The Sept. 29, 1860, Quincy Whig and Republican published a letter from local prominent businessman James Woodruff stating that the U.S. senator for New York William Henry Seward and his entourage, who were campaigning for Lincoln, would arrive in Quincy that evening for speeches at a reception followed by “a grand Mass Meeting.” Two days later the Oct. 1 Quincy Herald published an account of his short visit on Sept. 30.
Seward was passing through because Quincy was an important transportation hub. Connections between the nationally prominent politician Seward and Quincy, led residents of the city and Adams County to anticipate such events, especially among the leading citizens, including founder and first settler of the city John Wood.
Quincy’s location at the western most extension of the state on the Mississippi River was ideal for a major transportation center. By 1860, Quincy had become a vital connection both from the east and west, being a significant stopping point before continuing travels. It was a hub for going north to Chicago, south to St. Louis and to other points. Steamboat landings from river traffic and three railroads assured Quincy’s importance to regional and even national transportation networks. Quincy’s size at the time as the third largest city in Illinois, reflected its importance. Consequently, Quincy’s plea for a campaign stop was more likely to be realized rather than those from competing communities.
Seward’s involvement in politics began while supporting the election of John Quincy Adams for president. Seward became a protégé of John Quincy, whose portrait hung over his desks while he served as a New York state senator (1831-1834), two-time governor of New York (1839-1843), and in the U.S. Senate (1849-1861), where he gained national attention as the leading anti-slavery spokesman.
Name recognition by Seward may have increased the likelihood of a Quincy stop, as the Illinois city was named after his political mentor. To honor the election of John Quincy Adams as the sixth president in 1825, the originally named community of Bluffs was renamed Quincy and the newly formed county from Pike County was named Adams. Plus, Quincy’s town square was initially named John’s Square before today’s Washington Park.
Further, Seward often met with John Quincy Adams’ son Charles Francis, Sr., in Adams’ home located in the first Quincy community in the United States in Massachusetts. The town was named in honor of Col. John Quincy, maternal grandfather of Abigail Adams and after whom John Quincy Adams was named. His father, Abigail’s husband John, was the second American president.
Seward was the odds-on favorite to win the 1860 nomination for president at the Republican Convention in Chicago, held May 16-18 in the wood-frame “Wigwam.” The building was specially designed for the convention. As expected, he received the most votes on the first and second ballot. Lincoln gained more votes on second ballot than Seward. Lincoln’s momentum was aided by supportive boisterous delegates in his home state which resulted in a clear lead on the third ballot and to a unanimous nomination.
Afterwards, Seward contemplated resigning from the Senate and public life, but campaign manager Thurlow Weed and fellow Congress member in House of Representatives Charles Francis Adams, Sr., played key roles in getting him actively involved in 1860 campaign. At the Adams home in the summer, Adams, Sr., spent an eventful day with Seward. He helped persuade Seward to campaign to win the Northeast and Northwest for Lincoln and the Republican Party.
A Quincy stop would allow Seward to greet his boyhood school mate while both resided in Florida, New York. John Wood was born Dec. 20, 1798, in Sempronius, N.Y., but his mother became estranged from the family when he was 5 years old. Several years later, at age 11, Wood was sent to live on a Florida farm with an older cousin.
Seward was born on May 16, 1801, in the small village of Florida. He initially attended a one-room school near his home but at the age of 9, Seward’s parents sent him to the Farmer’s Hall Academy boarding school six mile away in Goshen. When a new and better school formed in Florida, he returned home for two years during his teenage years, where he and Wood were likely school mates.
Because Wood was serving as the 12th governor of Illinois, but living and working in Quincy, he could personally welcome the former governor and current senator of New York state.
Wood, the first Republican lieutenant governor elected in 1856, remained in Quincy during his governorship. His unexpected transition to governor occurred upon the of death of Gov. William Henry Bissell on March 18, 1860. Wood’s request to remain in Quincy to manage business interests and construction of a new home was granted by the General Assembly.
After intense campaigning in New York state and other nearby Northeast communities, Seward and entourage headed west to "Lincoln country." Charles Francis Adams, Sr., and his son accompanied Seward during most of the foray, as well as adopted daughter Fanny Seward. Charles Francis Adams, Jr., and Fanny kept diaries documenting much of the trip, excerpts of which have been used in many of W. H. Seward biographies. The most detailed description of the western campaign was in the Walter Stahr biography of Seward which includes a specific reference to Quincy.
The trip took four weeks. Seward make at least ten major speeches, including Chicago at the Wigwam convention site, short stops for receptions with remarks and celebrations, plus brief whistle-stops.
Seward’s goal was to get to Lawrence in the Kansas Territory. Though the territory had no electoral votes to cast in the election, Seward wanted to personally thank the settlers for voting to be a free state. Passing through Quincy was the ideal route chosen. They would detrain in Quincy, take a ferry across the Mississippi to catch trains in Missouri on their way to Kansas. Seward would join the ranks of famous folks who have boated to or trained through Quincy.
Ankrom, Reg. 2022. “The Story of John Wood’s Parents: Dr. Daniel Wood (1751-1843) and Catherine Crouse Wood (1774-1848).” The GOVERNOR’S POST, Spring 2022:24-25, Quincy, IL: Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County. https://www.hsqac.org/the-story-of-john-wood-s-parents.
Blegen, Theodore C. 1939. “The ‘Fashionable Tour’ on the Upper Mississippi.” Minnesota History Magazine, vol 20, no. 4 (December): 377-396. https://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/20/v20i04p377-396.pdf
Costigan, David. 2021. A City in Wartime: Quincy, Illinois and the Civil War. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.
“Editorial on Seward Visit.” Quincy Daily Herald, September 24, 1860: 2.
“Gov. Seward Not Coming.” Quincy Daily Whig, September 28, 1860: 1.
“Governor Seward.” Quincy Whig and Republican, September 22, 1860: 2.
“Seward in Quincy.” Quincy Daily Herald, October 1, 1860: 1.
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