Stanton Park is named after secretary of war Edwin Stanton who presided over the army in the Civil War. But the statue in Stanton Park is not Edwin Stanton. Surprisingly, there is no statue of Stanton in Stanton Park. But let’s be honest: It would be hard to make a heroic statue based on this guy.
While Stanton doesn’t make it into Washington’s pantheon of dead white guys on horses, He does have an interesting story. An attorney, he’s the first to use the temporary insanity defense in getting a congressman who killed the man with whom his wife was having an affair acquitted.
As secretary of war Stanton was diligent and efficient, but also tyrannical and vindictive. An odd combination of traits that made him a successful member of Lincoln’s cabinet. Stanton could be rude, impatient, and was always in motion. The complete opposite of Lincoln. But in many ways, Stanton’s temperment gave Lincoln the space to always be the calm, cool, and collected one. Lincoln had Stanton do his worrying for him. They were a great team.
When hearing of Lincoln’s assassination Stanton rushes to Peterson House. And after seeing the unconscious president, he was the only one with his wits around him to organize a search for the assassins, get witness statements, and secure the capital. Stanton was with Lincoln when he died. As Lincoln breathed is last Stanton is reported to say, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Stanton is also the reason for President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment. Johnson and Stanton disagreed over Reconstruction. Johnson tried to fire Stanton, but at that time the law did not allow the president to fire someone who had been confirmed by the Senate without Senate consenting to the firing. Johnson was impeached by the House and then was acquitted by only one vote in the Senate.
President Grant’s nomination of Stanton to the Supreme Court was quickly confirmed by the Senate. Sadly, Stanton died four days later and was never seated on the Court. He was 55.
When designed the city Pierre L’Enfant thought this would be a good spot for open space and he put it on his 1791 map of the new city. And today I think L’Enfant would be happy with how it’s being used. It’s a real focal point of the neighborhood with folks bringing their dogs and kids here to play.
And the statue that is in the park, it’s Nathanael Greene. And he’s our subject next week.