Biography of William Seward


WILLIAM HENRY SEWARD, American statesman, was born at Florida, New York, May 16th, 1803, of Welsh and Irish descent. He entered Union College at 15; in 1819, he visited the South, and was engaged for six months as a school teacher in Georgia. Called to the bar in 1822, he settled at Auburn, Western New York, and became the partner and son-in-law of Judge Miller. In 1825, his political abilities were manifested in an oration delivered at Syracuse, and in 1828, he was chosen president of a state convention. At this period New York was the centre of a wide-spread excitement against Freemasons, and Seward as a leading anti-mason, was elected to the state senate. In 1838, he was elected governor of New York. In this position he recommended the increase of education, internal improvements, a liberal policy towards foreign immigrants, and took the side of abolition in the growing controversies on slavery. In 1849, he was elected to the senate of the United States, where he became the acknowledged leader of his party, and in the debate on the admmission of California, he promulgated what was called his "higher law" doctrine in saying that there was "a higher law than the Constitution which regulated the authority of Congress over the national domain - the law of God and the interest of humanity." In a speech at Rochester, New York, in 1858, he declared that "there was an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces," and that the United States must become either entirely slave or entirely free. In 1859, he revisited Europe, and extended his tour to Egypt and the Holy Land, and in 1860, was the most prominent candidate of the Republican party for nomination for the Presidency. Mr. Seward accepted the important post of Secretary of State under President Lincoln, and guided the diplomacy of the Federal government through the perils of the War of Secession, with almost unparalleled energy and success. On the invasion of Mexico by the French in 1862, he persisted in recognizing the government of Juarez. In 1865, he declared the attempt to establish a foreign and imperial government in Mexico to be disallowable and impracticable. The French army was accordingly withdrawn in 1866, and Napoleon III humiliated by the failure of his enterprise. On the 14th of April, 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, and at the same time another assassin, named Payne, penetrated to the room of Mr. Seward, dangerously wounded his son, and with a poignard inflicted wounds upon Mr. Seward, which were at first believed to be fatal, but from which he slowly recovered. In 1868-1869, he made a voyage to Alaska, the purchase of which he successfully advocated, and visited California and Mexico on the route. In 1870-1871, he visited China, Japan and Egypt, being everywhere received with distinguished honors. The Mikado of Japan gave him a private audience, an honor never before accorded to a foreigner. He died at Auburn, New York, October 10th, 1872.