Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln, [12 December 1854]1Bloomington Ill.
Tuesday Morn[Morning]Mr LincolnDear Sir
Judge Davis has talked with me about going north to see some members, and since then has shown me your your letter I told him in the first instance that I thought I could go to-day but I find now that I cannot leave before the last of the week & may be not until the first of the next2
The reason for my delay is that about a week since my wife's sister3 came to visit us at the Pike House and the next day was attacked with a Typhoid fever
<Page 2>She has not been dangerously sick but as there was no other man to rely upon I could not think it right to leave She is now recovering and as soon as she can be mooved to my own house where she will have a plenty of attention I will go
I wish you to call upon me freely for assistance you think I render you or use me in any way you may think you can make me availableYours TrulyL Swett
1Leonard Swett wrote and signed this letter. He also wrote the name and address on the envelope shown in the third image.
Although Swett did not date this letter, the editors have determined that he wrote it on Tuesday, December 12, 1854. In a December 15 letter to Abraham Lincoln, David Davis mentions speaking with Swett earlier in the week. Furthermore, Swett wrote Lincoln again on Tuesday, December 19, after completing the trip that he discusses in this letter.
2The letter from Lincoln to Davis that Swett references has not been located. In a December 8 letter to Lincoln, Davis wrote that Swett thought he could go to Joliet, Illinois the following Monday or Tuesday—December 11 or 12, respectively.
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. He likely wrote Davis such a letter, although no correspondence between Lincoln and Davis in the whole of 1854 prior to Davis’ December 8 letter to Lincoln has 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; 2 January 1855, 2:3; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:392; Ill. Const. of 1848, art. III, § 7.
3Laura Swett had several sisters. The one who was sick at the time of this letter could not be positively identified.
For a list of Laura Swett’s sisters as of 1850, see U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Chester, Rockingham County, NH, 268.
4Lincoln’s reply to this letter, if he wrote one, has not been located.
Swett wrote Lincoln at least two more letters related to Lincoln’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate after this letter. According to these letters, the only two assemblymen Swett met with personally were John Strunk and Judge Gavion D. A. Parks, both of whom Swett believed would vote for Lincoln for U.S. Senator.
The Nineteenth General Assembly convened at Springfield on January 1, 1855. Voting for the state’s representative in the U.S. Senate took place on February 8. Ultimately, Lincoln did not win election to the U.S. Senate; the Illinois General Assembly selected anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull instead. Both Strunk and Parks cast their votes for Lincoln for six ballots, then Strunk switched his vote to Joel A. Matteson. Parks switched his vote to Trumbull on the eighth ballot. 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.
Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; Leonard Swett to Abraham Lincoln; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:401-2; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:1; 9 February 1855, 2:1; Louis L. Emmerson, ed., Blue Book of the State of Illinois, 1919-1920 (Springfield: Illinois State Journal, 1920), 539; 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).