Jonathan B. Turner to Abraham Lincoln, 9 September 18561J Springfield Sept 9 1856Hon Abraham LincolnDear Sir
I am now at your office & hoped to see you here, as our mutual friends requested that I should in passing–
It is a man who was in our town last Saturday; and who held a great audience in breathless attention for some three hours, in sunshine & rain with their umbrellas over their heads, still shouting “go on”– while y he was demolishing the Bucchaneers & f^F^ilmoreites right & left so effectually that not a soul of them have dared to peep since except to say “I am for Fremont”–3 this numbers have done– Still this man is so crazy that he does not believe that the Freemen of this district can elect him as their representative, or that his stump speeching can do much good orYours trulyJ. B. Turner7
<Page 2>work much change in the result–4 And talk to him about our certainty of triumph and he at once falls to the work of counting noses with the old Whigs, on the old political Blackboard, whose figuring the new flood has wholly wiped out, except in view of those even more crazy than himself–5 Now dont you think this man crazy– verry crazey Even more crazy if possible than “Joe”– Well, I will tell you since your noble speech at Jacksonville which fired anew all hearts, & strengthened all hands, and be it noted made not a few converts to boot– I have talked with every man I have met– whether whig or Democrat or free Soiler and I find but one openion among them all– which is this– We are going to take this crazy man and elect him as our representative; then if we choose we will make him our senator and put some other
<Page 3>one in his place– or if we fail to elect him to the first we will invoke the free north to place him in the Second position as our martyr man and they will surely do it–6 But in case he declines this service we intend to let him speak till the canvass is over, and then bring him down to Jacksonville and cure him in the Asylum before the another campaign comes on–
2Despite his involvement in the May, 1856 Illinois Anti-Nebraska Convention that effectively founded the Republican Party in the state, former Whig Joseph Gillespie was an active supporter of the American Party during the 1856 election. Gillespie was distrustful of the conservative former anti-Nebraska Democrats who had attended the convention, and suspected that they would abandon the embryonic Illinois Republican coalition and support Democrat James Buchanan for president rather than Republican candidate John C. Fremont. During the campaign Gillespie stumped for the American Party, acted as a statewide elector at large for American Party presidential candidate Millard Fillmore, and was rumored at one point to be under consideration to be the American Party candidate for Illinois governor. He instead ran successfully for reelection to the Illinois Senate, with newspaper reports of his election divided over whether he was a member of the American Party or the Republican Party. The Republican Party apparently made fruitless attempts to win him over during the campaign.
Joseph Gillespie to Abraham Lincoln; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 9 April 1856, 2:1; 14 July 1856, 2:1; The Ottawa Free Trader (IL), 24 May 1856, 2:2; 20 September 1856, 1:4; 22 November 1856, 1:6; Galena Daily Courier (IL), 8 July 1856, 2:3; 11 September 1856, 3:2; Rock Island Morning Argus (IL), 19 November 1856, 2:1; Freeport Daily Journal (IL), 28 November 1856, 2:2.
3Turner is referring to Abraham Lincoln himself, who gave a lengthy speech at a rally in support of Fremont in Jacksonville on Saturday, September 6, 1856, in which he urged anti-slavery Democrats not to vote for Buchanan. From July 1856 onwards, Lincoln gave over fifty speeches across Illinois in support of Fremont’s presidential campaign and to rally the disparate elements of the emerging Republican Party. See the 1856 Federal Election.
Despite Turner’s opinion of the effectiveness of Lincoln’s speech in Jacksonville, Buchanan ultimately earned the most votes in Morgan County, garnering 47.3 percent of the vote, compared to Fremont’s 27.5 percent and Fillmore’s 25.3 percent.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 6 September 1856, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1856-09-06; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:425-33; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992), 136.
4The district in question was the Sixth Congressional District of Illinois, which included both Morgan and Sangamon counties. The nascent Illinois Republican Party considered several candidates to run for the U.S. House of Representatives against incumbent Democrat Thomas L. Harris in the district in 1856. Richard Yates, who had lost his reelection bid for the seat to Harris in the 1854 election, refused to run again. Lincoln and other Republican leaders met in July1856 with the hope of persuading anti-Nebraska Democrat John M. Palmer to be their party’s candidate for the seat, but he declined.
By early September, Springfield merchant John Williams had been chosen to run instead, and was touted as a hardworking “honest Clay Whig” who threatened to win the votes of Fillmore supporters and of anti-slavery Democrats. Harris defeated him handily, garnering 54 percent of the vote to Williams’ 46 percent. At the end of Williams’ life, it was claimed that he outperformed a Democratic majority of 4,000 voters in losing by only about 2,100 votes. Yates, however, had lost the seat by only 200 votes in the previous election.
Julian M. Sturtevant also wrote Lincoln later this same month urging him to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in the Sixth District, as he thought Williams was likely to be defeated. Lincoln replied that he declined to run because he believed his candidacy would hurt the Republican cause.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:424; Abraham Lincoln and Others to John M. Palmer; Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 4 September 1856, 2:1; 8 September 1856, 3:2; Chicago Daily Tribune (IL), 9 September 1856, 2:2; Howard W. Allen and Vincent A. Lacey, eds., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990, 10, 140; The Illinois State Journal (Springfield), 29 May 1890, 4:3.
5Throughout the 1856 election, Lincoln was concerned with retaining the many anti-Nebraska voters that had been drawn to the new Republican Party from the former Whig Party.
David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 192; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:421-25.
6By first and second position Turner apparently meant the presidency and the vice presidency. Congressman John Allison of Pennsylvania had recently nominated Lincoln for vice president at the 1856 Republican National Convention. In an informal vote for the vice-presidential nominee, Lincoln came in second to William L. Dayton of New Jersey, garnering 110 votes to Dayton’s 253. When the official vote was taken, Dayton was declared the unanimous winner.
Proceedings of the First Three Republican National Conventions of 1856, 1860 and 1864 (Minneapolis, MN: Charles W. Johnson, 1893), 61-66.
8Lincoln was in Bloomington September 9 through 13, 1856 attending McLean County Circuit Court. He returned to Springfield by September 14.
The Lincoln Log: A Daily Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, 9 September 1856, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1856-09-09; 13 September 1856, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1856-09-13; 14 September 1856, http://www.thelincolnlog.org/Results.aspx?type=CalendarDay&day=1856-09-14.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Volume Volume 2, Herndon-Weik Collection of Lincolniana, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).