Abraham Lincoln to Richard Yates, 14 January 18551Springfield, Jany 14. 1855Dear Yates
Your letter of the 8th is just received– The Bissell movement, of which you speak, I have had my eye upon, ever since before the commencement of the session; and it is now perhaps as dangerous a card as we have to play against–2 There is no danger, as I think, of the A. N. men uniting on him; but the danger is that the Nebraska men, failing to do better, will turn onto him en masse and then a few A N.[Anti-Nebraska] men, wanting a pretext only, will join on him, pretending to believe him an A. N. man– He can not get a single sincere Anti-Nebraska vote– At least, so I think– At the meeting of the Legislature we had 57 to their 43, nominally– But Kinny did not attend, which left us only 56– Then Trapp, of StClair went over, leaving us only 55, and raising them to 44– Next Osgood of the Senate went over, reducing us to 54 and raising them to 45– It is now said Kinny will be here soon, putting us up to 55 again; and so we stand now nominally– What mines, and pitfalls they have under us we do not know; but we understand they claim to have 48 votes– If they have that number, it is only that
<Page 2>they have already got some men whom we have all along suspected they would get; and we hope they have reached the bottom of the rotten material– In this too, we may be mistaken– This makes a squally case of it–3
As to myself personally, I may start with 20 or 25 votes; but I think I can, in a few ballots, get up to 48 if an election is not sooner made by the other side– But how I am to get the three additional votes I do not yet see– It seems to me the men those thee votes are to come from will not go to the other side unless they should be led off on the Bissell trick– If the election should be protracted, a general scramble may ensue, and your chances will be as good as that of any other I suppose–4 It is said Gov– Matteson is trying his hand; and as his success would make a Governor of Koerner, he may be expected to favor this movement–5 I suppose the election will commence on the 31st and when it will end I am sure I have no idea–6Very truly YoursA. Lincoln
2Richard Yates wrote Lincoln concerning a potential movement by anti-Nebraska Democrats to draft William H. Bissell as a candidate to supplant James Shields as U.S. Senator for Illinois. In December 1854, Josiah M. Lucas had also warned Lincoln about rumors of a similar plan by members of the Know Nothing Party.
Lincoln was following the election of Illinois’ senator closely after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise reawakened his passion for politics. He threw himself into the election campaign in the fall of 1854, crisscrossing Illinois to deliver speeches against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and in support of anti-Nebraska candidates. He even allowed himself to become a candidate for the Illinois General Assembly (albeit unwillingly at first). As the election campaign reached its climax, his name began to circulate as a possible candidate for U.S. Senator. Although he won election to the Illinois House of Representatives, on November 25, 1854 he officially declined to serve in order to run for the U.S. Senate. Per Article III, Section seven of the 1848 Illinois Constitution, state legislators were ineligible for election to the U.S. Senate.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7.
3The Nineteenth Illinois General Assembly’s session commenced on January 1, 1855.
Throughout the fall of 1854 and winter of 1855, Lincoln and his allies worked hard to ascertain or predict how each member of the Illinois General Assembly would vote in the upcoming election for the state’s next U.S. senator. William C. Kinney, Albrecht H. Trapp, and Uri Osgood were all members of the General Assembly; therefore, their preferences for a U.S. senator were part of Lincoln’s political calculations.
On January 6, 1855, Lincoln wrote Elihu B. Washburne outlining some of his views on the political composition of the Nineteenth Illinois General Assembly as well as the number of committals he believed he had at that point in support of him for U.S. senator.
Kinney was absent from the Illinois House of Representatives until January 16, when he presented his credentials, took the oath of office, and claimed his seat.
4Sentence underlined in red pencil, perhaps by Yates, and “your” underlined heavily in lead pencil. See the second image.
In his January 8 letter to Lincoln, Yates expressed interest in entering the race for U.S. Senator if Lincoln could not be elected.
5As Lincoln later explained in a letter to Washburne, Governor Joel A. Matteson had secretly been a candidate for U.S. senator since the fall of 1854.
Per Article IV, Section twenty of the 1848 Illinois Constitution, if Matteson vacated his position as governor, Gustave P. Koerner, as lieutenant-governor, would become acting governor until voters elected a new governor.
Ill. Const. of 1848, art. IV, § 20.
6The Illinois General Assembly gathered in joint session on February 8, 1855, to vote for the state’s representative in the U.S. Senate.
Ultimately, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. No one nominated either Bissell or Yates, and they did not receive any votes in ten rounds of voting. Kinney and Trapp both voted for Koerner until the seventh ballot, when Trapp switched to Matteson. Kinney switched from Koerner to Matteson on the ninth ballot. Kinney’s and Trapp’s votes were the only votes that Koerner received. Osgood voted for Shields for six ballots, then switched his vote to Matteson.
A week after the election, Lincoln wrote that “It was Govr Matteson’s manoevering that forced upon me and my friends the necessity of surrendering to Trumbull.” See the 1854 Federal Election. Stung and disappointed by his loss, Lincoln made no political speeches or public statements for an entire year after his defeat and reinvested his energies in his law practice.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:401-2; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 185.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Taper Collection, Lincoln Presidential Foundation (Springfield, IL).