04948 - William H. Seward; United States Secretary of State, 1861-1869 [LC-DIG-cwpb-04948]
Though a staunch abolitionist, William Seward grew up in a slave holding family in New York. He later wrote that his close contact with slaves formed his belief that there was something wrong with owning another individual and committing him to becoming an abolitionist. Along with his wife Frances, he harbored numerous runaway slaves on the underground railway as they passed through to Canada.
Elected to the Senate in 1849 and re-elected in 1855 he was well placed for a presidential run in 1860. After garnering support from many Republicans, he felt his nomination was secure and departed for an eight month holiday in Europe. During his departure, Abraham Lincoln quietly began seeking support on the chance Seward would not be nominated on the first ballot. Upon his return Stewart gave a speech to reassure moderates about his pro Union stance and lost support of many more radical Republicans, including Horace Greeley. Lincoln was able to capitalize on the support he had gathered while Seward was in Europe and took the nomination.
Seward strongly supported Lincoln; giving speeches and touring the country on his behalf. For his support Lincoln nominated Seward for Secretary of State. He resigned from the Senate to serve both Lincoln and Johnson from 1861-1869 as Secretary. On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, Lewis Powell (a Booth conspirator) entered Seward’s home and stabbed the Secretary and four members of his family and staff before fleeing. The attack was so severe that his wife died in June from the shock of nearly losing her husband and sons. Seward had facial scars from the attack for the rest of his life.
After the Lincoln assassination, Seward is most noted for the purchase of Alaska for 7.2 million dollars. He was much maligned at the time for negotiating this purchase with Russia, but felt that it was one of his most significant achievements. Leaving office in 1869 he spent the next 14 months travelling around the world. He returned to New York and died just over a year later at the age of 71.