tv Lincolns Indispensable Man CSPAN October 20, 2013 2:45am-3:31am EDT
thank you for the kind introduction. thank you for being here. it's wonderful to be in washington which was my home for many years. i've done so much of the research for the book. when i told taxi drivers what i was doing. i was writing a biography. most of him have heard of him. he bought alaska. [laughter] and that's right. but what else did he do?
what was he like? let me take that last question first. what was he like as a person? during the civil war years, he was in his early 60s. short, lean man with as mas of sort of disorderly gray hair. big nose, almost always a cigar in his mouth, and if it was any time past 5:00 in the evening a glass of wine near the hand. talking, always, always talking. one of his also lived and famous host gathering around his table diplomats, soldiers, politicians, actors, you know,
the life of the party. what he ask do? he was secretary of state for eight years under lincoln and president johnson. before that he was a federal senator for 12 years. before that he was governor of new york. maybe i should start there. he was governor of new york in the late 1830s early 1840s when new york was by far our most pop lis state. he was a progressive, even a visionary governor. one of his main causes as governor was education. particularly the education of irish catholic children in new york city. many of those children weren't going to school at all, because the public schools used protestant text and less warrant acceptable catholic parents. he was determined to see all
children educated regardless of religion. i should mention here on this stage he was also a big fan of libraries. and believed that extending publishing library of new york new "new york, new yorkers" -- to bind the nation and the state together more closely. and me made himself famous in the north, and infamous in the south when he refused a request from the governor of virginia affiliate a brief period of walk he was elected senator and came to washington.
his most famous speech as senator in 1850. arguing against what we know as the comprise of 1850. he was spes lecial against the idea that any part of the recently acquired territory in the west would become slave territory. a higher law than the constitution he declared. dead candidated that western territory of freedom. he was the favor to become the republican nominee for president. the first ballot of the chicago convention in may of that year, he had by far more votes than any other candidate. he was within striking distance of the nomination.
he was in the guard within a few friends when it happened. and he knew it happened even before he read the telegram. because the man running from the telegraph office had a piece of paper in his hand waiving as he ran toward him yelling, oh god! oh god. it's gone, gone! it's in chapter vii. a brief version. [laughter] a brief version is that some of what he said and done over the years came back to haunt him. it if i had to name one factor that prevented him from getting the republican nomination, it was what he had done for those catholic school children in new york city a decade before. that is stevens and some of you
may remember from the recent lincoln movie said his state, pennsylvania, would never vote for even back in 1860. [laughter] he was disappointed and mast herbed it on the campaign tail for the rieferl lincoln. campaign from maine to minnesota, new york city all the way out to the prairie of kansas. no man did more to secure the election of lincoln than him. and it was in part because of this that lincoln named him the secretary of state. there was a tradition in the 19th century. presidents often name the man they thought should be their
successor as secretary of state. jefferson, monroe,ed a damns, all of the men had served as secretary of state before becoming president. by naming him as suck sayser. that winter, the suck sex winter as southern states started to succeed, sue around was leading advocate of comprise in washington. in jan 1861 in a packed senate chamber, he stood up and gave a speech. the first part was closely based on the words of my man john j. he talked about how disastrous it would be the united states to divide in to two or more nations. ..
>> he predicted rightly that would lead to a civil war. and once it started, his main task was keeping britain and france from siding with the south. he knew his history and engineered at the critical moment back in the american revolution was when france recognized and pledged military support to the united states. britain did the same with the confederacy and the game was up.
