Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, December 29, 1834

  • Posted on: 11 January 2018
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, December 29, 1834



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, December 29, 1834

action: sent

sender: William Seward
Birth: 1801-05-16  Death: 1872-10-10

location: Albany, NY

receiver: Frances Seward
Birth: 1805-09-24  Death: 1865-06-21

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: msr 

revision: obm 2017-03-27

Page 1

Albany Monday night, December 29. My dearest Frances, Tomorrow the court of errors will finally adjourn and
the labors and responsibilities of my public life will terminate one day earlier than the official term. I al-
ready feel a restlessness under the apprehension of staying away from you a day longer than that which releases
me from the principal employment which called me here-but I will not anticipate. I promised in this
letter to say at what time you might expect my return-the answer to that question depends upon the
manner in which I can dispose of some business in Chancery and in the Supreme Court. In the mean
time I have many letters to answer and shall go immediately about it as soon as I have written
this page to you. I called today at Miss McGavins
and she has promised to make up the
dress, I purchased for you in New York, as early as Wednesday of next week. I am very sorry
that you have not written to me whether I should get a winter hat for you. The fashiona-
ble hats are such contemptible things that I dare not get one for you. I think they would
not become you any more than they do those who wear them here-and that your own
taste would reject them. I shall however renew my acquaintance with our sweet little
milliner Mrs Roberts
 Death: 1889
, and make an arrangement by which if you desire it I can have
one forwarded to you. In the mean time dearest, as it is very probable that I will be here, and it will
be horrible to be here alone without letters from you, you must unless I say to the contrary in a-
nother part of this letter write to me as if it were certain that I am to stay and in that letter
you must say what I shall do about “the hat.”
I wrote yesterday to George
Birth: 1808-08-26 Death: 1888-12-07
to see Chloe


and make the arrangement for you to take one
of Chloe’s girls
in the Spring. I am sure that Maria will serve you more usefully this winter
than Chloes child can, and as her stay will be limited to the Spring I hope and believe
we can induce for that period a kindlier feeling towards her in the quarter where she
is now so unpopular. Dearest it is in my character to be desiring to discharge al fully, as
possible the duties of the prominent relation which I happen to hold. I can now see what
I have not before known that my solicitude to come in no degree short of the duties of
my public station have made me omit many things and habitually too in the relation
in which I stand to yourself. Probably I have sinned the more in this respect for the reason
that the responsibilities devolved upon us both have been so light. But I am now sensible
of the greater burthen
Burden •
which although long deferred will devolve upon you. I do rejoice
most heartily rejoice that my burthens are to be taken off and I continually reckon
the pleasure and happiness I shall take in sharing yours. Yes I mean to live for you
and for my dear boys
x Birth: 1830-07-08  Death: 1915-04-25  Birth: 1826-10-01  Death: 1876-09-11 
and I count with eagerness the hours which intervene between
this period and the time when that life will commence. I have read and re-perceived
many times your beautiful letter written to me on Christmas day. To me it was not such
a day as you described it for I had not learned to regard it as a day in which I had
a peculiar interest from its association with the origin of the Christian religion. But it did
find me in some respects feeling very differently from what I did on preceding anniversa-
ries. It found me as I trust willing and in some small degree desirous to be a Christian. Pray
for me my dear Frances that if Providence spares my worthless life, I may on the next re-
currence of the day rejoice in being “not almost but altogether such as you are.”
Birth: 1793-06-17 Death: 1859-09-12
goes tomorrow to Connecticut to remain with his wife
Birth: 1800 Death: 1876
and boy
Birth: 1834-10-29 Death: 1874-01-23
until about
the 8th. or 10th. of January. He persists in expressions of kindness and fondness for me, but I need
not say my heart is altogether cold towards him. It has not forgotten, it cannot forget
the injury he did me in the most vital part. I would possibly think better of him had he
the magnanimity to acknowledge his crime. But he is unhappy-vastly more unhappy
now in the pride of his public career and in the enjoyment of wealth unlimited than I ever
was or ever can be so long as I possess the pure and abiding love of my dear Frances
How easily my pen advances through the page when I am writing to you. I regret that the allotted space is filled.
Page 2

