A U.S. senator during the Civil War and Reconstruction, Zachariah Chandler (1813-1879) was a leading Republican and helped shape Reconstruction policy toward the South.
Zachariah Chandler was born on Dec. 10, 1813, on a farm in Bedford Township, N.H. After attending district schools, he joined the tide of westward migration from New England and settled in the frontier city of Detroit in 1833. He opened a general store, and by shrewd investments of his profits in banking, commercial enterprises, and land he became one of the richest men in the state.
Chandler entered politics as a Whig, served as mayor of Detroit in 1851-1852, but was defeated for the governorship. Increasingly hostile to the expansion of slavery, in 1854 he helped found the Michigan Republican party. Three years later the state legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate. In Washington he emerged as one of the foremost members of the Republican faction known as "Radicals" because of their demands for a vigorous antislavery policy. In 1860-1861 Chandler opposed compromise with Southern secessionists, even at the cost of war: he declared that "without a little bloodletting this Union will not, in my estimate, be worth a rush."
When war came, he helped organize and equip the first regiment of Michigan volunteers. In the Senate he obtained a position on the powerful Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which exerted pressure on the Lincoln administration for a more aggressive war policy and harassed cautious or conservative Union Army generals, especially George B. McClellan. Chandler was also chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce; he promoted the passage of measures creating a national banking system, higher tariffs, and other legislation to finance the war and aid Northern industrial growth. He was critical of Lincoln's moderate conditions for restoration of the South to the Union and bitterly opposed to Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policy. A roughhewn, grim-visaged, hard-drinking, plain-speaking man, Chandler denounced Johnson as a traitor and voted for the President's conviction on impeachment charges in 1868.
Chandler reached the height of his power in the Grant administration; he was influential in formulating policy and used Federal patronage to build a personal political machine in Michigan. But Democratic victory in the 1874 state elections cost Chandler his seat in the Senate. President Grant appointed him secretary of the interior in 1875, and he did much to clean up this notoriously corrupt department. As chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1876-1877, he played a key role in the victory of Rutherford B. Hayes in the disputed 1876 presidential election. Chandler was again elected to the Senate in February 1879 but served only a few months before his death on November 1.
There is no satisfactory biography of Chandler. The staff of the Detroit Post and Tribune compiled and published the laudatory Zachariah Chandler: An Outline Sketch of His Life and Public Services (1880) after his death. For hostile views of Chandler and other Radical Republicans see Claude Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution after Lincoln (1929), and T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals (1941). A sympathetic interpretation, reflecting the trend of recent scholarship, is in Hans Trefousse, The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice (1969).