Zachariah Chandler

Zachariah Chandler
12th United States Secretary of the Interior
In office
October 19, 1875  March 11, 1877
President Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by Columbus Delano
Succeeded by Carl Schurz
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
February 22, 1879  November 1, 1879
Preceded by Isaac P. Christiancy
Succeeded by Henry P. Baldwin
In office
March 4, 1857  March 3, 1875
Preceded by Lewis Cass
Succeeded by Isaac P. Christiancy
6th Chairman of the Republican National Committee
In office
Preceded by Edwin D. Morgan
Succeeded by J. Donald Cameron
Mayor of Detroit
In office
Preceded by John Ladue
Succeeded by John H. Harmon
Personal details
Born (1813-12-10)December 10, 1813
Bedford, New Hampshire
Died November 1, 1879(1879-11-01) (aged 65)
Chicago, Illinois
Political party Whig, Republican
Spouse(s) Letitia Douglas
Profession Politician, Teacher

Zachariah Chandler (December 10, 1813  November 1, 1879) was an American politician, one of the founders of the Republican Party, whose radical wing he dominated as a lifelong abolitionist. He was mayor of Detroit, a four-term senator from the state of Michigan, and Secretary of the Interior under President Ulysses S. Grant.

As a successful young businessman in Detroit, Chandler supported the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, he advocated for the Union war effort, the abolition of slavery, and civil rights for freed African Americans. As Secretary of the Interior, Chandler eradicated serious corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, fully endorsing President Grant's Peace Policy initiative to civilize American Indian tribes. In 1879, he was re-elected U.S. Senator and was a potential Presidential candidate, but he died the following morning after giving a speech in Chicago.

Early life and career

Zachariah Chandler was born in Bedford, New Hampshire on December 10, 1813.[1] His father was Samuel Chandler and his mother was Margaret Orr.[1] Samuel Chandler was a descendant of William Chandler who had migrated to Roxbury, Massachusetts from England in 1637.[1] Margaret Orr was the oldest daughter of military officer Col. John Orr.[1] Chandler was educated in the common schools.[1] Upon graduation, deciding not to attend college, Chandler moved west in 1833 to Detroit, at that time the capital of Michigan Territory.[1] In Detroit, Chandler opened a general store and through trade, banking, and land speculation became one of the weathiest men in the state of Michigan.[1]

Marriage and family

On December 10, 1844 Chandler married Letitia Grace Douglas, a native of Baltimore, who moved to New York.[1][2] A social entertainer, Letitia lived in Washington during the Winter throughout Chandler's career. Chandler and Letitia had one daughter, Mary Douglas Chandler, who married Senator Eugene Hale of Maine.[2] Chandler's and Letitia's grandchildren include, Frederick Hale, elected U.S. Senator from Maine, and Chandler Hale, who served as a U.S. Diplomat in Rome, and Eugene Hale, Jr. Letitia died on February 19, 1899 known to have a "gentle and kindly disposition" and to be "much beloved." [2]

Political career

From his youth, Chandler had been strongly opposed to slavery, and hoped that the Northern Whig party would be able to stop Southern slave power from spreading slavery into the Western Territories. [3] Chandler financially supported the Detroit Underground Railroad, which helped fugitive or runaway slaves find safe haven.[3]

In 1848 Chandler began his political career by making campaign speeches for Whig party presidential candidate Zachary Taylor.[1] In 1851, Chandler was elected Mayor of Detroit and served one year in office.[1] In 1852, Chandler ran as a Whig candidate for the Governor of Michigan, but he was defeated.[1] Having supported Kansas as a free state without slavery, Chandler signed a petition that formed the Republican Party on July 6, 1854.[1] In 1856, Chandler was a delegate at the first Republican Party National convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was a member of the Republican National Committee.[1]

U.S. Senator (1857-1875)

U.S. Senator Zachariah Chandler
Mathew Brady

In January 1857, Chandler ran as a Republican and was elected as a U.S Senator for Michigan, succeeding Lewis Cass. Chandler was reelected in 1863 and again in 1869, serving from March 4, 1857, to March 3, 1875 in the 35th through the 43rd U.S. Congresses. [1] In the Senate Chandler allied himself with the anti-slavery Radicals, although he opposed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner.[1] Chandler was the most outspoken Senator against secession.[1] From March 1861 to 1875 Chandler was chairman of the Committee on Commerce that controlled powerful "pork barrel" appropriations for rivers and harbors.[1] At the outbreak of the Civil War Chandler used his Senatorial influence to raise and equip the Michigan volunteers.[1] Chandler was a member of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.[1]

Chandler castigated General George McClellan's prosecution of the Civil War.

