- Hardcover: 720 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 18, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1439121168
- ISBN-13: 978-1439121160
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 156 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #612,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man Hardcover – September 18, 2012
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“[A] masterly new biography . . . [of] one of the most influential and polarizing American politicians of the nineteenth century.” (The New Yorker)
“This magnificent biography finally provides what William Henry Seward so justly deserves—a full, terrific and complex portrait of his endlessly fascinating life.” (Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals)
“Walter Stahr’s new biography offers an overdue reminder of the much broader scope of [Seward’s] work.” (The Economist)
“Stahr gives Seward his due in this intelligent and illuminating biography of one of the most important political figures of the 19th century. . . . He wasn't just Lincoln's indispensable man; throughout his career Seward was an indispensable man to the nation as well.” (Huffington Post)
“This formidable figure has finally gained the biographer he’s long deserved…a first-rate biography.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
“This highly readable biography, based on thorough research in original sources, effectively shows that Seward deserves more fame as a patriot-statesman than he has traditionally enjoyed.” (The Wall Street Journal)
"Politician, diplomat, raconteur, a figure of controversy and power, Seward has finally found a biographer equal to his importance.” (James McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era)
“In this fine volume, Walter Stahr has rendered a signal service by resurrecting the life of the often neglected William Henry Seward. His sweeping portrait of the long-standing Secretary of State is always lucid, engaging, scrupulously fair-minded, and deeply researched. This biography stands as a valuable addition to the rich literature of American politics in the mid-nineteenth century.” (Ron Chernow, author of Washington: A Life)
About the Author
Walter Stahr is a lawyer and the author of the acclaimed John Jay: Founding Father, a biography of America's first Supreme Court Chief Justice. A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, he practiced law for twenty-five years, including seven years in Hong Kong. He now lives in Exeter, New Hampshire, and Newport Beach, California. His third book will be a biography of Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's secretary of war.
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Here was a man who was with the Great Abe Lincoln giving advice to help win the Civil war, he was hated by many and liked by few but yet achieved his dreams and goals.
It was a long but interesting book of history of our country.
In his time, people laughed at his ways but today because of his insights,we gain assets from Alaska and other purchases he made.
If you are interested in this country's background, this book will keep you informed and interested,
Stahr begins his book with a few remarks about Seward's father and notes that although the Sewards kept slaves, they retained a uniquely humane attitude towards them. This remarkable attitude challenged Seward, as he struggled to keep the nation together when threatened by civil war. Although he was initially an abolitionist, his attitude became more modulated in the years just prior to and then during the Civil War. Preservation of the Union took precedence over emancipation.
Stahr traces Seward's career by describing how he went from New York legislator, governor, and senator to Secretary of State under Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. The author dealt with these issues with a deluge of carefully researched details. The myriad of facts gives an impression of diligence, which one cannot help but admire. However, much of the detail, is irrelevant and in the author's own estimation unreliable, resulting in a book that is difficult to read, and a narrative that is easily dismissed. The danger of this writing style is that one tends to miss the forest through the trees. Nevertheless the search for Seward is worth the effort. Stahr's unrelenting prospective description is abandoned temporarily when he summarizes Stewards' governorship and senatorial terms. Significantly, he minimizes Seward's accomplishments both as a governor and then as senator, as if in anticipation of greater glories to come.
Seward's major achievements occurred while he was Secretary of State under Lincoln and Johnson. Ironically, it was during those times that it becomes the most difficult to separate his accomplishments from those of the respective presidents. It would appear that Lincoln's first inaugural address was equally an accomplishment of Seward as it was Lincoln. That glorious expression "the mystic chords of memory" is attributed to Seward. The conciliatory tone of the first inaugural address was apparently due to a joint effort between the statesmen. It is not clear whether the settlement of the Trent affair was due solely to the efforts of Seward or was he simply carrying out the policies of Lincoln. The problem of separating a Secretary of State from a president is not a new one. Who was responsible for the cold policy, Eisenhower or John Foster Dulles? Who opened China, Kissinger or Nixon? These questions have no clear answers, and they perplex historians to this day.
