Thomas Stackpole was a doorkeeper outside of the President’s office and a White House watchman. He served under President James Buchanan, for whom he was a guard before his promotion to doorkeeper. Mrs. Lincoln wrote that he was “a most worthy man & an especial friend of the President” and indeed he was one of Mrs. Lincoln’s few favorites on the White House staff. During the Fort Sumter crisis in March-April 1861, he shuttled messages back and forth to the War Department.
Henry Clay Whitney recalled that when he visited the White House a few days after the First Battle of Bull Run, it was Stackpole “who carried my name in, and I was immediately admitted.” The President was writing a job referral to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase and wrote that “the fact that he is urged by the Methodists should be in his favor, as they complain of us some.” Stackpole reemerged in the middle of the conversation, according to Whitney and “took occasion to make hay while the sun shone, by observing that his people were Quakers (I believe), and they had received fewer offices than the people of any other denomination; but Lincoln paid no attention to the remark….”1
Stackpole and fellow doorkeeper Thomas Burns were accused of Confederate sympathy in 1861, along with gardener John Watt. Stackpole survived an investigation by the House Select Committee on Loyalty of Clerks in 1861. He was accused of Confederate sympathy in 1861, along with gardener John Watt. He survived an investigation by the House Select Committee on Loyalty of Clerks in 1861.2
In November 1861, the President lent Stackpole $380. Stackpole appears to have fallen into bad company at the White House through association with gardener John Watt, but he had the good sense to know that Watt needed to be removed from the White House staff and preferably from Washington itself. According to a March 3, 1862 diary entry by Senator Orville H. Browning, “Stackpole, one of the employee’s at the Executive Mansion, called at my room at the Capitol this morning, in company with Watt, who came to ask me to get the President to give Watt the appointment of public gardener, or agent to buy seeds for [the] Patent office. After they left, Stackpole returned to say that Watt ought to have some appointment which would take him away from Washington. He added that [Watt] exercised a bad influence over Mrs. Lincoln, and unless he was removed from here and a new leaf turned over at the White House, the family there would all be disgraced.”3
Browning’s diary went on to detail the extent of Watt’s conniving: “…in the beginning of the Administration [he] suggested Mrs. Lincoln the making of false bills so as to get pay for private expenses out of the public treasury and had aided her in doing so, to such an extent that the president had to be informed of it, at which he was very indignant, and refunded what had been thus filched from the government out of his private purse. That Watt’s wife was now nominally stewardess at a salary of $100 per month, all of which, by private arrangement, went into Mrs. Lincoln’s pocket. That she had purchased a service of silver plate, for her private use in New York, and had it charged in a bill for repairing the government plate…[and did] tell the President that the new set had been given to her.” Browning’s diary entry concluded: “He told me many other things which were painful to hear, and which will result in the disgrace of the family at the White House, unless they are corrected.”4
Browning was not the only official to record Stackpole’s connections to Mrs. Lincoln’s scheming. Secretary John Hay wrote John G. Nicolay on a month later on April 5, 1862: “The devil is abroad, having great wrath. His daughter, the Hell-Cat, sent Stackpole in to blackguard me about the feed of her horses. She thinks there is cheating round the board and with that candor so charming in the young does not hesitate to say so. I declined opening communications on the subject.”5
On September 30, 1862, President Lincoln wrote a recommendation for him: “Thomas Stackpole, bearer of this, I have known rather intimately since my coming to the White-House, and I believe him to be a worthy and competent business man.”6 Stackpole may have been competent, but he was hardly honorable. He became steward in 1863 and was fired in 1865. According to historian Michael Burlingame, Stackpole “had gained the confidence of Mary Lincoln and then used her influence to obtain trading permits, which he sold to his friend John Hammack, a Washington restauranteur and ‘a Virginia-bred Democrat and rabid secessionist.’ Hammack in turn peddled them to his customers.” Mary Todd Lincoln acknowledged that “through me [Stackpole] gained many favors, from my good husband’ and that “he realized much money, from my own good nature to [Stackpole] as well as my husband’s.”7
In May 1866, Mrs. Lincoln wrote David Davis, the executor of the Lincoln estate, “Robert & myself have concluded, that it will be unnecessary to sue Stackpole on the note, if you have not written to him, you need not do so If you have 7 if he is willing to pay it well & good. He, will doubtless, not be very solicitous, on the subject & most likely, it will go, as a bad debt Stackpole, had been kind & thoughtful towards us, as a family, in our deep trouble, at the W.H. – was the occasion of my exonerating, from the debt, – as no reliance probably, could be placed upon him, as to the payment, in the absence of the note –rather than sue him, of a necessity, we will have to abandon it without he should come forward & pay it, which is not likely.”8
- Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 437
- Michael A. Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 186.
- Burlingame,At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 186.
- Burlingame, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings,p. 187.
- Burlingame,At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 20. (April 5, 1862)
- Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, p. 447.
- Burlingame, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 190.
- Justin G. Turner & Linda Levitt Turner, editors, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 344-345 (Letter from Mary Todd Lincoln to David Davis, March 14, 1866).