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Zachariah Chandler

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Title: Zachariah Chandler  
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Subject: Isaac P. Christiancy, Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, Lewis Cass, Michigan Republican Party, Carl Schurz
Collection: 1813 Births, 1879 Deaths, American Abolitionists, American Presbyterians, Grant Administration Cabinet Members, Mayors of Detroit, Michigan, Michigan Republicans, Michigan Whigs, People from Detroit, Michigan, People from Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, People of Michigan in the American Civil War, Politicians from Detroit, Michigan, Republican National Committee Chairmen, Republican Party United States Senators, Underground Railroad People, Union Political Leaders, United States Secretaries of the Interior, United States Senators from Michigan
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Zachariah Chandler

Zachariah Chandler
12th United States Secretary of the Interior
In office
October 19, 1875 – March 11, 1877
President Ulysses S. Grant
Preceded by Columbus Delano
Succeeded by Carl Schurz
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
February 22, 1879 – November 1, 1879
Preceded by Isaac P. Christiancy
Succeeded by Henry P. Baldwin
In office
March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1875
Preceded by Lewis Cass
Succeeded by Isaac P. Christiancy
6th Chairman of the Republican National Committee
In office
Preceded by Edwin D. Morgan
Succeeded by J. Donald Cameron
Mayor of Detroit
In office
Preceded by John Ladue
Succeeded by John H. Harmon
Personal details
Born (1813-12-10)December 10, 1813
Bedford, New Hampshire
Died November 1, 1879(1879-11-01) (aged 65)
Chicago, Illinois
Political party Whig, Republican
Spouse(s) Letitia Douglass
Profession Politician, Teacher

Zachariah Chandler (December 10, 1813 – November 1, 1879) was an American politician, one of the founders of the Republican Party, whose radical wing he dominated as a lifelong abolitionist. He was Mayor of Detroit, a four-term Senator from the state of Michigan, and Secretary of the Interior under President Ulysses S. Grant.

As a successful young businessman in Detroit, Chandler supported the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, he advocated for the Union war effort, the abolition of slavery, and civil rights for freed African Americans. As Secretary of the Interior, Chandler eradicated serious corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, fully endorsing President Grant's Peace Policy initiative to civilize American Indian tribes. In 1879, he was re-elected U.S. Senator and was a potential Presidential candidate, but he died suddenly after giving a speech in Chicago.


  • Biography 1
  • Political career 2
  • U.S. Senator 3
  • Secretary of Interior 4
  • Chairman of Republican Party 5
  • Death 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Zachariah Chandler was born in Bedford, New Hampshire on December 10, 1813. His father was Samuel Chandler and his mother was Margaret Orr. Samuel Chandler was a descendant of William Chandler who had migrated to Roxbury, Massachusetts from England in 1637. Margaret Orr was the daughter of military officer Col. John Orr.[1] Chandler was educated in the common schools. Upon graduation, deciding not to attend college, he moved west in 1833 to Detroit, at that time the capital of Michigan Territory. In Detroit, Chandler opened a general store and soon became a wealthy businessman. He was also involved in banking and land speculation.[1]

On December 10, 1844 Chandler married Letitia Grace Douglass from the state of New York.[1]

Political career

From his youth, Chandler had been strongly opposed to slavery, and hoped that the Northern Whig party would be able to stop Southern slave power from spreading slavery into the Western Territories.[2] Chandler financially supported the Detroit Underground Railroad, which helped fugitive or runaway slaves find safe haven.[2]

In 1848 Chandler began his political career by making campaign speeches for Whig party presidential candidate Zachary Taylor. In 1851, Chandler was elected Mayor of Detroit and served one year in office. In 1852, Chandler ran as a Whig candidate for the Governor of Michigan, but he was defeated.[1] Having supported Kansas as a free state without slavery, Chandler signed a petition that formed the Republican Party on July 6, 1854. In 1856, Chandler was a delegate at the first Republican Party National convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was a member of the Republican National Committee. In January 1857, Chandler ran as a Republican and was elected as a U.S Senator for Michigan, succeeding Lewis Cass. He served in this seat until March 3, 1875.[1]

U.S. Senator

Zachariah Chandler, photograph by Mathew Brady

He was a vigorous opponent of slavery and lent his assistance to the Underground Railroad. Chandler attacked the 1857 Dred Scott U.S. Supreme Court decision which upheld the Fugitive Slave Law.

