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What Seward Thought About Lincoln – Part 4 (Conclusion)

August 16, 2018

In a memorandum to the President dated April 1, 1861, Secretary of State William Seward flatly stated that Lincoln had no domestic or foreign policy and that no one was directing the administration.  Although he intended to be helpful, his advice to the President was rather insulting.  Lincoln took it all in stride, but he did write a rebuttal which he never gave to Seward.  Instead, he spoke with him privately that same day.

In case Seward forgot, Lincoln reminded him that the inaugural address had Seward’s “distinct approval at the time.”  One of the things Lincoln had stated in his speech, given less than one month before, was his intention “to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government.”  Didn’t this statement count as a declaration of administration policy?  Didn’t this policy apply to the Fort Sumter crisis?

When Lincoln wrote his inaugural address, didn’t he submit it to Seward for his advice?  Didn’t Seward make only stylistic suggestions to improve the tone of the speech?  Didn’t Seward say that Lincoln’s basic argument was “strong and conclusive, and ought not to be in any way abridged or modified?”

Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Seward.  Regarding whether the President himself or someone delegated by him should energetically direct administration policy: “I remark that if this must be done, I [i.e. the President] must do it.”

Seward had been pursuing his own agenda.  Now he began to realize he must align himself with Lincoln’s program.  Before long, in a letter to his wife where he compared Lincoln with the members of the Cabinet, Seward wrote: “The President is the best of us.”  That’s what Seward thought about Lincoln.

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