William Seward & Anthony Eden

Abraham Lincoln and William H. Seward
William H. Seward (Mr. Lincoln & Friends)
William H. Seward (Mr. Lincoln & New York)

In their direction of the Civil War and World War II, Abraham Lincoln and Winston S. Churchill had two close collaborators on the civilian side of their governments – men who were charged with the conduct of foreign policy. In Lincoln’s cabinet, only two men served from the beginning of his government until his assassination. One was Secretary of State William H. Seward. The former New York State governor had spent the previous decade as one of its two U.S. senators. He was a leading opponent of slavery and had widely been expected to become the Republican presidential candidate in 1860 before Lincoln’s managers outmaneuvered Seward’s at the Republican National Convention at Chicago in May.

Eight decades later when Churchill became prime minister in 1940, the post of foreign secretary was already filled – by Lord Edward F. L. Halifax, who himself had been the leading alternative as a successor to discredited Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Eden recalled that soon after he was appointed prime minister, Churchill approached him about a position in the new government: “I told Mr. Churchill that I would do as he asked, but I knew that the position would be difficult. The state of the army was inglorious, through no fault of its own and, despite all my admiration for Churchill, I expected that relations with him might be choppy. In this I was unduly apprehensive, for he was indulgent to me and no two men could have worked more closely together.” Actually, it is clear from susbsequent comments by Eden and his aides that Churchill often annoyed, frustrated and aggravated Eden. Throughout the last half of 1940, Churchill repeatedly talked to Eden about a possible new cabinet post – possibly including returning to the Foreign Office. Eden wrote that at the end of July that “the Prime Minister asked me to talk to him alone. He spoke of a Government reconstruction, following on [former Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain’s illness. One alternative, he said, was to bring me into the War Cabinet but, from my own point of view, he thought I might prefer to stay where I was, since there was no more important work to be done anywhere. I said that I would much prefer to say at the War Office, and would be very sorry to be told to move, though I would do as he wished. Churchill agreed that I should remain.”

In 1940, many British Conservatives had a stronger affinity for Halifax than for Churchill, so the new prime minister wisely kept on Halifax as foreign secretary even though Halifax preferred negotiation to war with Germany. When death of the British ambassador opened up the Embassy post in Washington late in the year, Churchill saw the opportunity to move Halifax there. Anthony Eden had been Halifax’s predecessor in the foreign office, but he had resigned in the wake of the Munich agreement engineered by Chamberlain in 1938. In late 1940, Churchill pressed Halifax to take the Washington post against him his own desires – and particularly against the wishes of Halifax’s wife. As one official wrote in his diary , she “realised P.M.’s object really was to get rid of H.” But Churchill was persuasive, arguing, “you are, I am sure, the one person best qualified for this paramount duty.” That fall, Halifax had effectively blocked Eden from being named to top posts in the Churchill government, but once he departed for Washington, Eden was free to resume his old job. For the rest of the war, Eden was Churchill’s most important partner in foreign affairs and negotiations. He was increasingly considered the leading candidate to succeed Churchill as the top Conservative Party leader. Indeed, Churchill privately acknowledge him as such. Historian David Dutton wrote: “For a total of about seventeen years, punctuated by a short interval around the outbreak of the Second World War, Anthony Eden was widely regarded as Britain’s ‘next Prime Minister’. With such a lengthy record as heir apparent, first to Chamberlain and then to Churchill, he was understandably often described as a natural ‘number two’.”

While Seward’s career was clearly entering its twilight years, Eden’s star was still on the ascendant. While Lincoln colleagues like Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase retained the presidential bug, Seward effectively renounced such goals. Indeed in 1861, he told supporters that he did so in order that “the counsels that I might give the president in such a crisis should not be, but recognized as being, loyal and patriotic.” Previous to the Civil War, William H. Seward and Abraham Lincoln had a superficial and occasionally antagonistic relationship. “Before taking Seward into his administration, Lincoln had expressed as much admiration for the New Yorker as for any other public man,” noted historian Norman B. Ferris. “Seward, for his part, developed great respect and affection for the ungainly Illinois lawyer.” Only reluctantly did Seward agree under pressure to accept the office of secretary of state in early 1861. There were struggles in March over diplomatic appointments as Lincoln devoted himself to filling patronage posts as the crisis over Fort Sumter in Charleston intensified and the need for reenforcements increased. “Seward’s influence has been defeated, and I am master of the battlefield. There is rejoicing wherever the report has gone,” wrote an overly self-congratulatory Carl Schurz, an ambitious German-American Republican who won diplomatic appointment to Spain over Seward’s objections. Lincoln was concerned that German-American Republicans feel that they had been rewarded for their support.

At first, Seward himself was privately critical of the President, telling Charles Francis Adams that the president possessed “no conception of his situation – much absorption in the details of office dispensation, but little application to great ideas.” Adams was himself disillusioned when he was thanked President Lincoln for his appointment as U.S. minister to Great Britain: “Very kind of you to say so Mr Adams, but you are not my choice. You are Seward’s man.” During this period, Seward clearly saw himself as Lincoln’s superior, and sought to manipulate negotiations with Confederate representatives in Washington who were seeking recognition of the Confederacy. Historian Russell McClintock wrote that Seward’s “primary concern was to encourage unionism in the border slave states, where loyalists feared infection from the secession fever that was spreading so rapidly through the Deep South.” At Cabinet meetings, Seward strongly opposed resupplying Fort Sumter and hoped to make Fort Pickens in Florida the point of Union resistance. In many ways in March and early April 1861, Seward was acting continuing to Lincoln’s policies. Years later, Charles Francis Adams, Jr. wrote that Seward at first “thought Lincoln a clown, a clod, and planned to steer him by…indirection, subtle maneuvering, astute wriggling and plotting, crooked paths. He would be Prime Minister; he would seize the reins from a nerveless President; keep Lincoln separated from other Cabinet officers – [hold] as few Cabinet meetings as possible; overawe and browbeat Welles and Cameron – get the War Navy and State [departments] really under his own control.”

