142 Facts About William Seward


William Henry Seward was an American politician who served as United States Secretary of State from 1861 to 1869, and earlier served as governor of New York and as a United States Senator.

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William Seward negotiated the treaty for the United States to purchase the Alaskan Territory.

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William Seward was educated as a lawyer and moved to the Central New York town of Auburn.

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William Seward was elected to the New York State Senate in 1830 as an Anti-Mason.

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William Seward was re-elected to the Senate in 1855, and soon joined the nascent Republican Party, becoming one of its leading figures.

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William Seward did his best to stop the southern states from seceding; once that failed, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to the Union cause.

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William Seward was one of the targets of the 1865 assassination plot that killed Lincoln and was seriously wounded by conspirator Lewis Powell.

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William Seward remained in his post through the presidency of Andrew Johnson, during which he negotiated the Alaska Purchase in 1867 and supported Johnson during his impeachment.

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William Seward was born on May 16,1801, in the small community of Florida, New York, in Orange County.

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William Seward was the fourth son of Samuel Sweezy Seward and his wife Mary Seward.

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Samuel William Seward was a wealthy landowner and slaveholder in New York State; slavery was not fully abolished in the state until 1827.

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Young William Seward attended school there, and in the nearby county seat of Goshen.

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William Seward was a bright student who enjoyed his studies.

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Samuel William Seward kept his son short on cash, and in December 1818—during the middle of Henry's final year at Union—the two quarreled about money.

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The younger William Seward returned to Schenectady but soon left school in company with a fellow student, Alvah Wilson.

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William Seward enjoyed his time in Georgia, where he was accepted as an adult for the first time.

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William Seward was treated hospitably, but witnessed the ill-treatment of slaves.

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William Seward was persuaded to return to New York by his family and did so in June 1819.

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William Seward could have practiced in Goshen, but he disliked the town and sought a practice in growing Western New York.

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William Seward decided upon Auburn in Cayuga County, which was about 150 miles west of Albany and 200 miles northwest of Goshen.

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William Seward joined the practice of retired judge Elijah Miller, whose daughter Frances Adeline Miller was a classmate of his sister Cornelia at Emma Willard's Troy Female Seminary.

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In 1824, William Seward was journeying with his wife to Niagara Falls when one of the wheels on his carriage was damaged while they passed through Rochester.

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William Seward's allies were dubbed the Albany Regency, as they governed for Van Buren while he was away.

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William Seward originally supported the Regency, but by 1824 had broken from it, concluding that it was corrupt.

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William Seward became part of the Anti-Masonic Party, which became widespread in 1826 after the disappearance and death of William Morgan, a Mason in Upstate New York; he was most likely killed by fellow Masons for publishing a book revealing the order's secret rites.

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William Seward was nominated for the federal House of Representatives by the Anti-Masons, but withdrew, deeming the fight hopeless.

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In 1829, William Seward was offered the local nomination for New York State Assembly, but again felt there was no prospect of winning.

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William Seward had appeared in court throughout the district, and had spoken in favor of government support for infrastructure improvements, a position popular there.

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William Seward left Frances and their children in Auburn and wrote to her of his experiences.

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William Seward accompanied his father Samuel Seward on a trip to Europe, where they met the political men of the day.

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Democratic Governor William Seward Marcy was heavily favored to be re-elected, and few prominent Whigs were anxious to run a campaign that would most likely be lost.

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The following year, William Seward accepted a position as agent for the new owners of the Holland Land Company, which owned large tracts of land in Western New York, upon which many settlers were purchasing real estate on installment.

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William Seward was successful, and when the Panic of 1837 began, persuaded the owners to avoid foreclosures where possible.

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William Seward had not run for governor in 1836, but with the Democrats unpopular, saw a path to victory in 1838.

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Weed persuaded delegates to the convention that William Seward had run ahead of other Whig candidates in 1834; William Seward was nominated on the fourth ballot.

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William Seward's opponent was again Marcy, and the economy the principal issue.

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William Seward was elected by a margin of about 10,000 votes out of 400,000 cast.

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William Seward was sworn in as governor of New York on January 1,1839, and inaugurated in front of a crowd of jubilant Whigs.

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William Seward urged that citizenship and religious liberty be granted to those who came to New York's shores.

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William Seward believed the current system was a barrier to literacy for immigrants' children and proposed legislation to change it.

