Seward: Woe! To the Man that Madly Lifts His Hand Against It!

Saturday, January 12, 1861

With President Buchanan's Cabinet, like the Southern states, leaving in droves, Harper's Weekly ran this political cartoon on this date.

New York Senator, and soon to be Secretary of State under Lincoln, William Seward gave a rousing speech to the Senate with its galleries left standing-room only. Seward was now being seen as Lincoln’s voice in Washington. Lincoln’s voice had been mostly silent since the election. Much had changed since then and this might be the only means to obtain an inkling of what Lincoln might be thinking.

Seward spoke of the seeming flood of states leaving the Union. He urged listeners to “endure without complaint the passionate waywardness of political brethren so long as there is hope that they may come to a better mind.”1

He gave ways that the Union could not be saved (mere eulogiums, mutual criminations, debate over slavery or secession or coercion, or even the sword.

Addressing President Buchanan, he scolded him for thinking “the Union is to be saved by somebody in particular.” He was alluding to Buchanan wanting to let Lincoln deal with the mess.

How to save the Union was another matter entirely. Seward thought that Congress should “redress any real grievances of the offended States” and give to the President “all the means necessary to maintain the Union in the full exhibition and discreet exercise of its authority.”

But more than that, the Union could be saved as “the responsibility of saving the Union belongs to the people, and they are abundantly competent to discharge it.”

He repeated the Republican platform of no extension of slavery into the new territories, but then played on the fears of slaveholders. If the Union was dissolved, who would save them from abolitionists and slave uprisings like the one attempted by John Brown?

Seward ended with a rallying cry: “Woe! Woe! to the man that madly lifts his hand against it. It shall continue and endure; and men, in after times, shall declare that this generation, which saved the Union from such sudden and unlooked for dangers, surpassed in magnanimity even that one which laid its foundations in the eternal principles of liberty, justice and humanity.”2


The Star Returns

Failed in her attempt to resupply and reinforce Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, the Star of the West steamed back into New York Harbor. The scene attracted many spectators eager to catch a glimpse of the ship that was fired upon by the rebels. The 200 troops were reported to be in excellent health as was the ship itself. The captain was now awaiting further orders from Washington.

It was also reported that the USS Brooklyn was seen “off the bar” near Charleston Harbor. The Brooklyn was sent to assist the Star of the West in her attempts, but arrived too late.3

  1. From Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer. []
  2. The Union Speech of William H. Seward, in the Senate of the United States, January 12, 1861. []
  3. From the Richmond Daily Dispatch, January 14, 1861. []
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Seward: Woe! To the Man that Madly Lifts His Hand Against It! by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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2 thoughts on “Seward: Woe! To the Man that Madly Lifts His Hand Against It!

  1. Interesting side note to the Star of the West returning to New York….

    According to Hamilton Basso in his book “The Great Creole”, General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (who had just been fired from West Point) was on his way back to Louisiana, when the Star of the West limped in to New York harbor. The captain allowed Beauregard aboard to survey the damage the rebels had wrought and to hear his story of what had happened.

    It is argued that President Davis used Beauregard’s information from the captain (as well as his knowledge of the Creole being a brilliant engineer) in his decision to station Beauregard at Charleston starting March 1861.

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