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Papers of Abraham Lincoln digitally reunites Lincoln letter and envelope

Letter at Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library matched to envelope in private collection in Australia

Lincoln to Magoffin

December 20, 2012

SPRINGFIELD – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library had a letter but no envelope. An Australian collector had an envelope but no letter. Now the two items have been reunited, digitally.

As part of its global effort to locate Lincoln documents, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project has matched the envelope to the letter it once held. The originals remain 9,500 miles apart, but digital images of both will now be available to scholars and to the public.

The director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel W. Stowell, received several leads on potential Lincoln documents in Australian repositories and private collections during a trip there in July. One of those leads was to Dr. Barry O. Jones, an Australian writer and politician who has had a fascinating career.

 

Jones became a household name in Australia as a champion on a television quiz show, appearing from 1960 to 1968.  He served in Victoria state parliament from 1972 to 1977 and then in the Australian House of Representatives from 1977 to 1998. Over the years he has served as Australian minister of science, Australian representative to UNESCO and president of the Australian Labor Party. He also wrote Sleepers, Wake!: Technology and the Future of Work (1982), which became a bestseller and was widely translated.

Jones purchased the envelope from a New York manuscript dealer in 1965. He graciously made a high-resolution image of the envelope and sent it to the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. It can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/brxfhn6.

The three-page letter that the envelope once contained is now part of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The letter is Lincoln’s response to a request from the governor of Kentucky to have Union military forces halt their organizational efforts in that neutral state.

When hostilities erupted in April 1861 at Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called for volunteers from every state to suppress the rebellion. Northern states answered his call, additional Southern states seceded, and the deeply divided state of Kentucky declared neutrality. Initially, the United States and the Confederacy respected this stance, each hoping to lure the strategic border state to their side. However, both pro-Confederate and pro-Union supporters in Kentucky soon began to organize themselves.

On Aug. 19, 1861, Gov. Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky sent a letter to President Lincoln complaining of recruiting activities there. Magoffin sent the letter via two Lexington attorneys, William K. Dudley and Francis K. Hunt.

Lincoln replied on Aug. 24 through the same two messengers. Buoyed by news that Unionists had won substantial majorities in the Kentucky General Assembly, Lincoln was direct with the Southern-sympathizing governor. He said the military force there consisted of Kentuckians who were “not assailing or menacing any of the good people of Kentucky.” Lincoln told Magoffin that he had consulted with “many eminent men of Kentucky” and none but the governor and his messengers had urged him to remove the military force.

Lincoln concluded: “I most cordially sympathize with your Excellency in the wish to preserve the peace of my own native State, Kentucky; but it is with regret that I search, and cannot find, in your not very short letter, any declaration or intimation that you entertain any desire for the preservation of the Federal Union.”

The state of Illinois purchased the letter in 1941 from a New York manuscript dealer.

For all documents images see: Abraham Lincoln to Beriah Magoffin, August 24, 1861

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a long-term documentary editing project dedicated to identifying, imaging, transcribing, annotating, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime (1809-1865). The project is administered through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (www.presidentlincoln.org), and is cosponsored by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield and by the Abraham Lincoln Association.

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