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Interpreting the Evidence

William Seward Statue, Auburn, c. 1900

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Central New York
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load William Seward Statue, Auburn, c. 1900 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Bronze statue of William Henry Seward at Seward Park in Auburn, New York. Photograph taken circa 1900.
Historical Context
William Henry Seward was governor of New York State from 1838 to 1842. As a United States Senator from 1849 to 1861 and later as Secretary of State for President Abraham Lincoln, Seward spoke out against slavery.  He helped to write the Emancipation Proclamation, and his home was even part of the Underground Railroad.  Because of his views, he became a target of an attempted assassination plot.  On April 14, 1865, the night President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, Seward was stabbed by Lewis Powell, an accomplice of Booth.  

Unlike Lincoln, Seward recovered from the attack.  He served as Secretary of State for President Andrew Johnson and was instrumental in purchasing Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000 in 1867.  Although critics called this purchase "Seward's Folly," at only two cents an acre, Alaska was an incredible bargain.  

After retiring in 1869, Seward spent time traveling.  He visited Alaska and took a trip around the world.  He died at his home in Auburn on October 10, 1872.

The statue of Seward in this photograph is located in Auburn, New York.  In 1823, Seward moved to Auburn, where he married and practiced law. On the visible side of the statue is engraved a quotation from one of his anti-slavery speeches:

"The Constitution regulates our stewardship. The Constitution devotes the domain to union, to justice, to defence, to welfare and to liberty. But there is a higher law than the Constitution which regulates authority over the domain and devotes it to the same noble purposes."

Essential Question
How do symbols and monuments unite people?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the purpose of this monument.
Historical Challenges
Who were some of the famous people that visited Seward's house in Auburn, New York, when he was alive? What was each person famous for?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: If the United States purchased Alaska for $7,200,000 at the price of about 2¢ per acre, approximately how many acres were purchased?
English Language Arts: Research the purchase of Alaska. List the pros and cons of the purchase. Write a persuasive paragraph arguing whether or not Alaska was a smart buy.