David Davis to Abraham Lincoln, 8 December 18541Bloomington. Illinois.
Decr 8th– 1854––Dear Lincoln–
Swett thinks, he can do something with Strunk & Parks. of Will, & with the member from Kendall– He says Strunk is a Whig, & he talked with Strunk about you before the election– Strunk was very favorable– Parks, he also states, has been very Whiggish for some years,— and he knows him very well– He is confident in relation to those two, and also the member fr[from] Kendall, whose name is Stewart– I think–2 Swett does not think that he can do any good— with the LaSalle members– He does not know them– He believes that he can find out Coffing's cue– if you desire it– His wife's sister is now sick3 & he cant go to Joliet— but thinks he can go, Monday or Tuesday– He wont go to see Coffing, unless further advices fr you– Day one of the members fr Lasalle lives at Peru– Strawn, the other member could you not find out something about from old Strawn of Morgan–4Truly Yr[your] friendDavid Davis
1David Davis wrote and signed this letter. He also wrote the name and address on the envelope shown in the second image.
2Davis is discussing Leonard Swett’s efforts to gauge support among members of the Illinois General Assembly for Abraham 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 wrote Davis such a letter, although no correspondence between Lincoln and Davis in the whole of 1854 prior to this letter has been located.
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 III, Section seven of the 1848 Illinois Constitution, state legislators were ineligible for election to the U.S. Senate.
Davis incorrectly identifies “Stewart” as “the member from Kendall;” it was Alanson K. Wheeler. In 1854, the voters of Kendall County elected Wheeler to the Illinois House of Representatives.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Hugh Lamaster; Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Gillespie; Abraham Lincoln to Horace W. Fay; Abraham Lincoln to Charles Hoyt; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; 2 January 1855, 2:3; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7.
3Laura Swett had several sisters. The one who was sick at the time of this letter could not be positively identified. Leonard Swett mentions her in a letter he wrote Lincoln December 15, but does not name her.
For a list of Laura Swett’s sisters as of 1850, see U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Chester, Rockingham County, NH, 268.
4In 1854, the voters of LaSalle, Livingston, and Grundy counties elected Frederick S. Day and David Strawn to the Illinois House of Representatives.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3.
5Davis and Stephen A. Hurlbut both served as delegates to the 1847 Illinois Constitutional Convention.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 29 April 1847, 2:2; 6 May 1847, 2:1.
6As a December 27 letter to Lincoln reveals, the person Davis wrote to in Beloit, Wisconsin was Mrs. Rachel Fisher.
7In Illinois’ Seventh Congressional District, Democrat James C. Allen narrowly won an intensely competitive race against Republican William B. Archer. The contest came down to a single vote: Allen received 8,452 votes to Archer’s 8,451. Allen received the certificate of election, but Archer contested the outcome. Congress nullified the results and left the seat vacant until a new election could be held. In August 1856, Allen defeated Archer in a special election.
Davis and Swett each wrote Lincoln several letters related to Lincoln’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate after this letter.
Ultimately, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. Both John Strunk and Gavion D. A. Parks cast their votes for Lincoln for six ballots, then Strunk switched his vote to Joel A. Matteson. Parks switched his vote to Trumbull on the eighth ballot. Wheeler voted for Lincoln for eight ballots, then switched his vote to Trumbull. Both Day and Strawn cast their initial votes for Lincoln, but then each switched to other candidates—Day voted for Martin P. Sweet twice before switching to Trumbull, and Strawn voted for Trumbull and then William B. Ogden before switching back to Trumbull. 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.
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10, 11, 134; Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, eds., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Clark County, ed. by H. C. Bell (Chicago: Middle West, 1907), 22; David Davis to Abraham Lincoln; Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; David Davis to Abraham Lincoln; David Davis to Abraham Lincoln; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:401-2; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 185.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).