The New Student's Reference Work/Seward, William Henry
Seward (sū′ẽrd), William Henry, was
born at Florida, N. Y., May 16, 1801. He
WILLIAM H. SEWARD graduated at Union College in 1820, and became a lawyer. He joined the Whigs, being the party leader in the state senate from 1830 to 1834. Defeated for the governorship in 1834, he was elected in 1838 and 1840. He refused a nomination for a third term, and between 1843 and 1849, when he entered the United States senate, he gained an enviable reputation as a criminal and patent lawyer. While governor he had refused to surrender to the governor of Virginia three negro seamen, demanded on the charge of inciting a slave to escape. He was against the admission of Texas as a slave-holding state, and thus became marked as an opponent of slavery. His speech in defense of Freeman, a negro murderer, Gladstone has called “the greatest forensic effort in the English language.” Two terms as senator brought him to the front as an able and patriotic statesman, and when the Republican party was formed he became one of its first leaders. A strong candidate for the presidential nomination in 1860, Seward entered Lincoln's cabinet at its head, filling the office of secretary of state from 1861 to 1869. His moderation in the Trent affair, in which he advised giving up the envoys, as demanded by England, probably saved us from a war with Britain. His claim for damages from the English government, because of the Alabama being fitted out in British ports, was sustained. His most important service to the country, perhaps, was his purchase of Alaska (q. v.) from Russia in 1867. In the spring of 1865 Mr. Seward was thrown from his carriage, breaking his jaw and an arm. While confined to bed, on the night of Lincoln's assassination, April 14, one of the conspirators made his way to the secretary's room and severely cut his face and neck. Seward died at Auburn, N. Y., Oct. 10, 1872. Consult Life and Letters by his son.