Chase on Seward

As I research the Chase book I come across items I wish I had seen for the Seward or Stanton books.

For example, today I was reading a March 1847 letter from Salmon Chase to Lewis Tappan, one of the Liberty Party leaders in New York. Chase was commenting on the decision of the Supreme Court in the Vanzandt case, in which Chase and William Henry Seward had served as co-counsel for the defendant Vanzandt or Van Zandt. Among other arguments, Chase and Seward tried to persuade the Supreme Court that their client could not have violated the fugitive slave law because the blacks in question ceased to be slaves when they crossed into the free state of Ohio. Chase and Seward lost, but Chase was not discouraged, telling Tappan that truth would prevail in the end.

Chase comments here not just on the Vanzandt case but also on the Freeman case, in which Seward bravely defended a deranged black man, accused of murder. And Chase talks about Seward as a presidential candidate; Chase was hoping to form a new political party, composed of anti-slavery men from the Whig, Democratic and Liberty parties, with a presidential candidate like Governor Seward—a well-known figure from one of the major parties. Seward was not interested in leaving the Whig Party, but Chase and others did succeed, in 1848, in forming a new party, the Free Soil Party.

Here is the key quote:

“I am glad to see that Governor Seward’s argument has been given to the public in the New York Tribune, in condensed form; and it is one of the gratifications, and one of the greatest too, that I have derived from my connection with the case, that it has brought me into intercourse with that gentlemen. I regard him as one of the very first public men of our country. Who but himself would have done what he did for the poor wretch Freeman? His course in the Vanzandt case has been generous and noble, but his action in the Freeman case, considering his own personal position and circumstances, was magnanimous in the highest degree. How I wish that the liberal- minded of all parties could be prevailed upon to take him up for the Presidency: but, I suppose that party lines as heretofore must be observed in the selection of candidates; and, I fear, Whig conservativism will be found, in the end, a more considerable antagonist to the progress of liberal views and the elevation of liberal men than Democratic subserviency. In the presidential chair or out of it, however, William H. Seward will possess an honor & estimation with the lovers of truth, humanity & Freedom which is better than the Presidency.”

Chase and Seward would go on to have a long and complex relationship. They were colleagues in the Senate, starting in 1849, but not close friends; Chase would write of Seward in 1850 that “he is too much of a politician for me.” Then in 1860, Seward and Chase were the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, the nomination that was secured by the relatively unknown Abraham Lincoln. Starting in 1861, and continuing through 1864, Chase and Seward were members of Lincoln’s cabinet, indeed the two leading figures of that cabinet.

Chase was writing to Tappan about Seward, but in a sense he was writing about himself. Chase and Seward would both come close to the presidency, but not achieve that goal. And yet they both deserve “honor and estimation” from the “lovers of truth, humanity and freedom” for the role they played in the process of freeing the slaves.