William H. Seward Monument
Auburn, NYWilliam H. Seward was a prominent American politician in the 19th Century, a founder of the Republican Party, and Secretary of State under President Lincoln during the Civil War. His home in Auburn, NY is in the background of the pictures to the left.
The inscription on the monument is from a famous (and controversial) speech he delivered on the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 11, 1850, opposing what eventually became known as the Compromise of 1850 – a last ditch effort to save the nation from disunion. The quotation contains a reference to the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, which reads: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." But Seward also referred to "a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain . . ."
The speech touched off a firestorm of criticism. Southerners called it "monstrous and diabolical." Henry Clay, who first proposed the Compromise, called Seward's speech "wild, reckless, and abominable." President Zachary Taylor commented "This is a nice mess Governor Seward has got us into . . ." (Seward had previously been governor of New York State).
But was Seward right? What is "the higher law"?