Letter from William Henry Seward to Samuel Sweezey Seward, June 2, 1838

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Letter from William Henry Seward to Samuel Sweezey Seward, June 2, 1838



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Samuel Sweezey Seward, June 2, 1838

action: sent

sender: William Seward
Birth: 1801-05-16  Death: 1872-10-10

location: Auburn, NY

receiver: Samuel Seward
Birth: 1768-12-05  Death: 1849-08-24

location: Florida, NY

transcription: nrs 

revision: crb 2015-12-17

Page 1

Auburn June 2d 1838.
My dear Father,
I have just received your letter of May 30th- in – which
you give me the substance of certain conversations of Gen Wickham
Birth: 1772 Death: 1845-11-16

Capt Bailey
and others touching the New York & Erie Railroad with
^the^ somewhat free speculations ^of the Gentlemen^ concerning myself – You mention that I
ought to regard the communication as confidential – But I am sure
neither of those Gentlemen would say any thing to a father deraga-
tory of his son without expecting that it would be communicated
to him - And I cannot doubt that those Gentlemen would be
willing that your mind at least should be disabused of the preju-
dice their conversation might excite – You have then this explana-
tion for yourself – and it is submitted to your discretion whether
to communicate it to them – But of course it is not intended to be
published – or the
The first action I ever had on the subject of the
New York and Erie Railroad was in the year 1834 pending the
canvass for the election in which I was a candidate – A
letter was addressed to me by Gentlemen in Owego, to whom
I made a reply which was published, in all the newspapers
on the route of the road, and in which I explained a decided interest
in favor of the road. At this time I pledged to this and to the cause
of Internal Improvement generally a cordial support in what –
ever situation I might occupy – At that time I had no interest
of any kind in the Southern tier of counties or within eighty miles of
the route of the road – All my little property being as you know
situate here in a region where the road was regarded as a rival
Page 2

route to the great improvement then contemplated and since in part
made through the Northern counties.
My situation being in all respects the same except that I was not
then and did not expect I ever should be a candidate for public
office on the 14th October 1835 in an address delivered to my neighbors
at this place I held the language not only that this road ought to
be made but it ought to have all needed aid from the State –
see the 16th - 17th & 18th pages of the address herewith sent –
Until long after this time I never held communicatoin of any
kind with the N.Y. & ^E.^ Rail Road Company or any of its offices
or any person interested in it. I wrote and spoke as a citizen of
this state and an advocate for the whole system of Internal
Improvements –
In the year 1836 the Legislature made a conditional loan of
$3.000.000 in aid of the Company. But in relation to this measure
I was not consulted or honored with any attention by the
applicants or any other person – The work was commenced and
went on as you know but without any agency of mine or
consultation with me –
In the year 1835 say in May when all supposed the work was
proceeding under the most favorable success Messers Trumbull
Birth: 1786-08-11 Death: 1869-06-20
and Geo. W Lay
Birth: 1798-07-26 Death: 1860-10-21
my personal friends made a contract
with the Holland Co. to purchase their remaining interest in land
and contracts in Chautauqua Co. They proceeded to enforce the
collection of the debts. Excitement immediately arose – A mob assem-
bled and destroyed the land office and all the books branches
and securities, and then they were in imminent danger of being
Page 3

ruined, the People in that county and in all the other counties
on the Holland Purchase having determined not to pay their debts.
Just after this happened (which was in March) and about the first
of May Messers Cary and Lay and David E. Evans
Birth: 1788-03-19 Death: 1850-05-17
Agent of the
Holland Co. applied to me to undertake the settlement of
this unhappy affair – Being then in a successful practice
which I could not continue if I undertook the trust and which
was worth $4000 per year, I said I must be indemnified – They
offered me $ 25000 for settling the matter – My health was then
so much shattered that I accepted the appointment as agent
with the view to do what good I could and at the same
time recover my health if possible – The affair seemed me so safe
that I stipulated to have my $ 25000 invested in the purchase –
I went on and have settled the estate and am now relinquishing
my agency to the Holland Co. and the purchasers as you know.
This is ^all^ the interest I have in the ^out of this county^ lands and all the circumstances relating to it. It has been
During all this time I never held any communication with
The N.Y. & Erie R.R. Co. or any of its agents or Directors
in regard to the prosecution of the road or the routes, or the
Engineers or Directors – or agents –
Then in New York on my private business last September
I was informed by S. B. Ruggles Esq
Birth: 1800-04-11 Death: 1881-08-28
, that an effort would be
needed to review the road by a Convention to be held at Elmira
and I was requested to attend – I did so as a delegate from
Chautauqua Co-which was interested in the road and in
which personally and as an agent I had now become
interested – I there reported the resolutions and address adopted
by the convention – I send a copy of them – Whether my actions
every thing of property or character ^which is never^ I proper by my own labor and exertion - It is unaccompanied by anything that I have occasion
to regret or desire to conceal – It may for ought I can be called speculative or by any other reason but it would not be alleged
that it has been acquired by wrong or or that there is any saying about it it has been
as public as any other thing relating to me wherever I am known.
Page 4

