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William Seward (or Henry, as friends and family called him) was extremely well positioned to win the Republican presidential nomination at the 1860 Chicago Convention. Seward was clearly the elder statesman of the young Republican Party. Earlier affirmations of a “higher law than the Constitution” and an “irrepressible conflict” between systems of free labor and slave labor had invigorated those who believed slavery to be on a course of ultimate extinction, yet his charming personality and staunch Unionism made him seem the right man for the times. During an eight-month visit to Europe in 1859, he conversed with Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Macaulay, Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, Lamartine, Leopold I of Belgium, Victor Emanuel, and Cavour, all of whom probably believed they were receiving the next President of the United States; even the Pope “granted him a long audience, and gave him his blessing.” The most able political boss in America, Thurlow Weed, was masterminding his fellow New Yorker’s campaign and directing its convention maneuverings.

Lincoln’s nomination devastated Seward. In a later outburst to Congressman John Potter, he revealed that he felt “justly entitled to the Republican nomination for the presidency” but “had to stand aside and see it given to a little Illinois lawyer!” Nevertheless, he dutifully campaigned for Lincoln in the West and in key battleground states. Lincoln knew he needed Seward in his cabinet, and Seward was the first to receive an offer after Lincoln was elected (VP-elect Hannibal Hamlin hand-delivered the letter from Lincoln to Seward in D.C. on December 10, 1860). Lincoln wanted Seward to be his Secretary of State—“your position in the public eye, your integrity, ability, learning, and great experience, all combine to render it an appointment pre-eminently fit to be made.” Seward wasn’t pleased that the Cabinet would include four former Democrats (Salmon Chase, Simon Cameron, Gideon Welles, and Montgomery Blair), but he ultimately accepted the post.

Here’s the formal nomination, stored today in the Archives’ Legislative Treasures Vault:


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