About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Stanton: Lincoln’s War Secretary"


Good afternoon. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. Whether you are here in the theater or watching on YouTube, we’re glad you could join us for today’s discussion of the new book Stanton: Lincoln’s War Secretary with award-winning author Walter Stahr.

Before we get started, I want to tell you about two other programs coming up here at the McGowan Theater.

On Wednesday, September 6, at noon, please join us for the program Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, from 1935 to 1961.  While author Nicholas Reynolds was historian at the esteemed CIA Museum in 2010, he began to uncover clues suggesting that novelist Ernest Hemingway was deeply involved in mid-twentieth-century spycraft. In Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy, Reynolds reveals for the first time, the whole story of this hidden side of Hemingway’s life that reads like an espionage thriller. A book signing will follow the program.

In conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month, we proudly present the program An American Experience: A Class Apart on Thursday, September 7, at noon. Built around the landmark 1954 legal case Hernandez v. Texas, the hour-long film interweaves the stories of its central characters with a broader story of the civil rights movement. It also brings to life the heroic post-World War II struggle of Mexican Americans fighting to dismantle the discrimination targeted against them.  

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. We have printed copies in the lobby where you’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

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Of the crucial men close to President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814–1869) was the most powerful and controversial. Stanton raised, armed, and supervised the army of a million men who won the Civil War. He organized the war effort. He directed military movements from his telegraph office, where Lincoln literally hung out with him. He arrested and imprisoned thousands for “war crimes,” such as resisting the draft or calling for an armistice. Stanton was so controversial that some accused him at that time of complicity in Lincoln’s assassination. He was a stubborn genius who was both reviled and revered in his time.

Reviewing Stanton: Lincoln’s War Secretary, Harold Holzer in The Wall Street Journal writes, “This exhaustively researched, well-paced book should take its place as the new, standard biography of the ill-tempered man who helped save the Union: It is fair, judicious, authoritative, and comprehensive.”

Ron Chernow, calls Stahr’s book “fair-minded, rigorous, and scrupulously honest, balancing his sometimes questionable record on civil liberties with the logistical wizardry that he applied to win the Union war effort.”

And Larry Matthews in the Washington Independent Review of Books says, “There are many biographies of Stanton, but Stahr’s will stand out as one of the finest and most detailed. This is a book for both scholars of Civil War history and general readers who have a deep interest in that period.” 

Walter Stahr is no stranger to the National Archives. He has graced our stage with all three of his books and has drawn on the records housed in our facilities for his research.  He has said, “Libraries store the raw material of history.  One simply cannot write history books without libraries and the good librarians who work there.”  Here at the National Archives we proudly preserve the permanent records of the Federal Government and make them accessible to all.

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After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1982, Walter Stahr joined the Washington office of an international law firm, Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and in 1986, was posted to Hong Kong, where he worked for three years on international litigations.  In 1990, he joined the Securities & Exchange Commission, and worked for several years in the chairman’s office, writing speeches and congressional testimony, and advising on enforcement cases.

In 1995, Stahr joined Fidelity Investments to be their first internal lawyer based in Hong Kong where his work and travels took him throughout Asia, especially to Japan and Taiwan.  When he returned to Washington in 1999, he joined Emerging Markets Partnership as an internal lawyer, focusing on Asia and where he eventually rose to be the general counsel of EMP Global, as the firm is now known.

In addition to Stanton, he is the author of John Jay: Founding Father, and Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Walter Stahr.