Abraham Lincoln to James Berdan, 10 July 18561Springfield, July 10. 1856James Berdan, Esq.[Esquire]My dear Sir:
I have just received your letter of yesterday; and I shall take the plan you suggest into serious consideration–2
I expect to go to Chicago about the 15th, and I will then confer with other friends upon the subject–3 A union of our strength, to be effected in some way, is indispensable to our carrying the State against Buchanan– The inherent obstacle to any plan of union, lies in the fact that of those germans which we ^now^ have with us, large numbers will fall away, so soon as it is seen that their votes, cast with us, may possibly be used to elevate Mr Filmore–4
If this inherent difficulty were out of the way, one small improvement on your plan occurs to me– It is this— Let Fremont and Filmore men unite on one entire ticket, with the understanding that that ticket, if elected, shall cast the vote of the State, for whichever of the two shall be known to have received the larger number of electoral votes, in the other states–
This plan has two advantages– It carries the electoral vote of the State where it will do most good;
<Page 2>and it also saves the waste vote, which, according to your plan would be lost, and would be equal to two in the general result–5
But there may be disadvantages also, which I have not thought of–Your friend, as everA. Lincoln–
2Lincoln references a strategy for winning Illinois in the presidential election of 1856. Republicans nominated John C. Fremont as their first presidential candidate, while Democrats nominated James Buchanan. The American Party, in its final participation in a presidential election, nominated Millard Fillmore. The end of the Whig Party and the rise of the American—or “Know-Nothing”—Party added a third-party element to the election. Lincoln and the Republicans believed they could create an alliance with the American Party against the Democrats over the issue of the extension of slavery in the territories, which the Democrats supported. James Berdan proposed to have ten of Illinois’ state electors be agreed upon by supporters of both Fillmore and Fremont, allowing the eleventh elector to be a supporter of either man. Then, “the 10 common Electors” would “accept their nominations with a pledge to cast the Electoral vote for Filmore or Fremont as the 11th name may receive on either ticket the highest vote. The Electoral College, if the united opposition succeeded, would then consist of the ten individuals whose names were agreed upon, and of the highest name on the Buchanan Ticket: the 10 being fully and fairly instructed how to cast the vote.”
Thomas F. Schwartz, “Lincoln, Form Letters, and Fillmore Men,” Illinois Historical Journal 78 (Spring 1985), 68.
3Lincoln left for Chicago on July 15, to attend U.S. Circuit Court. He returned home on July 26.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 15 July 1856, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1856-07-15; 26 July 1856, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1856-07-26.
4Germans would have opposed Fillmore because of the American Party’s nativist ideology. Once prospective members gave assurances that they were of proper age, that they had been born in the United States, that their parents were Protestants, and that they were not married to Roman Catholics, candidates were required to pledge to use their influence “and vote only for native-born American citizens for all offices of honor, trust or profit in the gift of the people, the exclusion of all foreigners and Roman Catholics in particular, and without regard to party predilections.”
Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York: Macmillan, 1938), 384.
5In September, Lincoln wrote to several of his connections asking for the names of Fillmore supporters. He then sent lithographed form letters to the names provided. The form letters informed the Fillmore supporters that every vote for their candidate in Illinois lessened his chance of becoming president.
Lincoln and his fellow Republicans failed to convince Fillmore’s supporters to unite, allowing Democrats to label their opponents as both nativists and worshippers of African Americans. Lincoln’s prediction proved prophetic: Buchanan captured Illinois with 44.1 percent of the vote to 40.2 percent for Fremont and 15.7 for Fillmore, and Buchanan defeated Fremont and Fillmore to become fifteenth president of the United States. Indeed, if the votes received by Fremont and Fillmore in Illinois had been combined, Buchanan’s vote would not have been sufficient to carry the state. See the 1856 Federal Election.
Abraham Lincoln to Jesse A. Pickrell; Thomas A. Marshall to Abraham Lincoln; Thomas F. Schwartz, “Lincoln, Form Letters, and Fillmore Men,” Illinois Historical Journal 78 (Spring 1985), 66; Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Hull; Abraham Lincoln to Edward Lawrence; Abraham Lincoln to Harrison Maltby; Abraham Lincoln to William Ryan; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:432-33; Philip G. Auchampaugh, “Campaign of 1856,” Dictionary of American History, rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976), 1:420-21; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10.
6Lincoln wrote this line and Berdan’s address on this envelope.
Although this envelope is coupled with the above letter in its respective repository, several clues indicate that the two are not a match. First, Lincoln identifies himself here as a member of Congress and thus uses his franking privilege. However, Lincoln’s only congressional service spanned from 1847 to 1849 in the Thirtieth Congress. Second, the envelope postmark is dated June 20, twenty days before Lincoln wrote this letter. Third, the postmark is from Washington, DC, whereas this letter includes an address line from Springfield. Fourth, Berdan writes underneath the postmark that the letter was received on July 17, whereas Berdan’s response to this letter to Lincoln was written on July 11. The letter or document that was originally contained within this envelope has not been identified.
Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 1394-95.
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 page(s), Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science (Davenport, IA).