19th Century, William Seward, (Part 2)

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…Shall not our friends wisely second the President s demand for taxing tea and coffee? I judge, perhaps erroneously, that the country is to be held for a while to look upon demonstrations of the respective strength of the great Warrior and the great Pacificator in the South. Can it be doubtful which will win in the South? The Warrior bids fair to carry both or all parties there. The Pacificator, a part only of one.

Battles and victories were past, and now came the period of criticism. The reports of commanders were scrutinized. As usual, there was no general without friends to claim that he had been neglected or ill-treated by superior authority; none without detractors to claim that his exploits had been unduly magnified. However, the public, as between military men and civilians, was inclined to side with the former. Secretary Marcy’s sagacious management of armies and commanders received occasional and passing commendation, but no such eulogies as were bestowed upon the heroes of the field. Scott was claimed to have outdone Cortez in his conquest of Mexico. Taylor was declared to be not inferior to the ” Old Hero of New Orleans.” Doniphan was said to differ from Xenophon only by a syllable, and not at all in the merits of his successful inarch. In the various courts-martial now going on, instituted by the government against commanders, and by commanders against each other, Fremont, Worth and Scott were deemed victims of persecution, while Shields, Quitman and Pillow each had their partisans.


European journals this winter-brought news of a money panic in England with disastrous effects. Ireland was sending off emigrants by thousands. Denmark was abolishing slavery in her West India Islands. Civil war had broken out in the Swiss Republic, which was claimed as fresh proof that republics were impossible in Europe. Yet Republican theorists and revolutionists were active and confident there. Reforms in Italy, entered upon by the new Pope, Pius IX, had startled Europe, and were greeted by enthusiastic public demonstrations in the United States. It began to look as if, while Republican America was extending slavery, monarchical Europe had suddenly become an admirer of freedom.

At Albany attending court, Seward found the busy scene which always accompanies the opening of the session. The Legislature had organized ; the Governor’s message had been sent in ; the Comptroller’s report submitted ; the new Court of Appeals had opened, and’ active discussions were going on in both Houses, and their lobbies, over “Free Soil” resolutions, and proposed votes of thanks to Generals Scott and Taylor.

60 CLAY AND TAYLOR. [164s.

Before departing from Albany, Seward had urged such members of the Legislature as sought his counsei, to pass resolutions instructing the New York Senators and Representatives in Congress, to vote for the prohibition of slavery in the territories to be acquired from Mexico. He was soon to see at the national capital how far any such instructions from the North would prevail.



War News at Washington. Polk, Scott, and Fremont. Presidential Aspirants. Clay, McLean, and Corwin. Balls and Dinners. The White House. The Treaty of Peace. Death of John Quincy Adams. “The Corner-Stone.” Revolutionary Movements in Europe. Oration on Adams Before the Legislature.

Washington-, January 19, 1848.

Herb I am, after a long and lonesome journey. I was at the Capitol from twelve until three, dined at four, received visits till seven or eight, and closed the evening by a visit to Mr. Adams.

Every thing in regard to the Mexican war is involved in confusion, more difficult to read here than at the distance you are removed. It begins to be thought that the Administration contemplates the conquest and consolidation of all Mexico. Its organs deny this. The Whigs are becoming generally very apprehensive of such gigantic schemes, which’they regard as certain to produce a subversion of the- Government and Constitution of the United States. Under these circumstances the opposition to supplies of men and money for the war is assuming formidable character. Many think that the supplies will be withheld, but I do not concur in that opinion.

The Southern States are falling off from Mr. Clay and are arraying themselves on the side of General Taylor. It seems to be true that even Kentucky has, in her Legislature, avowed preference for General Taylor. All this produces no effect on the great Western statesman. He is surrounded here by admirers who consist of two classes — impracticable politicians and unreasoning personal devotees, who adhere to him from habit and affection. I was invited by Mr. Dixon of Connecticut to meet Mr. Clay at dinner, but was prevented by my previous engagement. While sitting in the Senate yesterday, Mr. Clay came in and took a seat beside me. He was looking vigorous and fresh as ever. He immediately asked me if it was true, as reported, that I was the author of Governor Young’s “message on the war.” I was happily able to excuse myself from any such responsibility. Mr. Clay reasoned with me to show that the Whig party ought to take the ground he had assumed at Lexington, although he did not allude to his speech and resolutions directly.

January 21.

