William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln, 13 December 18541Macomb Decr 13th 1854A Lincoln Esqr[Esquire]Dear Sir
Your letter of the 8th inst is recd[received] also your Peoria Speech for which except my thanks.2 Ere this you have seen that we have an Election ordered on 30th of this inst to fill vacancy occasioned by resignation of Mr Watters. His opponent contested his seat No real grounds but still Mr W concluded upon the whole the better policy was to run the race over
They are both in the field & we hope for the success of Watters & will try to place it above dispute but still may be beaten we have nothing to fear if a general turn out3Resp[Respectfully] yoursWm H Randolph
1William H. Randolph wrote and signed this letter. He also wrote the name and address on the envelope, shown in the second image.
2Neither Abraham Lincoln’s December 8, 1854 letter to Randolph nor the copy of Lincoln’s Peoria speech that he enclosed have been located.
Lincoln delivered a three-hour long speech criticizing the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Peoria, Illinois on Monday, October 16, 1854. He spoke after Stephen A. Douglas delivered a speech promoting the act from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. earlier that day.
Passage 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 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 also began to circulate as a possible nominee to supplant James Shields as U.S. Senator.
Although Lincoln won election to the Illinois General Assembly, on November 25, 1854 he 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.
On November 29, Lincoln wrote Randolph seeking help in canvassing members of the Illinois General Assembly for support of his potential candidacy. Randolph responded on December 5 that he did not think Louis H. Waters, an “old fashioned Whig” and representative-elect from McDonough County, would consider it imprudent for Lincoln to write him.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 16 October 1854, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-10-16; 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; 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; S. J. Clarke, History of McDonough County Illinois (Springfield, IL: D. W. Lusk, 1878), 395
3In 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 ultimately won by nineteen votes.
In the end, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. Waters switched his allegiance back and forth between Lincoln, Archibald 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. 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.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 3 January 1855, 3:1; S. J. Clarke, History of McDonough County Illinois, 395; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln, 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).