Title: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: September 17, 2013
William Henry Seward was one of the most important Americans of the nineteenth century: progressive governor of New York, outspoken federal senator, odds-on favorite to win the 1860 Republican nomination, secretary of state during the Civil War and its aftermath, Lincoln’s closest friend and adviser, target of the assassins who killed Lincoln, purchaser of Alaska, early architect of America’s empire.
Seward was not only important, he was fascinating. His hair was unruly and his clothes untidy, yet he was suave and sophisticated, quoting the classics with ease. He and his wife, Frances Miller Seward, were often separated by his work and her illness, and yet they were close, and he relied upon her strong moral sense. Seward gathered around his table an eclectic assortment of diplomats, soldiers, politicians, actors and others, men who enjoyed a cigar, a drink and a good story. Even his enemies admitted that Seward was good company.
Most Americans know Seward’s name, and that he bought Alaska, but not much else. Some people know Seward better, through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling book, Team of Rivals, in which Seward is a central figure. But there is far more to learn about Seward, especially his years before and after the Civil War.
Drawing on hundreds of sources, many of them neglected by previous biographers, Seward will shed new light on this complex and central figure, as well as on pivotal events of the Civil War and its aftermath.
Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man was first published by Simon & Schuster on September 18, 2012. The book is also available in paperback, electronic and audio editions.
"Writing like that makes history come alive: a researcher digging into the mines of the past and quarrying new insight on an old story. Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man is filled with these stories powerfully told by a historian who has provided a great book worthy of a great man."
—Dallas Morning News, Sept. 13, 2012
"This highly readable biography, based on thorough research in original sources, effectively shows that Seward deserves more fame as a patriot-statesman than he has traditionally enjoyed."
—Wall Street Journal, Sept. 14, 2012
"Many readers will be acquainted with William Henry Seward from Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. Stahr gives us a first-biography of that team's major figure, Lincoln's secretary of state. It's the first full one in decades and, if over-stuffed, by far the best. . . . [T]here's no doubting that this formidable figure has finally gained the biography he's long deserved."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"This magnificent biography finally provides what William Henry Seward so justly deserves – a full, terrific and complex portrait of his endlessly fascinating life."
—Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer prize winning author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
"A beautifully told, carefully researched narrative of William H. Seward's momentous career, from his days as a rising young antislavery politician to his role as Lincoln's right-hand man during the Civil War, culminating in his achievements as architect of American empire. Walter Stahr has delivered a biography worthy of one of America's greatest statesmen."
—Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer prize winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
“After a rocky start during which Seward crossed swords with Lincoln in the issue of Fort Sumter and other matters, the secretary of state did indeed become the president's most indispensable ally. Politician, diplomat, raconteur, a figure of controversy and power, Seward has finally found a biographer equal to his importance.”
—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
"In this fine volume, Walter Stahr has rendered a signal service by resurrecting the life of the often-neglected William Henry Seward. His sweeping portrait of the long-standing Secretary of State is always lucid, engaging, scrupulously fair-minded, and deeply researched. This biography stands as a valuable addition to the rich literature of American politics in the mid-nineteenth century."
—Ron Chernow, Pulitzer prize winning author of Washington: A Life
“An intriguing featured character in Lincoln lore and biography, William H. Seward has long needed an updated, authoritative biography—and Walter Stahr has at last produced the life story Seward deserves. Mining neglected sources and bringing analytical wisdom and literary craft to Seward’s complicated life, Stahr reveals the principled humanity within a political giant too long considered merely a crafty, frustrated office-seeker. Seward emerges from these pages as a major influence—not only on Abraham Lincoln, but on the transformation of 19th-century America.”
—Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln at Cooper Union and Lincoln President-Elect
“A complex man, often engulfed in controversy before, during and after the Civil War, William H. Seward is one of those rare American politicians who made a significant difference in the history of his time. Walter Stahr has reminded us of his importance in this superbly written book.”
—Thomas Fleming, author of The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers
“Seward is a fascinating biography about one of the most elusive men in history. Seward once claimed that he was an enigma even to himself; fortunately, he is not an enigma to Walter Stahr, who has succeeded admirably in capturing the full complexity of President Lincoln's right hand man. Stahr has written an important and necessary book.”
—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided
When I started to think about a second book, I knew that I wanted to start with an agent. A mutual friend introduced me to Scott Waxman of Waxman Literary Agency. At our first meeting, in his small New York office, I presented Scott with several book ideas, each outlined on a single page. He rejected one of my ideas because he knew, from a publishing industry database, that another author had just sold a book on the same subject to a major publisher. He rejected another of my ideas as too vague, not having a central character.
Scott liked Seward.
He had met Seward through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book, Team of Rivals, in which Seward is a major figure, indeed the major figure other than Lincoln. Scott believed that many of those who had read Team of Rivals would want to know more about Seward. He was pleased to learn that it had been almost forty years since there was a full-length serious biography of Seward.
With Scott's help, I turned my one-page outline of Seward into a book proposal, and Scott used the proposal to secure a contract with Simon & Schuster, the same publishing firm that had published Team of Rivals.
Researching Seward led me many places. The main collection of Seward’s papers is at the University of Rochester, but these papers are also available on microfilm, and so I have reviewed them not just at Rochester, but also at the Library of Congress, Dartmouth and other libraries with the Seward film. The Seward Rochester collection is immense: 198 reels of microfilm, which translates into perhaps 100,000 pages. But this is only a fraction of the surviving Seward material.
The Seward Rochester papers are by and large letters written to Seward over the years. To find letters from Seward, one must look in other places, generally the papers of those with whom he corresponded. Some of these papers are at Rochester, most notably the papers of Thurlow Weed, Seward’s lifelong friend and political mentor. Others are in or around Washington, such as at the National Archives, which has the official letters Seward sent and received as Secretary of State. Other Seward letters are scattered around the country, in major research libraries and minor historical societies. Many of Seward’s letters to his wife do not survive at all in manuscript form; they are only available in printed form, in the biography Seward’s son prepared after Seward’s death.
Letters to and from Seward, however, are only a fraction of the material available about Seward. Even before he graduated from college, Seward was giving political speeches, and hundreds of his speeches have survived in some form. In many cases, after giving a speech, Seward edited and published the speech in pamphlet form. In other cases, for minor speeches, the only record we have is in a newspaper account or accounts.
Even these “minor” speeches could be stirring. In July 1863, for example, Seward spoke of his certainty that the Union would be saved and his determination to remain at his post in Washington, whatever happened. “If I fall here let no kinsman or friend remove my dust to a more hospitable grave. Let it be buried under the pavements of the avenue, and let the chariot wheels of those who have destroyed the liberties of my country rattle over my bones until a more heroic and worthy generation shall recall that nation to life, liberty and independence.”
Seward’s own words are important, but the comments of other people about Seward are often more interesting. Some of the sources for such comments were obvious at the outset: I knew for example that I needed to read carefully the diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy in Lincoln’s cabinet. Other sources were more elusive. I was well along in my research when I met Ken and Audrey Mochel in Auburn, New York, and through them met John Austin, Universalist minister and friend of Seward. Austin was with Seward on various critical days, including the day on which he learned that he would not be the 1860 presidential nominee, and his journal (at the Harvard Divinity School Library) proved a rich (and previously untapped) source on Seward.