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Lincoln’s Secretary of State had ties to Auburn

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Lincoln’s Secretary of State had ties to Auburn
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Across the nation this weekend, moviegoers will head to theaters to see a new Steven Spielberg epic, “Lincoln.” But the story is not just of the 16th President of the United States. It is also a story of a man who had roots in Central New York. YNN's Bill Carey says the story of a final struggle against slavery is also part of the story of Auburn's William Henry Seward.

AUBURN, N.Y. -- From this house in Auburn, William H. Seward changed the world. A reformer governor, a groundbreaking attorney. A U.S. Senator, leading the fight against slavery, telling his fellow lawmakers that, beyond the constitution, this stain on America violated a higher law.

Seward had helped to found the new Republican Party. In 1860, he was in his garden at his home in Auburn, waiting for word from Chicago, where the party was holding its nominating convention. He expected to be the Presidential nominee. But he wasn't. The nomination, instead, went to Abraham Lincoln.

But Seward's career did not end there. Coaxed into joining Lincoln's cabinet as Secretary of State, he would help in the fight for the 13th Amendment, ending slavery.

Part of the story captured in historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's groundbreaking book, “Team of Rivals.”

“Doris Kearns Goodwin threw down the gauntlet when she wrote ‘Team of Rivals’ and she let the world and especially our country know about this incredible, historical friendship between Seward and Abraham Lincoln,” said Billye Chabot, Seward house Director.

Now, a film, based in part of Kearns Goodwin's book, tells the story in a new way.

“I think Seward was one of the best equipped men in political life. Because he started so young and he had such a varied experience and he loved every part of it. There's such a vitality in that man,” Kearns Goodwin said.

On the eve of the film's nationwide release, the historian returned to where she researched Seward's life and career, to help support the Seward House. She returned to again tell the story of Lincoln's greatest rival turned closest confidante.

Kearns Goodwin said, “In today's world, he would be one of the best prepared, most politically astute politicians we could even imagine.”

And as millions prepare to see a film about a controversial President facing struggles with Congress as he begins a second term, Kearns Goodwin sees obvious parallels to the present.

Kearns Goodwin said, “As we face the fiscal cliff and all that stuff that's going on and the dysfunction in Congress, hopefully, if they think about Lincoln managing to get something really important through that same kind of a Congress, they'll do something, which is what we want them to do.”

A sign that Lincoln and Seward can still have an impact in the 21st century.

The new film on Lincoln ends with his assassination. The same night Lincoln was shot, Seward, recovering from a carriage accident, was attacked by a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth and nearly killed. He survived to continue his work as Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson. His career capped by a land deal he arranged with the Russians, buying what is now the state of Alaska.

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