The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
ĽName: William Henry Seward

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William Henry Seward was born in Florida, New York, the son of a wealthy physician who became a judge. He graduated from Union College with high honors in 1820, and began practicing law in 1823, gaining a reputation as a skilled criminal lawyer. He first became active in politics with the Anti-Mason party, then by supporting the (unsuccessful) reelection bid of President John Quincy Adams in 1828. Seward entered elective politics by serving in the state senate from 1830 to 1834, wherein he established himself as a leader of the Whig party. He was elected governor of New York in 1838 and reelected in 1840, returning to private legal practice at the end of his second term. He reentered elective politics in 1849 when the state legislature choose him to represent New York in the U. S. Senate, where he served two terms lasting until 1861.

In 1860, Seward was the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. After losing on the third ballot to Abraham Lincoln, Seward campaigned actively for his Republican rival. After the election, Lincoln chose Seward to be his Secretary of State. The New Yorker ’s strong leadership proved valuable to the Union cause during the Civil War. He eased U.S.-British tensions during the Trent Affair and, working through the U.S. Minister to Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams, dissuaded Britain from recognizing the Confederacy. He also pressured France to withdraw from Mexico, basing his argument on the Monroe Doctrine. Seward was wounded by a would-be assassin on the same night that Lincoln was murdered.

After his recovery, Seward remained as Secretary of State in the administration of Andrew Johnson. Although Seward had been an anti-slavery Whig, then Republican, he supported Johnson’s lenient plan of Reconstruction against that of the Radical Republicans. An enthusiastic expansionist, he negotiated the annexation of the Midway Islands and the purchase of Alaska, both in 1867. He retired from politics at the end of Johnson’s term in March 1869. After touring the Pacific Northwest, he returned to Auburn, New York, where he died in 1872.

Robert C. Kennedy, HarpWeek

Sources consulted:  Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History; William Degregorio, The Complete Book of the U.S. Presidents; and Harper’s Weekly.

William Henry Seward
(16 May 1801 - 10 October 1872)
Source:  Harper's Weekly

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