William Henry Seward.

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"Secrctarj' Seavard," says the Auhxirn Daily Advertiser of Oc-
tober 31, 1868, "this afternoon addressed one of the larijjest audi-
ences ever convened in Corning Ilall. The bare announcement
yesterday that lie was to speak to-da}' created an intense anxiety
in the ]iublic mind to hear him, and when the doors of the hall
were thrown ojjen at half-past one o'clock, it was immediately
filled to overflowing, man^^ hundreds being unable to gain admit-
tance. Secretary Seward was introduced by Rev. Dr. Hawley."


In the performance of an agreeable duty, fellow-
citizens, I was about to extend, on your behalf, a cor-
dial greeting to our distinguished neighbor and personal
friend on this occasion. But j^our prompt and hearty
response to his presence once more on this platform,
on tlie eve of a great popular decision, is of deeper
significance than any words of welcome. The desire
to hear what, from his position, he may counsel at this
time is not less earnest and sincere than at other periods
of public concern, when he has spoken to his towns-
men, and thus to the whole country, and indeed to the
whole world. It only remains for me, in interpreting
tills desire, to say (here the speaker turned to address
Mr. Seward) tiiat it springs from recollections and as-
sociations which can neitlier be forgotten nor obscured
in the ever-varying })liases of political action or popu-
lar judgment. And that whatever of merited lionor or
fame may attacli to the career of a public servant, it
can never cease to be witli him a gratefid consciousness
that he also liolds fast the esteem and ailection of those
who know him best, among whom stands his home,
and witli whom, when public service ceases, he exi)ects
to mingle in the scenes and duties of ordiiiar}' hie to
its destined dose.

Mr. Seward was received with immense applause,
and proceeded to address his audience as follows :


My Friends and Neighbors : My long absence on
political occasions and my present appearance here are
proper subjects of inquir}^ on your part. In explain-
ing both, I may be able to say all tliat is proper or
necessary to be said in this pleasant interview.

Upon the first point, I might well enough plead offi-
cial occupation. Official obligations necessarily and
justly take precedence over those of private citizenship.
The pubHc may properly say to its appointed servants,
"these ought 3^e to have done, and not to leave the
others undone." Government occupation is increased
by civil war, and necessaril}' increased by returning
peace. It increases with ever-increasing population,
territory, and commercial and political connections.
But, for all this, you are not to suppose, as many assume,
that I am purchasing on Government account all the
outlying territories in the universe', [laughter and ap-
plause,] or indeed proposing to acquire dominion any-
where be3'ond the magic circle of the Monroe doctrine.

I iniglit plead inadequate strength. I have reason
to thank God, indeed, that neither age, nor indulgence,
iu)r casualty, has brought so great decrepitude as per-
sons have sometimes inuigined. Nevei'theless I cer-
tainly have some years, perhaps enough for a place on
the retired list ; and some wounds, })erhaps enougli for
a })ension, if I were in the military or naval service.

Moreover, every opinion or sentiment of mine, that
has a bearing upon the present hour, was spoken long
ago; spoken, as I thought, in due time; spoken, either

concnrrently with or in advance of political events. So
true is this, that no one has mistaken my abiding atti-
tude, or pretends now to doubt either my official views
or my political relations.

Moreover, as it is the duty of deacons to serve, not
to lead in the sacrifice, so it has always seemed to me
that it is the duty of Secretaries to serve in the admin-
istration, and not to lead in popular assemblies. Pos-
sibly you ma}^ say, however, that a citizen has no right
to be a Secretary when a party or an interest desires
him for a leader. 1 answer that deacons are deacons,
not by any choice of their own, but because they are
chosen by the church ; and certainly I am a Secretary,
through no ambition of my own for that office, but be-
cause the nation has constitutionally required me to be.
It would be a poor act of piety on the part of a deacon
to refuse to serve because he preferred to sacrifice ; and
I liumbl}^ tinnk it would be a poor act of patriotism in
a citizen to refuse to be a Secretary, because he preferred
to be a popular leader. Our places, fellow-citizens, are
assigned to us, not by ourselves, but under the provi-
dence of God b}^ our associates and fellow-men. Our
friends here, Mr. James Seymour and Dr. Steele, are
living demonstrations that it is better to be a meek
and humble, but efficient deacon, than to be schismatic,
quarreling with the priest and dividing the sacred con-
gregation. [Laughter and applause.]

