- NAME: William Seward
- OCCUPATION: Lawyer, Governor, U.S. Representative, Government Official
- BIRTH DATE: May 16, 1801
- DEATH DATE: October 10, 1872
- EDUCATION: Farmers' Hall Academy, Union College
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Florida, New York
- PLACE OF DEATH: Auburn, New York
- Full Name: William Henry Seward
- AKA: William Seward
- Nickname: Henry Seward
- AKA: Harry Seward
- AKA: William H. Seward
Best Known For
William Seward was a New York governor and U.S. senator before serving as secretary of state under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
Abraham Lincoln - Full Episode (89:44)
Biographer Walter Stahr, author of "Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man," describes the contributions of William Seward, from buying Alaska to acquiring ports and islands around the world. Video courtesy of Simon & Schuster © 2012.
Biography takes a rare glimpse into Abraham Lincoln's personal life, including his tumultuous marriage and abusive father.
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William Henry Seward was born on May 16, 1801, in Florida, New York. He served as a New York senator from 1830 to 1834, New York governor from 1839 to 1842, and a U.S. senator from 1849 to 1861. He went on to serve as the nation's secretary of state from 1861 to 1869, under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. In 1867,
"The right to have a slave implies the right in some one to make the slave; that right must be equal and mutual, and this would resolve society into a state of perpetual war."
"The United States are a political state, or organized society, whose end is government, for the security, welfare, and happiness of all who live under its protection."
"Sir, there is no Christian nation, thus free to choose as we are, which would establish slavery."
Seward organized the purchase of the Alaska territory. He was an active abolitionist throughout his life, and supported Harriet Tubman in the purchase of property in his hometown of Auburn, New York, where he died on October 10, 1872.
William Henry Seward was born on May 16, 1801, in Florida, New York. He was the fourth of six children born to Mary Jennings and Samuel Sweezy Seward, a successful businessman and doctor who was also active in local politics, and went on to found the S.S. Seward Institute, a secondary school that is still active today. Mary Jennings was of Irish descent, and may have been the source for her son’s thicket of unruly red hair.
A passionate student, Seward was sent to Farmers' Hall Academy and then Union College when he was 15, although he ran away to Georgia for a brief stint before graduating. His time teaching in the South, although a pleasant diversion, reinforced Seward's growing antislavery sentiments that had begun at a young age, when he became friends with his family's several slaves.
Seward studied law privately after graduation, and when paying a visit to Frances Miller—a young woman he had met through his sister, Cornelia—he was fortunate to find that her father, Judge Elijah Miller, was seeking a junior partner. Seward and Frances were married on October 20, 1824, and thereafter, moved into the Miller family home in Auburn, New York. Both Seward and his new wife were committed to the abolition of slavery, as well as other types of social reform that were controversial at the time.
With his natural loquaciousness and passion for social justice, and an alliance with political strategist Thurlow Weed, Seward was propelled into politics. He earned a term in the New York Senate in 1830, and went on to served as governor of New York for two terms, from 1839 to 1842. From 1849 to 1861, he served as a U.S. senator from New York, and then—passed over as presidential candidate in favor of Abraham Lincoln—was appointed to President Lincoln's cabinet as secretary of state. Seward and Lincoln shared a close professional relationship and personal friendship, marked by respect and good humor.
Although Seward earned himself political enemies by first calling the conflict with the South "irrepressible" and then urging caution, once the Civil War began he was unwavering in the goal to preserve the Union. Additionally, his foreign policy isolating the Confederacy from foreign allies was and continues to be highly praised.
After Lincoln's assasinaton, Seward continued as secretary of state under President Andrew Johnson—his crown jewel of that term being the acquision of Alaska, despite derisive nicknames such as "Seward's Folly," "Seward's Icebox" and "Polar Bear Garden."
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President Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet was truly one of the most unique in American history, including several of his disappointed presidential opponents—William Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Simon Cameron and Edward Bates, who lost the Republican Party's presidential nomination to Lincoln in 1860—as well as dogmatic politicians like Montgomery Blair, Hannibal Hamlin, Edwin Stanton, Gideon Welles and Lincoln's future successor, President Andrew Johnson. Learn more about these historic figures, Abraham Lincoln's presidency, the American Civil War and more, only at Biography.com.
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