James Shields to Abraham Lincoln, 17 September 18421TREMONT, Sept. 17th, 1842.A. Lincoln, Esq.[Esquire]
I regret that my absence on public business compelled me to postpone a matter of private consideration a little longer than I could have desired. It will only be necessary, however, to account for it by informing you that I have been to Quincy on business that would not admit of delay. I will now state briefly the reasons of my troubling you with this communication, the disagreeable nature of which I regret—as I had hoped to avoid any difficulty with any one in Springfield, while residing there, by endeavoring to conduct myself in such a way amongst both my political friends and opponents, as to escape the necessity of any. Whilst thus abstaining from giving provocation, I have become the object of slander, vituperation and personal abuse, which were I capable of submitting to, I would prove myself worthy of the whole of it.
In two or three of the last numbers of the Sangamo Journal, articles of the most personal nature and calculated to degrade me, have made their appearance.2 On enquiring I was informed by the editor of that paper, through the medium of my friend, Gen. Whiteside, that you are the author of those articles. This information satisfies me that I have become by some means or other, the object of your secret hostility. I will not take the trouble of enquiring into the reason of all this, but I will take the liberty of requiring a full, positive and absolute retraction of all offensive allusions used by you in these communications, in relation to my private character and standing as a man, as an apology for the insults conveyed in them.
This may prevent consequences which no one will regret more than myself.3Your ob’t serv’t[obedient servant],JAS. SHIELDS.
1This letter was published in the Sangamo Journal on October 14, 1842, along with Abraham Lincoln’s response and the subsequent communications between the two men.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL) 14 October 1842, 2:3-5; James Shields to Abraham Lincoln.
2In 1838, the Sangamo Journal printed at least one anonymous letter from the “Lost Township,” the name of which alluded to political issues caused by the creation of new counties. In 1842, the concept was revived in a series of letters purporting to be from a woman named “Rebecca” from the Lost Townships. The first, dated August 10, 1842 and published on August 19, bemoaned the failure of the State Bank of Illinois and the subsequent depreciation of its printed paper money. On August 26, 1842, the Democratic administration, including State Auditor James Shields, decreed that the state would not accept its own money as payment for taxes. A widely unpopular decision, it was lambasted immediately by Whigs like Lincoln, who wrote a second pseudonymous editorial purportedly from “Rebecca,” dated August 27. Shields’ offense and Lincoln’s response to it nearly resulted in a duel between the two men.
Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 5 May 1838, 2:5; 19 August 1842, 3:1-3; Roy P. Basler, “The Authorship of the ‘Rebecca’ Letters,” Abraham Lincoln Quarterly (June 1942), 80-82; Douglas L. Wilson, Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 266, n5, 266-69; James Shields to Abraham Lincoln; Memorandum of Duel Instructions to Elias H. Merryman.
3Lincoln responded to Shields the same day.
Printed Document, 1 page(s), Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 14 October 1842, 2:3.