Abraham Lincoln to Thomas J. Henderson, 15 December 18541Springfield Decr 15. 1854 Hon: T. J. Henderson:Dear Sir:
Yours of the 11th was received last night, and for which I thank you– Of course I prefer myself to all others; yet it is neither in my heart nor my conscience to say I am any better man than Mr Williams– We shall have a terrible struggle with our adversaries– They are desperate, and bent on desperate deeds–2 I accidentally learned of one of the leaders here writing to a member South of here, in about the following language. “We are beaten– They have a clear majority of at least nine, on joint ballot– They outnumber us, but we must outmanage them– Douglas must be sustained– We must elect the Speaker; and we must elect a Nebraska US. Senator, or elect none at all–”3 Similar letters, no doubt, are written to every Nebraska member– Be considering how we can best meet, and foil, and beat them–
I send you, by this mail, a copy of my Peoria speech–4 You may have seen it before; or you may not think it worth seeing now–
Do not speak of the Nebraska letter mentioned above; I do not wish it to become public, that I received such information–5Yours trulyA. Lincoln–
2Lincoln references the clamor over the imminent election for the U.S. Senate. 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. In November and December 1854, Lincoln wrote confidential letters to Henderson and other political allies seeking support for his candidacy and information about his prospects. Lincoln won election to the Illinois House of Representatives in the 1854 election, but declined the seat in late November in order to run for U.S. Senate.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Abraham Lincoln to Hugh Lamaster; Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Gillespie; Abraham Lincoln to Horace W. Fay; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5.
3George F. Powers wrote to Lincoln on December 8, 1854, sharing this quote and identifying the writer as newspaper editor Charles H. Lanphier to newly elected Representative Finney D. Preston.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3.
4Lincoln delivered his three-hour speech in Peoria on October 16, 1854, following an equally lengthy speech by Stephen A. Douglas.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 16 October 1854, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-10-16; Report of Speech at Peoria, Illinois; Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:247-83.
5Thomas J. Henderson’s December 11 letter revealed that Henderson remained uncommitted. He wrote that he supported either Lincoln or Archibald Williams for the United States Senate seat—since they were both Whigs—but that Lincoln had a slight advantage in Stark County, Illinois. When the General Assembly met in a joint session on February 8, 1855, ten rounds of voting were needed to finally determine Lyman Trumbull as the victor. Henderson cast his vote for Lincoln on nine ballots before switching to Trumbull on the final ballot. See 1854 Federal Election. Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 1st sess., 242-55.
Copy of Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page(s), William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI).