Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Hull (form letter), 8 September 18561Springfield, Sept 8. 1856Thomas Hull, Esq[Esquire]Dear Sir,
I understand you are a Fillmore man. Let me prove to you that every vote withheld from Fremont, and given to Fillmore, in this state, actually lessens Fillmore’s chance of being President–
Suppose Buchanan gets all the slave states, and Pennsylvania, and any other ^one^ state besides; then he is elected, no matter who gets all the rest–
But suppose Fillmore gets the two slave states of Maryland and Kentucky; then Buchanan is not elected; Fillmore goes into the House of Representatives, and may be made President by a compromise–2
But suppose again Fillmore’s friends throw away a few thousand votes on him, in Indiana and Illinois, it will inevitably gives these states to Buchanan, which will more than compensate him for the loss of Maryland and Kentucky, will elect him, and leave Fillmore no chance in the H. R. or out of it–3
This is as plain as the adding up of the weights of three small hogs– As Mr Fillmore has no possible chance to carry Illinois for himself, it is plainly his interest to let Fremont take it, and thus keep it out of the hands of Buchanan– Be not deceived– Buchanan is the hard horse to beat in this race– Let him have Illinois, and nothing can beat him; and he will get Illinois, if men persist in throwing away votes upon Mr Fillmore– Does some one persuade, you that Mr Fillmore can carry Illinois? Nonsense! There are over seventy newspapers in Illinois opposing Buchanan, only three or four of which support Mr Fillmore, all the rest going for Fremont– Are not these newspapers a fair index of the proportion of the voters– If not, tell me why–
Again, of these three or four Fillmore newspapers, two at least, are supported, in part, by the Buchanan men, as I understand. Do not they know where the shoe pinches? They know the Fillmore movement helps them, and therefore they help it.
Do think these things over, and then act according to your judgment.4Yours very truly,A. Lincoln
1Abraham Lincoln lithographed copies of this letter, filled in the date and salutation, and added “(Confidential)” to the bottom of the page. The letter, a strategy for winning Illinois in the presidential election of 1856, was sent to several supporters of Millard Fillmore. Republicans nominated John C. Fremont as their first presidential candidate in 1856, while Democrats nominated James Buchanan. The end of the Whig Party and the rise of the American—or “Know-Nothing”—Party added a third-party element to the election. The American Party, in its final participation in a presidential election, nominated Fillmore. 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.
One recipient, John Kirkpatrick, published Lincoln’s letter and his reply, which then reappeared in the opposition press. The Dewitt Courier wrote of Lincoln, “It will be seen by reading the circular that one of the leaders of the Black Republican party of this State considers the election of Fremont as doubtful.”
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. 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 F. Schwartz, “Lincoln, Form Letters, and Fillmore Men,” Illinois Historical Journal 78 (Spring 1985), 68; Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:374; The Dewitt Courier (Clinton, IL), 15 October 1856, 2:3; 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.
2Article two, section one of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that in the case of a deadlock in the Electoral College, the election of a president goes to the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to the Civil War, only two presidential elections—1800 and 1824—went to the House of Representatives.
U.S. Const. art. II, § 1; Isaac J. Cox, “Campaigns of 1800 and 1804,” Dictionary of American History, 1:417; Thomas Robson Hay, “Campaign of 1824,” Dictionary of American History, 1:418.
3In the end, Buchanan took just over 45 percent of the national popular vote, and Fremont took around 33 percent. Fremont swept New England and won New York, in addition to the mid-western states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. However, Fremont ballots were only available in four slave states, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Virginia; he did not register a single popular vote in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Texas. Buchanan swept the south but also won Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, California, and, as predicted by Lincoln, Illinois. Fillmore and his anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic campaign won just over 21 percent of the national popular vote and won only Maryland.
Lewis Clephane, Birth of the Republican Party, with a Brief History of the Important Part Taken by the Original Republican Association of the National Capital (Washington: Gibson Bros., 1889), 15; Cong. Globe, 34th Cong., 3rd Sess., 652 (1857); John L. Moore, Jon P. Preimesberger, and David R. Tarr, eds., Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S. Elections, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001), 1:652; John Bicknell, Lincoln’s Pathfinder: John C. Frémont and the Violent Election of 1856 (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2017), 276.
Partially Printed Letter Signed with a Representation, 1 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).