-- Hesitation and Decision --

Advice: William Seward

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Commentary: Seward and Fort Pickens

Seward's commitment to hold Fort Pickens has been questioned by many historians. Since it is unlikely that General Scott would have recommended abandoning Pickens without consulting with Seward, it is likely that Seward recommended holding Pickens only when he found the rest of the cabinet totally in opposition to Scott's suggestion.

Seward now looked to Pickens as a less provocative site to uphold federal authority than Sumter. David M. Potter calls Seward's new emphasis on holding Pickens a "frantic rear-guard action," an attempt to shift action away from Sumter. If the administration insisted on firmness, Seward "preferred it anywhere rather than at Sumter." Seward's proposal to abandon Sumter and maintain Pickens was, therefore, "pure opportunism." Allan Nevins agrees that Seward at heart wished to give up Pickens, and yielded "only because he saw that the opposition to his ideas was so overwhelming that he would lose all chance of maintaining his leadership unless he shifted his stand."

However, Seward's biographer, Glyndon G. Van Deusen, suggests that Seward was sincere in advising that Pickens be held. Van Deusen claims that Seward's attitude towards the Confederacy was hardening by this time, as hopes for a peaceable reuniting of the Union faded.

Bibliography: Potter, Lincoln and His Party, pp. 363-64; Nevins, War for the Union, 1: 56; Van Deusen, Seward, pp. 279-80.

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