United States Secretary of State/Union Secretary of State, American Civil War. b. 1801, d. 1872.
William Henry Seward was born in Florida, New York and graduated Union College in 1820. From there he went into law practice in Auburn, New York, where he became involved with Thurlow Weed, one of the prominent political bosses in New York at the time.
With the help of Weed, Seward was elected to the state legislature and in 1838 became governor of New York. A member of the Whig Party, Seward was elected to the United States Senate in 1848. He served for twelve years in the senate and was well known as a proponent of the anti-slavery cause.
In 1860, Seward, along with his nemesis, Salmon P. Chase, became a candidate for the presidency. Although Seward worked to unite the Whig and Republican parties behind his candidacy, Abraham Lincoln sprinted ahead of him in the race and most citizens of the world are aware of the outcome of this election. After Lincoln's election, both Seward and Chase were named to his cabinet. Upon finding they had both been named, Seward and Chase turned in letters of resignation, refusing to work with each other. Lincoln declined their offers.
After becoming Secretary of State, Seward planned to become the voice that ran the country. At the onset, he considered Lincoln to be a small minded hick who would need him to resolve any controversy. As time went on, Seward developed a respect for his boss as Lincoln was constantly outmanuevering him when he tried to take control of the government. He did, however, establish himself as the "bully of the cabinet." He entered into a war of words with England and threatened war over the Trent Affair.
The year 1865 was not kind to William Henry Seward. Early in the year he sustained injuries after falling out of his carriage. While recovering, he was stabbed by Lewis Paine, one of the conspirators involved in the Lincoln assassination. He did recover from these setbacks and served in the Andrew Johnson administration after Lincoln did not recover from his 1865 setbacks. During the Johnson administration, Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska. He was laughed at for doing so, and the purchase became known as "Seward's Folly."