Abraham Lincoln to John Addison, 9 August 18501Springfield, Augt 9. 1850John Addison, Esq–[Esquire]Dear Sir:
Your letter of the 31st of July was received yesterday–2 The substance of the matter you speak of, in detail, has long been known to me; and I have supposed, if I would, I could make it entirely plain to the world.3 But my high regard for some of the members of the late cabinet; my great devotion to Gen: Taylor personally; and, above all, my fidelity to the great whig cause, have induced me to be silent; and this especially, as I have felt, and do feel, entirely independent of the government, and therefore above the power of it's persecution– I also have long suspected that you were being persecuted on account of this piece of villiany, by, or for the benefit of the original villian4; and, I own, this fills me with indignation– A public expose, however, though it might confound the guilty, I fear might also injure some who are innocent; to some extent, disparage a good cause; reflect no credit upon me, and result in no advantage to you–5
Mr Bates I see declines a place in the Cabinet;6 so that it is not yet apparent how I can serve you, which I am anxious to do so soon as I shall perceive the way– Write me again–7
One part of your letter induces me to say I would not ^now^ accept the Land Office, if it were offered to me–Yours as everA. Lincoln
<Page 2>SPRINGFIELD Ill.[Illinois]
9John Addison, Esq,WashingtonD. C.
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
3This is a reference to the controversy surrounding letters of recommendation missing or withheld from Lincoln’s file as a candidate for commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office, a file which was held by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Following a lengthy competition for the position between James L. D. Morrison, Cyrus Edwards, Justin H. Butterfield, and, eventually, Lincoln, President Zachary Taylor awarded the position to Butterfield in June 1849. See the General Land Office Affair.
During the competition for the position, supporters of each candidate sent letters of reference and recommendation to both President 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. Lincoln wrote Ewing June 22, 1849, requesting that all letters of recommendation and reference filed with the U.S. 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 the letters written by Richard W. Thompson and 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. In the end, Lincoln chose not to make his suspicions public—for the reasons he provides in this letter to Addison.
4Addison was a clerk in the U.S. Department of the Interior during the General Land Office Affair, supported Lincoln, and received Lincoln’s help in trying to secure a permanent appointment. The “persecution” Lincoln mentions is most likely a reference to Addison being targeted by someone in retaliation for his support of Lincoln. This “original villain” was probably Ewing but could also have been Butterfield.
John Addison to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to John Addison; Abraham Lincoln to John Addison; 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), 149; H.R. Ex. Doc. No. 79, 31st Cong., 1st Sess. (1850).
5On 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; New York Herald (NY), 8 June 1850, 3:5.
6Following the death of President Taylor, President Millard Fillmore offered Edward Bates the cabinet position of secretary of war. Bates declined the appointment.
Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996, 630.
7Addison’s reply to this letter, if he wrote one, has not been located. However, in September 1850, Lincoln provided Addison with a letter of recommendation for a new clerkship position, noting that he felt Addison was “greatly wronged” for reasons he did not wish to explain in writing. A week after providing Addison with this letter, Lincoln also wrote Addison to ask that any letters of recommendation in support of him for commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office still remaining at the Department of the Interior be returned to him.
Addison’s name appears in the official register of the officers and agents of the government for 1851 as a clerk in the Department of the Interior’s pension office. His name does not appear, however, in the official register for 1853, so apparently, he did not receive another federal appointment following the pension office position.
Register of all Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1851, 149; 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).
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s) The Lincoln Museum (Ft. Wayne, IN).