Seward, William Henry (1801–1872), a United States statesman. For nearly half a century he was an influential figure in American political life. As secretary of state, 1861–69, Seward played an important role in the Civil War and in the postwar period. A skillful diplomat, he helped to prevent European intervention in the war; particularly adept was his handling of the Trent Affair. After the war, Seward's protest to the French led to their withdrawal of troops from Mexico and the overthrow of their puppet emperor, Maximilian. An advocate of territorial expansion, Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000 in 1867. At the time, many considered it a bad bargain and called the new territory “Seward's Folly" or “Seward's Icebox."
Seward was born in Florida, New York. He graduated from Union College in 1820. Shortly afterward he began to practice law in Auburn, New York, and entered politics. Elected to the New York legislature in 1830, Seward became a leader of the Whigs. He was the first Whig governor of New York, 1839–43. In 1848 he was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Whig; he later became a Republican. Already known as an abolitionist, he vigorously fought against the extension of slavery. Seward was defeated by Abraham Lincoln for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1860. After the election, Lincoln made Seward secretary of state.
The night Lincoln was assassinated, Seward was attacked in his home by a fellow conspirator of John Wilkes Booth and stabbed, nearly fatally.