Thursday, January 2, 2014

William H. Seward to Abraham Lincoln, April 1, 1861


April 1, 1861.

1. We are at the end of a month‘s Administration, and yet without a policy either domestic or foreign.

2. This, however, is not culpable, and it has even been unavoidable. The presence of the Senate, with the need to meet applications for patronage, have prevented attention to other and more grave matters.

3. But further delay to adopt and prosecute our policies, for both domestic and foreign affairs, would not only bring scandal on the Administration, but danger upon the country.

4. To do this we must dismiss the applicants for office. But how? I suggest that we make the local appointments forthwith, leaving foreign or general ones for ulterior and occasional action.

5. The policy at home. I am aware that my views are singular, and, perhaps, not sufficiently explained. My system is built on this idea, as a ruling one, namely: that we must change the question, before the public, from one upon Slavery, or about Slavery, for a question upon Union or Disunion. In other words, from what would be regarded as a party question to one of Patriotism or Union.

The occupation or evacuation of Fort Sumter, although not, in fact, a slavery or party question, is so regarded. Witness the temper manifested by the Republicans in the free States, and even by Union men in the South. I would, therefore, terminate it, as a safe means of changing the issue. I deem it fortunate that the last Administration created the necessity.

For the rest, I would simultaneously defend all the forts in the Gulf, and have the Navy recalled from foreign stations, to be prepared for a blockade. Put the island of Key West under martial law.

This will raise distinctly the question of Union or Disunion. I would maintain every fort and possession in the South.


I would demand explanations from Spain and France categorically, at once. I would seek explanation from Great Britain and Russia, and send agents into Canada, Mexico, and Central America, to reuse a vigorous continental spirit of independence on this continent against European intervention, and if satisfactory explanations are not received from Spain and France, would convene Congress, and declare war against them.

But 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.

Either the President must do it himself, and be all the while active in it, or devolve it on some member of his Cabinet. Once adopted, debates on it must end, and all agree, and abide. It is not my especial province; but I neither seek to evade, nor assume responsibility.

SOURCE: Frederick W. Seward, Seward at Washington, as Senator and Secretary of State, p. 535

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