David Davis to Abraham Lincoln, 15 December 18541Bloomington. Dec 15, 1854.Dear Lincoln–
Swett's wife's sister has been very sick,2 & he could not leave her this week– She set up, for two hours yesterday, and he thinks ^he^ will be able to go to Joliet, on Monday– Shall he go? I did not know, but what you may have heard something, that wd[would] supersede the necessity of his going– Let me know by return mail–3
I wrote a diplomatic letter to our friend,– Mrs Fisher (Miss Colton) in your behalf, soliciting her aid through her husband for Mr Talcott's vote & Mr Laurence's at Belvidere4
I have also written to Mr Hurlbut at Belvidere— to get his aid– Also to Mr Hurlbut Swan at & of Lake Co–
I liked old Swan, & I know he will not take anything amiss that I have written him– I dont know, how to approach Augustus Adams of Kane– Although I was in the Constitutional Convention with him, yet, I don't think there was any peculiar affinity, between us. Yet I will try my hand writing to him— if you say so–5
Samuel M. Hitt– Esqr[Esquire]– with whom I was in the Legislature
<Page 2>in 1844—6 is the father in Law of Professor Pinckney– Major Hitt, was from Maryland, & is one of my best friends— & would do anything to oblige me– He is an old line Whig– I have written to him earnestly in your behalf— soliciting his aid &c[etc.]–
He will write me Pinckney's views— & I thought he might bring some influences to bear from Rockford on Mr Wait Tolcott— and earnestly besought his aid therein–
I know of no man in Illinois who will be more discreet than Major Hitt–
Let me know— if you want me to do any thing more— and write me if you have any further news–
I was in Chicago, Tuesday,– Heard no body say any thing on the subject, except J. S. Wright, the Editor Prairie Farmer– He thought there must be a new man &c &c– I expressed to him pretty clearly my views– He said you stood high in Chicago— and that, Dunlap a member, was favorably impressed towards you– On the whole, I, don't like the air of Chicago– But one thing
<Page 3>is very favorable–Member
The Chicago Democrat Daily, of 13th urges an election, & says it is shameful— if the Democrats refuse to go into an election &c &c7
I like the tone of his remarks very much– I wish I could see Wentworth a little while. I dont think that he is unfavorable to you–
Write me8Truly Yr[Your] friendD Davis
1David Davis wrote and signed this letter. He also wrote the name and address on the envelope shown in the fourth image.
2Laura 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 Abraham Lincoln December 12, 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.
3Davis is discussing Leonard Swett’s efforts to gauge support among members of the Illinois General Assembly for 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 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 December 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 State Constitution, state legislators were ineligible for election to the U.S. Senate.
In mid-December 1854, Leonard Swett made at least two trips to northern Illinois to ascertain whether specific individuals would support Lincoln as a candidate for U.S. senator
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; Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; Leonard Swett 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.
4Davis transcribed most of Mrs. Rachel Fisher’s (née Colton’s) response to him in a December 27, 1854 letter to Lincoln. She stated that her husband, Lucius G. Fisher, considered Wait Talcott a “red hot abolitionist” who would likely prefer a Free Soil candidate for the U.S. Senate seat, but that her husband would write Lincoln directly after seeing Talcott in person. Lucius Fisher’s letter to Lincoln, if he wrote one, has not been located.
Thomas B. Talcott, Wait Talcott’s brother, wrote Lincoln on December 14, 1854, in reply to a letter Lincoln wrote him December 6. In this reply, Thomas Talcott stated that his brother was “an abolitionist of the Lovejoy stamp” and that the prospects of him voting for Lincoln were “not flattering.” Lincoln’s December 6, 1854 letter to Thomas Talcott has not been located.
The portion of Rachel Fisher’s letter that Davis transcribed for Lincoln does not include any mention of Luther W. Lawrence. No correspondence between Lawrence and Lincoln has been located. However, in a January 6, 1855 letter to Elihu B. Washburne, Lincoln wrote that he believed Lawrence “will be for me. . . but he has not spoken it out.”
5Davis, Stephen A. Hurlbut, Hurlbut Swan, and Augustus Adams all served as delegates to the 1847 Illinois Constitutional Convention.
Adams wrote Lincoln on December 17, 1854, in reply to a letter Lincoln wrote him December 5. Adams stated that he agreed an anti-Nebraska candidate should be elected to the U.S. Senate and outlined the qualifications he desired in a U.S. senator. Lincoln’s December 5, 1854 letter to Adams has not been located.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 29 April 1847, 2:2; 6 May 1847, 2:1.
6Davis and Samuel M. Hitt both served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1844 to 1846. Davis represented McLean County and Hitt represented Ogle County.
Louis L. Emmerson, ed., Blue Book of the State of Illinois, 1919-1920 (Springfield: Illinois State Journal, 1920), 534.
7This is most likely a reference to rumors that pro-Nebraska members of the Democratic Party would attempt to “stave off” the upcoming senatorial election if they could not elect a pro-Nebraska candidate.
8Lincoln’s reply, if he wrote one, has not been located. Davis wrote Lincoln at least two more letters related to Lincoln’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate after this letter.
Despite rumors about pro-Nebraska Democrats conspiring to avert or delay the election, in reality it was the anti-Nebraska forces that attempted to delay the election after incumbent James Shields polled even with Lincoln after the third ballot during the election held at a joint session of the General Assembly on February 8, 1855. 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.
Ultimately, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. Talcott voted for Lincoln for the first six ballots, then shifted to William B. Ogden, before moving to Trumbull in the ninth ballot. Lawrence cast his first three ballots for Lincoln, voted for Martin P. Sweet on the fourth ballot, switched to Ogden for the next four ballots, then settled on Trumbull for ballots nine and ten. Both Swan and Pinckney voted for Lincoln through the first nine rounds of voting, before switching their votes to Trumbull. Adams cast seven ballots for Lincoln before switching his vote to Trumbull. Matthias L. Dunlap voted for Lincoln in the first three rounds, switched to Trumbull in the fourth, back to Lincoln in the fifth, and finally settled on Trumbull on the eighth ballot. 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.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).