Abraham Lincoln to Lyman Trumbull, 28 December 18571Bloomington, Dec. 28. 1857–Hon– Lyman Trumbull.Dear Sir:
What does the New-York Tribune mean by it's constant eulogising, and admiring, and magnifying of Douglas?2
Does it, in this, speak the sentiments of the republicans at Washington? Have they concluded that the republican cause, generally, can be best promoted by sacraficing us here in Illinois? If so we would like to know it soon; it will save us a great deal of labor to surrender at once–
As yet I have heared of no republican here going over to Douglas; but if the Tribune continues to din his praises into the ears of it's five or ten thousand republican readers in Illinois, it is more than can be hoped that all will stand firm–3
I am not complaining– I only wish a fair understanding– Please write me at Springfield–Your Obt Servt[Obedient Servant]A. Lincoln–
2Lincoln’s concern is with the New York Tribune’s apparent praise of Stephen A Douglas for his stance against the Lecompton Constitution. During the agitation over whether to admit Kansas as a free or slave state, pro-slavery Kansans held a constitutional convention in Lecompton from September 7 to November 8, 1857, drafting a constitution guaranteeing slaveholders already in the territory their property rights and leaving the decision whether to allow new slaves into the territory to voters in a referendum. Voters could vote for the “constitution with slavery” or the “constitution without slavery,” but were not offered the opportunity to accept or reject the constitution as a whole. On December 21, 1857, Kansans voting in the referendum on the Lecompton Constitution—free state Kansans abstained from participating—cast 6,226 votes for Lecompton with slavery and 569 for it without slavery amid charges of voter fraud. On January 4, 1858, however, Kansans voting in elections called by the anti-slavery legislature—pro-slavery Kansans abstained from participating—overwhelmingly rejected the Lecompton Constitution. Despite opposition in Kansas and considerable backlash from Republicans and the anti-slavery faction in the Democratic Party, President James Buchanan supported the Lecompton Constitution, urging that Kansas be admitted into the Union under the its terms. Douglas, however, opposed it, bringing him into conflict with Buchanan. Buchanan warned Douglas that he faced political reprisals if he opposed the administration, but Douglas defied the president, arguing in a speech before the U.S. Senate that the Lecompton Constitution did not reflect the will of the actual inhabitants of Kansas, citing the December 21, 1857 vote that allowed voters to vote for the constitution but not against it.. The Senate approved the Lecompton Constitution, but Republicans, Democratic allies of Douglas, and others, with Douglas as floor leader of the opposition, defeated it in the U.S. House of Representatives. See Bleeding Kansas.
The New York Tribune explained its political position in a brief article on December 15, 1857: “The Albany Atlas proclaims that The Tribune has been ‘converted’ to the doctrines of the Kansas-Nebraska bill! The (Washington) Star matches this by an assertion that Messrs. Douglas, Walker and Stanton have been converted to the views and are now sailing in the wake of The Tribune! The truth lies somewhere between these organs— or rather, the truth don’t lie at all— an example which we affectionately commend to their consideration. We beg The Atlas to understand, once and for all, that The Tribune holds today the identical position with regard to Slavery in the Territories which that same Atlas, in its days of comparative honestly, professed to maintain. We do not agree with Senator Douglas that the first ten, fifty, five hundred, or five thousand settlers in a Territory have a right to carry thither slaves and therein establish Slavery; we hold with Thomas Jefferson that Slavery should be excluded from every Territory by its organic law. But, when Slavery has once gained a foothold in a Territory and obtained a quasi legalization there, if Mr. Douglas or Gov. Walker asserts the right of the People to vote it out, we back that doctrine right heartily.”
New-York Tribune, 15 December 1857, 4:4; David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 307, 315-16, 318, 320, 325; Wendall H. Stephenson, “Lecompton Constitution,” Dictionary of American History, rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976), 4:130-31; Cong. Globe, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 195 (1858).
3Horace Greeley and other east coast Republicans tepidly supported Douglas at times in 1857 and 1858 hoping it would improve Republican chances in the Election of 1860. Lincoln feared that some Republicans in Illinois would abandon the party to embrace Douglas in his revolt against the Buchanan administration.
Gregory A. Borchard, Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), 44; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:446-50.
Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page(s), Huntington Library (San Marino, CA).