William H. Seward is known best for negotiating the purchase of Alaska in March 1867, known at the time as “Seward’s Folly.” Seward was also a devoted father of five children, a loyal husband, an ethical lawyer, a dedicated abolitionist, and Secretary of State for two presidents: Lincoln and Johnson. His name is often overlooked, but Seward did many notable acts in his life. He assisted Harriet Tubman by selling land to her in Auburn, New York, for her home. His house served as a post for the Underground Railroad. He believed in freedom and the Northern cause during the Civil War. Seward was almost killed on the night Lincoln was assassinated, as he was stabbed several times by Booth’s co-conspirator, Lewis Powell. Seward dedicated his life to the United States, and the people and causes he believed in.

16 May 1801 1
Florida, Orange County, New York 2
10 Oct 1872 2
Auburn, New York 2

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Personal Details

16 May 1801 1
Florida, Orange County, New York 1
Male 1
10 Oct 1872 1
Auburn, New York 1
Mother: Mary Jennings Seward 1
Father: Samuel Sweezy Seward 1
Frances Miller 2
20 Oct 1824 2
Auburn, New York 2
Augustus Henry Seward: 1826-1876 2
Cornelia Seward: 1836-1837 2
Frances Adeline "Fanny" Seward: 1844-1866 2
Frederick William Seward: 1830-1915 2
William Henry Seward, Jr.: 1839-1920 2
From: 01 Jan 1839 1
Place: Albany, NY 1
To: 31 Dec 1842 1
Accepted to the New York State Bar:
1821 3
Attacked in his bed by Lewis Powell:
14 Apr 1865 3
Becomes a junior partner in Miller law firm:
1823 3
Becomes Lincoln’s Secretary of State:
1861 3
Becomes U.S. Senator for New York:
1849 3
Defends William Freeman using the insanity plea:
1846 3
Delivers the “Higher Law” speech:
1850 3
Elected the first Whig Party governor of New York:
1838 3
Elected to four-year term in New York State Senate:
1830 3
Graduates from Union College, trains for law:
1820 3
Joins sophomore class at Union College:
1816 3
Negotiates the purchase of Alaska from Russia:
30 Mar 1867 3
Re-elected to the U.S. Senate:
1854 3
Retires from the State Department:
1869 3
Sells 7 acres of land in Auburn to Harriet Tubman:
1859 3
Serves as land agent for the Holland Land Company:
1836 3
Teaches for six months in Georgia:
1819 3
Travels around the world:
July 1870 to September 1871 3
Visits Europe with his father:
1833 3
Purchase of Alaska:
Date: 30 Mar 1867 4
Secretary of State:
From: 05 Mar 1861 4
Place: Washington DC 4
To: 04 Mar 1869 4
United States Senator:
From: 04 Mar 1849 1
Place: Washington DC 1
Representing: New Work 1
To: 03 Mar 1861 1

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Lewis Powell Tries to Assassinate William Seward

Washington D.C.

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On the night of April 14, 1865, around the time President Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater, Lewis Powell, also known as Lewis Payne, entered the Seward home and attacked Secretary of State William H. Seward. Seward was recovering from a carriage accident when Lewis Powell came into his bedroom and stabbed Seward with a bowie knife several times in the face and neck. Powell also attacked and injured Frederick and Augustus Seward, William’s sons, Private George Robinson, and a messenger Emerick Hansell. All five men survived the attack, but this night took a great toll on the Seward family. William’s wife Frances died in June 1865 partially from the stress of her family’s injuries, and Seward’s face was scarred for the remainder of his life. The incident was part of the larger plot created by John Wilkes Booth to kill President Lincoln and his supporters. The attacker, Lewis Powell, was executed with the other conspirators on July 7, 1865. William Seward, after his recovery, continued to serve as Secretary of State under President Johnson for the remainder of his term. His wounds from April 14, 1865, left scars but did not permanently damage his body or his spirit.

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The right to have a slave implies the right in some one to make the slave; that right must be equal and mutual, and this would resolve society into a state of perpetual war. --William H. Seward

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Oh, Mr. Seward! I remember your rescue from the swamp by the manly, blue-eyed Thurlow Weed!

Seward's son, William H. Seward Jr., was a Colonel in the Union army during the Civil War. His unit was for some time assigned duty in the Washington DC defenses. Records indicate that Seward would go and visit his son in the defensive works during this assignment. One of W.H. Seward Jr.'s subordinate officers was a Lieutenant Bacon, to whom Seward presented a sword. Oddly, the sword is now in Alaska.....

Secretary of State under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, William H. Seward had many more credits to his name than the purchase of Alaska in 1867. Abraham Lincoln trusted Seward's advice on domestic issues, most notably the timing of the Emancipation Proclamation. John Wilkes Booth had targeted Seward as well as Lincoln in the assassination plot. Although severely wounded, Seward survived the attack. Continuing in his cabinet position for Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor, Seward backed the president against radical Republican attacks. In addition to the purchase of Alaska, Seward advocated the acquisition of the Danish West Indies (Virgin Islands) and Hawaii.

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