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Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Ewing, 9 July 18491
Hon: Secretary of the InteriorDear Sir:
The day after the appointment of Mr Butterfield, as Commissioner of the General Land Office, you, at my request, delivered to me, the papers on file in my favor for the same office–2 They were handed me in a package sealed up; and I did not open them till yesterday. I was surprised to find amongst them no letter from Hon: R. W. Thompson, or Hon: Elisha Embree, late whig members of Congress from two of the Wabash districts in Indiana– Both those gentlemen had informed me by letters, that they had written the President in my behalf, and had sent me copies of their letters to him,3 which copies I had at Washington,4 and still have– I would have filed the copies, only that I was told by Mr Caffee, or Mr Addison, (I forget, which) that the originals were on file already– Something of the contents of one of them was mentioned by my informant, which, corresponding with my copy, left me in no doubt that he had really seen the original– I write this to ascertain, if I can, how those originals got off the file, and to have them sent me, if they can be found– I relied upon, and valued, them more than any other two letters I had, because of the high standing of the writers, because of their location within the Public Land states,5 and because they did (what few other members of Congress could) speak of my character and standing at home– On discovering they
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were missing from the file, a remark of Judge Collamer occurred to me. On the same evening ^afternoon^ of the appointment he said to me, that Mr B. appeared to be better recommended from the Public Land states than6 I– I felt sure he was [m]istaken; yet, never disposed to wrestle with the court after the case is decided, I made no reply– If these letters were not before the Cabinet, the Judge was nearer right than I supposed– With them, I had the State of Indiana clearly; without them Mr B. had it– The letter of Mr Thompson was a recantation from Mr B. to me; so that without it, I not only lost him, but he stood, in full life, recommending Mr B. I show the exact bearing of these letters, as an excuse for my anxiety to know how they, in particular, happen to be missing– One other letter, which I supposed to be on file, I do not find; but I have not so great certainty it ever was filed–
Will you please write me, on receipt of this?7
Your Obt Servt[Obedient Servant]A. Lincoln
Answered July 18, 1849.
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter.
2Lincoln references letters of recommendation in support of his qualifications for the position of commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. Originally, only Justin H. Butterfield, James L. D. Morrison, and Cyrus Edwards were vying to become commissioner. Lincoln entered the competition after learning that Butterfield was favored over Morrison and Edwards. Supporters of each candidate sent letters of reference and recommendation to both President Zachary Taylor and Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing. Although the U.S. Department of the Interior oversaw the U.S. General Land Office, President Taylor was ultimately responsible for appointing the commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. In the end, the job went to Butterfield. See the General Land Office Affair.
3Lincoln wrote both Richard W. Thompson and Elisha Embree on May 25, 1849, asking them each to write directly to President Taylor in support of his candidacy for commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. No copies of their letters to President Taylor have been located; however, Thompson expressed his support of Lincoln in two letters in mid-June 1849.
4As competition for the job intensified, William H. Henderson and Josiah Lucas, Lincoln supporters living in Washington, DC, had urged Lincoln to come to the nation’s capital to personally lobby for the position. Lincoln arrived on or before June 19, 1849.
5This is a reference to the states that fell into the Northwest Territory under the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which included most or large parts of the current states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
6“then” changed to “than”.
7Ewing replied to this letter July 18, 1849, and Lincoln wrote Ewing one more letter on this topic on July 27, 1849. In a letter to John Addison, Lincoln later wrote that his loyalty to both Taylor and “the great whig cause” induced him to remain silent about his suspicions that Thompson’s and Embree’s letters were purposefully omitted by someone at the Department of the Interior in order to give Butterfield an advantage over him in the competition for the job. Thompson’s and Embree’s letters of recommendation have not been located.
Eventually, on April 22, 1850, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives formed a committee under William A. Richardson to investigate Ewing’s role in and handling of patronage appointments as well as his management of pension payments and Department of the Interior accounts. On June 8, 1850, the New York Herald reported that Butterfield’s appointment as commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office was one patronage appointment that the Richardson Committee was investigating, particularly with regard to letters missing from the file on Lincoln that was shown to President Taylor prior to Taylor selecting the final appointee. However, when the Committee filed its final reports on September 4-7, 1850, it made no finding regarding Butterfield’s appointment. The Whig-controlled U.S. Senate also exonerated Ewing of all charges, although suspicions remained in some Whig circles that Ewing had indeed suppressed letters of recommendation from Lincoln’s file.
Cong. Globe, 31st Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 1209-37 (1850); Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:304; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 1729; Paul I. Miller, “Lincoln and the Governorship of Oregon,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 23 (December 1936), 393-94; The New York Herald (NY), 8 June 1850, 3:5.

Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Lincoln Papers, Box 1, Folder 3, Indiana Historical Society (Indianapolis, IN).