During the Civil War, many major historical figures were influential during this time period. Whether it was important generals that won significant battles, an individual’s act that inspired others to fight or even mentioning the President of the Unites States himself; all have in common a presence that was felt at this time in history.
William Seward was one of these individuals as on January 10th, 1861 he acknowledges his acceptance from President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s invitation to become the new secretary of state. Seward would eventually orchestrate the buying of Alaska after the Civil War concludes but will prior become one of the most influential members of the cabinet of President Lincoln.
Seward taught school in the South before returning back to native-born New York where he entered into politics. He started to voice out his opinion regarding strong views against slavery after becoming governor in 1838. Seward decided to go into the U.S. Senate by 1849 and then became notable on the national scene when debates rand out regarding the Compromise of 1850. He declared boldly that slavery would not prevail due to a “higher law than the Constitution, the law of God.” Belying his pragmatic tendencies, Seward became associated with being a radical while his statement became to abolitionists a catch phrase.
Seward continued in politics with his decision to become part of the Republican Party during the 1950s and it looked as though he could be the main candidate for president in 1860; unfortunately, Lincoln became the party’s favorite as they felt he could attract more votes in the border regions and the Midwest. Initially, Seward was hesitant to take the role as secretary of state because he really did not want to become a back seat for Lincoln plus he still felt it was his role to be the natural leader for the party. Actually, Seward misjudged Lincoln’s political sharpness as he soon discovered how well they worked together during the war; however, his overall relationship with Lincoln was not really a close one.
Seward would become in Lincoln’s cabinet one or the moderate voices. Public perception that radicals dominated the administration was thankfully countered thanks to Seward’s ability in careful politicking. Seward would downplay emancipation’s effects in order to solicit support from the conservative Republicans and Democrats during the 1864 presidential campaign even though he wanted slavery to end.
Seward was fortunate to avoid dying as the assassination of Lincoln in April of 1865 was meant for his death as well. While he lay in bed as he was recovering from an accident involving his carriage, one of John Wiles Booth’s accomplices, Lewis Powell, stabbed Seward in bed. Seward survived the ordeal and after convalescing for the summer, went back to the State Department. The purchase of Alaska from the Russians in 1867 was Seward’s final achievement. While this act Seward felt was one of his greatest accomplishments, critics was name the area “Mr. Seward’s Ice Box.” However, history would record that his belief in what he felt Alaska was valued at was clever.
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