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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Quincy Adams Would Be Proud
William Henry Seward, the Secretary of State whose foresight, diplomacy and skill at political infighting, enabled the United States to purchase the Alaska territory from Russia in 1868 for $7,200,000 (two cents an acre), ranks second only to John Quincy Adams, his mentor, among the 68 Americans who have held that post. Just for fun, imagine our concern if Russia had...
Published on October 17, 2012 by David R. Anderson

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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Middling Biography of a Magnificent Life
If a good biography should make its subject live again in its pages, Walter Stahr's Seward merely conjurs a ghost. Stahr does an execellent job of showing Seward the politician--sly, corrupt, visionary, manipulative, shrewd, and extroverted, but does not aptly restore the man's soul. While recounting, in plodding detail, Seward's political gyrations around the...
Published 24 months ago by Daniel W. Pyle


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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Quincy Adams Would Be Proud, October 17, 2012
This review is from: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (Hardcover)
William Henry Seward, the Secretary of State whose foresight, diplomacy and skill at political infighting, enabled the United States to purchase the Alaska territory from Russia in 1868 for $7,200,000 (two cents an acre), ranks second only to John Quincy Adams, his mentor, among the 68 Americans who have held that post. Just for fun, imagine our concern if Russia had still owned that territory when the Cold War started.

To set the stage for his splendid biography of Seward, Walter Stahr quotes Alex de Tocqueville to the effect that Americans were political by nature when he visited in the 1830's. de Tocqueville also observed that law permeated every part of American society. Lawyers came into their own as citizen statesmen when they were called upon to deal with the complex legal issues that arose during the course of the American Revolution. The lawyer as statesman flourished in the Nineteenth Century, and Seward, born in 1801, was very much a Nineteenth Century man. He chose the law as his profession and public service as his mission.

Elected to the New York State Senate at 29, he honed the legislative and political traits that he would rely on throughout his life. In national office, he sought, as with the acquisition of Alaska, to expand our "empire" to assure his country a commanding place in the world. He was equally determined to see the country grow from within by educating its immigrants, treating members of all religions with respect and bringing about the end of slavery. As this political biography of Seward's extraordinary achievements makes clear, he met goal after goal against odds that would have thwarted anyone else.

How did he do it? He possessed "a rare capacity for intellectual labor, with an industry which never tired and required no relaxation," according to his life-long friend, Thurlow Weed. And, as his biographer puts it, the "intelligence, diligence, eloquence, sociability, likeability," that made him an effective political leader, "were already in place" by the time he took his seat in the New York Senate.

Before he became Lincoln's "indispensable man," his Secretary of State, Seward was twice elected Governor of New York, twice elected U.S. Senator from New York, and at least that often seriously considered as his party's likeliest candidate for president. At each step, he fought for laws that would carry out his goals. In what Stahr describes as his most important speech as a U.S. Senator, Seward, on March 11, 1850, weighed in on the slavery issue making clear his objections to the fugitive slave law. As he saw it, "the people of the North could not `in our judgment, be either true Christians or real freemen, if we impose on another a chain that we defy all human power to fasten on ourselves.'"

But it was as Lincoln's right hand man that Seward made his most important contributions. Both men were accomplished lawyers, both used to talking things over, often at length, looking for alternatives, minding the nuances, seeking solutions, going out of their way to avoid giving offense, willing to bend but not to break. Because Seward lived just across the street from the White House, the President and his Secretary of State could and did confer frequently. They had each other's full confidence and trust. The decisions they made, often on a daily basis, were critical to winning the Civil War.

This is a political biography. As such, it does not purport to be a full blown biography of Seward's personal life. For example, Stahr addresses without decoding the Sewards' complicated married life. On the other hand, Seward's character traits are on display: his rumpled, often out-of-style suits; his ever-present cigar, his penchant for a glass or two (but rarely more) of good wine, his hospitality (he often mixed business and pleasure). He was what we would call today a workaholic; no hour was too late to go to his office to send a cable, no hour too early to meet a visitor from out of town. Auburn, New York, Seward's home town, was dear to him and he relished his opportunities to get back there when he could.

You will be impressed by Stahr's scholarship. There are 110 pages of notes, and a 43-page index. Doris Kearns Goodwin, the author of "Team of Rivals", her fine group biography of Lincoln's cabinet, provides the first of five highly favorable dust jacket blurbs for the book. Seward, she says, finally has the biography he "so justly deserves."

