Seward and the Repressible Conflict
In the same year that Lincoln gave final form to his Free-Soil position with the "house divided" speech, Senator William H. Seward coined the phrase, "irrepressible conflict," to characterize the struggle between freedom and slavery. Many contemporaries, as well as later historians, claimed to find a strong family resemblance in the way these two leading Republicans perceived the issue of slavery expansion. But there was also a profound difference. It is the burden of the present chapter to focus upon that difference. Lincoln embraced a moral imperative to resolve the conflict, and he supposed the resolution of it ultimately involved the restoration of the nation's soul. Progress meant an absolute determination to end the further spread of slavery and to reaffirm the original and perfect design of the fathers. In the political arena, as it turned out, this project of restoration brought secession and war.
Seward's concept of progress, by contrast, indicated nothing so dramatic or traumatic. With an outlook blended of corporate, federative, and individual ideas of freedom, he tended to see the issue of slavery expansion in "political" more than "moral" terms. The defeat of efforts to extend slavery into Kansas by 1858 suggested to him that, in substance, the irrepressible conflict had been resolved in favor