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William Seward refused to formally visit Clay at his vacation home in Saratoga Springs in the interests of neutrality, beginning a difficult relationship between the two men.

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William Seward did not attend the December 1839 Whig National Convention in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, but Weed did on his behalf.

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In one, William Seward expounded upon the importance of the log cabin—a structure evoking the common man and a theme that the Whigs used heavily in Harrison's campaign—where William Seward had always found a far warmer welcome than in the marble palaces of the well-to-do.

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Stahr pointed out that William Seward got his way in having McLeod tried in a state court, and the diplomatic experience served him well as Secretary of State.

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William Seward continued his support of blacks, signing legislation in 1841 to repeal a "nine-month law" that allowed slaveholders to bring their slaves into the state for a period of nine months before they were considered free.

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William Seward signed legislation to establish public education for all children, leaving it up to local jurisdictions as to how that would be supplied.

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William Seward did not abandon politics and received former president Adams at the Seward family home in 1843.

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In 1844, William Seward was asked to run for president by members of the Liberty Party; he declined and reluctantly supported the Whig nominee, Clay.

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The major event of Polk's administration was the Mexican–American War; William Seward did not support this, feeling that the price in blood was not worth the increase in territory, especially as southerners were promoting this acquisition to expand territory for slavery.

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In 1846, William Seward became the center of controversy in Auburn when he defended, in separate cases, two felons accused of murder.

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William Seward, having long been an advocate of prison reform and better treatment for the insane, sought to prevent each man from being executed by using the relatively new defense of insanity.

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William Seward gained a hung jury in Wyatt's first trial, though he was convicted in a retrial and executed despite William Seward's efforts to secure clemency.

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William Seward gained further publicity in association with Ohioan Salmon P Chase when handling the unsuccessful appeal in the United States Supreme Court of John Van Zandt, an anti-slavery advocate sued by a slaveowner for assisting blacks in escaping on the Underground Railroad.

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Weed and William Seward worked to dispel these concerns, and when the vote for the Senate seat took place, the former governor received five times the vote of the nearest other candidate, gaining election on the first ballot.

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William Seward was sworn in as senator from New York on March 5,1849, during the brief special session called to confirm President Taylor's Cabinet nominees.

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William Seward was seen as having influence over Taylor: taking advantage of an acquaintance with Taylor's brother.

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William Seward met with the former general several times before Inauguration Day and was friendly with Cabinet officers.

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William Seward opposed the pro-slavery elements of the Compromise, and in a speech on the Senate floor on March 11,1850, invoked a "higher law than the Constitution".

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William Seward supported Scott, who he hoped would, like Harrison, unite enough voters behind a military hero to win the election.

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William Seward was determined to defeat what he called "this infamous Nebraska Bill, " and worked to ensure the final version of the bill would be unpalatable to enough senators, North and South, to defeat it.

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William Seward spoke against the bill both on initial consideration in the Senate and when the bill returned after reconciliation with the House.

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William Seward was the most prominent figure to join the new party and was spoken of as a possible presidential candidate in 1856.

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When William Seward's name was mentioned at the 1856 Republican National Convention, a huge ovation broke out.

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Sumner had read a draft of the speech to William Seward, who had advised him to omit the personal references.

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Many northerners were outraged, though some, including William Seward, felt that Sumner's words against Butler had unnecessarily provoked the attack.

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Taney later told a friend that if William Seward had been elected in 1860, he would have refused to administer the oath of office.

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Statehood for Kansas failed for the time being, but William Seward's words were repeatedly cited by Southern senators as the secession crisis grew.

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Nevertheless, William Seward remained on excellent personal terms with individual southerners such as Mississippi's Jefferson Davis.

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William Seward did not believe the federal government could mandate emancipation but that it would develop by action of the slave states as the nation urbanized and slavery became uneconomical, as it had in New York.

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In 1859, William Seward was advised by his political supporters that he would be better off avoiding additional controversial statements, and left the country for an eight-month tour of Europe and the Middle East.

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William Seward spent two months in London, meeting with the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, and was presented at Court to Queen Victoria.

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William Seward returned to Washington in January 1860 to find controversy: that some southerners blamed him for his rhetoric, which they believed had inspired John Brown to try to start a slave insurrection.

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Weed sometimes expressed certainty that William Seward would be nominated; at other times he expressed gloom at the thought of the convention fight.

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William Seward had some reason for doubt, as word from Weed's agents across the country was mixed.

