Abraham Lincoln’s Contemporary: Zachariah Chandler (1813-1879)

Zachariah Chandler name over door at Chapin entrance, Chandler Elementary School, Detroit, Michigan

Chandler Elementary School (now closed), Detroit, Michigan

I grew up in Detroit on the city’s eastside. I went to Chandler Elementary Public School. On weekends our family would visit Chandler Park located on Chandler Park Drive. For school projects I made frequent trips to the Chandler Park Public Library. I even bowled at Chandler Lanes! The name Chandler was (and still is) everywhere in that part of Detroit. I took a trip to that part of town the other day to see some of the old spots. There was the home on Holcomb Street I grew up in-now long abandoned…

The boyhood home of Bill Nash. "My childhood's home I see again and sadden with the view..." Abraham Lincoln

As a boy I had no idea who the “Chandler” was that had his name placed everywhere. What a delight it was to learn as an adult that it was none other than Zachariah Chandler! Mr. Chandler was an important contemporary of Abraham Lincoln. So in his honor, I ventured over to Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery to visit his grave…

Bill Nash at the grave of Zachariah Chandler, Detroit, Michigan, 2011

The grave of Zachariah Chandler, Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit


Zachariah Chandler had quite a distinguished career. He wasn’t born in Detroit, but he made it his home. He was a successful businessman, politician, and abolitionist. He had been Detroit’s mayor for a time. As mayor, he was once sued by a young Lieutenant in the U.S. Army named Ulysses S. Grant (Grant won). Chandler was initially a Whig but later became a Republican-a Radical Republican. He became a U.S. Senator and also a member of Congress. He served in other offices during his life-including Secretary of the Interior under President Grant (no hard feelings?). He was very active in support of the Underground Railroad.  Like Abraham Lincoln, he disagreed with the Dred Scott decision and was against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Of course, like Lincoln, too, he was opposed to any split of the Union.  

However, Chandler voiced strong criticism of Lincoln. “Lincoln means well, but he has no force of character. He is surrounded by Old Fogy Army officers more than half of whom are downright traitors and the other one half sympathize with the South.” At another time, he further remarked that Lincoln: “…was as unstable as water” and “timid, vacillating, and inefficient.” Despite these negative expressions of opinion regarding Abraham Lincoln, it must be said that Lincoln and Chandler had the same goals: preservation of the United States of America and the ending of slavery. A part of what was behind Chandler’s comments about Lincoln was his view that slavery had to end immediately. Lincoln didn’t subscribe to that view and didn’t have the power to effect that end even if he wanted too.

By the way, as I looked at my old elementary school-Chandler Elementary-I couldn’t help but chuckle that one side of the school was on McClellan Avenue. Zachariah Chandler strongly disliked General McClellan for his apparent lack of pursuing victory on the battlefield. He probably also disliked him for his “softness” on the abolition of slavery, as well. How ironic that Zachariah Chandler school should exist on McClellan Avenue!

Bill Nash at the corner of McClellan and Chapin located by Chandler Elementary School.


So, my hat is off to you Mr. Chandler. You were on the right side of history. Rest in peace.

In 1879 (the last year of Chandler’s life), he gave what has become known as his “Jeff Davis” speech. Apparently, Mr. Davis was being considered for a pension based on his military service. Zachariah Chandler had a few words to say about the matter. His speech will give you a flavor of what he was like:

“Mr. President, twenty-two years ago tomorrow, in the old Hall of the Senate, now occupied by the Supreme Court of the United States, I, in company with Mr. Jefferson Davis, stood up and swore before Almighty God that I would support the Constitution of the United States. Mr. Jefferson Davis came from the cabinet of Franklin Pierce into the Senate of the United States and took the oath with me to be faithful to the government. During four years I sat in this body with Mr. Jefferson Davis and saw the preparations going on from day to day for the overthrow of this government. With treason in his heart and perjury on his lips he took the oath to sustain the government that he meant to overthrow.
“Sir, there was a method in his madness. He, in cooperation with other men from his section and in the Cabinet of Mr. Buchanan, made careful preparations for the event that was to follow. Your armies were scattered all over this broad land where they could not be used in an emergency; your fleets were scattered wherever the winds blew and water was found to float them, where they could not be used to put down rebellion; your Treasury was depleted. Preparations were carefully made. Your arms were sold under an apparently innocent clause in an army bill providing that the Secretary of War might, at his discretion, sell such arms as he deemed it for the interest of the government to sell.
“Sirs, eighteen years ago last month I sat in these halls and listened to Jefferson Davis delivering his farewell address, informing us what our constitutional duties to this government were, and then he left and entered into a rebellion to overthrow the government he had sworn to support!   I remained here, sir, during the whole of that terrible rebellion. I saw our brave soldiers by thousands and hundreds of thousands, aye, I might say millions, pass through to the theater of war, and I saw their shattered ranks return; I saw steamboat after steamboat and railroad train after railroad train arrive with the maimed and the wounded; I was with my friend from Rhode Island (Mr. Burnside) when he commanded the Army of the Potomac, and saw piles of legs and arms that made humanity shudder; I saw the widow and the orphan in their homes, and heard the weeping and the wailing of those who had lost their dearest and their best. Mr. President, I little thought at that time that I should live to hear in the Senate of the United States eulogies upon Jefferson Davis, living – a living rebel eulogized on the floor of the Senate of the United States! Sir, I am amazed to hear it; and I can tell the gentlemen on the other side that they little know the spirit of the North when they come here at this day, and, with bravado on their lips, utter eulogies upon a man whom every man, woman, and child in the North believes to have been a double-dyed traitor to his government.”

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4 Responses to “Abraham Lincoln’s Contemporary: Zachariah Chandler (1813-1879)”

  1. B. Nash says:

    Hi Mark: Have you done your genealogy? It would be quite an honor if Zachariah Chandler is your ancestor. He was a great man totally devoted to our country and the abolition of slavery.

  2. Mark Chandler says:

    I have been helping my son Mark Jr. research the Civil War when I came upon this man Chandler. Wow, born and raised in Dearborn Heights MI myself
    this is a fascinating glimpse into a great man! It was told to me by my Grandfather that we had a great man in our family history that helped shape this country. This could be him!

  3. B. Nash says:

    Nicole: It is an honor to have you visiting my Lincoln blog. Zachariah Chandler was a great and honorable man. If you come to the Detroit area let me know. My wife and I would be glad to give you the tour!

  4. Nicole Lendman says:

    Zachariah is my Ancestor. My Maiden name is Chandler. Thank you for sharing this info. It means a lot to our family! He was a real patriot! He was Not afraid to speak his mind! a Trait that still runs strong in my family! lol I wish I could come visit all the locations you spoke of. at least now I know of them and some day soon hopefully I can take a road trip and get some great photos for the family.

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