Childhood & Early Life
Born in Glastonbury, Connecticut, United States, Gideon Welles was the son of Samuel Welles, a shipping merchant and Ann Hale. His father was a follower of Thomas Jefferson.
Gideon attended the Episcopal Academy in Cheshire, Connecticut. Later, he studied at the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy in Norwich, Vermont. After that, he studied law in Hartford University under William W. Ellsworth.
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Instead of practicing law, he switched his preference to journalism and in 1826, he started publishing “Hartford Times” for which he served as an editor. As an ardent follower of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, his editorials in this paper used to reflect his political views.
In 1827, after winning a seat to the Connecticut General Assembly, he became its youngest member. During his tenure in the Assembly, he worked hard for introducing various reformatory measurements.
In order to rectify the rules of becoming an eye witness in court, he endeavoured to pass a bill. Moreover, he took the initiative to change the necessary qualifications for holding a political office.
After facing severe criticism for his reformations, he left the Assembly in 1835. In the following year, President Andrew Jackson appointed him as the postmaster of Hartford. He served for this position till 1841.
In 1845, President James K. Polk nominated him as the Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing in the Navy Department. This position brought him the rare opportunity to gain practical knowledge about Navy.
At the same time, several leading newspapers used to publish his political articles. Due to his conflicts with the Democratic Party over the issue of slavery, he left the party.
In 1856, he became one of the founders of the Republican Party. In the same year, he started publishing the “Hartford Evening Press” newspaper that acted as a medium of his political views.
From 1856 to 1864, he was a national committee man. During the 1860 convention, he led the Connecticut delegation to the 1860 Republican National Convention. There he strongly supported Salmon P. Chase as the Republican presidential nominee
When Abraham Lincoln became President of the U.S in 1961, he appointed Gideon as the secretary of the Navy. He efficiently controlled the Navy department by introducing innovative measurements.
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With his initiative, the U.S. Navy owned ironclad ships. Due to his effort, the Navy possessed improved version of steam technology. He campaigned for providing protection and employment opportunity to African-American naval officers who had run away to avoid slavery.
Moreover, he stressed on equal payment of those naval officers to their white counterparts. In this context, he supported the emancipation measures of the President.
His successful execution of Anaconda Plan limited the cotton trade of Confederacy and thus spoiled the Confederacy’s plan to finance American Civil War.
After the assassination of Lincoln, he continued serving as the Secretary of Navy under the presidency of Andrew Johnson. In 1966, together with Seward, he founded the National Union Party.
During this time, he openly opposed Congressional reconstruction on constitutional grounds. At the same time, he criticized Johnson for his inability to implement Lincoln’s policies effectively.
After leaving the Cabinet on March 3, 1869, he came back to the Democratic Party. From 1869 to 1878, he remained busy with his writing works. During this period, he wrote a number of articles on politics and history.
Though he was democratic, he still supported Horace Greeley, a republican in 1872. In 1874, his book “Lincoln and Seward” appeared.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Mary Jane Hale Welles on June 16, 1835. They had eight children whose names were Edgar Thaddeus Welles, Thomas Glastonbury Welles, John Arthur Welles, Herbert Welles, Samuel Welles, Edward Gideon Welles, Anna Jane Welles and Mary Juanita Welles.
He was suffering for his poor health conditions since 1877. He passed away at the age of seventy-five on account of suffering from a streptococcal infection of throat. He was laid to rest at Cedar Hill Cemetery, Connecticut.
His book “Diary of Gideon Welles” was published posthumously in 1911. This three volume diary provides detail description of the President’s War Cabinet from 1861 to 1869.