William Henry Seward was Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. Everyone knows that. Seward also bought Alaska (aka, “Seward’s Folly”). Many people know that. But Seward also was one of Lincoln’s biggest rivals, then became one of his closest friends. And as author Walter Stahr reminds us, Seward was Lincoln’s Indispensable Man.
The latter is the subtitle to Stahr’s biography called, simply, Seward. Stahr traces Seward’s rise as “progressive governor of New York, outspoken federal senator, odds-on favorite to win the 1860 Republican nomination, secretary of state during the Civil War and its aftermath, Lincoln’s closest friend and adviser, target of the assassins who killed Lincoln, purchaser of Alaska, early architect of America’s empire.”
If that sounds like a lot, it is. Arguably Lincoln might have lost the nation before he even started his presidency if Seward hadn’t been enlisted to help glue together a country that was in the process of tearing itself apart. Luckily for the country, William Seward was there. And luckily for me, Walter Stahr was the guest speaker at our monthly Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia dinner.
I had a chance to talk briefly with Stahr prior to his talk. He clearly knows his stuff. He spent about five years researching Seward for the book, just as he had for his previous book about founding father John Jay. Speaking to a roomful of Lincoln scholars (who know a thing or two about William Seward), Stahr provided us with some fascinating insights that made many of us want to learn more. We all gained immensely from his knowledge.
I also gained a bit of a red face. I had brought my copy of Seward to have Stahr autograph it, which he gladly proceeded to do. Only to find that he already had. Ugh. It was then that I realized I had ordered the book directly from the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago. The ALBS has a fantastic feature in which you can order online and then watch the author sign the book for you via live-streamed video. He signed it specifically to me at the time. Ah, but as you can see in the photo below, Stahr graciously covered my embarrassment by signing the book again, in person. 🙂
In the end I got a two-fer. A fantastic lecture by a distinguished author and scholar, and a double-signed book to add to my collection. Not a bad deal at all.
More about the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.