The case, liowever, is now somewhat changed. I am
at home for indispensable private business. I find you
in an election to constitute a new administration of the
Government of the United States. A theory obtained
in the early revival of science that an elixir could be
compounded, hy the use of which the human conslilu-

lion could be renewed at the end of every hundred
years, and so man become immortah The quadrennial
national election of President and Congress in the
United States is just such a periodical renewal as this
of the national life, whereby the nation in fact becomes

The casting of my vote in great elections of tliis sort
is equally the exercise of an inestimable privilege and
the performance of a high and sacred duty. Mutual
explanation of votes is the only means by wliicli mu-
tual confidence can be preserved among citizens, while
it saves suffrage itself from profanation, intrigue, and
corruption. In an experience of eiglity years under
the Constitution which makes us a nation, we have re-
newed the Republic, in the same prescribed way, by
twenty national elections. I have voted and explained
in the last eleven ; these being all of those national
elections that have occurred since I came to the fran-
chise. The present election is the twenty-first of the
entire series, and my twelfth one. In this election,
just as I expressed myself at the time of each preced-
ing one, I feel that this one may be my last.

Every Presidential election necessarily has a real,
although an abstract importance. We have hei-e a re-
})ublican system instead of the monarchical one. An
ultimate adoption of this S3'stem by all the American
nations is necessary for our securit}'. Every new re-
public established anywhere constitutes a new bulwark
of the Republic of the United States. [Applause.]

Our Republican Government has some peculiar de-
vices of local adaptation and equivalent, designed to
operate by way of check and balance. Nevertheless,
our Constitution has four essential elements, perhnps

no more. These elements are, first, the actnal choice
of the presiding magistrate by the direct vote of the
whole people ; second, equal suffrage of all citizens in
that election ; third, equal representation of all con-
stituent communities in the Republic ; and, fourth, con-
ditions and periods of power well defined and abso-
lutely fixed. The casting or the withholding of a vote
by any -citizen inconsideratel}^ actually impairs, al-
though perhaps imperceptibly, the vigor and energy
necessary to the continuance of the Republic, just as
the casting or the withholding of all the votes of the
people inconsideratel}^ would bring it abruptly to an

Standing as we do now at the close of the twentieth
administration, I can well conceive that the first elec-
tion was the most important of all, inasmuch as a
mistake then committed in the choice of the first
President of the United States, or of the first Con-
gress, might have involved the failure of the system at
the very beginning. It was just such a mistake that
the French people committed in 1S48, when they lost
their new republic by electing a Bonaparte instead of
a Cavaignac. That mistake having been avoided here,
the Government promptly went into successful opera-
tion. It soon acquired vigor by custom, and continu-
ally gained strength from increasing popular reverence
and affection. The nation encountered no crisis until
1860. The election of Abraham Lincoln, in 18G0,
occurred at a time when a sectional faction, with exten-
sive ramifications, had prepared a formidable rebellion.

The election in 1864 was still more critical. Abra-
ham Lincoln, who had been elected in 1860, had been
effectually excluded by the rebellion from recognition

or acceptance in one-third of the States. It only re-
mained for the still adhering States to reject Lincoln,
as President, in 1864, to effect a speedy, if not an im-
mediate, dissolution of the Union, On the other hand,
it was reasonably expected that the reaffirmation in
1864 of the choice made in 1860 would so consolidate
the loyal and patriotic hopes of the country in support
of the administration, as to' enable President Lincoln
to prosecute the war as no other President could, and
to improve returning peace as no other President
could, by combining conciliation with decision, until
the Constitution should be re-established throughout
the whole Union. Within four months after the elec-
tion of 1864 the strength of the rebellion was effectu-
ally broken, and on the 4th of March, 1865, Abraham
Lincoln entered upon his second term of the presi-
dency, for the first time, with full possession of the
rebel States ; de facto as well as de jure the recognized
and accepted Chief Magistrate of the whole Republic.
(Applause.) With him the Congress and the otlier
departments of the Federal LTnion were equally recog-
nized and accepted.

