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Book review: Seward - Lincoln's Indispensible Man

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Published in The Courier-Journal, June 15, 2012

Try to name a U.S. secretary of state other than Hillary Clinton or Henry Kissinger and there’s a good chance you’ll come up with William Henry Seward. Every school child knows that it was Secretary Seward who arranged for the United States to buy Alaska from Russia, a deal that was supposedly ridiculed in the press and has been known evermore as “Seward’s Folly.”

If you saw the movie “The Conspirator,” you also know that Seward was one of the targets of John Wilkes Booth’s plot to murder Abraham Lincoln along with other top government officials. Why kill the Secretary of State? It was assumed that Booth picked Seward because he would be next in line to be president after Lincoln and Vice President Andrew Johnson were gone. But in his new biography of Seward, Walter Stahr suggests that Booth may have viewed Seward as someone whose power went well beyond the status of his office.

Booth, he says, was a Shakespearean actor who saw Lincoln as …