Secretary of War Simon Cameron


Simon Cameron (1799‒1889) was a Pennsylvania newspaper editor and politician who served as the first secretary of war in the cabinet of President Abraham Lincoln. He was born in Maytown, Pennsylvania and orphaned at age nine. Despite limited education, he gained a position as an apprentice printer and gradually rose to become editor of the Bucks County Messenger. Using his position in the press as a springboard, he became active in Pennsylvania state politics and served in the United States Senate from 1845 to 1849. Originally a Democrat, he switched parties and was elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1856. Lincoln appointed Cameron to his cabinet in 1861, partly in recognition of his great role in delivering Pennsylvania for the Republicans in the election of 1860. He proved an ineffective secretary of war who had policy differences with Lincoln and was regarded by many as corrupt, and he resigned his position on January 14, 1862. He and Lincoln remained on friendly terms, however, and the president appointed him minister to Russia. Cameron remained in Saint Petersburg for less than a year before returning to Pennsylvania to resume his political and business activities. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1867 to 1877. Cameron is remembered for his definition of “an honest politician” as “one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.” The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: March 22, 2016