Tuesday night-The theme which I touched at the close of the preceding page swelled last night dearest into
an exciting correspondence with the individual of all others the most extraordinary with whom I have ever
become acquainted. As this correspondence concerned you I will not delay communicating to you the
substance of it. The circumstance to which I have alluded was pressing painfully upon my mind
(painfully because I have always felt it due both to you and myself that I should have an ex-
planation with T) when Uncle Cary
Birth: 1787-08-11 Death: 1869-06-20
and I called to take leave of Tracy. He had been here in the
afternoon and found us at table with the other Senators whose time expires with ours and whom
we had invited to a parting dinner. It was 8 O clock, Tracy was alone. We spent two hours
in which the conversation turned upon our future calculations. I was buoyant, Tracy un-
happy but apparently more cheerful than I had seen him in several days. He was as
kind and affectionate towards me as I could suffer him to be. We parted with him at ten o
clock with marked expressions of regret. As we came out he put into my hands a small pacquet
of little books as he said for my little boys and bade me farewell - On coming into my room
I found the packet contained a prayerbook for each of the dear little fellows together with
an amusing story book adapted to the years of each. It was accompanied by the following note.
(He was to start at one oclock) “My dear Seward, I leave this evening for Connecticut. You will
be away before I return, and it is less improbable we shall never meet than that we shall
often meet again, for whatever may be your destiny, and may it be what you wish! my po-
liticial life I feel is drawing to a close. It should be so, when the sympathies which have nour-
ished it are dried up or withdrawn. But my thoughts are not on the future but the past. Do
you recollect that it is now about four years ago, when, after being together a few short weeks,
I left you for a visit to my friends? But oh with what different sensations! Then as now, my
heart was overflowing with tenderness, but then as not now it was filled also with joy and
hope, joy in the look inspired by sympathy and esteem-hope excited and sustained by
your expressions of affection. The days of my absence tho’ long were not painful for they
were passed in golden dreams of a devoted peculiar friendship. How much I suffered when
I was first awakened to the perception that that these were only dreams, and how much
denied, I will not say-For this you are no way responsible-You loved me as much as
you could-more than I deserved. But this pain, this disappointment is my excuse
for the capriciousness and too frequent unkindness which I have displayed towards you
I could not part without acknowledging my offence, and asking for it not merely for-
giveness but oblivion. I have said you loved me as much as you could and more than
I deserved-but it was less, far less than I hoped, and my jealousy perhaps has sometimes
made it less than it really was. The more one loves, the more he distrusts the feeling which
he inspires-at least I have found it so. I have been too sensitive to all that concerned you,
especially to whatever diverted your feelings into new channels, and for this cause I have
not always felt that pleasure in your success, nor that pain in your disappointments
which I should have done. Sometimes I fear it has seemed like envy, at least like a
struggling spirit of rivalry. But indeed I have felt nothing like this-it was always your
affection and never your success that I was jealous of. I would not part without saying
this much. It has been on my mind ever since you left for New York, but I have not
found words to tell you of it before, I went over this afternoon to tell you of it, When I
found you at the table but if I had not it is doubtful if I could have said what I wished.
Believe me dear Seward that I have never indulged a feeling or a thought inconsistent with
a sincere devotion to your happiness and honor.
Commend me to your dear wife as one not undeserving her affectionate remembrance. She
knows the strength and purity of my love and will not doubt its constancy. Ask her to kiss
for me your dear children, whom I love as much as I expect or desire to love my own little
son. I send with this a little remembrance for each of them. adieu. AH Tracy”
If a day were necessarily to intervene between your perusal
To read with attention • To observe; to examine with careful survey •
of this singular epistle
A writing directed or sent, communicating intellegence to a distant person; a letter •
and that of
my answer to it I would not postpone writing the latter-but it will all come at once if as usual I lay the sheet
adieu until tomorrow evening— adieu dearest.
Page 3

Wednesday night. My dearest, as soon as I had read Tracy’s note I sat down and wrote a reply in
substance and form as nearly as I can recollect as follows. I kept no copy but believe my memory is just-
“Dear Tracy, It is indeed probable that we will not hereafter meet as often as would be necessary to pre-
serve mutual sympathies. It is perhaps best that we part under a cloud; were my affection towards
you as ardent
Hot or burning; causing a sensation of burning • Having the appearance or quality of fire; fierce • Warm; much engaged; passionate •
as it once was I should have one source of regret at this crisis when I am retiring to
private life with a buoyancy of spirits quite equal to that with which four years ago I entered
as I then thought upon a career of honorable public service. It would have given me much less pain
had you thought it proper that we should separate without mutual explanation. Although I am deeply sensible that
It is due to myself that an explanation should be made-you seem to intimate
Inmost; inward • Near; close • Close in friendship or acquaintance • One to whom the thoughts of another are shared without reserve • To share together • To hint; to suggest obscurely; to give slight notice of •
the belief that my alienation of feeling
has arisen from the belief of the existence of feelings of rivalry or envy on your part. Ordinary observers my dear
Tracy might think so but it is strange that you should so much misunderstand one whom you once un-
derstood better. You say that it is true you have not sympathized in my hopes and disappointments-If you
will carry your recollections back you will find abundant evidence that this was not the cause of the
marked alteration in my feelings towards you. That you have not so sympathized I know and have always
known-But it was always so from our earliest acquaintance. Yet that circumstance did not make me love
you the less. How small have been the exactions of praise and commendation which I have made upon
my friends personal and political they all can tell. I have always been an enigma to myself the
measure of private friendship and public consideration bestowed upon me has always so far exceeded
what I supposed I merited that I thought your sparing and stunted applause was just while I wondered
at the blindness of all others. But you will recollect that this alienation on my part took place about
a year ago. And I shall now state its cause. It was that availing yourself of the relation existing between us
you did with or without premeditated purpose what as a man of honor you ought not to have done pursue
a course of conduct which but for the virtue and fineness of the being dearest to me would have destroyed
if not her honor her happ[ iness ]


