Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln, 22 December 18541Bloomington Dec 22 '54Mr LincolnDear Sir,
I have just returned from the North and accordingly will report.2
The first man I saw in Joliet was McDougall He has some influence and is for you–3 He said Parks (the member of that place) was in favor of Bissell I also learned from him that Goodell had lately returned from Washington and that he said Bissell was very anxious to be elected He told me also that the Gov. was not a candidate4
I next saw McIntosh the Editor of True Democrat He is a Whig— without doubt a Know ^Nothing^ & for you— told ^me^ that Parks was first for Bissell & then for you & thought he could be controlled for you–5 Says the only influence you need fear is in Chicago— that Dick Wilson has no influence there6 & decided his being for you
<Page 2>that the Tribune controls things there and is secretly in favor of Judge Lockwood— thinks it important for you to send some discreet man there & endeavor to enlist them7Says he is confident that Matterson is secretly working for himself & hopes to be a compromise Candidate Says Strunk of Momence is for you—8 no doubt also told me repeatedly that he thought the Know nothings would control the Leg
I next saw Parks. He is a generous frank reliable man He was a Democrat— in the canvass was abandoned and vilified by his party and elected by Whigs— never hopes for a restoration to his first to his firstlove9 Says in voting for a Senator he shall not enquire for or be governed by a man's anticedents— will vote for Dem as soon as Whig & Whig as soon as Dem[Democrat]– things you made the most satisfactory speech at Joliet he ever heard—10 likes you as a man and a Politician & accords fully with your positions
<Page 3>He is prepossessed for Bissell but thinks it would be wrong to elect him & knows of no other man he would prefer to you— says he thinks it would be wrong to pledge himself to any one before he goes to Springfield & will not do it Says he has been solicited in favor of Matterson but elected as he was he thinks it would be an outrage to vote for him & will not do it11 I have no fears for Parks He may prefer an Anti Dem but he will vote for you before he will have the Election lay over or an Old Liner get it
All the Whigs of Joliet told me that Wheeler of Kendall was once a Whig, now a wild Republican— conceited & if he thought any one tried to influence him would brace himself in the opposite extreme– that for me to go to him would be dangerous but the way to get him would be to bring an influence from Lasalle– Becoming pretty
<Page 4>well satisfied of this I went to Ottawa and that I might not get on the wrong shoot went first to Dickey He is all over for you12 He, Thorn, Wallace & myself spent the afternoon together & after a great deal of talk that I cant write finally determined for Dickey to go to Kendall— says he will fix Wheeler— confident he can do it– They all said that Woodruff (a Dem) then could if he would control Lasalle delegation Finally it was agreed Dickey should go to him The result was that as a personal favor to D. ^he^ agrees that he will influence the two members from that County13 to go for you in preference to any other Whig & to go for a Whig rather than have the Election lay over14 This is confidential between Dickey & Woodruff and must be kept secret Dickey says he relies upon it He also says from what I told him of Parks that he may be counted on for you and that he will exert much influence over other Anti-Nebraska Dem
I think from all I learned that in that region you need not fear any other Whig Between you & Lockwood or Williams they all would be for you Matterson, Coffing & Sweet have hopes I think— more hopes than strength Every one believes that by giving away all but senator that we can unite all the Anti N. force Cook and Osgood are both looked upon as doubtful Opinions about them vary15 I have talked with Judge Davis since I came home. He thinks you had better go to Chicago yourself
Dickey says he has hopes of Lovejoy!!
Dickey Woodruff Thorn & McIntosh will all be at Springfield at the opening– This letter is long and unwieldy but if it will give you any information tis all I ask I think I hear you saying "Condense Mr Benedict condense" a dozen times–16Yours TrulyL Swett.
2In mid-December 1854, Swett made at least two trips to northern Illinois, including the trip referenced in this letter, to ascertain whether specific individuals would support Abraham Lincoln as a candidate for U.S. senator.
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 to supplant Democratic incumbent James Shields as U.S. Senator. 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 III, Section seven of the 1848 Illinois Constitution, state legislators were ineligible for election to the U.S. Senate.
Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; 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; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7.
3James T. McDougall wrote Lincoln on December 11, offering support for Lincoln’s senatorial bid as well as insight into the political inclinations of several members of the Illinois General Assembly.
4William H. Bissell was a favored candidate for the U.S. Senate among abolitionists and members of the Free Soil Party. As Josiah M. Lucas noted in a December 13 letter to Lincoln, there was also a rumor circulating that members of the Know Nothing Party planned to focus their support on Bissell, see him elected, then, afterward, Bissell would purportedly resign so that Shields could retake the senate seat.
In a letter to Lincoln on January 8, 1855, Richard Yates also warned Lincoln of this potential plan to unite anti-Nebraska Democrats on Bissell for the ultimate benefit of Shields. On January 14, 1855, Lincoln replied to Yates, stating that he had been aware of such a “Bissell movement” for some time, but did not believe any “sincere” anti-Nebraskans would vote for Bissell. In the same letter, Lincoln also noted that he was aware of rumors that Illinois Governor Joel A. Matteson was stealthily “trying his hand” at garnering support for himself as a candidate for U.S. senator.
