From poverty to political power From abject poverty to undisputed political boss of Pennsylvania, Lincoln'ssecretary of war, senator, chair of the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee, and a founder of the Republican Party, Simon Cameron(1799-1889) was one of the nineteenth century's most prominent politicalfigures. In his wake, however, he left a series of questionable politicaland business dealings and, at the age of eighty, even a sex scandal.Far more than a biography of Cameron, Amiable Scoundrel is also aportrait of an era that allowed-indeed, encouraged-a man such asCameron to seize political control. The political changes of the earlynineteenth century enabled him t only to improve his status butalso to exert real political authority. The changes caused by the CivilWar, in turn, allowed Cameron to consolidate his political authorityinto a successful, well-oiled political machine. A key figure in designingand implementing the Union's military strategy during the CivilWar's crucial first year, Cameron played an essential role in pushingAbraham Lincoln to permit the enlistment of African Americans intothe U.S. Army, a stance that eventually led to his forced resignation.Yet his legacy has languished, nearly forgotten save for the fact that hisname has become shorthand for corruption, even though evidencehas ever been presented to prove that Cameron was corrupt. Amiable Scoundrel puts Cameron's actions into a larger historicalcontext by demonstrating that many politicians of the time, includingAbraham Lincoln, used similar tactics to win elections and advancetheir careers. This study is the fascinating story of Cameron's life andan illuminating portrait of his times.
Paul Kahan is a lecturer at Ohlone College in Fremont, California, USA. 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.