Thomas Ewing to Abraham Lincoln, 22 June 18491
Dear Sir
As you request in your note of this morning I herewith. I herewith enclose the papers on file relating to your Application for Commr[Commissioner] of the Genl Land Office numbered from 75 to 183. inclusive, with small package filed at a late hour on yesterday2
I am &c.[etc]T EwingHon A LincolnWashington City
1This letter is attributed to Thomas Ewing but is not in his hand.
2Abraham Lincoln wrote Ewing the same day as this letter, requesting all letters of recommendation in support of his candidacy for commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office that the U.S. Department of the Interior had in its possession. Originally, only Justin H. Butterfield, James L. D. Morrison, and Cyrus Edwards were vying to become commissioner. Lincoln entered the competition after learning that Butterfield was favored over Morrison and Edwards. Supporters of each candidate sent letters of reference and recommendation to both President Zachary Taylor and Secretary of the Interior Ewing. Although the Department of the Interior oversaw the U.S. General Land Office, President Taylor was ultimately responsible for appointing the commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office.
Lincoln and Ewing were able to correspond quickly at the time of this letter because Lincoln was in Washington, DC. As competition for the job intensified, William H. Henderson and Josiah Lucas, Lincoln supporters living in Washington, DC, had urged Lincoln to come to the nation’s capital to personally lobby for the position. Lincoln arrived on or before June 19. Ewing and Lincoln corresponded several more times on the topic of letters of recommendation Ewing and the Department of the Interior received concerning Lincoln’s candidacy for commissioner. Ultimately, neither Morrison, Edwards, nor Lincoln received the appointment; the job went to Butterfield instead. See the General Land Office Affair.
Lincoln later wrote Ewing that he waited until July 8th before opening this package of letters, then found the letters of Richard W. Thompson and Elisha Embree missing. Lincoln suspected that these two particular letters were purposefully omitted by someone at the Department of the Interior in order to give Butterfield an advantage over him in the competition for the job. Ewing, however, insisted that President Taylor had seen both Thompson’s and Embree’s letters, after which they were then forwarded to him and retained due to departmental policy which did not permit the return of any letters of reference or recommendation which were addressed to Taylor or which contained statements about anyone other than the person being recommended. Lincoln later wrote John Addison that his loyalty to both Taylor and “the great whig cause” induced him to remain silent about his suspicions. Thompson’s and Embree’s letters of recommendation have not been located.
Eventually, on April 22, 1850, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives formed a committee under William A. Richardson to investigate Ewing’s role in and handling of patronage appointments as well as his management of pension payments and Department of the Interior accounts. On June 8, 1850, the New York Herald reported that Butterfield’s appointment as commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office was one patronage appointment that the Richardson Committee was investigating, particularly with regard to letters missing from the file on Lincoln that was shown to President Taylor prior to Taylor selecting the final appointee. However, when the committee filed its final reports on September 4-7, 1850, it made no finding regarding Butterfield’s appointment. The Whig-controlled U.S. Senate also exonerated Ewing of all charges, although suspicions remained in some Whig circles that Ewing had indeed suppressed letters of recommendation from Lincoln’s file.
William H. Henderson to Abraham Lincoln; William H. Henderson to Abraham Lincoln; Josiah M. Lucas to Abraham Lincoln; The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 10 June 1849,; 19 June 1849,; Thomas Ewing to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Thomas Ewing; Cong. Globe, 31st Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 1209-37 (1850); Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:304; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 1729; Paul I. Miller, “Lincoln and the Governorship of Oregon,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 23 (December 1936), 393-94; The New York Herald (NY), 8 June 1850, 3:5.

Handwritten Transcription, 1 page(s), University of Notre Dame Archives (South Bend, Indiana).