Zachariah Chandler, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior

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Zachariah Chandler

Birthdate: (65)
Birthplace: Bedford, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, United States
Death: Died in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States
Cause of death: Brain Hemorrhage
Place of Burial: Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Chandler and Margaret Chandler
Husband of Letitia Grace Chandler
Father of Mary Douglas Hale
Brother of Annis Moore; Caroline Chandler; Samuel Chandler, Jr.; Mary Jane Chandler; Catherine Adams and 1 other

Occupation: Teacher, Mayor of Detroit 1851-1852, US Senator 1857-1875, Secretary of the Interior 1875-1877
Managed by: Jacob Christopher Herr
Last Updated:

About Zachariah Chandler, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior

Zachariah Chandler (December 10, 1813 – November 1, 1879) was Mayor of Detroit (1851–52), a four-term U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan (1857–75, 1879), and Secretary of the Interior under U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant (1875–77). Some historians claim that Zachariah Chandler is the real start of the Civil War because of his infamous "Blood Letter," which he personally styled, "A Little Blood Letting."



Chandler was born in Bedford, New Hampshire, the nephew of U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, John Chandler, and of U.S. Representative from New Hampshire, Thomas Chandler. He was the father-in-law of U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Maine, Eugene Hale, the grandfather of U.S. Senator from Maine, Frederick Hale, and the great-great-granduncle of U.S. Representative from Washington, Rod Chandler.

Early years

After receiving an education in the common schools, Chandler taught school for one winter while also managing the family farm. His father offered him a choice between a college education or $1,000 (2011 standards = 20,000 usd) , which was a substantial amount of money at that time. Chandler took the money, and in 1833 moved to Detroit, which was then the capital of Michigan Territory. According to the Detroit Post, an extant newspaper, and publisher of an autobiography of Chandler, "Mr. Chandler, was from his boyhood, was radical in his opposition to human bondage, and for a time hoped that the Whig Party of the North could be used to effectually resist the conspiracy of the slave power against the territories. His anti-slavery activity preceded his appearance in politics [bold added for emphasis]. Detroit was an important terminus of the “Underground Railroad,” that mysterious organization which so skillfully and quickly transported colored fugitives from the Ohio [river] to Canadian soil, and Mr. Chandler, while still absorbed in business, was a frequent and liberal contributor to the fund for its operating expenses.

He established a successful general merchandise store with his brother-in-law, and also engaged in land speculation and banking. Through frugality and determination, he quickly became quite wealthy. In 1845, he was a part of the corporation that bought the state-chartered Michigan State Bank. He became one of the first men in Detroit to earn $50,000 a year from his businesses.

Political life

John Shirigian believes Zachariah Chandler did not start earnestly in politics until his bid for Mayor in 1851, but because of his anti-slavery propensities Chandler must be said to have begun his ‘grassroots’ political work in the 1840s.

"At the time the labors of Election Day were not those of persuasion merely. Partisan feeling was bitter, and in the population of the growing frontier city, there was a strong ruffianly element, which was Democratic in its sympathies. In close contests mobs sometimes gathered about the voting places, and sought by jostling and occasional assaults to keep away from the ballot box the more timid or fastidious of the [anti-slavery] Whigs. On these occasions Mr. Chandler was among the men of strong frames, sinewy arms, and pugnacity of spirit, who furnished the Whig muscle to defeat this variety of “Loco-foco trick.” He and Alanson Shelley (now a well-known Detroit merchant) were with a few others of like strength and stature, the [anti-slavery] Whig bodyguard who forced a way for voters through the dense crowd, and interposed for the rescue of the threatened."

Chandler put out a call, in the Great Lake State for all radicals who were hot about the duplicitous actions of the National Administration and Congress, to meet in Jackson, Michigan, on July 6, 1854 for the express purpose of defeating the Kansas-Nebraska and Fugitive Slave Acts. The phalanx of men that convened were inexorable about doing something concerning the direction of the Government under Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and to come, James Buchanan, all of whom made no qualms about their stance on the “slavery question.” The central plank of these conveners was “to consider upon the measures which duty demands us, as [denizens] of a Free State, to take in reference to the late acts of Congress on the subject of slavery, and its anticipated further extension.” Commerce in human bondage was construed by these men as “a great moral, and social, and political evil;” It was “Resolved, that, postponing and suspending all differences with regard to political economy or administrative policy … we will act cordially and faithfully in unison” to fight the approval of slavery, and “we will cooperate and be known as ‘Republicans’ until the contest be terminated.” [Ibid.]

