LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") to Richard Yates (1815-1873), Washington, 10 December 1847. 1 page, 4to, very lightly and expertly silked, tipped to another sheet.
DIVISIONS OVER THE THORNY ISSUE OF SLAVERY: "THERE ARE...A GREAT MANY WHIGS HERE WHO DO NOT WISH TO GO FOR TAYLOR..."
Cracks between northern and Southern Whigs over slavery permeate in this rich, political letter from Lincoln's Congressional days. He invokes several powerful names in this letter to Yates--a fellow Illinois legislator and the future Civil War-era Governor. The subjects range from a debt owed Yates by Stephen A. Douglas ("I presented your claim to Douglass this morning; he says it is all right and that he will pay it in a few days..."), to the political positions of John C. Calhoun, John H. Crittenden, Zachary Taylor, and the upcoming presidential election of 1848. "I believe Mr. Calhoun, and what force he can control, are preparing to support Genl. Taylor for the Presidency," he writes. "I get this impression from conversation with Duff Greene, who boards at the same house I do." (Green was the fiery Kentucky newspaperman in Andrew Jackson's Kitchen Cabinet and publisher of the party organ, the Washington Globe, until Green broke with Jackson to side with Calhoun on the states rights controversy. "There are, however," Lincoln continues, "a great many Whigs here who do not wish to go for Taylor, and some of whom, I fear can not be brought to do it. There are still many others of them who are strong for him, among whom I class Mr. Crittenden, although he does not expressly say so. I shall be pleased to have a line from you occasionally."
As Lincoln here asserts, many Whigs strongly objected to Taylor's stand on slavery, especially since he personally owned more than 100 slaves. It's quite interesting to find Lincoln here, in 1847, siding with Green, and the more pro-Southern, pro-slavery Whig men. It is also a testament to his political practicality. He was certain that the hero of Buena Vista would carry the Whigs to the White House. "I am in favor of General Taylor," Lincoln told friends, "...because I am satisfied we can elect him.... I go for him not because I think he would make a better president than Clay, but because I think he would make a better one than Polk, or Cass, or Buchanan, or any such creatures, one of whom is sure to be elected if he is not" (quoted in Donald, Lincoln, 126). Taylor remained non-committal on the dominant issue of the campaign--the Wilmot Proviso, barring slavery in any of the territories gained from Mexico. Democratic candidate Lewis Cass opposed it, causing enough anti-slavery Northern Democrats to vote for Martin Van Buren's Free Soil Party ticket and thereby hand the election to Taylor.