Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Scandalous Secretary of War (Potomac Books, 2016) by Paul Kahan! Kahan is a lecturer at Ohlone College in Fremont, California. He is the author of The Bank War: Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Biddle, and the Fight for American Finance and The Homestead Strike: Labor, Violence, and American Industry.
About the book: From abject poverty to undisputed political boss of Pennsylvania, Lincoln’s secretary of war, senator, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a founder of the Republican Party, Simon Cameron (1799–1889) was one of the nineteenth century’s most prominent political figures. In his wake, however, he left a series of questionable political and business dealings and, at the age of eighty, even a sex scandal.
Far more than a biography of Cameron, Amiable Scoundrel is also a portrait of an era that allowed—indeed, encouraged—a man such as Cameron to seize political control. The political changes of the early nineteenth century enabled him not only to improve his status but also to exert real political authority. The changes caused by the Civil War, in turn, allowed Cameron to consolidate his political authority into a successful, well-oiled political machine. A key figure in designing and implementing the Union’s military strategy during the Civil War’s crucial first year, Cameron played an essential role in pushing Abraham Lincoln to permit the enlistment of African Americans into the U.S. Army, a stance that eventually led to his forced resignation. Yet his legacy has languished, nearly forgotten save for the fact that his name has become shorthand for corruption, even though no evidence has ever been presented to prove that Cameron was corrupt.
Amiable Scoundrel puts Cameron’s actions into a larger historical context by demonstrating that many politicians of the time, including Abraham Lincoln, used similar tactics to win elections and advance their careers. This study is the fascinating story of Cameron’s life and an illuminating portrait of his times.
“Kahan’s tome is well researched, well written and quotations from primary sources are liberally spread throughout his narrative. He has done an admirable job of resuscitating, clothing and restoring to Cameron his true and accurate historical legacy.”—Jim Miller, Civil War Notebook
A word from the author:
Though Amiable Scoundrel is my fifth book, it has led to a number of “firsts” for me, including my first appearance on C-SPAN, first speaking engagement at at book fair, and first proper “book tour.” In fact I did more than two dozen book talks at places across the United States, and had the opportunity to meet people whose enthusiasm for Civil War history keeps authors like me employed.
Best of all, my research of Scoundrel raised a number of interesting questions that were peripheral to the story I told in that book; I plan on exploring them in my next book, Doughface: The Life and Times of James Buchanan, America’s Worst President—look for it in 2019!