Sunday, February 02, 2014

William H. Seward on Slavery and "the Negro"

Mrs. Archibald Dixon, author of The Missouri Compromise and its Repeal (1899), included this description of a dinner party attended by Senator Seward and Senator Dixon (a Kentucky Whig) in early 1854:

     As usual the negro was under discussion, and Mr. Seward said to Mr. Dixon: "Your lands down there are too fine to be given over to such an inferior and degraded race as the negroes. There are too many poor white men in the North who want them, and we mean to have them." Said Mr. Dixon: "What, then, will you do with the negroes?" He replied: "We will drive them into the Gulf of Mexico, as we are driving the Indians into the Pacific Ocean. Set them free, and in fifty years there will not be a negro left!" Mr. Dixon exclaimed, "God! man, you ought to be hung!"
     The cruelty of the proposition shocked him, and his amazement was equal to his horror at hearing such a suggestion from a man whom he had supposed to be actuated, however mistakenly, by sentiments of humanity towards the negro. I can never forget Mr. Dixon's expression as he told me of the remark, and I could easily imagine the vehemence of feeling conveyed in his reply to Mr. Seward. (p. 239)
Allowing for the self-serving nature of the anecdote, on the parts both of Mr. and Mrs. Dixon, it offers an interesting perspective on Seward, then four years from his famed "irrepressible conflict" speech.