Bates, Edward

Edward Bates served as attorney general for most of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Born into a Virginia slave-holding family on September 4, 1793, Bates moved to St. Louis following a year’s militia service during the War of 1812. After admission to the bar in 1816, he enjoyed early political success, serving as Missouri’s first attorney general, a state legislator, and a single-term member of the House of Representatives. For more than two decades after his failed 1828 bid for re-election, Bates served in the state legislature as a member of the minority Whig party while concentrating on his law practice and his growing family—he and his wife Julia had seventeen children, nine of whom survived to adulthood. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 drew Bates back into national politics. Too conservative to embrace the outspoken anti-slavery sentiments of many in the new Republican Party, Bates stubbornly clung to his Whig affiliation and flirted briefly with the Know Nothings, thereby alienating Missouri’s large German population. In 1860, he made his peace with the Republicans and emerged at the party convention as a conservative alternative to both William Seward and Salmon Chase. The delegates instead turned to Abraham Lincoln, who tapped Bates as his attorney general. Although overshadowed by less conservative colleagues such as Seward, Chase, and Edwin Stanton, Bates played the leading role in framing and defending Lincoln’s wartime suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the Union blockade of Southern ports. Bates’ personal life mirrored the divisive nature of Civil War America: one son served the Confederacy, a second the Union, and a third spent most of the war at West Point. Although Bates had emancipated and paid for his last slave’s passage to Liberia in 1851, he was generally unsympathetic to the cause of African American freedom. He nonetheless wrote a critical defense of free blacks’ right to citizenship on the eve of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Increasingly out of step with the Lincoln’ aggressive war aims and suffering the after effects of a stroke, Bates resigned his cabinet post in December 1864. Bates kept a daily journal, however, and his diary entries for the wartime period are especially valuable as a resource on the Lincoln Administration. True to his conservative beliefs, he opposed a postwar Missouri constitution disenfranchising former Confederates and supported President Andrew Johnson’s moderate Reconstruction policies. Bates died on March 25, 1869 in St. Louis. (By Rick Beard)
Life Span
Dickinson Connection
Bates challenged the legal opinions of Chief Justice of the United States, Roger Brooke Taney (Class of 1795)
    Full name
    Edward Bates
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Slave State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Thomas Fleming Bates (father), Caroline Matilda Woodson (mother), Julia Coalter (wife)
    Attorney or Judge
    Relation to Slavery
    Slaveholder who freed slaves
    Political Parties
    Other Affiliations
    Nativists (Know Nothings)
    Lincoln Administration (1861-65)

    Edward Bates (Congressional Biographical Dictionary)

    BATES, Edward,  (brother of James Woodson Bates), a Representative from Missouri; born in Belmont, Goochland County, Va., September 4, 1793; attended Charlotte Hall Academy, Maryland; acted as sergeant in a volunteer brigade during the War of 1812; moved to St. Louis, Mo., in 1814; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1817 and practiced; circuit prosecuting attorney in 1818; member of the State constitutional convention in 1820; State’s attorney in 1820; member of the State house of representatives in 1822; United States district attorney 1821-1826; elected as an Adams to the Twentieth Congress (March 4, 1827-March 3, 1829); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1828 to the Twenty-first Congress; resumed the practice of law; member of the State senate in 1830; again a member of the State house of representatives in 1834; declined the appointment as Secretary of War in 1850 in the Cabinet of President Fillmore; judge of the St. Louis land court 1853-1856; presided at the Whig National Convention in 1856; appointed by President Lincoln as Attorney General of the United States and served from March 5, 1861, to September 1864; died in St. Louis, Mo., March 25, 1869; interment in Bellefontaine Cemetery; removed from Bellefontaine Cemetery, place of reinterment not known.
    “Bates, Edward,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present,
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Beale, Howard K., ed. The Diary of Edward Bates 1859-1866. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1933. view record
    Cain, Marvin R. Lincoln's Attorney General: Edward Bates of Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1965. view record
    McClure, James P., Leigh Johnsen, Kathleen Norman, and Michael Vanderlan. "Circumventing the Dred Scott Decision: Edward Bates, Salmon P. Chase, and the Citizenship of African Americans." Civil War History 43 (1997): 279-309. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Bates, Edward," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,