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THE LIFE OF
WILLIAM H. SEWARD



By
FREDERIC BANCROFT

II
WITH PORTRAITS

IN TWO VOLUMES
Vol. II.




NEW YORK AND LONDON

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS

1900



0.



E~4I5



WUv C,/9<fO



Copyright, 1899, byH^ PER & Brotbers

All rights rcstrvcd.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER PAGE

XXV. The Winter op 1860-61 : Seward Preserves

the National Status 1

XXVI. Seward's Opinions on the Tariff, Public
Lands, Internal Improvements, Subsidies,

Commerce, Etc 46

XXVII. The Man and the Senator, 1849-61 70

XXVIII. Signs of the Inadequacy of Seward's Policy of

Peace and Reconciliation 91

XXIX. Seward's Struggle for Supremacy 123

XXX. The Department of State. — Shaping Foreign

Relations, 1861 150

XXXI. Two Diplomatic Incidents : Seward and the
Declaration of Paris ; British and French
"Negotiations" with the Confederacy . . 187
XXXII. "King Cotton," The Blockade, and the Eu-
ropean Inclination to Interfere, 1861 . . . 204

XXXIII. The Trent Affair 223

XXXIV. Seward and the Political Prisoners, to Feb-

ruary, 1882 254

XXXV. The Question of European Intervention,

1862-63 281

XXXVI. Slavery and Foreign Relations 317

XXXVII. Some Miscellaneous Activities and Trials . . 349

iii



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGB

XXXVIII. The Brink of a Foreign War : Blockade-Run-
ning and Building Confederate War-ships . 374

XXXIX. The End of the War 400

XL. Seward's Attitude Toward French Interven-
tion in Mexico 419

XLI. Seward's Part in Reconstruction, 1863-69 . . 443
XLII. Aspirations for Territorial Expansion : The
Purchase of Alaska ; Attempts to Annex
St. Thomas, St. John, Santo Domingo, and

Hawaii 470

XLIII. I. Negotiations about the Alabama Claims. —

II. Some Traits as Secretary of State . . 492
XLIV. Travels and Sunset, 1869-72. — Some Conclu-
sions 514

APPENDIX 531



THE LIFE OF

WILLIAM HENRY SEWARD



THE LIFE OF
WILLIAM HENRY SEWARD



CHAPTER XXV



THE WINTER OF 1860-61: SEWARD PRESERVES THE NATIONAL

STATUS

The election of Lincoln caused almost as great an
outburst of joy in Charleston and New Orleans as it
did in Boston and New York. The Republicans had
gained the power to prevent the extension of slavery,
but they were not more confident of realizing their long-
cherished aim than the leaders of the cotton states were
of founding a new confederacy in the near future.

Party interests had made it necessary for the Repub-
licans to belittle the threats of secession, and they had
succeeded so well that they fully deceived even them-
selves. Seward's past and present opinions illustrated
this fact. When the jubilant citizens of Auburn crowd-
ed about him to hear his comments on the election he
bade them dismiss all thoughts of the future until some
new election should call them to renew their efforts in
payment of the price of enduring libert}?". The duty of
the hour was to show magnanimity and moderation in
triumph. Then came the idea, borrowed from Jefferson :
" The parties engaged in an election are not, never can
be, never must be, enemies, or even adversaries. We are

II.— A l



THE LIFE OF WILLIAM II. SEWARD

all fellow-citizens, Americans, brethren." An appeal
would lie from the people this year by making new ar-
guments to the people next year. This had been the
custom of the Republicans in the past. If, contrary to
that custom, others should attempt to take a more hur-
ried appeal by marshalling armies and pulling down the
pillars of the republic, "let us not doubt," he said, " that
if we commend our way by our patience, our gentle-
ness, our affection toward them, they, too, will, before
they shall have gone too far, find out that our way, the
old way, their old way as well as our old way, is not
only the shortest but the best." '

But the rumors of the secession movements called
him to Washington before the end of November. There
he found that the ultra - southern men were bent on
disunion, not on account of grievances, as he wrote,
" but from cherished disloyalty and ambition," and that
the Republicans were " ignorant of the real design or
danger." For himself, he said : " I begin to see my way
through, without sacrifice of principle. But I talk very
little, and nothing in detail." 3 When he found that
there was no harmony of opinion among the Republi-
cans, he urged them to adopt a friendly and fraternal
silence — not the sullen one of the previous year. 3

As yet the public had only the vaguest suspicions as
to how Seward intended to deal with the serious prob-
lem, and these suspicions were derived from rumors and
from some of Weed's articles in the Evening Journal.
Shortly after the election Weed declared that he would
favor the extension of the Missouri - compromise line
to California, and also an alteration of the fugitive-slave
law so as to make the counties in which slaves should
be rescued liable for their value. He felt confident



1 4 Seward's Works, 115, 116. * 2 Seward, 478.