The Free West (Chicago, IL), 14 December 1854, 2:2-3.
5In a letter he wrote Lincoln on December 12, 1854, Jesse O. Norton suggested that Lincoln write to Alexander McIntosh to request his assistance with the senatorial campaign generally and with reaching out to Gavion D. A. Parks in particular. No such letter from Lincoln to McIntosh has been located.
6Whig newspaper editor and publisher Richard L. Wilson admired Lincoln’s opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and was a political ally. 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.
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.
7In a December 27 letter to Lincoln, David Davis also forwarded this information that the Chicago Tribune favored Judge Samuel D. Lockwood for senator.
8Swett met with John Strunk in person and, on December 19, also reported to Lincoln that Strunk “expressed himself . . . in favor of you.”
9In his December 11 letter to Lincoln, McDougall wrote that Parks was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in November 1854 through the influence of the Whig Party after he “botched the regular nomination.”
11Parks was most likely referencing allegations that, in 1852, the Democratic Party nominated Matteson for governor over Democrat David L. Gregg because Gregg was purportedly a Catholic. The Illinois Democratic Party appointed Gregg a state elector, and Matteson went on to win the Illinois governorship over Whig candidate Edwin B. Webb and Free Soil candidate Dexter A. Knowlton with 52.4 percent of the vote to Webb’s 41.8 percent and Knowlton’s 5.9 percent.
Illinois Daily Journal, 21 April 1852, 2:1; 22 April 1852, 2:1-2; 15 May 1852, 2:1; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 9.
12Theophilus L. Dickey expressed strong support for Lincoln’s senatorial bid in a November 19 letter to Lincoln.
13This is most likely a reference to David Strawn and Frederick S. Day, who both won election in 1854 to the Illinois House of Representatives as the representatives for La Salle, Livingston, and Grundy counties. Dickey discussed Strawn and Day with Lincoln in a November 19 letter. However, Burton C. Cook also won election in 1854 to the Illinois Senate as the representative for La Salle, Grundy, Livingston, and Bureau counties.
In a list of members of the Illinois General Assembly that Lincoln created around January 1855, he listed Strawn, Day, and Cook all as anti-Nebraska Democrats. No other correspondence discussing the members of the “Lasalle delegation” that Alson Woodruff met with on Lincoln’s behalf, at Dickey’s urging, has been located.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3.
14This is a reference to rumors that were circulating at the time that some members of the Democratic Party were conspiring to put off the upcoming senatorial election if they could not elect a pro-Nebraska candidate.
15In a December 25 letter to Lincoln, Cook declared that although he respected Lincoln he would prefer an anti-Nebraska Democrat over him for U.S. Senator.
In a January 14, 1855 letter to Richard Yates, Lincoln indicated he did not believe that Uri Osgood would vote for him for U.S. Senator.
16Swett wrote Lincoln two letters on the topic of Lincoln’s senatorial prospects prior to this letter. Davis also wrote Lincoln several letters updating him on Swett’s work on Lincoln’s behalf.
The Nineteenth Illinois General Assembly commenced on January 1, 1855.
Lincoln, Shields, Lyman Trumbull, and Matteson were the main contenders when the General Assembly met in joint session on February 8, 1855, to elect Illinois’ next U.S. Senator. Ultimately, Lincoln did not win; the General Assembly selected Trumbull instead. See the 1854 Federal Election. Both John Strunk and Parks cast their votes for Lincoln for six ballots, then Strunk switched his vote to Matteson. Parks switched his vote to Trumbull on the eighth ballot. Wheeler voted for Lincoln for eight ballots, then switched his vote to Trumbull. Both Day and Strawn cast their initial votes for Lincoln, but then each switched to other candidates—Day voted for Martin P. Sweet twice before switching to Trumbull, and Strawn voted for Trumbull and then William B. Ogden before switching back to Trumbull. Cook voted for Trumbull in every round. Osgood voted for Shields for six ballots, then switched his vote to Matteson.
No one nominated Bissell, Lockwood, Churchill Coffing, or Owen Lovejoy for the U.S. Senate seat, and they did not receive any votes in ten rounds of voting. Matthias L. Dunlap nominated Archibald Williams, but Williams only received two votes in rounds two and three of balloting, and one vote in rounds four, nine, and ten of balloting.
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 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—George F. Foster—voted against adjourning the session.
Several days after the election, Lincoln wrote that “It was Govr Matteson’s manoevering that forced upon me and my friends the necessity of surrendering to Trumbull.” Lincoln cited Strunk as an example of someone Matteson successfully manipulated and wrote that it was on account of such “sub rosa” political manipulations that Matteson’s defeat “gives me more pleasure than my own gives me pain.” Lincoln made no political speeches or public statements for an entire year after his defeat and reinvested his energies in his law practice.
Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; David Davis to Abraham Lincoln; David Davis 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., 3, 242-55; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 185.
Autograph Letter Signed, 5 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).