Edwin Stanton was the son of an Ohio physician and a storekeeper. Born 19 December 1814 in Steubenville, Ohio, Stanton’s father, also named Edwin, died in 1827. Stanton, who was the oldest of four children, was fourteen years old. He quit school to help support the family by assisting his mother in running her general store. Stanton later returned to school, attending Kenyon College.
In 1833, Stanton returned to Steubenville where he studied law and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1836. He married Mary Lamson on 31 May 1836. Stanton built a home in Cadiz, Ohio, where he and Mary had two children, Lucy and Edwin. Lucy died in 1841. Edwin survived his father, dying in 1877. Mary Stanton died 13 March 1844. Stanton’s brother, Darwin, committed suicide in 1846. The loss of five loved ones in five years sent Stanton into a depression so deep that it changed him. The good-humored Stanton became an intense man.
After Mary’s death, Stanton moved from Cadiz to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he met his second wife, Ellen Hutchinson. Stanton then moved to Washington, DC, in 1856 where he practiced law before the United States Supreme Court. He was one of the first attorneys to successfully use the insanity defense. Stanton gave up his law practice in 1860 when he was appointed Attorney General of the United States under President James Buchanan.
Stanton was a Democrat who strongly opposed secession. During the Lincoln administration, Stanton was legal advisor to Secretary of War Simon Cameron. When Cameron was accused of corruption, Lincoln reassigned him and replaced him with Stanton on 15 January 1862.