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Seward Park Named After Republican Party Champion


A Harper's Weekly Cartoon: Old Mother Seward says, "I'll rub some of this on his sore spot. It may soothe him a little."
Thomas Nast ridicules the American government’s purchase of Alaska from Russia by depicting Secretary of State William H. Seward as an elderly mother caring for her child, a small version of Uncle Sam. The latter is irritated because of his sore head—i.e., President Andrew Johnson (“Andy”), whose lenient Reconstruction policy had angered Republicans. Uncle Sam shakes his fist at a portrait of “King Andy,” a pejorative nickname for Johnson. Seward tries to relieve the national pain by applying Redding’s Russia Salve, a popular ointment for skin maladies advertised in the pages of Harper’s Weekly and elsewhere. For Nast, the purchase of Alaska was an administration ploy to ease widespread resentment toward the president. On the wall poster in the cartoon’s background, Uncle Sam is shown trudging in snowshoes across the icy tundra, planting American flags on Alaskan mountaintops, as polar bears and walruses watch. A picture of an Eskimo family is sarcastically labeled “One of the Advantages.”
by Don Cruise

William Henry Seward, 1801–72, American statesman

Early NRP Man

An 1820 graduate of Union College, Seward established himself as a lawyer in Auburn, N.Y., was active in the Anti-Masonic party and later joined the Whig party. The Whigs, which did not exist as a party before 1834, were a coalition of forces who hated Andrew Jackson. This later became the National Republican Party and was joined in opposition to Jackson by the Anti-Masonic party.

Enemy of the Masons

The Anti-Masonic party rose after the disappearance in 1826 of William Morgan. A former Mason, Morgan had written a book purporting to reveal Masonic secrets. The Masons were said, without proof, to have murdered him, and in reaction local organizations arose to refuse support to Masons for public office. In New York state Seward and his close personal and political friend Thurlow Weed attempted unsuccessfully to use the movement, which appealed strongly to the poorer classes, to overthrow the Albany Regency.

Down with the Machine

The Albany Regency was a name given, after 1820, to the leaders of the first political machine, which was developed in New York state by Martin Van Buren. The name derived from the charge that Van Buren's principal supporters, residing in Albany, managed the machine for him while he served in the U.S. Senate. During the Jacksonian period the Regency controlled the Democratic party in New York. It was one of the first effective political machines, using the spoils system and rigid party discipline to maintain its control.

State Senator and Governor

Seward and Weed became the two most influential Whigs in New York state. A state senator from 1830 to 1834. In 1838 Seward was elected governor and was reelected in 1840. As governor, Seward worked for educational reforms and internal improvements; he also secured legislation to better the position of immigrants and to protect fugitive slaves.

Champion of Anti-Slavery

Seward was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1849. Reelected in 1855, he was an uncompromising foe of slavery. Voicing his opposition to the Compromise of 1850 in the Senate, he said (Mar. 11, 1850), "there is a higher law than the Constitution which regulates our authority over the domain." In a speech at Rochester on Oct. 25, 1858, he declared that there would exist "an irrepressible conflict" until the United States became either all slave or all free.

New Republican

In 1855 Seward and Weed joined the new Republican party. Prominent as he was, Seward was never able to secure the Republican presidential nomination. His friendship toward immigrants, especially the Irish, alienated members of the former Know-Nothing movement within the Republican party.

The Know Nothing Party

In Eastern cities where Roman Catholic immigrants especially had concentrated and were welcomed by the Democrats, local nativistic societies were formed to combat "foreign" influences and to uphold the "American" view. The American Republican party spread into neighboring states as the Native American party. Many secret orders grew up, of which the Order of United Americans and the Order of the Star-spangled Banner came to be the most important. These organizations baffled political managers of the older parties, since efforts to learn something of the leaders or designs of the movement were futile; all their inquiries of supposed members were met with a statement to the effect that they knew nothing. Hence members were called Know-Nothings, although there was never a political organization bearing the name. Growing rapidly, the Know-Nothings allied themselves with the group of Whigs who followed Millard Fillmore and almost captured New York state in the 1854 election, while they did sweep the polls in Massachusetts and Delaware. The slavery issue split apart the Know-Nothing movement. The antislavery men went into the newly organized Republican party. The national strength of the Know-Nothing movement thus was broken.

Advised War With Europe

In 1861, Seward became Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, and many expected him to be the real power in the administration. He revealed his own desire to dominate the President in a peculiar memorandum (Apr. 1, 1861) to Lincoln in which he proposed waging war against most of Europe so as to unite the nation. After the Civil War broke out, however, Seward's handling of delicate matters of diplomacy with Great Britain, particularly in the Trent Affair, was notably adept.

Saved Lincoln’s Hide with Trent Affair

On Nov. 8, 1861, the British mail packet Trent, carrying James M. Mason and John Slidell, Confederate commissioners to London and Paris respectively, was halted in the Bahama Channel by the U.S. warship San Jacinto, and the commissioners and their secretaries were forcibly removed from the Trent and taken to Boston, where they were interned. The British drafted a sharp note to the U.S. government, demanding the release of the commissioners within seven days. It seemed for a time that Great Britain would not only recognize the Confederacy but declare war against the Union. However, Lord Lyons, the British minister to the United States, delayed presentation of the note for several days, meanwhile notifying Secretary of State William H. Seward of its contents. After both the British and American public opinions cooled down, Seward sent a note to the British, disavowing the Trent act. The prisoners were released in Jan., 1862, and probable war with Great Britain was averted.

Was Victim of Booth Assassination

The plot of John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Lincoln also included a stabbing attack on Seward, but he recovered from his wounds and retained his cabinet position under the new President, Andrew Johnson. He supported Johnson's Reconstruction policy and, like the President, was roundly denounced by the radical Republicans. Seward's most important act in this administration was the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. His foresight was not generally acknowledged, however, and Alaska was long popularly called "Seward's folly." He also tried to purchase the two most important islands in the Danish West Indies, the Virgin Islands, but the Senate refused to approve his action.

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