Abraham Lincoln to Thomas J. Henderson, 27 November 18541Springfield, Novr 27. 1854T. J. Henderson, Esq[Esquire]My dear Sir–
It has come round that a whig may, by possibility, be elected to the U. S. Senate; and I want the chance of being the man– You are a member of the Legislature, and have a vote to give– Think it over, and see whether you can do better than to go for me–2
Write me, at all events; and let this be confidential–3Yours trulyA. Lincoln–
2Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise had reawakened Lincoln’s passion for politics, and he threw himself into the congressional election campaign in the fall of 1854, crisscrossing Illinois to deliver speeches against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and in support of anti-Nebraska candidates. He even allowed himself to become a candidate for the Illinois General Assembly (albeit reluctantly at first). As the election campaign reached its climax, Lincoln’s name began to circulate as a possible nominee for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. U.S. senators were chosen at this time by the Illinois General Assembly and Lincoln began quietly seeking the support of General Assembly members such as newly-elected representative for Stark County, Thomas J. Henderson. The state’s voters sent an anti-Nebraska majority to the Illinois General Assembly, in which Lincoln also won a seat. Around this date he declined to serve in order to run for the U.S. Senate.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Abraham Lincoln to Charles Hoyt; Abraham Lincoln to J. Young Scammon; Abraham Lincoln to Jacob Harding; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Stephen Hansen and Paul Nygard, “Stephen A. Douglas, the Know-Nothings, and the Democratic Party in Illinois, 1854-1858,” Illinois Historical Journal 87 (Summer 1994), 114; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; U.S. Const. art. I, § 3.
3Henderson responded to this letter on December 11, 1854, saying that Lincoln and Archibald Williams had occurred to him as desirable candidates for the U.S. Senate, but that Lincoln appeared to be the popular choice and he would be pleased if Lincoln were elected.
Henderson did indeed support Lincoln’s bid for the U.S. Senate when the Illinois General Assembly met in a joint session on February 8, 1855, to vote on the matter. Henderson voted for Lincoln through the first nine rounds of voting. For the tenth vote, Lincoln withdrew and urged his supporters to vote for anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull in order to ensure that an anti-Nebraska politician filled the seat. Henderson cast his vote for Trumbull in the tenth and final round of voting in which the latter emerged victorious. See the 1854 Federal Election.
Victor B. Howard, “The Illinois Republican Party: Part I: A Party Organizer for the Republicans in 1854,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 64 (Summer 1971), 153-54; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
Copy of Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page(s), facsimile located at McLean County Museum of History (Bloomington, IL).