The duty which devolved upon the Government in
the second administration of Abraham Lincoln, was to
save the Consititution and tlie Union from further
revolutionary violence, and by just, generous, and
judicious measures to bring the distracted and deso-
lated rebel States back to their constitutional relations
with the Federal Union.

We have reached at last the end of that second
administration, begun by Abraham Lincoln, and we
unfortunately find that its great work, as I have de-
scribed it, remains as yet only incompletely and unsatis-

factorily accomplished. Parties now vehemently dis-
pute whethei" this failure is the fault of one department
or of another ; the fault of the President, or the fault
of Congress ; the fault of the executive system of re-
conciliation, or of the congressional system of recon-
struction. I do uot enter into that dispute. It already
belongs to the past. Nevertheless, I am now inclined
to think that it was unreasonable to expect the passions
and ambitions of thirty-three free States, and thirty
millions of free people so recently and terribly con-
vulsed by civil war, to subside in so short a period as
fourj^ears. It is the highest attribute of the Almighty,
which the divine poet has conceived, that He "stilleth
the noise ot the seas, and the noise of their waves, and
the tumult of the people.'' The storms must be with-
Iield before the seas can come to rest.

Probably such an intense and pervading political
agitation as ours could not have been suddenly re-
pressed without overthrowing public liberty itself, as
the Napoleons did at the close of two popular French

The choice of our two principal magistrates in 1864
was certainly wisely made. We found out at the be-
ginning of the civil war that neither party, and no party
alone witiiout co-operation from the other, could save
the country. The people who made the choice in 1864
were neither a Republican party nor a Democratic
party, but avowedly and heroically a Union people, and
union always means an effective combination of kindred
forces. The Union people in 1864 followed the rule
whicli has so generally prevailed of dividing the names
to be phiced on the presidential ticket between compet-
ing sections, parties, or interests, giving the greater


weight to the larger section or party. With nice judg-
ment, tlierefore, they chose Abraham Lincohi, a north-
ern Union patriot of RepubHcan antecedents, to be
President, and Andrew Johnson, a southern Union
patriot of Democratic antecedents, to be Vice President.
Active hostilities, however, had hardly ended before
there appeared a portentous conflict of popular ideas
and opinions concerning the proper conditions of peace
and reconciliation, and these ideas and opinions had
relation to the so-called reconstruction of the State
governments in the rebel States. Personal ambitions,
of course, entered into the controversy. Social ideas
and popular ambitions are inherent in all republics,
and revolutions stimulate their rapid development.
No one form of political idea, no one form of personal
ambition that has presented itself in our recent distrac-
tions was new. They all sprang up and in turn attained
complete, though many of them only temporar}^ ascend-
ency during the French revolution of 1789, a revo-
lution which, as we all see, gave way after a short
while to a militar}' despotism that still survives. We
now see that in the insurrection the rebel States became
revolutionary States, not merely revolutionary against
the United States, but revolutionary within themselves.
As such, they have experienced the fortune of all rev-
olutionary States. Each new political idea, and every
distinct personal ambition in revolutionary States, de-
mands either a severe constitutional reform, or a change
of the existing constitution altogether. The right of
the people and their power in such States to make such
changes is not only unchallenged, but is also unchecked.
It follows, as a consequence, that no constitution which
is forged in the white-heat of revolution ever endures.


We have forgotten that this nation went throngh the
revolutionary crisis practically without any constitution
at all. There was indeed a Declaration of Independ-
ence from Great Britain and from all other nations, and
a precious assertion of human rights ; but no constitu-
tional government was established or framed until
seven years after the last belligerent had disappeared
from the field.

