See selected letters, with short biography (ed. by H. Pearson, 1936).
A graduate (1820) of Union College, he was admitted to the bar in 1822 and established himself as a lawyer in Auburn, N.Y., which he made his lifelong home. He was active in the Anti-Masonic party and later joined the Whig party. Seward and his close personal and political friend, Thurlow Weed, became the two most influential Whigs in New York state. A state senator from 1830 to 1834, he ran unsuccessfully for the governorship in 1834. In 1838, however, he won that office, and he 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. He returned to his law practice in 1843.
Seward was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1849. Reelected in 1855, he was one of the Senate's most prominent members in the troubled years preceding the Civil War. A genial, gregarious man with intellectual interests, he was generally well liked, even by his political opponents.
Seward was an uncompromising foe of slavery, and, although he apparently tempered his public expressions so as not to alienate votes, he nevertheless made two remarks that became catchphrases of the antislavery forces. 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.
With the disintegration of the Whig party, Seward and Weed joined (1855) the new Republican party. Prominent as he was, Seward, despite (or possibly because of) the efforts of Weed's machine, 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.
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. Seward also did some unwarranted meddling during the Fort Sumter crisis. After the Civil War broke out, however, he showed himself an able statesman, although it took all of Lincoln's ingenuity to keep both Seward and his rival, Salmon P. Chase, eternally ambitious for the presidency, in the same cabinet. Seward's handling of delicate matters of diplomacy with Great Britain, particularly in the Trent Affair, was notably adept. He also protested French intervention in Mexico and after the Civil War helped bring an end to it.
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.
See G. E. Baker, ed., The Works of William H. Seward (5 vol., 1853-84); F. W. Seward, ed., Autobiography … and Selections from His Letters (3 vol., 1891); biographies by F. Bancroft (1900, repr. 1967) and G. G. Van Deusen (1967).
It was named after William H. Seward, early member of the United States Republican Party, United States Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. As Secretary of State, he fought for the U.S. purchase of Alaska which he finally negotiated to acquire from Russia.
There were 917 households out of which 35.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.6% were married couples living together, 12.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.4% were non-families. 30.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 3.04.
In the city the population was spread out with 21.9% under the age of 18, 9.0% from 18 to 24, 35.9% from 25 to 44, 25.7% from 45 to 64, and 7.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 150.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 166.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $44,306, and the median income for a family was $54,904. Males had a median income of $36,900 versus $30,508 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,360. About 8.3% of families and 10.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.7% of those under age 18 and 7.9% of those age 65 or over.
Seward is unique among most small Alaskan communities in that it has road access in the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road, which also brings it bus service, albeit most buses are marketed towards tourists and the costs are higher and service decreases or ceases in the winter. Seward is also the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad. This keeps the port busy with freight coming on and off the trains, but also makes Seward a primary end point for north-bound cruise ships. Cruise ship passengers get off the boats and take the train farther north to Denali or other Alaskan attractions.
Seward used to receive service from the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry) system, however, service was discontinued at the end of the 2005 season due to budget cuts and "under utilization." Ferry connections are available in Whittier (90 miles North) or Homer (150 miles by highway).
Seward Airport (PAWD/SWD) is home to (general aviation) services and flight-seeing operators. Scheduled commercial service is available at Kenai Municipal Airport in Kenai and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, both about 100 miles away. Seasonal bus connections are also available.