Seward joins the US Senate

Seward decided not to seek the governorship of New York in 1842. The political battles of the previous few years had exhausted him, and he decided that he needed to take a break. He returned to his law practice, where he made enough money to pay off several large debts that he had accumulated as governor.

By the mid-1840s, though, Seward's enthusiasm for politics had returned. In 1849, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where his criticism of slavery intensified. Alarmed at Southern efforts to expand slavery into America's western territories, he warned of a future war between the slavery-dependent South and the Northern states, where slavery was increasingly viewed as immoral. In the mid-1850s, Seward left the Whig Party, which was falling apart because of disagreements over slavery. He joined a new antislavery party known as the Republicans.

Within a matter of months, Seward emerged as one of the leading antislavery voices of the new party. On October 25, 1858, for example, he delivered a famous speech in Rochester, New York, where he warned of an approaching "irrepressible conflict" between the South's slave-based economy and the North's free labor economy. "The United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slave-holding nation or entirely a free-labor nation," he stated. "I know, and you know, that a revolution has begun. . . . While the government of the United States, under the conduct of the Democratic party, has been all that time surrendering one plain and castle after another to slavery, the people of the United States have been no less steadily and perseveringly [persistently] gathering together the forces with which to recover back again all the fields and castles that have been lost."

By 1860, Seward was completing his second full term as senator (he was reelected in 1855) and thinking about running for president of the United States. After all, he was one of America's best known political leaders, and he knew he could count on support from many influential Republican Party leaders. As the time drew near for Republicans to select their candidate for president in the fall 1860 elections, Se-ward was sure that he would win the nomination.

As it turned out, however, Seward did not receive the party's nomination. Some delegates (representatives) opposed him because of his past policies as New York governor. Others voted against him because they knew that Seward's strong an-tislavery reputation would make him unpopular with Southern voters. These factors enabled a relatively unknown politician named Abraham Lincoln to capture the Republican nomination for the presidency. Lincoln's victory shocked Seward and his supporters, as well as the rest of the nation. But after spending a few weeks at his home in Auburn, Seward actively campaigned for Lincoln's election.

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