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William H. Seward

The assassination attempt and "Seward's Folly".

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William H. Seward

Washington, DC

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At the same time on 14 April 1865 that John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theater, Secretary of State William H. Seward was attacked in his bed by one of Booth's co-conspirators, Lewis Thornton Powell. Armed with a pistol and a knife, Powell severely pistol-whipped Seward's son, Frederick, as he attempted to prevent the attack on his father; another son, Augustus, was also injured in the attack. Daughter Fanny witnessed the attacks, wrote about them in her diary, and testified in court against Powell. Seward's wife, Frances, died of a heart attack (no doubt complicated by shock and worry) in June 1865 and Fanny died in October 1866. The neck brace Mr. Seward wore as a result of an accident several days earlier prevented the knife from penetrating his throat but he carried the scars on his face and neck for the remainder of his life. Powell was captured, tried and later hung with three other persons convicted as being part of the assassination plot. John Wilkes Booth was found 26 April 1865 in the company of David Herold and shot to death when he refused to surrender.

 

Seward was born in Orange County, NY, in 1801 and eventually died of natural causes in 1872. He was governor of New York for two terms, 1838-42, was elected as a Senator in 1848 and 1855, and served as Secretary of State under Presidents Lincoln and Andrew Johnson from 1861-69. Less than two years after the attempted assassination, he negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia on 30 March 1867. The check for $7,200,000 can be seen on American Milestones on this site. This purchase, which amounted to approximately 2 cents per acre, was ridiculed at the time as "Seward's Folly". He died at his home in Auburn, NY, on 10 Oct 1872.

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