Joshua R. Giddings to Abraham Lincoln, 18 September 18551
Peoria Sept 18, 1855My Dear Lincoln
I am now spending a few days in Illinois. I find the people timid and fearful until informed of the great and general movement now going forward; but I also find that the leading minds of your state have not taken hold of it. They appear to hold back just at the very time they can strike the heaviest blows and make the strongest movement
I need not say to you that the Republican movement is going forward in every free State and that our only doubts as to the next Presidential election is in regard to Illinois. We have no doubt as to this State except what arises from the seeming lassitude of her great men who are opposed to Pearce Douglass & Co[Company]2
You my dear Sir may now by your own personal efforts give direction to those movements which are to determine the next Presidential election; but I have not time to prolong my remarkes. I design to meet Mr Williams of Quincy at Jacksonville. Yates I have no doubt is right and will take hold in good earnest if you do, and most earnestly ask you to meet Mr Williams Mr Yates and myself at Jacksonville
<Page 2>on Wednesday of next week to talk over these things, and to agree upon such course of political action as will give Illinois a place in the Column of Republican States.
Of course you can take with you such friend or two as you think best though in my opinion too large a number is not desirable in such a Council–
The result in Maine arises from their making the Maine law an issue, which should never have been done, and I hope never will be done in any other State
Democrats of Maine assured me they had no other hope than on that issue, and they uniformly refused to discuss any other.3
But you may start on the one great issue of restoring Kansas & Nebraska to freedom or rather of repea restoring the Missouri Compromise and in this state no power on earth can withstand you on that issue.4Very trulyJ R GiddingsHon A Lincoln–
2In the aftermath of the 1854 Federal Election and the decline of the Whig Party as a national political force, many new Republicans hoped to unite the various coalitions that had emerged in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and bring the Republican Party to the fore of Illinois politics in advance of the 1856 presidential Election. See the 1854 Federal Election. Illinois’ Republican State Central Committee recruited Giddings to join Ichabod Codding on a campaign to promote the fledgling party throughout the state and convince reluctant Whigs to come into its fold. Giddings joined Codding on September 11.
Victor B. Howard, “The Illinois Republican Party: Part II: the Party Becomes Conservative, 1855-1856,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 64 (Autumn 1971), 286, 292.
3“Maine Law” became a popular term for pro-temperance legislation after, in 1846, Maine became the first U.S. state to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquors.
During the election of 1854, fusion tickets became common, as disaffected Whigs and Democrats banded together with Free Soilers, Nativists, and temperance advocates. See the 1854 Federal Election. Maine’s legislature obtained a fusionist majority during the election, and elected fusionist candidate Anson P. Morrill governor. In March 1855, the legislature passed a new law that significantly toughened enforcement of existing temperance legislation. It permitted citizens to lodge complaints against those suspected of violating the law, and allowed judges use such complaints to issue search warrants for private homes and businesses. The law also made possession of liquor evidence of intent to violate the law, thus shifting the burden of proof from the state to prove the accused’s guilt to individuals to prove their innocence. This legislation proved controversial and unpopular among numerous constituencies.
In 1855, Morrill ran for re-election as the candidate of the state’s newly-created Republican Party, which remained dependent upon support from a variety of political coalitions—including fusionist Democrats. As Gidding notes above, Maine’s Democrats were unwilling to emphasize issues other than temperance during the election. Hard-line Democrats in Maine, also called Pierce Democrats, launched a political strategy in which they avoided topics that aided the fusionist cause—namely, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the issue of slavery—and instead focused their campaign on the fusionists’ new, unpopular temperance legislation. This strategy was a success, resulting in striking defeats for Maine’s new Republican Party. Democrats won an overwhelming majority in the Maine Senate and Morrill lost his bid for re-election to Pierce Democrat Samuel Wells, leading some to fear that the Republican Party’s losses in Maine might hinder the so-called “Republican movement” not just in that state, but throughout the nation.
Henry S. Clubb, The Maine Liquor Law (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1856), 72-87; New-York Daily Times (NY), 13 September 1854, 1:1; 18 September 1855, 1:6; “An Act for the Suppression of Drinking Houses and Tippling Shops,” 16 March 1855, Public Laws of the State of Maine (1855), 166-92; Lee D. Webb, “Party Development and Political Conflict in Maine, 1820-1860: From Statehood to the Civil War,” (Doctoral diss., University of Maine, 2017), 271, 275, 277-80; Kennebec Journal (Augusta, ME), 21 September 1855, 2:1, 8.
4Lincoln’s reply to Giddings, if he wrote one, has not been located.
At the time Giddings penned this letter, Lincoln was in Cincinnati, Ohio for trial of the case McCormick v. Talcott et al., which commenced on September 20. He departed home for Springfield, Illinois on Wednesday, September 26—the very day Giddings had invited him to attend the meeting in Jacksonville, Illinois with he, Archibald Williams, and Richard Yates.
By October 4, Giddings and Codding had lectured in seventeen Illinois counties. Although their campaign was received more enthusiastically in northern Illinois than in the central and southern sections of the state, it led to calls for a statewide Republican Party convention and was deemed a success. Giddings’ efforts to enlist Lincoln’s support for and public commitment to the new Republican Party, however, were less successful. Lincoln remained committed to the Whig Party throughout 1855.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 20 September 1855, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-09-20; 26 September 1855, http://thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1855-09-26. For more information about the McCormick v. Talcott et al. case and Lincoln’s role in it, see “Abraham Lincoln at Cincinnati,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 409 (June 1884), 62-63; McCormick v. Talcott et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=137741; McCormick v. Talcott et al., Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org/Details.aspx?case=137742; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:408-9; Victor B. Howard, “The Illinois Republican Party: Part II: the Party Becomes Conservative, 1855-1856,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 64 (Autumn 1971), 292-93; Abraham Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed.
Autograph Letter Signed, 2 page(s), Volume Volume 2, Herndon-Weik Collection of Lincolniana, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).