In 1858, Chandler opposed the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton constitution, which allowed slavery, and took an active part in debates over this issue. On February 11, 1861, Chandler wrote the famous so-called "blood letter" to Austin Blair, the Governor of Michigan. This letter contained the sentence, "Without a little blood-letting this Union will not, in my estimation, be worth a rush." The letter was quoted throughout the country, and Chandler defended his statement on the floor of the Senate. He was closely associated with Senators Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio and Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, whom Lincoln's secretary and biographer John Hay derisively referred to as the "Jacobin Club", alluding to the infamous extremists of the French Revolution. In July, 1861, Chandler, along with Wade, Trumbull and James Grimes, witnessed the First Battle of Bull Run, which was a disaster for the Union forces. At one point, Chandler came close to being captured by the Confederate Army.

In the U.S. Senate, on February 17, 1859, Chandler spoke out against the recent Dred Scott decision,

What did General Jackson do when the Supreme Court declared the United States Bank unconstitutional? Did he bow in deference to the opinion of the [c]ourt? No … he said he would construe the constitution for himself, that he was sworn to do it. I shall do the same thing. I have sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, and I have sworn to it as the fathers made it and not as the Supreme Court have altered it. And I never will swear allegiance to that.[3]

As a Reconstruction plan. In 1868, he was active in the campaign to impeach President Andrew Johnson, whom he viewed as an incompetent willing to sacrifice all the gains made during the war through "soft" reconstruction.

Some historians claim that Zachariah Chandler is the real start of the Civil War because of his infamous "Blood Letter," which he personally styled, "A Little Blood Letting,"

This is not a question of compromise. It is a question of whether we have a government or not. If we have a government then it is capable of making itself respected at home and abroad. If we have not a government, let this miserable rope of sand which purports to be a government perish …General Washington reasoned not so when the Whiskey rebellion broke out in Pennsylvania; he called out the posse comitatus and enforced the laws. General Jackson reasoned not so when South Carolina in 1832 raised the black flag of rebellion; he said “by the Eternal, I will hang them;” and he would have done it. it …we are told six States have seceded, and the Union is broke up, and all we can is to send commissioners to treat with traitors with arms in their hands; treat with men who have fired upon your flag; treat with men who have seized your custom-houses, who have erected batteries upon your great navigable waters, and who now stand defying your authority …I will never live under a government that has not the powers to enforce its laws … This thing has gone far enough. Sir, the Union is to stand; it will stand when your great grand children and mine shall have grown gray---aye, when they shall have gone to their last account, and their great grand children have grown gray … For the men who love this Union, who are prepared to march to the support of the Union, who will stand up in defense of the old flag under which their fathers fought and gloriously triumphed, I have not only the most profound respect, but to their demands I can scarce conceive anything that I would not yield. But, sir, when traitorous States come here and say, unless you yield this or that established principle or right, we will dissolve the Union, I would answer in brief words, “no concessions, no compromise; aye, give us strife unto blood before yielding to the demands of traitorous insolence.[4]
Zachariah Chandler
Detroit Press and Post - 1880

Because the Constitution stipulated that all appropriations of the U.S. Government begin in the U.S. House, effectually, Congress controlled the war machine of the Northern Industrial Complex. Chandler, and the rest of the Radical Republicans thought the American military might-minus defectors-would overrun and out strategize the weaker south.

Not following the admonishment of George Washington in his Farewell Speech they formed an alliance within the Party. The battle was within a day’s march of the Whitehouse. In two different carriages were; Chandler (R-MI), Wade (R-OH), Sergeant-At-Arms of U.S. Senate, Brown, and Major Eaton of Detroit-in the Wolverine carriage; and in the Buckeye carriage, Representative Harrison Gray Otis Blake (R-OH), Thomas Brown of Cleveland Ohio, Representative, James Remley Morris (R-OH) and Representative & Historian, Albert Gallatin Riddle (R-OH). According to historian Alber G. Riddle, that event happened on this wise,

Armed with Maynard Rifles and Navy Revolvers and expecting a great victory … Their Confidence was misplaced … it had become evident that the Federal Army had been whipped. Men, horses, and wagons were swept back toward Washington. The rout was complete, and nothing seemed capable of stopping the panic-stricken soldiers [from their disorganized retreat]. The sudden disaster infuriated Wade. He loathed cowardice, and when he saw the soldiers running away from the enemy instead of standing up to the Confederates, he sprang into action. Drawing up his carriage across the pike between a fenced-in farm and an impenetrable wood one mile beyond Fairfax Courthouse, he jumped out, rifle in hand. “Boys, we’ll stop this damned run-away,” he shouted. Then supported by his companions, he turned back the fugitives at rifle’s point.[5]

Chandler was reelected in 1863 and again in 1869, serving from March 4, 1857, to March 4, 1875 in the 35th through the 43rd U.S. Congresses. During and after the Civil War, Chandler proved himself an energetic and deadly foe to Democratic opponents. From the Senate floor in 1862, he tried to link the name of former President Franklin Pierce with that of the seditious Knights of the Golden Circle, evidently as a means of putting the Democrats on the defensive in that year's fall mid-term elections. As early as the fall of 1866, he was one of the most prominent Republicans to call for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, particularly after the latter's self-defeating "Swing Around the Circle" campaign.