I feel as if I were wasting time here in worse than tiseicss indolence. Fortunately I can console myself with the reflection that of ail the hundreds of iouuirers about this Democratic court my occupation is the least disreputable. The debates in the Senate were spirited yesterday. I dined with Mr. Adams enj’amille. The circle was made up bv the venerable patriarch, Mrs. Adams, the daughter-in-law, Mrs. John Adams, a niece, Miss Adams, Miss Johnson, of TJtica, and three nephews. The result of my falling among so many young people was, an engagement to attend Mrs. John Adams to the assembly.

Sir. Clay, with much difficulty, shut out all visitors at half-past seven, and engaged me iu a discussion of his position, duties, and prospects. His manner was conciliatory, kind, and modest. I reviewed with him the events of many years, and explained what had appeared to be perverseness. He thinks that he docs not personally desire to be a candidate, and thinks that he is ready and willing to withdraw from the canvass, but he does not fully understand the workings of his owu mind.

January 22.

On Thursday evening I attended Mrs. John Adams and other ladies to the assembly. It was a gay and brilliant scene, in which one could see whatever there is of wealth and rank in Washington. The party was called select. A lady from New York was voted the belle of the evening. Mrs. Gaines, who has just received an estate estimated at ten millions of dollars, was, of course, a very attractive person, and I was gratitied iu seeing that her modesty was increased by this striking reverse of fortune. Balls are wearisome to me at all times. I left at half-past twelve. The company remained until four or five.

Yesterday, I dined with Commander De Kay, and in the evening T presented myself to the President and Mrs. Polk at the White House. It was a comfortless crowd, and, I have no doubt, as irksome to them as it was to me. Both Mr. and Mrs. Polk looked worn and haggard. She had faded much since I had last seen her. The White House is a cheerless, unfurnished palace that wears no air of domestic peace or quiet.

Coming home last evening I found two young Mexicans, sons of the late Emperor Iturbide, who had been educated in this country, after the execution of their father for his fatal ambition. The older has traveled much in Europe; the other, a gay and joyous young man, had returned to Mexico, taken a commission iu the army, had been captured, and is now a prisoner of war on parole. My heart went forth to him for his goodness, because he said to me that he hoped my son would come home safely from his perilous adventures.

Yesterday I had a long interview with Thomas Corwin, who is a candidate for President; and to-day I missed a similar one by the absence of Judge McLean from his lodgings. I dined to-day with the Speaker, Mr. Winthrop; to-morrow at home with some friends; on Monday with Judge Wayne of the Supreme Court, and on Tuesday morning I trust to turn my back upon the capital.


Washington, January 23.

Here is another of a long succession of sunny days, the like of which I have never seen in winter. .Mr. Iturbide tells me that this is quite like the winters in Mexico, that is, iu the Valley of Mexico. It is warm in the sunshine, and cool in the shade.

Nothing worth recording, perhaps, has happened to or near me since yesterday. I tell a tale only of eating and drinking, with persons who are strangers to you, and whom you are, perhaps wisely, determined shall always remain so. It has become irksome to me. After writing you yesterday, I had another long conversation with Mr. Corwin, whom they call “Tom Corwin ” or the “Wagon Boy.” lie is a truly kind, benevolent, and gifted man. He seems to forego all hope of the Presidency, just now at least. I dined with the Speaker. The chief members of the party were Judge McLean, Mr. Rive?, Colonel Taylor, brother of ” Rough and Ready,” and Harding, the artist, it was amusing to mark the respect shown to Colonel Taylor. It was ominous to Judge McLean. The Judge broke away from the party when I did, and attended me to my lodgings.

Monday liight.

It is amazing how busy an idler can be. The most regular plans are broken in upon by the most unexpected diversions. I fell yesterday into the military circle, and learned that Colonel Belknap is to take command of the Fifth Regiment of Infantry, to which Augustus is attached, and that the Colonel would leave town to-morrow morning. I, therefore, called on him this evening, aud gave him a letter to our boy. The Colonel is a bluff, frank, kindhearted, truthful man.

To-day I have attended for an hour or two the court martial ordered for the trial of Colonel Fremont, and have listened with delight to his beautiful defense, which he read with great precision and good taste.

WasHrNgtON, January 29, 1848.

You will have seen that the President has recalled General Scott, and has instituted a court of inquiry. This is, very naturally, made a subject of complaint by the Whigs iu Congress, though some hint that both proceedings are in compliance with requests made by the General himself. It will be, at all events, a great calamity to the Administration. The brilliant exploits of the war have made it endurable thus far, but. all its interest and attraction will have ceased when Scott as well as Taylor shall have left the field, and the war shall have come to be a mere provincial charge, like the war with the Seminoles in Florida.

