Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln, 14 November 18541Galena, Illinois,
Nov. 14, 1854.My Dear sir:
My friend, the Hon. George Gage, the Senator elect from Lake & McHenry counties, came over and spent the day with me on Sunday last. We talked a good deal about U. S. Senator and I was gratified to find that he agreed with me that you should be the man if we could elect any body. I was upon the point of writing you this fact, when I received your letter of the 10th. last night to which I now hasten to reply.2 You are my choice above all others and any thing I can do to secure your success, shall be done. In this district we have made a clean thing of it so far as the Legislature is concerned. Every single Senator and representative belongs to the Republican Party. I will just tell you who they are, where they live and what their political antecedents have been:
Geo. Gage, Lake & McHenry Counties. Free-soiler, strong for you. Post-office, McHenry, McHenry Co. Ills.
Wait Talcott, Winnebago district, abolitionist, but will be practicable. P. O.[Post Office] Rockton, Ills.
John H. Addams, Joe Daviess & Stephenson, lives at Cedarville, Stephenson Co. He is an old Whig and will be for you, without doubt.
Joe Daviess & Carroll. Dr. W. A. Little, of Elizabeth in this County, and Porter Sargent of Savanna, Carroll Co. Both free-soil whigs and I have no doubt will be for you.
Stephenson Co. Thomas J. Turner, Freeport, whom you know. He is identified against Nebraska and with the Republicans, but where he will be on Senator I do not know. I guess he would like to be speaker of the House.3 That is worth looking to.
Winnebago. Dr. Wm Lyman, Rockford. Originally an old democrat, but a thorough republican. I cannot say how he will be, but I think “right on the main question”.
Boone & McHenry. Wesley Diggins, Chemung, and ^Rev^ Luther W. Lawrence, Belvidere— the former and old abolitionist and the latter an old Whig. I think they will be for you.
Lake. Hurlbut Swan, an old whig free-soiler, who will go with Gage. His P. O. is Fremont Centre, Lake Co.
I have not yet seen sufficient returns to know how the Legislature will stand, but it seems to me if the Anti-Nebraska men or republicans have a majority in both branches you ought to be able to go through.4 I should like to hear from you how matters stand in this regard.5
I shall leave for Washington in some ten days.Yours, Truly,E B WashburneHon. A. Lincoln.
1Elihu B. Washburne wrote and signed this letter, including the address and signed frank on the envelope.
2Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Washburne of November 10, 1854 has not been located, but was likely similar to others he wrote around that time requesting his allies’ help in canvassing their Illinois General Assembly members for support of his potential candidacy for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise had 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. He even allowed himself to become a candidate for the Illinois General Assembly (albeit reluctantly at first). As the election campaign reached its climax, Lincoln’s name began to circulate as a possible nominee for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.
3Thomas J. Turner was chosen as speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives on January 2, 1855.
Illinois House Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 5.
4Party control of the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate after the 1854 election was significant because the General Assembly was responsible for selecting the state’s U.S. senators. The result of the election was an anti-Nebraska majority in the Illinois General Assembly, which was promising for Lincoln’s potential candidacy. Lincoln himself won election to the Illinois House of Representatives in the 1854 election, but declined the seat in late November in order to run for U.S. Senate.
The General Assembly met in a joint session on February 8, 1855 to make their selection for the U.S. Senate. All of the state senators and representatives listed by Washburne from the counties of Northern Illinois voted for Lincoln in the first two rounds of voting. In subsequent rounds, some switched their votes to Martin P. Sweet, William B. Ogden, or Lyman Trumbull. Only Daniel J. Pinckney and Hurlbut Swan continued to support Lincoln through all of the first nine rounds of voting. For the tenth vote, Lincoln withdrew and urged his supporters to vote for Trumbull in order to ensure that an anti-Nebraska politician filled the seat. All those named here voted for Trumbull in the tenth and final round of voting in which he emerged victorious. See the 1854 Federal Election.
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; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne.
5No response to this letter from Lincoln has been found. Lincoln and Washburne carried on an extensive correspondence during the senatorial campaign and exchanged numerous letters related to Lincoln’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
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6Washburne won reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives for Illinois’ First Congressional District in 1854 with 69.32% of the district’s vote. He received 8,372 votes while his opponents, Democrat William M. Jackson and anti-Nebraska Democrat Elisha P. Ferry, received 2,776 and 927 votes respectively.
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 9.
7Whig incumbent Richard Yates had lost his bid for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives for Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District to Democratic challenger Thomas L. Harris. Harris won by 200 votes, garnering 50.5 percent of the vote to Yates’ 49.5 percent.
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990, 10.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).