Welles, Gideon

Welles, Gideon

(wĕlz), 1802–78, American statesman, b. Glastonbury, Conn. He was (1826–36) editor and part owner of the Hartford Times, one of the first New England papers to support Andrew Jackson. An organizer of the Jacksonian forces in Connecticut, Welles served in the state legislature (1827–35). He was three times elected state comptroller of public accounts and was postmaster of Hartford. He was also chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing for the U.S. navy (1846–49). Leaving the Democratic party on the slavery issue, he helped found (1856) the Hartford Evening Press, a Republican paper, and in 1861 became secretary of the navy in Abraham LincolnLincoln, Abraham
, 1809–65, 16th President of the United States (1861–65). Early Life

Born on Feb. 12, 1809, in a log cabin in backwoods Hardin co., Ky. (now Larue co.), he grew up on newly broken pioneer farms of the frontier.
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's cabinet. Incorruptible, efficient, and something of a curmudgeon, Welles built the powerful Union navy of the Civil War. The construction of the Monitor and the other ironclads resulted largely from his support, and the victorious admirals David G. FarragutFarragut, David Glasgow
, 1801–70, American admiral, b. near Knoxville, Tenn. Appointed a midshipman in 1810, he first served on the frigate Essex, commanded by David Porter, his self-appointed guardian, and participated in that ship's famous cruise in the Pacific
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 and David D. PorterPorter, David Dixon,
1813–91, American admiral, b. Chester, Pa.; son of David Porter. He served under his father in the Mexican navy before he was appointed (1829) midshipman in the U.S. navy. He held his first command, the Spitfire, in the Mexican War.
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 were men of his choice. One of the first to recognize Lincoln's essential greatness, he thoroughly disliked some of his cabinet colleagues, notably William H. SewardSeward, William Henry,
1801–72, American statesman, b. Florida, Orange co., N.Y. Early Career

A graduate (1820) of Union College, he was admitted to the bar in 1822 and established himself as a lawyer in Auburn, N.Y., which he made his lifelong home.
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 and Edwin M. StantonStanton, Edwin McMasters,
1814–69, American statesman, b. Steubenville, Ohio. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1836 and began to practice law in Cadiz. As his reputation grew, he moved first to Steubenville (1839), then to Pittsburgh (1847), and finally to Washington, D.
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. Welles was a moderate who favored Lincoln's Reconstruction plan and, retaining his post under Andrew JohnsonJohnson, Andrew,
1808–75, 17th President of the United States (1865–69), b. Raleigh, N.C. Early Life

His father died when Johnson was 3, and at 14 he was apprenticed to a tailor.
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, stood by the President in his struggle with the radical Republicans in Congress. He returned to the Democratic party in 1868. Welles wrote Lincoln and Seward (1874), and his salty diary (ed. by H. K. Beale, 3 vol., 1960) is of immense value to the historian.


See A. Mordell, ed., Selected Essays by Gideon Welles (1959); H. K. Beale, ed., Diary of Gideon Welles (3 vol., 1960); biographies by R. S. West, Jr. (1943) and J. Niven (1973).

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Welles, Gideon

(1802–78) secretary of the navy, journalist, politician; born in Glastonbury, Conn. As part owner and editor of the Hartford Times (1826–36), he endorsed Jacksonian democracy. Although he failed in his efforts to become a representative, senator, and governor, he held several state political offices (1826–44) until becoming chief of the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Provisions and Clothing (1846–49). Opposed to slavery, he left the Democratic Party in 1854 and helped organize the new Republican Party, founding the Hartford Evening Press to promote the Republicans' goals. The newly elected President Lincoln, knowing he needed a New Englander in the cabinet, appointed Welles to his cabinet. As secretary of the navy (1861–69), he managed the department with great energy, enterprise, and economy, gaining a reputation for freeing it as far as possible from political favoritism. Under his leadership, the navy quickly expanded, adopted the ironclads and other new technology, successfully blockaded the Confederacy, and contributed greatly to the eventual Union victory. He did not get on with all his fellow cabinet members and he deplored Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus in 1863, but he supported Lincoln's moderate plans for reconstruction and backed Andrew Johnson when he was impeached. After leaving the cabinet, he wrote a series of important magazine articles; one of these was expanded to become Lincoln and Seward (1874); his diary of the Civil War period (revised by him in later years; not published until 1911) provides a revealing glimpse of the times.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.