William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln, 4 December 18541Macomb Decr 4th 1854A Lincoln Esqr[Esquire]Dear sir
Yours of the 29th of Nov[November] past is recd[received] and in answer I will do as requested so far as my influence goes2 Your name with others has been mentioned to him I some time since advised him to go there unpledged I think he stands so now & will certainly be first for any high minded Hon Whig secondly for an Anti Nebraska Whig or democrat Your name is spoken of among the rest & you surely stand a fair chance for the place3 For this reason I had desired you to speak to our people I had a high opinion of Our Friend Williams his ability &c[etc.] but still I believe you could stir up the boys as the saying is more than he & this we needed In short You were not personally know^n^Resp[Respectfully] YoursWm H Randolph
<Page 2>and would be heard more than he and as I believed to a better purpose I feel friendly also to Mr Williams who is also spoken of by some his friends in Adams are anxious for him.4 Mr Watters is absent at this time I will see him on his return I do not think he will regard it as imprudent in you to write him. but I will see him & when he visits your place write by him giving him a letter of introduction to you.5 he is an old fashioned Whig– I hope to see the whole party in the end unite against Douglass & his measures. I should be glad to hear from you any time.6
2Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Randolph has not been located; therefore, some of the context for this letter is missing.
3Randolph is discussing Lincoln’s candidacy for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Passage 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. He even 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 for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. In November and December 1854, he wrote confidential letters to political allies, seeking support for his candidacy and information about his prospects. He likely did the same in his November 29 letter to Randolph.
Lincoln won election to the Illinois General Assembly, but, on November 25, 1854, officially declined to serve in order to run for the U.S. Senate. Per article three, section seven of the 1848 Illinois State Constitution, state legislators were ineligible for election to the U.S. Senate.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Abraham Lincoln to Hugh Lamaster; Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Gillespie; Abraham Lincoln to Horace W. Fay; Abraham Lincoln to Charles Hoyt; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7.
4On September 29, Randolph wrote Lincoln asking him to come to Macomb, Illinois to speak in reply to Stephen A. Douglas on the topic of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. At the time, Democrat William A. Richardson was seeking reelection to Illinois’ Fifth Congressional District’s seat in the U.S. Senate. He ran against Archibald Williams, a Whig.
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10; Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, eds., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Piatt County, ed. by Francis M. Shonkwiler (Chicago: Munsell, 1917), 2:590.
5No correspondence between Lincoln and Louis H. Waters has been located in either 1854 or 1855. In the McDonough County election for the Illinois House of Representatives, Waters had defeated his Democratic opponent, John E. Jackson, by one vote, but Jackson contested the outcome. Waters and Jackson agreed to a special election on December 30, which Waters won by nineteen votes.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 3 January 1855, 3:1; S. J. Clarke, History of McDonough County Illinois (Springfield, IL: D. W. Lusk, 1878), 395.
6Lincoln’s reply, if he wrote one, has not been located. However, as three additional letters from Randolph reveal, Lincoln wrote him at least a few times in December 1854.
The race between Richardson and Williams was close. Richardson won 52.4 percent of the Fifth Congressional District’s votes to Williams’ 47.6 percent. In McDonough County, the county in which Macomb was located, Richardson emerged with 50.7 percent of the vote to Williams’ 49.3 percent.
Lincoln and Williams both became candidates for U.S. Senate when the General Assembly gathered in joint session to vote on February 8, 1855. Williams received votes on the second, third, fourth, ninth, and tenth ballots. Lincoln received a majority of the anti-Nebraska votes until the tenth and final ballot, when he withdrew and urged his supporters to vote for anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull in order to ensure that an anti-Nebraska politician filled the seat. With the votes of Lincoln’s supporters, Trumbull won the seat. Waters switched his allegiance back and forth between Lincoln, Williams, and Orville H. Browning before casting his vote in the tenth and final ballot for Williams--becoming the only Whig not to unite on Trumbull’s candidacy. See the 1854 Federal Election. Stung and disappointed by his loss, Lincoln made no political speeches or public statements for an entire year after his defeat and reinvested his energies in his law practice.
William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 10, 134; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln, 1:401-2; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 185; Victor B. Howard, “The Illinois Republican Party: Part I: A Party Organizer for the Republicans in 1854,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 64 (Summer 1971), 153-54; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).