Samuel Seward, described as "a prosperous, domineering doctor and businessman," was the founder of the S.S. Seward Institute, which today is a secondary school in the Florida Union Free School District. The Seward family had migrated to America in the early eighteenth century. Samuel's father was a colonel in the New Jersey Militia during the Revolutionary War.
|Miller / Seward Home, Auburn, New York|
|Frances Miller Seward|
- Augustus Henry Seward (1826–1876)
- Frederick William Seward (1830–1915)
- Cornelia Seward (1836–1837; died of smallpox at the age of 5 months)
- William Henry Seward, Jr. (1839–1920)
- Frances "Fanny" Adeline (1844–1866)
In 1838, Seward again challenged Marcy, and this time was elected Governor of New York. He was narrowly re-elected to a second two-year term in 1840. As a state senator and governor, Seward promoted progressive political policies including prison reform and increased spending on education. He supported state funding for schools for immigrants operated by their own clergy and taught in their native language. This support, which included Catholic parochial schools, came back to haunt him in the 1850s, when anti-Catholic feelings were high, especially among ex-Whigs in the Republican Party.
Seward's eldest son, Augustus Henry, graduated from West Point, pursued a career in the army, and spent much of his life in the West in the paymaster corps. He rose to the rank of major.
|Seward with William Jr. and Fanny|
|Fanny and Seward|
Seward's son, Frederick. did well at Union College, graduating in 1849, and served as secretary to his father from 1849 to 1857. He worked as associate editor of the Albany Evening Journal edited by Thurlow Weed from 1851 to 1861.
Seward presented himself as an enemy of the Slave Power, the perceived conspiracy of southern slave owners to seize the government and defeat the progress of liberty for all people, regardless of race. Seward believed that slavery was morally wrong, and said so many times, outraging Southerners. He acknowledged that slavery was legal under the Constitution, but denied that the Constitution recognized or protected slavery. He famously remarked in 1850 that "there is a higher law than the Constitution". Gaining the nickname "Higher Law" Seward, he continued to argue this point of view over the next decade.
|Interior of Seward's Auburn Home|
There are two areas of the Seward House that are associated with Underground Railroad use; an oral history from the Sewards' granddaughter, Frances Messenger, recalls that Mrs. Seward referred to the area over the woodshed as her "dormitory." Also, an 1891 newspaper article reports "it is said that the old kitchen was one of the most popular stations of the Underground Railroad, and that many a poor slave who fled by this route to Canada carried to his grave the remembrance of its warmth and cheer."
In addition to Frances' work, there is an indication that William Seward, while a senator in Washington, D.C., worked with African American hotelkeeper, James Wormley, to transport fugitives to freedom.
|Harriet Tubman's Home|
"Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly they must not, I am sure they will not be broken. The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battle fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation."Lincoln took the sentiment, stripped it of its orotundity, and produced one of the most stirring political statements in American history:
"Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
|Lincolun's First Inauguration|
- an amendment forbidding any alteration of the Constitution that would allow Congress to interfere with slavery where it already existed,
- legislation granting jury trial to fugitive slaves, and
- a recommendation to the states that they repeal personal liberty laws that were in conflict with the Constitution.
When his father was appointed Secretary of State, Frederick became assistant secretary of state, in charge of consular service. and then joined the editorial staff of the Albany Evening Journal.
|William Henry Seward, Jr.|
In November 1861, two Confederate agents, Mason and Slidell, were forcibly taken from a British steamer on the high seas by a Union warship. The English government demanded their return. Tempers rose high in both England and the Union, but Seward was determined to avoid war with Great Britain. He agreed to surrender the prisoners in a note that skillfully emphasized the consistency of this action with a policy regarding seizures on the high seas for which the United States had long contended. The surrender of Mason and Slidell to the British government, Seward declared, was in accordance with fundamental American principles. A treaty that Seward negotiated in 1862 with Lord Lyons, British minister to the United States, provided agreement as to the right of search on the high seas, and set forth strong measures by which the United States and Great Britain agreed to enforce an end to the Atlantic slave trade.
