Review: Lincolns most trusted Cabinet member subject of new biography
SEWARD: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man. By Walter Stahr. Simon & Schuster. 703 pages. $32.50.
Sometime in the early fall of 1862, Secretary of State William Henry Seward entered President Abraham Lincoln’s office and spoke to him about Thanksgiving. A few states observed a day of giving thanks, but each on different days, and Seward suggested that it should be observed nationwide.
He presented a draft of a proclamation to Lincoln, who used it when he designated the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving — the first official Thanksgiving in the nation’s history. This is just one example of the influence that Seward wielded as secretary of state with Lincoln, and then in the next administration of Andrew Johnson.
Author and attorney Walter Stahr has produced a modern biography of one of this nation’s most important figures of the 19th century and provides a well-researched and balanced account of the native New Yorker’s life.
Seward is a familiar name to some, as he was favored to secure the 1860 Republican presidential nomination that Lincoln ultimately won; he was also a target for assassination the night Lincoln was killed. And in 1867 he advocated for the purchase of Alaska (known as “Seward’s Folly”).
Of particular interest in the work is Stahr’s account of how Seward became Lincoln’s friend, confidant and most trusted cabinet member. It is through telling this story that he presents a view of U.S. politics in the mid-19th century, and a different look into the Lincoln White House years and later under Johnson.
“Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man” is well worth the read, especially as we approach the midpoint of the Civil War sesquicentennial and 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Reviewer Richard W. Hatcher III is a historian at Fort Sumter National Monument.