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Edward Bates was a 19th century politician and lawyer who served as U.S. attorney general under President Abraham Lincoln.
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Born on September 4, 1793, in Belmont, Virginia, Edward Bates studied law before winning positions in the Missouri House of Representatives and U.S. Congress. He later became a St. Louis judge before serving one term as attorney general under President Abraham Lincoln. Bates was a Whig Party member who was anti-slavery yet still had conservative leanings, opposing Radical Reconstruction.
"... My private feelings are deeply moved by the sudden murder of my chief with and under whom I have served the country, through many difficult and trying scenes, and always with mutual sentiments of respect and friendship. I mourn his fall, both for the country and for myself."
Lawyer and politician Edward Bates was born on September 4, 1793 in Belmont, Virginia. As a youth, he received both private tutorship and studied at Charlotte Hall Academy in Maryland before serving as part of the Virginia militia in 1813.
Bates relocated to St. Louis, Missouri the following year and began to study law. He worked as a prosecuting attorney before joining Missouri’s constitutional convention in 1820, becoming part of the team who wrote the state’s constitution. He was also awarded Missouri’s state attorney position the same year, and in 1821 became a U.S. district attorney. Bates continued his involvement in politics and was elected to the state’s House of Representatives in 1822.
Bates's ambitions continued to see fruit when he was elected to the U.S. Congress, serving for one term from 1827-1829 as part of the Whig Party. He made an unsuccessful bid for reelection and then returned to practicing law, subsequently winning a seat on the state senate in 1830. More than two decades later, Bates would be appointed judge to the St. Louis land court in 1853 and would helm the Whig Party national convention in 1856.
After attaining his judge position, it is said that Bates increasingly let go of political pursuits and found sustenance in routine and his family, which included his wife, Julia Davenport Bates, and several children, two of whom would eventually fight in the Civil War on opposing sides.
In 1860, Bates was a Republican Party nominee for the U.S. presidency but lost to Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln was elected into office, he appointed Bates U.S. attorney general on March 5, 1861.
During his tenure, Bates was known to take oppositional views to Lincoln though still deferring to presidential power. In 1862, with President Lincoln initiating a number of military arrests of civilians who were seen as insurrectionists, Bates made an argument that protected a broader vision of presidential power with distinct boundaries from the judiciary. Yet later on, a disgruntled Bates began to speak out about the use of military power to override proper judicial authority.
Bates was also known to speak out against the feuding found amongst Union military commanders, who, he stated, "seem so taken up with their quick made dignity, that they overlook the lives of their people and the necessities of their country."
The issue of race and slavery was another cite of disagreement. Though Bates was anti-slavery, he was not in favor of full-fledged rights for African-American citizens, and hence opposed all-black military regiments and Radical Reconstruction.
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President Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet was truly one of the most unique in American history, including several of his disappointed presidential opponents—William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Simon Cameron and Edward Bates, who lost the Republican Party's presidential nomination to Lincoln in 1860—as well as dogmatic politicians like Montgomery Blair, Hannibal Hamlin, Edwin Stanton, Gideon Welles and Lincoln's future successor, President Andrew Johnson. Learn more about these historic figures, Abraham Lincoln's presidency, the American Civil War and more, only at Biography.com.
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