Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln, 19 December 18541Washington, D.C.
Dec. 19, 1854.My Dear Sir:
I have yours of the 14th. I cannot imagine what is up, if any thing at Chicago. Long John is away now and will be for two weeks.2 He told me coming on that you would be the Senator and I understood all the fusionists were in his district were for you. Dick Wilson told me at Chicago that it was the understanding there if the Whigs would not bring out any candidates for the legislature, the fusionists would go for you.3 I wrote Eastman of the Free West in regard to his attack on you and I have a reply rather backing down. He is easy to manage, and he has true influence among the old free-soilers. I think he could be
<Page 2>got to favor your interest. I shall write him again, and I think I can satisfy him that you are right, on the "Main question".4
All the locos here disdain all intention of not going into an election, ^even if they should have the Senate,^ but some of them profess to think that Shields will be returned. They claim Don Morrison.5
I have written to, or seen, or have had friends see nearly all the members in my district. You will get a good support from there, I think.6 We are pretty ultra on the slave question there, and you will have to take pretty high ground. Great anxiety is felt here in regard to the election. I hope to be kept fully posted7E B WashburneHon. A Lincoln.
1Elihu B. Washburne wrote and signed this letter. He also wrote the name and address on the envelope shown in the third image.
2In his letter to Washburne dated December 14, 1854, Abraham Lincoln expressed concern at not having heard back from political allies in Chicago about his candidacy for a seat in the U.S. Senate and asked Washburne to “pump” anti-Nebraska Democrat John Wentworth for information.
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. A November 14 letter from Washburne reveals that Lincoln likely wrote him such a letter on November 10, although it has not 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 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; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392, 394; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7.
3Chicago was part of Illinois’ First Senate District and the state’s Fifty-Sixth and Fifty-Seventh House Districts.
Fusion tickets became common during the election of 1854, as disaffected Whigs and Democrats banded together or “fused” with Free Soilers, Nativists, and temperance advocates, often over shared opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the extension of slavery. See the 1854 Federal Election.
Whig newspaper editor and publisher Richard L. Wilson admired Lincoln’s opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In October 1854, he invited Lincoln to Chicago to give a public address against the act, which Lincoln delivered on October 27, 1854 and which White covered in positive terms in his newspaper, the Chicago Journal.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3; Victor B. Howard, “The Illinois Republican Party: Part I: A Party Organizer for the Republicans in 1854,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 64 (Summer 1971), 136-37; Franklin William Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879, vol. 6 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1910), 57.
4Although Zebina Eastman organized an anti-Nebraska political coalition during the 1854 election campaign and the Free West endorsed all anti-Nebraska candidates, Eastman expressed hostility to Lincoln’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate in the paper in November and December 1854, labeling Lincoln a Know-Nothing candidate who was too moderate on the issue of slavery.
In a December 20 letter to Lincoln, Washburne characterized his second letter to Eastman as “strong.” Washburne was not the only Lincoln supporter to chastise Eastman for his portrayal of Lincoln in the Free West. On December 12 Jesse O. Norton also wrote Lincoln a letter discussing Eastman’s “clamor,” then wrote Lincoln again on December 20, noting that he had written a “Kind but pointed letter” to Eastman on “the impropriety of his course.”
Victor B. Howard, “The Illinois Republican Party: Part I: A Party Organizer for the Republicans in 1854,” 127, 152; The Free West (Chicago, IL), 30 November 1854, 2:4; 14 December 1854, 2:2-3, 4-5.
5Incumbent Democrat James Shields was running for reelection as U.S. Senator for Illinois. See the 1854 Federal Election. As George F. Powers discussed in a December 8 letter to Lincoln, some believed 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. James L. D. Morrison eventually gave credence to the rumors that Lincoln was a Know-Nothing candidate, withdrew his support for Lincoln’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat, and shifted his allegiance to the Democratic Party.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 183.
6The representative for Illinois’ First Senate District was Norman B. Judd, and the representatives for the state’s Fifty-Sixth and Fifty-Seventh House Districts were Robert H. Foss and Thomas Richmond, and Matthias L. Dunlap and George F. Foster, respectively.
In a list of members of the Illinois General Assembly that Lincoln created around January 1855, he listed Judd, Foss, Richmond, and Foster as anti-Nebraska Democrats and Dunlap as a Whig.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3.
7Lincoln and Washburne carried on an extensive correspondence during the senatorial campaign and exchanged at least nine 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. 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—Foster—voted against adjourning the session.
Ultimately, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. Judd voted for Trumbull on all ten ballots. Richmond supported Lincoln until the ninth ballot, when he switched to Trumbull. Dunlap voted for Lincoln on the first three rounds, switched to Trumbull on the fourth, back to Lincoln on the fifth, and finally settled on Trumbull on the eighth ballot. Foster and Foss supported Lincoln in the first three ballots before shifting between Trumbull, Archibald Williams, William B. Ogden, and Lincoln, before siding with Trumbull in the eighth and ninth ballots, respectively. Morrison cast his first six ballots for Shields before switching his support to Joel A. Matteson. 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.
Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; 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).