Seward’s effrontery marked the first six weeks of the Lincoln administration. Seward heavily involved himself in the negotiations with Confederate representatives, with operations of the Navy and War Departments, with efforts to send supply ships to Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens. He also seemed to deliberately antagonize English, French, Russian and Spanish governments and developed a reputation for belligerency reenforced by his prewar remarks. Historian Edward S. Mihalkanin wrote: ‘The situation Seward faced as secretary of state was unprecedented. Even before the Civil War began, but after the first seven states had seceded, many Europeans were toasting the ‘immortal smash’ and predicting that the United States could never be cobbled together again. Seward, aware of European Opinion thought the United States could indeed be cobbled together if war between the United States and a European power threatened.” On April 1, Seward sent Lincoln a memorandum in which he suggested that the United States reunite its secessionist South by provoking a war with Europe. He also suggested not so subtly that if Lincoln was not prepared to run the government and he was willing to do so. President Lincoln drafted a careful, thoughtful response, but it may not have sent to the secretary of state. Historian William E. Gienapp wrote: “That Lincoln was able to reply to this letter without offending the secretary or losing his support was testimony to his extraordinary tact. Passing over in silence Seward’s fantastic scheme for a foreign war, he noted that his policy did not differ much from Seward’s, except that he did not propose to surrender Fort Sumter.”

Eventually, at Seward’s recommendation, the Lincoln Administration settled on a policy of blockade of the Confederacy even though some advisors such as Navy Secretary Gideon Welles recommended a different course. Seward believed that only a specifically labeled blockade would keep European governments out of the conflict. Welles, perhaps jealous of the Lincoln-Seward relationship, later wrote: “At the commencement of the Administration he assumed, apparently, that he was – the premier – the Acting President, and that his colleagues in the cabinet occupied positions subordinate to him. The President never a presuming man and without much administrative experience deferred greatly to Mr. Seward whose characteristics were in some respect the opposite of his. Without hesitation the secretary of state was ready to direct the movements of other branches of government sometimes without even consulting the heads of the Departments interested and in this matter was, until checked, involving the Administration in confusion.” Comparing Secretary of State Seward to President Lincoln, Gideon Welles later observed:

“The Secretary of State had, with higher culture and scholastic attainments, quickness of apprehension, wonderful facility and aptness in adapting himself to circumstances and exigencies which he could not control, and a fertility in expedients, with a dexterity in adopting or dismissing plans and projected schemes, unsurpassed; qualities which made him an acceptable companion, if not always a safe adviser, but never the superior and controlling executive mind. His training and habit were partisan, and his acts often impulsive; but, accustomed through his whole official life to consult a faithful friend, to whose judgment and guidance he deferred, he had not in great emergencies the self-reliance, energy, will, and force of character which are essential to a truly great and strong executive. He sometimes acted rashly, not always wisely, But if he had not the will which is necessary for a chief, he had the sustaining qualities which are valuable in serving a capable leader with whom he might be identified. He was subordinate to Abraham Lincoln, and deferred to him as he had deferred to Thurlow Weed…”

At some point in April 1861 Seward’s attitude toward Lincoln changed. The secretary of state wrote his wife in early June: “The President is the best of us; but he needs constant and assiduous cooperation.” Lincoln and Seward began to work in tandem. Lincoln aide William O. Stoddard recalled that Seward “was sometimes a gloomy messenger; but he was always diplomatically cheerful about it, and nobody could tell by his face but what he was bringing good news.” Historian David H. Donald noted that in May 1861, President Lincoln closely edited a dispatch from Seward protesting any British contact with Confederate commissioners. Donald wrote: “Reluctantly Seward accepted most of the changes that Lincoln directed and toned down his most belligerent statements….After that episode, which clearly established that the President, not the Secretary of State, directed American policy, Lincoln and Seward worked together as useful friends.”

Seward’s relationship with Lincoln soon began to cause jealousy with others like Secretaries Chase and Welles. The December 1862 revolt by Senate Republicans was a clear challenge to Lincoln’s authority – turning aside the attempt to exert legislative control of the executive branch. The president was unwilling to sacrifice Seward to pacify Radical Republicans. Assistant Secretary of State Frederick W. Seward recalled; “At the time of the senatorial cabinet crisis [Senator Ira] Harris came in to the State Department on Saturday Morning, rubbing his hands and smiling. ‘Well, said he, that affair is coming out all right. I have just had a talk with the President who told me he had received the resignation of Mr. Chase. ‘Now,’ said Lincoln, ‘I can ride: I have a pumpkin in each end of my bag.” Lincoln held but refused both resignations.

Not only cabinet colleagues were jealous of Seward; so was Mrs. Lincoln who was told, according to Attorney General Edward Bates, that “Seward is working to undermine Lincoln and make himself the chief figure in the administration.” Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote that Seward spent “a considerable portion of every day with the President, patronizing and instructing him, hearing and telling anecdotes, relating interesting details of occurrences in the Senate, and inculcating his political party notions. I think he has not very profound or sincere convictions. Cabinet meetings, which should. at that exciting and interesting period, have been daily, were infrequent, irregular and without system.” Welles wrote that in the rivalry with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, “Seward made constant mistakes, but recovered with a facility that was wonderful and almost always without injury to himself.”

