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Simon Cameron

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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 to come.

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 McCormick's uncle.)

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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This site is sponsored by the Center for Pennsylvania Cultural Studies at the Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, in cooperation with the Historical Society of Dauphin County, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Director of the McCormick Family Papers Project at the Center is Professor Michael Barton.

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