Abraham Lincoln to Josiah M. Lucas, 17 November 18491Springfield, Novr 17. 1849J. M. LucasDear Sir:
I have been from home a month, so that your letter of the 17th of October was not received by me till yesterday–2 I regret that the elections in the states have gone so badly; but I think there is some reason for hoping that this year has been the administration's "darkest hour"– The appointments were it's most difficult task; and this year it has necessarily been viewed in connection with them alone– These are pretty much through with, and next we can get on grounds of measures– policy– where we can unite & rally again–3
At least, I hope so– I am sorry Don: Morrison has thought fit to assail you;4 and exceedingly glad Mr Ewing has sustained you– I am glad of this, for your sake and my own– my own, because I think it shows Mr Ewing is keeping faith with me in regard to my friends–5 By the way, I have a better opinion of Mr Ewing than you, perhaps, suppose I have–
As to the suppression of some of my letters of recommendation for the Genl[General] Land Office, Addison never said or wrote a word to me, or I to him– After the appointment was made I requested my letters to be returned to me, upon which a sealed bundle was sent to my room– I took it, or rather, brought it home unopened– Some days after I reached hereYour friend as everA. Lincoln
<Page 2>I opened it, and discovered that two letters were missing which I knew ought to be in it– I did not make the matter public here, and I wrote to no one concerning it elsewhere, except Mr Ewing himself– He answered my letter, and that subject has been dropped for at least three months–6 Till you mention it, I did not suppose Addison had any knowledge of it– I dont perceive that it would do any harm to any one, but perhaps it will be more prudent for you not to speak of my having mentioned the subject to you–
<Page 3>SPRINGFIELD Ill.[Illinois]
Free. A Lincoln M.C[Member of Congress]
FREEJ. M. Lucas, Esq[Esquire]WashingtonD.C.
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
2Josiah M. Lucas’ October 17, 1849 letter to Lincoln has not been located.
In the middle of October 1849, Abraham and Mary Lincoln traveled from Springfield, Illinois to Lexington, Kentucky to attend to business associated with the settling of Robert S. Todd’s estate and to participate with other Todd heirs in a lawsuit against Robert Wickliffe in the Fayette County Circuit Court. The Lincolns arrived in Lexington on October 20, and returned to Springfield on November 15.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 18 October 1849, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1849-10-18; 15 November 1849, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1849-11-15; William H. Townsend, Lincoln and His Wife’s Home Town (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929), 208-9; Todd et al. v. Wickliffe, Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=141847; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 19 November 1849, 2:1.
3President Zachary Taylor‘s administration received heavy criticism for its handling of political patronage appointments, particularly after the Democratic Party won numerous elections in 1849. Prior to the election of 1848, Taylor promised to reward all who supported him equally once he became president, irrespective of their political affiliation. Following its victory in the election of 1848, the Taylor administration employed the so-called “Virginia policy” with regard to political appointments. Taylor hoped that by allowing several of President James K. Polk’s last-minute Democratic appointments to stand, and by appointing Democrats himself, he would gain Democratic support for Whig candidates–or at least not raise the ire of Democratic voters. His administration paid particular attention to Virginia’s Democrats. Four Democrats from Virginia were appointed to new terms, Virginia was permitted to keep its Democratic postmasters, custom collectors, U.S. marshals, and U.S. attorneys, and more than sixty Democratic Virginian clerks in Washington, DC were permitted to keep their jobs. Many Whigs were upset and demoralized not only by Taylor’s Virginia policy, but also by what they perceived as Taylor’s passivity with regard to patronage appointments.
Taylor was criticized for delegating most decisions on patronage appointments either to members of his cabinet or to the departments under which the appointments fell. In July 1849, Lincoln wrote Secretary of State John M. Clayton, asking him to speak with the president on the topic and impress upon him the importance of accepting personal responsibility for political appointments, lest he “damn us all inevitably.” Although the perception that Taylor was uninvolved in the selection process for patronage appointments was popular at the time, it was inaccurate. Taylor indeed delegated authority to his cabinet to make decisions on most appointments. But he also attended most cabinet meetings where appointments were discussed, personally oversaw major diplomatic appointments and choice federal appointments in New York City, overrode Clayton when he disagreed with his selections, and awarded some of the best patronage positions to his political allies, friends, and family members. Nevertheless, many saw Taylor’s delegation of decisions on patronage appointments as a sign of weak leadership as well as a betrayal of his campaign promise to represent and fight for the interests of the people.
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), 418-19, 422-24.
4No other correspondence between Lincoln and Lucas or Lincoln and James L. D. Morrison on the topic of Morrison being upset with Lucas has been located. However, Morrison was one of three original candidates for appointment as commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office, a job which Lucas repeatedly urged Lincoln to compete for. It is therefore possible that Morrison was upset with Lucas for his advocacy on Lincoln’s behalf. See the General Land Office Affair.
5In a letter to Lincoln on June 23, 1849, Lucas wrote that he was concerned about losing his position as a temporary clerk in the U.S. General Land Office after President Taylor appointed Justin H. Butterfield commissioner of the Office, a job Lincoln had sought after learning that Butterfield was favored over the other two candidates for the job (Morrison and Cyrus Edwards ). See the General Land Office Affair.
Since Lucas had urged Lincoln to join the competition for the position, he had worried that Butterfield might not retain him as a clerk. After Butterfield was appointed, Lucas asked Lincoln to appeal to both Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing and Butterfield on the matter of securing a permanent position for Lucas. Although no letter from Lincoln to Ewing on the topic of Lucas’ position has been located, in a July 1849 letter to John Addison, Lincoln wrote that he was glad Lucas had a “good understanding with the new Commissioner.” Nevertheless, Lucas’ name does not appear in the official register of the officers and agents of the government employed as of September 30, 1849, nor does it appear in the official registers for 1851 and 1853.
Abraham Lincoln to George W. Crawford; Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; 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); 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); 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).
6Supporters of each candidate for commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office sent letters of reference and recommendation to both President Taylor and Ewing. Although the Department of the Interior oversaw the U.S. General Land Office, Taylor was ultimately responsible for appointing the commissioner of the Office.
Lincoln wrote Ewing June 22, 1849, requesting that all letters of recommendation and reference filed with the Department of the Interior pertaining to his candidacy for commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office be returned to him. Ewing complied, returning all but three of the letters from Lincoln’s file. Lincoln suspected that two particular letters which were missing from his file and not returned to him–one from Richard W. Thompson and one from Elisha Embree–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. Ewing, however, insisted that Taylor had seen both Thompson’s and Embree’s letters, after which they were then forwarded to him and retained due to departmental policy which did not permit the return of any letters of reference or recommendation which were addressed to Taylor or which contained statements about anyone other than the person being recommended. Lincoln later wrote Addison that his loyalty to both Taylor and “the great whig cause” induced him to remain silent about his suspicions. 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.
Thomas Ewing to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Ewing; Thomas Ewing to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Ewing; 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, 3 page(s), Huntington Library (San Marino, CA).