Abraham Lincoln to William B. Preston, 20 April 18491Springfield, Ills– April 20, 1849.Hon: W. B. Preston:Dear Sir:
No member of the cabinet knows so well as yourself, the great anxiety I felt for Gen: Taylor's election, and consequently none could so well appreciate my anxiety for the success of his administration– Therefore I address you– It is seen here that the government advertising, or a great part of it, is given to the Democratic papers– This gives offence to the Whig papers; and, if persisted in, will leave the administration without any newspaper support whatever– It causes, or will cause, the Whig editors to fall off, while the Democratic ones will not be brought in by it– I suppose Gen: Taylor, because both of his declarations, and his inclination, will not go the doctrine of removals very strongly; and hence the greater reason, when an office or a job is not already in democratic hands, that it should be given to a Whig– Even at this, full half the government patronage will still be in the hands of our opponents at the end of four years; and if still less than this is done for our friends, I think they will have just cause to complain, and I verily believe the administration can not be sustained–2 The enclosed paragraph is from the leading Whig paper in this state–Your Obt Servt[Obedient Servant]A. Lincoln–
<Page 2>I think ^it^ the paragraph is injudicious, and should not have appeared; still there is no keeping men silent when they feel they are wronged by their friends– As the subject of this paragraph pertains to the War Department, I would have written Mr Crawford, but that it might have appeared obtrusive, I having no personal acquaintance with him– I am sure you will not be offended–3
<Page 4>SPRI[NGFIELD] ILL.[Illinois]
Free.A Lincoln M. C[Member Congress]
FREEHon. W. B. PrestonWashingtonD.C.
Apl 20. 1849.
Apl 20. 1849.
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the fourth sheet, which was folded to form an envelope.
2Lincoln was not alone in questioning the patronage policy of the Taylor administration; conflicts and complaints over the distribution of patronage dominated the first nine months of the Taylor presidency. Zachary Taylor had positioned himself as a candidate above or unbound by party affiliation, but this proved easier in making policy than in distributing jobs. The federal civil service had grown to over 18,000, and Whigs, out of power since 1840, were eager to reap the rewards of the victory in 1848. The pool of applicants was vast, however, and Whigs often squabbled over who was most deserving of accommodation. Many Democrats also voted for Taylor, and they wanted Taylor to make good on his pledge to be a president of all Americans. Taylor did seek to broaden support for his administration by offering appointments to both Whigs and Democrats, but the administration’s inept handling of patronage irritated both groups. Whigs divided bitterly over patronage, and Democrats, led by its press, continually condemned President Taylor’s patronage policies as a betrayal of his promise of bipartisanship.
Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 414-19; Elbert B. Smith, President Zachary Taylor: The Hero President (New York: Nova History, 2007), 169-70.
3The clipping Lincoln references has not been located. Though Lincoln does not identify the newspaper from which he clipped out the paragraph, it could have been the Illinois Daily Journal, which on April 6 published a telegraphic dispatch that claimed that President Taylor rebuffed Edward D. Baker’s efforts to secure an appointment in the War Department--this after Baker had failed to get a cabinet appointment.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 6 April 1849, 2:1.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Rosenbach Museum and Library (Philadelphia, PA).