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First a successful journalist and organizer of pro-Jacksonian Democrats in his home state of Connecticut and later a founder of the Republican party and supporter of Lincoln's presidential bid, Gideon Welles was forced to wait over 30 years for the cabinet post he aspired to. His moment finally came as the country was sliding into war, and after some early blunders Welles performed creditably as Secretary of the Navy. There he revived and expanded the painfully demoralized service and sponsored the development of ironclads and ultimately, reluctantly, supported Johnson against the Radical Republicans. Basically a politico, Welles clung to his Jeffersonian principles even though he was twice forced out of parties he had helped found. Niven sees Welles as an insecure man whose rigid ideas ""acted as sanctuaries for him in times of stress"" and, whatever the reasons, Welles' career certainly demonstrates the political perils of consistency. As Welles was a prolific diarist and (through his wife) close to the Lincoln family, his life provides a panoramic view of 19th-century electoral politics. Niven has made some perfunctory efforts towards literary biography but the absence of a well-defined characterization and the overall shapelessness of this large-scale work will limit its appeal for non-specialists.

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1973
Publisher: Oxford