Page images

mission Archbishop Hughes,1 Bishop McIlvaine and Mr. Thurlow Weed.2

Mr. Seward, on assuming the responsible duties of his office, absolved himself from all party allegiance that might in any manner embarrass him. He especially renounced all aspirations for the presidency, and surrendered all ambition except that of saving the Union.

Nevertheless, misapprehensions prevailed in regard to his views and his course, and his position in the President's Cabinet. It was never his habit to explain or defend his official conduct in the newspapers before the public. We find him, however, in July, 1862, when the tide of misrepresentation was at its height, departing somewhat from his rule, engaging in a conversation with the editor 3 of the "National Intelligencer," in which he gave emphatic contradiction to a number of false and mischievous accusations current at that time in the newspaper press.

"The honorable Secretary," says Mr. Seaton, "freely admitted that he felt, perhaps more sensibly than others, the importance of avoiding misapprehensions. in public affairs, because it devolves upon him to daily counteract the effect abroad of publications which often are not more inconsiderately made than they are speedily corrected at home. The armies of the government, which are strong as they are brave, need reinforcements, and the world needs to know that they are promptly coming in response to the call of the government. Every rumor of division of counsels, and of conflict among or about generals, every private jealousy, and even the utterance of every private grief, however unavoidable, tends to defeat these important objects.

"The Secretary, therefore, felt fully authorized and at liberty to say, that he never exercised nor assumed a power or a duty in the progress of this war with which he was not specially charged by the President, and in the performance of which he was not always in free communication with him. That neither to the President nor to any other person has he ever expressed distrust of the President or of any of his associates in the government; but, on the contrary, has uniformly supported and defended them all. That he has not been quick or willing to entertain complaints against any general, whether Scott or McDowell, Fremont or McClellan, or Halleck, or Grant, or Buell, or Dix, or Sigel, or Shields, or Banks, or Blencker, but has exerted his best endeavors to sustain them all, more when they encountered defeats than when they achieved victories. That he has neither introduced nor encouraged any test question in the Cabinet concerning men or measures, or even said or thought of insisting on the appointment, or approval, or rejection of any man, or the adoption or rejection of any measure as a condition of adherence to the administration, to the war, or to the cause of the country. 1 Congress in 1776 appointed as one of three Commissioners to Canada, Rev. John Carroll, afterward Archbishop of Baltimore.

2 See Autobiography of Thurlow Weed.

8 Hon. W. W. Seaton.


He has never seen any intemperance in debate in the Cabinet, and has discouraged it in public bodies and journals, equally whether it appeared in favor of his own views or against them. That he never proposed or even thought of requiring the removal or the overruling of the propositions of any member of the Cabinet, nor has he proposed or thought of resigning his own place in it, nor has ever one word of unkindness or distrust passed between the President or any of his official advisers and himself. He is content, as he hitherto has been, to remain where he is, so long as this causeless and iniquitous war continues, and so long as the chosen chief magistrate of the country requires it, even though his advice should be overruled, which happens very rarely; and then in cases which his own judgment, better informed, sometimes approves. At the same time he would not, if he could, for any reason prolong his stay in the place he now holds one hour beyond the time when the President should think it wise to relieve him. And when he shall retire from it, it will be with the determination he has more than once heretofore expressed, under no circumstances whatever to be a place-holder in the service of his country, even, although, as he most confidently expects, it shall emerge in its full strength and greatness from its present troubles. He hopes no one of his fellow-citizens thinks so unkindly of him as to suppose that he would be content to exercise power in a fraction of it, if it should consent to be divided."

The substance of this conversation was generally published, and served to allay many floating rumors prejudicial to the administration.

Mr. Seward, in common with all men holding places of power in the government, was subject not only to misrepresentation, but to gross calumny. His friends seemed more troubled by the assaults made on his reputation than he; to one of these friends he addressed the following letter: 1

October 8, 1866.

SIR :- I thank you for the kind attention you have manifested in writing to me your letter of the 4th instant. In that friendly communication you give me a report of certain speeches made in your neighborhood with a view to affect the private character of the President of the United States, and also my own.

I am not appointed or authorized to vindicate the President against personal calumnies. The entire experience of the United States thus far shows that calumny of the Chief Magistrate is a chronic form of party activity, and that it has always failed of lasting effect.

So far as I myself am concerned, it is only necessary to say that I have no remembrance of a time during my public life in which less charitable views of my public and private character were taken by those who differed from me than those which are now presented by opponents of the policy which it is my duty to maintain. My first complaint of unkindness at the hands of any of my fellow-citizens remains yet to be made, and I think it may with safety be still longer deferred.

1 To Sumner Stebbins, M. D., Unionville, Chester County, Penn. See also letters to Rev. J. P. Thompson, D. D., post, page 613.


Mr. Seward's patriotism was manifested in various ways during the war. In August, 1862, when the needs of the country were pressing heavily upon its loyal citizens, he addressed the several persons holding positions in the Department of State, as follows:

August 12, 1862. TO THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE, and other persons in the service of the Department of State : —

There are thirty-two of us now employed in this department, of whom fifteen are between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. I think we should furnish at least that number of volunteers for the military service, either personally or by volunteers enrolled through our exertions respectively. I propose to furnish three such volunteers, and I invite your immediate consideration of the means of finding the others. The places of those who personally volunteer will be retained for them until the expiration of their time of service.1

When asked for "words to encourage enlistments" he responded: "I give them, the United States, the greatest of all nations if they stand together the most miserable if they fall asunder.”

