Joseph Gillespie to Abraham Lincoln, 6 June 18561Edwardsville June 6th 1856Dear Sir
When I saw the platform & resolutions adopted at the Bloomington Convention I hoped that all conservative men in the State could unite at least in supporting so much of the ticket as would secure a real political triumph over the enemies of the Country, to wit, Douglass Pierce & Co[Company] And I believe that so far as State officers are concerned this was a pretty general feeling2 This morning my attention was directed to an editorial in the Dailey Alton Courier of this date recommending the nomination of Mr Buchanan and endorsing him as a suitable man for the Presidency3 If this is backing ones friends I know not what to make of the professions of certain Anti Nebraska men at Bloomington Mr Buchanan has pledged himself to the support of all the infamous measures we have complained of I have my fears that the so called Democrats at the Bloomington ^Convention^ are going for Buchanan and that it will turn out a clean sell of the whigs and true conservative men of the State4 I haveYours TrulyJ Gillespie
<Page 2>an abiding ^faith^ that such men as Browning Williams Archer & yourself will not favour any such arrangement but I am persuaded from indications that it is the fixed purpose of what is called the anti Nebraska Democracy to go for a man for the Presidency who has unequivocally declared that now as the Missourie compromise line has been repealed and as the nullifiers5 have triumphed although he would not perhaps have introduced a bill for that purpose yet it being done he will sustain the measure This places him in a worse position than even Douglass who believes the thing was right in itself But Buchanan does not believe it right but will sustain it That is he will sustain what he admits was wrong Now if this is the game I am for a thorough organization for Filmore & Donalson whether we sink or swim6 They are honest sound conservative men and it would be more creditable to fail fighting under that banner than to triumph in such company as I fear some of the wire workers at Bloomington are7 You know my real sentiments on the Slavery question I am for letting slavery alone where it exists and
<Page 3>living up to all the compromises made by the North & the South whether in the Constitutional ^Convention^ or in Congress beyond that I will not go an inch I am tired of being dragooned by some half dozen men who are determined either to rule or ruin I am out of all temper with and have no faith in the honesty of men who insist ^that^ ten whigs shall go with one Democrat because they can not in conscience vote for a Whig Although I am well satisfied with Trumbull yet his five particular friends who would rather see the Country go to the Devil than vote for a whig are not at all to my taste8 I have made up my mind that henceforth I can be as reckless as they are And so help me God they shall find out that I am one as well of either of them This move is but the first effort to carry out in my opinion a foregone conclusion to give the support of the Anti Nebraska men of the Country to Buchanan For my part rather than vote for him I would ^vote^ for the Devil or even Douglass I was disposed at first to remain quiet or even acquiesce in the nominations made at Bloomington if that would conduce most to an union against the Nullifiers but I shall wait now and see what the future will bring forth Let me hear from you as soon as practicable9
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The Daily Courier
SATURDAY MORNING, JUNE 7, 1856.
The agony of Suspense for the Douglas Democracy is over, and the truth of their master’s decapitation is fully established. This catastrophe has been plainly foreshadowed ever since the passage of the Nebraska bill. The nominee of the Cincinnati Convention is before the people. In bringing him out, a man who had no hand in repealing the Missouri Compromise, which measure he has publicly declared impolitic—the Cincinnati Convention has publicly condemned that repeal. But they have placed their candidate upon an incongruous and dangerous platform, and while he stands upon that platform, how can he win? What Northern man who is a friend to Free Kansas, can cosistently support him? True, that party have no regard for platforms, as their traitorous abandonment of the platform of 1852, conclusively proves. That party solemnly pledged themselves to resist all agitation of the Slavery question in Congress and out, and in less than one year from the inauguration of their president, elected on that platform, they deliberately opened the most disastrous slavery agitation that has ever racked the country.10 Not so with the Anti-Nebraska Democracy. They have stood by the platform of 1852, having once endorsed it, and they will not adopt a new platform that conflicts with such a precedent, neither will they support a candidate who stands upon a platform that nullifies platform precedents and the compromise akin to that of the constitution. As great men as Buchanan have been beaten in the presidential race by their inconsistent political precedents, and what has been, may be again.11
2On May 29, 1856, opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act met in Bloomington in what effectively became the founding convention of the Republican Party in Illinois. Delegates included abolitionists, conservative anti-Nebraska Whigs, anti-Nebraska Democrats, Know Nothings, and anti-nativist immigrants. Recognizing the fragility of nascent Republican coalition, convention managers composed a platform designed to appeal to the broadest range of opinion. The platform finally approved by delegates eschewed calls for the abolition of slavery; instead, it asserted that repeal of the Missouri Compromise was “unjust and injurious,” opposed the expansion of slavery to territories already free, and affirmed that the U.S. Congress held the power and authority to exclude slavery from the nation’s territories. Delegates affirmed their absolute loyalty to preserving the Union in the face of disunionism, and, to placate both immigrants and Know-Nothings, pledged not to discriminate against anyone on account of their religious affiliation or place of birth. The slate of state officers nominated also reflected the disparate elements of the nascent party: anti-Nebraska Democrat William H. Bissell for governor, German Francis A. Hoffman for lieutenant governor, Ozias M. Hatch for secretary of state, Jesse K. Dubois for auditor of public accounts, James Miller for treasurer, and William H. Powell for superintendent of public instruction. Some of the latter were Know-Nothings and former Whigs.
