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Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man

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Overview

From one of our most acclaimed new biographers– the first full life of the leader of Lincoln’s “team of rivals” to appear in more than forty years. William Henry Seward was one of the most important Americans of the nineteenth century. Progressive governor of New York and outspoken U.S. senator, he was the odds-on favorite to win the 1860 Republican nomination for president. As secretary of state and Lincoln’s closest adviser during the Civil War, Seward not only managed foreign affairs but had a substantial role...

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Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man

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Overview

From one of our most acclaimed new biographers– the first full life of the leader of Lincoln’s “team of rivals” to appear in more than forty years. William Henry Seward was one of the most important Americans of the nineteenth century. Progressive governor of New York and outspoken U.S. senator, he was the odds-on favorite to win the 1860 Republican nomination for president. As secretary of state and Lincoln’s closest adviser during the Civil War, Seward not only managed foreign affairs but had a substantial role in military, political, and personnel matters.Some of Lincoln’s critics even saw Seward, erroneously, as the power behind the throne; this is why John Wilkes Booth and his colleagues attempted to kill Seward as well as Lincoln. Seward survived the assassin’s attack, continued as secretary of state, and emerged as a staunch supporter of President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s controversial successor. Through his purchase of Alaska (“Seward’s Folly”), and his groundwork for the purchase of the Canal Zone and other territory, Seward set America on course to become a world empire.Seward was not only important, he was fascinating. Most nights this well-known raconteur with unruly hair and untidy clothes would gather diplomats, soldiers, politicians, or actors around his table to enjoy a cigar, a drink, and a good story. Drawing on hundreds of sources not available to or neglected by previous biographers, Walter Stahr sheds new light on this complex and central figure, as well as on pivotal events of the Civil War and its aftermath.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

William Seward (1801-1872) was, according to historian Walter Stahr, the most indispensable of Abraham Lincoln's "team of rivals." (John Wilkes Booth apparently agreed: He assigned a confederate to kill the Secretary of State; the would-be assassin failing in the assignment.) This standard-setting new biography shows what made Seward such a vital right-hand man.

Publishers Weekly
Many readers will be acquainted with William Henry Seward from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. Stahr gives us a first-rate biography of that team’s major figure, Lincoln’s secretary of state. It’s the first full one in decades and, if over-stuffed, by far the best. Stahr, whose biographic skills were in full display in his study of John Jay, has his hands full: Seward was New York governor and senator, then a rival for Lincoln’s place on the 1860 presidential ticket, finally senior cabinet officer—a long, complex life and career. Seward proved among the most accomplished secretaries of state in American history. Among other things, he kept Britain out of the Civil War, then negotiated the acquisition of Alaska for the U.S. Stahr struggles, mostly successfully, to keep the details of all this under control. While calling Seward “the foremost American statesman of the nineteenth century” (though most historians would agree that John Quincy Adams surpasses Seward even among secretaries of state), Stahr’s biography is no whitewash. He records the man’s shortcomings and the enmities he made among other notable people. But there’s no doubting that this formidable figure has finally gained the biographer he’s long deserved. 16 pages of b&w photos, 3 maps. Agent: Scott Waxman, Waxman Literary Agency. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“[A] masterly new biography . . . [of] one of the most influential and polarizing American politicians of the nineteenth century.”

“This magnificent biography finally provides what William Henry Seward so justly deserves—a full, terrific and complex portrait of his endlessly fascinating life.”

“Walter Stahr’s new biography offers an overdue reminder of the much broader scope of [Seward’s] work.”

“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.”

“This formidable figure has finally gained the biographer he’s long deserved…a first-rate biography.”

“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.”

"Politician, diplomat, raconteur, a figure of controversy and power, Seward has finally found a biographer equal to his importance.”

“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.”