The colored men inquired of him as to their duty in view of the fact that the wages offered to them as soldiers were less than those received by white soldiers. He sent them this reply:

"The duty of the colored man to defend his country whenever and wherever and in whatever form, is the same with that of the white man. It does not depend on, nor is it affected by, what the country pays us or what position she assigns us; but it depends on her need alone, and of that she, not we are to judge. The true way to secure her rewards and win her confidence is not to stipulate for them, but to deserve them. Factious disputes among patriots about compensations and honors invariably betray any people, of whatever race, into bondage. If you wish your race to be delivered from that curse, this is the time to secure their freedom in every land and for all generations. It is no time for any Amercan citizen to be hesitating about pay or place."

The total eradication of pro-slavery influences from the government was one of the responsibilities thrown upon the new administration. One of Mr. Seward's earliest acts was to instruct the recently appointed Marshal of the District of Columbia to cease re

1 A newspaper at the time remarked: "The clerks responded to the proposition with enthusiasm, and we understand that twelve of them have already been enrolled, and that the others will be promptly forthcoming. A little incident which occurred yesterday still further illustrates Secretary Seward's patriotism. During the morning he sent a note to Capt. Harrover (who is engaged in recruiting district soldiers), requesting him to send to his office eight recruits. They were sent, and as soon as they appeared before the Secretary he handed one of them a neat little package, upon which they retired and opened the mysterious envelope, when to their surprise, they discovered a fifty-dollar treasury note for each one of them.”


ceiving into the jail of the District, fugitive slaves to be delivered up to their masters, according to a long-standing municipal ordinance. The effect of this was to relieve the fears of thousands of fugitives from Virginia and Maryland, who flocked to the District and were sustained for a considerable time by rations furnished by the government. At the same time he instructed General McClellan 1 that slaves escaping into our lines should receive military protection, and not be liable to arrest. The Mayor of Washington received similar orders.


In 1850, Mr. Seward introduced a Bill into the Senate of the United States, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. It received only five votes 2 while its author was denounced as an incendiary and a traitor.

Among the early acts of the administration (April, 1862), was the appointment of three commissioners to carry out the Act of Congress for the emancipation, with compensation to their owners, of all the slaves in the District. The result left no slave at the seat of Government, and notably fulfilled the predictions of Mr. Seward in 1850, and put to flight the forebodings of his enemies.3

On the 15th of April, 1861, the President issued his proclamation calling for 75,000 militia, to suppress the treasonable combinations which had become too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of law. To this call, the loyal people promptly responded. The troops hastened to the city of Washington to secure its possession in the hands of the government. In passing through Baltimore, they met with armed resistance from a mob. The Governor of Maryland became alarmed and addressed a letter to the President, asking that no more troops be sent through that state. To this extraordinary request, the Secretary of State replied in a public letter,4 remarkable for its eloquence and patriotism.

On the 8th of November, 1861, Captain Charles Wilkes, of the U. S. Steamer San Jacinto intercepted on the ocean, H. B. M. mail packet boat Trent, having on board four rebel emissaries bound for England. Having boarded the Trent, an officer of the San Jacinto, with an armed guard, arrested the rebels Mason, Slidell, McFarland and Eustis, and transferred them to the San Ja

1 See Order of December 4, 1861, page 599.

2 In 1862, the vote in the Senate was ayes 29, nays 14; in the House, ayes 92, nays 38.

3 See Vol. i. p. 111; vol. iv. p. 20; Wilson, vol. ii. p. 298.

• See page 609.

cinto. The Trent then proceeded on her voyage. Captain Wilkes conveyed his captives to Boston, where they were consigned to Fort Warren, then a receptacle for political prisoners. When this transaction became known to the British government, immediate preparations were made for war. In the United States, the act was hailed as a victory. The Secretary of the Navy publicly applauded Captain Wilkes, and the House of Representatives did the same. The Secretary of State, upon whom the chief responsibility in the matter rested, saw, more clearly than others, that a breach of international law had been committed by the commander of the San Jacinto. The President coincided with Mr. Seward, and it was at once resolved to restore the rebel captives to the protection of the British flag.1

Mr. Seward's reasons for adopting this course are ably presented in his correspondence with Mr. Adams and the British and French ministers.2

On the publication of the correspondence a complete change in public opinion ensued. Mr. Seward was regarded everywhere as a peace-maker and a wise diplomatist. Great Britain accepted his solution of the threatening difficulty in proper terms, while the other European powers concurred.3

Thus was settled one of the most formidable questions that confronted our government during the civil war. Mr. Adams in his Oration 4 reviews the transaction with a power of eloquence heightened by his intimate knowledge of the facts and circumstances.

While the excitement caused by the Trent affair was still alive, the British government, through Lord Lyons, asked permission to send a detachment of troops to Quebec across the state of Maine from Portland, Quebec at the time being blockaded with ice. Mr. Seward courteously granted the request although he was aware that these soldiers were probably originally intended to act in hostility to the United States. The prompt courtesy of Mr. Seward in this case helped to restore good feeling between the two countries.5

1 Mr. Webster, Secretary of State, in 1851, said "I cannot bring myself to believe that these Governments (England and France) or either of them, dare to search an American merchantman on the high seas to ascertain whether individuals may be on board bound to Cuba and with hostile purposes.' Private Correspondence, p. 477.

2 See pages


The points of International Law presented in the "Trent Case," are concisely discussed by Dana in his Notes to Wheaton.

* See page 35.

5 It is a coincidence in history, that in 1790, Lord Dorchester asked leave of President Washington to march a British army from Detroit to the Mississippi River. See Hamilton's Works, vol. iv., page 48.

« PreviousContinue »