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Lewis Lapham: Lincoln Adviser Deflected Assassin’s Dagger

"Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man," by Walter Stahr. Source: Simon & Schuster via Bloomberg

Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- In bed recovering from a bad accident, Secretary of State William Seward was awakened by the screams of his daughter, Fanny. Bursting into the room was a man brandishing a gun and a knife.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

It was April 14, 1865, and John Wilkes Booth was just entering Ford’s Theatre to assassinate President Lincoln. Seward’s attacker was Lewis Powell, a member of the pro-Confederacy conspiracy organized by Booth to kill the top three U.S. leaders.

Despite the fact that his gun misfired, to get to his target Powell had severely injured two of Seward’s sons as well as his military nurse.

Fearing for his daughter’s life, Seward interposed his body between Fanny and the armed man but was pushed back down on the bed. Powell stabbed him repeatedly, cutting up Seward’s face and neck: A jaw splint may have saved his life by deflecting the knife from the jugular.

Powell was later caught and hanged along with fellow conspirator George Atzerodt, who was supposed to kill the vice president but got drunk instead.

I spoke with Walter Stahr, author of “Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man,” on the following topics:

1. Presidential Aspirations

2. Lincoln’s Cabinet

3. Assassination Attempt

4. Alaska Purchase

5. High Achievement

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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