3 2 Seward, 479.

2



THE WINTER OF 1860-01

that there was imminent danger of disunion ; that this
could be averted only by drawing out, strengthening,
and combining the Union sentiment of the whole coun-
try, and that the Republicans could afford to be tolerant
of southern misunderstandings of Republican principles
and aims. Hence he favored a constitutional convention
for hearing and correcting the grievances of each section. 1

In his annual message of 1860 Buchanan maintained
both that a state had no constitutional right to secede
and that the Federal government had no constitutional
power to prevent secession. He overlooked the fact that
there was not only a constitutional right but a duty to
forestall an attack upon the property of the nation and
to forearm against resistance to the collection of the
revenue. Had he been mindful of this, and acted ac-
cordingly, it seems likely that he could have prevented
secession from attaining any substantial existence. Sew-
ard wittily characterized Buchanan's reasoning by say-
ing: "It shows conclusively that it is the duty of the
President to execute the laws — unless somebody op-
poses him ; and that no state has a right to go out of
the Union — unless it wants to." 2

Immediately after the message had been read an an-
gry discussion about secession and slavery broke forth
in both chambers. The leaders of the cotton states,
with " knit brows and portentous scowls," pointed angry
speeches at their victorious opponents ; they enumer-
ated violations of the Constitution by the Republicans,
and gave notice that withdrawal from the Union would
be their means of redress. Hale replied that he could
show aggressions on the part of the South that would
infinitely outweigh and outnumber all that could be
counted against the North ; that if the alternative were



1 For the article of November 30, 1860, see 1 Greeley's American
Conflict, 360. » 2 Seward, 480.

3



THE LIFE OF WILLIAM H. SEWARD

the acceptance of secession or the waging of war against
a revolt to escape the results of a constitutional election,
his choice would be for the latter. 1 Then Iverson, of
Georgia, exclaimed : " We will meet ... all the myrmi-
dons of abolitionism and black Republicanism every-
where, upon our soil ; and ... we will ' welcome you
with bloody hands to hospitable graves.'" 2 Unfortu-
nately the advocates of resistance against secession were
destined to be in a helpless minority for three months,
while the secessionists had the advantage of that time
in which to develop and execute their plans. So the
southern extremists devoted themselves to arousing
sentiment in favor of a slave-holding confederacy. On
the other hand, most of the radical Republicans insisted
that, as their party had not violated the Constitution,
they must yield neither to the demands for compromise
nor to secession, but that all the states must remain in
the Union and await the effect of the changing opinion
of the North.

Although each house soon appointed a special com-
mittee to consider the best means to allay the excite-
ment, the breach widened and the strength of disunion
increased. Many of the Garrisonian abolitionists re-
joiced in the prospect of realizing their dogma, "No
union with slave-holders." 3

With vastly more injurious effect, the New York Tri-
bune, the most influential of the Republican newspapers,
had proclaimed, in November, that if several states should
decide to secede, they should be allowed to depart in
peace, in deference to the sacred right of revolution. 4
Nearly all of the Bell-Everett party, and most of the

1 Globe, 1860-61, 9, 10. - Ibid,, 12.

3 " Sacrifice anything to keep the slave-holding states in the Union?
God forbid! We will rather build a bridge of gold and pay their toll
over it," exclaimed Wendell Phillips in January, 1861.— 1 Speeches, 334.

4 1 Greeley's American Conflict, 359.

4



THE WINTER OF 1860-61

Democrats, were opposed to enforcing the laws at any
point where the secessionists threatened resistance.
And the inhabitants of the southern border states were
almost unanimous in demanding at least the adoption of
measures — best expressed in the Crittenden compromise
— that would make slavery secure where it then existed
and in every part of the present and future territory of
the United States south of the Missouri -compromise
line, and that would remove the obstructions to the re-
turn of fugitive slaves. With one voice the thousand
commercial interests of northern cities also called upon
Congress to avoid war by making some such concession
to the South.