He was a member of the Whig party and demonstrated considerable resolve to ensure the freedom to vote. As a testament to Chandler’s bravery and sacrifice during his Vigilance Committee days prior to his probing into the political realm. The Detroit Tribune and Post record the following about the character of Chandler,

Political offices

In 1851, Chandler's career in political office began when he defeated the popular General John R. Williams in the election for Mayor of Detroit. While mayor, Chandler first encountered Ulysses S. Grant, who was then a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Grant sued Chandler for not clearing the ice and snow in front of his home after he had slipped and suffered a severe sprain. Chandler chose to defend himself in a trial by jury, and aggressively confronted the Army officers, accusing them "If you soldiers would keep sober, perhaps you would not fall on people's pavements and hurt your legs."[citation needed] Grant ultimately won the case, but had also worsened his reputation for drinking heavily. Chandler was fined only six cents and court costs of about $8. According to popular lore, Chandler later had Grant ticketed for driving too fast in a carriage.

In 1852, he was the Whigs' candidate for governor, but lost the election to incumbent Robert McClelland. He was active in leading anti-slavery Whigs into the formation of the Republican Party in Jackson, Michigan in 1854. While dining at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C. Zachariah Chandler was assaulted by Edward A. Hannegan and Daniel Wolsey Voorhees because he denounced in very strong terms Copperheads in general and especially those of the West. According to the newspaper account of the affair, Voorhees, a fellow member of Congress, within earshot of Chandler’s comments “who was sitting at another table in company with Hannegan, also of Indiana, arose from his seat, approached Chandler in an excited manner demanding whether he referred to him, to which Chandler replied, “Who are you, Sir, I don’t know you,” “I am Voorhees, of Indiana,” suiting his action to the word, struck Chandler on the side of his face. The two closed, and the Senator was rapidly getting the better of Voorhees, when Hannegan came to the latter’s assistance with a heavy milk pitcher, snatched from the table, which he broke on Chandler’s head. The contents of the pitcher splashed over the whole company. Chandler was stunned by the blow, and had not fully recovered himself when Hannegan dealt him a second blow with a chair. … Chandler’s head was slightly cut by the pitcher, and his shoulder and arm considerably bruised by the chair. Though not able to close his hand, he has been out today attending to his usual duties."

He was a vigorous opponent of slavery and lent his assistance to the Underground Railroad. He was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 1857, taking the seat that had been held by Lewis Cass. Chandler attacked the 1857 Dred Scott U.S. Supreme Court decision which upheld the Fugitive Slave Law.

In 1858, Chandler opposed the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton constitution, which allowed slavery, and took an active part in debates over this issue. On February 11, 1861, Chandler wrote the famous so-called "blood letter" to Austin Blair, the Governor of Michigan. This letter contained the sentence, "Without a little blood-letting this Union will not, in my estimation, be worth a rush." The letter was quoted throughout the country, and Chandler defended his statement on the floor of the Senate. He was closely associated with Senators Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio and Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, whom Lincoln's secretary and biographer John Hay derisively referred to as the "Jacobin Club", alluding to the infamous extremists of the French Revolution. In July, 1861, Chandler, along with Wade, Trumbull and James Grimes, witnessed the First Battle of Bull Run, which was a disaster for the Union forces. At one point, Chandler came close to being captured by the Confederate Army.

In 1859, Chandler speaking in the U.S. Senate on February 17, 1859 contended, that the recent brouhaha in the hoi polloi about the Dred Scott Case 1857 should be thought of in these terms, "What did General Jackson do when the Supreme Court declared the United States Bank unconstitutional? Did he bow in deference to the opinion of the [c]ourt? No … he said he would construe the constitution for himself, that he was sworn to do it. I shall do the same thing. I have sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, and I have sworn to it as the fathers made it and not as the Supreme Court have altered it. And I never will swear allegiance to that."

As a Radical Republican, Chandler was critical of President Abraham Lincoln for not taking stronger action immediately against the southern states attempting to secede from the Union. He was also very critical of General George McClellan for not aggressively pursuing victory on the battlefield. Like other radical Republicans, he was also critical of Lincoln's Reconstruction plan. In 1868, he was active in the campaign to impeach President Andrew Johnson, whom he viewed as an incompetent willing to sacrifice all the gains made during the war through "soft" reconstruction.