Union army officer Erasmus Keyes, an aide to General Winfield Scott, recalled that “although [Seward] was my professed friend, I find greater difficulty in defining his character satisfactorily to myself. It is certain that he was a man of more than ordinary talents, laborious and full of ambition in civil life, but not inclined to martial exploits. He abounded in words, both spoken and written, but his reasoning was not conclusive because his judgment was not positive. He was convinced that there was an irrepressible conflict between freedom and slavery, but he failed to foresee clearly the necessary termination of that conflict in civil war. He made a speech in Wall Street, in the autumn of 1860, to prove that all the disputes between the North and the South would be amicably settled in sixty days, and recommended the merchants to continue their commerce. After the civil war commenced he said it could have been avoided if his advice had been followed….He was faithful in all his trusts, but he did not equal in genius the greatest men of his time. After my return from New York on the 18th of March, I observed that he had lost all hope of a national reconciliation, and he originated the idea of reinforcing Fort Pickens and pursued it with an unqualified zeal. His disposition had become entirely belligerent, and his conduct thereafter in his office of Secretary of State was such as entitled him to rank with the noblest patriots.” Seward could indeed be imperious. General Egbert Viele recalled that “Seward came in with some important dispatches and took his seat alongside the President just as I had handed him the paper I wanted him to look at. Secretary Seward, with an air of impatience, took it out of the President’s hand and handed it back to me, saying ‘Some other time; I have important business with the President.’ Mr. Lincoln said: ‘Not so fast, Seward,’ taking back the document from him; ‘I want to hear what Viele has to say about this matter.”

Seward’s skill and wisdom was reflected in November and December 1861 when two Confederate diplomats were seized from a British mail ship, the Trent, – threatening war with Britain. Seward had a reputation as a belligerent – anxious to offend Britain and push it into war. American opinion strongly applauded the action. Freeing the two men would run against political opinion in the North. Seward deftly tried to gauge British intentions, the basis for the seizure in international law, and the political risks of releasing the Confederates. He also tried to give the Lincoln Administration as much breathing room in which to make a decision. In his memo to President Lincoln, Seward wrote:

The question before us Is, whether this proceeding was authorized by and conducted according to the law of nations. It involves the following inquiries:

1st. Were tho persons named aud their supposed despatches contraband of war?
2nd. Might Captain [Charles] Wilkes lawfully stop and search the Trent for these contraband persons and despatches f
3d. Did he exercise that right in a lawful and proper manner?
4th. Having found the contraband persons on board and in presumed possession of the contraband dispatches, had he a right to capture the persons?
5th. Did he exercise that right of capture in the manner allowed and recognized by the laws of nations?

If all these inquires shall be resolved in the affirmative the British government will have no claim for reparation.

While Seward constructed the case for relinquishing the prisoners, Lincoln constructed a counter case for their retention. The president recognized that Seward prepared the far more persuasive arguments. Seward understood the political repercussions would be directed at him. Seward told political mentor Thurlow Weed, whom he had earlier sent to France and England as a informal emissary: “You will hardly be more able to shield me from the reproaches for doing it, than you have been able to shield me in England for the reproaches of hostility to that country, and designs for war against it.”

As the Civil War progressed, so did the relationship between Lincoln and Seward. New Jersey politician James Scovel recalled that on “Sunday morning from ten to twelve o’clock was usually accorded to the secretary of State and the presidential barber. Mr. Lincoln knew whom to trust, and many a solemn conclave was held in this historical room between two men who held in their hand the fate of a nation. It was as good as a liberal education to hear the, with the simplicity of children, discuss he events of the day, when half a million men stood fronting each other on the battle-field. Mr. Seward in conversation was slow and methodical till warmed up, when he was one of the most eloquent of talkers. No statesman in the country had a vaster range of reading or wider experience in the management of public affairs. The impression following an hour with Seward and Lincoln was surprise that two men seemingly so unlike in habit of thought and manner of speech could act in such absolute and perfect accord. I doubt if they ever seriously disagreed.”

Unlike Anthony Eden – and unlike his cabinet colleagues Edward Bates, Salmon P. Chase and Gideon Welles – Seward declined to keep a diary of his actions. At first, Seward decided to do so but followed the practice for only one day before returning the diary to his son: “One’s day’s record satisfies me that if I should every day set down my hasty impressions, based on half information, I should do injustice to everybody around me, and to none more than my most intimate friends.” What Seward did do – controversially – was annually to publish diplomatic correspondence, embarrassing though many thought that practice to be.

In some ways, Lincoln and Seward reversed the relationship that Churchill had with Eden. It was Seward like Churchill who had the longer and more impressive political resume. It was Seward whose controversial comments had been a lightening rod in the 1850s. It was Seward who smoked cigars. It was Seward who loved cats. It was Seward who liked to drink sherry and wine. Seward was described by journalist Noah Brooks as “affable and pleasant, accessible…smoking cigars always, ruffled or excited never, astute, keen to perceive a joke, appreciate of a good thing, and fond of ‘good victuals.” Seward once “wondered how any man could ever get to be President of the United States with so few vices. The President….I regret to say, neither drinks nor smokes.” Lincoln for his part once said that “Mr. Seward is limited to a couple of stories which from repeating he believes are true.” Seward biographer Walter Stahr wrote that “Lincoln and Seward were so close that they could laugh at one another as well as with one another.” They lived close enough to each other that laughing was easy. Seward’s proximity to the White House was an advantage in his relationship with President Lincoln. Seward’s rented house was across the street from the White House, facing Lafayette Park.

