Lincoln’s Indispensable Man


Although Seward retired at the age of sixty-eight, in 1869, when Grant assumed the Presidency, he continued to be, as Frances had described him a quarter century earlier, “the most indefatigable of men.” He said, “At my age, and in my condition of health, ‘rest was rust,’ and nothing remained, to prevent rust, but to keep in motion.” Still suffering from pain in his face and neck, his hands crippled, and paralysis creeping up his arms, he went on a journey with his family on the newly opened transcontinental railroad—a cause that he had championed in the Senate—and then on to British Columbia, Alaska, Cuba, and Mexico. He returned home for five months before setting off for Japan, China, and Europe with the two daughters of an old political friend. There had been speculation that he would marry one of them, twenty-four-year-old Olive Risley, whom he had been seeing regularly in Washington. (One paper, alluding to the age difference, described Seward as “amiable, sportive, frisky, foxy.”) Instead, Seward adopted her, thus preëmpting any stories about the impropriety of travelling with two very young women. After the trip, he finally settled down in Auburn, where he worked with Olive on a book about their journeys, and received frequent visitors at home.

more from Dorothy Wickenden at The New Yorker here.