Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Ewing, 13 October 18491Springfield, Ills. Oct. 13. 1849.Hon: T. Ewing, Secretary &c.[etc.]Dear Sir:
I have just received a letter from a friend at Washington, from which the following is an extract. "Again told me that there was a clique in Springfield determined to prevent Butterfield's confirmation; and that Lincoln would give a thousand dollars to have it done– but, says , one of the company who meets with them, keeps Butterfield weekly, posted &c"–2
This annoys me a little– I am unwilling for the Administration to believe or suspect such a thing– I write this therefore, to assure you that I am neither privy to, nor cognizant of, any such clique; and that I most potently disbelieve in the existence of any such– I opposed the appointment of Mr B. because I believed it would be a matter of discouragement to our active, working friends here; and I opposed it for no other reason–3 I never did, in any true sense, want the office myself–4 Since Mr B's appointment, having no personal ill-will to him, and believing it to be for the interest of the AdministrationYour Obt Servt[Obedient Servant] A. Lincoln
<Page 2>and of our cause generally, I have constantly desired his confirmation5– I have seen in the newspapers but one matter of complaint against him; and in that (the matter of the Land Warrants) I believe he is right–6 What I am here saying depends on my word alone; but I think Mr B. himself, if appealed to, will not say he disbelieves me–
I heard the report to which you refer once only, in connexion with a complaint against our young clerks which came under examination but I gave it no credit & never even heard it named or alluded to by Mr Butterfield7
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, except for the text that appears below his signature at the bottom of the second image, which was written by Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing.
2The letter Lincoln references has not been located. President Zachary Taylor appointed Justin H. Butterfield commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office June 21, 1849. This was a position Lincoln had sought after learning that Butterfield was favored over James L. D. Morrison and Cyrus Edwards, the other competitors for the position. See the General Land Office Affair.
3As Lincoln explained in a May 16, 1849 letter to William B. Preston, he believed the appointment of Butterfield to such a valuable patronage position would represent an affront to Whigs of Illinois who had worked so hard to get Taylor nominated and elected president. Many Illinois Whigs were indeed upset by Butterfield’s appointment and criticized both Taylor and Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing. The administration hoped that by offering Lincoln a political appointment in the Oregon Territory, it would appease any angry Illinois Whigs and prevent additional attacks upon Butterfield’s appointment. Lincoln was first offered appointment as secretary of the Oregon Territory in August 1849, then governor of the Oregon Territory in September 1849. Although he seriously considered accepting the governorship appointment, Lincoln ultimately declined both offers, at least in part because Mary Lincoln had no desire to live in such a remote location.
4Early in the competition for the appointment of commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office, Lincoln expressed a desire that the citizens of Illinois be consulted regarding who received the position, but did not volunteer himself as a candidate. By early April 1849, various Whigs were pressing him to enter the competition for the position. Lincoln responded to these solicitations by reiterating his support for Edwards, but he also consented to entering the competition if Edwards and Morrison could not agree among themselves which of them should withdraw and which should move forward as a candidate. By late April 1849, Lincoln still refused to enter the competition. In mid-May 1849, he received several letters informing him that Edwards had removed himself as a candidate for the position and that President Taylor had delayed a decision on the appointment so that Lincoln could lobby for the position. Operating under the impression that Edwards was stepping down, and concerned that Butterfield would receive the appointment, Lincoln finally entered the competition for the job. In a letter to Joseph Gillespie in which he discussed his regret that Edwards was upset with him over the matter, Lincoln gave June 2, 1849 as the date he “unconditionally” decided to become a candidate for the position.
5Even while Lincoln’s friends pressed him to compete against Butterfield for appointment, and even as he asserted that Butterfield had weak claims to the position, Lincoln reminded his friends that Butterfield was “qualified to do the duties of the office.” After Butterfield received the appointment, Lincoln encouraged his “good friends every where” to approve Butterfield’s appointment, or, at the very least, “be silent when they can not.” Five months after Butterfield’s appointment, Lincoln wrote that he’d heard nothing to disappoint him about Butterfield’s performance on the job.
6This is a reference to complaints about Butterfield’s handling of land warrants for U.S. military veterans, who, according to U.S. policy, were entitled to land in exchange for their military service. Lincoln may have seen the New York Tribune‘s criticism of Butterfield, whom the paper charged with not upholding the policy his predecessor, Richard M. Young, who received land warrants in payment for public lands. If a land warrant’s “regularity and authenticity” was suspect, Butterfield asserted that the U.S. Pension Office should be consulted and make a determination on the matter since the Pension Office was responsible for issuing the land warrants. If assignments (documents related to the private transfer of the lands attached to a land warrant) were suspect, Butterfield insisted that this was not something that either he or the U.S. General Land Office staff could validate or certify as genuine. According to a letter Ewing wrote on the topic, which the New York Tribune published, Ewing agreed with Butterfield that determinations regarding the authenticity of land assignments were a legal matter for the U.S. courts, not something Butterfield, as commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office, should personally authenticate or on which he should express his opinion.
New-York Daily Tribune (New York, NY), 10 September 1849, 3:1-2; 15 September 1849, 3:1-2.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Box 3, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).