David Davis to Abraham Lincoln, 26 December 18541Bloomington. Ills
Decr 26th 1854.Dear Lincoln–
...?] have been uneasy all along about Broadwell's election–– Elliott Herndon told me that the Democrats would make great effort to beat Broadwell— & McWilliams who has been in Springfield for some time past, told me on Saturday last that Broadwell would be beaten. & how– The manner the same as you described– It was too late— to convey you any information–2 Broadwell being for "Dick Yates"— does not surprise me– I have had my suspicions, and but I did not express them because you were all satisfied–3
It is better for your chances, that Broadwell was out than that he being elected, Shd[Should] not go for you– That you can readily see would be a severe dig–
Swett has written you particularly about his visit– He has done good– I am satisfied– you ought to have got his letter Saturday Evening– I think he managed the trip with discreet discretion–
Watson you and that you will get the vote of Parks– He told you what Judge Dickey, was going to do towards Wheeler's vote–4 Swett says that Dickey was
<Page 2>to be here this week– Watson you wrote (by advices from Tom Marshall) wd[would] be influenced by Ben Bond–5 Now you know Bond is under Mr Williams influence, more than any other man–6 But Watson would be Shamefully un misrepresenting his constustituents– There are no 3. Counties in the State where the people would sustain you more overwhelmingly than in Vermilion, Coles, & Edgar– Why not write to the leading men in those Counties to get up instructions for Watson– You know Watson, was the secret nominee of the Know Nothings— still most of the Know Nothings in those Counties were Whigs— and all the Whigs voted for him7–
I will try and get down to Springfield tomorrow Tuesday— next— unless you write me to come down before–8
Had you not better urge your friends to elect say Turner Speaker– It would be well enough. I think to let the Republicans as they call themselves, have all the offices of the house, if they would agree to let the Whigs have the
<Page 3>Senator— without the troublesome platform–9
I have just got a letter from Major Hitt— the father in Law of Professor Pickney— & who lives right by him– Hitt was from Maryland— Pinckney was from New York— was a Whig— a Methodist Preacher &c–[etc.]
Major Hitt says—
"With this letter I mail, I have written to my old friend— Anson S. Miller, at Rockford— asking him to advise you as to Mr Talcott's views & feelings on the subject of U.S. Senator– Mr T. was originally a Whig. Then an abolitionist— then a free soiler & now a Republican– This I am in part guessing at— don't use it to his prejudice– Pinckney is friendly to the election of Mr Lincoln unless his views on the subject of slavery should be too strong (perhaps too weak would be a better term) for the north– Pinckney had the support of the free soil as well as the Whig party, and I fear may be too much disposed to gratify them– I see nothing about Mr Lincoln that they can object to"–
I judge from this letter— that "platform" will be in the way with Pinckney Dickey is a strong personal friend of Pinckney's— and if he comes here, I will take
<Page 4>him down with me–10
If I get a letter from any body else this week, I will write you–
The election of the Nebraska man, will be crowed over, & I feel very sorry, on account of the mortification to you specially, and of course to the party–11
Why not talk with Mr Williams—12 fully & freely– Frankness is the best policy with him– If he is not a Candidate & openly for you— your chances it seems to me are bright, & you must success succeed, unless you your enemies should succeed in creating a prejudice agt[against] you, owing to Broadwell's defeat
In haste— burn this letter write me, if necessary this week– I will pay Swett, his expense money–13Truly Yours D Davis
1David Davis wrote and signed this letter. He also wrote the name and address on the envelope shown in the fifth image.
2Davis is discussing the contest between anti-Nebraska Whig Norman M. Broadwell and Democrat Jonathan McDaniel for election to the Illinois General Assembly.
During the 1854 Federal Election, the voters of Sangamon County elected Abraham Lincoln to the Illinois House of Representatives. Although he was an unwilling candidate for this position at first, passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise had reawakened his 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. As the election campaign reached its climax, his name had circulated 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. Per Article III, Section seven of the 1848 Illinois Constitution, however, state legislators were ineligible for election to the U.S. Senate. On November 25, Lincoln officially declined to serve in the General Assembly in order to run for the U.S. Senate.
No correspondence from Lincoln to Davis describing how Broadwell was beaten has been located.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392-93; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 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; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7; Illinois State Register (Springfield), 6 January 1855, 4:1, 4.
3Richard Yates had recently lost a bid for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives for Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District to Democratic challenger Thomas L. Harris. In mid-December, Josiah M. Lucas wrote Lincoln that Yates was supportive of Lincoln for U.S. senator but also likely interested in the senatorship himself, should Lincoln’s candidacy fail. In early January 1855, Yates confirmed this, writing Lincoln that he would like his name presented as a candidate for U.S. senator if it became clear that Lincoln could not prevail.
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10.
4In 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. Davis references the letter Swett wrote Lincoln on December 22, after Swett’s visit to Joliet, Illinois and Ottawa, Illinois. Swett noted in this letter that he believed Gavion D. A Parks would vote for Lincoln for U.S. Senator and that Theophilus L. Dickey agreed to travel to Kendall County, Illinois to persuade Alanson K. Wheeler to vote for Lincoln as well.
Swett’s December 22 letter was one of at least three letters he wrote Lincoln on the topic of Lincoln’s senatorial prospects. Davis wrote Lincoln several other letters updating him on Swett’s work, in addition to this December 26 letter.
5On December 8, Thomas A. Marshall wrote Lincoln a letter in which he stated that although he did not see William D. Watson often, he would discuss Lincoln’s candidacy for U.S. senator if he saw him. Marshall also noted in this letter that Watson might be influenced by Benjamin Bond.
Lincoln’s letter to Watson discussing Marshall’s advice has not been located.
