John H. Bryant to Abraham Lincoln, 19 April 18581Princeton April 19th 1858My Dear Sir
I have been so unfortunate as to have been elected a member of our board of Supervisors, and having noticed that in years past they have suffered much delay in their business for want of some rules and some systematic arrangement in their business I have thought of trying to introduce some plan by which more order and expedition may be attained2 With this view I wish to procure a copy of the rules of our House of Representatives which I suppose may be found in some of the offices in the State House–3 Will you do me the favour to procure a copy and enclose it to me by mail before long
Politically— the republicans of our County are very quiet but I think fine– We have elected 21 of the 24 Supervisers
<Page 2>of the County and one of these democrats was elected by republican votes and had no opposition4 The Democrats on the contrary have split into two parties I think nearly in the middle though just now perhaps the Douglas faction is a little most numerous–5 I think our greatest danger is from propositions from the Douglas men to coalesce with us and thus get in a sufficient number ^of members of the Legislature^ of Dougla’s friends to give that party the ballance of power to6 If we act wisely we undoubtedly have the thing all in our own hands For one if Mr through Mr Dougla's assistance we succeed in the presidential canvass of 1860 I7 have no objection that he should receive a first class appointment either abroad or in the cabinet; but I am not willing that we republicans of Illinois who have received so much abuse at his hands should now turn round and endorse all his traitorous cause by giving him the highest office in our8 hands.
I can be satisfied with no such conclusion and hope our friends will see to it that the plan is not carried into effect– The friends of Douglas are active and unscrupulous and I repeat that I fear that in those counties where the republicans are either too strong or think they may be too weak to succeed alone, that our friends ^or some of them^ may, be duped into voting with them and thus strengthening them in the Legislature– But I did not think of entering into politics when I began to write– I shall always be glad to hear from you9Yours trulyJohn H BryantHon A. Lincoln
2Bryant is discussing Bureau County’s Board of Supervisors, an elected body that was responsible for managing and safeguarding the county’s interests. He had served on the county’s board of supervisors prior to his reelection to that body in 1858, and was therefore familiar with its methods of operating.
H. C. Bradsby, ed., History of Bureau County, Illinois (Chicago: World, 1885), 145, 280.
3William Walters published copies of the Rules and Joint Rules of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Illinois at least as early as 1843.
The Illinois state house was located in downtown Springfield, Illinois, and was where the Illinois General Assembly held its sessions.
Rules and Joint Rules of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Illinois (Springfield: William Walters, 1843); History of Sangamon County, Illinois (Chicago: Inter-State, 1881), 225; John Carroll Power and S. A. Power, History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois (Springfield, IL: Edwin A. Wilson, 1876), 37-38.
4According to the Bureau County Republican, in the spring of 1858 the voters of Bureau County elected a total of twenty-five men—including Bryant—to the county’s board of supervisors. The paper only identified two Democrats among the supervisors elected: Thomas Tustin and H. W. Terry. It is unclear if either ran unopposed.
H. C. Bradsby, History of Bureau County, Illinois, 283-84; The Bureau County Republican (Princeton, IL), 8 April 1858, 2:1, 15 April 1858, 2:4.
5Bryant is referencing the recent split of the Democratic Party into pro-James Buchanan and pro-Stephen A. Douglas factions. The split occurred after Douglas, in December 1857, spoke out against the Lecompton Constitution and criticized President Buchanan for supporting it. See Bleeding Kansas.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:445.
6Some Republicans were excited by Douglas’ repudiation of the Lecompton Constitution to the extent that they considered supporting his bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate in the 1858 Federal Election. Although Douglas later denied it, he courted Republican support—meeting in person with prominent men such as Horace Greeley and hinting in correspondence to Republicans that he was finished with the Democratic Party. Lincoln and other Republicans were concerned by these developments and urged fellow party members to remain loyal in the upcoming election.
At the time, members of the Illinois General Assembly voted for and elected the state’s representatives in the U.S. Senate; therefore, the races for the Illinois House of Representatives and Illinois Senate were highly relevant to the outcome of the state’s U.S. Senate race.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:446-48; Allen C. Guelzo, “House Divided: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Political Landscape of 1858,” The Journal of American History 94 (September 2007), 394.
9Lincoln’s reply, if he wrote one, has not been located. Bryant corresponded with Lincoln regarding the election of 1858 at least twice more after this letter.
In the election of 1858, the voters of Bureau County elected Bryant to the Illinois House of Representatives. Ultimately, Douglas won reelection to the U.S. Senate. Via the campaign, however, and in particular through his participation in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln gained national recognition as well as standing within the national Republican Party.
Stephen G. Paddock and John H. Bryant to Abraham Lincoln; John H. Bryant to Abraham Lincoln; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 13 November 1858, 2:3; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:556-57.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).