Gen. Simon Cameron
General Simon Cameron (1799-1889) was the son of a poor tailor whose
tenacity and natural intelligence drove him to rise to great heights
and fortune, and led his family to wealth and good grace for generations
Receiving a meager education in the public schools of Maytown, Lancaster
County, PA, where he was born, and Simon never went to college, but
he had ambition and drive to spare. Before making his mark on the national
scene, he first treid his hand at journalism, apprenticing at a newspaper
for four years. In 1826, however, he left that enterprise to build the
Pennsylvania Canal between Harrisburg and Sunbury, PA and canals in
Louisiana; at the same time, he became state printer and adjutant general
under the governor.
A master multitasker, Simon later contracted to build the New Orleans
Canal, and simultaneously organized the Bank of Middletown, and promoted
the construction of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth and Mt. Joy/Lancaster
Railroad. He later entered the manufacturing business, at the same time
establishing a railroad from Harrisburg to Sunbury/Lebanon, PA, while
also owning a fulling mill and blast furnaces; acquiring real estate
in Pennsylvania and the midwest; and speculating real estate.
Then he tried his hand at politics. Simon succeeded heartily, becoming
a United States Senator first in 1845, and again in 1857, 1867 and 1873.
Simon switched from the Democratic to Republican party and was key
to giving Lincoln the Pennsylvania vote. In return, Lincoln made him
secretary of war. He was later minister to Russia.
Simon was a tall, lanky, man, with an amusing story linked to his reputation
(deserved or not). According to contemporary newspaper reports, Lancaster
Congressman Thaddeus Stevens complained to President Lincoln that Simon
was mismanaging his Secretary of War post, prompting Lincoln to reply:
"You don't think he would steal, do you?"
"Well, I said that he wouldn't steal a red-hot stove," said
the dry-witted Stevens. "I will now take that back."
Simon married Margaret Brau. They had six children: J. Donald Cameron
(1833-1918), Simon (1844-1908), who never married, Virginia (who later
married Wayne MacVeigh), Rachel (later Rachel Burnside), Margaret (later
Margaret Haldeman) and William (1826-1864), who married Elizabeth Bastedo.
When Simon went into retirement, an election was held, and his Senate
seat was given to his son, J. Donald
(according to Cameron's opponents, the election was said to be so automatic
that his opponents called the Legislature the "Cameron Transfer
Company."). (J. Donald was the famous Vance
An interesting Presidential fact: According to contemporary newspaper
reports, when Abraham Lincoln faced an assasination threat before his
first inaguration, he escaped Harrisburg and traveled to a Baltimore-bound
train in one of Simon's family carriages.
Simon died at 91 in 1890.
Information compiled and written by MaryAlice Bitts.
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