Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Russell McClintock on "Seward's Folly"

I rarely have anything good to say, here or anywhere else, about the New York Times, but it's been doing a nice job with its Disunion series, which "follows the Civil War as it unfolded." I believe I've read just about every piece, and they've been of uniformly high quality.

I mention this now to highlight one of the most recent articles, Seward's Folly, tracking the back-room maneuverings of that most enigmatic of figures, New York Senator and incoming Secretary of State William Henry Seward. The piece is written by Russell McClintock, the author of a fine book on the North during the secession crisis, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession. If the Disunion series or other sites that have sprung up to follow the Secession Winter 150 years after the fact, such as The Long Recall, have piqued your interest in this fascinating period, Dr. McClintock's book would be an excellent starting point.

The hanging nature of the piece suggests that Dr. McClintock will be contributing more articles on Seward's machinations to the Disunion series. If so, I look forward to them. For a prequel, I invite you to try my What the Hell Happened to William Seward?

About the illustration, entitled Letting the Cat Out of the Bag! (1860):
A figurative portrayal of the rift within the Republican party resulting from the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1860. Here New York senator and would-be nominee William H. Seward watches as the radical antislavery senator from Massachusetts Charles Sumner releases a snarling cat, the "Spirit of Discord," from a "Republican Bag." The cat bolts toward New York "Tribune" editor Horace Greeley and Lincoln, who wields a rail in his defense. Greeley exclaims, "What are you doing Sumner! you'll spoil all! she aint to be let out until after Lincoln is elected,--" Lincoln, also alarmed, rejoins, "Oh Sumner! this is too bad!--I thought we had her safely bagged at Chicago [i.e., the Republican national convention at Chicago], now there will be the old scratch to pay, unless I can drive her back again with my rail!" Sumner replies, "It's no use talking Gentlemen, I was'nt mentioned at Chicago, and now I'm going to do something desperate, I can't afford to have my head broken and be kept corked up four years for nothing!" The mention of his broken head refers to the widely publicized 1856 beating inflicted on Sumner by South Carolina congressman Preston S. Brooks. (See "Arguments of the Chivalry," no. 1856-1.) Seward warns, "Gentlemen be cautious you don't know how to manage that animal as well as I did, and Im afraid that some of you will get "scratched." Henry J. Raymond, editor of the "New York Times," stands in background shouting, "Scat!--scat!--back with her, or our fat will all be in the fire."

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