Lincoln’s relationship with Seward was reflected in a story told by Union army officer James Grant Wilson about a trip they made to visit the Union army across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia: “An ambulance drawn by four mules was provided. When the party arrived on the Virginia side of the river, where the roads were rough and badly cut by artillery and army trains, the driver had so much difficulty with the team, in his efforts to prevent the wheels dropping into the ruts, that he lost his temper and began to swear; the worse the roads became, the greater his profanity. At last the President said, in his pleasant manner: ‘Driver, my friend, are you an Episcopalian?’ Greatly astonished, the man made answer: ‘No, Mr. President, I ain’t much of anything; but if I go to church at all, I go to the Methodist Church.’ ‘Oh, excuse me,’ replied Lincoln, with a smile, and a twinkle in his eye; ‘I thought you must be an Episcopalian for you swear just like Secretary Seward, and he’s a churchwarden!’”

Many of Seward’s efforts were directed to avoid European recognition of the Confederate government. Europeans “have misunderstood things fearfully, in Europe. Great Britain is in great danger of sympathizing so much with the South, for the sake of peace and cotton, as to drive us to make war against her, as the ally of the traitors.” In addition to foreign affairs, Seward also assumed the roles of espionage coordinator and civil liberties czar. Seward early became a lightening rod for criticism – from both within and outside the Lincoln Administration. Arrests of civilians, conflict with European governments, conflict within the Lincoln cabinet – all were laid at Seward’s doorstep.

Seward also had his admirers – such as Lincoln’s secretaries John G. Nicolay and John Hay. “Seward had acumen and generosity enough to see that this goodness of heart,” wrote John Hay after the Civil War, “which everyone talked about, was the least of Lincoln’s claims to respect. There were many distinguished people who would go to the White House with the intention of patting the President on the head, and who generally came away confused and dissatisfied at finding he stood six feet four in his slippers. Seward was the first man who recognized this, and from the beginning of the Administration to that dark and terrible hour when they were both struck down by the hand of murderous treason, there was no shadow of jealousy or doubt ever disturbed their mutual confidence and regard.” John Palmer Usher, who served as the second secretary of the interior under President Lincoln, recalled: “When I came to know more of Mr. Seward, and saw the relations existing between him and Mr. Lincoln I grew to love him. He was a man of the very kindest feelings. One might have supposed he would feel resentful at his defeat in Chicago and willing to see Mr. Lincoln making, at times, a spectacle of himself, for Mr. Lincoln was not well versed in the amenities of life; but I assure you that whenever foreign ambassadors were to meet Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Seward was careful that he should make no mistakes and should appear to the very best advantage. When a foreign minister was to be presented to Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Seward always suggested to him in advance, what he should say, where he should stand, and how he should act. He was a man who would do all that, when the nation was in a manner dissolved.” Usher added: “I never saw him show any resentment…he said he believed he had character enough to withstand the calumnies then afloat against him and that he would apologize to no man or set of men for his habits.”

Despite his reputation for radical opposition to slavery in the 1850s, Seward was widely considered one of the most conservative members of the Lincoln administration given his attempts to reconcile North and South before the attack on Fort Sumter. Seward was a convenient scapegoat for those who repeatedly pushed for his resignation. Seward had doubts about the wisdom and timing of the Emancipation Proclamation. He may have tried to change history after the fact, contending that he said in July 1862: “I approve it, Mr. President, just as it stands. I approve of it in principle, and approve of the policy of issuing it. I only object to the time. Send it out now, on the heels of our late disaster, and it will be construed as the convulsive struggle of a drowning man. To give it proper weight, you should reserve it until some victory.” Seward did write American diplomats that the proclamation was “just and proper as a military proceeding for the relief of the country from a desolating and exhausting civil war.” Union officer Donn Piatt, meeting William H. Seward on the street on the morning immediately after the issuing of the preliminary proclamation of emancipation, complimented Seward for his share in the act, whereupon the following colloquy ensued:

“Yes,” said Seward, “we have let off a puff of wind over an accomplished fact.”
“What do you mean, Mr. Seward?”
“I mean that the emancipation proclamation was uttered in the first gun fired at Sumter and we have been the last to hear it. As it is, we show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”

Seward took the lead in raising fresh Union troops in the summer of 1862 – working from New York to get approval for a letter from governors to the president asking Lincoln to raise more troops. Where political dexterity was required, Lincoln frequently called on Seward. Lincoln relied on Seward to corral the votes need to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in January 1865. Seward biographer Walter Stahr wrote: “Seward had to look beyond just the Republican Party, because there were not enough Republicans in the House to provide the two-thirds majority required. The only way to obtain approval would be to persuade some northern Democrats and some border state Unionists to vote in favor, or at least to absent themselves and thereby reduce the number of votes necessary to reach a two-thirds majority.” Seward assembled a crew of arm-twisters led by Tennessee lobbyist William Bilbo. As Stahr wrote: “Seward was the leader of the effort to persuade reluctant representatives, and for this purpose he assembled a team of lobbyists, many with tarnished reputations. One of these lobbyists, William Bilbo, a colorful Tennessee lawyer, while working for Seward among the New York City Democrats, was arrested by General John Dix on suspicion of being a rebel agent, and only released after Seward obtained an order from Lincoln. There is considerable evidence that Seward and his lobbyists talked about using bribes to secure the votes of Democratic members of Congress, one even wrote Seward that he ‘had no doubt’ about passing the amendment because ‘money will certainly do it, if patriotism fails.’ Yet there is little evidence that bribes were paid….There is better evidence that Lincoln and Seward offered to reward editors and members of Congress with appointments if they would write or vote in favor of the amendment.”

