Abraham Lincoln to John J. Crittenden, 7 July 18581
Hon. John J. CrittendenDear Sir
I beg you will pardon me for the liberty I take in addressing you upon only so limited an acquaintance, and that acquaintance so long past–2 I am prompted to do so by a story being whispered about here that you are anxious for the re-election of Douglas to the U.S. Senate, and also, of Harris, of our District, to the House of Representatives3; and that you ^are^ pledged to write letters to that effect to your friends here in Illinois, if requested– I do not believe the story; but still it gives me some uneasiness– If such were your inclination, I do not believe you would so express yourself– It is not in character with you, as I have always estimated you– You have no
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warmer friends than here in Illinois; and I assure you nine tenths— I believe ninetynine hundredths— of them would be mortified exceedingly by anything of the sort from you– When I tell you this, make such allowance as you think just for my position, which, I doubt not you understand–
Nor am I fishing for a letter on the other side– Even if such could be had, my judgment is that you would better be "hands off"
Please drop me a line; and if your purposes are, as I hope they are not, still let me know it– The confirmation would pain me much; but I should still continue your friend and admirer–4
Your Obt Servt[Obedient Servant]A. LincolnP.S– I purposely fold this sheet within itself instead of an envelope–
1Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed this letter.
2Lincoln first met John J. Crittenden during his lone term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The last known letter between Lincoln and John J. Crittenden prior to this was from Lincoln on September 2, 1850. In the letter, he supposed that Crittenden would, "have a slight general recollection of me; though nothing more, I am aware–"
Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 273.
3Abraham Lincoln was the Republican candidate from Illinois for the U.S. Senate. In the summer and fall of 1858, he crisscrossed Illinois delivering speeches and campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates for the Illinois General Assembly. At this time the Illinois General Assembly elected the state’s representatives in the U.S. Senate, thus the outcome of races for the Illinois House of Representatives and Illinois Senate were of importance to Lincoln’s campaign. He ran against, and lost to, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, the incumbent. See the 1858 Illinois Republican Convention; 1858 Federal Election.
Thomas L. Harris, a Democrat, was running for reelection in the Illinois Sixth Congressional District. He won against Republican James H. Matheny, garnering 57.6 percent of the voter to 41.4 percent for Matheny.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:457-85, 557; Allen C. Guelzo, “Houses Divided: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Political Landscape of 1858,” The Journal of American History 94 (September 2007), 392; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 11; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 11 October 1858, 3:1.
4An eminent former Whig, Crittenden was widely regarded as the natural successor to Henry Clay, and Lincoln worried that a Crittenden endorsement for Douglas would hurt his chances with his former Whig brethren in Illinois. Crittenden welcomed Lincoln's rise to political prominence, but had little sympathy with the Republican Party. Crittenden responded on July 29, assuring Lincoln that he was remembered favorably. Crittenden explained, however, that he and Douglas, though always belonging to different political parties and "opposed, in politics, to each other," shared a strong aversion to the Lecompton Constitution. Buchanan administration's harsh response to Douglas and use of its power to prevent his reelection brought sympathy from Crittenden. He wrote of Douglas, "I could not but wish for his success— and his triumph over such a persecution– I thought that his re-election was necessary as a rebuke to the Administration, and a vindication of the great cause of popular rights & public justice." Crittenden admitted that he had shared his support of Douglas in various conversations but that he had only sent a handful of letters in which "Mr Douglas was alluded to and recommended." Going forward, he wrote, he could not promise anything, only that, "Whatever my future course may be, I trust that I shall so act as to give no just cause of offence to any candid & liberal friend, even tho' he may differ with me in opinion." Crittenden likewise declared what he said in relation to Douglas applied to Thomas L. Harris.
Though expressing "no disposition for officious intermeddling" in his letter to Lincoln, Crittenden nonetheless becamed embroiled in the campaign for the U.S. Senate. On July 19, T. Lyle Dickey, a former Whig and Lincoln supporter who had defected to the Democrats and Douglas, wrote Crittenden requesting that he confirm a conversation with Dickey in April 1858 where Crittenden praised Douglas. On August 1, Crittenden wrote Dickey confirming the conversation and his praise for Douglas's service to Illinois and his principled position on the Lecompton Constitution. Not wishing to be appear "to be an officious intermeddler" in the election, Crittenden requested that Dickey, should he speak of the conversation or letter, "acquit me of any intermeddling, or of the presumption of seeking to obtrude myself or my sentiments upon the attention of the people of Illinois." Dickey kept the letter private until October 19, when he read it aloud in a speech denouncing Lincoln for abandoning Clay and Whiggery. The Daily Illinois State Journal sought to mitigate the damage by claiming that Crittenden's letter to Dickey was a forgery and by suggesting the Crittenden had written Lincoln--presumably Crittenden's letter of July 29--supporting opposition against Douglas. The Daily Missouri Republican demanded that Lincoln publish this letter, which caused Crittenden, he wrote Lincoln on October 27, "much pain & surprise." The Illinois State Journal continued to misrepresent Crittenden's correspondence to Lincoln, prompting Owen G. Cates of St. Louis to write Crittenden asking if he wrote such a letter. On October 28, Crittenden responded in a telegram: "I have written no such letter." Crittenden's letter to Dickey, Dickey's speech, and Crittenden's subsequent telegram hurt Lincoln in the old Whig stronghold of Central Illinois, contributing to Lincoln's loss to Douglas. David Davis, Henry C. Whitney, and others blamed Crittenden for Lincoln's defeat, and Lincoln himself, in a letter to Crittenden dated November 4, claimed that the use of Crittenden's name "contributed largely" to his loss.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:456-57, 542-43, 546-47; Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, 273-76; The Louisville Daily Journal (KY), 26 October 1858, 2:1; Daily Missouri Republican (St. Louis), 25 October 1858, 2:1; 29 October 1858, 2:1; David Davis to Abraham Lincoln; Henry C. Whitney to Abraham Lincoln.

Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), GLC06324, Gilder Lehrman Collection (New York, New York).