Author of acclaimed biography on William Henry Seward to speak at Founders Day

Publication Date

Walter Stahr, author of an acclaimed biography on one of Union's

Stahr headshot

most distinguished alumni, William Henry Seward, will deliver the keynote address at Founders Day Thursday, Feb. 21, at 12:45 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. The event commemorates the 218th anniversary of the College’s charter.

A member of the Class of 1820, Seward is best known as Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, helping to write and sign the Emancipation Proclamation. He was also governor of New York, a state and U.S. senator, and presidential candidate running against Lincoln in 1860. Seward engineered the $7.2 million U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

A memorial noting some of Seward's accomplishments, a gift from the Class of 2000, rests on Seward Place and includes his quote foretelling of the Civil War: "It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces..."

Stahr recounts Seward's life in his compelling biography, Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man. According to USA Today, Stahr "argues convincingly that other than presidents, Seward was the foremost American statesman of the 19th century."

To read a review in The New Yorker, click here (subscription may be required).

The 703-page book finished number two in the History News Network’s online poll to choose the best history book of 2012, trailing only The Passage of Power, the latest installment of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Stahr is also the author of a biography on John Jay, co-author of the Federalist Papers.

"It is fitting for Walter Stahr to be our Founders Day speaker to address the legacy of one of our distinguished alumni as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of our campus design and highlight an important part of the history of the College," said President Stephen C. Ainlay.

Also at Founders Day, the College will present the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award. Named for the 1809 graduate of Union who was New York state’s first superintendent of public education, the award is given to secondary school teachers who have had a continuing influence on the academic life of Union students.

Past speakers at Founders Day have included Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Richard Russo and James M. McPherson; Paul LeClerc, retired president and chief executive officer of the New York Public Library and a former professor at Union, and Ira M. Rutkow ’70, a surgeon and author whose writing has focused on the history of American medicine.