Abraham Lincoln to Horace W. Fay, 11 December 18541Springfield, December 11, 1854.H. W. Fay.My Dear Sir:
When you were in the legislature you helped to pass some bills of mutual interest, at that time either in jest or earnest you suggested me for Senator. My friends are now asking me to make the race. See the representatives and senator of your district and let me know what indorsement I may expect in that locality.2Your friend as ever,A. LINCOLN.Let this be confidential.
1This letter is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but the original in his hand has not been located.
Roy P. Basler, editor of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, incorrectly identified the recipient of this letter, H. W. Fay, as Herbert W. Fay, who was not born until 1859. The H. W. Fay that Lincoln addresses in this letter was actually Horace W. Fay of DeKalb County, Illinois. He was Herbert W. Fay’s grandfather.
Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:292; The Biographical Record of De Kalb County Illinois (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1898), 92; Lewis M. Gross, Past and Present of DeKalb County (Chicago: Pioneer, 1907), 1:440-43.
2Fay’s reply, if he penned one, has not been located. Fay represented DeKalb County in the Illinois House of Representatives from January to November 1849.
John Clayton, comp., The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 216-17.
In 1854, DeKalb County was part of Illinois’ Fifth Senate District and the state’s Forty-Sixth House District. In the election of 1854, voters in the former elected Augustus Adams to the Illinois Senate and voters in the latter elected Benjamin Hackney and William Patten to the Illinois House of Representatives.
Passage 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.
Although he won election to the Illinois General Assembly, on November 25, 1854 Lincoln officially declined to serve in order to run for the U.S. Senate. Per Article III, Section seven of the 1848 Illinois Constitution, state legislators were ineligible for election to the U.S. Senate. In November and December 1854, he wrote confidential letters to political allies—including this letter to Fay—seeking support for his candidacy and information about his prospects. As a December 17 letter from Adams reveals, Lincoln wrote Adams separately on December 5.
Ultimately, however, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. Adams cast seven ballots for Lincoln before switching his vote to Trumbull. Hackney voted for Lincoln twice, vacillated between Martin P. Sweet, Lincoln, and J. Young Scammon for several votes, then cast three more votes for Lincoln before switching his vote to Trumbull in the final two ballots. Patten did not cast a single ballot for Lincoln; instead, he shifted his allegiance between William B. Ogden, Trumbull, and Sweet before settling upon Trumbull. Stung and disappointed by his loss, Lincoln made no political speeches or public statements for an entire year after his defeat and reinvested his energies in his law practice.
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; Abraham Lincoln to Hugh Lamaster; Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Gillespie; Abraham Lincoln to Charles Hoyt; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; 2 January 1855, 2:3; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392, 401-2; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 1st sess., 242-55.
Printed Transcription, 1 page(s), Herbert Wells Fay, "Lincoln Enthusiast a Governor," Springfield Week by Week 2 (November 1932), 8.