Abraham Lincoln to Owen Lovejoy, 11 August 18551Springfield, August 11– 1855Hon: Owen Lovejoy:My dear Sir:
Yours of the 7th was received the day before yesterday–2 Not even you are more anxious to prevent the extension of slavery than I; and yet the political atmosphere is such, just now, that I fear to do any thing, lest I do wrong– Know-nothingism has not yet entirely tumbled to pieces— nay, it is even a little encouraged by the late elections in Tennessee, Kentucky & Alabama–3 Until we can get the elements of this organization, there is not sufficient materials to successfully combat the Nebraska democracy ^with–^– We can not get them so long as they cling to a hope of success under their own organization; and I fear an open push by us now, may offend them, and tend to prevent our ever getting them– About us here, they are mostly my old political and pearsonal ^personal^ friends; and I have hoped their organization would die out without the painful necessity of my taking an open stand against them– Of their principles I think little better than I do of those of the slavery extensionists– Indeed I do not perceive how any one
whitemen?] white men–
<Page 2>professing to be sensitive to the wrongs of the negroes, can join in a league to degrade a class of [
I have no objection to “fuse” with any body provided I can fuse on ground which I think is right; and I believe ^the^ opponents of slavery extension could now do this, if it were not for this K. N. ism [Know Nothingism]– In ^many^ speeches last summer I advised those who did me the honor of a hearing to “stand with any body who stands right”4 — and I am still quite willing to follow my own advice– I lately saw, in the Quincy Whig, the report of a preamble and resolutions, made by Mr Williams, as chairman of a committee, to a public meeting and adopted by the meeting– I saw them but once, and have them not now at command; but so far as I can remember them, they occupy about the ground I should be willing to “fuse” upon–5 As to my personal movements this suffer summer, and fall, I am quite busy trying to pick up my lost crumbs of last year–6 I shall be here till September; then to the circuit till the 20th then to Cincinnati, awhile, after a Patent right case; and back to the Circuit to the end of November– I can, be seen here any time this month; and at Blooming-Yours trulyA. Lincoln–
<Page 3>ton at any time from the 10th to the 17th of September–7 As to an extra session of the Legislature, I should know no better how to bring that about, than to lift myself over a fence by the straps of my boots–8
2Owen Lovejoy’s letter to Lincoln of August 7, 1855, has not been located. Lovejoy also wrote to Illinois politician Lyman Trumbull, an anti-Nebraska Democrat, on August 7, 1855. That letter is likewise unlocated, but Trumbull’s response of August 20, 1855, and Lincoln’s response here suggest that Lovejoy wrote to both men soliciting their support for a statewide convention of a fusion of disparate political parties united by their opposition to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and to the extension of slavery. Lincoln and Trumbull both expressed reservations about such a convention and none was held in the autumn of 1855.
Lyman Trumbull to Owen Lovejoy, 20 August 1855, in Lyman Trumbull Family Papers, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL); Victor B. Howard, “The Illinois Republican Party: Part II: The Party Becomes Conservative, 1855-1856,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 64 (Autumn 1971), 292-94; William F. Moore and Jane Ann Moore, Collaborators for Emancipation: Abraham Lincoln and Owen Lovejoy (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2014), 34-38.
3Tennessee had held elections on August 2, 1855, and Kentucky and Alabama had done so on August 6. One day prior to the composition of this letter, the Illinois State Journal had reported that in early returns in all three states the American Party had seen successes. The newspaper reported that in Kentucky, the American Party candidate for governor, Charles S. Morehead, was gaining in the polls, and accurately projected that six American Party members had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the state. Morehead ultimately won with 51.63 percent of the vote. In Tennessee, it was projected that five or six members of the American Party had likely won election to the U.S. House of Representatives; five indeed won seats. Partial returns suggested incorrectly that George D. Shortridge, the American Party candidate for governor would win; after the final tally, he lost with 42.21 percent of the vote.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 August 1855, 2:4; Michael J. Dubin, United States Gubernatorial Elections, 1776-1860: The Official Results by State and County (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003), xl, 8, 78-79; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 774, 872, 1004, 1446, 1447, 1712, 1736, 1853, 1913, 1976, 2107.
