Lyman Trumbull to Abraham Lincoln, 25 December 18571Washington, Dec. 25, 1857Hon. A. Lincoln,Dr[Dear] Sir,
Enclosed please find the notice you sent me with an endorsement of service upon it. 2
I think it useless to speculate upon the future course of Douglas or the effect it is to have in Ills & other states. He himself does not know where he is going or where he will come out– He is the mere creature of events yet to transpire– One thing is already settled– He has already done enough to materially damage his prospects with the South– The question in which he differs with the administration is temporary, & will be settled forever the moment Kansas is admitted as a
<Page 2>state, no matter under what constitution she comes in–3 We have yet not yet heard from the election of last Monday, & the course of the administration may be modified by what then took place, or what may hereafter take place at the elections on the 5th of Jany[January]— ordered by the Territorial Legislature.4
Douglas does not mean to join the Republican Party I presume, & yet if the Kansas question should be kept open for a few months, he may be forced into that position. He will not be permitted to choose his course, the African Democracy5 may drive him from among them, & if they feel they can get along without him will probably do it; but things may so shape themselves in Kansas that the administration will be forced to abandon the idea of forcing Kansas in under the Lecompton Constitution–
For my own part I do not feel just now either like embracing Douglas, or assailing him– As far as he goes I believe him to be right, though his
<Page 3>course now is utterly inconsistent with what it was a year ago. The Lecompton constitution denies no right to the people of the proposed state, which the Nebraska bill did not deny to the people of the territory– Both alike denyed the the right of self government & popular sovereignty to the people upon all questions except that of slavery, & on that, since the Dred Scott decision which Douglas endorses, the people have no right which in a territorial condition to pass–
It strikes me it would be well if some of the leading papers in Ills[Illinois] would expose the fallacy which the Douglas clan are attempting to palm off upon the people, that Douglas is now contending for the great principle established by the Nebraska bill– The Nebraska bill has nothing to do with the question now up– Douglas admits that it was applicable to the people as a territory, & contained no authority for them to change this condition into that of a state– The question now is, what are the rights of a people in forming this state
<Page 4>constitution, & with that the Nebraska bill has nothing to do.6 Republicans never denied the power of the people of a state to fix their domestic institutions. There was never any such issue between parties–
Our Republican friends here are in good spirits, & have stood back to let the fight go on between Douglas, & his former associates; but I am apprehensive that there is danger of our holding back so long that the attention of the congress ^country^ will be diverted from the great question, which to the minor & temporary issue which is now being discussed–7 Shall be glad to hear from you frequently & fully as to the condition of things in IllsYours trulyLyman Trumbull
2The notice Trumbull references was not enclosed with this letter, and its whereabouts are unknown; however, it related to the court case Gray v. Gray et al. Franklin C. Gray married Mary Anna (Ann) Pitts in 1834, but the couple eventually separated. Mary Anna sued Franklin for divorce in 1851 on the grounds of adultery and was awarded $5,000 in alimony when he failed to appear in court. In March 1853, Franklin married Matilda C. French. In July 1853, Franklin stepped in front of a train in New York and was killed. In December 1856, Gray's first wife Mary Anna retained Lincoln and William H. Herndon and filed a writ of error in the Illinois Supreme Court to reverse the divorce decree and acquire more alimony. The court later dismissed the suit after Mary Anna failed to join the issue on the plea.
Texas, U.S., Marriage Index, 1824-2019 , 12 November 1834, Brazoria County (Lehi, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, 2005); Washington, D.C., U.S., Marriage Records, 1810-1953, 23 March 1853 (Lehi, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, 2016); Alton Daily Courier (IL), 25 July 1853, 2:5; Gray v. Gray et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullum Davis, et. al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2nd ed. (Springfield, Ill.: Illinois Historical Preservation Agency, 2009), https://lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139084; Gray v. Gray et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, https://lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=139085.
3Trumbull is referencing the conflict within the Democratic Party over 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. 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 its terms. Stephen A. 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. The U.S. 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.
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).
4On January 4, 1858, Kansans voting in elections called by the anti-slavery legislature—pro-slavery Kansans abstained from participating—overwhelmingly rejected the Lecompton Constitution.
Wendall H. Stephenson, “Lecompton Constitution,” Dictionary of American History, 4:130-31.
5By “African Democracy,” Trumbull means Democratic supports of President Buchanan, sometimes called “Buck Africans.” Although meant as an insult, one Indiana paper twisted the term to a form of praise: “Some of the Black Republican papers call the Democratic party ‘Buck Africans.’ When Scipio returned to Rome from the conquest of Carthage, his countrymen, in gratitude for his great achievements, surnamed him "Africanus"—Scipio-Africanus. It is on the same principle, we suppose, that the Democrats are now dubbed ‘Africans.’ They have conquered the strongholds of negrodom and received the submission of its chiefs, and are now receiving the thanks of a grateful country.”
The Debates and Proceedings of the Minnesota Constitutional Convention including the Organic Act of the Territory (Saint Paul, MN: Earle S. Goodrich, 1857), 29; The Crawfordsville Review (IN), 14 March 1857, 1:4.
6Douglas’ comparison of the Lecompton Constitution to the Kansas-Nebraska Act had appeared in a speech he delivered in the U.S. Senate on December 9, 1857. Douglas had argued that the Lecompton Convention had no right to form a constitution at all, or to do any more than present a petition to Congress. Douglas then noted that Buchanan’s pro-Lecompton Constitution stance was subversive to the entire principle of the Nebraska bill, which was popular sovereignty, or the right of a states’ voters to determine whether or not that state would allow slavery. Douglas argued that the Lecompton Constitution did not reflect the will of the actual inhabitants of Kansas, citing the December 21, 1857 vote that allowed Kansans to vote for the constitution but not against it.
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 19 December 1857, 2:3; Cong. Globe, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 195 (1858).
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), folder 8, Box 1, Trumbull Family Papers, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL)