Edward D. Baker to John M. Clayton, 20 March 18491Louisville Mar 20th 49.
Private & Confidential.Dear sir,
Every thing I see & hear convinces me that California should be a State at once. The permanency of Whig ascendency may depend on it,2
I submit the importance of taking steps to secure that result. and I point them out, 1st The immense western population pouring out. can be easily impressed, by some man who knows them– and of whom they know, 2nd It should be the business of such a man to form the public mind and direct its action– 3rd you should send such a man. 4th I offer to go. I do not need sir to present to you the advantages to the Whig party and the country if a state could be formed– two Senaters
<Page 2>and the settlement of a very dangerous question, are obvious Considerations, I do not as you know want mere employment or adventure, but I know that my political and military associations– with the men who are there and will be, to say nothing of my experience among Masses, will enable me to do much– and after mature reflection I think a government can be formed before December next,
Such is the plan I venture to suggest, if it strikes you favorably, the means and the mode are of course easily arranged– time is important and I would start in a day after hearing from you–
Will you reply to Galena Illinois and if you wish to see ^me^ and you think the plan feasible– telegraph me and I will obey your orderTrulyE. D. Baker3
Private & confidential
I have heard the foregoing letter of Col[Colonel] Baker read; and from a long personal & intimate acquaintance with him, if the plan he proposes is at all practicable, I think, he would be the very man to execute it–Hon[Honorable] J– M. Clayton,[Your obedient servant,][A. Lincoln]4
1Edward D. Baker wrote and signed the letter. Although there is no address line, the letter’s presence in the John M. Clayton Papers at the Library of Congress indicates that John M. Clayton was likely the recipient. Additionally, Abraham Lincoln wrote an endorsement addressed to Clayton following the main text of the letter.
2Upon assuming office after his victory in the presidential election of 1848, President Zachary Taylor had decided to pursue immediate statehood for California. California’s population met the constitutional requirement for admission as a state, and movement toward statehood had the political advantage of keeping members of Congress from having to vote on the contentious issue of slavery in territories acquired from Mexico after the Mexican War. The admission of California as presumably a free state would also, at least in Baker’s opinion, ensure the Whig Party’s ascendency over the Democrats.
K. Jack Bauer, Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985). 291.
3In the aftermath of the Whig victory in the 1848 election, Baker had sought a position in President Taylors’ cabinet. On February 27, 1849, Lincoln wrote Taylor to urge Baker’s appointment, enclosing a petition endorsing Baker signed by the Whig members of the Illinois General Assembly. Taylor did not offer Baker a cabinet position. Like his predecessor James K. Polk, Taylor apportioned his cabinet selections geographically. Thomas Ewing of Ohio represented the “Old Northwest” as secretary of the interior.
The idea to send a special agent to California to hasten the adoption of a state constitution did not originate with Baker; Secretary of State John M. Clayton and Secretary of the Navy William B. Preston proposed similar ideas to President Taylor. Taylor approved the plan, appointing Representative Thomas B. King as the special agent.
Elbert B. Smith, The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988), 52-55; Paul H. Bergeron, The Presidency of James K. Polk (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1987), 23-24; K. Jack Bauer, Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest, 291.
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 page(s), John Middleton Clayton Papers, Volume 3, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).