in some form the confederacy would survive. so that was his first task to prevent that and he succeeded. anyway his success leads us to forget that we have accomplished that. but seward did not limit himself to diplomacy. he was not a man that could limit himself in any way. he helped with recruiting. he gave political speeches. he advised lincoln on military matters. he was lincolns closest counselor and friend during the war. his cabinet colleagues, notably navy secretaries complained that on important issues there was only one man with whom seward, i'm sorry, with whom lincoln spoke. william henry seward. because of his important role as deputy president, if you will, that john wilkes booth targeted seward for assassination in
april 1865 that he killed lincoln. he was in some respects a very easy target that night. he had been injured in a carriage accident two weeks prior and the assassins knew exactly where to find him. the assassin managed to get into his bedroom. he had a pistol in one hand and an 8-inch knife in the collections in california in the other. he had already used that nearly to death outside of seward store. but the night wasn't very good working order. he pressed seward down with the other slashed his face and neck. in one sense he missed. he didn't sever the arteries but he succeeded quite well. you see the picture of him after the assassination attempt and he was horribly disfigured and bled
copiously. and it continues to serve as our secretary of state through controversial administration almost all of you know that he was mocked and it was called seward's five. i'm here to tell you that that is a met. dozens or hundreds of newspapers after the treaty was signed while was hanging in the senate. and the senate ratified with only two dissenting votes. and this is things that people mocked as folly.
it becomes clear that he doesn't have and the panel cannot the hartford current roadbed seward would buy up the whole hemisphere to the glaciers and if only he lives long enough, i credited the nation that folds out. none of those purchases came to pass during seward's ordeal, but some of them did come to pass and some of them were accomplished by seward's protéges years later. i would like to close my remarks and take your questions from a speech here in washington of july of 1863. it is not long after gettysburg
when i think the mood in washington was not unlike the mood in september of 2001. the capital had survived an attack and it was apprehensive about another. and seward said that whatever happened, he is determined to remain on through the year, saying that if i fall here, let no kingston or friend remove me to a more hospitable grave. let it be buried under the pavement of the avenue in the chariot wheels rattle over my bones. until we are more heroic. and this is life liberty and independence. now he says, we must resolve and not wait for a draft or conscription. ask not whether the enemy is near or far out.
sorrell come out in arms underrate yourselves to meet that enemy. and they said that the american flag must come out to wave here in the nation's capital, but also throughout the country. not one disloyal citizen remains in arms to oppose it. i thank you. [applause] [applause] >> good morning. i enjoyed your book immensely and it was a very good read. as a son of eastern ohio, i hope your next book is on secretaries stimson reedit. >> i am deeply into a secretary stanton right now.
>> in reading your book, i really felt that he had a great sense of timing as to what may need to be done in terms of compromise. but the one thing that struck me is when he proposed to awaken a war with great britain and bringing the country back together. with this, was that him grasping at straws and considering how divided the country was at that point? >> okay, when seward proposes to lincoln that we try to gin up a foreign war, was that grasping at straws or was there a reality to it. i admit that when i first tackled this, i wanted to be able to say that it was an idea that i have one day and forgot about the next. i kept finding various things and the speech that he gave in december and reports coming back from washington to foreign
capitals. as he looked at the situation, he thought in an effort to save the union, maybe not a war itself, but it rally people around the flag and it would be a possible way, maybe not a bringing south carolina back into the union, but preventing let's say virginia or north carolina from leaving the union. a choice between standing by the old flag or defending it against the terrible british and fighting in north and south war. he thought that the border states want to stand by their old flag. >> yes, good afternoon. i have a question as far as the secretary seward advising president lincoln on the war. did he believe in the hardware or wanted to negotiate with the south and bring the war to an end, somewhere around 1863 or 1864. did he agree with the way that
grant proceeded with the war? >> okay, is he a hard war man or did he compromise with the south. there is never a point at which seward descends from the hard techniques that are being used. indeed, he is at the forefront. in the first year of the war he is responsible for what we would call domestic security and throws people into jail. and he leaves them there until he is ready to let them out. and throughout the war, just as in a secession, he is keen to find a compromise. so he talks about how soon the south will come back. he uses it to states, to liken him to stars of a constellation. just like the stars are attracted to gravity, the states have a natural gravity and they will come back together.
