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The election of Gen. Harrison in 1840, who had been nominated for president in preference to Mr. Clay, on the ground of superior availability, induced the friends of the latter distinguished leader to believe that he would have been successful if he had received the nomination. This conviction, which became almost universal, produced a settled determination to secure Mr. Clay's nomination for the canvass of 1844. The policy was to foreclose the question by popular movements throughout the United States as early as the spring of 1842. Gov. Seward did not assent to the wisdom of the plan. He yielded his private views, however, to the prevailing sentiment of the whig party. But he could not be persuaded to place himself at the head of the movement, with the prospect of a re-nomination for governor. On the contrary, he frankly pointed out to his friends the reasons against their course. The question of the annexation of Texas, he argued, had become inevitable. Under the excitement produced by its discussion, the anti-slavery interest had grown up in the state, from one thousand in 1838, to two thousand five hundred in 1840, in opposition to Gen. Harrison and himself, neither of whom was regarded with special prejudice by the political abolitionists. It was more than probable, that the premature nomination of Mr. Clay, who was already severely censured by the abolitionists, would increase their vote at the state election of 1842, from five thousand to fifteen thousand, at the expense of the whig party. This would ensure the loss of the state to the whigs, as well as of the presidential election of 1844. Other counsels, however, prevailed. Gov. Seward persisted in declining a re-nomination. Mr. Clay was the avowed candidate of the whigs for the presidency. The result was the increase of the abolition vote to sixteen thousand. The whigs were, accordingly, defeated. Their candidate for governor, Hon. Luther Bradish, a man of unexceptionable character, well known to the public, and universally popular, lost his election by a decided vote. William C. Bouck received a majority of twenty-two thousand, and the administration of the state reverted to the hands of the opposition.
On the last day of Gov. Seward's official term, his accounts with the treasury were definitely settled; and on the first day of January, 1843, he introduced his successor, Gov. Bouck, to the people of the capitol, exchanging with him appropriate courtesies on the
occasion of his inauguration. These courtesies, so well adapted to allay animosities and to cultivate a better tone of feeling, were at that time without precedent. They made a favorable impression upon the public mind. With that successor, and all others in the executive chair, of whatever politics, Gov. Seward maintained relations of mutual respect and personal friendship.
How strong a hold his benevolent action during his official term had taken upon the classes most generally overlooked, neglected and oppressed, may be seen by referring to his replies to letters and addresses elicited by his retirement.*
On retiring from his official duties, Gov. Seward returned immediately to his residence in Auburn. In one week's space of time, he was seen engaged with as much calmness and assiduity in his profession, as if he had never been removed out of it. Having enjoyed the honors of the highest post in his native state, to the full satisfaction of a noble ambition, and in a manner to leave the deep impress of his character on its laws and institutions, he was not only content, but anxious to turn again to the calls of a profession, which he ever pursued with all the ardor of an amateur.
In 1843, Gov. Seward, in his retirement at Auburn, had the gratification of a visit from Ex-President John Quincy Adams, between whom and himself the most intimate relations of friendship had long existed. The meeting was one of great cordiality and affection. It has been said, and we believe with truth, that on that, as well as on other occasions, Mr. Adams expressed his confidence that the great work of human rights which he would be obliged to leave unfinished, would devolve more completely on Gov. Seward, than on any surviving statesman. Thus far, at least, that expectation, so honorable to Gov. Seward, has not been disappointed. The following pages contain fragments of correspondence between Mr. Adams and Gov. Seward, together with orations and speeches by the latter, which, while they illustrate his own reverence for Mr. Adams, have been regarded as presenting their distinguished subject in his just attitude before the world.
On the occasion of Mr. Adams' death, Gov. Seward was invited by the legislature of New York, to pronounce a eulogy† on his character and services. It was one of the most faithful and
eloquent of the numerous discourses which were prepared on that great national bereavement. Its closing sentences, instituting a comparison between the death scenes of Napoleon and Adams, are scarcely surpassed in pathetic eloquence by any modern production. Believing that a popular biography of that eminent statesman would be more useful in disseminating and inculcating his principles, than any other contributions that he could make to his memory, Gov. Seward applied himself to the preparation of such a work. With the aid of a competent friend, it was brought out in 1849, in the midst of many absorbing professional engagements. The author's expectations were fully realized. More than thirty-two thousand copies of the work have been already published, and its circulation has been continually increasing.
At the annual commencement of Union College in 1843, Gov. Seward was invited to deliver the address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, of which he is a member. He accepted the appointment, and took for his theme, "The Elements of Empire in America. The address was worthy of his manly and vigorous intellect, and his extensive literary attainments. It presented a comprehensive view of the resources of the American Union, and pointed out the grandeur of its destiny, under the principles of justice and freedom, on which it was founded. By special invitation, he repeated the address at the commencement of Amherst College, the same year.
