Abraham Lincoln to John Bennett, 4 August 18561Springfield, Aug: 4. 1856John Bennet, Esq[Esquire]Dear Sir:
I understand you are a Fillmore man– If, as between Fremont and Buchanan, you really prefer the election of Buchanan, then burn this without reading a line further–
But if you would like to defeat Buchanan, and his gang, allow me a word with you– Does any one pretend that Fillmore can carry the vote of this State? I have not heard a single man pretend so– Every vote taken from Fremont and given to Fillmore, is just so much in favor of Buchanan– The Buchanan men see this; and hence their great anxiety in favor of the Fillmore movement– They know where the shoe pinches– They now greatly prefer having a man of your character go for Fillmore than for Buchanan, because they expect several to go with you, who would go for Fremont, if you were to go directly for Buchanan–
I think I now understand the relative strength of the three parties in this state, as well as, any other one man does; and my opinion is that to-day, Buch-
<Page 2>anan has about 85.000— Fremont 78.000, and Fillmore 21.000– This gives B. the State by 7000; and leaves ^him^ in the minority of the whole 14,000– Fremont and Fillmore men being united on Bissell, as they already are, he can not be beaten–2
This is not a long letter, but it contains the the whole story–3Yours as everA. Lincoln–
2In May 1856, delegates to the Illinois Anti-Nebraska Convention nominated William H. Bissell for governor. In the 1856 Illinois gubernatorial election, Bissell earned 47 percent of the vote, beating Democrat William A. Richardson, who garnered 45 percent of the vote, and American Party candidate Buckner S. Morris, who received 8 percent, and thus becoming the first Republican governor of Illinois.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 191; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10; Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors, 1818-1988 (Springfield: Illinois Issues, Sangamon State University and Illinois State Historical Society, 1988), 109.
3In the 1856 Federal Election, 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. Republicans, concerned that two opposition tickets would favor the Democrats, explored campaign strategies to ensure their candidate, Fremont, would be elected. In a letter to James Berdan in July 1856, Lincoln suggested a possible fusion ticket, bringing together supporters of the American and Republican parties. In the end, Lincoln implemented a mail campaign, sending form letters to Fillmore supporters informing them that every vote for their candidate in Illinois lessened his chance of becoming president. This document provided the foundation for those letters.
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.
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 William Ryan; Abraham Lincoln to Harrison Maltby; 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, 10.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Lincoln Manuscripts, Indiana University (Bloomington, IN).