Lincoln's Autocrat

The Life of Edwin Stanton

By William Marvel

632 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 22 halftones, 3 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3615-3
    Published: August 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2249-1
    Published: April 2015
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2250-7
    Published: April 2015
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4715-7
    Published: April 2015

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Awards & distinctions

A Civil War Monitor Best Book of 2015

Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869), one of the nineteenth century’s most impressive legal and political minds, wielded enormous influence and power as Lincoln's secretary of war during most of the Civil War and under Johnson during the early years of Reconstruction. In the first full biography of Stanton in more than fifty years, William Marvel offers a detailed reexamination of Stanton’s life, career, and legacy. Marvel argues that while Stanton was a formidable advocate and politician, his character was hardly benign. Climbing from a difficult youth to the pinnacle of power, Stanton used his authority--and the public coffers--to pursue political vendettas, and he exercised sweeping wartime powers with a cavalier disregard for civil liberties.

Though Lincoln's ability to harness a cabinet with sharp divisions and strong personalities is widely celebrated, Marvel suggests that Stanton’s tenure raises important questions about Lincoln's actual control over the executive branch. This insightful biography also reveals why men like Ulysses S. Grant considered Stanton a coward and a bully, who was unashamed to use political power for partisan enforcement and personal preservation.

About the Author

William Marvel’s many books include A Place Called Appomattox, Andersonville: The Last Depot, Lincoln’s Darkest Year, and Tarnished Victory.
For more information about William Marvel, visit the Author Page.


"Well-written."--Wall Street Journal

“A complex work that will appeal to Civil War scholars and general readers who want a deeper treatment of Stanton.”--Library Journal, starred review

“Marvel’s extraordinarily detailed and meticulously researched work is eye-opening.”--Journal of Southern History

"This should be considered the definitive biography on Stanton and should stand as a classic of academia not only in the Civil War genre but the biographical style as well. Incredibly researched, amazingly written and packed to the seams with information, Lincoln's Autocrat should be on the shelf of every Civil War historian."--Gettysburg Chronicle

“[A] meticulously researched biography.”--Civil War Book Review

“[A] remarkable biography.”--Journal of Army History