William H. Seward

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As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practise or neglect to practise the primary duties of justice and humanity.
The constitution regulates our stewardship; the constitution devotes the domain to union, to justice, to defense, to welfare and to liberty.
I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.

William Henry Seward, Sr. (May 16, 1801October 10, 1872) was Governor of New York, United States Senator and United States Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.

Quotes[edit]

  • The color of the prisoner’s skin, and the form of his features, are not impressed upon the spiritual immortal mind which works beneath. In spite of human pride, he is still your brother, and mine, in form and color accepted and approved by his Father, and yours, and mine, and bears equally with us the proudest inheritance of our race — the image of our Maker. Hold him then to be a Man.
    • Argument as defense attorney during the trial of an African-American criminal defendant, Auburn, New York (July 1846), published in Works of William H. Seward, vol. I (New York: Redfield, 1853), p. 417.
  • He is the most gentle-looking and amiable of men. Every word and look indicate sincerity of heart, even to guilelessness.
    • Journal entry (27 February 1849) on President Zachary Taylor, published in The Autobiography of William H. Seward (1877).
  • It is true, indeed, that the national domain is ours. It is true that it was acquired by the valor and with the wealth of the whole nation. But we hold no arbitrary authority over it. We hold no arbitrary authority over anything, whether lawfully acquired or seized by usurpation. The constitution regulates our stewardship; the constitution devotes the domain to union, to justice, to defense, to welfare and to liberty.
    But there is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes.
    • Speech, United States Senate (11 March 1850).
  • Love one another.
    • Last words, spoken to his daughter-in-law (10 October 1872), quoted by Frederick William Seward in a postscript (chapter LXXIII) to The Autobiography of William H. Seward (1877).
  • There is no social life outside of Christendom.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 142.
  • Whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prosecution of it. For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue and direct it incessantly.
    • Memorandum to President Abraham Lincoln (1 April 1861).
  • Douglas, no man will ever be President of the United States who spells 'negro' with two gs.
    • A retort to Stephen Douglas on the Senate floor, after the Illinois senator used an offensive ethnic slur in a speech. Quoted on page 163 of Team of Rivals (2006), by Doris Kearns Goodwin (New York: Simon and Schuster).

On the Irrepressible Conflict (1858)[edit]

Speech in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York (25 October 1858)
  • I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.
  • As a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practise or neglect to practise the primary duties of justice and humanity. The free-labor system conforms to the divine law of equality, which is written in the hearts and consciences of man, and therefore is always and everywhere beneficent.
    The slave system is one of constant danger, distrust, suspicion, and watchfulness. It debases those whose toil alone can produce wealth and resources for defence, to the lowest degree of which human nature is capable, to guard against mutiny and insurrection, and thus wastes energies which otherwise might be employed in national development and aggrandizement. The free-labor system educates all alike, and by opening all the fields of industrial employment and all the departments of authority, to the unchecked and equal rivalry of all classes of men, at once secures universal contentment, and brings into the highest possible activity all the physical, moral, and social energies of the whole state.
  • The Union is a confederation of States. But in another aspect the United States constitute only one nation. Increase of population, which is filling the States out to their very borders, together with a new and extended network of railroads and other avenues, and an internal commerce which daily becomes more intimate, is rapidly bringing the States into a higher and more perfect social unity or consolidation. Thus, these antagonistic systems are continually coming into closer contact, and collision results.
    Shall I tell you what this collision means? They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested or fanatical agitators, and therefore ephemeral, mistake the case altogether. It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation.

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