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try; he studied while others slept. The time which most men give to recreation he devoted to strenuous toil. With such qualifications, Mr. Seward soon entered upon an extensive and successful practice. His fame grew with his years, until he fills a sphere which is surpassed in brilliancy and importance by that of few of his contemporaries, incontestibly ranking with the first lawyers of the Union.
The attention of Mr. Seward was early drawn to political affairs. His father was an ardent champion of the Jeffersonian democracy. The traditionary instincts and early prepossessions of the son were strongly in favor of the same principles. Mr. Seward accorddingly, sympathised with the democratic party, believing that it embodied the spirit of popular freedom to a greater extent, than any other party of the day. He was early undeceived by experience. Discovering that under the pretence of democracy the leaders of the party were bent on personal interests, irrespective of the rights of humanity and the public good, he left them at once and forever. He has attached but slight importance to mere party names. The diffusion of genuine republican sentiments among the people, and their practical realization in the institutions and laws of his country, have been the leading objects of his political life.
Mr. Seward first had occasion to express his convictions on the subject of slavery during the protracted struggle on the admission of Missouri into the Union. He perceived, at that early period, the subserviency to Southern influence and dictation, which prevailed in the democratic party in the state of New York. From that day to the present his life has been devoted to the principles of liberty. In his view, freedom is national and slavery sectional. With him the purpose of the Union is to establish the blessings of equality, justice and humanity; not to enlarge the area of bondage and oppression. His hostility to slavery has not been the result of policy, but of principle of the strongest conviction of its inherent injustice, and its tendency to corrupt and destroy the noblest institutions of the country. His rule of action on the subject has been uniform from the commencement of his political career. He has never suffered the fear of consequences to silence his voice in defence of freedom, when any practical benefit was at stake; but he has strictly avoided every act that was adapted to inflict a needless wound upon an opponent, or to foment an unprofitable excitement.
In his measures with regard to slavery, Mr. Seward has been no fanatic. Detesting the institution, he has waged against it an honorable warfare. But he has refrained, with scrupulous care, from infringing on the constitutional rights of slave holders, or depriving them of any privilege to which they are entitled by law. This is the extent of his concessions. He refuses to accord any advantage beyond legal enactment to an institution which violates the first principles of natural right.
His position on this subject was clearly defined in his California speech.*
"I feel assured that slavery must give way, and will give way, to the salutary instructions of economy, and to the ripening influences of humanity; that emancipation is inevitable, and is near; that it may be hastened or hindered; and that whether it be peaceful or violent depends upon the question whether it be hastened or hindered; that all measures which fortify slavery or extend it, tend to the consummation of violence; all that check its extension and abate its strength, tend to its peaceful extirpation. But I will adopt none but lawful, constitutional, and peaceful means, to secure even that end; and none such can I or will I forego. Nor do I know any important or responsible political body that proposes to do more than this. No free state claims to extend its legislation into a slave state. None claims that Congress shall usurp power to abolish slavery in the slave states. None claims that any violent, unconstitutional or unlawful measure shall be embraced. And on the other hand, if we offer no scheme or plan for the adoption of the slave states, with the assent and co-operation of Congress, it is only because the slave states are unwilling as yet to receive such suggestions, or even to entertain the question of emancipation in any form."
Mr. Seward's first public action of a political character was in 1824. In October of that year, he drew up the Address of the Republican Convention of Cayuga County to the people. In this document, he gave a brief history of the origin and designs of the Albany regency-a clique of political leaders, which once exerted a great and most injurious influence in the state of New York. He exposed its system of machinery-its opposition to the electoral law, placing the appointment of presidential electors in the hands of the people, although solemnly pledged to its support and its intrigues to prevent the election of John Quincy Adams to the presidency, and to secure the ultimate election of Martin Van Buren. The opposition to the Albany regency, thus boldly commenced by the young politician, was finally crowned with complete success. The sources of its influence were destroyed, and the power, which had been centralized in its organization. was restored to the possession of the people. + See Vol. III, p. 335.
*See Vol. I. p. 51.
On the 4th of July, 1825, Mr. Seward delivered an anniversary oration at Auburn.* The Missouri Compromise and the Tariff of 1824 had recently elicited threats of nullification at the south. In this oration, Mr. Seward took the same position on several important political questions, which he has maintained to the present day. He argued the capacity of the government for the extension of empire, asserting the perpetuity of the Union on the same grounds that have been advanced in his later productions. Announcing his devotion to the great principles of emancipation, he insisted that the United States should be a 66 city of refuge" for the oppressed and down-trodden of
In 1826 and 1827, the Greek revolution awakened a general sympathy in the United States. A meeting of citizens of Auburn was held in February, 1827, for the purpose of rendering aid to the struggling Greeks. Mr. Seward was invited to deliver a speech on this occasion.† The subject was congenial to his feelings, and he gladly consented to the request. With characteristic eloquence, he defended the cause of liberty in other lands-asserting its claims on American sympathy, in the same line of argument which he afterwards reproduced in behalf of Ireland and Hungary. His vigorous and glowing appeal was met by the people to whom it was addressed with a munificent liberality which was elsewhere without a parallel.
