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Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne, 9 February 18551
Hon: E. B. WashburneMy dear Sir:
The agony is over at last; and the result you doubtless know– I write this only to give you some particulars to explain what might appear difficult of understanding–2 I began with 44 votes, Shields 41, and Trumbull 5—3 yet Trumbull was elected– In fact 47 different members voted for me— getting three new ones on the second ballot, and losing four old ones–4 How come my 47 to yield to T's 5?– It was Govr Matteson's work– He has been secretly a candidate every since (before, even) the fall election5 All the members round about the canal were Anti-Nebraska; but were, nevertheless nearly all democrats, and old personal friends of his–6 His plan was to privately impress them with the belief that he was as good Anti-Nebraska ^as^ any one else— at least could be secured to be so by instructions, which could be easily passed– In this way he got from four to six of that sort of men to really prefer his election to that of any other man— all
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"sub rosa" of course–7 One notable instance of this sort was with Mr Strunk of Kankakee– At the beginning of the session he came a volunteer to tell me he was for me & would walk a hundred miles to elect me;8 but lo, it was not long before he leaked it out that he was going for me the first few ballots & then for Govr[Governor] Matteson–9
The Nebraska men, of course, were not for Matteson; but when they found they could elect no avowed Nebraska man they tardily determined, to let him get whomever of our men he could by whatever means he could, and ask him no questions– In the mean time Osgood, Don– Morrison & Trapp of StClair had openly gone over from us–10 With the united Nebraska force, and their recruits, open & covert, it gave Matteson more than enough to elect him– We saw into it plainly ten days ago; but with every possible effort, could not head it off–11 All that remained of the Anti Nebraska force, excepting Judd, Cook, Palmer Baker & Allen of Madison, & two or three of the secret Matteson men, would go into caucus, & I could get the nomination of that caucus– But the three Sena -
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tors & one of the two representatives above named “could never vote for a whig” and this incensed some twenty whigs to “think” they would never vote for the man of the five–12 So we stood, and so we went into the fight yesterday; the Nebraska men very confident of the election of Matteson, though denying that he was a candidate; and we very much believing also, that they would elect him– But they wanted first to make a show of good faith to Shields by voting for him a few times, and our secret Matteson men also wanted to make a show of good faith by voting with us a few times– So we led off– On the seventh ballot, I think, the signal was given to the Neb-men, to turn on to Matteson, which they acted on to a man, with one exception; my old friend Strunk going with them giving him 44 votes–13 Next ballot the remaining Neb.[Nebraska] man, & one pretended Anti–[Anti-Nebraska] went on to him, giving him 46–14 The next still another giving him 47, wanting only three of an election–15 In the mean time, our friends with a view of detaining our expected bolters had been turning from me to Trumbull till he
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he had risen to 35 & I had been reduced to 15– These would never desert me except by my direction; but I became satisfied that if we could prevent Matteson's election one or two ballots more, we could not possibly do so a single ballot after my friends should begin to return to me from Trumbull– So I determined to strike at once; and accordingly advised my remaing friends to go for him, which they did & elected him on that the 10th ballot–16
Such is the way the thing was [don?] done– I think you would have done the same under the circumstances; though Judge Davis, who came down this morning, declares he never would have consented to the 47 men being controlled by the 5–17
I regret my defeat moderately, but I am not nervous about it– I could have headed off every combination and been elected, had it not been for Matteson's double game— and his defeat now gives me more pleasure than my own gives me pain– On the whole, it is perhaps as well for our general cause that Trumbull is elected– The Neb-men confess that they hate it worse than any
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thing that could have happened– It is a great consolation to see them worse whipped than I am– I tell them it is their own fault— that they had abundant opertunity to choose between him & me, which they declined; and in stead forced it on me to decide between him & Matteson–
With my grateful acknowledgments for the kind, active, and continued interest you have taken for me in this matter, allow me to subscribe, myself18
Yours foreverA. Lincoln
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[docketing]
A Lincoln
Feb[February] 9th 1855–19
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter.
2Lincoln is referring to the election for Illinois’ representative in the U.S. Senate—in which he was a candidate—being finished.
Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise had reawakened his passion for politics, and he had thrown 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, his name began to circulate as a possible nominee to supplant Democratic incumbent James Shields as U.S. Senator.
Lincoln won election to the Illinois General Assembly, but, on November 25, 1854, 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.
The Illinois General Assembly met in a joint session on February 8, 1855, to elect a U.S. senator. Ten rounds of voting were needed to finally determine the victor. Lincoln received a majority of the anti-Nebraska votes until the tenth and final ballot, when he 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. With the votes of Lincoln’s supporters, Trumbull won the seat. See the 1854 Federal Election.
William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392, 401-2; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; 2 January 1855, 2:3; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55; 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.
3In the first round of voting for the U.S. Senate seat in the Illinois General Assembly, ninety-nine votes were cast, of which Lincoln received forty-five—including that of Thomas J. Turner, speaker of the House of Representatives. Lincoln is correct that Shields received forty-one votes and Trumbull received five. But as no candidate received a majority of votes, additional rounds of balloting ensued.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-43.
4During the second round of voting, Lincoln received forty-three votes in total, gaining just two votes, not three. Amos C. Babcock switched his vote from William Kellogg to Lincoln, and Joseph Gillespie switched from Cyrus Edwards to Lincoln.
Although they each voted for Lincoln during the first round of voting, during the second round of voting Frederick S. Day voted for Martin P. Sweet, David Strawn voted for Trumbull, and Henry V. Sullivan and Louis H. Waters both voted for Archibald Williams.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 243-44.
