Page images

received by the other members of the family. The common school system had not yet been established in the state of New York, and he attended several different schools in the vicinity of his father's residence, until the age of nine years. At this period, he was sent to Farmers' Hall Academy, at Goshen, which then boasted of having had the celebrated Aaron Burr and Noah Webster among its pupils. He pursued his studies at this seminary, and at an academy afterwards established in Florida, until the year 1816. He was now but fifteen years of age, when he was presented for admission to Union College, Schenectady. The thin, pale, sandy-visaged boy was found qualified for the junior class, but on account of his extreme youth was persuaded to enter the sophomore.

The college career of young Seward, as related by his contemporaries, gave brilliant indication of the rare qualities for which he has since become distinguished. The traits of the future legislator and statesman were foreshadowed in the character of the modest youth during his period of academic retirement. Even then he displayed the manly originality of conception--the sturdy independence of purpose-the firm adherence to his convictions of right-the intrepid assertion of high moral principles-the careful examination of a cause before appearing in its defencethe sympathy with the weak and oppressed-and the intellectual vigilance and assiduity in the pursuit of truth,-which have formed such conspicuous and admirable features in his public


His favorite studies in college were rhetoric, moral philosophy, and the ancient classics. It was his custom to rise at four o'clock in the morning, and prepare all the lessons of the day. At night, while the other students were engaged in getting ready the exercises of the next morning, he devoted his leisure to general reading, and literary compositions for class declamation or debates in society meetings.

In the year 1819, Seward, who was then in the senior class, and in the eighteenth year of his age, withdrew from college for about a year, passing six months of the time as a teacher at the south. The spectacle of slavery could not fail to make a deep impression on his mind. He witnessed scenes which aroused him to reflection on the subject, and produced the hostility to every form of oppression, which has since become ingrained in his character.

VOL. I.-B.

One of the many incidents which occurred to him may be related in this place.

While travelling in the interior of the state, he approached a stream spanned by a dilapidated bridge, that had become almost impassable. He forded the river with no little difficulty, and met on the opposite side a negro woman with an old blind and worn-out horse, bearing a bag of corn to mill. The poor slave was in tears, and manifested great distress of mind. She was afraid to venture on the bridge, and the stream seemed too rapid and violent for the strength of her horse. She was reluctant t return to her master, without fulfilling her errand, being fearfu of punishment. The heart of the young northerner was moved He went to her assistance, and attempted to lead the horse across the bridge. But the wretched beast was not equal to the effort He made a false step, and falling partly through, became wedged in among the plank and timbers. Seward tried in vain to extricate him. Despairing of success, he mounted his own horse, rode to the master's residence, and informed him of the accident, and attempted to excuse the slave. In return for his kindness, he was met with a volley of imprecations on himself, the slave, the horse, the bridge, and all parties and things concerned. His disgust at this adventure taught him a lesson of wisdom, which he never forgot.

Returning to college in 1820, he found the students in a state of great excitement. They had hitherto been divided into two literary societies, the Philomathean and the Adelphic, between which an earnest, but not unfriendly rivalry subsisted. The former was the most popular with the students, while the latter claimed the most diligent scholars. Young Seward was a member of the Adelphic, and entered into the interests of the society with characteristic zeal. During his absence, some twenty or thirty students from the southern states had left Princeton College and entered Union. These attached themselves to the Philomathean Society, giving it a great superiority in numbers over its rival. Questions soon arose in the society, on which the members divided geographically. The southern students were left in a minority, and obtaining a charter from the college faculty, organized a third society called the Delphian Institute. Their secession weakened the Philomathean, and was generally regarded by the older members of the rival society as a triumph on their side.

The younger Adelphics, however, took a different view, favoring the Philomatheans, on the ground that the secession was factious and sectional. Seward, whose experience at the south, and popularity with all classes in college, served to qualify him for the office, virtually became umpire between the two parties. After an impartial hearing of the question, he decided in favor of the Philomatheans, and against the Delphian Institute-thus siding with the sophomores and freshmen, in opposition to the views of his own classmates. He thereby incurred no small odium. The faction, which he had condemned, caused him to be arraigned, with a view to his expulsion from the Adelphic Society. The members resolved themselves into a court, while a prominent member of his own class acted as public prosecutor. Seward conducted his own defence. After the testimony was completed, he summed up the merits of the case, closing a powerful argument with a thrilling recital of his course throughout the controversy. Declaring that he was indifferent to what might be said of him by the public prosecutor-that he had no wish to know who voted for and who against him--and that he would not embarrass the vote of any member by his presence, or by inquiry about his vote at any time afterward-he abruptly left the chamber in which the trial was held. In half an hour, the rush of students from the hall showed that the case was decided. Soon, his room was crowded with sophomores and freshmen, ardent with victory, and loud in congratulations that the prosecution had been voted down. The cause of law and order was sustained against the seceders, and the integrity of the union in Union College fully vindicated.