From the outset of his term as prime minister, Winston Churchill wanted to appoint Anthony Eden as foreign minister but Halifax did not want to give up the post. Churchill had been upset in February 1938 when Eden had resigned as foreign secretary in the Chamberlain government over British talks with Italy. Churchill recalled: “From midnight till dawn I lay in my bed consumed by emotions of sorrow and fear. There seemed one strong young figure standing up against long, dismal, drawling tides of drift and surrender, of wrong measurements and feeble impulses. My conduct of affairs would have been different from his in various ways, but he seemed to me at this moment to embody the life-hope of the British nation, the grand old British race that had done so much for men, and had yet some more to give. Now he was gone. I watched the daylight slowly creep in through the windows, and saw before me in mental gaze the vision of Death.”

After Chamberlain resigned from the War Cabinet in September 1940, Churchill wanted to shift Halifax to Chamberlain’s position as Lord President and replace him as foreign secretary with Eden. Halifax, however, did not want to move and Halifax advised against making Eden “Lord President.” Halifax argued that John Anderson had a more “orderly mind.” Eden wrote in his diary on September 30: “Found him [Churchill] depressed because Max [Beaverbrook] is suffering from asthma and will not take on Supply which is in a mess. This was holding up all his arrangements. I told him that if he wished for help in defence I was ready to do anything I could, even to give up War Office to be Lord President. I would then sit with Chiefs of Staff and him on Defence Committee, and could perhaps relieve him of much. Winston appeared to like this. He reiterated that he was now an old man, that he would not make Lloyd George’s mistake of carrying on after the war, that the succession must be mine. John Anderson could clearly not ‘be in the way’ in this respect.” Sending Halifax to Washington had the benefit of allowing Eden to return to his old post at the Foreign Office while allowing Churchill to further dominate foreign policyh. Churchill aide John Colville noted: “There was no question of Churchill leaving Eden an entirely free hand, for he conducted relations with America personally and he interfered as and when he chose with any aspect of foreign policy that took his fancy.”

For Eden, it was frustrating. In late 1941, Eden complained to his private secretary “how difficult the PM was: in spite of splendid qualities as a popular leader, he had a devastating effect on planning.” In February 1942, Eden apparently saw an opportunity to succeed Churchill – only to be blocked by the prime minister’s deft manueuvering. After the fall of Singapore, Churchill was under pressure to reorganize his government – and also to change the arrangement by which he was both prime minister and minister of defence. Eden agreed with the appointment of a “separate M of D,” according to the diary of Foreign Office functionary Oliver Harvey. Still Eden, “proposed to say we must all rally round PM and try to strengthen the Government.” But Eden was playing too cautious a game with Churchill, who appointed Clement Attlee as deputy prime minister and then appointed Stafford Cripps as leader of the House of Commons when Eden hesitated to take that role. Eden biographer David Carlton wrote: “Eden’s punishment for pressing unwelcome changes on Church had thus been to face the rapid build-up of both Attlee and Cripps as potential long-term successors. Nor had the Prime Minister yet run out of resources in his vigorous campaign to discourage Eden from moving against him. Having on several previous occasions told Eden that he was his heir in the event of his sudden death, Churchill now let him know that he could not after all count on succeeding.”

Still, Churchill maintained the structure of a special relationship with Eden. “Except for you and me, this is the worst Government England ever had!” Churchill told Eden in September 1943. About 10 months later, Churchill told Eden: “You and I have some heavy burdens to bear together.” Historian David Dilks wrote that in 1942, “King George VI was advised by Churchill that in the event of his death, Eden should become Prime Minister because he was the outstanding minister in the government. In his turn, the King, rightly judging that ‘He is so to speak, your Second-in-Command in many respects’, argued strongly that Churchill should not let Eden go to India as Viceroy. Eden too had a strong interest in military affairs, broadly defined, and a brave fighting record. This was generally a sure passport to Churchill’s heart.”

Eden’s responsibilities were exhausting Historian David Dilks wrote that “the combination of endless hours of duty in the House of Commons, where Eden’s gifts of conciliation and readiness in debate shone, and the never-ceasing, critical business of the Foreign Office proved exhausting, almost killing, in 1944, Eden confessed he was so weary that he hardly cared what happened so long as he could shed one office or the other.” Biographer David Carlton noted that Eden’s effectiveness in his two jobs was lessened by his inability to devote sufficient attention to either. Eden found the job physically grueling, and on one occasion in early 1944 Churchill had to assume the duties of Foreign secretary as Eden recovered his strength. Alexander Cadogan, the deputy to Anthony Eden at the Foreign Office, decreed when Eden took a health leave early in the spring of 1944: “Shall have an awful fortnight with the P.M. in charge” of the Foreign Office. A few days later, Cadogan noted after a cabinet meeting in April 1944: “P.M., I fear, is breaking down. He rambles without a pause.”

Churchill worked hard on relationships he considered important – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, Averell Harriman. But Churchill also monopolized those relations – rather than delegating them to Eden. Foreign Secretary Eden was, moreover, less enamored with Americans than Churchill. Biographer David Dutton noted that Eden “believed that too close an association with the United States could only compromise national autonomy.” But there was another problem, noted Dutton. Eden at least knew what Churchill was thinking. “Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, did not cover the same range of business as Eden and was often kept woefully ignorant by the President of crucial developments in the war.” So it was more difficult for him to develop the kinds of Anglo-American relationship that Churchill had with FDR.