6This is most likely a reference to Archibald Williams, who, in the election of 1854, lost a race against William A. Richardson for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Afterward, some considered Williams a viable candidate for U.S. Senator.
7In the election of 1854, the voters of Vermillion, Coles, Cumberland and Edgar counties elected Watson to the Illinois Senate. The voters of Edgar, Coles and Moultrie, and Vermilion counties elected Dudley McClain, Albert G. Jones, and James Courtney, respectively, to the Illinois House of Representatives. This made each of their preferences for a senatorial candidate important for Lincoln to know. In a list of members of the Illinois General Assembly that Lincoln created around January 1855, he listed Watson, Jones, and Courtney as Whigs and McClain as a Democrat.
In the 1854 election, the voters of Vermilion, Coles, and Edgar counties indeed cast a strong majority of their votes for Whig and Republican candidates—67.9 percent in Vermilion, 60.7 percent in Coles, and 58.8 percent in Edgar County. However, other counties in the state returned higher majorities. Poll results for Winnebago and Carroll counties, for example, showed 82.9 percent and 78.9 percent votes, respectively, for Whig and Republican candidates.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990, 134-35.
9In a November 14 letter to Lincoln, Elihu B. Washburne identified Thomas J. Turner as an anti-Nebraska candidate who was “with the Republicans” and potentially interested in becoming speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. During the election of 1854, the voters of Stephenson County elected Turner to the Illinois House. On December 10, Turner wrote Lincoln a letter stating that he was not yet committed to anyone for U.S. senator and would not commit until “I know where I can exert my influence the most successfully against those who are seeking to extend the era of Slavery.”
The “troublesome platform” that Davis is most likely referring to is abolitionism. Although Lincoln’s campaign focused on refuting the Kansas-Nebraska Act and emphasizing the necessity of halting the spread of slavery in the United States, he did not go so far as to support abolishing slavery. As he wrote Ichabod Codding on November 27, “I suppose my opposition to the principle of slavery is as strong as that of any member of the Republican party; but I had also supposed that the extent to which I feel authorized to carry that opposition, practically; was not at all satisfactory to that party.” See the 1854 Federal Election.
The Nineteenth Illinois General Assembly commenced on January 1, 1855. On January 2, representatives elected Turner speaker of the Illinois House, Edwin T. Bridges clerk, J. W. Kitchell assistant clerk, Hiram S. Thomas door keeper, Gersham Martin assistant door keeper, Alexander Simpson enrolling and engrossing clerk, and Benjamin J. F. Hanna assistant enrolling and engrossing clerk.
Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3; Illinois House Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 3, 5-7.
10Again, the platform Davis references is most likely abolitionism.
During the election of 1854, voters in Ogle County elected Daniel J. Pinckney to the Illinois House of Representatives and the voters of Boone, Winnebago, Ogle, and Carroll counties elected Wait Talcott to the Illinois Senate, placing both men in a position to vote upon Illinois’ next U.S. senator.
Davis first informed Lincoln that he had solicited Samuel M. Hitt’s aid with regard to both Daniel J. Pinckney and Wait Talcott in a letter dated December 15. In the same letter, Davis noted that he had also requested information about Talcott’s preferences for a U.S. senator from Lucius G. Fisher via his wife, Rachel Fisher. Davis later relayed Mrs. Fisher’s reply to Lincoln, which characterized Talcott as a “red hot abolitionist” who would likely prefer a Free Soil candidate for the U.S. Senate seat.
Thomas B. Talcott, Wait Talcott’s brother, wrote Lincoln on December 14, stating that his brother was “an abolitionist of the Lovejoy stamp” and that the prospects of him voting for Lincoln were “not flattering.”
In a January 6, 1855 letter to Washburne, Lincoln wrote that “Prof Pinckney is for me, but wishes to be quiet.”
11Davis is again referencing the election between McDaniel and Broadwell. In the special election that was held December 23 to fill the vacancy that Lincoln left in the Illinois House of Representatives, McDaniel triumphed over Broadwell by a small margin of less than 100 votes. This reversal of the anti-Nebraska victory that Lincoln’s election had constituted upset anti-Nebraska politicians throughout Illinois. It also impacted Lincoln’s senatorial campaign. As Davis wrote Lincoln one day after this letter, “Some men will say . . . ‘Damn Springfield– the Whigs have behaved so shamefully that they ought to be punished & Lincoln should not be elected.’”
Illinois State Register (Springfield), 6 January 1855, 4:1, 4.
13Ultimately, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. McDaniel and McClain each cast their ballots for incumbent James Shields in the first six rounds of voting, then switched their votes to Joel A. Matteson. Parks voted for Lincoln in the first six rounds of voting, before switching his vote to Trumbull on the eighth ballot. Watson voted for Lincoln in the first seven rounds of voting, then switched to Trumbull. Wheeler voted for Lincoln for eight ballots, then switched his vote to Trumbull. Pinckney voted for Lincoln through the first nine rounds of voting, before switching his vote to Trumbull. Talcott voted for Lincoln for the first six ballots, then shifted to William B. Ogden, before moving to Trumbull in the ninth ballot. Jones and Courtney cast their first nine ballots for Lincoln, then switched their votes to Trumbull in the tenth and final round. In the first two rounds of voting, Turner, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, cast his vote for Lincoln. Turner cast no votes in the third through the ninth rounds of balloting but rejoined the voting in the tenth and final round to cast his ballot for Trumbull.
Yates was not nominated for the Senate seat, but Matthias L. Dunlap nominated Archibald Williams. Williams received only two votes in the second and third rounds of voting and one vote in the fourth, ninth, and tenth rounds.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55; Illinois House Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 5.
Autograph Letter Signed, 5 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).