William Henry Seward was one of the most powerful men in the federal government, second only to [President Abraham] Lincoln and perhaps [Secretary of War] Edwin Stanton. His three-story town home across from the White House on Lafayette Park was symbolic of his important station. Seward reportedly once boasted that if he rang a bell on his right hand, a man from Illinois would be arrested; a ring on his left, and a man in New York would be dead. Whether he said such words or not didn’t matter; people believed he said them, and, more important, many people believed he had used such dread power.
And yet, the small, slight, secretary of state could be at once both courteous and gracious. He was even wont to bow politely to everyone he met, including strangers. Seward was also in the habit of hiding his true emotions. One need not look to the secretary’s face for a display of happiness or joy, of sorrow or sadness, or…of shock or anger.