I have had my first Seward book event, or “pre-book event,” because the book is not out yet. It was a small event for friends of the MIND Institute, a California educational charity. As I said at the outset of the event, it was very fitting, given how strongly Seward believed in education. Education, he said in his first message as governor, “banishes the distinctions, old as time, of rich and poor, master and slave. It banishes ignorance and lays axe to the root of crime.”
As often happens, the questions I get at events prompt me to rethink the book. One question was “what were the early influences that shaped Seward’s whole life?” I realized, as I answered, that one key influence was his father’s politics. Not that his Seward followed exactly his father’s political views, but that his father was a very political man, and Seward would have been exposed, from an early age, to discussions of politics and political strategy. Somewhat like Mitt Romney, who grew up in and around political campaigns.
Another question was prefaced by a question: “do you really know Seward?” Of course I said that I did but thinking more about it I am not as sure. There are many things I do not know about Seward, and not only details such as whether he did or did not meet Lincoln at the train station in Washington in late February 1861. There are important issues as to which I have ideas but no certainty: how strongly was Seward interested in the vice presidential nomination in 1848? (If he had received it he rather than Millard Fillmore would have become president upon the death of Zachary Taylor.) What were Seward’s secret thoughts about Andrew Johnson. (Both in public and private he praised Johnson but surely the sophisticated Seward found Johnson distasteful?) I am not sure how well we can really know any other person, even one with whom we spend much time in person, our friends and family.