LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") to Richard Yates, Springfield, 9 March 1858. 2 pages, 4to, some show-through,very lightly and expertly silked, tipped to another sheet .
LINCOLN HURLS SOME POLITICAL DYNAMITE AGAINST THE DEMOCRATS: THE DRED SCOTT DECISION, BLEEDING KANSAS, AND THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE
A fascinating letter from Lincoln's 1858 Senate campaign against Stephen A. Douglas that shows the explosive impact of the Dred Scott decision and the "bleeding Kansas" controversy on both the Illinois and the national scene. A politically energized Lincoln starts by asking Yates to plant in one of the Jacksonville, Ill. newspapers a short statement he's drafted under a pseudonym--"A. republican": "If you approve of the following," he tells Yates, "contrive to have it appear in some one of the Anti-administration papers down your way--better there than here." The item reads: "Mr. Editor: Why may not all anti-administration men in this District vote for James H. Matthews of Springfield for Congress? He was opposed to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise; was for Fillmore in 1856, but never was a Know-Nothing. He is now opposed to the Lecompton Constitution, and the Dred Scott decision. Who can be more suitable, when a union of Fremont and Fillmore men, is indispensable? [by] A. republican."
Lincoln concedes that he had opposed Matthews in 1856. But everything changed after Chief Justice Roger Taney handed down his decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857, and political alignments took on a whole different character. "We have thought this over here," Lincoln explains. "The leading Fillmore men have wish to act with us, and they want a name upon which they can bring up their rank and file. It will help us in Sangamon, when we shall be hard run, about members of the Legislature." The state legislative elections were crucial, of course, since it was the legislature rather than popular vote that decided Senatorial elections in 19th century America. "Think it over," Lincoln concludes, "and if you can approve it, give it a start as above. I have not forgotten my course towards 'Jim' for a nomination in 1856. The difficulty then was on a point which has since been measurably superseded by the Dred Scott decision; and he is with us on that. Butler says you rather have an eye to getting our old friend Bill Green on the track. Nothing would please me better, whenever he got on to ground that would suit you, except it would give us no access to the Fillmore votes. Don't you see? We must have some one who will reach the Fillmore men, both for the direct and the incidental effect. I wish you would see [Natl.] Greene, and present this view to him. Point out to him the necessities of the case, and also how the question, as to 'Jim' is varied since 1856." At the very end Lincoln writes, but then crosses out, "Let this be strictly confidential."
Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled in March 1857 that Dred Scott could not sue for his freedom since Negroes had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect." He went on to declare the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and thereby gave slaveholders license to expand the peculiar institution throughout the Midwest and western territories of the United States. Lincoln thought the decision did "obvious violence to the plain unmistakable language of the Declaration" of Independence and its recognition that all men were created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. "If its framers could rise from their graves," Lincoln added, "they could not at all recognize it" (quoted in Donald, Lincoln, 201). Taken together with Stephen A. Douglas's support of the Lecompton Constitution submitted to Congress by pro-slavery settlers in Kansas, Lincoln saw a consistent pattern by Democratic Party leaders to aid the advance of slavery. Old political divisions--like the differences over immigration that pitted Republicans against Millard Fillmore's Know-Nothings in 1856--shriveled to insignificance in the face of the threat posed by the "Slave Power."
A rich political letter showing Lincoln's political intelligence working at full steam. Only one other Lincoln letter discussing the Dred Scott case has come to auction within the last 30 years: Lincoln to Clarke, 20 July 1857, sold Christie's New York, Dec 14, 2000, lot 359, $80,000. Published Collected Works, 10:28-29.