Thomas Ewing to Abraham Lincoln, 18 July 18491
Dear Sir,
Your favor of the 9th inst is before me, and in reply I have to inform you that the letters to which you allude from Judge Embree and the Hon. R. W. Thompson, are still on file in this Department, with the papers relating to the appointment of Commissioner of the General Land Office.2 They were addressed to the President, and referred by him to me; and they were fully abstracted and referred to on the brief that was prepared, and were before the President and Cabinet at the time the appointment was made.
Those letters, together with several others of a similar character, were purposely retained by Mr. Caffee, for the reason that they were addressed, not to you, but to the President of the United States, and because they contained statements and opinions respecting another person besides yourself. They, by a well known rule in my Department, could not be delivered to you, or even inspected by you. Mr Caffee states that he informed you at the time he gave you the bundle, that letters containing ^charges against^ the incumbent, or information and opinions relative to others, were– in accordance with the rule of the Department,– always retained on file; and that the letters referred to by you, with some two or three others,3 were retained for that reason. Those to which he refers were likewise addressed to the President; among them was that of Mr. Henry, about which we had some conversation.4
I am &c[etc.]T. Ewing.Hon A. LincolnSpringfield, Ill.
1This letter is attributed to Thomas Ewing but is not in his hand.
2This is a reference to letters of recommendation in support of Lincoln’s qualifications for the position of commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. 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 U.S. 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. In the end, the job went to Butterfield. See the General Land Office Affair.
3The “incumbent” Ewing refers to was Richard M. Young, whom President James K. Polk appointed commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office in 1847. President Taylor replaced Young with Butterfield in June 1849. See the General Land Office Affair. The “others” Ewing refers to is most likely a reference primarily to Butterfield.
Register of all Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1847 (Washington, DC: J. & G. S. Gideon, 1847), 25.
4 In his reply to Ewing, dated July 27, 1849, Lincoln asserted that although several people who wrote letters of recommendation on his behalf discussed Butterfield, only Richard W. Thompson, Elisha Embree, and Anson G. Henry’s letters were withheld by the Department of the Interior. Neither Thompson, Embree, nor Henry’s letters of recommendation have been located. Lincoln suspected that Thompson’s and Embree’s 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. However, he later wrote John Addison that his loyalty to both Taylor and “the great whig cause” induced him to remain silent about his suspicions.
Lincoln and Ewing were able to discuss some of this information in person prior to this letter because, 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, 1849.
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,; 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).