Julian M. Sturtevant to Abraham Lincoln, 16 September 18561Illinois College Sept 16 1856Hon A. LincolnDear Sir
I make no apology for “med^d^ling with politics” at a time like this. I write you for the purpose of expressing to you my deep conviction of the necessity that you should consent to run for Congress in this District at the approaching election. I know you do not need the place— it can add nothing to your honors. But your country needs you in that place now and will reward you for throwing yourself into it, or if your country will not god will. I have a sincere respect— a warm affection for your neighbor and friend John Williams. But he will certainly be defeated, and ^Maj. [Major] Harris^ that miser-
<Page 2>able tool of the slave oligarchy that is now domineering over us will represent this District in the next Congress.2 Dii omen avertite.3
I believe you can be elected, & thus redeem us from our present degradation and give our vote in Congress to freedom. I admit that your success is not absolutely certain. But even if you should be beaten it will not at all damage your political prospects. The friends of freedom in the State will none the less remember you— nay! there is nothing you can do for the cause which would so much endear you to us all as to throw yourself into this open breach full armed as you are for the conflict.
I admit that there is a high degree of probability (in my judgment) though I know nothing of the
<Page 3>plans of our political leaders) of your being needed for a higher station. In that case you can resign this and after you have beaten the Peusdo [Pseudo]-Democracy we can elect whom we please, to supply your place.
I know these are only the opinions of one who has no political weight. But they are the sober convictions of one who loves his country only too ardently for his own place at the present crisis, of one who reposes full confidence in your integrity, your principles and your wisdom; one who regards you as providentially raised up for a time like this, and one who feels that should we even be beaten in this contest for the right it would be some consolation that we had Hector for a leader.4
Excuse the liberty I haveYours very sincerelyJ. M. Sturtevant5
<Page 4>taken. If ever you should have any convictions respecting my duty as profound as mine in respect to yours on this occasion, I beg you will not fail to communicate them to me with all plainness and pro^m^ptness.
2The district in question was the Sixth Congressional District of Illinois, which included both Sangamon County and Morgan County, home to Jacksonville. 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 July 1856 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 American Party 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.
James N. Adams, comp., Illinois Place Names (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1989), 402; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 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.
3A variation on the traditional Latin expression “Dii omen avertant” or “May the gods avert the omen.”
Gavin Betts and Daniel Franklin, The Big Gold Book of Latin Verbs (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), 62.
4Sturtevant’s praise of Lincoln may have been prompted by a lengthy speech Lincoln had recently given at a rally in support of John C. Fremont in Jacksonville on Saturday, September 6, 1856. 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.
It may have been this speech in Jacksonville that Sturtevant alluded to later in life when he recalled the first time he heard Lincoln speak on the subject of slavery, which was in an address to a crowd of 2,000 drawn from Morgan and surrounding counties at an unspecified date. In Sturtevant’s recollection, Lincoln’s speech not only argued against the extension of slavery to the territories, but also denounced slavery on the grounds of natural theology. As Sturtevant remembered, this speech was the moment he realized that Lincoln was a great man.
Lincoln’s Jacksonville speech of September 6, 1856 seems to have made a strong impression in Sturtevant’s community. His former Illinois College colleague Jonathan B. Turner had attended and was himself moved by the occasion to write to Lincoln. According to Turner, everyone he spoke to after the speech was eager to elect Lincoln to political office.
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, 1:425-33; J. M. Sturtevant, Jr., ed., Julian M. Sturtevant: An Autobiography (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1896), 287-88; Mary Turner Carriel, The Life of Jonathan Baldwin Turner (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961), 12, 15.
5Lincoln responded to this letter on September 27 and declined to run for the U.S. House of Representatives at this time on the grounds that his candidacy would hurt rather than help the Republican Party.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Volume Volume 2, Herndon-Weik Collection of Lincolniana, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).