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Simon Cameron

Cameron, Simon (kămˈərən) [key], 1799–1889, American politician and financier, b. Lancaster co., Pa. From humble beginnings he rose to be a newspaper publisher and with considerable success branched out into canal and road construction, railroad promotion, banking, and iron and steel manufacturing. His private wealth brought him influence in the Democratic party; he played a major role in winning the vice presidential nomination for Martin Van Buren in 1832 and in James Buchanan's election to the Senate the following year. Cameron was elected (1845) to Buchanan's vacated seat in the U.S. Senate but, defeated for reelection, served only until 1849. Having joined the new Republican party in 1856, he was returned (1857) to the Senate when three Democratic legislators also voted for him. In the Senate, Cameron bitterly attacked the pro-Southern policies of his former friend President Buchanan. At the Republican national convention in Chicago in 1860 he was a candidate for the presidential nomination but after the first ballot supported Abraham Lincoln, first exacting from Lincoln's managers, however, the promise of a cabinet post. Lincoln reluctantly recognized the bargain, made without his knowledge, and Cameron resigned from the Senate to serve (Mar., 1861–Jan., 1862) as Secretary of War. The President's worst fears were realized when notorious corruption in army contracts and appointments aroused the nation. Lincoln eased him out gracefully by appointing him minister to Russia, but Cameron resigned that post in Nov., 1862. The House of Representatives passed (Apr., 1862) a resolution of censure against him, but Cameron bounded back in 1867, when, in defeating Andrew H. Curtin for the Senate, he became absolute Republican boss of Pennsylvania. He retired from the Senate and from active participation in politics in 1877 but only after making sure that his son, James Donald Cameron, succeeded him in the Senate. The machine he created, later run by his son, Matthew S. Quay, Boies Penrose, William S. Vare, and Joseph R. Grundy successively, so dominated Pennsylvania that it was not until Franklin Delano Roosevelt's victory in 1936 that the Democrats carried the state in a national election.

See biography by E. S. Bradley (1966); L. F. Crippen, Simon Cameron: Ante-Bellum Years (1942, repr. 1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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