Reason: hole
and that of my children. How I refused to credit the evidences. Ca[ n ]


Reason: hole

such a dishonorable know. That I burned without reading the letters which alarmed its
and which she put in[ to ]


Reason: hole
comple[ te ]


Reason: hole

peace. I bore without [ complaint ]


Reason: hole
[ th ]


Reason: hole
at which I thought proceeded from weakness not criminal purpose and
was content to see myself and my wife deprived of the friendship of yours lest I might bring into [ yo ]


Reason: hole
family the evils you were bringing into mine. But at last came that letter of yours which brought tears [ to ]


Reason: hole

the eyes of one whom I so dearly loved and tears which flowed because it produced the conviction that
she was dishonored in your regard if not in mine. Indignant at this insult I sought you and had oppor-
tunity offered I should have made an expression of my anger which would have given you and myself and
your family and mine to the scandal of the world. I had only the consolation that I knew that thye persone
in question had of all her sex the least of that infirmity which makes women differ from angels. I found
you a watcher and alone of at what you and I and all believed was the death bed of our friend Birdsall
Birth: 1791-05-14 Death: 1872-02-08
I could not detach you thence and I was subdued not so much by the solemnity of that scene as the
misery you suffered. Reflection came. I knew that you had failed to do me the injury you recklessly con-
templated. How could I express my indignation without compromitting the fair favor of one whose honor was
God be praised unsullied and whose heart was pure. Thenceforth Tracy you lost that magic influence you
once possessed over me. I have thought that without the magnanimity to confess your crime, you still suf-
fered remorse and repentance which might atone for it. I had forgiven you long ago-I have not forgotten
the offence. I never can forget it. You still have my respect as a man of eminent talents and of much
virtue but you can never again be the friend of my recent thoughts. I part without anger-but without
affection. I cannot send this sheet without requiring that when you have read it you return it to me that
I may destroy it and thus know that no record remains of this violation of my friendship or which
may in any event preserve the connection of the name of the being I love most on earth with the cause
of our separation. You owe it to her if not to me to return it. I insist too that you do not answer it.
It is a subject upon which no explanation can be tolerated. To return it unanswered will be most consis-
tent with your own dignity and my respect for you."
This letter was put into his hands just at the moment he entered the coach to commence his
journey. Do not let this matter grieve you my dearest my honor is now redeemed in my own regard –
and the greatest source of regret I have dried up. I ought to add that I said in the same letter "I acquit you of any
gross thought or feeling towards her. I know well that your passion arose from the same cause which called mine into existence
and preserves it in its original force. The discovery that she was so pure, that she was more worthy the love of pure spirits than of ^that of^ men.
Page 4

Wednesday night 1/2 past 11. Dearest I devote to fond hopes and endearing thoughts of my hearts own and only beloved
the last hour of the expiring year. Believe me my heart is buoyant with joy in my release from the bondage of my political
and public relations. Is it not a proof that I am still, and notwithstanding all the alienation of thought and feeling
which those relations have produced your devoted and constant lover, that not a single regret for the loss of what
I have had of power, not a single feeling of disappointment in tmy failure to win the proud station so recently
apparently secured to me finds a place in my bosom. All this is true-and more than this is true. To live
for and with you is now the hope which animates me-and I am sure that without one moments care to
be prepared for the charge, this hope makes me more happy then I was four years ago at this hour when
the next morning was to gratify my young ambition with its most desired consummation. If under the
influence of your counsels and with the aid of your prayers I can bring into the circle of my enjoyments
that of a humble and converted heart and christian hopes I am sure I can never again be in danger of ship-
wreck. A gloomy fear produced by your long delayed convalescence awakes thoughts I dare not tolerate and
feelings of remorse for time and affections wasted. But I will not indulge this fear. It shall be my study to
contribute to your happiness and I will not cease to importune the Giver of all good for your restoration to health.
Dearest I think we will be able to leave the city on Wednesday morning-and the hours will be tedious which
separate us. You sent me the wishes which belonged to Christmas, accept my wishes that you may have com-
menced a happy new year-happy it may be if your health returns, and Providence be no less severe in its vio-
lations than it has been during the past year-happy it must be if virtue and affection do receive their reward in
this state. When during the year we are now commencing I am indifferent or absorbed in care and anxiety inconsistent
with the love and duty I owe you Remind me my dear Frances, of the happy new year I now wish you-Adieu-
Mrs. William H. Seward


Type: postmark
Hand Shiftx

Frances Seward

Birth: 1805-09-24 Death: 1865-06-21
Henry Dec 28