William H. Seward


October 25, 1858: William Seward on the "irrepressible conflict" between the North and South

 In the late 1850s Seward (1801-1872) stood an excellent chance of being nominated for president. In 1858, in his most famous speech, this fervent Abolitionist explained why decades of attempts at compromise between slavery and freedom had failed and must continue to fail. Click here to read substantial excerpts from the "irrepressible conflict" speech. Despite some errors of knowledge and logic, it's a principled, rational, well-thought-out speech of the sort we seldom hear from 21st-century politicians.

Delegates to the Republican National Convention in 1860 gave Seward the most votes on the first ballot, but not enough to win the presidential nomination. Lincoln was eventually nominated in hopes he would win in the key states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois.

"Seward's Folly"

Seward's efforts on behalf of Lincoln and his political expertise were rewarded with the position of Secretary of State, which he held from 1861 to 1869. A proponent of territorial expansion for the United States, he lobbied for the purchase of the Alaska territory ("Seward's Folly") from Russia for $70 million. Seward signed the treaty acquiring Alaska on March 30, 1867.

Seward's sculpture

Seward was the first New Yorker to be honored with a monument in the city. Alas, it was so unexciting that rumors circulated that the artist, Randolph Rogers, had merely grafted Seward's head on the same body he'd used for a statue of Lincoln in Philadelphia's Fairmont Park. He quite clearly did not.

Lincoln Fairmount Park Philadelphia

Above: Lincoln by Randolph Rogers, in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. Wikipedia / Smallbones

Cross References