Abraham Lincoln to John D. Johnston, 12 January 18511Springfield, Jany 12. 1851–Dear Brother:
On the day before yesterday I received a letter from Harriett, written at Greenup–2 She says she has just returned from your house; and that Father [is very] low, and will hardly recover– She also s[ays] you have written me two letters; and that [although] you do not expect me to come now, yo[u wonder] that I do not write– I received both your [letters,3 and] although I have not answered them, it is no[t because] I have forgotten them, or been uninterested about them– but because it appeared to me I could write nothing which could do any good– You already know I desire that neither Father or Mother shall be in want of any comfort either in health or sickness while they live; and I feel sure you have not failed to use my name, if necessary, to procure a doctor, or any thing else for Father in his present sickness– My business is such that I could hardly leave home now, if it were not, as it is, that my own wife is sick abed– (It is a case of baby-sickness, and I suppose is not dangerous–)4 I sincerely hope Father may yet recover his health; but at all events tell him to [
rember?] remember to call upon, and confide in, our great, and good, and merciful Maker; who
will not turn away from him in any extremity– He notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads; and He5 will not forget the dying
<Page 2>man, who puts his trust in Him–6 Say to him that if we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant; but that if it be his lot to go now, he will soon have a joyous [meeting] with many loved ones gone before; and where [the rest] of us, through the help of God, hope ere long [to join] them–
Write me again when you receive this–7AffectionatelyA. Lincoln
JAN[January] 13John D. JohnstonCharlestonColes CountyIllinois–
[5 C, of, Mc?]
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to make an envelope. He did not write the script in the upper-left corner on the fourth image.
The original letter is damaged. The supplied text for the missing portion of the paper comes from John G. Nicolay and John Hay’s Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln.
John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, new and enlarged ed. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 2:147-49.
3John D. Johnston’s letters, likely dated either late-December 1850 or early-January 1851, have not been located.
4Mary Lincoln had recently given birth to she and Lincoln’s third son, William Wallace Lincoln, on December 21, 1850. During this period, Lincoln was also trying cases nearly every day at various courts in Illinois.
Family Record in Lincoln Family Bible; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 153.
6This is an allusion to the Biblical story of Jesus sending out his twelve disciples. In Matthew 10:29-32, Jesus says to his disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.”
7Johnston’s reply, if he penned one, has not been located.
It is possible that Lincoln did not initially believe his father’s condition was as serious as Johnston and Chapman claimed. In May 1849, Johnston and Augustus Chapman, Harriett’s husband, had written Lincoln, claiming that Thomas Lincoln was gravely ill and asking to see Lincoln. But Augustus Chapman wrote Lincoln again after Thomas Lincoln had recovered, apologized for troubling Lincoln with the false news that Thomas Lincoln had severe heart trouble, and reported that a doctor determined his father’s illness had been related to the lungs rather than the heart.
In 1851, however, Thomas Lincoln’s condition was indeed serious. Five days after Lincoln wrote this letter to Johnston, Thomas Lincoln died. Lincoln did not attend his father’s funeral.
Augustus H. Chapman to Abraham Lincoln; John D. Johnston to Abraham Lincoln; The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 17 January 1851, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1851-01-17; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 153.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).