most notably, it is seward which lincoln's this in january of 1865 at the hampton roads conference. lincoln comes along as sort of an afterthought. there are actually five men and seward is very keen at that junction to find a negotiated resolution with the south. because of that, there are people here in washington, his friend for example, who think that seward is too keen to negotiate. in 1863, something that he was too successful because he feels that the war will be won and that seward let the southern states back in. for some there, that his entire liberal. >> as you pointed out, seward was eloquent in imposing the compromise of 1850, in terms
that really speak to us today. he sounds like a man living in the 20th century speaking to people who are living in the 19th. he is by far the least willing to compromise in the senate. as i think that you also point out in your book. his wife is harboring fugitive slaves in new york. he is a fierce anti-slavery man. can you say something about how he personally and morally evolved to the point where in 1860 he is ready to compromise with the slaveholding south? >> seward on slavery definitely evolves over time. he does harbor fugitive slaves in his home, which is really quite remarkable for a man with presidential ambitions to commit a federal felony and risk his entire political career.
yet by 1860, he is ready to think about compromises of slavery in the south. and he proposes a constitutional amendment to declare that congress has no authority to interfere with slavery in the southern states. seward is actually reluctant to endorse the emancipation proclamation. after the war, he is largely unconcerned about the fate of the southern slaves and is highly criticized for saying that he earned honor by thinking of the sleeves earlier in his career and now earns dishonor. that is the "new york independent." in this sense is not like daniel webster's speech in the compromise of 1850, where he
comes to speak not as a northern man but the united states senator representing the whole nation. seward, after the war is keenly concerned to include the southern states back into the union. if that means that the slaves, former slaves suffer for another decade, so be it. >> hello, doris kearns goodwin in her book suggested that seward thought that he was going to be more like a prime minister, maybe a bit of a power behind the throne kind of thing. but fairly early on he sees the greatness in lincoln and his leadership and he shifts. if you agree with that, what does that say about seward, that he is willing to shift and see
that and then quickly, what did you think of the trail of him in the movie "lincoln." >> i basically agree with her that seward comes into power in the state department thinking that he is going to be some secretary of state as some have been. have to charge. and lincoln disabuse them of that notion and seward comes around and realizes that lincoln works equally for him. for me, it is not the initial pension, but it is the four years of faithful service and friendship. the one memo suggesting a war. we have all written an e-mail that we regret. but seward is at lincoln side
throughout the war. but the trail in the movie of seward, you know. how do you put it? when you see a movie and spend your time and resources, you will see a few things here and there. but in general i liked the seward in the movie. i love the incidents with the cigar in the glass of wine. i think that is pretty close to what he was like. i only regret that the movie did not have time to take us to seward's house and show him in the social settings. certainly the movers and shakers, the man man who knew how to get things done on capitol hill that is for trade in the movie. that is my man. it is not an accident that lincoln turned to seward to get the 13th amendment through congress. what the movie unfortunately doesn't betray, which we should think about, if lincoln and
seward have not accomplish that at that juncture, it would not have happened for years and years. because andrew johnson wasn't going to lift a finger to get the anti-slavery amendment through congress. so on the side. >> religiously and philosophically, how diverse was this cabinet of weekends? particularly in personally with abraham lincoln, how much did they share and interact on such weighty matters? >> religiously and philosophically how diverse. seward was an episcopalian. lincoln, it's harder to say. there was a great joke that he is headed out in a carriage, and the road is bad and the carriage driver is swearing up a storm. lincoln says, my friend, are you an episcopalian? and the carriage driver says, no, i guess i was raised as a a baptist. and lincoln says, oh, well, you
are swearing just like secretary seward, and he is a firm of episcopalian. [laughter] thanks to noah brooks, the newspaper reporter for that one. i really am not sure that they talked a lot about religious issues, other than as they bore on the war. seward shared lincolns sends that this is not just something, a war between men. that does involve god in some ways and he puzzled over how god was involved. whether he and lincoln actually sort of talk about those issues were just were thinking about them simultaneously, i did not have any proof. >> this is a follow-up to the last question. is it accurate that seward in the administration wrote lincoln a letter in which he proposed that he essentially made the big
