Elihu Benjamin Washburne (September 23, 1816, Livermore, Maine – October 23, 1887, Chicago, Illinois) was one of seven brothers who played a prominent role in the early formation of the Republican Party. He later served as Secretary of State in 1869.
In 1840 he graduated from Harvard Law School and passed the Bar. Washburne left Massachusetts and settled Galena, Illinois, hoping to make his fortune.
Washburne represented northwestern Illinois in the United States House of Representatives from 1853 to 1869. While in Congress, he was also a member of the Appropriations Committee.
He was known for his courage, and met President-elect Abraham Lincoln upon his arrival in Washington, D.C. on February 23, 1861 in spite of ann assassination attempt that was feared while other Republican leaders were afraid to take on this duty. Washburne and his brothers had hidden the location of President-elect Lincoln by personally cutting telegraph wires in key locations.
Originally a Whig, Washburne was among the original proponents of legal racial equality. As a congressman, he served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. After the Civil War, Washburne advocated that large plantations be divided up to provide compensatory property for freed slaves.
Washburne served as President Ulysses S. Grant's Secretary of State, replacing William H. Seward. He became ill after becoming secretary and served for only twelve days in March 1869; it remains the shortest term of any Secretary of State. He then became minister -- head of the U.S. diplomatic mission -- to France. He was the only diplomat from a major power to stay in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and played a major role in providing both diplomatic and humanitarian support during the siege of Paris and, after the war, the Paris Commune.
Washburne retired from government in 1876, although he was mentioned as a presidential candidate at the Republican conventions in 1880 and 1884. He moved to Chicago and served as president of the Chicago Historical Society from 1884 to 1887.
Three of Washburne's brothers (Cadwallader C. Washburne, William D. Washburne, and Israel Washburne, Jr.) also became politicians. His son, Hempstead Washburne, was mayor of Chicago from 1891 to 1893.
Washburne Street at 1230 south in Chicago is named in honor of Elihu Washburne.