End note. Seward's standing as one of the great figures of his times, if not of all our history, has largely gone unhonored by his countrymen. Seward, Alaska, is named for him, as is the highway connecting Seward to Anchorage. And the last of the eleven forts built in Alaska during the Gold Rush in Haines bears his name. There is a full-sized bronze statue of him at the entrance to Madison Square Park in New York City, dedicated in 1876, and another in Seattle's Volunteer Park - more life-like than the New York version because the sculptor has Seward dressed in rumpled-looking clothes. Auburn, New York, has a minor league baseball team. Two years ago it created a William Henry Seward bubblehead doll to honor the town's most prominent son. It's a good bet that it is paired with one of Abner Doubleday, Auburn's more famous, if not as important, son.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Man of State, September 28, 2012
By 
Christian Schlect (Yakima, Washington/USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (Hardcover)
A fine thought-provoking biography of a man central to the political history of the years leading up to the Civil War, the war itself, and its immediate aftermath.

Walter Stahr is good at laying out the facts of William H. Seward's life in a clear and readable narrative. I especially benefited from learning more about Seward's years as governor of New York, his role in the election of Abraham Lincoln and during the "succession winter", and his work serving President Andrew Johnson. And, of course, here the famous purchase of Alaska and other diplomatic efforts are also brought to life.

Mr. Stahr, although willing to point out flaws in his subject, is obviously captured by him and finds reason to excuse or discount most of Seward's most dubious actions.

I would rank William H. Seward as a first-rate politician of his time but not (as Mr. Stahr does) the foremost statesman--barring presidents--of nineteenth century America. I think his loyal service to the disgraceful President Johnson coupled with his failure to be concerned with the post-war civil rights of former slaves are serious blots on his legacy.

I hope to read more from the pen of the able Mr. Stahr and would suggest to him the need for a modern biography of John Hay.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lincoln's Partner, October 4, 2012
This review is from: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (Hardcover)
William Seward should have been the last man on earth to support Abraham Lincoln .Seward was one of the 19th centuries most controversial politicians , helping to found the Republican party against tremendous opposition . Thinking he was going to be the party's nominee for president in 1860 he was shocked to find himself upended by an virtually unknown railroad lawyer from the west . But Seward put the country first and joined Lincoln's War Cabinet becoming it's most influential member .

One of the country's best new popular historians follows his terrific book on John Jay with the first biography of Seward in nearly 40 years .If you want to go deeper into the personality of the most fascinating man from "Team of Rivals" you would do well to start here.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Middling Biography of a Magnificent Life, December 31, 2012
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If a good biography should make its subject live again in its pages, Walter Stahr's Seward merely conjurs a ghost. Stahr does an execellent job of showing Seward the politician--sly, corrupt, visionary, manipulative, shrewd, and extroverted, but does not aptly restore the man's soul. While recounting, in plodding detail, Seward's political gyrations around the Emancipation Proclamation, Stahr relates Seward's relationship with his neighbor, Harriet Tubman, in a brief aside. While he accounts for every moment in Seward's life in the days and hours leading to his accompanying Lincoln to Gettysburg, where the President would give his iconic address, we only see a glimpse of Seward attending religious services in an astonishing array of denominations, even taking communion in the Mormon Tabernacle. The family dynamics of the Sewards remain a mystery. The author notes that Seward's children were devoted to him, but we never learn why this is so. Stahr seems to avoid most opportunities to examine his subject's motives, motivations, complexities, and passions.

However, this is a magisterial biography, and Stahr marshalls his facts to put to rights several mistaken beliefs about William Seward. His proposal to buy Alaska was not viewed as a folly by most contemporaries, though many were opposed for political reasons. Seward was not an abolitionist, though he supported policies that he believed would lead to the gradual death of slavery. Finally, Seward, while a pragmatic politician, was frequently able to rise to nobility, working tenaciously to support the unpopular policies of President Johnson which Seward viewed as being for the public good, thus ensuring he would never himself become president.