We can all recollect that brilliant constitutions suc-
cessively came out like fire-beacons in the murky gloom
of the French revolution. All those constitutions
were based upon some sound political ideas, and all
ought to have been compatible with any patriotic am-
bition. Yet they succeeded each other so rapidly, that
when a politician entered the store of a bookseller in
Paris, and asked for the constitution of France, he was
answered, " We do not deal here in periodical publica-
tions." (Laughter.)

Mexico seems at last to have acquired a constitution,
but only after forty years of civil wars, culminating in
the great calamity which we have so happily escaped вАФ
foreign intervention. Althougli all the South Ameri-
can republics have been independent through a period
of forty or fift}'' years, yet it cannot be certainl}^ said of
any one of them that it has yet definitely accepted and
adopted a final constitution. Revolutions have contin-
ued to overthrow constitutions there as fast as they
have been made. It was unwise, then, to expect that
the insurgent States, coming out of their flagrant rebel-
lion, and yet allowed by the Federal Constitution to
reconstitute their forms of goverment for them'seivos
and b}^ their own pi'opor act, in conformity witli (lie
Federal Constitution, could all at once adopt constitn-


tions which should be permanently satisfactoiy to
themselves and to us, in the presence of an entire new
condition of society produced by the emancipation of
four millions of slaves. What they have wanted was
"time." What we have wanted was patience. These
two wants seasonably indicated the course of popular
wisdom in regard to restoration, reorganization, or
reconstruction, by whatever name it may be called.

Reliance, however, was justly placed upon the advant-
ages which Abraham Lincoln had for overcoming these
embarrassments. Leaving out of view his peculiar moral
and intellectual qualities, Mr. Lincoln possessed a de-
cided advantage, in the fact that he had conducted the
Grovernment with approved fidelity and wisdom through
the entire course of the civil war. As the people gave
their first confidence to Washington, in organizing the
Government, upon the ground that he had safely led
them through the revolutionary war ; as the people in
1848 gave their confidence to General Taylor, upon the
ground that he had safely led them through the great-
est peril of the Mexican war ; so the people were ex-
pected to give their full confidence to Abraham Lincoln
in restoring the Union, because he had led them suc-
cessfully through the late terrific revolutionai'y convul-
sion of the country.

No wise and candid man thought, at that time, either
that the war could be ended, or that peace and recon-
ciliation could be effected, under an administration that
did not fully enjoy the public confidence upon two car-
dinal points, namely, first, the justice of the Union
cause in the war ; second, the necessity, wisdom, and
justice of the abolition of African slavery which tlie
war had effected. [Applause.]


Abraham Lincoln had a still greater advantage. He
had been twice chosen by the people themselves to be
their President, their civil chief. They were accus-
tomed to liis leadership, and they loved him as an ac-
cepted impersonation of their own convictions, no
matter how varied those convictions might be. They
all knew, or believed they knew, him thoroughly. They
had committed themselves to his support in advance.
His success would be their own success. His failure
would be felt and deplored as their own faihu-e. Thus
was enlisted in his favor the national pride, the national
affection, and the national gratitude. What combina-
tions could have resisted a magistrate thus armed, and
aiming only to complete the great and glorious work
of saving the Union, which he himself began?

In an unhappy hour Abraham Lincoln fell by the
hand of the assassin. That fearful calamity, which was
equally beyond human foresight and human control,
suddenly and profoundly interfered with our high pur-
poses and patriotic desires. Human nature, around
the whole circle of the globe, and especially in its cen-
tre here, recoiled and stood aghast before that great
crime. 'J'he country sank for a m^oment into sadness
and despair of its future, from which it was aroused to
seek and search everywhere, in the Government and
out of it, in the North and in the South, at home and
abroad, for secret authors, agents, and motives for the
horrible assassination. While suspicion attached itself
by turns to everybod}^ it justly fastened itself at last
upon the rebellion, and demanded new and severer
punishment of the rebels, instead of the magiiaiiinious
reconciliation wliicli the beloved President of whom it.
had been bereaved had recommended. Who will .^av


that this sentiment was unnatural ? Who shall say that
it was even unjust? Revolution has alwaj^s the same
complex machinery. Besides the public machinery
which its managers direct!}^ employ, there is always a
secret assassination-wheel carefully contrived, and ready
to come into activity when a crisis is reached. Revo-
lutionists cannot relieve themselves of all responsibility
for it by pleading that it was unknown to themselves.
Who can say how far this great crime of assassination
has been effective in delaying and preventing the de-
sired reconciliation ?

