Elihu Washburne

Photo of Honorable Elihu Benjamin Washburne
Honorable Elihu Benjamin Washburne

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Quick Facts

U.S Representative, Secretary of State
Place Of Birth:
Livermore, ME
Date Of Birth:
September 23, 1816
Place Of Death:
Chicago, IL
Date Of Death:
October 23, 1887
Place Of Burial:
Galena, IL
Cemetery Name:
Greenwood Cemetery

Politician and diplomat, Elihu Benjamin Washburne was one of four brothers from Maine who helped establish the Republican Party in four different states. He attended Harvard Law School and settled in Galena, Illinois in 1840, where he opened a law practice. Active in the anti-slavery movement, Washburne was elected to Congress in 1858 as a Whig and reelected eight times as a Republican, serving until 1869, when he resigned.

A confidante and early supporter of President Lincoln, Washburne served as a conduit between Lincoln and Union General Grant, his famous constituent from Galena. He was a leader of the Radical Republican faction in Congress during and after the war. A proponent of legal racial equality, Washburn believed that large Southern plantations should be divided up to provide compensatory property for freedmen. After the war, Washburn served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which drafted the 14th Amendment. Known for his fiscal discipline, Washburne earned the moniker "Watchdog of the Treasury" while chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Appointed Secretary of State in 1869, Washburne served as a placeholder until Grant could reorganize his cabinet. He remained at State for 12 days, after which Grant, as a consolation, appointed him as Minister to France. Washburne's eight year tenure in France was marked by both the Franco-Prussian War and the uprising of the Paris Commune. At the 1880 Republican national convention, Washburne received over 40 votes for nomination as president, losing to James Garfield, later elected president. He also placed second to Chester A. Arthur in the balloting for vice president at that same convention. Arthur would become President after Garfield was assassinated in 1881.

Last updated: June 18, 2015