On July 6, 1862 Chandler castigated General George McClellan's prosecution of the war in a speech at Jackson, Michigan.[1] Chandler regarded his speech against McClellan as one of his most important public services.[1] Chandler's attack on McClellan came five days after McClellan failed to capture Richmond and the withdrawal of Union troops by McClellan to the James River during the Seven Days Battle that resulted in Confederate victory. On March 3, 1863 Chandler authored legislation for the collection and administration of abandoned property in the South.[1] On July 2, 1864 Chandler authored legislation for the regulation of intercourse with the insurrectionist Confederate states.[1]

Chandler supported the creation of a national bank, and voted for greenbacks as an emergency war measure, but strongly condemned any inflation of the currency.[1] Chandler supported Reconstruction Acts that gave civil rights to African Americans, but criticized them for being to0 lax.[1] On January 5, 1866 Chandler authored a resolution for non-intercourse with Great Britain for refusing to negotiate the Alabama Claims, but this was rejected by the Senate.[1] During the Civil War Great Britain secretly allowed Confederate warships to be armed in British ports. These ships, including the CSS Alabama, did much to destroy Union commerce causing great monetary damage to the Union war effort. On November 29, 1867 in retaliation to Britain, Chandler submitted a resolution that Abyssinia be recognized as a belligerent nation at war against Great Britain, demanding that Abyssinia be given the "same rights which the British had recognized to the Confederacy" during the Civil War.[1] During the election of 1868 Chandler was chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee.[1]

During his entire Senate career Chandler used his Senatorial federal patronage to increase his own political power.[1] Chandler's methods of obtaining power were considered "openly partisan and despotic if not actually corrupt" in obtaining control of the Republican machine in Michigan.[1] Chandler was for many years Michigan's undisputed Republican boss.[1] The Democratic landside during the election of 1874 broke his Senatorial power and he was defeated by Isaac P. Christiancy while seeking election for a fourth term, when the Michigan legislature deadlocked.[1]

Secretary of Interior (1875-1877)

Chandler in his office at the Department of Interior
Chandler in President Ulysses's S Grant's Cabinet

Chandler was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Ulysses S. Grant in October 1875 and served until 1877.[1] In compliance with President Grant's recommendations and authority, he implemented reforms in and reorganized the Department of Interior during his tenure in office. The previous Secretary of the Interior, Columbus Delano, was not a reformer, and had carelessly allowed profiteering to spread throughout the Interior Department. Secretary Chandler fired corrupt agents at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and fired and replaced the Indian Commissioner and Bureau Clerk.[1] In addition, Secretary Chandler banned "Indian Attorneys" from the Interior Department, who swindled Indian tribes into paying for bogus representation in Washington D.C. Secretary Chandler fully endorsed President Grant's Peace Policy initiative to civilize American Indian tribes. To assist in fighting corruption Chandler convinced President Grant to appoint reformers Charles T. Gorman of Michigan to Assistant Secretary of Interior and Augustus S. Gaylord Assistant Attorney-Generalship of the Department of Interior.[4] These men were instrumental helping Chandler remove internal corruption from the Department of Interior. In February 1876 Chandler handed Indians who refused to leave their hunting grounds, concerning the encroachment in the Black Hills by miners, over to Secretary of War William W. Belknap's department.

Reformed Bureau of Indian Affairs

President Ulysses S. Grant ordered Chandler to fire all the corrupt clerks in the Bureau of Indian Affairs

When Chandler took office he found the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be the most corrupt out of the federal departments under his charge. Chandler replaced the Bureau's Commissioner and the Chief Clerk.[5] Chandler quietly investigated the Bureau and found corrupt appointees and suspicious practices by subordinates. Chandler ordered their removal, but the new commissioner said that these men were valuable to the Bureau, so Chandler held off firing the clerks.[5] President Grant was following Chandler's activities and asked why the corrupt clerks at the Bureau had not been fired. Chandler replied to Grant that the Commissioner said it would be impossible to run the Bureau without them. Grant, then ordered Chandler to fire the corrupt clerks even if that meant shutting down the Bureau. Chandler immediately went over to the Bureau and gave orders for the suspected clerks to be fired which was promptly enforced. This was the only time President Grant was directly active in reforming a federal department. Grant continued to support Chandler in his reform efforts. [5]

Reformed Pension Bureau and Land Office

In addition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Chandler also thoroughly investigated the Pension Bureau.[6] The investigation resulted in removing of fraudulent claims that saved the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars. [6] Within one month of his administration Chandler fired all Pension Bureau clerks involved in corruption.[7] Chandler had Gaylord and Gorman to investigate the Land Office whose investigation discovered there was a "Chippewa half-breed scrip" profiteering combination. [8] Chandler broke up the combination and fired all of the members connected to the corrupt ring. [8]

Reformed Patent Office

During his first month in office Chandler fired all the clerks in one room of the Patent Office declaring every desk vacant believing all the clerks were involved in either corruption or lacked the integrity for reform. [7] Chandler vacated the room and put in charge an African American porter to lock by key and keep people from entering the room until honest replacements were found. [7] Chandler paid no attention to complaints and warned a man who believed he was fired unjustly not to complain to the press. [7] Chandler without warning instigated an investigation by putting a new officer in charge of monthly payrolls of Patent Office employees taking the full names and addresses of everyone who signed them.[9] Almost twenty employees were found to be fictitious created by a profiteering ring to defraud federal payroll monies. [10] Chandler also exposed and removed corrupt unqualified clerks who profiteered by hiring out their work to underpaid replacements.[10] Chandler simplified Patent Office rules making patents easier to obtain and lessening their costs to the public.[10]

