Abraham Lincoln to James Shields, 17 September 18421TREMONT, Sept. 17, 1842.2Jas. Shields, Esq[Esquire].
Your note of to-day was handed me by Gen. Whiteside. In that note you say you have been informed, through the medium of the editor of the Journal, that I am the author of certain articles in that paper which you deem personally abusive of you: and without stopping to enquire whether I really am the author, or to point out what is offensive in them, you demand an unqualified retraction of all that is offensive; and then proceed to hint at consequences.3
Now, sir, there is in this so much assumption of facts, and so much of menace as to consequences, that I cannot submit to answer that note any farther than I have, and to add, that the consequence to which I suppose you allude, would be matter of as great regret to me as it possibly could to you.4Respectfully,A. LINCOLN.
1Abraham Lincoln wrote this as a response to Shields’ letter to him of the same date. Lincoln gave the letter to John D. Whiteside, who hand-delivered it to Shields. The letter was subsequently printed in the Sangamo Journal on October 14, 1842. No handwritten version of this letter is known to exist.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 14 October 1842, 2:3-5.
2Lincoln was in Tremont attending to cases in the Tazewell County Circuit Court.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 7 October 1842, 2:5; 14 October 1842, 2:3.
3In 1838, the Sangamo Journal printed at least one anonymous letter from the “Lost Township,” the name of which alluded to political issues caused by the creation of new counties. In 1842, the concept was revived in a series of letters purporting to be from a woman named “Rebecca” from the Lost Townships. The first, dated August 10, 1842 and published on August 19, bemoaned the failure of the State Bank of Illinois and the subsequent depreciation of its printed paper money. On August 26, 1842, the Democratic administration, including State Auditor James Shields, decreed that the state would not accept its own money as payment for taxes. A widely unpopular decision, it was lambasted immediately by Whigs like Abraham Lincoln, who wrote a second pseudonymous editorial purportedly from “Rebecca,” dated August 27. Shields’ offense and Lincoln’s response to it nearly resulted in a duel between the two men.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 5 May 1838, 2:5; 19 August 1842, 3:1-3; Roy P. Basler, “The Authorship of the ‘Rebecca’ Letters,” Abraham Lincoln Quarterly (June 1942), 80-82; Douglas L. Wilson, Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 266, n5, 266-69; James Shields to Abraham Lincoln; James Shields to Abraham Lincoln; Memorandum of Duel Instructions to Elias H. Merryman.
4Shields responded to Lincoln on the same day.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 14 October 1842, 2:3.