William Henry Seward edited

The events of April 14th, 1865 changed the United States forever. The Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrender at Appomattox Courthouse five days earlier, and the Union’s victory in the Civil War seemed assured. In a last-ditch attempt, four Confederate sympathizers conspired to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Henry Seward.

While John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C., Lewis Powell was across town at Seward’s house. Seward was bedridden after a carriage accident several days earlier. Powell gained access to house by claiming to have medicine for Seward. Seward’s son Frederick stopped and question him on the stairs. In OTL, Powell shot at Frederick Seward but missed. He beat Frederick with the butt of his gun, which damaged the gun to the point that it no longer worked.

Powell ran into Seward’s bedroom. He was nervous. He pulled out a knife and repeatedly stabbed the secretary in the face and neck before the soldier guarding the house and Seward’s son Augustus chased the assassin away. The secretary was badly wounded, but he survived with bad scars. Powell was captured at Mary Surratt’s boarding house and was hanged on July 7th, 1865.

Seward continued to serve as Secretary of State after Andrew Johnson became president. He advocated American expansion throughout the Western Hemisphere. He also supported the Monroe Doctrine, which aimed to prevent European expansion in the Americas. He had been an outspoken critic of the Second French Empire's occupation of Mexico in 1861 and the installation of Austrian Archduke Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico in 1864. However, Seward was unable to intervene, because of the ongoing Civil War.

In OTL, Seward successfully supported the Benito Juárez’s resistance against the French, and pressured the French Emperor Napoleon III to withdraw his troops. He also negotiated the Alaska Purchase in 1867, by which the United States bought Alaska from the Russian Empire for $7.2 million. At the time, the purchase was mocked as “Seward’s Folly,” but over the coming century Alaska proved to be lucrative.

Point of Divergence

On the night of April 14th, 1865, Lewis Powell shot and killed Frederick Seward and then ran up the stairs to the secretary’s room. He shot and killed William Henry Seward. Powell was captured at Mary Surratt's boarding house and hanged on July 7th, 1865.

The conspirators failed to assassinate Andrew Johnson, who became the President after Lincoln’s death. Johnson was a pro-Union Democrat, who was opposed by many Republicans in Congress. He struggled to find a replacement for Seward, before Congress finally confirmed Charles Francis Adams Sr., the son of President John Quincy Adams and the grandson of President John Adams, as the new Secretary of State.

Much Adams's tenure as secretary was spent resolving the Alabama claims. The United States demanded compensation for damages caused by Confederate ships built in British shipyards. Many Americans wanted to annex Canada as compensation, but the British held out. The two parties finally reached an agreement through international arbitration in April 1868. British-American relations after the two countries signed the Treaty of Washington on September 24, 1868.


Adams’s State Department urged the Napoleon III to withdraw French forces from Mexico. However the United States was occupied with the military occupation of the South and post-war political divisions, and Adams's primary concern was the resolution of the Alabama claims. The French did not withdraw. General Ulysses S. Grant and General Philip Sheridan covertly aided the Mexican resistance led by Benito Juárez.

Throughout Mexico, but especially in the North, the French and the Imperialists had difficultly securing the loyalty of small towns and villages in the countryside. While they controlled larger cities like Chihuahua, they had no way of ensuring that the smaller settlements weren’t secretly aiding the Juaristas. Miguel Miramón was a Conservative general who had been educated in the Berlin military academy. He developed an intelligence network to root out Juarista sympathizers and crush clandestine resistance. His program was especially important in capturing conflict zones like Chihuahua, Tabasco and Oaxaca.

The empire effectively occupied Chihuahua and Sonora in Spring 1868 and Tabasco in Summer 1868. For fear of the United States Army, French troops never occupied the Juarista stronghold of El Paso del Norte, but Juárez crossed the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas on March 14, 1868 and never again set foot in Mexico.

The situation changed in summer 1869. The newly-elected President Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish took a hard line on French occupation of Mexico. Grant mobilized American forces toward the border. Fish preferred peaceful diplomatic solutions and in 1869, he kept the United States out of military interventions in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. He peacefully negotiated the withdrawal of French forces from Mexico, while threatening war. The French forces embarked on August 15, 1869.

One of the United States’ conditions was that Maximilian I abdicate, however the emperor refused. After the French abandoned Mexico, the country was left in the hands of Emperor Maximilian I and a group of Conservative generals, politicians and clergymen. Many members of the Conservative Party and the clergy were disillusioned with Maximilian because of his liberal, secular policies.

Miguel Miramón, Tomás Mejía, Manuel Ramírez de Arellano and Leonardo Márquez. The catholic church, lead by Archbishop Pelagio Antonio de Labastida y Dávalos, was also very powerful. In fact Labastida y Davalos was last surviving member of the Conservative triumvirate that installed Maximilian as emperor in 1864. However, Maximilian was more liberal than the Conservatives anticipated and his secular policy quickly alienated the powerful catholic clergy.

In order to stop an American intervention, Leonardo Márquez led the generals and the clergy in a bloodless coup. Generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía opposed the coup, but did nothing to stop it. Maximilian and Empress Carlota went into exile in Vienna. The coup installed Maximilian’s adopted heir, Agustín de Iturbide y Green, as the new emperor. Iturbide y Green was the six-year-old grandson of Agustín I, a general who established the short-lived First Mexican Empire. Miramón, Márquez and Labastida y Dávalos acted as his regents.

Juárez survived three heart attacks in 1872, 1875 and 1882 as well as numerous assassination attempts. He was known to say that he wouldn’t die until he set foot on Mexican soil again. He died on September 10, 1893 in El Paso at the age of 87.

Russian America

In 1867, Eduard de Stoeckl, the Russian envoy to the United States, approached the State Department. Russia wanted to sell it's North American land to the United States, but the Johnson administration saw little value in the largely undeveloped, sub-arctic Russian America, and declined.

See Also

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