Maintaining such relationships was generally a chore that Churchill warmly embraced (except when it came to dealing with Charles de Gaulle). Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert wrote: “On his first day in Cairo [December 4, 1943], Churchill had welcomed the Turkish President, Ismet Inönö on December 4. ‘They could come in mufti. It was important to diminish the risk which would arise when the Germans attacked.’” Eden remembered: “On the airfield President Inönö embraced Mr Churchill in farewell. This attention delighted the Prime Minister, who said as we drove back into Cairo: ‘Did you see, Ismet kissed me.’ My reply, perhaps rather ungracious, was that as this seemed to be the only gain from fifteen hours of hard argument, it was not much to be pleased with. Mr Churchill said no more to me, but that night, when he went to bed he remarked to his daughter Sarah: “Do you know what happened to me today, the Turkish President kissed me. The truth is I’m irresistible. But don’t tell Anthony, he’s jealous.’” In truth, Eden did not embrace Churchill’s initiative with Turkey.

Eden was often at Churchill’s side – at home and abroad. American General Dwight D. Eisenhower recalled: “All these things called for constant conferences, usually with members of the tactical staffs and services in Great Britain but frequently also with the Prime Minister. During this time, at his request, I fell into the habit of meeting with the Prime Minister twice each week. On Tuesdays we would have luncheon at 10 Downing Street, usually present at which were one or more members of the British Chiefs of Staff or the War Cabinet. On Friday nights I would have dinner with him at his country house, Chequers, and this would sometimes be prolonged into an overnight stay, during which there would be an unending series of meetings with officials, both military and civil. Almost always the Foreign Minister, Mr. Anthony Eden, was present.” Like Churchill, Eden did a great deal of travelling – with and without Churchill. Historian David Dilks wrote: “Between 1940 and 1945, as Secretary of State for War and foreign Secretary, Eden travelled to Ankara, Washington and Quebec twice, Athens and Moscow thrice, Cairo four times; he attended the conferences at Tehran, Yalta, San Francisco and Potsdam, and with Cordell Hull participated in the meeting of Foreign Ministers at Moscow in the autumn of 1943, when Britain and the United States came more nearly into harmony about post-war issues than at any later day.” Historian Angus Calder wrote of Eden : “Almost throughout the war, he was the minister most popular with the general public, primarily because of a youthful face which would have commanded good money in Hollywood. As Dominions Secretary, Secretary for War and Foreign Secretary, he could do little which affected the man in the street, who could therefore lay no grievance at his door.”

Churchill frequently thought he could do everyone else’s job – better. Churchill’s physician noted a brief interchange with Anthony Eden on the sudden trip to rescue Greece at the end of 1944: “As I was waiting for breakfast Eden passed through the cabin on his way to see the P.M., who had apparently sent him a message that he was going ashore forthwith to see the Archbishop. Eden, a little wearily: ‘I do wish he’d let me do my own job.’” Churchill naturally thought he knew more about foreign policy that Eden. “Never forget that Bolsheviks are crocodiles,” Churchill told Eden in 1944. Churchill seldom did believe that he knew more about foreign policy than the entire Foreign Office. “As Foreign Secretary in wartime Eden had to work within parameters set by Churchill,” wrote biographer David Dutton. “Churchill, like Prime Ministers before and since, considered himself blessed with an assured grasp of the central questions of diplomacy and was little inclined to give way to the supposed professions of the Foreign Office. He had ‘studied Europe for forty years. The Foreign Office were always on small points like chrome and ships in Sweden.’”

The ever-loyal Eden was Churchill’s ever-obvious heir-apparent. A key Foreign Office aide to Eden told Churchill’s doctor: “Of course Anthony always gave way to Winston. We were often furious with at the F.O. He would return and say Winston had been very nice to him and they had agreed. But this was because he cannot bear scenes or any sort of unpleasantness. However, when his mind is made up on a policy, no one sticks to it with the same tenacity as Anthony.” Historian David Dutton noted that Eden’s “admiration was never unqualified. Churchill’s hours of work were not to Eden’s liking and Eden could still voice doubts about Churchill’s judgement and even express his view that ‘Winston would be a better P.M. if he did not try to argue the details of war himself’.” Eden was long-suffering, existing in the shadow of a man whom he fully expected to succeed, and who frequently usurped his prerogatives. Historian David Dilks noted that Eden in 1944 “asked if the Cabinet had confidence in him, reflected that when any new hare was raised Churchill could not resist chasing it across many fields, and at another meeting of the War Cabinet in January 1945, made a scene: ‘What’s the good of a Foreign Secretary who isn’t even trusted to draft a telegram?’ He said that he was fed up and would resign, but calmed down.”

Eden himself could be temperamental. Churchill aide John Colville wrote about one incident: “The telephone rang and, answering it, I was I was subjected to a torrent of hysterical rage by Eden about a paper from [Professor Frederick] Lindemann which Churchill had sent him. This paper flatly denied certain Foreign Office assertions about the starvation facing Europe. Eden told me in tones of almost falsetto fury that he would resign if inexpert, academic opinions were sought on matters to which he, as Foreign Secretary, had given much thought.” Eden carried an additional burden into World War II. Historian Richard Holmes observed that Eden “was crippled by survivor guilt from being the only field officer of his battalion neither killed nor wounded at Deville Wood in 1916. He wished for a strong foreign policy but shrank from its cost, and his obsession with defeating Italy may have been a compensation for an unconfessed fear of confronting Germany.”

In October 1943, Eden had talks with Josef Stalin in Moscow: “I said that as the Marshal well knew my Prime Minister was just as keen on hurting Hitler as he was. M. Stalin fully acknowledged this but added with a gust of laughter that Mr Churchill had a tendency to take the easy road for himself and leave the difficult jobs to the Russians. I refused to acknowledge this and referred to the difficulties of naval operations and our recent heavy losses in destroyers.” As with other colleagues and subordinates, Churchill could be demanding with Eden. Dr. Charles Wilson recorded a conversation at the end of a long day at the Teheran Conference on December 1,1943. “Where is Eden?” he said with great impatience. ‘I want Eden.’”