on that and other occasions has been influential in procuring
the Legislative aid extended during the last session it is not
for me to determine – From that time I knew nothing further on the
subject of the road until Mr Eleazor Lord
Birth: 1778-09-09 Death: 1871-06-03
proposed to me to accept
an appointment as President of the R.R. Co. which proposition
I respectfully declined –
During the session of the Legislature I learned that Mr Samuel P. Lyman
Birth: 1804 Death: 1869

an old friend of mine living at Utica and who has property in
Cattaraugus or Allegany Co. would probably be appointed Com-
missioner to construct the Rail road – I heard nothing further
on the subject until I happened at Albany at the close
of the session after the bill for the relief of the Co. had passed
the Assembly and was in the Senate – I met Gen Wickham
and Capt Bailey there – and Mr Lyman and Mr Devereaux
Birth: 1798-05-01 Death: 1869-01-31

and I think Mr Lord - In compliance with their request and
my own sense of duty I cosponsered the support bill in any
shape to the friends I had in the senate –
I happened to be in New York after it passed - I was con-
sulted by all parties in the Company and out of it – I then
learned that as was natural to expect there were jealous-
sies on the subject of routes locations and terminations – I heard
both sides, I espoused some but as a friend of the improvement
and the whole system of Internal Improvements I required the
^members of the^ Board ^who consulted us^ to act promptly and firmly and energetically –
Some asked my opinion concerning Mr Lyman, I gave my opi-
nion that he was well qualified and an energetic perceiving
Page 5

and honorable high minded man- I know he is so – But
I repel any suspicion that I had any motive other than
that of the highest character and most disinterested in
what I have said for him or in any other act I have
done in the premises. Until this day I have never
heard from any man a question about the choice of
routes in Orange Co. I even scorned to inquire how
the routes would affect your interests there - and as
you well know am utterly ignorant of any local
feelings there – It is equally so in regard to Chautauqua
County – I have felt that I was in some sort a public
man and I should despise myself if I was capable
of a selfish motive in such a situation in regard to a work
of great public interest.
As to the Gentlemen referred to as the speculators
neither know anything t as fair and honorable men
nor I Have I any knowledge or belief any such danger
on their part as is imparted to them – I know “and believe ^firmly^ to the contrary, and nor I and I have no such
condition with them or influence over them as is supposed
I have never heard from any person any suggestion which
would warrant the influence of an intention to abandon
the Eastern section or to prosecute the Western at the
expense of the Eastern – Nor do I believe a word of it – So
far as Mr Lyman is concerned I have reason to
know that the suspicion is as unjust as it is dis –
honorable – For all that the N.Y. & Erie Rail road
Company has ever done – and for all it has neglected
to do I am perfectly irresponsible for I have never been
in its counsels or consulted in regard to a solitary measure.
Page 6

Those Gentlemen in Orange will doubtless take such course as they shall think most likely to advance the interests of the New York and Erie Rail Road I shall as heretofore as previous ruin– And
that will be to avail any interference in the affairs and payment of the company avoiding every thing calculated to disturb the harmony or undermine the confidence most undesirable to the County.
Any threats which the Gentlemen in question may indulge concerning me
Nothing which can be done with a view of personal hostility towards me or what may be supposed
Or what they supposemy political interests or expectations cannot
affect me – I think that they will find it ^it will not be found^ not a ^very^ easy thing to
convince the people of this ^part of the^ state that I am unworthy of their
confidence and respect to as an honorable and honest man –
and that is sufficient for most
But whether they shall accomplish that purpose or not they
cannot ^The Gentlemen could not^ do me a greater favor with whatever may be their
motive then to procure my release for the claim made
upon me ^by too partial friends^ to be a candidate of the Whig Party – nor can
they deprive me of the consciousness of having thus far faithfully
done my duty upon higher grounds and with higher motives
then any personal interest or ambition –
I have had enough of public office, and at so early an age
too, I thank God, as to know its actual value – I have had
experience enough too of political favor to estimate it at
its worth – I am thereupon not likely to be rendered unhappy
by the privations of the one or the withdrawal of the other –
I have deemed it right that Mr Lyman should be acquaint-
ed with the feelings of the Gentlemen to whom you refer, I
have therefor made a communication of that extent to him.
I doubt not he will give it all due attention and will act
as shall be just right and expedient as the previous –
Affectionately your son
W.H. Seward
S.S. Seward.
Page 7


Editorial Note

Transcribed as marginalia on page 6.

Page 8

Samuel S. Seward Esq.
Orange County
New York
Copy letter to
S.S. Seward June 3. 1838.