President Lincoln’s wartime Cabinet included many of his opponents from the Republican National Convention where each had the goal of becoming President of the United States. His appointment from Secretary of the Navy was Gideon Welles.
Welles was born in Glastonbury, CT on July 1, 1802 into a prominent family of shipping merchants. Welles earned a degree in American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy of Norwich, VT. He was a lawyer and journalist.
Welles had been the editor of the Hartford Times of Connecticut. Ironically for the Republican Cabinet member, the newspaper had been the official party organ of the Democratic party. Welles was a strong abolitionist, and opposed the extension of slavery into the territories in the West.
Welles served locally in various positions including Postmaster of Hartford, State Comptroller of Public accounts, and Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing for the Navy.
Secretary Welles inherited a Navy in great disarray. He had 76 ships and 7,600 sailors in 1861. By the end of the Civil War, both number of ships and number of sailors under Welles had increased by ten times. He originally opposed the blockading of Southern ports (the Anaconda Plan), but nonetheless performed the task quite admirably. In fact, the blockade, greatly impeding the South’s ability to bring in much needed materials and arms from Europe, was a major part of an eventual Union victory.
Secretary Welles served as Secretary of the Navy until 1869. When he eventually left, it was due to his opposition to Johnson’s reconstruction policies while at the same time he stood by Johnson during his impeachment trials.
After the war he wrote the biography “Lincoln and Seward”. Welles died on February 12, 1878 at age 75.
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