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What Seward Thought About Lincoln – Part 1

July 25, 2018

Charles Francis Adams obviously thought William Seward should have been President instead of Lincoln.  When Seward died, Adams gave a eulogy which credited Seward for Lincoln’s success.  Would Seward have agreed with Adams?

When Lincoln became President, he had served only a single term representing the people from the 7th Congressional District of Illinois, and that had been more than ten years earlier.  The people of Illinois had voted for him to become their U.S. Senator in 1858, but that election was merely to inform the state legislature what the people were thinking.  The legislature disregarded their wishes and sent Stephen Douglas back to the Senate instead.

Lincoln was popular with the people of Illinois, but he had little experience in Washington, D.C.  Due to the secession crisis, Lincoln had no one to help him his first day in office.  Neither his private secretary nor any of the Cabinet members had yet been approved.  It was inevitable that he would make some mistakes with regard to process and protocol.  But Lincoln knew how to think through difficult problems, and this skill served him well when he saw the Fort Sumter report on his desk the day after the inauguration.

Fort Sumter had provisions that would last only another six weeks.  The report also stated it would take 20,000 men to successfully defend the fort.  Surrender to the Confederacy seemed inevitable, since the entire U.S. Army numbered only 16,000 men.

On March 9, 1861 the Fort Sumter crisis was the principal topic of discussion in the Cabinet meeting.  By the end of March Lincoln had decided to provision the fort.  If the Confederates would not allow the fort to receive the necessary supplies, then they would have marked themselves as the aggressors.

But Seward disagreed with Lincoln and hoped to convince him to reverse course before the fleet sailed.


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