Library Journal
William Henry Seward, lawyer, governor, senator, and secretary of state under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, was a tremendously influential mid-19th-century politician—a front runner for the 1860 presidential nomination. Drawing exhaustively from letters and other documents relating to him as well as his family, friends, and enemies, Stahr (John Jay: Founding Father) argues that Seward was a preeminent, dutiful, and indefatigable statesman to be remembered for much more than his oversight of the purchase of Alaska. While acknowledging Seward's flaws, he focuses, for example, on his efforts to end slavery, promote commerce, avoid the Civil War, collaborate with Lincoln, block foreign intervention during the war, save the Union, push France out of Mexico, and establish the process of U.S. expansion. VERDICT Written in an unembellished style, this is a detailed yet largely uncritical biography of a remarkable, complex, and controversial political figure. Though Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals covers much of the same historical territory, Stahr completes Seward's life and demonstrates his enormous impact on American history before, during, and long after the 1860s. It will be of interest to general readers and useful to academics.—Margaret Kappanadze, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY
Kirkus Reviews
A sympathetic, evenhanded reappraisal of President Lincoln's secretary of state as a statesman who practiced effective preventive strategies. Stahr (John Jay, 2005) takes issue with some of the previous "hostile" criticism of his subject as being formed after the Civil War (e.g., by Gideon Welles) and thus lending an imbalanced portrait, which the present historian aims to correct. Neither Seward nor Lincoln kept a diary of events during the era, and the author often searches for answers in the historical record by returning to contemporary sources. One question was whether Seward tried to dissuade Lincoln from issuing his Emancipation Proclamation or merely questioned its timing. (Stahr comes down on the former.) Wading through the maelstrom of congressional criticism of Seward during the war, Stahr finds that he played his diplomatic cards toward England and Russia exceedingly well. Seward was able to convince Lincoln and the cabinet to surrender the two Confederate ministers bound for England aboard the Trent in November 1861, arguing that to not do so was to risk Britain's declaring war on the U.S. Stahr considers the full life of this energetic, devoted, certainly not flawless public servant, from his one term as Whig governor of New York, to his years in the U.S. Senate and beyond. The author amply shows how his loss to Lincoln for the first Republican presidential nomination of 1860 only spelled the nation's gain, as Seward then campaigned tirelessly for his opponent and never lagged in his devotion to the Union. A thorough, refreshing biography by an independent-minded historian.
The New Yorker
“[A] masterly new biography . . . [of] one of the most influential and polarizing American politicians of the nineteenth century.”
The Economist
“Walter Stahr’s new biography offers an overdue reminder of the much broader scope of [Seward’s] work.”
Huffington Post
“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.”
The Wall Street Journal
“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.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin
“This magnificent biography finally provides what William Henry Seward so justly deserves—a full, terrific and complex portrait of his endlessly fascinating life.”
James McPherson
"Politician, diplomat, raconteur, a figure of controversy and power, Seward has finally found a biographer equal to his importance.”
Ron Chernow
“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.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439121160
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 9/18/2012
  • Pages: 703
  • Sales rank: 490,437
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Stahr is the author of John Jay: Founding Father, a biography of America’s first Supreme Court Chief Justice. He lives in Exeter, New Hampshire, and Vienna, Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 20, 2012

    Great reading for Civil War buffs

    Well written documentary of the troubled times in our nation's history. Well annotated, plates are presented well, An entertaining and at times, surprising exploration of facts many perhaps do not know.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2012

    Well researched and writen book about a man who truly shaped Ame

    Well researched and writen book about a man who truly shaped America for years to come.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 30, 2014

    This is a scholarly, comprehensive and well written biography of

    This is a scholarly, comprehensive and well written biography of one of the great american secretaries of state.  The book adds a lot of insight into the civil war period.  It is particularly interesting in describing the Lincoln administrations efforts, led by Seward, to prevent Britain and France from intervening on the side of the Confederacy.    Highly recommended.  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2012

    How would I know

    I would have read the damned thing, if I had ever received it from B&N

    1 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2014

    Solid biography

    A well done book about a forgotten American statesman. Stahr emphasizes Seward's ability to put differences aside and work for the greater good of the Union.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2013

    Insightful

    A wonderful follow-up to TEAM OF RIVALS, this book gave me great insight into a little-known figure who changed history.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2012

    Just received hard cover of book, supposed to be new looks used

    Just received hard cover of book, supposed to be new looks used

    0 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 9, 2012

    more from this reviewer

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    0 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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