The presidential canvass loses none of its heat. It seems now to be confined to Clay and Taylor. The former the strongest, but supposed to be growing weaker; and the latter expected to be very formidable, but somehow finding it difficult to obtain position. Mr. Greeley has gone home, confident of defeating Taylor at all events, but shaken in regard to the success of Mr. Clay. That gentleman is bland and persuasive as ever, and one set of admirers only give place to another. Matrons save the gloves he has pressed for relics, and young ladies insist on kissing him in public assemblies. Did ever 1848.J JOSS QUINCY ADAMS. 63

the fashionable or elect ot” Americau society obtain such a triumph :is thev would have in his election i

I dined yesterday with Butler King of Georgia. In the evening I visited Mrs. McLean and Mrs. Marcy. To-day, as yesterday, I have kept my house, being engaged in study. I may go to the levee at the White House.

Astob House, New Yoiik, January 30, 1848.

Judge Nelson gave me bis decision on Thursday night, at ten o’clock, and on Friday night at the same hour I was here fully intent on going through to Auburn. But here was Julius J. Wood of Ohio, formerly of Syracuse, with a question about a patent case. He had waited here for me four days. He had need of me. I found it impossible to do an ungrateful act to one who had served me so faithfully so long. Therefore I remained to assist him yesterday.

I have met Greeley here, who is waging a Quixotic war against heroes. I fell in with Colonel Garland on my way here. He has served in Mexico, and been indeed in every engagement; was wounded in the capture of the city, and is on leave of absence. He gives me a very minute account of Mexico. He passed General Patterson’s train on its way. Colonel Garland describes Tacubaya as a pleasant suburb, two or three miles from Mexico, filled chiefly with country seats and villas. He says the Fifth Regiment is ordered there to recruit after its severe disasters. He described Colonel Belknap as an excellent man, worthy of all confidence; entertains no doubt that we shall have a speedy peace, an opinion in which I concur for more reasons than I have now time to state.

In February, the papers were filled with conflicting reports. First, that Trist had made a treaty; then, that he was to be tried for not having made one; that Taylor was to be President because Scott had persecuted him; that Scott was to be President because Polk had persecuted him; that neither were to be President because both were for Clay; that the “Hunkers'” and “Barn-Burners'” quarrel was to be composed by the nomination of Cass; and then a few days later, that it was raging more bitterly than ever, and would end in a “split” and two conventions.

The call for the “Whig National Convention appeared in the papers this month. Almost simultaneously came the official announcement from Washington that a treaty of peace had at last been negotiated, had reached Washington, and had been submitted to the Senate for ratification. But with the rejoicings inspired by this event, came sad intelligence of a national loss, of which the past year had given warning. John Quincy Adams, faithful to public duty until the last, had been struck with paralysis in the Hall of Representatives. The House had adjourned in alarm and confusion. Carried to the Speaker’s room, surrounded by physicians and family, he had lingered through two days, almost entirely unconscious; Congress assembling in re

19th Century, Secretary of State William Seward and Amistad

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WILLIAM SEWARD AND THE SLAVE SHIP AMISTAD  (The speech that was never made)

Autobiography of William H. Seward from 1801-1834: 1846-1861 by William Henry Seward, Frederick William Seward

One of the first measures that came up, on the assembling of Congress, was the bill in regard to the Amistad. Seward moved its postponement, and prepared to oppose it in debate. Very soon, however, its supporters, finding that they had already a sufficiently heavy load of pro-slavery legislation to carry, wisely concluded to let it drop. The story of the Amistad is a veritable romance of the sea, now fallen out of popular remembrance. It may be recounted here from the notes of Seward’s unpublished speech:

On about the 15th of April, 1839, the Pecora, a schooner which bore the Portuguese flag, cast anchor in an obscure port on the coast of Africa. A band of armed men, issuing from her, kidnapped and carried away from the shore fifty-two natives, including several women and children. All of these persons spoke the rude dialect of an African tribe, and recited Arabic prayers, from the ritual of the Mohammedan faith.

