Jesse O. Norton to Abraham Lincoln, 20 December 18541
(Confidential)Washington Dec 20 1854Hon A Lincoln,Dr Sir,
I trust you have got my letter before this, by Uncle Sam’s slow line,2 and have become satisfied that I am not unwilling to talk with you on that subject.3 I have written to an influential Whig in Oswego (Kendall Co). to have your interests looked to in connexion with their Delegate.4 I have also written to my friend Strunk of Kankakee.5 I have also written a Kind but pointed letter to Eastman
<Page 2>of the Free West. I hope he will see the impropriety of his course.6 I find there is likely to be a quite a swarm of Candidates.7 It seems to me that one of the main things to be done, is to keep down all bickerings in the newspapers, as leading almost certainly to heart burnings & a schism.
I feel a great delcacy in writing to Judge Parks, lest he should feel that I had an idea, that I ought to have influence with ^him^ on account of his being brot[brought] out & elected as he was.8 Let me therefore call your attention to my former suggestion as to McIntosh.9
Richardson professes to believe that Shields will again be
<Page 3>returned.10 But they repudiate all idea of refusing to go into an election.11
If I can serve you in any way, make the call.very truly,J. O Norton.
1Jesse O. Norton wrote and signed this letter, including the signed frank and address on the envelope.
2As a member of Congress, Norton was granted the franking privilege, which allowed him to send letters through the U.S. Post Office free of charge by signing his name on the envelope in place of a stamp.
John Samuels Pontius, “Franking,” The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, ed. by Donald C. Bacon, Roger H. Davidson, and Morton Keller (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 2:883-85.
3Norton’s letter to Abraham Lincoln of December 12, 1854, was on the subject of potential support among members of the Illinois General Assembly for Lincoln’s proposed candidacy for U.S. Senate. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise had 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 reluctantly 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. Lincoln won election to the Illinois House of Representatives in the 1854 election, but declined the seat in late November in order to run for U.S. Senate.
The Illinois General Assembly met in a joint session on February 8, 1855, to make their selection for the U.S. Senate. In the first round of voting Lincoln received forty-five of the ninety-nine votes cast, but as no candidate received a majority of votes, nine more rounds of balloting ensued. After the ninth vote, with his share of votes declining, Lincoln dropped out of contention and urged his remaining supporters to vote for anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull to ensure that an anti-Nebraska candidate would be elected. Trumbull was victorious in the tenth vote. See the 1854 Federal Election.
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; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; 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), 153-54.
4The influential Whig in Oswego to whom Norton wrote has not been identified. Alanson K. Wheeler was the newly-elected delegate to the Illinois House of Representatives from Kendall County. Wheeler supported Lincoln for U.S. Senator in the first eight rounds of balloting in the General Assembly, then switched his vote to Trumbull in the final two rounds.
John Clayton, comp., The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 221; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
5John Strunk, member of the Illinois House of Representatives from Kankakee County, supported Lincoln for the first six rounds of voting for Illinois’ next U.S. Senator. In the remaining four votes he supported Democrat Joel A. Matteson.
John Clayton, comp., The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968, 221; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
6Zebina Eastman, editor of the Free West, was openly hostile to Lincoln’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Eastman opposed Lincoln as too moderate on the slavery question, preferring Owen Lovejoy, Ichabod Codding, William H. Bissell, or Richard Yates. Eastman went so far as to label Lincoln a Know-Nothing.
The Free West (Chicago, IL), 30 November 1854, 2:4; 14 December 1854, 2:2-3, 4-5.
7In addition to Lincoln, Trumbull, and Matteson, the following candidates were nominated by the Illinois General Assembly for U.S. senator on February 8, 1855: James Shields, Archibald Williams, William B. Ogden, Cyrus Edwards, and William Kellogg. Over the course of the ten rounds of balloting for senator, Orlando B. Ficklin, William A. Denning, Gustavus Koerner, Martin P. Sweet, J. Young Scammon, Orville H. Browning, John A. Logan, and John A. McClernand, also received votes.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
8According to a letter from James T. McDougall to Lincoln dated December 11, 1854, Democrat Gavion D. A. Parks of Will County was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in November 1854 through the influence of the Whig Party after he “botched the regular nomination”. Leonard Swett wrote Lincoln on December 22, 1854, that in the canvass for the election Parks had been “abandoned and vilified by his party and elected by Whigs”. Parks voted for Lincoln for U.S. Senator in the first six rounds of balloting in the Illinois General Assembly but switched his vote to Trumbull in the eighth ballot.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
9In his letter to Lincoln of December 12, 1854, Norton had suggested that Lincoln write to Joliet newspaper editor Alexander McIntosh to request his assistance with the campaign generally, and with reaching out to Parks in particular. No such letter from Lincoln to McIntosh has been located.
10Richard Yates informed Lincoln in a letter of December 22, 1854, that William A. Richardson had predicted to him that incumbent Democratic U.S. senator James Shields would be reelected by a majority of six votes.
11Lincoln received several letters in December 1854 mentioning the possibility that Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly would refuse to hold an election for U.S. Senator if they could not elect a pro-Nebraska politician. In fact, it was the anti-Nebraska forces that attempted to delay the election when Shields pulled 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, Whig representative George F. Foster cast the single vote against adjourning the session.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).