Horace White to Abraham Lincoln, 25 October 18541Springfield, Oct, 25, 1854,Mr Lincoln:Dear Sir:
In regard to your visit to Chicago concerning which Mr Wilson wrote to you,2 I am authorized to state that it is the farthest from our ^the^ wishes and intent intentions of our people to deprive Mr Yates of your assistance in case he should need it.3
To come at the point at once; (I don't know whether Mr Wilson wrote to you about it or not) the Whigs are bound to elect a U.S. Senator in place of Shields. 4
Chicago has five votes in the Legislature and
<Page 2>influences a great many more in Northern Illinois. Part of our R Representatives in the next Assembly will be Whigs, part Free-Soilers & part Anti-Nebraska Democrats. These Democrats might bolt at the nomination of a Whig for the Senate. It would be unprecedented if they didn't. The idea is to have you go to Chicago and make a speech. You will have a crowd of from eight to ten or fifteen thousand and the result will be that the people will demand of their Representatives to elect a Whig Senator. What might be doubtful otherwise will thus be rendered certain. The time t necessary for
<Page 3>this coup d' etat would not be more than three days at the most.
Of course it is all at your discretion.5Very respectfully,Horace White.
Chicago "Journal"Hon A. Lincoln
2Richard L. Wilson wrote Abraham Lincoln a letter on October 20, inviting him to deliver a speech in Chicago on the subject of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
3Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise reawakened Lincoln’s passion for politics, and he threw himself into the congressional election campaign in the fall of 1854, crisscrossing Illinois to deliver speeches against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and in support of anti-Nebraska candidates such as Richard Yates, a Whig. Yates was seeking reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives as Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District representative. The Democrats nominated Thomas L. Harris as his opponent. Harris would defeat Yates by 200 votes, garnering 50.5 percent of the vote to Yates’ 49.5 percent.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10, 134 .
4James Shields, a Democrat, was up for reelection as one of the state’s representatives in the U.S. Senate.
Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 1817; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln.
5Lincoln’s reply, if he wrote one, has not been located. He delivered a speech in Chicago against the Kansas-Nebraska Act on October 27, 1854, which White covered in positive terms in his newspaper, the Chicago Journal .
As White references above, the members of the Illinois General Assembly were responsible for electing the state’s U.S. senators; therefore, the composition of the state legislature was critical to the outcome of the senatorial race. Three days after the election, but before the outcome was known, Lincoln began quietly seeking support for a seat in the U.S. Senate, writing confidentially to political allies and friends.
In Illinois’ Second Congressional District, which included Chicago and other parts of Northern Illinois, James H. Woodworth, a Free-Soil Democrat running as a Republican, won the seat, defeating Democrat John B. Turner, Whig Robert S. Blackwell, and anti-Nebraska Democrat Edward L. Mayo with 53.1 percent of the vote. This was a shift from the election of 1852, in which Democrat John Wentworth won the Second Congressional District with 46.7 percent of the total vote, compared to Whig Cyrus Aldrich’s 39.9 percent and Free Soil candidate James H. Collins’ 13.3 percent. In the state as a whole in 1854, Republicans won 52 percent of the vote compared to Democratic candidates’ 43 percent. Illinois voters sent an anti-Nebraska majority to the Illinois General Assembly.
Lincoln had allowed himself to become a candidate for the Illinois General Assembly (albeit unwillingly at first). As the election campaign reached its climax, Lincoln’s name began to circulate as a possible nominee to supplant Shields as U.S. Senator. Lincoln won a seat in the General Assembly, but in late-November 1854, Lincoln 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. Ultimately, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. See the 1854 Federal Election. Stung and disappointed by his loss, Lincoln made no politically-oriented speeches or public statements for an entire year after his defeat and reinvested his energies in his law practice.
Abraham Lincoln to Hugh Lamaster; Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Gillespie; Abraham Lincoln to Horace W. Fay; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990, 9-10, 134-35; Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870, vol. 3 of The Centennial History of Illinois (Springfield, IL: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1919), 129-30; Stephen Hansen and Paul Nygard, “Stephen A. Douglas, the Know-Nothings, and the Democratic Party in Illinois, 1854-1858,” Illinois Historical Journal 87 (Summer 1994), 114; David Hebert Donald, Lincoln, 185; Abraham Lincoln to Noah W. Matheny; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392, 397, 401-2; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).