Between 1861 and 1865, Seward's attitude toward Lincoln in part remained the same, and in part changed markedly in character. While from the first he gave the President tactful advice about social procedures, he harbored a feeling of bitterness over his rejection at Chicago and a belief that this "Illinois lawyer" was not competent to handle the great burdens of the Presidency. Seward believed that he himself would have to be the real head of state, originating policies and formulating plans of action. This attitude made him a problem to the President, one that Lincoln tactfully but firmly set right. Once it became clear to Seward that the great decisions as to foreign policy were to be made at the White House, the two men began to work in harmony. Their personal relationship became close and friendly. Lincoln developed great respect for Seward's skill in carrying on diplomatic relations, and valued him as a balance between the radical and conservative elements in the Republican party.
Mary Todd Lincoln told her husband that she hated to see him “let that hypocrite, Seward, twine you around his finger as if you were a skein of thread.” In September, 1861, a group of New Yorkers warned Lincoln about Seward’s drinking and smoking, a charge that Lincoln waved aside. A year later, a delegation of Radical Republicans from New York went to Washington with ostensible evidence of Seward’s leniency toward Southern “traitors.” Lincoln retorted, “It is plain enough what you want. You want to get Seward out of the cabinet.” He said that every one of them would be content to see the country ruined “if you could turn out Seward.”
Despite his endorsement of expansionist policies, Seward strongly advocated non-interventionism. After Tsar Alexander II put down the 1863 January Uprising in Poland, French Emperor Napoleon III asked the United States to "join in a protest to the Tsar." Seward declined, "defending our policy of non-intervention - straight, absolute, and peculiar as it may seem to other nations,'" and insisted that "[t]he American people must be content to recommend the cause of human progress by the wisdom with which they should exercise the powers of self-government, forbearing at all times, and in every way, from foreign alliances, intervention, and interference."
On April 5th, 1865, Seward embarked with several members of his family to meet Lincoln near Richmond, where the prospect of serious peace talks beckoned. Not far from home, the door to the carriage flew open, and when the driver dismounted to secure it the horses bolted. Seward leaped out, attempting to grab the reins. Instead, he fell and was carried back to his house unconscious. He had fractured his lower jaw and his right arm, and the doctor considered his condition “perilous in the extreme.”
|Seward Carriage in which injury occurred|
|Seward's Home in Washington, D.C.|
Powell's attack on Seward was coordinated with Booth's attack on President Lincoln and an attack on Vice President Andrew Johnson in order to maximize the element of surprise and to sever the continuity of the United States government.
Powell was able to gain access to the Seward home by telling the butler that he was delivering medicine for Seward. Upon entry to the home, Powell began climbing up the stairs, but was stopped at the top by Frederick, Seward's eldest son.
|Illustration of Frederick Seward |
struggling with Lewis Powell
|Ulysses S. Grant|
|George Armstrong Custer|
Seward's most famous achievement as Secretary of State was his successful acquisition of Alaska from Russia. On March 30, 1867, he completed negotiations for the territory, which involved the purchase of 586,412 square miles of territory (more than twice the area of Texas) for $7,200,000, or approximately two cents per acre (equivalent to $118 million in today's dollars). The purchase was variously mocked by the public as Seward's Folly, "Seward's Icebox," and Andrew Johnson's "polar bear garden." When asked what he considered to be his greatest achievement as Secretary of State, Seward replied "The purchase of Alaska—but it will take the people a generation to find it out."
|Check for Purchase of Alaska|
The paralysis that made his right arm and hand nearly useless was now appearing on his left side. He had lost his old exuberant vivacity, but his love of travel remained. In August 1870, he started on a trip around the world with a party of six, including Olive Risley and her younger sister, Harriet. Gradually the party diminished to Seward and the two girls, and to stop the tongues of gossip, Seward adopted Olive as his daughter.
Seward had grown physically weaker during the trip, and before it ended he had two personal servants in attendance. But he now began work on his autobiography, which he had carried down to the New York state election of 1834. Then, working with Olive's help as editor, he began William H. Seward's Travels Around the World. It was published in 1873, a massive volume of 720 pages that sold over 60,000 copies.
On October 10, 1872, Seward died in his home office in Auburn, New York, after having difficulty breathing. He was 71 years old.
|Seward Family Graves|
Olive Risley Seward and Seward's three surviving sons were named joint heirs of the Seward estate. Seward left the Auburn home to his son, William Seward, Jr.; it passed on to his grandson, William Henry Seward III, in 1920. At his death in 1951, it became a museum that opened to the public in 1955.