Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln, 12 December 18541
PrivateHouse of Reps.
Dec. 12. 1854.Dear Sir:
An influential friend of mine in Winnebago county writes me taking ground against you for Senator.2 I regret that, as it may be important for you to have Dr. Lyman and Senator Talcott ^from that county.^ The objection to you is that it is alledged that the Springfield influence has always been against us in the north, and that if you should be elected the north would be overlooked for the center and south part of the State.3 I want to be able to write my friend that the north shall have a fair shake in the event of your election. It may do great good. I learn that the friends of Shields are not without hope of his success.4 Our friends should bring the election on at the earliest possible moment. All delay will operate to our injury.Yours, &c.[etc.]E B WashburneHon. A. Lincoln.
2Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise reawakened Abraham 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, Lincoln wrote confidential letters to his political allies seeking support for his candidacy and information about his prospects.
3Residents of northern Illinois distrusted career politicians and any man closely identify with either the old Democratic Party or the old Whig Party, Lincoln falling into the latter category. Charles H. Ray, chief editor of the Chicago Tribune in 1854, explained his concerns in a letter to Washburne: “I must confess I am afraid of ‘Abe.’ He is Southern by birth, Southern in his associations and Southern, if I mistake not, in his sympathies. . . His wife, you know, is a Todd, of a pro-slavery family, and so are all his kin. My candidate must be like Caesor’s wife—not only not suspected, but above suspicion.” Despite his reservations, Ray soon decided that Lincoln was in fact the best choice for the anti-slavery Republicans and advised his friends to support Lincoln for the Senate.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 181; Charles H. Ray to Elihu B. Washburne, 24 December 1854, 2, E. B. Wasburne, E. B. Washburne Papers: Bound Volumes, Letters Received; , Aug. 18-1857, Aug. 5. 1852., Manuscript/Mixed Material, https://www.loc.gov/resource/mss44651.002/?sp=108&st=image, accessed 9 June 2022; Emmet F. Pearson, Charles Henry Ray: Illinois Medical Truant, Journalist, and Lincoln King-Maker (Springfield, IL: Dept. of Medical Humanities, Southern Illinois University, School of Medicine, 1983), 9-10.
4Abraham Lincoln, James 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. See the 1854 Federal Election. William Lyman cast his vote for Lincoln until the fourth ballot, when he switched to Trumbull. Wait Talcott voted for Lincoln for the first six ballots, then shifted to William B. Ogden, before moving to Trumbull in the ninth ballot.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 1st sess., 242-55.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).