William H. Seward
East 23rd and Fifth Avenue, Madison Square
This monument to the successful American politician William Seward reclines thoughtfully in a sturdy chair in a tableau embellished with a stack of sturdy books. It stands in the southwest corner of Madison Square in Manhattan. There are four historical monuments in the park; the other three were all contemporaries and friends of Seward’s: Chester A. Arthur, the 21st president, is at the northeast corner of the park; the political boss Roscoe Conkling on the corner of East 23rd and Madison; and, at the north end of the park, about in the middle, is the statue of the Civil War hero Adm. David Glasgow Farragut.
Seward’s statue, which is nearly 18 feet tall, is a bronze figure on a pedestal of red Levante marble. It was made by the artist Randolph Rogers and cast by Ferd V. Miller & Sohne, the Royal Bronze Foundry in Munich.
The inscription on the front of the pedestal reads:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD GOVENOR U.S.SENATOR SECRETARY OF STATE OF U.S.
It was dedicated on Sept. 27, 1876. The southwest corner of the park was dressed up for the occasion, with a spacious stand, draped with flags, for the assembled dignitaries, which included the Civil War General Winfield Scott Hancock, the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur, a future president. A second stand was built for a 100-piece ensemble known as Gilmore’s band, directed by Sheridan Shook.
According to the parks department, it was the first statue in the city dedicated to a person from the state of New York. Despite that distinction, the ceremonies accompanying the unveiling were anything but grandiose. The first observation made by a reporter from The Times was that the festivities did not compare to the one for a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette in Union Square, but, our correspondent assures, “they were not less interesting.”
The keynote speaker was William M. Evarts, who like Seward was a lawyer, a former Senator and a former Secretary of State. Evarts’s “splendid panegyric,” we are assured, “left no needs to be supplied.” Evarts skipped lightly over Seward’s life and his contribution to the Republican party and his remarks generally received a “warm response” from the crowd.An enduring, and fairly amusing, rumor involving Seward’s statue is that the subscription effort to fund the memorial, which began in 1873, faltered, and to save money, its organizers asked Randolph, the sculptor, if he could cut some corners. Randolph, the story goes, offered to sculpt only a head of Seward, which would then be affixed to an existing body from his work on a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Philadelphia (which can be seen below, at left). A quick glance at the figures of Seward in Madison Square and Lincoln in Philadelphia makes such a story seem plausible; the two figures have many similarities, and Seward’s head, as crafted by Randolph, is obviously too small for the monument’s body.
This claim was repeated time and again over the years, including in contemporary magazines (such as The Strand) and in letters to the editor of various newspapers. The story takes many forms: One writer to The Times reported that Randolph had simply used the body of a statue “left on his hands by a defaulting Western city.” Another, after first pausing to level broadsides of criticism at the monuments to Garibaldi in Washington Square and Lafayette in Union Square, referred to the “great saving of time and labor to decapitate the Lincoln model and place the head of Seward on it;” that writer added conspiratorily, “I know whereof I speak.”
But each time these revelations bubbled to the surface, rebuttals would quickly appear. One writer to The Times quoted Seward’s son, Frederick, who had called the story “unfounded and absurd.” The letter writer went on to point out that the committee that raised the money for the statue published a detailed accounting of its financial records and activities in 1876, which apparently makes it plain that the statue’s $25,000 cost was paid in full by 250 donors.
The only conspiracy at work here seems to be Rogers’s lack of imagination, and perhaps his poor eye for proportion. Seward’s head is too small, I’ll grant you that, but although the figure of Lincoln that Rogers made in Philadelphia is similar, it is not the same. Seward’s legs are crossed; Lincoln has his feet on the ground. Seward appears to be in the act of writing; Lincoln seems to be about to say something. It’s clear that Rogers didn’t stray far creatively from the work he did for the Lincoln piece, but he did not recycle an existing statue.
William Henry Seward Sr. was born May 16, 1801 and died Oct. 10, 1872. He was a tireless opponent of slavery and, among other things, a governor of New York, a United States Senator and the United States Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.