During the ensuing six years, Gov. Seward devoted himself to the duties of his profession with brilliant and growing success. At first, his practice was confined to the various courts of the state, in which he received liberal retainers for his services. After the lapse of about two years, however, his peculiar aptitude for subjects involving scientific and mechanical principles gained him a large and lucrative practice in the trial of patent cases in the United States courts. He was thus brought into contact with the most distinguished jurists of the country, whom his breadth of intellect and sound legal learning enabled him to meet on equal terms. At the same time, his genial and generous disposition, and the natural frankness of his manners gave him great influence with a jury, and made his services indispensable as counsel in criminal cases. His zeal in the defence of persons unjustly
*Rev. J. M. Austin.
See Vol. III. p. 11.
accused was so great, that he has been known not only to give his best efforts gratuitously, but to furnish a large amount of funds from his own means in their behalf.
In 1845, Gov. Seward was engaged in a libel suit in the Supreme Court of New York, in the case of J. Fenimore Cooper vs. Greeley & McElrath, publishers of the New York Tribune. He was counsel for the defendants. It was deemed a case of much importance, involving as it did, the rights of newspaper publishers to utter their opinions, as to the character and acts of men holding positions of influence before the public. Gov. Seward's argument* in this case, was a sound and searching production. It sifted thoroughly and to the bottom, the whole subject of libel, the modifications which that law appears to have undergone by judicial construction in this state, and the rights of the press and the people: the right of free thought and free speech, on the one hand, and the right of exemption from vituperation and libel on the other all were brought under review, and discussed with clearness and effect. The public and the press will acknowledge their obligations to Gov. Seward for the ability and force with which the freedom of speech and of opinion was illustrated and defended on that trial.
At the solicitation of citizens of Cooperstown, N. Y., Gov. Seward left the state fair at Auburn, in 18-, to defend a person of politics adverse to his own, charged with the crime of murder. When he had the pleasure of securing a verdict which reduced the crime to manslaughter, in opposition to the opinion of the court, he declined to receive any compensation for his successful effort in behalf of the prisoner, although it was tendered by the jury who felt themselves indebted to him for showing how they could rightfully vindicate the laws, and by it save a human life.
In 1847, Gov. Seward was solicited by certain humane persons in Cincinnati, with a tender of compensation, to be raised by subscription, to appear before the Supreme Court at Washington, in behalf of John Van Zandt, who was charged with aiding certain fugitives in an attempt to escape from slavery. He consented to undertake the case. The argumentt which he delivered on this occasion presented a masterly and unequaled analysis of the fugitive slave law of 1793, and the provisions of the federal constituSee Vol. I. p. 391. See Vol. I. p. 476.
tion in regard to the subject. It also stated most of the important objections now urged against the present fugitive slave law. In this case, also, Gov. Seward declined all compensation.
In Sept. of the same year, Gov. Seward was invited by the Irish citizens of the city of New York, to deliver a eulogy on the life and character of Daniel O'Connell. An immense assemblage of adopted and native born citizens, listened to him with the highest admiration. Like all similar efforts from the pen of Gov. Seward, it was a production at once chaste and eloquent, full of historical and classical allusions, with many passages of the most thrilling pathos, and did ample justice to the principles and deeds of the great Irish orator.
In 1845, a convict of the state prison at Auburn, Henry Wyatt, was indicted for the murder of a fellow-convict. His attempts to procure able counsel, had failed for want of ability to make the usual recompense. On the day but one preceding his trial, he invoked Gov. Seward's interposition for his defence. His appeal was promptly accepted. During the trial, many striking incidents were disclosed, which showed that the crime was committed in a morbid state of mind. The case clearly fell within a class which medical writers designate under the general name of moral insanity. Gov. Seward procured, at his own expense, the scientific witnesses necessary to present the case fairly to the jury. He followed in his defence with an argument of great power and pathos. The jury divided and could not agree upon a verdict. His second trial at the next Circuit Court, was eagerly anticipated, with full confidence that he would be acquitted. This event, however, was destined to become the occasion of difficulties such as few advocates have been called to encounter. After the close of the first trial, Gov. Seward left Auburn on a professional tour to Washington and the southern states.
While the case of Wyatt was yet the topic of discussion in Auburn and its vicinity, a singularly revolting occurrence took place, which served to increase the agitation of the public mind. This was the massacre of nearly a whole family by William Freeman, a negro of twenty-three years of age, who had been six months before discharged from the Auburn state prison, after an imprisonment of five years. The bloody scene occurred at the residence of John G. Van Nest, a wealthy and highly respectable
* See Vol. III. p. 44.