Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln, 19 December 18541Bloomington
Dec 19.Mr LincolnDear Sir.
After I left the Vermillion Court I went up north I met Strunk at Wilmington & Joliet I knew him well in '52 and at Wilmington had a talk with him about you3 The character given him by McDougall is correct4 He expressed himself when I saw him in favor of you I think you will find him right and I have no doubt but that a letter from you would be favorably rec'd
I know Judge Parks very well Personally there is rather an unusually good feeling between us I think I can help you with him
McDougall I know "like a book" and I am confident I can find out what you wish— never saw Wheeler but once–
I shall go up to night and will report progress6Yours TrulyL Swett
1Leonard Swett wrote and signed this letter. He also wrote the name and address on the envelope shown in the third image.
3Swett is discussing his 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 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.
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 three, section seven of the 1848 Illinois Constitution, state legislators were ineligible for election to the U.S. Senate.
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.
4Swett references James T. McDougall’s opinion, given in a December 11, 1854 letter to Lincoln, that John Strunk was “more Whig than free soil.”
5It is unclear who Swett wrote to aside from Strunk. Strunk lived in Momence, in Kankakee County, at the time of this letter, but previously lived in Wilmington, in Will County. In a December 22 letter to Lincoln, Swett noted that he visited several men who lived in both Will and La Salle counties. It is possible that some of these men were the other individuals he wrote to, aside from Strunk.
Illustrated Historical Atlas of Kankakee County, Illinois, 1883 (Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1883), 146.
6Both Swett and Davis 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 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. Alanson K. Wheeler voted for Lincoln for eight ballots, then switched his vote 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.
David Davis to Abraham Lincoln; David Davis 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, 3 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).