4Passage 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. In one such speech given in Peoria on October 16, 1854, Lincoln criticized Whigs who were reluctant to call for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise for fear of being identified with abolitionists, saying “Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong. Stand with the abolitionist in restoring the Missouri Compromise; and stand against him when he attempts to repeal the fugitive slave law. In the latter case you stand with the southern disunionist. What of that? you are still right. In both cases you are right. In both cases you oppose the dangerous extremes. In both you stand on middle ground and hold the ship level and steady. In both you are national and nothing less than national. This is good old whig ground. To desert such ground, because of any company, is to be less than a whig— less than a man— less than an American.”
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 26 October 1854, 2:4.
5The preamble and resolutions that Lincoln had recently read in the Quincy Whig were presented at an anti-Nebraska meeting in Quincy on July 28, 1855 by a committee consisting of Archibald Williams, Edward A. Dudley, and William B. Powers, with Williams as committee chair. The preamble outlined what the freemen of Adams County and Quincy acknowledged to be the rights of slave states, but went on to argue that no territory had a constitutional right to demand admittance as a state, and that the U.S. Congress had a sacred duty to consider such applications for statehood and to judge how the admission of territories might affect the prosperity, rights, and safety of the Union. Following the preamble, the committee proposed four resolutions: that the conditions demanded as necessary to protect slavery in areas where slavery was expanding were inconsistent with freedom and must be resisted, that they would “strive by all legal means to restore to Kansas and Nebraska the legal guaranty against Slavery,” that they viewed settling the relationship of the general and state governments to slavery and the restriction of slavery to its current authorized limits as the paramount issues before them, and that they deemed it the duty of all who agreed on these views to unite to implement them “without regard to differences of opinion upon any other issues.” The preamble and resolutions were adopted by the meeting without dissent.
Quincy Whig (IL), 4 August 1855, 2:3.
6Lincoln had devoted his attention to politics late in 1854 and early in 1855. While he began by giving speeches during the 1854 congressional election campaign as described above, he ultimately 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. 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. Ultimately, he did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected Trumbull instead, and Lincoln thereafter refocused his attention on his neglected legal career. See the 1854 Federal Election.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
7In the first part of September, Lincoln attended court at Logan County Circuit Court in Lincoln and the Macoupin County Circuit Court in Carlinville, after which he was in Bloomington at least September 11 to 15 to attend the McLean County Circuit Court.
Lincoln departed Springfield on September 17 in order to be in Cincinnati on September 20 for the patent infringement case McCormick v. Talcot et al. Cyrus H. McCormick had instituted a suit against the Rockford firm of Manny & Company in the U.S. Circuit Court in November 1854 for patent infringement, claiming that the mechanical reaper of John H. Manny’s design and manufacture copied several elements of McCormick’s own reaper. Lincoln was retained in the summer of 1855 to join Edwin M. Stanton and George Harding in defense of Manny & Co. He was apparently selected because the defense team deemed it prudent to have at least one Illinois-based attorney as the trial was scheduled to be held in Chicago. It was instead moved to Cincinnati, and while the other members of the defense team allowed Lincoln to attend, they blocked his participation in the trial and those involved in the lawsuit seemed to have ignored his inquiries in regard to the case.
Lincoln was back in Springfield by October 1 to attend the U.S. Circuit Court, Southern District of Illinois, after which the court circuit required him to be in Pekin, Springfield, Clinton, Urbana, and Danville. He ultimately returned home sometime between October 31 and November 5. No evidence of a meeting between Lincoln and Lovejoy in the latter months of 1855 has been found.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 4 September 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-09-04; 6 September 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-09-06; 11 September 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-09-11; 15 September 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-09-15; 17 September 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-09-17; 1 October 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-10-01; 2 October 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-10-02; 8 October 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-10-08; 15 October 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-10-15; 22 October 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-10-22; 27 October 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-10-27; 31 October 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-10-31; 5 November 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-11-05; McCormick v. Talcott et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=137741; Harry E. Pratt, The Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln (Springfield, IL: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1943), 54-56; Abraham Lincoln to Peter H. Watson; Abraham Lincoln to Manny & Company.
8Lovejoy represented Bureau County in the Illinois House of Representatives in the Nineteenth Illinois General Assembly which had convened on January 1, 1855 and adjourned on February 15, 1855. Despite the term of the representatives running through 1856, no further sessions were called before the Twentieth General Assembly convened in 1857.
John Clayton, comp., The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 220-21.
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 page(s), Huntington Library (San Marino, CA).