Seward, William H.

Seward, William H. (Henry)

(1801–72) public official, cabinet officer; born in Florida, N.Y. A lawyer, he joined the new Whig Party and served as governor of New York (1839–43) and as U.S. senator (N.Y.; 1849–61). Becoming increasingly more liberal, he moved to the new Republican Party for his second term as senator and came to embody Northern antislavery sentiment: he caused a controversy with his claim (1850) that slavery should be excluded from new states by a "higher law than the Constitution." Disappointed in his hopes for the Republican nomination in both 1856 and 1860, he accepted the post of secretary of state in Lincoln's cabinet. After Lincoln squelched his attempts at imposing his own views and policies, Seward settled down to become an excellent secretary of state. He was wounded by one of the conspirators who killed Lincoln (1865), but recovered to continue serving under President Andrew Johnson. He asserted the Monroe Doctrine against French policy in Mexico (1866) and in 1867 bought the area of Alaska from Russia for $67,000,000—an action that was called "Seward's Folly." He sided with President Johnson and his Reconstruction policies, and with the end of the Johnson Administration (1869), he toured the world and retired to Auburn, N.Y.