Chandler was defeated by Isaac P. Christiancy while seeking election for a fourth term in 1874, when the Michigan legislature deadlocked following a Democratic landslide in elections that year. Chandler served as the chairman of the Committee on Commerce from 1861 to 1875 and was responsible for funneling large amounts of federal funding into the developing Midwest.

Secretary of Interior

Zachariah Chandler at the National Statuary Hall. His statue has returned to Michigan since the state Legislature voted in 2007 to replace it with a statue of Gerald Ford.[6] His statue now rests in the atrium of Constitution Hall in Lansing, Michigan.[7]

Chandler was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Ulysses Grant in 1875 and served until 1877. In compliance with President Grant's recommendations and authority, he implemented massive reform in the Department of Interior during his tenure in office. Previous Secretary of Interior Columbus Delano, was not a reformer, and had carelessly allowed profiteering to spread throughout the Interior Department. Secretary Chandler fired corrupt agents at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and fired and replaced the Indian Commissioner and Bureau Clerk. In addition, Secretary Chandler banned "Indian Attorneys" from the Interior Department, who swindled Indian tribes into paying for bogus representation in Washington D.C. Secretary Chandler fully endorsed President Grant's Peace Policy initiative to civilize American Indian tribes. When the next administration came to power, Chandler's was one of the few departments to receive compliments from the incoming staff. In February 1876 Chandler handed Indians who refused to leave their hunting grounds, concerning the encroachment in the Black Hills by miners, over to Secretary of War William W. Belknap's department.

Chairman of Republican Party

Chandler, as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, managed Rutherford B. Hayes' successful 1876 campaign for the presidency, though Hayes declined to keep Chandler as Secretary of the Interior. He became Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party in 1878. In 1879, he was again elected to the Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Isaac P. Christiancy, who had succeeded him just four years earlier. He served in the 45th and 46th Congresses from February 22, 1879, until his death later that year.


Under consideration by party leaders as a possible candidate in the 1880 presidential election, Chandler went to Chicago to deliver a political speech on October 31, 1879, and was found dead in his room on the following morning. He is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit. Chandler was a lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church.


  1. ^ a b c d e Dictionary of American Biography (1936), p. 618
  2. ^ a b Detroit Post and Tribune, p. 75
  3. ^ The Detroit Post and Tribune, Zachariah Chandler An Outline Sketch of His Public Life, (Detroit, Michigan: The Post and Tribune Company, Publishers, 1880),”The War Cloud,” 140.
  4. ^ The Post And Tribune Company, Publishers, 1880),”Facing Treason,” 192: William C. Harris, Ph.D., Public Life Of Zachariah Chandler, 1851-1875, (Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Historical Commission, 1917),”The War Begins,” 54; “Second Election to The U.S. Senate,” 66.
  5. ^ H. L. Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade, Radical Republican From Ohio. (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1963), "The Conscience of The Republican Party," 110.
  6. ^ Dawson Bell, "Michigan statue to leave Capitol" Sunday Free Press (Detroit) January 6, 2008: 1B - 2B
  7. ^ 9&10 News, "Sen. Zachariah Chandler coming home to Michigan" [2] April 11, 2011
  • Boulard, Garry "The Expatriation of Franklin Pierce--The Story of a President and the Civil War" (iUniverse, 2006)
  • Boulard, Garry "The Swing Around the Circle--Andrew Johnson and the Train Ride that Destroyed a Presidency" (iUniverse, 2008)

External links

  • Zachariah Chandler in Statuary Hall
  • Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
  • Zachariah Chandler from History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916
Political offices
Preceded by
John Ladue
Mayor of Detroit
Succeeded by
John H. Harmon
Preceded by
Columbus Delano
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Served under: Ulysses S. Grant

Succeeded by
Carl Schurz
United States Senate
Preceded by
Lewis Cass
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Michigan
Served alongside: Charles E. Stuart, Kinsley S. Bingham, Jacob M. Howard, Thomas W. Ferry
Succeeded by
Isaac P. Christiancy
Preceded by
Isaac P. Christiancy
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Michigan
Served alongside: Thomas W. Ferry
Succeeded by
Henry P. Baldwin
Party political offices
Preceded by
George H. Hopkins
Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party
1878– 1879
Succeeded by
James McMillan
Preceded by
Edwin D. Morgan
Chairman of the Republican National Committee
Succeeded by
J. Donald Cameron
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