of the People’s party. He served as a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. When the Army of Northern Virginia invaded Pennsylvania in 1863, he served as the captain of a company in defense of the state. From August 1864 to May 1865, McKean served as a paymaster in the army with the rank of major.

David Wilmot(1814-1868) was born in Pennsylvania, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1834. He began a law practice in Towanda, Pennsylvania. He was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1845 to 1851. While there, he was the author of the 1846 “Wilmot Proviso,” which would have prohibited slavery in any territory acquired during the Mexican War. Wilmot served as the judge of the thirteenth judicial district from 1851 to 1861. He was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 1857. A delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1860, Wilmot was instrumental in the nomination of Abraham Lincoln. The state legislature elected him to fill the remaining term of Simon Cameron in the U.S. Senate, and he served there from 1861 to 1863 but was not a candidate for reelection. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him as a judge of the U.S. Court of Claims, a position he held until his death.

Condition: File dockets on verso of second leaf; lightly soiled at vertical crease.

Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Collection
William K. Steiner Collection


Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Supplement, 1832-1865. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974), 250.

[1]On September 3, 1862, Wilmot wrote to Allen McKean, “We want you to take the nomination for Congress. We feel confident that with you we can preserve the integrity and ascendancy of our party.... Obtain leave of absence and come home at once.” Copy in Letters Received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1863-1870, National Archives, Washington, DC.

[2]“Rebellion in Bradford,” The Washington Examiner (PA), September 18, 1862, 2:2.

[3]David Wilmot to Edwin M. Stanton, March 2, 1864, Letters Received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1863-1870, National Archives, Washington, DC.

            The legislature approved a supplementary act on April 27, 1864, and the commissioners resumed their investigations on June 20, 1864, and submitted their report to the legislature on July 21. They reported that McKean had charged fees of $45,721.35 over the twelve years he held the office and had only collected fees of $27,485.04, or approximately 60 percent of the total. The Bradford Reporter (Towanda, PA), June 29, 1865, 1:1-2.

[4]Report in Case of Major Allen McKean, Additional Paymaster, April 26, 1865, Norfolk, VA, Letters Received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1863-1870, National Archives, Washington, DC.

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