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William Seward stayed in Auburn during the convention; Weed was present on his behalf and worked to shore up William Seward's support.

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William Seward was amply supplied with money: business owners had eagerly given, expecting Seward to be the next president.

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William Seward was initially inclined to retire from public life but received many letters from supporters: distrustful of Lincoln, they urged William Seward to remain involved in politics.

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At the Capitol, William Seward received sympathy even from sectional foes such as Jefferson Davis.

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William Seward journeyed by rail and boat as far north as Saint Paul, Minnesota, into the border state of Missouri at St Louis, and even to Kansas Territory, though it had no electoral votes to cast in the election.

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At Weed's advice, William Seward was slow to formally accept, doing so on December 28,1860, though well before Inauguration Day, March 4,1861.

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William Seward introduced a proposed constitutional amendment preventing federal interference with slavery.

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Congressmen introduced many such proposals, and William Seward was appointed to a committee of 13 senators to consider them.

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William Seward urged the preservation of the Union, and supported an amendment such as the one he had introduced, or a constitutional convention, once passions had cooled.

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William Seward hinted that New Mexico Territory might be a slave state, and urged the construction of two transcontinental railroads, one northern, one southern.

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William Seward suggested the passage of legislation to bar interstate invasions such as that by John Brown.

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Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a radical, warned that if Lincoln, like William Seward, ignored the Republican platform and tried to purchase peace through concessions, he would retire, as too old to bear the years of warfare in the Republican Party that would result.

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William Seward had been advised by General Winfield Scott that there was a plot to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore when he passed through the city.

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Senator William Seward sent his son Frederick to warn Lincoln in Philadelphia, and the president-elect decided to travel alone but for well-armed bodyguards.

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Later that morning, William Seward accompanied Lincoln to the White House, where he introduced the Illinoisan to President Buchanan.

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Lincoln wanted all elements of the party, as well as representation from outside it; William Seward opposed Chase, as well as former Democrats such as Gideon Welles and Montgomery Blair.

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William Seward did not get his way, and gave Lincoln a letter declining the post of Secretary of State.

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William Seward did and was both nominated and confirmed by the Senate, with minimal debate, on March 5,1861.

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William Seward, backed by most of the Cabinet, recommended to Lincoln that an attempt to resupply Sumter would be provocative to the border states, that Lincoln hoped to keep from seceding.

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William Seward hinted to the commissioners who had come to Washington on behalf of the Confederacy that Sumter would be surrendered.

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William Seward's biographers make the point that the note was sent to a Lincoln who had not yet proved himself in office.

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Meanwhile, William Seward was assuring Justice John Archibald Campbell, the intermediary with the Confederate commissioners who had come to Washington in an attempt to secure recognition, that no hostile action would be taken.

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When, in April 1861, the Confederacy announced that it would authorize privateers, William Seward sent word to the American representatives abroad that the US would become party to the Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law of 1856.

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William Seward was willing to wage war against Britain if it did and drafted a strong letter for the American Minister in London, Charles Francis Adams, to read to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Russell.

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William Seward submitted it to Lincoln, who, realizing that the Union was in no position to battle both the South and Britain, toned it down considerably, and made it merely a memorandum for Adams's guidance.

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Nevertheless, William Seward was pleased that both nations would not meet with Confederate commissioners or recognize the South as a nation.

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Britain did not challenge the Union blockade of Confederate ports, and William Seward wrote that if Britain continued to avoid interfering in the war, he would not be overly sensitive to what wording they used to describe their policies.

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William Seward persuaded Lyons to postpone delivering an ultimatum and told Lincoln that the prisoners would have to be released.

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Once William Seward was informed, he would often order that the prisoner be transferred to federal authorities.

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William Seward took action against them: his son Frederick, the United States Assistant Secretary of State, reported to his father that the disloyal legislators were in prison.

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When William Seward received allegations that former president Pierce was involved in a plot against the Union, he asked Pierce for an explanation.

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William Seward had mixed feelings about the man who had blocked him from the presidency.

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William Seward announced when cabinet meetings would be; his colleagues eventually persuaded Lincoln to set a regular date and time for those sessions.

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Two later accounts indicate that Seward felt that it was not yet time to issue it, and Lincoln did wait until after the bloody stalemate at Antietam that ended Confederate General Robert E Lee's incursion into the North to issue it.

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William Seward was not close to Lincoln's wife Mary, who by some accounts had opposed his appointment as Secretary of State.

