Anson G. Henry to Abraham Lincoln, 29 December 18471Pekin Decr. 29th 1847Dear Lincoln
I loose no time in explaining the "unnatural" occurrence you allude to in your letter.2 You know Baker was with us at the time he wrote the letter Endorsed by me, & I sent the package by same mail.3 I had began the letter you no doubt received two or three days after you received the package but did not finish it that evening in Consequence of Bakers remaining three or four days ^longer^ than he intended that Evening. Since I wrote that letter nothing of importance has occured or I should have Communicated it without waiting to hear from you, so hereafter you may infer when you hear nothing from me, that all is going on as usual.
You no doubt get the Whig regularly & of course noticed my synopsis of Bakers Speech.4 I did not like the ground he took, and I did not report him as taking as strong ground against Territory as he really did for I did not think it would do our party or him any good— he went further than Mr Clay himself. I repeat what I then said in the Whig, If this no Territory doctrine is to be made the test of Whiggery I shall retire from all participation in the Comeing Canvass with the firm Conviction that Locofocoism will Continue triumphant.5
I find that I cannot honestly go with my party upon that question, & have about made up my mind to retire from the Editorial Chair of the Whig, and
<Page 2>leave its management to those who can conscientiously coincide with Mr Clay.
That Speech of Mr Clay will beat us as a party for years to come, unless we can unite upon "Old Zac" and allow him to run without any other pledge than that of administering the Government in strict accordance with the Constitution and for the best interests of the whole people. I am willing to trust him to do right, & he can do nothing Else but give the Country a good Whig Administration.
By the way, I got a letter from him in November last. I wrote him soon after you left, Enclosing that Editorial you sent to Bledsoe. I said to him– "I have taken you for a Whig in principle. If I am mistaken, you will no doubt take pleasure in Correcting our misapprehension." I also said– "I hope our ^Editorial^ course will meet your approbation". His letter in reply was marked "Strictly Confidential," but it is no violation of confidence to say, that it was Entirely Satisfactory. If I were to publish it, it would amount to nothing without the explanation, more than a courteous reply to a letter of Enquiry. In that part of the letter in which he alludes to the Editorial he says; "You seem to well understand my views & wishes &c[etc.]" I send you the only Copy of that Editorial I have left.6
I feel a very great anxiety to know what course you design taking in relation to the Mexican War. I hope you will not feel disposed to go with Mr Clay against all Territory. If you do, I am fearful you will
<Page 3>be with the minority party for a long time to come. It would be painful in the extreme to part Company with you after ^having^ fought with you side by side so long. But if the Whigs as a party Join Join issue with Mr Polk & take the side of "No Territory," I shall at the polls (but no where else) Sustain Mr Polk.
The South would have Texas with Slavery, & now I will try to get Free Territory as an offset, & this is fair & nothing more If the South want to go out of the Union let them go. Their threatening to do so should not deter me from voting for the Wilmot Proviso. I would not vote one Dollar for Carrying on the War without it. With it I would vote Millions of men & Money to carry it on untill Mexico shall agree to give us what Mr Polk claims. The Whigs now have the power to make the Locos swallow the same kind of a pill they forced down our throats in May '46.7 They should be made to swallow the Proviso, or vote against supplies for carrying on the War.
I now have it in serious contemplation to return to Springfield. Dr's Todd & Jayne both urge my return to Supply the places of Merryman & Frazier both of whom leave–8 I shall go down & look round next week if will, & determine my Course for the future. I am fully Convinced I can never make any thing out of Politics.9Your Sincere friendA. G. Henry
The Wilmot Proviso10
This question is now, and has been for some time past, exciting a large share of the public attention; and if an opinion may be formed from the tone of some of the leading whig journals of the North and East; it is to be made the prominent question of the approaching session of Congress. If the agitation of the question could be allowed to stop there, no great mischief would result to the Whig party, or the country, by its agitation. But we regret to find a disposition manifested on the part of some of our Eastern co-temporaries, to make it a test in the selection of a candidate for the presidency, to be supported by the Whig party of the Union. Should this course be persisted in there must of necessity be an end to all hope of union between the Whigs of the North and South in the coming contest, and the consequences will prove, not only disastrous to our party, but the best interests of the country, by putting in jeopardy the integrity of the Union itself. We had hoped that the experience of 1844, would have admonished our Eastern friends of the danger of allowing the question of slavery to be drawn into our canvass for President. They must know that if persisted in, it will end in nothing but disaster and defeat.11
We are in favor of the passage of the proviso by Congress, and stand ready to unite most cordially with our friends at the East in urging the question upon their favorable consideration; but we do most solemnly protest against the propriety or necessity of making it the test question in the selection of our candidate for President.
