Anson G. Henry and Others to Messrs.,  January 18401
CONFIDENTIAL .To Messrs.[Messieurs]:
Gentlemen:—In obedience to a resolution of the Whig State Convention, we have appointed you the Central Whig Committee of your county.2 The trust confided to you will be one of watchfulness and labor: but we do hope the glory of having contributed to the overthrow of the corrupt powers that now control our beloved country, will be a suffieient reward for the time and labor you will devote to it.3 Our Whig brethren throughout the Union have met in convention, and after due deliberation and mutual concessions, have elected candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency,4 not only worthy of our cause, but worthy of the support of every true patriot, who would have our country redeemed, and her institutions honestly and faithfully administered.
To overthrow the trained bands that are opposed to us, whose salaried officers5 are ever on the watch, and whose misguided followers are ever ready to obey their smallest commands, every Whig must not only know his duty, but must firmly resolve, whatever of time and labor it may cost, boldly and faithfully to do it.
Our intention is to organize the whole State, so that every Whig can be brought to the polls in the coming Presidential contest. We cannot do this, however, without your co-operation; and as we do our duty, so we shall expect you to do yours
After due deliberation, the following is the plan of organization, and the duties required of each county committee.
1st. To divide their county into small districts, and to appoint in each a sub-c0mmittee, whose duty it shall be to make a perfect list of all the voters in their respective districts, and to ascertain with certainty for whom they will vote. If they meet with men who are doubtful as to the man they will support, such voters should be designated in separate lines, with the name of the man they will probably support.
“2nd. It will be the duty of said sub-committee to keep a CONSTANT WATCH on the DOUBTFUL VOTERS, and from time to time have them TALKED TO by those IN WHOM THEY HAVE THE MOST CONFIDENCE, and also to place in their hands such documents as will enlighten and influence them.
3d. It will also be their duty to report to you, at least once a month, the progress they are making, and on election days, see that every Whig is brought to the polls.
4th. The sub-committees should be appointed immediately; and by the last of April, at least, they should make their first report.
5th. On the first of each month hereafter, we shall expect to hear from you. After the first report of your sub-committees, unless there should be found a great many doubtful voters, you can tell pretty accurately the manner in which your county will vote. In each of your letters to us, you will state the number of certain votes, both for and against us, as well as the number of doubtful votes, with your opinion of the manuer in which they will be cast.
6th. When we have heard from all the counties we shall be able to tell with similar accuracy, the political complexion of the State. This information will be forwarded to you as soon as received.
7th. Enclosed is a prospectus for a newspaper to be continued until after the Presidential election. It will be SUPERINTENDED BY OURSELVES, and every Whig in the State MUST take it. It will be published so low that every one can afford it. YOU MUST RAISE A FUND AND FORWARD US FOR EXTRA COPIES—every county ought to send FIFTY or ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS, and the copies will be forwarded to you for distribution among our POLITICAL OPPONENTS. The paper will be devoted exclusively to the great cause in which we are engaged. Procure subscriptions and forward them to us immediately.6
8th. Immediately after any election in your county, you must inform us of its results; and as early as possible after any general election, we will give you the like information.
9th. A Senator in Congress is to be elected by our next Legislature. Let no local interests divide you, but select candidates that can succeed.
10th. Our PLAN of operations will of course be CONCEALED FROM EVERY ONE except OUR GOOD FRIENDS, who of right ought to know them.7
Trusting much in our good cause, the strength of our candidates, and the determination of the Whigs every where, to do their duty, we go to the work of organization in this State, confident of succes We have the numbers, and if properly organized and exerted, with the gallant HARRISON at our head, we shall meet our foes, and conquer them in all parts of the Union.
Address your letters to Dr. A. G. Henry.A. G. HENRY,R. F. BARRETT,A. LINCOLN,E. D. BAKER,J. F. SPEED.”Springfield, Jan. ', 1840.
1Abraham Lincoln had a hand in composing this letter, which appeared in the form of a campaign circular.
The Illinois State Register copied this circular from the Chicago Democrat. The Chicago Democrat apparently received a copy from John Wentworth, who noted in parenthetical comments that the circular ended with the following endorsement: “Don’t forget to sent STUART a list of names, to whom he can send DOCUMENTS. Yours, etc., A. G. HENRY.”
The Sangamo Journal also printed the circular on the same date.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 21 February 1840, 2:2-3.
2On the first day of the convention, delegates approved a resolution calling for a committee of nine to recommend to the body “the best plan of procuring a general organization of the whig party in this State.” The committee of nine recommended that the convention appoint a state central committee, which would appoint sub-committees in each county and coordinate their activities in preparation for the upcoming presidential election. On the second day of the convention, William Moore, president of the body, named Henry, Barrett, Lincoln, Baker, and Speed as the State Central Committee.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 11 October 1839, 2:5, 7.
4Delegates selected William Henry Harrison and John Tyler for president and vice-president, respectively.
5By this, the committee meant Democrats appointed to federal offices, who received federal income. Whigs believed this made these men dangerously loyal to their party and President Van Buren, giving them an advantage in the upcoming election. The Whigs had good reasons to fear: the number of federal officeholders had been greatly expanded by the system to take the 1840 census, and the officeholders did involve themselves in advancing the Democratic cause. This was particularly true of postmasters, who distributed copies of the Extra Globe, the official campaign sheet and, according to some, blocked distribution of Whig campaign literature.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 21 February 1840, 2:2; Major L. Wilson, The Presidency of Martin Van Buren (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1984), 197; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 111.
6The prospectus for this new newspaper, called the Old Soldier, does not appear in this copy of the circular, but the Sangamo Journal published it on December 27, 1839. On February 7, 1840, the Sangamo Journal reported that the paper already had 5,000 subscribers before the publication of its first issue on February 1. On February 25, Thomas C. Browne wrote Henry Eddy that it had 8,000 subscribers, and that he expected its subscribers to rise to 20,000.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 27 December 1839, 3:5; 7 February 1840, 4:7; Thomas C. Browne to Henry Eddy, 25 February 1840, Henry Eddy Collection, Box 6, Folder 1840, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.
7The object of secrecy failed miserably. The Chicago Democrat, Galena Democrat, and several other Democrat newspapers published the circular within days of its creation. The Sangamo Journal charged that the Democrat postmasters stole it from the mail. Wentworth gave this charge some credence, noting that the circular “fell into my hands in a manner in which I need not mention to you.” Henry, Lincoln, and other members of the state central committee made a similar charge in a response to Democratic critics.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 21 February 1840, 2:2-3; Illinois State Register (Springfield), 21 February 1840, 2:5.
Printed Transcription, 1 page(s), Illinois State Register , (Springfield, IL) , 21 February 1840, 2:5