Elihu Benjamin Washburne (1816 - 1887)

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Birthplace: Livermore, Androscoggin, ME, USA
Death: Died in Chicago, Illinois
Managed by: Doug Robinson
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About Elihu Benjamin Washburne


Elihu Benjamin Washburne (September 23, 1816, Livermore, Maine – October 23, 1887, Chicago, Illinois) was one of seven brothers who played a prominent role in the early formation of the United States Republican Party. He later served as United States Secretary of State in 1869.

Washburne, a resident of Galena, Illinois, represented northwestern Illinois in the United States House of Representatives from 1853 to 1869. While in Congress, he was also a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

He was known for his courage, and met President-elect Abraham Lincoln upon his arrival in Washington, D.C. on February 23, 1861. An assassination attempt was feared, and other Republican Party leaders were afraid to take on this duty. Washburne and his brothers had hidden the whereabouts of President-elect Lincoln by personally cutting telegraph wires in key locations.

Originally a Whig, Washburne was an early member of the Republicans and a leader of the Radical Republicans. He was among the original proponents of legal racial equality. As a congressman, he served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. After the Civil War, Washburne advocated that large plantations be divided up to provide compensatory property for freed slaves.

Washburne served as President Ulysses S. Grant's Secretary of State, replacing William H. Seward, for twelve days in March 1869; it remains the shortest term of any Secretary of State. He then became ambassador to France, where he was influential in negotiating the armistice for the Franco-Prussian War.

Washburne retired from government in 1876, although he was mentioned as a presidential candidate at the Republican conventions in 1880 and 1884. He moved to Chicago, Illinois, and served as president of the Chicago Historical Society from 1884 to 1887.

Three of Washburne's brothers (Cadwallader C. Washburn, William D. Washburn, and Israel Washburn, Jr.) also became politicians. His son, Hempstead Washburne, was mayor of Chicago from 1891 to 1893.

Washburne Street at 1230 south in Chicago is named in honor of Elihu Washburne.


Representative from Illinois, Secretary of State under President Grant, Minister to France.



Elihu Benjamin Washburne (September 23, 1816, Livermore, Maine – October 23, 1887, Chicago, Illinois) was a member of a Maine political family that played a prominent role in the early formation of the United States Republican Party. Washburne supported President Abraham Lincoln and was a leader of the Radical Republicans. As a Radical, Washburne opposed the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson and supported African American suffrage and civil rights. Washburne was appointed United States Secretary of State in 1869 by President Ulysses S. Grant. President Grant had appointed Washburne as Secretary of State out of respect for his championship in the House during the Civil War and to give Washburne diplomatic clout after being appointed minister to France. Washburne's tenure as Secretary of State only lasted for only eleven days. Washburne's tenure as Minister to France, however, would last eight years. Washburne was known for diplomatic integrity and for his humanitarian support of Americans and Germans in France during the Franco-Prussian War.

Elihu Benjamin Washburne was born on September 23, 1816 in Livermore, Maine. His father was Israel Washburn and his mother was Martha Benjamin. Washburne was the third oldest of eleven children born to his parents Israel and Martha. Washburne's family went into financial trouble and in 1829, Israel had to sell his general store. Washburne's family was forced to rely on farming for food, and Washburne and his brothers had to fend for themselves. At the age of 14, Washburne had added the letter "e" to his name, as was the original ancestral spelling, and left home in search of education and a career.

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Elihu B. Washburne, U.S. Secretary of State's Timeline

September 23, 1816
Livermore, Androscoggin, ME, USA
Age 31
October 23, 1887
Age 71
Chicago, Illinois
Greenwood Cemetery Galena Jo Daviess County Illinois