I hear from people close to Senator Seward and his campaign manager Thurlow Weed, that they believe the Senator lost the 1860 Republican Party President nomination because of his his 1858 speech in Rochester, New York, in which he used the now infamous phrase, "irrepressible conflict". True, there was a conflict within two years of Seward's speech and lots of people tried to stop it so it and they all failed, so it did prove to be irrepressible, but being right has never been a viable defense against a press contretemps. Seward might as well have said the antebellum Democratic Party was running congress like a plantation, for all the fair hearing he received.
Southern Democrats were waiting for Seward to say something, anything. And they jumped on the his remarks with prepared talking points and rehearsed moral outrage in hundreds of newspaper editorials, sort of a compendium of offended southerners, fill in the details of the offense where required. The right or wrong of Seward's remarks, was neither here nor there. And when it was all over most voters probably couldn't tell you exactly what Seward had said, but they felt he had said something to offend Southerners. That is all true, but there were not many Democrats or Southerners with votes at the Republican Convention.
Still, amongst those two groups just mentioning Seward's name became a cue for energetic moral outrage. There were southern militias who, during monthly drills, instead of yelling "Fire", just yelled "Seward." And to any middle of the road voters it was clear that Seward was unlikely to be able to reach a compromise with southern Democrats that avoided war.
Seward is reported to be bitter (and who can blame him?). He was the front runner and must surely have felt as if Lincoln stole the nomination from him. And it is understandable that Seward is frustrated that Republicans who voted for Lincoln because he was more of a moderate than Seward, must have been shocked to discover the Democrats didn't think Lincoln was that much more moderate than the hated Seward. But to say that the senator from New York lost the nomination because of the opinions of Democrats is giving the old party far too much influence within the new party.
The last time I spoke to these same sources they were still predicting Seward's greatest challenge for the nomination would come from the Pennsylvania party boss, Simon Cameron. So they planned to run a "clean administration" platform to undercut Cameron, who has a large and well earned reputation for hiring friends and sharing their new found wealth with them. Thurlow's team had even planned to repeat the old stories about
Lincoln's part in the 1848 congressional account padding scandals. But when Cameron fell out of the race early, the dirty politics issue went with him and Weed's people were left with nothing fresh to use against the rail splitter.
It's hard to say it now, especially since Weed transported 13 traincarloads of New York Seward supporters to Chicago, but the real reason Seward lost the nomination is that Lincoln's people just wanted the nomination more than Seward's people did. Lincoln's manager, David Davis, may or may not have forged convention tickets to fill the hall with their own supporters, but Seward's people still had the original tickets. If they had gotten to the convention hall early they could have locked Lincoln out of the nomination altogether.
Politics is a dirty game with but one rule, somebody wins and somebody loses in every election, no matter what the issues of the campaign. But what I can agree on with Mr. Seward's supporters on is that the game would be a lot more enjoyable if the press would stop allowing themselves to be distracted by orchestrated moral outrages of this sort. And when a candidate stoops to telling the truth, he ought to get credit for it, and on the front page, too.