After a voyage marked by the well-known sufferings of the slave ship, these captives were landed in Havana, in the island of Cuba, and immediately confined in a barracoon, or jail. * * * They were then sold by the mercantile house of Martinez and Company — three of them to Pedro Montez, and the others to Jose Ruiz — with full knowledge, on their part, that the prisoners were “Bozal negroes,” and not “Ladinoes,” as the domestic slaves, recognized by Spanish laws in that island, are called. Montez and Ruiz were planters, who dwelt at, or near, Puerto Principe. * * *


On the 28th of June, the schooner Amistad, chartered for the purpose, sailed for Puerto Principe, carrying the fifty-two captive negroes, together with Montez and Ruiz as passengers. * * * The savages had already learned that their Christian oppressors had no suffering in reserve for them greater than the continuance of life itself in bondage.

On the first of July, while they were yet close upon the eastern coast of Cuba, they rose to the appeal of Cinque, the brave and athletic leader, slew the captain and cook, who resisted them, put the seamen ashore in the small boat, retained Antonio, whose African descent pleaded in his behalf, and spared the lives of Montez and Ruiz, on their agreement to direct the vessel eastward and deliver the insurgents upon the coast of Africa. Montez and Ruiz, in the daylight of sixty long summer days, unwillingly steered the coaster on an eastern course, as they had under such fearful circumstances engaged to do; but in the night-time, knowing that the barbarians were ignorant of the guidance offered to all mariners by the compass and the stars, they treacherously bore away to the northward. By these varying courses they brought up at last near Mont auk Point, on the shore of Long Island, perhaps to the equal surprise of the impressed pilots, the ignorant mutineers, and the peaceful inhabitants of that cultivated coast. Urged by the common want, twenty of the Africans, leaving all the women and children on board, went ashore to beg of white men, their natural enemies, water and bread. During their absence, Captain Gedney, of the United States Navy on board the brig Wmhington, engaged in the Coast Survey, discovered and hailed the Amistai?, and at the request of Montez and Ruiz, seized and secured the Africans who were on board, as he afterward secured the shore party on its return, and conducted them all, with the schooner, into the port of Xew London. There they were delivered into custody of a Marshal of the United States, to await judicial investigation. * * * The Americans, who had aided in the recapture of the schooner, now put in a claim for salvage. Montez and Ruiz appealed to the United States Government for its aid in securing their negro “property.” * * * The Cuban owners of the Amistad claimed her restoration to themselves. Her Catholic Majesty assumed the case of Montez and Ruiz as her own, and demanded of the United States that the Africans should be surrendered as slaves, without reservation, detention, or hindrance. Her Protestant Majesty of Great Britain took a very different view of that transaction. She not only remonstrated with her Royal Sister of Spain against that demand, but insisted on her punishing Montez and Ruiz as pirates, and instructed the British Minister, residing here, to invoke the good offices of the President of the United States in behalf of the Africans, and to.endeavor to secure to them ” that liberty of which they were deprived.” * * *

On the 28th of June, the schooner Amistad, chartered for the purpose, sailed for Puerto Principe, carrying the fifty-two captive negroes, together with Montez and Ruiz as passengers. * * * The savages had already learned that their Christian oppressors had no suffering in reserve for them greater than the continuance of life itself in bondage. On the first of July, while they were yet close upon the eastern coast of Cuba, they rose to the appeal of Cinque, a


The President of the United States at first affected neutrality, but, soon afterward, openly intervened, and by his attorneys urged that the Africans should be condemned as slaves and returned to Montez and Ruiz. Confident of success in this appeal to the court, he kept a national ship at anchor near the scene of the trial, ready to receive the captives and convey them back to Cuba, there to be consigned to bondage.

The Federal Judiciary, however, maintained not only its independence but its fidelity to truth and justice. First, the District Court for the District of Connecticut, then the Circuit Court sitting within the same district, on appeal, and lastly, the Supreme Court at this capital, finally reviewing the whole subject, overruled alike the claims of the pretended salvors, and even those of Montez and Ruiz, notwithstanding the intervention of the Court of Spain and the President of the United States, and decided, in effect, that the captives of

the Amutaii were guiltless and injured freemen, entitled to liberty by the laws of the United States and by the laws of nations. * * *

The Federal Judiciary, however, maintained not only its independence but its fidelity to truth and justice. First, the District Court for the District of Connecticut, then the Circuit Court sitting within the same district, on appeal, and lastly, the Supreme Court at this capital, finally reviewing the whole subject, overruled alike the claims of the pretended salvors, and even those of Montez and Ruiz, notwithstanding the intervention of the Court of Spain and the President of the United States, and decided, in effect, that the captives of 356, the Amutaii were guiltless and injured freemen, entitled to liberty by the laws of the United States and by the laws of nations.