I had seen him talking in the banqueting room, so [Sergeant] Kinnear was sent to tell him that the P.M. wanted to s ee him. He delayed coming upstairs for a few minutes.
“Where is Mr. Eden?” the P.M. shouted. ‘Tell him I want to see him at once on most urgent business, and less talking there,’ he said sharply to a little group at the end of the stairs…..

Even Churchill allies like Eden regularly complained about Churchill’s dominance of war planning. In early June 1944, Eden and Churchill had a major fight over the future administration of France. In the wee hours of June 7, Eden was summoned to Churchill’s bedside: “Argument continued for forty-five minutes, perhaps longer. I was accused of trying to break up the Government, of stirring up the press on the issue. He said that nothing would induce him to give way, that de Gaulle must go. Said I had no right to ‘bully’ him at a time like this and much more. There would be a Cabinet tomorrow. House of Commons would back him against de Gaulle and me and any of Cabinet who sided with me, etc. etc. FDR and he would fight the world. I told him that I heard that Fernard had arrived with a personal message from FDR to de Gaulle. He did not like that. I didn’t lose my temper and I think that I gave as good as I got. Anyway I didn’t budge an inch.”

Churchill worked out his thoughts through spirited discussion, often with Eden. In Moscow in October 1944, he and Churchill discussed possible recognition of a civilian government in France, for example. Eden called it “the drip drip of water on a stone.” In his memoirs, Eden wrote: “My pessimism was exaggerated for no one was wiser than Mr Churchill in giving weight to arguments which he had resisted at the time if, on later reflection, he judged them sound.” After a ten-day visit to Moscow in October 1944, Churchill wired Stalin: “Eden and I have come away from the Soviet Union refreshed and fortified by the discussions which we had with you, Marshal Stalin and with your colleagues.” Eden and Churchill became a team, albeit a less harmonious one than that of Lincoln and Seward.

By 1864, Secretary Seward had become one of Lincoln’s strongest and most loyal reelection supporters – as well as most important ally in the prosecution of the Civil War.. “A complicated and occasionally devious person, Seward was one of the political giants of his generation,” wrote biographer John M. Taylor. “As secretary of state during the Civil War, he fended off — through a combination of threats and cajolery – foreign intervention until the Union victory at Gettysburg made such intervention clearly inadvisable.” James M. Scovel recalled meeting with Lincoln and Seward in February 1864 when supporters of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase were conspiring to replace President Lincoln with Chase. Seward reflected on attacks on him in New York City newspapers: “I am sure if it pleased the newspaper it does not hurt me. These assaults on you and me remind me of what the Prince de Conde said to Cardinal de Retz in Paris when the latter expressed his surprise at a pile of abusive pamphlets lying on the French statesman’s table. ‘Don’t these bitter and unjust assaults on your fair fame disturb your slumbers Conde?’ ‘Not in the least, cardinal,’ said the prince. ‘The wretches who write these diatribes know that if they were in our places they would be doing themselves just the base things falsely endeavor to fasten on us.’” President paused before commenting: “Yes, Mr. Secretary, the prince’s point was well taken.” Even when other Lincoln friends were predicting Lincoln’s defeat, Seward remained confident of victory. In a speech in his hometown of Auburn shortly before the 1864 election, Seward forecast that after Lincoln’s reelection, there would be peace commissioners from the South who would say: “Father Abraham, we have sinned before God and against our brethren. We repent our error; we disavow and offer up the traitors who have led us into crime. Extend your protection over us, and give us one more peace and communion with you at our altars and our firesides.”

In February 1865, Seward was sent by Lincoln to meet with Confederate peace representatives at Fort Monroe, Virginia. At the last minute, Lincoln changed his mind and joined Seward at the impromptu conference at Hampton Roads – which Lincoln knew would lead nowhere but which he needed to control without alienating either moderate or radical Republicans. Two months later on April 5, Seward took a carriage ride his family. Anaccident threw the secretary of state violently to the ground – breaking his right army and his jaw in two places. His life was considered in jeopardy. On his return from the Richmond war front, President Lincoln went directly to the home of William H. Seward, across from the White House where he spent an hour with the injured Secretary of State. Seward’s son remembered that “the gas-lights were turned down low, and the house was still, every one moving softly, and speaking in whispers.”

“You are back from Richmond?’ whispered Seward, who was hardly able to articulate.
‘Yes,’ said Lincoln, ‘and I think we are near the end, at last.’
Then leaning his tall form across the bed, and resting on his elbow, so as to bring his face near that of the wounded man, he gave him an account of his experiences ‘at the front’…They were left together for half an hour or more. Then the door opened softly, and Mr. Lincoln came out gently, intimating by a silent look and gesture that Seward had fallen into a feverish slumber. It was their last meeting.

Seward’s condition slowly improved as the assassination plot matured to murder Lincoln, Seward, and Vice President Andrew Johnson. Ten days later on April 14, Seward was nearly assassinated by Louis Powell who slashed son Frederick Seward and a male nurse as well as Seward before fleeing. It was days later that Seward observed the American flag at half staff and realized that his friend had been killed. Within weeks, Seward’s wife, always sickly, had also passed away. Then in October 1866, Seward’s beloved daughter Fanny also died. Seward himself would remain at his post through the trials of President Andrew Johnson.