Some historians claim that Zachariah Chandler is the real start of the Civil War because of his infamous "Blood Letter," which he personally styled, "A Little Blood Letting," "This is not a question of compromise. It is a question of whether we have a government or not. If we have a government then it is capable of making itself respected at home and abroad. If we have not a government, let this miserable rope of sand which purports to be a government perish …General Washington reasoned not so when the Whiskey rebellion broke out in Pennsylvania; he called out the posse comitatus and enforced the laws. General Jackson reasoned not so when South Carolina in 1832 raised the black flag of rebellion; he said “by the Eternal, I will hang them;” and he would have done it. it …we are told six States have seceded, and the Union is broke up, and all we can is to send commissioners to treat with traitors with arms in their hands; treat with men who have fired upon your flag; treat with men who have seized your custom-houses, who have erected batteries upon your great navigable waters, and who now stand defying your authority …I will never live under a government that has not the powers to enforce its laws … This thing has gone far enough. Sir, the Union is to stand; it will stand when your great grand children and mine shall have grown gray---aye, when they shall have gone to their last account, and their great grand children have grown gray … For the men who love this Union, who are prepared to march to the support of the Union, who will stand up in defense of the old flag under which their fathers fought and gloriously triumphed, I have not only the most profound respect, but to their demands I can scarce conceive anything that I would not yield. But, sir, when traitorous States come here and say, unless you yield this or that established principle or right, we will dissolve the Union, I would answer in brief words, “no concessions, no compromise; aye, give us strife unto blood before yielding to the demands of traitorous insolence."

Because the Constitution stipulated that all appropriations of the U.S. Government begin in the U.S. House, effectually, Congress controlled the war machine of the Northern Industrial Complex. Chandler, and the rest of the Radical Republicans thought the American military might-minus defectors-would overrun and out strategize the weaker south.

Not following the admonishment of George Washington in his Farewell Speech they formed an alliance within the Party. The battle was within a day’s march of the Whitehouse. In two different carriages were; Chandler (R-MI), Wade (R-OH), Sergeant-At-Arms of U.S. Senate, Brown, and Major Eaton of Detroit-in the Wolverine carriage; and in the Buckeye carriage, Representative Harrison Gray Otis Blake (R-OH), Thomas Brown of Cleveland Ohio, Representative, James Remley Morris (R-OH) and Representative & Historian, Albert Gallatin Riddle (R-OH). According to historian Alber G. Riddle, that event happened on this wise,

"Armed with Maynard Rifles and Navy Revolvers and expecting a great victory … Their Confidence was misplaced … it had become evident that the Federal Army had been whipped. Men, horses, and wagons were swept back toward Washington. The rout was complete, and nothing seemed capable of stopping the panic-stricken soldiers [from their disorganized retreat]. The sudden disaster infuriated Wade. He loathed cowardice, and when he saw the soldiers running away from the enemy instead of standing up to the Confederates, he sprang into action. Drawing up his carriage across the pike between a fenced-in farm and an impenetrable wood one mile beyond Fairfax Courthouse, he jumped out, rifle in hand. “Boys, we’ll stop this damned run-away,” he shouted. Then supported by his companions, he turned back the fugitives at rifle’s point."

Chandler was reelected in 1863 and again in 1869, serving from March 4, 1857, to March 4, 1875 in the 35th through the 43rd U.S. Congresses. During and after the Civil War, Chandler proved himself an energetic and deadly foe to Democratic opponents. From the Senate floor in 1862 he tried to link the name of former President Franklin Pierce with that of the seditious Knights of the Golden Circle, evidently as a means of putting the Democrats on the defensive in that year's fall mid-term elections. As early as the fall of 1866, he was one of the most prominent Republicans to call for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, particularly after the latter's self-defeating "Swing Around the Circle" campaign.

Chandler was defeated by Isaac P. Christiancy while seeking election for a fourth term in 1874, when the Michigan legislature deadlocked following a Democratic landslide in elections that year. Chandler served as the chairman of the Committee on Commerce from 1861 to 1875 and was responsible for funneling large amounts of federal funding into the developing Midwest.

Executive service

He was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Ulysses Grant in 1875 and served until 1877. The Interior Department included the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was rife with corruption. Chandler fought his predecessor Delano on political patronage in the Department and as party boss, had no reformist tendencies. However, Chandler surprised many by moving quickly to uncover fraud and dismiss corrupt people in the Interior Department. When the next administration came to power, Chandler's was one of the few departments to receive compliments from the incoming staff.[citation needed]

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. 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.


Being considered as a possible presidential candidate, Chandler went to Chicago to deliver a political speech on October 31, 1879, and was found dead in his room on the following morning. He is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit. Chandler was a lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church.

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Zachariah Chandler, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior's Timeline

December 10, 1813
Bedford, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, United States
November 1, 1879
Age 65
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States
Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, United States