For ourselves, we are committed to the support of Gen. Taylor for our next President, without regard to the question of the further extension of slavery. It is enough for us, that he has shown himself a Patriot, and an honest man, by a long and devoted service in defence of his country's honor, and in contributing to our national glory; and that he has avowed himself A WHIG. We would not, if we could, exact of him pledges to support any specific measure of policy; and we are glad to know, THAT HE WILL NOT MAKE THEM.—This course on his part, is in our opinion, just as it should be. We have seen enough within the last few years of pledges pending on election, to know how to appreciate their value.—The people will not soon forget Mr. Polk's pledges of "all of Oregon or none," and his double dealing and special pleading, upon the subject of the tariff. Did not the immortal Jackson, pledge himself to the one term principle; no proscription for opinions sake, &c.; and did not the force of circumstances over which he had no control, compel him to violate them? Why any real friend of Gen. Taylor should desire him to place himself in a similar position, is beyond our comprehension. We are compelled to doubt the sincerity of their friendship, and forced to the conclusion, that they ask for pledges in favor of their local interests, for the purpose of securing his defeat, and the success of their favorite candidate.
The only pledge that should be required of our candidate, if any upon that question is, that he would not veto a law of Congress that shall prohibit the further extension of slave territory, should he be elected President; and it does seem to us, that an assurance of this kind, ought to satisfy the most zealous advocate of that measure.
In relation to other questions of national policy, it is enough that our candidate avows himself A WHIG, to satisfy us; and it should, we think, satisfy all good Whigs every where.—No Whig can be opposed to the protection of our home industry; the improvement of our rivers and harbors; a rigid economy in the administration of the Government; a sound circulating medium for carrying on the fiscal affairs of the Nation; and a rigid accountability from all our public officers; and to ask from an avowed whig a pledge to support any one, or all of these measures, implies a distrust of his honesty and sincerity; and his self-respect requires that he should pass all such interrogatoties by, without notice, let them come from what quarter they may; and we most heartily approve the cours[e] of Gen. Taylor in declining to make any pledges, except what are implied in the declaration that he is A WHIG; and if elected President, that he "will administer the Government to the best of his abilities, and in strict accordance with the Constitution."12
Although we may differ with our brethren of the slave states, upon measures involving the question of slavery; still we should feel no unkind feelings toward them. On the contrary, they should have our kindest sympathies; and so far from holding them responsible for the evil of slavery, we should remember that the institution has been forced upon them without their consent; and cannot now be suddenly removed, without uprooting the very foundations of their civil and political organization.
Can we of the North ever become alianated in feeling and interest with our brethren of the South, after mingling our blood so freely with theirs upon the batlle-fields, in defence of our national rights?—God forbid. But long, long, may we continue to find shelter together in harmony, under the stars and stripes, that have so often waved over us in triumph, in our onward progress to glory and greatness.
4Henry references the Tazewell Whig, of which he was the editor. No issues of the Tazewell Whig for this period are extant. No other report or summary of Baker’s speech could be located, but Henry’s description of the speech suggests that Baker expressed his views on territorial acquisitions from Mexico in the aftermath of the Mexican War.
