John Wentworth to Abraham Lincoln, 19 April 18581
Dr[Dear] sir
In answer to yours, I would state that minor^i^ties should never place themselves on the defensive.2 We do not know our position. We do not know how the present Congress will leave the great questions of the day. We do not know what position Douglass will assume when he comes home.
We want to beat Douglass & co.[company] Let us pitch into them. Let us combine all the opposition. Let us have neither men nor measures to defend.
Our business is war, war war on them! They cannot war on us, for we have said nothing, have done nothing, have no candidates. Douglass is never so much at home as on the attack; & never so weak as on the defence.

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Let the Buchanan men & Douglass men fight among themselves. For the present, let us do nothing at all.3
The trouble in our Republican ranks is that we have so many leaders who profit nothing by experience, & rush headling into notions that may be right in the abstract but fatal in actual practice just now.
I have but just returned from New York. I fear that Seward, Weed & others of that school are for Douglass.4
A reliable republican, but an old line whig lawyer in this city,5 told me to day that he himself had seen a letter from one of our Republican Congressmen advising us all to go for the reelection of Judge Douglass. He said he
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was enjoined to keep the author a secret & he was going to do so.
From him, I learnt that he was not an old line Democrat or abolitionist. This narrows the contest down to the Congressmen from the Galena and Fulton Dists.[Districts]6
In this region, the abolitionists & old line democrats are strong against Douglass. You must see that he does not get the Republicans who were old line whigs.7
I fear, Lincoln, that you are sold for the Senate by men who are drinking the wine of Douglass at Washington.
But let us have no convention until we can see who is who.
Yr obt St[Your obedient Servant]J Wentworth8Hon A Lincoln

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CHIC[AGO] Ill.[Illinois]
APR[APRIL] 19 1858
Hon A LincolnSpringfieldIllinois
[ docketing ]
J. Wentworth9
1John Wentworth wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the envelope.
2No letter from Abraham Lincoln to which this is a response has been located.
3Wentworth is discussing Republican Party strategy, and apparently advocating a delay in holding a statewide Illinois Republican convention to select candidates and draft a platform for the state and federal elections of 1858.
One of the offices up for election in 1858 was the U.S. Senate seat held by Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas criticized the Lecompton Constitution and President James Buchanan’s support of it in December 1857, causing a rift in the Democratic Party. Some 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 1858. 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. In Lincoln’s view, Douglas disagreed with the Buchanan administration over whether the Lecompton Constitution accurately represented the will of Kansans, but did not repudiate the overall goal of admitting Kansas as a slave state.
Two days after the date of this letter, the Douglas and Buchanan factions of the Democratic Party in Illinois held separate conventions in Springfield. Lincoln and other Illinois Republican leaders observed the proceedings and held a conference that same evening. On the following day, the Illinois Republican State Central Committee issued a call to the counties of Illinois to select delegates to attend the 1858 Illinois Republican Convention in Springfield on June 16, 1858, the purpose of which was to nominate candidates for state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction, as well as to effect “the more perfect organization of the Republican party in Illinois.” At the June 16, 1858 convention Lincoln was nominated to challenge Douglas for the latter’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:445-50, 458; The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 21 April 1858,; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 17 June 1858, 2:2-6.
4William H. Seward and Thurlow Weed were among the eastern Republicans whom Illinois Republicans feared were supporting Douglas’ bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate. The pair were rumored to be involved in an agreement to support Douglas’ reelection in exchange for Douglas backing Seward for the presidency in 1860, although Lincoln ultimately concluded no such bargain had been made.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:452-54.
5Elihu B. Washburne identified this attorney as Samuel L. Baker in a subsequent letter he wrote Lincoln on this subject, likely based on information received from Charles H. Ray.
Charles H. Ray to Elihu B. Washburne, 2 May [1858], E. B. Washburne Papers: Bound Volumes, Letters Received; 1861; Mar. 21-May 31, Manuscript/Mixed Material,, accessed 22 February 2024.
6Washburne and William Kellogg were the members of the U.S. House of Representatives from the First (Galena) and Fourth (Fulton) Congressional districts of Illinois, respectively.
In addition to this report from Wentworth, the rumor of a letter by a Republican Congressman from Illinois expressing support for Douglas was also raised at the Republican meeting Lincoln attended in Springfield on April 21 following the conventions of the Buchanan and Douglas Democrats. The letter causing the controversy was written by Washburne to Charles L. Wilson on April 12, 1858. In it, Washburne wrote that in light of Douglas’ differences with the Democratic Party, he would consider welcoming him as an ally to the Republican Party, but that Lincoln must be the Republican Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois in 1858. Lincoln wrote Washburne on April 26, 1858 regarding the rumors, and the pair exchanged several letters in which Washburne sought to explain the misunderstanding and reassure Lincoln of his support.
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10, 139; Russell K. Nelson, “The Early Life and Congressional Career of Elihu B. Washburne” (PhD dissertation, University of North Dakota, August 1953), 159-62; The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 21 April 1858,; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne; Elihu B. Washburne to Abraham Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne.
7Lincoln and Douglas both courted the votes of former Whigs in the election of 1858. With the northern counties of Illinois strongly Republican, and the southern counties of the state firmly Democratic in 1858, Lincoln and Douglas both focused their campaign efforts on the former Whig stronghold of central Illinois.
Allen C. Guelzo, “Houses Divided: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Political Landscape of 1858,” The Journal of American History 94 (September 2007), 392-94, 400-401; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:476-77.
8No response to this letter by Lincoln has been located. Wentworth wrote Lincoln another letter regarding election issues on June 6, 1858.
9Lincoln wrote this docket.

Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).