Seward's vision for America was manifested mostly during the Johnson administration. His achievements in furthering this vision were apparently his alone. He saw the United States as a western hemispheric power. He initiated negotiations with Columbia concerning the building of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. He favored acquiring British Columbia, the Danish West Indies a portion of the Dominican Republic, Panama and the Hawaiian islands. Although he failed to achieve all of his goals, he placed the United States on a path to being a major global power. His most famous achievement was the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Although known as Seward's Folly, the wisdom of the purchase became evident as time went on. He assured the nation "The purchase of Alaska will take the people a generation to find out. "Well we have found out and have finally have learned to appreciate this man. We thank Stahr for this. He was a better man than we knew.
The major failing of this book is that the author never developed a personal relationship with Seward. As a result the reader must struggle to come to grips with Seward. We are told about his successes, but there is no explanation as to the root of his success. Was it intelligence, diligence or intense interest? We must find this out for ourselves. After all is said and done, we can attribute his success to his overriding ambition, an ambition that allowed him to sacrifice everything in the name of success. Seward's failure as a man is most clearly seen in the relationship with his wife. Although the author was willing to call this relationship "peculiar", he failed to explore it fully. Stahr was a lawyer and therefore skilled in gathering evidence but lacked the ability of an historian to make connections and to understand the complexity of people and events.
Stahr describes Seward's marriage as loving but he misses the fact that it was ultimately a failure. His wife led a troubled life of loneliness and dissatisfaction with her husband. Even their home was not that of her husband, but that of her father. She was a chronic depressive, essentially abandoned in life, by her ambitious and selfish husband. In the 19th century, women stayed at home with the children while men went outside the home where they related to men and experienced competition and the struggled for survival. Seward spent 50% of his time away from her, leaving her alone in their palatial home in Auburn, N.Y, while he lived in Mayville, NY and then Washington, DC. Seward apologized to his wife in a letter in which he regretted the resultant lack of husband-wife intimacy He wrote to Frances that he wanted to "adopt some system of life which will enable me to be what I never I fear been, a partner in your thoughts and cares and feelings." His intentions were good, but he seemed incapable of remedying his failures.
If one were to sum up William Seward, one could say he that above all he was a politician. It has been remarked that politicians are imperfect, but good men who devote themselves to furthering the interests of their country. The country was fortunate in being served by this man, in a time of utmost peril. He deserves to be honored and this book does that.
But looked at from today and from the perspective of what were called the Radical Republicans at the time, Seward’s advice to both presidents seems weak or, at best, very limited. Before, during and after the Civil War his concern was for the fastest readmission of the southern states into the Union as possible. Lincoln, who had his own similar views on this issue, was influenced by Seward throughout his presidency and Johnson went well beyond Seward in concessions to the former Confederate states but with Seward’s professional approval. Neither Johnson nor Seward was much concerned about how the newly freed slaves were treated once the war was done. Stahr presents a challenge to the reader. Seward was a “moderate” at the time. Today we can see the devastating historical results of his position (common to many people then) of ignoring the civil rights of slaves beyond emancipation. But how to judge Seward in his own time? Stahr lays out all the information and lets the reader decide.
Stahr is an excellent writer, clear, well-organized, easy to follow and enjoyable to read. Besides the domestic issues, he fleshes out Seward’s role as secretary of state in his dealings with other countries. Most everyone knows that Seward bought Alaska from Russia. But most people do not know that, if Seward had his way, several Caribbean islands along with Hawaii and possibly British Columbia and Baja California would also have become part of the U.S. at the time. Most also do not know how close the U.S. came to war with Britain during the Civil War and how Seward, in his constant drive for conciliation, helped to prevent what would have been a disaster for the country. This is a book that expands the reader’s knowledge and at the same time challenges the reader’s judgment. It is an excellent historical biography.