5With a national election on the horizon, Whigs hoping for success in the fall of 1848 shifted their strategy away from economic issues to President James K. Polk’s management of the Mexican War and plans to exact territory in the peace treaty. Opposition to Polk’s conduct of the war and territorial acquisition offered the Whigs a convenient way to differentiate themselves from their Democratic rivals. Acquiring territory from Mexico became linked to the extension of slavery, however, exacerbating lines of fission within the party. From the moment Congress declared war in May 1846, anti-slavery Whigs charged that President Polk was working at the behest of southern slaveholders to acquire more territory for slavery. Anti-slavery Whigs were less concerned with territorial acquisition than with the permanent enactment of the Wilmot Proviso, which barred slavery from all territory acquired from Mexico. Southern Whigs and their more moderate Northern counterparts, hoping to use the no territory pledge as an election issue, advocated for no territory, with or without the Proviso.
Henry Clay, Whig Party standard bearer in 1844 and titular head of the party, made his feelings known on the war, territorial acquisition, and the expansion of slavery in a speech delivered in Lexington, Kentucky on November 13, 1847. Fighting for his political life in the wake of a strong movement to draft Zachary Taylor as the Whig presidential candidate in 1848, Clay argued that it was the duty of the nation, “as with the view of avoiding discord and discontent at home, to abstain from seeking to conquer and annex to the United States Mexico or any part of it; and, especially, to disabuse the public mind in any quarter of the Union of the impression, if it any where exists, that a desire for such a conquest, is cherished for the purpose of propagating or extending slavery.” Lincoln was in the crowd that day to hear his political mentor and idol.
Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 248-53; Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991), 692-94, Melba Porter Hay and Carol Reardon, eds., The Papers of Henry Clay (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1991), 10:361-76.
7Henry references the success of the Democrats in attaching a preamble blaming Mexico for the commencement of hostilities to a bill enacted on May 13, 1846, authorizing President Polk to raise a volunteer force of 50,000 and appropriating $10 million to prosecute the war. Affixing such a preamble to a bill raising troops and supplies to conduct the war placed the Whigs in an awkward position. Knowing the fate of the Federalist Party for opposing the War of 1812, most congressional Whigs recognized that it was essential for their political survival to appropriate men and material to carry the war to a successful conclusion, but bristled at the idea of exonerating Polk for his culpability for instigating the conflict. In the end, only fourteen of seventy-seven Whigs in the House and two of twenty-four in the Senate voted against the bill of May 13, 1846.
“An Act providing for the Prosecution of the Existing War Between the United States and the Republic of Mexico,” 13 May 1846, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):9-10; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War, 233.
8Elijah J. Fraser announced plans to leave Springfield in November 1847, and in January 1848, he moved to St. Louis to take a position in a newly-opened hospital. Elias H. Merryman moved to Chicago in February 1848.
Illinois Journal (Springfield), 18 November 1847, 3:2; 13 January 1848, 3:2; 10 February 1848, 2:1.
9In January 1848, Henry resigned as editor of the Tazewell Whig and moved from Pekin to Springfield, where he resumed his medical practice.
Illinois Journal (Springfield), 30 December 1847, 2:1; 27 January 1848, 2:7; 24 February 1848, 3:2.
11Henry Clay lost New York by 5,106 voters, and that narrow loss cost him the presidency in 1844. The Liberty Party polled 15,812 in New York; had Clay received only a third of those votes, he would have won. Some Whigs attributed Clay’s loss to the Liberty Party and the refusal of abolitionists to vote for Clay, though other Whigs blamed Clay’s loss on his waffling on the annexation of Texas.
Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War, 195-96; Paul H. Bergeron, The Presidency of James K. Polk (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1987), 19-20; John L. Moore, Jon P. Preimesberger, and David R. Tarr, eds., Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S. Elections, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001), 1:649.
12Paraphrase of a quotation from a statement of political principles made by Zachary Taylor in a letter to Joseph R. Ingersoll dated August 3, 1847.
H. Montgomery, The Life of Major General Zachary Taylor (New York: C. M. Saxton, Barker, 1860), 380-81.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).