In July, 1828, Mr. Seward was invited by the members of the Adelphic Society of Union College, to deliver a eulogy on David Berdan, a member of the society, who died on his passage from London to Boston, July 20, 1827. It was a sincere and eloquent tribute to the memory of an esteemed companion and friend The monument erected to young Berdan, still forms an interesting object to those who visit the college grounds at Schenectady.
The year 1828 is distinguished as the period when the young men of our country first made an effort to exert a personal influence on national politics. A convention of the young men of New York in favor of the re-election of John Quincy Adams to the presidency was held at Utica, on the 12th of August. It was one of the largest political conventions ever assembled in the Empire state. Four hundred delegates, in the flower and freshness of youth, were present at the session, which continued for * See Vol. III, p. 193. See Vol. III, p. 197. See Vol. III, p. 117.
several days. Mr. Seward was called to preside over its deliberations. He fulfilled the duties of the office with marked ability. Though only twenty-seven years of age, he exhibited a dignity, decision and courtesy which would have done honor to an experienced statesman. He left a singularly favorable impression on the minds of his colleagues, who, with scarcely an exception, have adhered to the political principles of that convention, until the present time. Many of the most prominent men in New York date their interest in politics from the Young Men's State Convention, and have since exerted an influence which led to a decisive change in the policy and relation of parties in the sate. The election of General Jackson to the presidency in 1828 dissolved the National Republican Party in Western New York, with which Mr. Seward, as an ardent supporter of John Quincy Adams, had been identified. Meantime, the anti-masonic party had risen into consequence, and though of local origin, and acting in a limited field, for several years, it formed the only opposition in Western New York to the Albany regency and the Jackson administration. In 1828, this party tendered a nomination as member of Congress to Mr. Seward, which he declined, on account of the obligation that he felt to support the national republican party. On the overthrow of the latter party, Mr. Seward and his friends, sympathizing with the citizens who were engaged in vindicating the supremacy of the laws, naturally united with the anti-masons, as affording the best position for a successful resistance of the national and state administrations. Among his political associates at that time, were Frederic Whittlesey, Thurlow Weed, Francis Granger, John C. Spencer, Millard Fillmore, and other distinguished public men of the present day.
In 1830, Mr. Seward was nominated by the anti-masonic party as a candidate for the state Senate, from the seventh district, comprising, at that time, the counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Cortland, Seneca, Ontario, Wayne, and Yates. The nomination was unexpected, but he did not feel at liberty to decline it. Although the district had given a large Jackson majority the preceding year, and the anti-masonic candidate for governor, Francis Granger, was defeated, at the same election, by a majority of 8000, Mr. Seward was elected to the Senate by the handsome majority of 2000 votes. In Cayuga county, where he resided, the democratic party had long enjoyed a decided ascendancy,
but still a majority of the senatorial votes were cast for Mr. Seward.
Mr. Seward took his seat in the state Senate, in January, 1831. This was his first election to civil office. He had always re garded the career of a statesman, as affording scope for the accomplishment of noble deeds in behalf of freedom and humanity. Hence, he cheerfully exchanged the routine of legal practice for the functions of the legislator. He was, probably, the youngest member that ever entered the New York Senate, having not yet completed his twenty-ninth year. In spite of his youth, he soon attained an honorable distinction among his colleagues. With an almost juvenile ardor of temperament, inspired with a generous ambition, cherishing the deepest sentiments of patriotism and philanthropy, a champion of liberty and popular rights, despising the vulgar arts of hackneyed politicians, and filled with an enthusiastic faith in the ultimate triumph of truth and justice,Mr. Seward came into the Senate of his native state, a new man, fresh from the living masses of the people, and breathed over that body a spirit of vitality and progress, of which the influence remains to the present day. His course at once assumed the character of boldness and originality which it still sustains. It was. not shaped in accordance with traditional prescriptions, but following the impulses of an inventive mind, sought to develope new measures of public good, and larger enfranchisements for the people.
The circumstances, however, under which Mr. Seward entered the Senate were adapted to discourage an ingenuous and earnest spirit. The Jackson party were in possession of unlimited sway. Wielding the vast patronage of the federal and state governments, their influence was as extensive as it was pernicious. The Albany re gency, knit into a unit by the passion for office and its attending emoluments, ruled the state with an iron rod. With the appointing power, to a great degree, in their hands-controlling the currency, by their connexion with the banks-retaining well-disciplined emissaries in every county and town to carry their plans into effect-this central junta had but to touch the springs at Albany, to produce any desired movement in the remotest corner of the state. A large majority of the Legislature were the supple tools of the regency, ready to enact such measures, as might be deemed necessary to maintain the preponderance already secured.