J. Donald Cameron

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J. Donald “Don” Cameron
J. Donald Cameron Brady-Handy.jpg
Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
From: March 20, 1877 – March 3, 1897
Predecessor Simon Cameron
Successor Boies Penrose
32nd United States Secretary of War
From: May 22, 1876 – March 4, 1877
President Ulysses S. Grant
Predecessor Alphonso Taft
Successor George W. McCrary
Former Chair of the Republican
National Committee

From: November 1, 1879 – July 2, 1880
Predecessor Zachariah Chandler
Successor Marshall Jewell
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Mary McCormick (died 1874)
Elizabeth B. Sherman

James Donald Cameron (May 14, 1833 – August 30, 1918), also known as Don Cameron,[1] was a Republican from Pennsylvania who served as the state's U.S. senator from two decades, spanning 1877 to 1897. A leader in GOP machine politics, he aligned with the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party,[2] staunchly supporting business interests and civil rights for blacks.

Although a pro-business conservative who consistently voted on behalf of traditional party issues, Cameron's tenure in the Senate was notably weak and undistinguished unlike that of his father Simon Cameron.[3]


Cameron was born in Middleton, Pennsylvania (located in Dauphin County) to Simon Cameron and the former Margaret Brua. One of several children, he attended the College of New Jersey (known today as Princeton University),[3] where he graduated in 1852 and proceeded to receive a graduate degree three years later. Afterwards, Cameron became a cashier and bank clerk in Middleton for some period of time.[1]

During the American Civil War, Cameron maintained supervision over the transportation of Union troops over the Northern Central Railroad, an enterprise run by his father.[3] In the post-war years from 1866 to 1874, he was the president of the Pennsylvania Northern Central Railroad Company.

Political career

From 1876 to 1877, Cameron served as Secretary of War under the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. In this capacity, he made efforts to safeguard blacks, carpetbaggers, and scalawags in the Southern states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina from Democratic Party terrorism.[3]

U.S. Senate

Stalwart Republicans



Other members:

Related topics:

In 1877, Cameron became a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania following the resignation of his father. Despite obtaining such an important post in addition to assuming leadership of the elder Cameron's political machine (which resulted in effectively being the Pennsylvania Republican Party "boss"),[3] his political skills were lacking, in addition to charisma.[4] While a consistent party loyalist, Cameron seldom spoke on the Senate floor or introduced legislation.[3]

Undated picture of Cameron.

Although generally quiet, Cameron was outspoken in his support for protective tariffs,[4] a position held by most Republicans.

During the 1880 presidential election, Cameron served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Aligned with congressional conservative Stalwarts led by Roscoe Conkling,[2] he supported nominating former president Grant to run for an unprecedented, non-consecutive third term.[5]

In 1882, factionalism divided the Pennsylvania GOP and handed a victory to Democrats when roughly 40,000 Liberal Republicans deemed "Half-Breeds" by the Republican machine bolted from the party in the gubernatorial election that year to vote for an "Independent Republican" candidate.[3] Several years later in the mid-1880s, Cameron was replaced as machine leader by Matthew S. Quay, who proved to surpass the former in influence and capabilities.[4]

The Federal Elections Bill of 1890 introduced by conservative Republican Massachusetts senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., narrowly passed the House by a party-line vote and faced a blockade in the Senate. Western liberal Republicans opposed the bill under the belief that the stance would draw support from Southern Democrats into their pro-free silver cause, while Northern pro-business Republicans such as Cameron and Quay emphasized protective tariffs.[6] Although the Pennsylvania senatorial duo did not oppose the legislation, they prioritized the tariff issue and did comparably little to help pass the Lodge bill.

In the 1896–97 elections, Cameron declined to run for another term due to the increasing intraparty power of Quay.[1]

Later life and death

In 1914 at the age of eighty-one, Cameron left four million dollars into a trust fund for his children and grandchildren.[7]

On August 30, 1918, Cameron died in his country home "Donegal" at the age of eighty-five, having been stricken with paralysis for three weeks and remaining unconscious for a period of time.[1] He is interred at Harrisburg Cemetery.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 August 31, 1918. DON CAMERON DIES; 20 YEARS A SENATOR; Once Republican Leader of Pennsylvania, Aged 85, Spent Last Days on His Farm. GRANT'S WAR SECRETARY In Business He Started as Clerk in His Father's Bank--His $4,000,000 Estate in Trust. Mme. Helen von Doenhoff. The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 James Garfield (1831-1881). The Latin Library. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 J. Donald Cameron Historical Marker. ExplorePAhistory.com. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 August 11, 2019. Matthew Quay: The Political Boss Who Made Two Presidents! Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  5. Weisberger, Bernard A. James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  6. Koenig, Louis W. Benjamin Harrison. Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  7. December 23, 1914. $4,000,000 TRUST FUND FOR CAMERON HEIRS; Ex. Senator Provides That Income Shall be Divided Among Children and Grandchildren. The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2021.

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