The rarest opportunity for immortal fame ever offered
to a President was at this time thrust upon Buchanan.
Had he spoken and acted promptly and boldly in de-
fence of Federal property, the whole North and a
large proportion of the people in North Carolina, Tenn-
essee, and the southern border states would have sup-
ported him. Then Lincoln's administration would have
fallen heir to the policy of national self-defence. But
Buchanan's arm was nerveless and his reason weak.
Habitual servility to the southern leaders made him un-
willing to oppose his old political friends even when
he knew that they were plotting treason. Although he
was sincerely in favor of preserving the Union, it would
have been difficult for the secessionists to find a more
serviceable President. As John Sherman sarcastically
wrote at the time: "The Constitution provided against
every probable vacancy in the office of President ; but
did not provide for utter imbecility." '

Appearances soon indicated that the President's inde-
cision and the anger of the coercionists would render
haste on the part of the secessionists both urgent and

1 The Sherman Letters, 95.
5



THE LIFE OF WILLIAM H. SEWARD

easy. If the Union was to be maintained, it must be
done under Republican leadership. Yet the members
of the other parties felt so confident that there was an
ulterior purpose to make unconstitutional inroads upon
slavery that they were unwilling to support the Re-
publicans. Even the victors themselves saw that they
might precipitate hostilities without having the strength
necessary for successful resistance. The possibility that
vigorous measures might result in a civil war caused
many even of their own partisans to look with favor
upon some of the propositions for compromise. Hence
there was danger that Lincoln might come into pow-
er with the strength of his party much reduced since
November, confronted with an organized confederacy
of several states, and with an opposition at home that
would make any attempt to conquer secession futile, if
not foolhardy.

Before Congress had time to consider any compro-
mises, the leading secessionists issued an appeal urging
every slave-holding state to " seek speedy and absolute
separation from the unnatural and hostile Union." 1
This fanned the cotton -state fires into a blaze. On
December 20, 1860, South Carolina passed an ordinance
of secession. Then she sent commissioners to Wash-
ington to seek recognition of her independence, and
despatched agents to urge other states hurriedly to
withdraw from the Union and to choose delegates to a
southern congress. The business interests of the North
were greatly affected. No one could anticipate events
for more than a few hours. Yet secession was still in a
theoretical stage ; no violence had been used against the
Federal government, although it had been threatened.
Buchanan had not positively announced what his posi-
tion would be in that event. Naturally, Lincoln had not



1 McPherson's Political History of lite Rebellion, 87.
6



THE WINTER OF 1860-61

yet shaped a definite policy, and did not wish to be held
responsible for one before his time.

Seward's past no less than his present position in his
party gave him special responsibilities and opportunities
in such a crisis. Every one regarded him as the fore-
most Republican. At times he had talked like a radical,
but he had always acted upon the maxim that the high-
est statesmanship consists in getting the best results from
actual conditions. No one on his side of the Senate,
and perhaps no one in either house, had such pleasant
personal relations Avith the other members of Congress.
It was assumed as a matter of course that he would be
the controlling influence in the coming administration.
His pre-eminence, together with his immovable calmness
when others were excited, caused the country to suppose
that he had a solution for the difficulties, and that his
actions would be indicative of Lincoln's present opinions
and future policy. But for weeks he carefully refrained
from expressing his opinions publicly; privately he wrote
such sentences as these :

December 7 : "The madcaps of the South want to be
inflamed, so as to make their secession irretrievable. Good
men there want moderation on the part of the government,
so that they may in time produce a counter-movement."
December 8: "I am, thus far, silent, not because I am
thinking of proposing compromises, but because I wish to
avoid, myself, and restrain other Republicans, from inter-
meddling, just now — when concession, or solicitation, or
solicitude would encourage, and demonstrations of firm-
ness of purpose would exasperate."