There was still another trial in college for the young student. Three commencement orators were to be appointed by the Adel- . phic Society. This appointment was deemed the highest college honor. Seward was a prominent candidate. His scholarship, his eloquence, and his character presented equally strong claims in his favor. But the hostile faction among the friends of the Delphian Institute, established a vigorous opposition. An earnest canvass was maintained for several weeks. No pains were spared to defeat the election of Seward. The choice was at length made, and he gained a decided triumph. The subject of his oration was, "The Integrity of the American Union." This was a chaste and manly performance, replete with vigorous sense

and patriotic feeling. It was listened to with enthusiasm by an intelligent audience, and called forth warm commendations in the public prints.

Seward graduated among the most distinguished scholars in his class. He shared his academic honors with several, who have since arisen to eminence in different walks of literature and public life. Of these, we need only mention the names of Hon. William Kent, who inherits the legal mind and rare attainments of his father, the celebrated chancellor; Rev. Dr. Hickok, now vice-president of Union College, and as an erudite and profound metaphysician, without an equal among American scholars; and Rev. Tayler Lewis, Professor of Greek in Union College, distinguished no less as an adroit and energetic controversialist, than as a classical scholar of consummate accomplishments.

An incident, showing his standing in the college, and his early development of talent, was thus described by a public journal, many years since:


The year 1820 was, as our readers will remember, the epoch of the great contest between Tompkins and Clinton. The interest excited by this struggle pervaded all classes and ages of the community, and it was not in the glowing temperament of William H. Seward to remain neutral. He was naturally from his education and early association, on the side of Tompkins, and his zeal was quickened by personal intercourse with this amiable and fascinating man, with whom to have an interview with an individual was to acquire and fix a friend. Seward was appointed to address the vice-presi dent on his visit to Schenectady on behalf of the young republicans of the college. His speech was so much above the common run of political harangues, as to excite general and lasting interest. He lived in the remembrance of Daniel D. Tompkins, until he himself ceased to live; and his friends will recollect the fervent kindness with which he was wont to recur to this eloquent and generous effort of his youthful champion."

The relations of young Seward with Dr. Nott, the venerable and excellent President of Union College, were intimate and cordial, throughout his academic course, and have continued to be of affectionate confidence to the present time. It is believed that Mr. Seward has seldom acted on any important public question, without availing himself of the experience and sagacity of his venerated friend, whose counsels, we need not say, have always been on the side of nobleness and humanity. Nor, we may add, has Mr. Seward failed to preserve the attachment of his early friends. The companions of his school and college days, as well as those of his professional life, have ever been among his foremost supporters, as a public man. And he never forsakes

a friend or a cause, that he has once espoused. No reproach can shake his fidelity to objects, of whose worth he has become persuaded.

Soon after taking his degree at Union College, Mr. Seward entered the office of John Anthon, Esq., of the city of New York, as a student at law. He carried the habits of early rising and faithful application, which he had maintained during his college life, into his professional studies. He thoroughly mastered every elementary book which was put into his hands, making a written analysis of its contents. Completing his legal preparation with John Duer and Ogden Hoffman, Esquires, in Goshen, N. Y., he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court at Utica in 1822. For six months previous to his admission he had been associated in practice with Mr. Hoffman.

In January, 1823, Mr. Seward took up his residence in Auburn, and formed a connexion in business with the Hon. Elijah Miller, a distinguished member of the legal profession, and at that time first Judge of Cayuga county. Judge Miller, who had acquired a competency in a large and successful practice, was desirous of retiring from active professional pursuits, and discovering signs of great promise in young Seward, took him into his confidence, and proved a devoted and efficient friend.

Mr. Seward in 1824 married his youngest daughter, Frances Adeline Miller. As this lady is still living, we can only say that the connection has been a singularly fortunate one in all respects. Four children compose their family; Augustus, a lieutenant in the U. S. Army, Frederick, a promising young lawyer, and a boy and girl yet in childhood. One daughter, "fondly loved," was therefore, perhaps, "early lost."

The town of Auburn, which Mr. Seward selected as a residence, is in the heart of one of the most fertile and delightful regions in central New York. Its growth has been rapid and healthful. Within a few years the primeval forest has given place to a populous city. Its inhabitants are distinguished for their intelligence, enterprise and refinement. Free from the pride of wealth and the pretensions of aristocracy, they present an attractive example of genuine republican equality. In some degree these characteristics are no doubt due to the influence of Mr. Seward and his estimable family. During a residence of more than thirty years, he has won the unqualified respect and confidence of his townsmen. Moving

« PreviousContinue »