Jesse O. Norton to Abraham Lincoln, 20 January 18551
(Private & Confidential)
My dear Sir.
I would not be or even seem officious. But I have felt a deep interest in the Senatorial controversy that is going on in our State. You know, and so do my friends, that I have taken clear ground for you.2 I promised a mutual friend (who is very anxious for your election & who is doing what he can for you with one wing of our forces) that I would write you a few words.

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There are no doubt serious difficulties in the matter. Such must necessarily be the case in ^an^ assembly constituted as ours is this winter. But it seems to me that, you might, by some concessions, such as could be made by you without any sacrifice of principle, bring the whole free soil element to your support. I speak of those who have hitherto been distinctive "Free Soilers."3 Are you bound to stand by every thing in the Compromise measures of 1850? Could’nt you concede to them a modification of the Fugitive Slave act? With this & such positions as you can assume in relation to the prohibition of Slavery in the Territories & the admission of additional Slave states, I cannot see why these men cannot unite upon you to a man.4

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I am satisfied that there are men, in our own ranks, waiting & longing for you to be set aside, for the chance it may give them of an election.5 Shields friends here are now seemingly animated with new hopes, either that he will be elected or that there will be no election.6 Pardon me for these very hasty suggestions, & attribute them to a desire that our cause may triumph in your election.
Most truly,J. O NortonI will be glad to hear from you.– Let me know just how it stands–7
1Jesse O. Norton wrote and signed this document.
2Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its effective repeal of the Missouri Compromise reawakened Abraham 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, Lincoln wrote confidential letters to political allies seeking support for his candidacy and information about his prospects. When the General Assembly met in a joint session on February 8, 1855, ten rounds of voting were needed to finally determine a victor. Lincoln received a majority of the anti-Nebraska votes until the tenth and final ballot, when he withdrew and urged his supporters to vote for anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull in order to ensure that an anti-Nebraska politician filled the seat. With the votes of Lincoln’s supporters, Trumbull won the seat. See 1854 Federal Election.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 167-73; William H. Randolph to Abraham Lincoln; Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln Written for John L. Scripps; Abraham Lincoln to Hugh Lamaster; Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Gillespie; Abraham Lincoln to Horace W. Fay; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
3Elihu B. Washburne wrote to Lincoln on December 20, 1854, explaining the power that the Free Soil Party held and also suggested that Lincoln emphasize his disdain for slavery and its spread to acquire their support.
4In an October 16, 1854, speech in Peoria, Lincoln had articulated his views on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Missouri Compromise, and the Compromise measures of 1850. He declared the repeal of the Missouri Compromise as “wrong” and argued that it “ought to be restored”--repudiating the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which in effect repealed it. He also asserted his objection to the further spread of slavery outside of its current environs. However, Lincoln acknowledged the constitutional right of southerners to federal legislation to reclaim runaway slaves, though he believed that law should not, “in its stringency, be more likely to carry a free man into slavery, than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an innocent one.” He was also unwilling to assert that no additional slave states would be added to the Union.
According to Thomas J. Henderson, Lincoln followed a middle course, telling legislators that, if elected to the Senate, he would not vote against the Fugitive Slave Act, but would vote to remove its more odious features.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:396.
5On January 8, 1855, Richard Yates wrote to Lincoln, that in the event that Lincoln was an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate, that he would like to be a candidate, and would rely on Lincoln’s support.
6James Shields came in first or second in the first six rounds of voting but was unable to acquire the fifty votes needed to be elected. In round seven of voting, Shields’ supporters plummeted to one vote, and he failed to receive any additional support as voting continued through ten rounds.
Illinois Senate Journal. 1855. 19th G. A., 242-55.
7Lincoln replied to Norton on February 16, 1855.

Autograph Letter Signed, 3 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).