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William Seward proposed to Lincoln that he proclaim a day of national thanksgiving, and drafted a proclamation to that effect.

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William Seward had been hurt in an accident some days before, and Powell gained entry to the home on the excuse he was delivering medicine to the injured man, but was stopped at the top of the stairs by William Seward's son Frederick, who insisted Powell give him the medicine.

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William Seward was at first thought dead, but revived enough to instruct Robinson to send for the police and lock the house until they arrived.

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Almost simultaneously with the attack on William Seward, Booth had mortally wounded Lincoln at Ford's Theatre.

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William Seward was hanged on July 7,1865, along with Herold, Atzerodt, and Surratt, convicted as conspirators in the Lincoln assassination.

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William Seward was at first recovering from his injuries, and Johnson was ill for a time in the summer of 1865.

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William Seward was likely in accord with Johnson's relatively gentle terms for the South's re-entry to the Union, and with his pardon of all Confederates but those of high rank.

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Radical Republicans such as Stanton and Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens proposed that the freed slaves be given the vote, but William Seward was content to leave that to the states, believing the priority should be reconciling the power-holding white populations of the North and South to each other.

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Unlike Lincoln, who had a close rapport with William Seward, Johnson kept his own counsel and generally did not take advantage of William Seward's political advice as Congress prepared to meet in December 1865.

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William Seward advised Johnson to state, in his first annual message to Congress, that southern states meet three conditions for readmission to the Union: repeal of secession, repudiation of the war debt incurred by the rebel governments, and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

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William Seward advised a conciliatory veto message; Johnson ignored him, telling Congress it had no right to pass bills affecting the South until it seated the region's congressmen.

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William Seward realized that a challenge to France at this point might provoke its intervention on the Confederate side, so he stayed quiet.

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William Seward used strident language publicly but was privately conciliatory toward the French.

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William Seward remained conciliatory, and in January 1866, Napoleon agreed to withdraw his troops after a twelve- to eighteen-month period, during which time Maximilian could consolidate his position against the insurgency led by Benito Juarez.

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The Union Navy had been hampered due to the lack of overseas bases during the war, and William Seward believed that American trade would be helped by the purchase of overseas territory.

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When Congress reconvened in December 1866, William Seward caused a sensation by entering the chamber of the House of Representatives and sitting down with the administration's enemy, Congressman Stevens, persuading him to support an appropriation for more money to expedite the purchase of Samana, and sent his son Frederick to the Dominican Republic to negotiate a treaty.

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William Seward had been interested in whaling as a senator; his interest in Russian America was a byproduct of this.

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William Seward hoped that Johnson would be nominated at the 1868 Democratic National Convention, but the delegates chose former New York Governor Horatio Seymour.

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William Seward gave a major speech on the eve of the election, endorsing Grant, who was easily elected.

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William Seward met twice with Grant after the election, leading to speculation that he was seeking to remain as secretary for a third presidential term.

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Restless in Auburn, William Seward embarked on a trip across North America by the new transcontinental railroad.

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On reaching the Pacific Coast, the William Seward party sailed north on the steamer Active to visit Sitka, Department of Alaska, part of the vast wilderness William Seward had acquired for the US After spending time in Oregon and California, the party went to Mexico, where he was given a hero's welcome.

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Back in Auburn, William Seward began his memoirs, but only reached his thirties before putting it aside to write of his travels.

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William Seward grew worse during the day, as his family gathered around him.

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William Seward rests with his wife Frances and daughter Fanny, in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.

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William Seward wished to prepare America for the great era which lay ahead.

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One, "John Quincy Adams William Seward", dreamed big dreams and tried to convey them in speeches, working to achieve education for all, a fair deal for immigrants, an end to slavery, and an expanded America.

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The other, "Thurlow Weed William Seward", cut backroom deals over cigars and a bottle, and was a pragmatist who often settled for half a loaf when the whole was not achievable.

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Praise William Seward has received extends to his work during the Civil War.

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Stahr wrote that William Seward "skillfully managed the nation's foreign affairs, avoiding the foreign intervention that would have ensured that the Confederacy would become a separate nation".

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William Seward has a dozen biographers, while thousands of books focus on Lincoln.

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William Seward realized this even in life; by one account, when asked to show his scars from the attempt on his life, William Seward regretted he had not been martyred along with Lincoln, "I think I deserved the reward of dying there".

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William Seward believed not only in territorial expansion but in a commercial and diplomatic empire.

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