William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln, 28 December 18541Macomb Decr 28th A D 1854Friend LincolnDear Sir
Yours of the 26th reached me this morning confirming what had all ready been written2 Campbell who has been for two or threed days upon the streets stating that your county had now made the Nebraska question a tie on joint ballott & urging evry loco to the polls as all now depended upon this county as to whether our next Senator be a whig or a Locofoco Nebraska man.3 At this time they are a moving evry thing in their power for their man we are apprised of their steps and if we are beaten it will be not that the voters do not know of the efforts of our opponents but because they are better drilled than we because they have the whiskey boys on their side who will go to the polls for a Spree while the whigs are rather neglectful of their duty4 I have seen and talked to many and so far as I can learn all say they will be on hand we are increasing our numbers here in Macomb & I hope for success I think we will meet them at the polls. Evry Irish man in the county that had not their papers are geting theirs if possible. their coure[course] is known5
<Page 2>In regard to Campbell he will do anything that Douglass tells him no difference what it is In my opinion the Senate will not have his equal to do the dirty work of Douglass, so far as his ability goes as our Jim Campbell, he is repenting of his course on this Question in the last Senate, & in order to get foregiveness he will try to lead of in meanness &c[etc.], for him & his support.6 I think I venture nothing in predicting thus much.
We hope for fair weather on Saturday and be it good or bad will fight them untill the close of the polls–Resp[Respectfully] YoursWm H Randolph
2Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Randolph of December 26, 1854 has not been located, but in the final months of 1854 the pair corresponded on politics and on Lincoln’s campaign to be elected Illinois’ next U.S. senator.
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.
William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 10 November 1854, 2:5.
3Democratic Illinois state Senator James M. Campbell of McDonough County was concerned with the political balance in the Illinois General Assembly because that body was to elect the state’s next U.S. senator in a joint ballot during their approaching session.
After Lincoln resigned his seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, a special election was held on December 23, 1854 to select a replacement representative for Sangamon County. Instead of electing another Whig to replace Lincoln, Sangamon County voters elected Democrat Jonathan McDaniel. McDonough County was also facing a special election for the Illinois House of Representatives scheduled for Saturday, December 30, 1854. In the regular McDonough County election for the Illinois House of Representatives in November 1854, Whig Louis H. Waters had defeated his Democratic opponent, John E. Jackson, by a single vote, causing Jackson to contest the outcome. Campbell was apparently attempting to capitalize on the Democratic victory in Sangamon County to encourage a similar upset in McDonough County and increase the chances that the General Assembly would elect a pro-Nebraska U.S. senator. Despite Campbell’s efforts, Waters won the seat by nineteen votes in the special election which seems to have ultimately been held on Monday, January 1, 1855.
When the Illinois General Assembly met in a joint session on February 8, 1855, to elect Illinois’s next U.S. Senator both McDaniel and Waters voted with their respective party. McDaniel voted for James Shields in the first six rounds of voting, and for Joel A. Matteson in the final four rounds. Waters switched his allegiance back and forth between Lincoln, Archibald Williams, and Orville H. Browning. 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 won the Senate seat on the tenth ballot with the addition of Lincoln’s erstwhile supporters, but Waters cast his in the tenth round as the sole vote for Williams, becoming the only Whig not to unite on Trumbull’s candidacy. See the 1854 Federal Election.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 23 December 1854, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1854-12-23; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 3 January 1855, 3:1; S. J. Clarke, History of McDonough County Illinois (Springfield, IL: D. W. Lusk, 1878), 395; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55; 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.
4Alcohol, and especially whiskey, was a common bribe for influencing voters in United States elections in the nineteenth century.
Richard Franklin Bensel, The American Ballot Box in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 57-58.
5As political parties realigned following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Democratic Party in Illinois, led by the efforts of Stephen A. Douglas, had attempted to shore up the party’s popularity with Irish and German immigrants in Illinois by denouncing the anti-immigrant sentiments of the Know-Nothings. In the case of the U.S. Senate campaign of 1854-55, Douglas worked to gain support for the Democratic Party by linking opposition to the reelection of Irish-born James Shields to nativism.
Stephen Hansen and Paul Nygard, “Stephen A. Douglas, the Know-Nothings, and the Democratic Party in Illinois, 1854-1858,” Illinois Historical Journal 87 (Summer 1994), 110, 112-15.
6In the spring of 1854, the previous session of the Illinois General Assembly voted on a set of resolutions in support of Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Campbell broke with his fellow Democrats to vote against the resolutions. Perhaps because of this, when Lincoln made lists early in 1855 of the political affiliations of the members of the upcoming Nineteenth General Assembly with an eye towards support for his Senate candidacy, he described Campbell as an anti-Nebraska Democrat. Local newspapers, however, reported in December 1854 that Campbell claimed he had approved of the resolutions of support, but voted as he did because he disagreed with the timing of their introduction. In the General Assembly’s joint ballot for U.S. senator on February 8, 1855, Campbell voted for Shields for the first six rounds and Matteson for the final four, rather than supporting any of the anti-Nebraska candidates under consideration.
Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870, vol. 3 of The Centennial History of Illinois (Springfield: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1919), 121–22; Weekly Rock Island Republican (IL), 8 March 1854, 2:5; List of Members of the Illinois Legislature in 1855; List of Members of the Illinois Legislature in 1855; The Ottawa Free Trader (IL), 23 December 1854, 2:4; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).