Seward, William Henry
b. 1801-05-16
d. 1872-10-10
William Henry Seward was the Secretary of State from 1861 to 1869, serving in the Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson Administrations.1 During this time, Seward corresponded with Lord Lyons, the British minister in the United States, regarding an alleged attempt to fit out a Confederate Privateer at Vancouver’s Island.2 James Douglas assured Seward that every vigilance would be used to discover and frustrate any effort made to build ships designed to prey on the commerce of the United States in the Pacific.3 In turn, Seward also reassured British officials that there was no truth to rumours that military preparations were being made in California with a view of menacing the colonies on Vancouver Island and British Columbia.4 Seward’s term also coincided with the San Juan Island Dispute which German international law experts resolved in arbitration as a part of the Alabama claims initiated by Seward.5
Seward studied law and became a politician representing the Whig and Republican Parties. His aspirations to represent the Republican Party in the 1856 and 1860 elections were both unsuccessful.6 As a young man, Seward was active in Anti-Masonry groups.7 He was also an ardent abolitionist and spoke of a higher law that should govern the freedoms of mankind.8 He once commented to a friend that it was strange that people will go mad for freedom of White men, and mad against the freedom of black men.9 During the debate over possession of Oregon Territory between England and the United States, Seward supported James Polk’s resolve to settle the question but stopped short of endorsing Polk’s militant Fifty-Four Forty or Fight! campaign rally cry.10
Seward was Secretary of State during the American Civil War. During this conflict, Seward strengthened American international authority with a firm handling of the Trent Affair. At the conclusion of the Civil War, he survived an assassination attempt on the same night as Lincoln’s murder. Under the Johnson regime, Seward’s greatest achievement was the purchase of Alaska in 1867. Considered at the time as a mistake, and colloquially termed “Seward’s Folly”, Seward was confident that the acquisition would be a huge success, but it would take the country a generation to appreciate it.11
Mentions of this person in the documents
The Colonial Despatches Team. Seward, William Henry. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/seward.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)