Lincoln attended the convention and delivered a speech in which, according to extant newspaper accounts, he voiced his commitment to the Union and opposition to slavery.
After Hoffman’s nomination for lieutenant governor, party leaders discovered that he was ineligible to run for state office under the 1848 Illinois Constitution. Hoffman withdrew, and in September 1856, anti-Nebraska delegates met in Springfield and nominated John Wood as their new candidate for lieutenant governor.
The Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), 4 June 1856, 2:3; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 191-92; Summary of Remarks at Bloomington, Illinois; Summary of Remarks at Bloomington, Illinois; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 25 September 1856, 2:1; J. H. A. Lacher, "Francis A. Hoffman of Illinois and Hans Buschbauer of Wisconsin," Wisconsin Magazine of History 13 (June 1930): 342-43.
3The Alton Daily Courier was first a Whig, then a Republican newspaper, yet James Buchanan was a Democrat.
Franklin William Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879, vol. 6 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1910), 4; Jean H. Baker, James Buchanan (New York: Times Books, 2004), 1.
4Delegates to the Democratic National Convention nominated Buchanan as the Democratic Party's candidate for president, believing him to be a less controversial alternative to both incumbent president Franklin Pierce and Stephen A. Douglas. Buchanan endorsed the Party’s 1856 platform, which, among other things, vigorously defended the rights of states to maintain the institution of slavery, supported the fugitive slave law, and called for an end to anti-slavery agitation. Throughout the 1856 Federal Election, many Republicans—including Lincoln—worried that conservative former anti-Nebraska Democrats might bolt from the nascent Republican Party in favor of Buchanan.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, 192; Abraham Lincoln to Lyman Trumbull; Jean Baker, James Buchanan, 69; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:421.
5“Nullifier” was a term used throughout the nineteenth century to refer to someone who asserted that individual states have a right to refuse to comply with federal law. John C. Calhoun was an early advocate of nullification, and the term became particularly prominent during the so-called Nullification Crisis of 1832-33. See the Nullification Crisis.
John R. Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States (Boston: Little and Brown, 1860), 297-98; William W. Freehling, The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 1:253, 257; Richard H. Thornton, An American Glossary (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1912), 2:618.
6The American Party nominated Millard Fillmore as its candidate for president and Andrew J. Donelson as its candidate for vice-president during the party’s February 1856 national nominating convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Warren F. Hewitt, “The Know Nothing Party in Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 2 (April 1935), 82.
7Wire worker or wire puller was a someone who pulled the wires of a puppet show. In the context of American politics, terms was used for politicians who manipulated or influence others, particularly from behind the scenes.
Richard H. Thornton, An American Glossary: Being an Attempt to Illustrate Certain Americanisms Upon Historical Principles (London: Francis, 1912), 2:949-50; John R. Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States, 515.
8Gillespie is referring to Lyman Trumbull’s election by the Illinois General Assembly as Illinois’ representative in the U.S. Senate. The Illinois General Assembly met in a joint session on February 8, 1855, to elect a U.S. senator. Ten rounds of voting were needed to finally determine the victor. Gillespie’s reference to Trumbull’s “five particular friends” is a reference to Norman B. Judd, Burton C. Cook, John M. Palmer, Henry S. Baker, and George T. Allen—all of whom refused to vote for Lincoln and instead each cast their ballots for Trumbull in all ten rounds of voting. In a list of members of the Illinois General Assembly that Lincoln created around January 1855, he listed all five men as anti-Nebraska Democrats. As Lincoln noted in letters to political allies after the election, because these five men decided that they “could never vote for a whig,” he was unable to secure the required votes. Upon realizing this, Lincoln urged his supporters to cast their ballots for Trumbull so that an anti-Nebraska candidate could win the senate seat, and Trumbull won the election.
10This is another reference to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In the presidential election of 1852, Franklin Pierce ran on a platform that affirmed the Compromise of 1850 and pledged to forestall any policy that might renew agitation over slavery.
David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 142.
11In June 1856, the Republican Party met for its national convention in Philadelphia and nominated John C. Fremont as its candidate for president. Ultimately, however, Buchanan won the presidency. In Illinois, Buchanan won 44.1 percent of the vote to Fremont’s 40.2 percent and Fillmore’s 15.7 percent.
Also in the election of 1856, Illinois voters elected the entire slate of Republican candidates for state office.
Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 10; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 20 November 1856, 2:2.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Volume Volume 2, Herndon-Weik Collection of Lincolniana, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).