Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Edward Bates (1861–1864): Attorney General

Edward Bates was born in 1793 in Goochland County, Virginia. Declining an appointment to become a midshipman in the Navy, Bates moved to Missouri, where he studied the law and was admitted to the state bar in 1816. Two years later, he became the circuit prosecuting attorney for Missouri and, in 1820, helped draft the constitution for the new state. He served as attorney general until 1824, after which time he spent two years as U.S. attorney for Missouri.

By 1827, Bates had been elected to the United States House of Representatives. He chose to serve only one term, however (1827-1829), before returning home to Missouri, where he became a member of the state senate in 1830. He then took up a law practice and assumed leadership of the Whig Party in Missouri.

Bates declined President Millard Fillmore’s offer to become secretary of war in 1850, choosing instead to serve as judge of the Land Court in St. Louis from 1850 to 1853. He also presided over the 1856 Whig National Convention; since he opposed slavery and secession, he ultimately joined the Republican Party.

A nominee for President in 1860, Bates lost out to Abraham Lincoln but agreed, in 1861, to become attorney general in Lincoln’s newly formed cabinet. During his almost four years of service, Bates often disagreed with Lincoln, particularly over what Bates believed were violations of Americans’ constitutional rights. As a result, Edward Bates ultimately resigned his position in 1864 and returned home to Missouri, where he died in 1869.