In the middle of December he went North intending
to spend the holidays at home. He had declined an
invitation to attend the annual dinner of the New Eng-
land Society in New York, December 22d. But sena-
torial duties made it urgent for him to be in Washington
Monday, December 24th. Leaving Auburn Saturday



THE LIFE OF WILLIAM H. SEWARD

morning, the 22d, lie arrived late that evening at the
Astor House, where the members of the New England
Society were still at table. As soon as his presence in
the hotel became known, a special committee was sent
to fetch him. He went reluctantly, and was received
with such enthusiasm that he was compelled to speak.
With humor in perfect harmony with the circumstances
of his impressment and the mood of the banqueters
over their liqueurs and cigars, he began by saying that
he had heard they were all Yankees, and he inferred
that they would, therefore, want to know all about the
status. In colloquial phrases, with a pun or two, and
with amusing repartee at their interjected questions, he
made several diverting references to some of those pres-
ent, and to a few matters in state and national politics. 1
He believed that the old centripetal force of common
interest, which had drawn the states into a confedera-
tion and which the fathers had concisely expressed in
E jplurihus unum, still existed. Therefore, secession
must be a passion, a delusion, a "humbug" even, which
could not withstand a calm debate.

"We all know that [that New York would go to the
defence of Charleston in case of her being attacked by a
foreign nation]; everybody knows that: therefore they do
not humbug me with their secession. I do not believe
they will humbug you, and I do not believe that if they do
not humbug you or me that they will succeed very long
in humbugging themselves."

Here was his first hint of a dangerous illusion, as will
be seen later. He concluded with an expression of his
opinion that the agitation for secession had steadily de-
clined in strength since the day of the election, and

1 1 Moore's Rebellion Record, Documents, pp. 4-7, nnd N. Y. Times of
December 24th, give verbatim reports of the speech, indicating the
applause and interruptions. The speech printed in 4 Works, 644-50,
omits much and is a careful revision.



THE WINTER OF 1860-61

that " sixty days' more suns will give you a much bright-
er and more cheerful atmosphere." '

At the time many were shocked by Seward's levity,
and he has been severely criticised since because he was
jovial, evasive, and over-optimistic, rather than serious,
frank, and precise. While the censure is not altogether
unjust, it at least overlooks two most important facts :
that it was still too soon for the Republican leaders to
have shaped a definite policy; and that, in any case,
this occasion would have been a most unfit one on
which to explain it. It was necessary for Seward to
speak in order to prevent damaging inferences ; he had
spoken without creating excitement or committing him-
self or his party to any plans for the future. His opin-
ions were soothing and tentative, and the extraordinary
applause with which they were received was good evi-
dence that they were opportune. Two days later he
partially explained his optimism by saying : " Stocks
were up and commercial skies were brightening. The
apprehension of disunion had, for that reason, visibly
abated." *

On December 24th he met his colleagues of the " Union
Saving Committee of Thirteen." With the unanimous
consent of the members from his section, he offered three
propositions : First, that the Constitution should never
be altered so as to authorize Congress to abolish or in-
terfere with slavery in the states ; second, that the
fugitive-slave law should be amended so as to grant a
jury-trial to the fugitive ; third, that Congress should re-
quest all the states to revise their legislation concerning
persons recently resident in other states, and to repeal
all laws that contravened the Constitution of the United
States or any law of Congress made in pursuance there-

1 1 Moore's Rebellion Record, Documents, p. 7. This prophecy was
left out of his Works. 2 2 Seward, 483.

9



THE LIFE OF WILLIAM H. SEWARD

of. Later he offered a fourth proposition : that Congress
should pass a law to punish invasions of one state from
another, and conspiracies to effect such invasions. 1 Of
the other propositions Seward wrote to Lincoln : " With
the unanimous consent of our section [of the committee
— Seward, Collamer, Doolittle, Grimes, and Wade], I
offered three propositions which seemed to me to cover
the ground of the suggestion made by you, through Mr.
Weed, as I understand it.'' 3 Hence there was nothing
peculiar about Seward's position as indicated at this time.

1 2 Seward, 484 ; Senate Reports, 2d Sess. 36th Con., No. 288, pp.
10, 11, 13.

