Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne, 27 May 18581
Hon. E. B. WashburneMy dear Sir
Yours requesting me to return you the now some what noted “Charley Wilson letter” is received; and I herewith return that letter–2
Political matters just now bear a very mixed and incongruous aspect. For several days the signs have been that Douglas and the President had probably burned[buried] to ^the^ hatchet. Doug’s friends at Washington going over to the President’s side, and his friends here & South of here, talking as if there never had been any serious difficulty, while the President himself does nothing for his own peculiar friends here–3 But this morning my partner, Mr Herndon, receives a letter from Mr Medill of the Chicago Tribune, showing the writer to be in great alarm at the prospect North of Republicans going over to Douglas, on the idea that Douglas is going
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to assume steep free-soil ground, and furiously assail the administration ^on the stump^ when he comes home– There certainly is a double game being played some how– Possibly— even probably— Douglas is temporarily deceiving the President in order to crush out the 8th of June convention here–4 Unless he plays his double game more successfully than we have often seen done, he can not carry many republicans North, without at the same time losing a larger number of his old friends South–5
Let this be confidential–
Yours as everA. Lincoln6
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter.
2Lincoln and Elihu B. Washburne had exchanged several letters on the subject of Washburne’s letter to Charles L. Wilson of April 12, 1858, which Lincoln enclosed here. In a letter of April 19, 1858 to Lincoln, John Wentworth had conveyed a report that one of the Republican members of the U.S. Congress from Illinois had written a letter encouraging Illinois Republicans to support Stephen A. Douglas’ bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate in the election of 1858. This rumor circulated among Illinois Republicans, including at a meeting of party leaders in Springfield on April 21 at which Lincoln was present. Lincoln wrote Washburne regarding the rumor on April 26, assuring Washburne that although suspicion centered on him, Lincoln was confident the matter was a misunderstanding. Washburne responded on May 2, denying the rumor, then wrote again on May 6, enclosing the letter in controversy for Lincoln to peruse himself. In his May 22, 1858 letter to Lincoln to which this is a response, Washburne requested the return of his letter to Wilson, anticipating that he might have further need of it to prove his innocence in the face of continuing rumors.
The manuscript original of Washburne’s April 12, 1858 letter to Wilson has not been located, but it was subsequently published in the Polo Advertiser in 1860. In this letter, Washburne discussed his confusion over the current state of politics in Illinois in light of the rift in the Democratic Party between supporters of Douglas and supporters of President James Buchanan, which was caused by Douglas’ criticism of the Lecompton Constitution and of the president’s support of it. Washburne stated that despite his dislike of Douglas, he would welcome him as an ally to the Republican Party, but expressed concern over whether there was a movement to create a Douglas party in Illinois and an attempt to reelect Douglas. Republicans should not abandon their platform, wrote Washburne, and their candidate for U.S. Senate in the election of 1858 must be Lincoln.
Russell K. Nelson, “The Early Life and Congressional Career of Elihu B. Washburne” (PhD dissertation, University of North Dakota, August 1953), 159-62; The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 21 April 1858, https://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1858-04-21; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:445-50.
3On April 30, 1858 the U.S. Congress passed the so-called English bill. This was a bill proposed by Indiana Congressman William H. English and others to send the Lecompton Constitution back to the Kansas Territory for a vote, avoiding a direct resubmission of the constitution to the people of Kansas by attaching it to an adjusted land grant. Douglas voted against the English bill, but moved on from opposition to this administration measure once it was settled. Despite calls by administration supporters to remove Douglas allies from office, Buchanan was slow to do so, and in fact appointed some Douglas Democrats as well. Thus in May of 1858, hostilities between the two men seemed to have cooled and a reconciliation between Douglas and Buchanan was rumored.
David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 322-25; Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 624-25.
4Lincoln likely meant the state convention of Buchanan Democrats that was scheduled for June 9, 1858 in Springfield. The two factions of the Democratic Party in Illinois had held separate conventions on April 21, 1858 at the Illinois State House, with Douglas supporters in the hall of the Illinois House of Representatives, and the Buchanan supporters in the Senate Chamber. Neither faction seemed to be in a position of strength after the conventions and the level of hostility suggested compromise was unlikely. The Buchanan Democrats, who were fewer in number, resolved at their April convention to organize separately from the Douglas Democrats, and called for another convention in June, at which they would nominate candidates and agree on a platform.
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 22 April 1858, 2:1-5; 10 June 1858, 2:2-5; Chicago Daily Tribune (IL), 23 April 1858, 2:1-4.
5In 1858 the counties of northern Illinois leaned strongly Republican and those of the southern part of the state leaned Democratic.
Allen C. Guelzo, “Houses Divided: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Political Landscape of 1858,” The Journal of American History 94 (September 2007), 392-94.
6Washburne responded to this letter on May 31, 1858.

Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL).