Abraham Lincoln to Josiah M. Lucas, 10 May 18581
My Dear Sir:
Your long and kind letter was received to-day. It came upon me as an agreeable old acquaintance. Politically speaking, there is a curious state of things here. The impulse of almost every Democrat is to stick to Douglas; but it horrifies them to have to follow him out of the Democratic party.2 A good many are annoyed that he did not go for the English contrivance, and thus heal the breach.3 They begin to think there is a “negro in the fence,”4— that Douglas really wants to have a fuss with the President;— that sticks in their throats.5
Yours truly,A. Lincoln.
1This letter is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but the original in Lincoln’s hand has not been located.
2Lincoln is referring to the recent split of the Democratic Party into pro-Stephen A. Douglas and pro-James Buchanan factions. The split occurred after Douglas, in December 1857, spoke out against the Lecompton Constitution and criticized President Buchanan for supporting it. Although Douglas later denied it, he intimated in correspondence and in meetings that he was finished with the Democratic Party. He also actively courted political support from Republicans in an effort to bolster his chances of re-election to the U.S. Senate in the 1858 Federal Election.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:445-48.
3This is a reference to a congressional bill proposed by William H. English and others in the spring of 1858. The so-called English bill proposed sending the Lecompton Constitution back to the voters of the Kansas Territory with a modification to the territory’s request for a federal land grant—reduced to 4 million acres from the requested 23 million acres. In essence, the bill offered Kansas voters statehood in exchange for accepting slavery. If Kansas voters rejected the offer, the English bill stipulated that the territory could not reapply for statehood until a census showed it possessed a population of at least 90,000 people.
Douglas considered supporting the bill, but ultimately opposed it. The bill passed both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives on April 30, and President Buchanan signed it into law. On August 2, Kansans overwhelmingly rejected this Lecompton Constitution-cum-land grant by a vote of 11,300 to 1,788.
David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 323-25.
4This is a variation on the phrase, “nigger in the fence” or “nigger in the wood-pile.” The phrase was used to indicate that there was something suspicious or underhanded taking place.
John Sandilands, ed., Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase Book (Winnipeg, Canada: Telegram, 1912), 31; E. M. Kirkpatrick and C. M. Schwarz, eds., The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms (Ware, England: Wordsworth, 1993), 240.
5Lucas wrote Lincoln at least three more letters related to the election of 1858.
Ultimately, Douglas remained with the Democratic Party and won reelection to the U.S. Senate.
Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:552.

Printed Transcription, 1 page(s), John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, new and enlarged ed. (New York: Francis D. Tandy, 1905), 2:358.