3 2 Seward, 484. Heretofore it has been supposed that Lincoln's
memorandum, " prepared for the consideration of the Republican
members" of the Senate committee of thirteen had been lost, and his
biographers seem never to have known its precise wording. A sepa-
rate sheet in the Seward MSS. contains these sentences (and nothing
else) in Lincoln's handwriting:
" Resolved:

" That the fugitive slave clause of the Constitution ought to be en-
forced by a law of Congress, with efficient provisions for that object,
not obliging private persons to assist in its execution, but punishing all
who resist it, and with the usual safeguards to libert} r , securing free
men against being surrendered as slaves —

" That all state laws, if there he such, really, or apparently, in con-
flict with such law of Congress, ought to be repealed ; and no oppo-
sition to the execution of such law of Congress ought to be made —

" That the Federal Union must be preserved."

That this is the original "suggestion " is indicated by the following
sentences from Seward's letter already referred to: "This evening,
the Republican members of the committee, with Judge Trumbull
and Mr. Fessenden, met at my house, to consider your written sug-
gestion, and determine whether it shall be offered. While we think
the ground has been already covered, we find that, in the form you
give it, it would divide our friends, not only in the committee, but in
Congress, a portion being unwilling to give up their old opinion, that
the duty of executing the constitutional provisions, concerning fugi-
tives from service, belongs to the states, and not at all to Congress." —
2 Seward, 484. The first of Seward's formal propositions, made about
a fortnight later, as a means of preserving peace gave the gist of Lin-
coln's first point. See post, p. 14.

10



THE WINTER OF 1860-61

During the holidays the excitement in "Washington
greatly increased. The President's communications with
the commissioners from South Carolina precipitated an
angry outbreak between the two factions in the Cab-
inet. It was rumored, and widely believed, that the city
was to be seized by the secessionists. Seward's intimate
relations with loyal Democrats in the Cabinet, in the
Senate, and in the South, enabled him to keep himself
informed of all that was occurring, and he made long
reports to Lincoln. So rapidly did the secession frenzy
seem to have spread that on the last day of December
he thought the country to be in an " emergency of
probable civil war and dissolution of the Union." * By
January 3, 1S61, the secessionists had gained such
strength at the White House and in some of the depart-
ments that Seward considered it necessary, as he wrote,
to "assume a sort of dictatorship for defence," and to
work night and day against the contemplated revolution.
And he added : " My hope, rather my confidence, is un-
abated." 2

The question of separation was hotly discussed in all
the slave states, and it was everywhere alleged that the
Republicans intended to put their antislavery ideas into
practice after the inauguration. However, in North Caro-
lina, Arkansas, Tennessee, and the border states, the ma-
jority deprecated the dissolution of the Union. Fortu-
nately, Virginia believed that both slavery and state rights
could be preserved within the Union. The very fact that
the leaders of the cotton states were riding with whip and
spur aroused a considerable feeling of opposition. 3 But

1 2 Seward, 489. 5 2 Seward, 491.

s Early in January, 1861, Governor Letcher sent a message to the
extra session of the Virginia legislature, in which he indignantly pro-
tested against the efforts that South Carolina and Mississippi were
making to compel the border slave states to join the secession move-
ment by threatening to cut off the market for their slaves. He would,

11



THE LIFE OF WILLIAM H. SEWARD

unless this opposition should be encouraged, it was sure
to disappear ; for there was a wide-spread and genuine
fear, which in most instances amounted to a convic-
tion, that Republican rule would inevitably undermine
slavery, and, therefore, that its safety demanded a slave-
holding confederacy. •

For the Republicans there was but one of two courses
to pursue. Charles Sumner saw the difficulty as plainly
as Seward, and stated the problem a few days later by
writing : " People are anxious to save our forts . . . ;
but I am more anxious far to save our principles. . . ." 1
Talking of force and of saving principles served a good
purpose in keeping up the flagging spirit of many per-
sons at the North, but it also helped to fuse, rather than
to separate, the different elements at the South.

During the debates in Congress it was the Southern-
ers that had kindled enthusiasm and applause. The
angry logic of the Northerners was no match for the
picturesque and defiant declamation of their opponents.
By January 11th, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama had
followed South Carolina's example. Time and the dis-
cussion of constitutional grievances had deepened south-
ern convictions and exhibited the helplessness of the
Republicans. It was announced that Seward would
speak on January 12th. This aroused intense curiosity,
because there were such conflicting rumors about his
plans. Accordingly, on the day of his speech the au-



Online LibraryFrederic BancroftThe life of William H. Seward (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 48)