decisions and lincoln would carry them out? >> yes, that is the famous april 1, memorandum. it is in the library of congress in the manuscript. you can see it for yourself on the online version of the lincoln papers. seward writes a note saying, look, we've spent a month, all of our time has been spent on who will be the postmaster in chicago and we have not developed a domestic policy or a foreign policy. on the domestic front, seward wants to give up fort sumter and try to use that as a way of making lincoln the union president. on the foreign front he raises, as was mentioned, the possibility of war or the threat of war with britain or france. then at the end, i do not have the precise wording, it is kind of convoluted as his sentences were, but he said something that whatever is decided, someone
must be in charge of seeing that it's done. i did the president or some member of the cabinet. i do not mean to suggest myself, but i am not shirking the matter either. lincoln writes out a response which is not among the seward papers in rochester. it's in lincoln's papers. in all likelihood he did not give it to seward, only talked about it. at the end when he got to the question, he can say that as to that i must do it. that is the quote and the heading of my chapter that deals with me. although this memo is interesting, i think to spend too much time on it, it distorts the relationship between lincoln and seward. it focuses on one moment of tension rather than four years of collaboration. on this side? >> a question about maybe the not so glorious part of seward. his relationship with lincoln's
successor, perhaps the worst president in the history of the country. a comment on that? >> yes, andrew johnson. when i started this research, i was keen to say that from the moment that lincoln died, seward these to be involved in domestic politics and he was only focusing on foreign affairs and alaska and british columbia and all sorts of other nice issues. but as i did the research, it became clear that seward continued to be intimately involved in domestic policy, and in particular johnson's reconstruction policy. there is a great image and a condé nast cartoon that shows johnson as a roman emperor, and he is sitting in the amphitheater. on the floor of the amphitheater, the whites are slaughtering blacks. johnson doesn't look very concerned. who is the evil advisor leaning over johnson's soldier,
whispering in his ear and giving him ideas about policy? it is seward. it is true that seward agreed with johnson's reconstruction policies. he thought the most important thing was to bring the states back together and have representation of the south and the congress. he was not especially troubled by the fact that there was some white on black violence going on, the fact that the blacks couldn't vote. it is not the greatest chapter in his history. but it's there. >> following up on the conference in february of 1865, what on earth could seward feed to the south. the lot was virtually one. i had never seen the purpose of that conference because what could the north give in on at that point?
>> well, there is some suggestion from southern sources, which is controversial, there is some suggestion that seward said to the three southern delegates, look, lay down your arms and rejoin the union, and then your votes will be able to prevent the 13th amendment from becoming part of the constitution. think about that. he had just spent the month of january in an all-out lobbying effort to get the amendment passed by the house of representatives. he goes down the hampton roads and basically offers a constitutional amendment ending slavery as a bargaining chip to the southern delegates. so i think that his position at that point was basically akin to that of lincoln. the union is one. slavery -- although seward may be soft on that point -- everything else is up for negotiation, including points as
whether the federal government will take on some of the confederate war dead. and how quickly and on what terms they would come into political power in their own states. so there were things that the south cared about that lincoln and seward could've offered them. at that point the southerners believed that they were still going to be able to establish this and they were not willing to negotiate on our first and most recent point. >> thank you. >> and my through with questions here? >> i will ask a question that nobody has asked, but someone should ask, which is tell us a bit about his wife and his family. [applause] >> his wife was mary seward, she
was the daughter of a prominent man and is a curious and contradictory figure. on the one hand she is much more ardently anti-slavery and pro-women's rights and among her first personal friends was those women who created the seneca falls convention, and francis seward, those were some of her very best friends. but in the summer of 1862 when lincoln is thinking about an emancipation proclamation, francis writes to her husband saying that he owes it to himself and his country and to his god to see what the president is doing, the right thing. if he wanted the right thing, he
should remain on office to give countenance to a great moral evil and seward writes back and says no, we are going to win the war with the army. this political view is here in washington and that's how we know that we are back home in auburn where she remains for the entire war. she is generally in her bedroom with the blinds closed and she was often ill, and i think many other illnesses were psychological and hypochondriac. he was up in washington or traveling around the world. she did come to washington after
the carriage accident to tend to her husband. and she was here on the night of the assassin came into her house and nearly killed her husband and son and stabbed several other people. and she tended to her husband and son lovingly until they were back on the road to health and then she passed away. it was just too much for her. and sadly, seward lives last few years of his life without his beloved wife. the wonderful diary provides us with much of the we know that night, he passed away of tuberculosis. roughly a year later a family often divided by distance. yes?
