Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Ewing, 10 May 18491Springfield Ills. May 10th 1849Hon Secretary of the InteriorDear Sir
I regret troubling you so often in relation to the Land Offices here, but I hope you will perceive the necessity of it, & excuse me. On the 7th April I wrote you recommending Turner R. King for Register, and Walter Davis for Receiver–2 Subsequently I wrote you that, for a private reason, I had concluded to transpose them That private reason was the request of an old personal friend, who himself desired to be Receiver, but whom I felt it my duty to refuse a recommendation– He said if I would transpose King & Davis he would be satisfied. I thought it a whim, but anxious to oblige him, I consented– Immediately he commenced an assault upon Kings character, intending as I suppose, to defeat his appointment, and thereby secure another chance for himself–3 This double offence of bad faith to me, and slander upon a good man, is so totally outragious, that I now ask to have King & Davis placed as I originally recommended– That is King for Register and Davis for Receiver–4
An effort is being made now to have Mr Barret the present Register retained. I have always ^already^ said he has done the duties of the office well, and I now add he is a Gentleman
<Page 2>in the true sense.5 Still he submits to be the instrument of his party to injure us– His high character enables him to do it more effectually– Last year, he presided at the convention which nominated the Democratic candidate for Congress in this District, and afterwards ran for the State Senate himself, not desiring the seat, but avowedly to aid and strengthen his party–6 He made speech after speech with a degree of fierceness and coarseness against Genl Taylor not quite consistent with his hibitually Gentlemanly deportment–7
At least one (& I think more) of those who are now trying to have him retained, was himself an applicant for this very office, and failing to get my recommendation now takes this turn.
In writing you a third time in relation to these offices I stated that I supposed charges had been forwarded to you against King, and that I would enquire into the truth of them–8 I now send you herewith what I suppose will be an ample defense against any such charges– I ask attention to all the papers, but particularly to the letter of Mr David Mark, & the paper with the long list of names– There is no mistake about Kings being a good man. After the injust assault upon him, and considering the just claims of Tazewell County, as indicated in the letters I enclose you, it would in my opinion, be injustice, and withal, a blunder, not to appoint him,Your Obedient ServantA. Lincoln10
<Page 3>at least as soon as any one is appointed to either of the Offices here–9
Copy of Letter to Mr Ewing May 10th 1849
1This is a retained copy of the original letter in Abraham Lincoln’s hand sent to Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing.
2Lincoln wrote two letters, one recommending Turner R. King for register, and one recommending Walter Davis for receiver.
3Opponents of King charged him with being an abolitionist, drunkard, and gambler.
4The documentary record, though sparse, confirms that William Butler was Lincoln’s “old personal friend” seeking the job of receiver. In February 1849, William F. Elkin wrote Lincoln that Butler was an applicant, urging Lincoln to act on his behalf. Lincoln, however, had already committed to Davis and King for receiver and register, respectively. Lincoln instead wrote Ewing recommending Butler for pension agent in the Springfield office of the U.S. Bureau of Pensions. William H. Herndon would confirm it was Butler in letters to William Jayne and Jesse W. Weik in 1866 and 1886, respectively.
William Jayne to William H. Herndon, 15 August 1866, Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, eds., Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 267; William H. Herndon to Jesse W. Weik, 15 January 1886, 2-3, Abraham Lincoln, The Herndon-Weik Collection of Lincolniana: Group IV: Papers of William Henry Herndon, 1849-1891; 1874, Feb. 9-1886, Manuscript/Mixed Material, https://www.loc.gov/resource/mss25791.mss25791-009_0317_0695/?sp=265, https://www.loc.gov/resource/mss25791.mss25791-009_0317_0695/?sp=266, accessed 22 December 2020.
5James W. Barrett became register of the U.S. General Land Office in Springfield in 1844. Lincoln remarked on Barrett’s performance as register in his April 7 letter to Ewing endorsing King as Barrett’s successor.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 31 October 1844, 2:3.
6Illinois Democrats held their state convention in Springfield on April 24, 1848. They nominated a slate of candidates for federal and state office, including Thomas L. Harris for Congress representing the Seventh Illinois Congressional District. Lincoln, the incumbent, had pledged to serve only one term, but many Whigs in the district favored his renomination. Lincoln was not averse to running again, but Stephen T. Logan received the nomination. In August 1848, Logan would lose to Harris in a close race.
Barrett ran against John T. Stuart to represent Sangamon County in the Illinois State Senate. Stuart would defeat Barrett by 327 votes.
Prominent Democrats of Illinois: A Brief History of the Rise and Progress of the Democratic Party of Illinois (Chicago: Democrat, 1899), 20; Illinois Journal (Springfield), 16 August 1848, 3:1; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:271; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 8, 126.
7Lincoln references Barrett’s speeches opposing Zachary Taylor in the presidential election of 1848.
8On April 26, Lincoln wrote Ewing about the charges against King. A day earlier, Lincoln wrote Philo H. Thompson, one of King’s chief sponsors, that a “tirade” has erupted over his support for King. Lincoln bemoaned that his influence in Washington had broken down and that King’s prospects for a job had diminished. Lincoln urged Thompson to find out the truth about King, and, if the charges proved false, to take measures to sustain his endorsement of King. In the meantime, Lincoln used his letter to Ewing to head off any charges against King or his other recommendations for jobs in the Department of the Interior.
9Acting on Lincoln’s request, Thompson crafted a petition denying the allegations leveled against King and secured the signatures of prominent Whigs and Democrats in Tazewell County. He enclosed the signed petition in a letter written on May 3. Between April 30 and May 7, David Mark, Samuel R. Baker, Edward Jones, and John W. Casey wrote Lincoln attesting to King’s moral character and his fitness for public office. Lincoln enclosed these letters, Thompson’s letter, and the signed petition in this letter to Ewing. The petition sent to Ewing has not been located, but Lincoln retained a copy.
10In late May, King received the appointment as register, holding the job until 1853. In June, Davis became receiver and would hold the position until 1853.
Not only would Lincoln refuse to endorse Butler over King, he also endorsed William S. Wallace and Orville Paddock for the position of pension agent. Charles R. Hurst, the incumbent, resigned in June 1849, and Wallace replaced him on June 30. Disappointed and angry with Lincoln, Butler would spend the next decade opposing his political aspirations. The two would not speak for several years.
Niles’ National Register (Philadelphia, PA), 23 May 1849, 1:2; Illinois Journal (Springfield), 6 June 1849, 2:1, 13 June 1849, 3:1; Register of all Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1849 (Washington, DC: Gideon, 1849), 135, 137, 140; Register of all Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1851 (Washington, DC: Gideon, 1851), 140, 141, 151; Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1853 (Washington, DC: Robert Armstrong, 1853), 138, 139, 152; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:295; William H. Herndon to Jesse W. Weik, 15 January 1886, 2-3, Abraham Lincoln, The Herndon-Weik Collection of Lincolniana: Group IV: Papers of William Henry Herndon, 1849-1891; 1874, Feb. 9-1886, Manuscript/Mixed Material, https://www.loc.gov/resource/mss25791.mss25791-009_0317_0695/?sp=265, https://www.loc.gov/resource/mss25791.mss25791-009_0317_0695/?sp=266, accessed 22 December 2020.
Handwritten Transcription, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).