Abraham Lincoln to William H. Herndon, 22 June 18481Washington, June 22. 1848–Dear William,
Last night I was attending a sort of caucus of the whig members held in relation to the coming presidential election– The whole field of the Nation was scanned, and all is high hope and confidence– Illinois is expected to better her condition in this race– Under these circumstances, judge how heart-sickening it was to come to my room and find and read your discouraging letter of the 15th2 We have made no gains, but have lost "A. R. Robinson, Turner Campbell, and four or five more"–3 Tell Arney to re-consider, if he would be saved– Baker and I used to do something, but I think you attach more importance to our absence than is just–4 There is another cause– In 1840, for instance, we had two senators and five representatives in Sangamon; now we have part ^of^ one senator, and two representatives–5 With quite one third more people than we had then, we have only half the sort of offices which are sought by men of the speaking sort of talent– This, I think, is the chief cause– Now as to the young men– You must not wait to be brought forward by the older men– For instance do you suppose that I should ever have got into
<Page 2>notice if I had waited to be hunted up and pushed forward by older men– You young men get together and form a Rough & Ready club, and have regular meetings and speeches. Take in every body that you can get, Harrison Grimsley, Z. A. Enos, Lee Kimball, and C. W. Matheny will do well to begin the thing, but as you go along, gather up all the shrewd wild boys about town, whether just of age, or a little under age– Chris: Logan, Reddick Ridgely, Lewis Zwizler, and hundreds such– Let every one play the part he can play best—some speak, some sing, and all hollow. Your meetings will be of evenings; the older men, and the women will go to hear you; so that it will not only contribute to the election of "Old Zack" but will be an interesting pastime, and improving to the intellectual faculties of all engaged– Don't fail to do this–6
You ask me to send you all the speeches made about "Old Zac" the war &c. &c.[etc. etc.] Now this makes me a little impatient– I have regularly sent you the Congressional Globe and Appendix, and you can not have examined them, or you would have discovered that they contain every speech made by every man, in both Houses of Congress, on every subject, during this session– Can I send any more? Can I
<Page 3>send speeches that nobody has made? Thinking it would be most natural that the newspapers would feel interested to give at least some of the speeches to their readers, ^I,^ at the beginning of the session I made arrangement to have one copy of the Globe and Appendix regularly sent to each whig paper of our district– And yet, with the exception of my own little speech, which was published in two only of the then five, now four whig papers, I do not remember having seen a single speech, or even an extract from one, in any single one of those papers–7 With equal and full means on both sides, I will venture that the State Register has thrown before it's readers more of Locofoco speeches in a month, than all the whig papers of the district, have done of whig speeches during the session.
If you wish a full understanding of the beginning of the war, I repeat what I believe I said to you in a letter once better before, that the whole, or nearly so is to be found in the speech of Dixon of Connecticut–8 This I sent you in Pamphlet, as well as in the Globe– Examine and study every sentence of that speech thoroughly, and you will understand the whole subject–
You ask how Congress came to
<Page 4>declare that war existed by the act of Mexico– Is it possible you dont understand that yet? You have at least twenty speeches in your possession that fully explain it– I will, however, try it once more– The news reached Washington of the commencement of hostilities on the Rio Grande, and of the great peril of Gen: Taylor's army– Every body, whig and democrat, was for sending them aid, in men and money– It was necessary to pass a bill for this– The Locos had a majority in both Houses, and they brought in a bill with a preamble, saying—Whereas war exists by the act of Mexico, therefore we send Gen: Taylor men and money– The whigs moved to strike out the preamble, so that they could vote to send the men and money, without saying any thing about how the war commenced; but, being in the minority they were voted down, and the preamble was retained– Then, on the passage of the bill, the question came upon ^them,^ "shall we vote for preamble and bill both together, or against both together– They could not vote against sending help to Gen: Taylor, and therefore they voted for both together– Is there any difficulty in understanding this? Even my little speech, shows how this
<Page 5>was; and if you will go to the Library you may get the Journals of 1845-6, in which you can find the whole for yourself–9
We have nothing published yet with special reference to the Taylor race; but we soon will have, and then I will send them to every body– I made an Internal Improvement speech day-before-yesterday, which I shall send home as soon as I can get it written out and printed, and which I suppose nobody will read–Your friend as everA Lincoln.
3No person named “Turner Campbell” could be identified. It is possible that Lincoln was referring to two men with the last names Turner and Campbell.
4Lincoln and Edward D. Baker were two of Springfield’s leading Whigs. Following the Mexican War, Baker relocated to Galena, Illinois, and Lincoln was serving in Congress in Washington. Arney has not been identified.
5Lincoln was mistaken on the specifics of this point. In 1840, Sangamon County shared two senators with Christian, Logan and Menard counties, and elected five representatives to the General Assembly. In 1848, Sangamon County shared one senator with Christian County and had three representatives of its own.
An Act to Establish the Counties of Menard, Logan, and Dane; “An Act to Apportion the Representation in the Several Counties in This State,” 25 February 1847, Laws of Illinois (1847), 3-5.
6In the presidential election, Sangamon County gave Taylor 58.4 percent of the vote to 40.2 percent for Lewis Cass, the Democratic Party candidate, and 1.4 percent for Martin Van Buren, candidate of the Free Soil Party. Efforts to pull Illinois into the Whig camp proved a failure; Like the rest of the Old Northwest, Illinois went for Cass, giving him 44.9 percent of the vote to 42.4 percent for Taylor and 12.6 percent for Van Buren .
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 122; John L. Moore, Jon P. Preimesberger, and David R. Tarr, eds., Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S. Elections, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001), 1:650.
7Lincoln is likely referring to Whig newspapers in the Seventh Congressional District: the Beardstown Gazette, the Illinois Gazette (Lacon), the Morgan Journal(Jacksonville), the Illinois Journal (Springfield ), and the Hennepin Herald, which ceased publication in 1848. Lincoln’s speech on the Mexican War was published in the Illinois Journal on February 10, 1848.
Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1:492; Franklin William Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879, vol. 6 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1910), 198; Illinois Journal (Springfield), 10 February 1848, 1:4-6.
8President James K. Polk presented his annual message to Congress on December 7, 1847. On January 24, 1848, Whig Representative James Dixon responded to the president’s message by declaring Polk to be responsible for the Mexican War.
Speech of Mr. Dixon, of Connecticut, on the Reference of the President’s Message (Washington, DC: J. & G. S. Gideon, 1848).
9Lincoln referenced the debate that took place in the wake of President Polk’s message to Congress of May 11, 1846, asking for a declaration of war against Mexico. On January 27, 1846, the House Committee on Military Affairs had reported a bill allowing the president, “under certain circumstances,” to accept the services of volunteers--with no mention of tensions with Mexico. After Polk’s message, the House conflated Polk’s request for a declaration of war and the bill, amending the bill by striking out the entire first section and inserting a preamble affirming that by an act of Mexico war existed between the United States and Mexico and allowing the president to “prosecute said war to a speedy and successful termination,” by calling for volunteers, and appropriating $10 million for the conflict. The House adopted this amendment by a vote of 123 yeas to 67 nays, and passed the bill as amended by a vote of 174 yeas to 14 nays. The Senate concurred on May 12.
U.S. House Journal. 1846. 29th Cong., 1st sess., 307, 784-89, 790-96, 804; H.R. 145, 29th Cong. (1846); “An Act providing for the Prosecution of the Existing War Between the United States and the Republic of Mexico,” 13 May 1846, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):9-10.
Autograph Letter Signed, 5 page(s), Huntington Library (San Marino, CA).