A general reader of history hopes to find a book that provides fact and insight in clear and interesting prose. Stahr only half succeeds. The facts are clealy stated. The insight and interest are absent.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superbly Written, October 6, 2012
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Walter Stahr accomplishes an uncommon feat. In his biography of Seward. he writes a balanced account of an accomplished but clearly polarizing figure, sharing with us how and why Seward made such a profound impact during his era, while bringing the man's strengths and weaknesses to life. In addition, Walter walks well the fine line between glossing over events and suffocating the reader with excessive detail. He keeps the narrative moving briskly, transitions well from topic to topic, weaves the people and the themes of Seward's life together coherently, and explicitly informs the reader when the historical record requires him (and us as readers) to resort to speculation rather than hard evidence for his assertion. "Seward" is substantial work which is both a satisfying and enjoyable read. Well done, Mr. Stahr.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a full review of Seward's flaws and accomplishments, October 18, 2012
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This review is from: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (Hardcover)
Walter Stahr did great work with his book on John Jay and my expectations were high for his new book on Seward. My expectations were exceeded as Walter finally gives a full portrait of Lincoln's Indispensable Man. His accomplishments were many as he kept France and Great Britain out of the civil war, talked Napoleon into vacating Mexico, bought Alaska for a song and really laid down much of the foundation for the current American Empire. However, he had his flaws and Walter discusses them with candor and insight. We have been blessed with many fine works on our great leaders, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. What Walter has achieved is a reminder that great men are always backed by outstanding teammates and there are no better examples than Jay and Seward. His contribution is achieved in a well-researched, thorough and readable fashion in his two current books and I cannot wait to see what comes next.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Born 200 years before his time, March 28, 2013
This review is from: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (Hardcover)
I've learned about William Seward first from Abraham Lincoln's biographies. Although, like all of us, William Seward wasn't without his faults, he nonetheless in my honest opinion was born 200 years before his time.

It took quite a visionnary, quite a special man to advocate freedom of religion, equality of rights for Women and liberty for slaves from the 1830's onward. He stood alone on many issues and you know what, 200 years later we know he was right.
He saved the US from European involvement in the Civil War, time and time again he was a friend, a confident, a counselor for the Great Abraham Lincoln.

I am now more than convinced, William H Seward is still, in the 21th century, one of the most enlightening stateman, if not one of the very best, the US people had the chance to follow.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Indispensable Mr. Seward, January 8, 2013
By 
Mark R. Brewer (Pitman, New Jersey) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (Hardcover)
This is an excellent biography of a very good man who spent much of his political career defending the downtrodden, which in his time meant blacks and immigrants. Seward was certainly an important adviser to Abraham Lincoln, but may have been more "indispensable" to Andrew Johnson, whom he also served as Secretary of State. Many turned away from the blundering Johnson during his term as president, but Seward remained loyal. The author, Walter Stahr, is a wonderful writer, and his book is well researched. His points are insightful and fairly made, though I do question his assertion that Seward was the greatest statesman of the 19th Century, except for the presidents. What about Henry Clay or Daniel Webster? Still there are not many places where I disagreed with Stahr's conclusions. Seward needed a worthwhile biographer, and Walter Stahr has more than filled the bill.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Amazing Mr. Seward, November 17, 2012
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This review is from: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (Hardcover)
As an avid, dedicated reader of history, I was completely suprised at the accomplishments of Seward. No where in my readings of the Civil War and Ante-bellum South did I encounter any discussion of Seward's distinquished career. Not only was he a visionary, purchasing or helping to purchase Alaska, the Virgin Islands, Midway Island to name of few, but he was a marvelous statesman. He helped divert global wars with England and France by means of the use of his calm, honest, logical intelligence. So, in sum, if you have not read this book, please do so. You will come away with an appreciation for one of the finest statesman this country has ever produced.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars necessary to better understand Lincoln, February 7, 2013
This review is from: Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man (Hardcover)
After reading the definitive/authoritative one volume biography of Abe Lincoln by Ronald C. White, Jr., I knew to learn more about A. Lincoln I would have to read a biography of William Henry Seward too. Since there are only so many hours in a day, I have to discriminate as to what books make it to the top of my list. Thus far, only the biographies of the Presidents that I consider truly significant have made it to the top of my reading list. Sometimes, a important statesman such as Henry Clay or W.H. Seward will rise to the top of my list simply due to the fact that they are just that important; even more important than some insignificant President.

The beginning of the book seemed to drag a little and I thought perhaps lacked depth about Seward's youth but once I got to chapter 8 which talks about the beginning of the Civil War, the book became engrossing. The author seemed to really know his subject and was able to point out the errors of previous biographies on Seward. There were places in the book where Walter Stahr could easily have gotten sidetracked in details but yet he stayed on high ground which is good.

This book dispelled some previous misconceptions I had about Seward. I always thought for some unknown reason that Seward was taller than he was. Nevertheless, his stature only grew in my mind's eye the more I learned about his achievements and importance. What a neat and interesting life Seward lived, especially the journeys he partook after he retired from politics. I can only imagine and wonder how fresh the world was way back then.
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Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man
Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr (Hardcover - September 18, 2012)
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