Banned Indian Attorneys

In December 1875 Chandler banned "Indian Attorneys," persons who claimed to represent Indians in Washington, from the Department of Interior.[11] Bogus "agents" induced Indian tribes to pay them $8.00 a day plus expenses in exchange for fraudulent legislative representation in Washington during the Winter months.[12] Other agents would contract Indian land acquisition arrangements as security for payments.[11] Preying on the fears of Indians, these "attorneys" would tell the Indians their tribal rights would be taken away in Washington if they did not accept their services.[11] Chandler banned payment to these men for alleged services to Indians saying their claims or representation were illegal and immoral.[12] Chandler declared, "...the regularly-appointed Indian Agent, the Commission of Indian Affairs, and the Secretary of Interior are competent to protect and defend the rights of Indians in all respects...."[12] Chandler's banning of "Indian Attorneys" saved the Indian tribes large amounts of money. [13]

Chairman of Republican Party

Zachariah Chandler
Detroit Press and Post - 1880

Chandler, as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, managed Rutherford B. Hayes' successful 1876 campaign for the presidency, though Hayes declined to keep Chandler as Secretary of the Interior. He became Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party in 1878.

U.S. Senator (1879)

In 1879, he was again elected to the Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Isaac P. Christiancy, who had succeeded him just four years earlier. He served in the 45th and 46th Congresses from February 22, 1879, until his death later that year.[1]

Last speech and death

Under consideration by party leaders as a possible candidate in the 1880 presidential election, Chandler went to Chicago to deliver a political speech on October 31, 1879. Keeping to his Radical roots Chandler spoke in front of an African American Young Men's Republican Auxiliary Club at McCormick Hall.[14] Chandler said that he hoped one day blacks would be able to vote freely and safely, run for office, and make speeches throughout the nation including the South just as former rebels were allowed to vote, run for office, and speak in the North.[14] Although he had earlier contracted a cold he was known to be his robust self that day.[15] The next day he was found dead in one of his rooms at the Grand Pacific Hotel at 7:00 in the morning reclining on his bed.[14] He is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.[16]

Historical legacy

Zachariah Chandler at the National Statuary Hall. His statue has returned to Michigan since the state Legislature voted in 2007 to replace it with a statue of Gerald Ford.[17] His statue now rests in the atrium of Constitution Hall in Lansing, Michigan.[18]

When Chandler became Secretary of Interior appointed by President Grant in 1875 reformers were concerned that the department would continue under corruption and patronage as under Secretary Columbus Delano, Grant's previous appointment.[19] Chandler had a reputation as a wealthy Republican partisan political boss, rather than a reformer. [19] However, reformers concerns were unwarranted as Chandler proved to be an efficient reformer firing many in the Department who were involved in corruption and fraud and for removing from the department persons known as "Indian Attorneys." Chandler investigated corruption in his department and reported to President Grant, who gave him approval to launch reforms.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 MacDonald 1929, p. 618.
  2. 1 2 3 New York Times 02-20-1899.
  3. 1 2 TDPAT 1880, p. 75.
  4. TDPAT 1880, pp. 342-343.
  5. 1 2 3 TDPAT 1880, pp. 344-345.
  6. 1 2 TDPAT 1880, pp. 346, 348.
  7. 1 2 3 4 TDPAT 1880, p. 343.
  8. 1 2 TDPAT 1880, p. 348.
  9. TDPAT 1880, pp. 343-344.
  10. 1 2 3 TDPAT 1880, p. 344.
  11. 1 2 3 TDPAT 1880, p. 345.
  12. 1 2 3 TDPAT 1880, pp. 345-346.
  13. TDPAT 1880, p. 346.
  14. 1 2 3 TDPAT 1880, p. 390.
  15. TDPAT 1880, pp. 389-390.
  16. TDPAT 1880, pp. 395-396.
  17. Dawson Bell, "Michigan statue to leave Capitol" Sunday Free Press (Detroit) January 6, 2008: 1B - 2B
  18. 9&10 News, "Sen. Zachariah Chandler coming home to Michigan" April 11, 2011
  19. 1 2 TDPAT 1880, p. 340.


New York Times

Political offices
Preceded by
John Ladue
Mayor of Detroit
Succeeded by
John H. Harmon
Preceded by
Columbus Delano
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Served under: Ulysses S. Grant

Succeeded by
Carl Schurz
United States Senate
Preceded by
Lewis Cass
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Michigan
Served alongside: Charles E. Stuart, Kinsley S. Bingham, Jacob M. Howard, Thomas W. Ferry
Succeeded by
Isaac P. Christiancy
Preceded by
Isaac P. Christiancy
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Michigan
Served alongside: Thomas W. Ferry
Succeeded by
Henry P. Baldwin
Party political offices
Preceded by
George H. Hopkins
Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party
1878 1879
Succeeded by
James McMillan
Preceded by
Edwin D. Morgan
Chairman of the Republican National Committee
Succeeded by
J. Donald Cameron
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