It was in the midst of this distraction that Andrew
Johnson came to the presidency, not by virtue of two
popular elections to tliat office, like his predecessor, or
even of one such election, but by virtue of his constitu-
tional election to be only Vice President. Tlie unfin-
ished work of the lamented Lincoln devolved upon
him. The conditions and considerations which were
the advantages in his election as A^ice President sud-
denly became disadvantages to him as President. The
southern States and the Democratic party were remem-
bered but too unfavorably by the northei-n anti-slavery
victors, in connection with the rebellion, the civil war,
and African slavery.

In addressing himself to the holy work of national
reconciliation, the new President proceeded with duo
deliberation and firmness, decision and vigor. He re-
tained all his lamented predecessor's counsellors. He
adopted his lamented predecessor's plan of reconcilia-
tion, which seemed to him, as it seemed then to the
whole country, to be practicable and easy, because it
was simple and natural. It consisted simply in opening
the easiest and shortest yafe way for a return into the


national family of the people of the southern States,
who now repented their attempted separation. Those
States were invited to resume the vacant chairs in the
legislative councils, by sending Senators and Bepresent-
atives, who should be chosen by the people of those
States, and who should prove themselves, by every
practical test, unquestionably loyal to the Union.
Some constitution and frame of government in the
rebel States, however, would be a necessary instru-
mentality of making such choice of Senators and Rep-
resentatives. There was at the same time a manifest
necessity for such renewed institutions of municipal
government for the restoration of peace and order in
the disorganized States, the administration of justice,
and the exercise of other necessary functions of gov-
ernment there. The people of the rebel States were
therefore invited to estabHsh such necessary State
governments, upon the basis of loyalty and fidelity, of
which practical tests were provided. These tests were:
first, the acceptance of the new amendment to the
Constitution which abolished African slavery ; second,
repudiation of the rebel debt ; third, abrogation of all
rebel laws; fourth, the acceptance of the so-called iron-
clad oath.

All other questions were passed over for further
and future action. Loyal State governments were
promptly formed, and loyal Senators and Representa-
tives appeared with equal promptness at the doors of
Congress, knocking for admission to the seats vacated
in 1861. Then, and not till then, peace was pro-
claimed throughout the land, and authoritatively an-
nounced to all nations.

It is not correct that the President of tlie riiiU'tl


States made those State governments, or caused them
to be made, by force or intimidation. The Union
armies, of which he was commander-in-chief, lingered,
indeed, in the rebel States, to keep the peace in the
event of surprise during the transition from civil war.
The popular action there was, nevertheless, sponta-
neous, and the Executive confined itself to the form of
suggestion and advice of which President Lincoln had
already wisely set an accepted example. The new
State constitutions were the best attainable at the
time, without direct application of force. 1 hey were
adequate to the emergency, and they were open, like
all similar constitutions, to further revisions and im-
provement, with the lapse of time and the increase
of popular knowledge and virtue in the several States.
Congress hesitated, debated, postponed. The rebel
States were no longer in rebellion. They w^ere not re-
ceived into the Union. The people, North as well as
South, were excited : new schemes were proposed, new
party combinations formed. There was no longer the
Union party, which had conducted the country through
the fiercest civil war ever known. But that party was
seen resolving itself, in an untimely hour, into ancient
divisions, the Republican and Democratic parties. An
advanced section of one party demanded new and far-
ther guaranties, and entertained w'ild propositions of
retaliation, confiscation, proscription, disfranchisement,
and other penalties, as conditions of reconciliation. A
reactionary section of the other insisted that all delays
were not only hazardous, but that all conditions what-
ever were unnecessary, unreasonable, and unconstitu-
tional. One party insisted that there could be no safe


Online LibraryWilliam Henry SewardThe situation and the duty (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)