5On January 14, Lincoln wrote Richard Yates mentioning rumors that Illinois Governor Joel A. Matteson was secretly building support to run for U.S. senator.
6Lincoln is discussing members of the Illinois General Assembly whose legislative districts were near the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Cook, Grundy, Kendall, LaSalle, and Will counties all bordered the canal. The representatives of these counties in the General Assembly at the time included Norman B. Judd, Uri Osgood, and Burton C. Cook in the Illinois Senate and Robert H. Foss, Thomas Richmond, Matthias L. Dunlap, George F. Foster, Strawn, Day, Gavion D. A. Parks, John Strunk, Erastus O. Hills, and Alanson K. Wheeler in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Judd and Cook both voted for Trumbull on all ten ballots. Osgood voted for Shields for six ballots, then switched his vote to Matteson. Wheeler and Richmond supported Lincoln until the eighth and ninth ballots, respectively, then they both switched their votes to Trumbull. Hills shifted back and forth between Lincoln and Trumbull before settling on Trumbull in the eighth ballot. Dunlap cast his ballot for Lincoln in the first three rounds, switched to Trumbull in the fourth, back to Lincoln in the fifth, and finally settled on Trumbull on the eighth ballot. Foster and Foss supported Lincoln in the first three ballots before shifting between Trumbull, Williams, William B. Ogden, and Lincoln, before siding with Trumbull in the eighth and ninth ballots, respectively. Both Strunk and Parks cast their votes for Lincoln for six ballots, then Strunk switched his vote to Matteson. Parks switched his vote to Trumbull on the eighth ballot. Both Day and Strawn cast their initial votes for Lincoln, but then each switched to other candidates—Day voted for Sweet twice before switching to Trumbull, and Strawn voted for Trumbull and then Ogden before switching back to Trumbull.
Tom M. George, “‘Mechem’ or ‘Mack’: How a One-Word Correction in the ‘Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln’ Reveals the Truth about an 1856 Political Event,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 33 (Summer 2012), 30-31; David A. Belden, Images of America: Illinois and Michigan Canal (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2012), 58; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
7“Sub rosa” is a Latin term used to describe something that is done in secret.
A New Dictionary of Quotations from the Greek, Latin, and Modern Languages (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1869), 440.
8In December 1854, Leonard Swett also informed Lincoln that Strunk supported Lincoln for U.S. senator.
9Lincoln also cited Strunk as a prime example of one of Matteson’s sub-rosa allies in a February 16, 1855 letter to Jesse O. Norton.
10Neither Osgood, James L. D. Morrison, nor Albrecht H. Trapp cast a single ballot for Lincoln. Osgood and Morrison both cast their first six ballots for Shields before switching their support to Matteson. Trapp voted for Gustave P. Koerner until the seventh ballot, then switched his vote to Matteson.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
11No correspondence either to or from Lincoln in late-January 1855 discussing Matteson’s secret senatorial candidacy has been located. However, as noted above, Lincoln was aware of rumors that Matteson planned to enter the race by at least January 14, 1855.
12In his February 16 letter to Norton, Lincoln named Cook, Judd, John M. Palmer, and Henry S. Baker as the four men who “could never vote for a whig.” As noted above, Judd and Cook were both members of the Illinois Senate at the time, and both voted for Trumbull on all ten ballots. Palmer, also a member of the Illinois Senate, and Baker and George T. Allen, both members of the Illinois House of Representatives, also all cast their ballots for Trumbull in all ten rounds of voting.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
13Matteson received a meager collection of votes during the first six rounds of balloting, garnering a single vote in both the first and second rounds, none in the third round, two in the fourth round, one in the fifth round, and none in the sixth round. Then, as Lincoln correctly notes, Matteson received forty-four votes–including that of Strunk, who switched from Lincoln to Matteson on the seventh ballot.
For a complete list of the members of the Illinois General Assembly who switched their votes to Matteson during the seventh round of voting, see the Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
14Of the members of the General Assembly who voted for Lincoln in the seventh round of voting but not in the eighth, none switched their votes to Matteson. However, Samuel H. Martin, who voted for John A. McClernand in the seventh round of balloting, switched his vote to Matteson during the eighth ballot. Mortimer O’Kean cast his seventh ballot for Shields, but similarly switched his eighth vote to Matteson.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 250-53.
15In the ninth round of voting, William C. Kinney switched his vote from Koerner to Matteson.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 253.
16It was during the ninth round of balloting that Lincoln’s vote tally dwindled to fifteen and Trumbull’s rose to thirty-five. The fifteen men whom Lincoln notes would not desert him without his direction were all members of the Illinois House of Representatives: Robert Boal, Samuel W. Brown, James Courtney, Henry Grove, Thomas J. Henderson, Albert G. Jones, Harvey C. Johns, Stephen T. Logan, Thomas R. McClure, John E. McClun, Samuel C. Parks, Daniel J. Pinckney, Henry Riblet, Hurlbut Swan, and Louis H. Waters. Upon Lincoln’s direction, all cast their tenth and final ballot for Trumbull, with the exception of Waters, who voted for Williams instead.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 253-54.
17David Davis had been an ardent supporter of Lincoln’s senatorial candidacy and wrote him multiple times on the topic.
18Lincoln and Washburne carried on an extensive correspondence during the senatorial campaign and exchanged numerous letters related to Lincoln’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
Lincoln wrote letters similar to this letter to Washburne and other friends and allies in February 1855, explaining the election outcome. Following his loss to Trumbull, Lincoln made no political speeches or public statements for an entire year after his defeat and reinvested his energies in his law practice.
19An unknown person wrote this docketing.

Autograph Letter Signed, 6 page(s), Box 5, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).