Edwin Stanton In ‘Manhunt’ Explained: Why Did Stanton Barricade Himself in His Office?

Apple TV+’s historical drama Manhunt takes place after Lincoln’s assassination. The story revolves around Edwin Stanton, the US Secretary of War and one of the two main characters. During one of the most grueling periods in American history, Stanton took it upon himself to assist Lincoln in creating a nation that was free to all people. Whether the real Edwin Stanton truly was as righteous as shown in this Apple TV+ series would be up for debate, but Tobias Menzies’ portrayal of Stanton has won my heart. Through his own journey, this fictional Stanton makes the audience acknowledge the ideas and struggles of the Black folks that he stood for. For centuries, White folks had enslaved and oppressed people of color, but for men like Lincoln and Stanton to appropriately use their privilege to put an end to this cycle of violence and oppression was a display of valor and humility. 


In reality, every political move has its own hidden agenda, and we may never know Lincoln and Stanton’s real motives; however, the series explores the inner turmoil and weaknesses of a man who sacrificed his own health to ensure the survival of this idea of freedom that his friend died for. 

Spoilers Ahead


Who is Stanton?

In Manhunt, Stanton is the acting Secretary of War and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln’s death, Stanton takes it upon himself to bring Lincoln’s murderers to justice. Stanton ends up becoming the very symbol of the abolishment movement after the President dies, which makes him a thorn in the eyes of several people, including President Johnson. Throughout the series, Stanton is seen recalling his conversations with Lincoln to seek guidance through different situations that he comes across during Johnson’s presidency. Manhunt explores the relationship Stanton and Lincoln had and how it helped him make decisions that shaped the nation. Following the assassination, it was Stanton and his men who first suspected the Confederacy’s involvement in the murder. 

Why does Stanton not like Johnson? 

Stanton and Lincoln had created an elaborate plan for America after the war, which they called Reconstruction. As the name suggests, reconstruction ensured that the power taken away from the Confederates would be used to uplift the freed black men. Their plans ensured that these men would be granted a livelihood, respect, and protection. However, Lincoln’s death meant Johnson becoming President, which would jeopardize everything Lincoln and Stanton had been working for. 


Stanton saw Johnson as an incompetent man, and to further prove his point, at one instance, Johnson even asked Stanton to explain the meaning of reconstruction to him. Johnson had a drinking problem before assuming the presidency and had been on the sidelines during the entire war, which is why he had no clue what Lincoln wanted to do with the country after the war. Even when he learned of the reconstruction, he decided to go his own way with the plans. Johnson was himself a slaver once and was likely a racist himself. He didn’t believe that black people deserved citizenship rights. The Land Grant Bill, which provided lands to the freed black folks by Lincoln, was also rescinded by Johnson, which further upset Stanton and his supporters. 

Why did Stanton’s health deteriorate? 

Stanton suffered from severe asthma, and throughout the events of the series, his physical overexertion to tackle Johnson and unearth the Confederate conspiracy led to the worsening of his condition. Ever since Stanton joined Lincoln in this battle against slavery, things have been quite stressful for him. However, after Lincoln’s death, all the responsibilities that he shared with the President now lay on his shoulders. Even though he had his son, Eddie, and other supporters like Eckert, Johnson was a self-sufficient man, but again, that is what affected his health the most. 


He believed that he had to oversee everything that was happening in his chain of command to ensure that things were in place. One may even say that Johnson trusts very few people, but this is what makes him so efficient. This can be seen in the way he takes it upon himself to find clues that connect Booth to the Confederates. It is quite uncommon for politicians of high status, like Stanton, to actually follow cases in the field. Even when arresting Sanders, he puts his own life on the line just to achieve his objective. Even when his doctor advises him to rest after his asthma worsens, Stanton prioritizes pursuing Booth. 

Why does Stanton barricade himself in his office? 

After the success of the trial against the Confederate sympathizers who conspired against Lincoln, Stanton and the other supporters held a gathering to celebrate this momentous occasion. When Johnson pays a visit to Lorenzo at the celebration, Stanton immediately figures out that he is about to be fired by Johnson and will be replaced by Lorenzo as the new Secretary of War. Johnson wanted to fire him because Stanton wouldn’t withdraw his troops from the southern states even on direct orders. 


A flashback shows that at the end of the Civil War, Stanton had asked Lincoln to allow him to resign from his post as Secretary of War. Stanton was a family man, and now that his country did not need his service anymore, Stanton felt it was time to retire. However, Lincoln did not accept his resignation. Lincoln believed that the reconstruction would be nothing without Stanton’s contributions. The Civil War was not even as tiresome as the Reconstruction was going to be, and to ensure the smooth rollout of their policies, Lincoln needed Stanton’s political expertise. 

Stanton complies with Johnson’s orders and offers to show Lorenzo around the office. He begins packing up his belongings from his office, but then realizes that his leaving the office would roll back reconstruction completely. Coming to this realization, Stanton makes an impulsive decision and locks himself in the office of the Department of War. He spends the next three months in the office, maintaining his position as Secretary of War and opposing Johnson, while Johnson undergoes an impeachment trial. 


What happens to Stanton in the end? 

After four years of fighting Johnson’s conservative rhetoric against him, Stanton is visited by his son Eddie Jr., who informs him about his nomination as a Justice in the Supreme Court. Becoming a justice would’ve given him the authority to roll out the policies that Lincoln had intended and fight against other social evils that still persisted after the war. However, by now Stanton’s health had deteriorated a lot, and he had even lost the strength to walk properly. Soon after he receives the news of his nomination, Stanton succumbs to his illness and passes away. Stanton had spent his life fighting one of the greatest evils of mankind, and without his efforts, the world would’ve been a different place. 

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Shrey Ashley Philip
Shrey Ashley Philip
A teacher, photographer, linguist, and songwriter, Shrey started out as a Biotechnology graduate, but shifted to studying Japanese. Now he talks about movies, advocates for ADHD awareness, and embraces Albert Camus.

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