Abraham Lincoln to Elihu N. Powell, 27 November 18541Springfield, Nov. 27– 1854E. N. Powell, Esq[Esquire]My dear Sir:
Acting on your advice, and my own judgment, I have declined accepting the office of Representative of this county–2 I only allowed myself to be elected, because it was supposed my doing so would help Yates–3
Things look reasonably well; but I fear some will insist on a platform, which I can not stand upon–4
Please write me again when you discover any thing worth writing about–Yours as everA. Lincoln–P. S. Can I venture to write directly to Dr Arnold?5A. L.
2Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise 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 unwillingly 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. Lincoln won the election for the Illinois House of Representatives, but as Elihu N. Powell pointed out in his letter of November 16, 1854, Article III, Section seven of the 1848 Illinois Constitution forbade any member of the General Assembly from running for the U.S. Senate.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73, 185; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392, 401-2; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7.
3Richard Yates sought reelection as representative of the Sixth Congressional District against Democrat Thomas L. Harris but was defeated by 200 votes.
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10.
4The platform that Lincoln is likely referring to is abolitionism. Although his campaign focused on refuting the Kansas-Nebraska Act and emphasizing the necessity of halting the spread of slavery in the United States, Lincoln did not go so far as to support abolishing slavery. He wrote Ichabod Codding, also on November 27, “I suppose my opposition to the principle of slavery is as strong as that of any member of the Republican party; but I had also supposed that the extent to which I feel authorized to carry that opposition, practically; was not at all satisfactory to that party.” Ultimately, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. See 1854 Federal Election.
Illinois Senate, Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 255.
5John D. Arnold had just been elected to the U.S. Senate representing District Eight. Arnold voted for Lincoln until the ninth ballot, when he shifted to Trumbull.
Louis L. Emmerson, ed., Blue Book of the State of Illinois, 1923-1924 (Springfield: Illinois State Journal, 1923), 680; Illinois Senate, Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).