George F. Powers to Abraham Lincoln, 8 December 18541
PrivateOlney Ills Decr 8/54Hon A. LincolnDr[Dear] Sir
Being Anti Locofoco and and an old whig— although a personal stranger to you— I take the liberty of addressing you–
This may be of no sort of importance but it is a "Straw"–2
I happened to see a letter from Lamphier Editor of the State Register to Preston Member elect from this County He says "there is a clear majority in the House of R— and I fear a majority in the Senate—against us– They outnumber us— we must outmanage them Douglass must be sustained at all hazards— and goes on to say that "they must try for a Nebraska Speaker— and elect a Nebraska senator or none– The Nebraska men must act in a solid Phalanx”–3
<Page 2>He doubts not a little that ^in^ case a Nebraska Senator cannot be elected the ability of the Nebraska members to "Stave off" an election– The instructions to the Senators also must, be of the right sort &c &c[etc. etc.]– But probably this is nothing new to you any part of it— but as the action of our Legislature this winter will attract more than ordinary public attention and every whig and honest man wishes Douglass vetoed— thoroughly and completely–by its action I thought this would do no harm— if no good
Preston is a personal friend of mine but the ^most^ arrant– red mouthed stinking locofoco in the State and will be a Nebraska candidate for Speaker4
Lamphier[Lanphier] also wishes all the "Old Line" to be on hand the week before the meeting of the Legislature–5
Hopeing that managment will not overcome numbers I subscribe myselfYours TrulyG. F. Powers
2“A Straw” could be a shortened version of the slang phase “A straw in the wind,” which was associated with a hint about future developments.
Angus Stevenson, ed., Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1762.
3Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise sparked controversy in Illinois, and the state’s voters in the elections of 1854 sent an anti-Nebraska majority to the Illinois General Assembly. The presence of an anti-Nebraska majority gave opponents of Stephen A. Douglas and the Democrats leverage in the imminent election for U.S. Senator. Incumbent James Shields, a supporter of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, was up for reelection, and the anti-Nebraska forces relished the opportunity to replace him with one of their own. See 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), 114-15.
4Finney D. Preston did not receive a nomination to become speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives; Thomas J. Turner and John P. Richmond received nominations, and Turner won the election. Preston voted for Richmond in the election.
Louis L. Emmerson, Blue Book of the State of Illinois 1923-1924 (Springfield: Illinois State Journal, 1923), 680-81; Illinois House Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 1st sess., 5.
5Powers is referring to old-line Democrats, longtime members of the party adhering to its traditional agenda prior to the rise of factions over the spread of slavery into western territory. Old Line Democrats and Whigs were those politicians committed to the compromise measures of 1850, which the Kansas-Nebraska Act supposedly brought into law.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act and its implications for the extension of slavery reignited Abraham Lincoln’s passion for politics, and his opposition to the act made him a favorite for the U.S. Senate with some anti-Nebraska politicians. Lincoln, Shields, Lyman Trumbull, and Joel A. Matteson were the main contenders when the General Assembly met in joint session on February 8, 1855 to elect Illinois’ next U.S. Senator. Trumbull, an anti-Nebraska Democrat, won the seat. Preston cast his vote for Shields until the seventh ballot, when he switched to Matteson. See 1854 Federal Election.
Powers’ prediction that the Democrats would try to “stave off” an election if they could not elect a pro-Nebraska politician did not prove accurate; in fact, it was the anti-Nebraska forces that attempted to delay the election when Shields pulled even with Lincoln after the third ballot. Stephen T. Logan motioned for the adjournment of the joint session, but members refused to adjourn by a vote of 56 to 42. Of the forty-one legislators who voted for Lincoln on the third ballot, only one--George F. Foster--voted against adjourning the session.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson, ed., The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (Urbana: The Knox College Lincoln Studies Center and the University of Illinois Press, 2008), 67; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 1st sess., 242-55.
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).