Benevolent citizens received them at the prison doors, with acclamations and thanks to God for their deliverance from so many, and so great perils; and placing them on board a vessel prepared for that purpose, sent them back in safety to their native shores.

This is the short and simple story of the Africans of the Amistad. It proves that the human heart can be more treacherous than the irresponsible winds, and that things are sometimes found on the surface of the sea, which are more wonderful than even the ray less mysteries which it conceals. Had those captives been white men, the American people would have agreed, with the whole world beside, in approving the judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Amistad case would have been at an end. But they were not white men, and hence arose an appeal from that judgment, although it has long since been executed. The bill now before the Senate, brought in at the instance of the President of the United States, proposes to pay Montez and Ruiz the estimated value of the captives of the Amistad, on the ground that they were slaves, wrongfully set at liberty by the Supreme Court of the United States. It is, therefore, in fact, what I have already called it, an appeal from the Supreme Court to the Congress of the United States.

Such a recital of the facts of the case ought to have insured the defeat of the bill, and perhaps would have done so. Possibly its movers feared to face the narration. At all events the bill was not called up, and the speech was never made.


Washington was full of visitors this winter. Railway facilities and important public issues before Congress, were every year bringing more people to the capital. Hotels were filled with guests, and expanding in size. Social gayeties increased. Seward, though he disliked ostentation, was fond of hospitality. Round his table, or in his drawing-room, he liked to bring together political friends and opponents, foreign representatives, and strangers from distant States. Among the diplomatic corps, and among the families residing in Washington, he had now come to have a large and pleasant acquaintance. One of the social events of the season was a fancy dress ball at the house of Senator Gwin, at which Lord and Lady Napier appeared in eighteenth century costumes as Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, their earliest predecessors in the British Legation to the United States.

Although the seat of National Government, Washington was, as yet, without a city police for its own protection. The increase of population, and the influx of strangers was beginning to be attended by crimes and disorders that rendered the streets unsafe. Seward, advocating a bill for the establishment of a police force, remarked:

I think every man who is a resident of the city can bear witness that persons take care to avoid being out in the night, exposing themselves to violence and brutality by offenders who are at large in the city. It was but the night before last, that one of the public officers, a messenger of the Treasury Department, was assassinated in the open streets, and at an early hour in the 342 MYBTILLA MINER. [1s5s.

evening. It is certainly due to the character of the capital of the country, that we should give this subject immediate attention.

The project of public schools also came up at this session and was warmly supported by him. Answering some of the arguments against it, he described the peculiar relation held by Washington to the rest of the country, and made a forecast of its future:

With the beginning of the building up of a great nation there was also begun necessarily the building up of a great capital. I remember,—it was within my own time, and yours, Sir,— when Washington was ridiculed as a “city of magnificent distances”—a mockery of a city. It has passed from that stage, and has already become a city of magnificent edifices, and of magnificent gardens. Now as the nation grows in strength, and wealth, and territory, this capital will necessarily grow; and every year it will require from Congress the appropriations necessary to its advancement, until it shall become the finest, the greatest, the most magnificent capital in the world.

But there is another want which every capital on earth always has had, and always will have,— namely, some provision for maintaining its morals and public virtue. This capital is no more necessary for the purposes of the Government, or the welfare of the country, than school-houses are for the education of children, at the seat of Government.

The schools were established at last. But there was one educational enterprise not included in them, and looked upon with much disfavor by those who did not want to have ” chattels ” taught to read. This was Myrtilla Miner’s school for the education of colored children. Benevolent and self-sacrificing as this work was, she was not allowed to proceed in it without opposition, insults, and threats of mob violence. Wilson, in describing it, says:

Among leading men and families of Washington she found patrons and friends, who lent both countenance and material aid to her mission of love and good works. For even in those dark days of pro-slavery violence, there were not wanting members of Congress who were won to her support, by her welcome importunity and the beauty of her pure and perilous endeavor; while the carriage from the residence of Mr. Seward, often seen standing before her humble school-room, attested the interest felt in the work of the brave and heroic woman, by the wife and daughters of the New York Senator.

Two more States besides Kansas were at the doors of Congress this session. Oregon presented herself with a Constitution containing an article excluding “persons of African descent” from the State. Seward protested against this ” un-Republican discrimination.” The majority of the Senate, however, made no objection to it. The bill for her admission was passed in the Senate, but did not get through the House of Representatives until February, 1859.