>> i was wondering in albany, new york, there is a copy of the emancipation proclamation edited in part by seward with his comments between the lines in lincoln's hand. and i'm wondering if he has enough credit for some of lincoln's work as lincoln's editor. >> the question was the first inaugural address, the emancipation proclamation. as his biographer, he can never get enough credit. but i think that in general that historians have noticed the little instances in his handwriting. it is on lincoln's work and giving him his due. they were two lawyers and a respected one another as lawyers and wordsmiths. seward would often pass drafts of his messages to the foreign ministers for his political
speeches to lincoln for his comments. and lincoln, vice versa, would rely on seward for a sounding board and speechwriter on some of his more important speeches. so on the side? >> can you tell us a little bit about your research process and how long it takes you to come up with your book? >> this book took about five years from conception to publication. my research process starts with a document that i call a bibliography. it is not one yet because i haven't looked at anything. but i start by checking out what books i need to look out and when manuscripts are and what newspapers i look at to write the book. as i take notes and organize those in chronological form, for at the moment i have about 900 pages of chronology with the day
by day in the life of edwin stanton. at some point i will put that at one point on my desk and a few other things will be put off nearby. i will start to turn that into the life of edwin stanton. that's a very short version of how i do the research. >> how would you compare seward's role as the indispensable man to lincoln, to hamilton's role george washington? >> it's one of the things i love about coming in doing these things, you get questions that you never thought about before. [laughter] well, there were some similarities and some differences. some of the similarities, it is true that washington relied very heavily on hamilton's clever pen to write things for him and he came to trust in hamilton's
political judgment. although i don't know that there will ever be a moment in which washington will put himself quite into hamiltons hands as some of his later critics have said. and some differences, there was a huge gap in ages and position between washington and hamilton. seward and lincoln are on par. if anything, seward is better known and more experienced with washington in the world then lincoln was when lincoln arrived in washington as president-elect. i think it was more of a personal friendship than washington had with hamilton. i'm not sure that anyone was ever a friend of george washington, but i think he was already sort of on a pedestal that made that different.
>> fascinating stuff. i will have to read the book. would you care to speculate on what a seward presidency would've looked like had he gotten the nomination in 1860? >> the question is what would seward have been like if he would've gotten the nomination. i'm not sure that he would have been elected. i originally thought that he would have, the more time i spend thinking about his problems, the anti-catholic sentiment, i'm not sure that seward would've been able to win all the states that lincoln did. but let's assume that he did. the place that it is clear is that they would've diverged is in a secession. seward would not have meant that shipped to fort sumter. it was fired upon the led to the start of the civil war. i think that there would have been a civil war, or some other
flashpoint, or he would've conducted it more or less as we did, but we might have gone to the same point with the emancipation proclamation. like, hey, we are going to get there without this and the armies will conquer the south and the fleas will free themselves. why risk the political consequences of the proclamation. it would have been some differences. thank you so much. [applause]