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What Seward Thought About Lincoln – Part 3

August 8, 2018

The date was April 1, 1861, but the letter was no April Fools’ gag.  A few weeks earlier, on the Ides of March, the President had asked the Cabinet to respond with written answers to his question about Fort Sumter.  Secretary Seward felt it would be okay to get Lincoln’s attention by writing again.  This time he would answer questions that Lincoln had not asked.

Seward hand delivered his memorandum, which was entitled “Some Thoughts for the President’s Consideration.”  The first question was about the Administration’s domestic and foreign policy: what was it?  Seward did not frame this as a question but rather as the first item on his list of considerations.  The exact wording was: “We are at the end of a month’s administration, and yet without a policy, either domestic or foreign.”  Then Seward answered his own question in the items which followed.  He proposed risking war with Spain, France, Great Britain, and Russia in order to stir up nationalist spirit among all the United States, North and South; and he suggested that if the President was not capable or willing to act with urgency, he should appoint someone else to act for him.

It has been said that no President had ever received a more insulting or presumptuous letter as Seward’s, but Lincoln’s reply, although firm, was very gracious.  Up to this time Seward thought Lincoln was inept.  Now he began to view him with grudging respect.

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