“I must retire soon,” Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said. “Anthony won’t live forever.” From San Francisco in May 1945, Eden wired Churchill on the German surrender: “All my thoughts are with you on this day which is so essentially your day. It is you who have led, uplifted and inspired us through the worst day. Without you this day could not have been.” Historian David Dilks wrote that Churchill’s “only conceivable Conservative rival, Anthony Eden, remarks that he grew to love Churchill, and that emotion survived all tempests.” Only in 1955 would Eden finally succeed Churchill and then only for 21 months. He would become a casualty to the Suez Cris of 1956 and would be succeeded by Harold Macmillan, Churchill’s Mideast representative during World War II.

For Further Reference

  1. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning; the Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon., pp. 111.
  2. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning; the Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon., pp. 148.
  3. David Dilks, editor, The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, O.M., 1938-194, p. 342 (December 20, 1940).
  4. David Dutton, Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation, p. 217.
  5. Walter Stahr, Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, p. 264. (Letter from William H. Seward to William Club of Philadelphia, December 16, 1861. See Goodwin, Team of Rivals, pp. 563-66.
  6. Norman B. Ferris, “Lincoln and Seward in Civil War Diplomacy: Their Relationship at the Outset Reexamined,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 1991, p. 38
  7. Walter Stahr, Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, p. 255.
  8. Glyndon G. Van Deusen, William Henry Seward, p. 281.
  9. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 95.
  10. Russell McClintock, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession, p. 121.
  11. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 98 (Letter from Charles Francis Adams, Jr. to Frederic Bancroft, October 11, 1911).
  12. Edward S. Mihalkaniin, editor, American Statesmen: Secretaries of States from John Jay to Colin Powell, p. 457.
  13. William E. Gienapp, Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America, p. 201.
  14. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, pp. 443.
  15. Gideon Welles, Lincoln and Seward: Remarks Upon the Memorial Address of Chas. Francis Adams, 1874, p. 43.
  16. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals, p. 364 (Letter from William H. Seward to Frances Seward, June 5, 1861).
  17. Abraham Lincoln: Tributes from His Associates, p. 45 (William O. Stoddard, “Lincoln’s Vigil”).
  18. David Herbert Donald, ‘We are Lincoln Men’: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, p. 154.
  19. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p.87 (Conversation with Hon. F. W. Seward, January 9, 1879)
  20. Howard K. Beale, editor, Diary of Edward Bates, p. 227 (February 3, 1862).
  21. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, pp. 136, 139 (September 16, 1862).
  22. Erasmus D. Keyes, Fifty Years’ Observations of Men and Events, Civil and Military, p. 424.
  23. Abraham Lincoln: Tributes from His Associates, p. 121 (Egbert L. Viele, “Lincoln as a Story-Teller”).
  24. Edward MacPherson, The Political History of the United States of America during the Great Rebellion, p. 839.
  25. (Letter from William H. Seward to Thurlow Weed, December 27, 1861).
  26. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 520.
  27. Frederick Seward, William H. Seward, Volume II, p. 521.
  28. Edward Dicey, Spectator of America, p. 93.
  29. Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 126.
  30. Walter Stahr, Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, p. 366.
  31. (Letter from William H. Seward to Frances Seward, May 17, 1861).
  32. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, pp. 128-129.
  33. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 374.
  34. Walter Stahr, Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, 347 (New York Times, April 2, 1864).
  35. Donn Piatt, Memories of Men who Saved the Union, p. 150.
  36. Walter Stahr, Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, p. 418.
  37. Walter Stahr, Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, pp. 418-419.
  38. Winston Churchill, World War II: The Gathering Storm, p. 231.
  39. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning, p. 168 (September 30, 1940).
  40. John Colville, Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, p. 207.
  41. John Harvey, editor, The War Diaries of Oliver Harvey 1941-1945, p. 15 (June 25, 1941).
  42. John Harvey, editor, The War Diaries of Oliver Harvey, p. 96 (February 16)
  43. David Carlton, Anthony Eden: A Biography, pp. 202-203.
  44. David Dilks, editor, The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, O.M., 1938-1945. 562-563 (September 25, 1943).
  45. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning, p. 543 (July 11, 1944).
  46. David Dilks, Churchill and Company, p. 159.
  47. David Dilks, Churchill and Company, p. 160.
  48. David Carlton, Anthony Eden: A Biography, pp. 206.
  49. David Dilks, editor, The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, O.M., 1938-194, p. 617, 621 (April 10 and April 19, 1944)
  50. David Dutton, Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation, p. 142-143.
  51. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory, 1941-1945, pp. 596-597.
  52. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning, p. 497.
  53. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 85.
  54. David Dilks, Churchill and Company, p. 160.
  55. Angus Calder, The People’s War: Britain, 1939-45, p. 105.
  56. Baron Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965. p. 229 (December 27, 1944).
  57. David Dutton, Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation, p. 144
  58. Lord Moran, Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1945-60, p. 720 (July 12, 1955).
  59. David Dutton, Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation, p. 219.
  60. David Dilks, Churchill and Company, p. 63.
  61. John Colville, Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, p. 208.
  62. Richard Holmes, In the Footsteps of Churchill: A Study in Character, p. 209.
  63. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p. 543.
  64. Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, p. 155 (December 1, 1943).
  65. David Carlton, Anthony Eden, a Biography, p. 238.
  66. Antony Eden, The Reckoning, p. 562 (October 12, 1944)
  67. Winston Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy: The Second World War, Volume VI, p. 211.
  68. John M. Taylor, William Henry Seward: Lincoln’s Right Hand, p. 1-5.
  69. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 526.
  70. Walter Stahr, Seward, Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, p. 412.
  71. Frederick Seward, William Seward: 1861-1872, Volume III, pp. 271-272.
  72. Richard Nixon, Leaders, p. 36.
  73. Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill: Road to Victory, p. 1130.
  74. David Dilks, Churchill and Company, p. 55.
Posted in Essays