Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") to Illinois Congressman William Kellogg (1814-1872), Springfield, Illinois, 11 December 1859.
LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") to Illinois Congressman William Kellogg (1814-1872), Springfield, Illinois, 11 December 1859.

LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") to Illinois Congressman William Kellogg (1814-1872), Springfield, Illinois, 11 December 1859.

2 pages, 4to (9¾ x 7¾ in.), integral blank with recipent's docket. Fine condition.


Following his unsuccessful 1858 campaign for an Illinois Senate seat, which had featured a series of debates with Stephen A. Douglas that attracted national attention, Lincoln returned to his law practice. But he continued his close involvment in Republican politics, both locally--in Illinois--where there were various factions contending for power, and nationally, where the fragile alliance which coalesced to form the new party was subjected to considerable pressure and threatened to splinter apart. In addition, "he continued to worry about the fatal attraction that Stephen A. Douglas had for many Republicans." Senator Douglas, who openly intended to campaign for the Presidency in 1860, had alienated many supporters in the south with his enunciation during the debates of the so-called Freeport Doctrine. In consequence, he shrewdly sought to use the issues that had cost him southern support to woo new Republican voters. Widely proclaiming his doctrine of popular sovereignty, he reminded Republicans "that he had consistently opposed enacting a slave code that would protect slavery in all the national territories and had fought the reopening of the African slave trade--both measures dear to Republicans," (D.H. Donald, Lincoln, p.232), and took steps to ingratiate himself with influential Republican journalists, like Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune.

On popular sovereignty, which he considered a mere political expediency, Lincoln acidly observed that it was tantamount to saying "that, if one man chooses to make a slave of another man, neither that man nor anybody else has a right to object" (Speech in Columbus, Ohio, 16 September 1859, see Basler, 3:405). In an effort to counteract Douglas's insidious message, Lincoln energetically took again to the stump during the Fall campaigns in Ohio, honing and sharpening many of the same arguments he had emphasized in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. His speeches were favorably received, and he began to be mentioned as a possible running-mate on the Republican ticket in 1860. But Douglas remained a troublesome thorn to the Republicans and an opponent whom Lincoln considered "the most dangerous enemy of liberty."

Kellogg, a first-term Illinois Republican Congressman who had known Lincoln for many years, learned of a meeting between Douglas and Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, and charged, on the floor of the House, that Greeley and others had "met in the parlor of Senator Douglas, plotting and planning to sell Illinois, and Missouri too..." On 8 December, Greeley responded to Kellogg's charge in an editorial entitled "A Word With a Congressman" in the New York Tribune. Greeley did not deny that the controversial meeting had taken place, but insisted that "Mr. Douglas's reelection to the Senate, or his future election to any post whatever, was not even mentioned." Lincoln and other Republicans found Greeley's denial highly implausible, especially since the Tribune went on to endorse the re-election of unnamed "anti-Lecompton Democrats."

Lincoln, though, in considering the affair and its implications, is conciliatory, and takes pains to urge restraint on the incensed Kellogg. Perhaps mindful that Greeley would be among the New York press reporting on his important Cooper Union Address two months hence, he even suggests that Kellogg go easy on the influential editor.

He writes: "I have been a good deal relieved this morning by a sight of Greeley's letter to you, published in the Tribune. Before seeing it, I much feared you had, in charging interviews between Douglas & Greely [sic], stated what you believed but did not certainly know to be true; and that it might be untrue, and our enemies would get advantage of you. However, as G[reeley] admits the interviews, I think it will not hurt you that he denies conversing with D[ouglas] about his re-[e]lection to the Senate. G. I think, will not tell a falsehood; and I think he will scarcely deny that he had the interviews with D. in order to assure himself from D's own lips, better than he could from his public acts & declarations, whether to try to bring the Republican party to his support generally, including his re-election to the Senate. What else could the interviews be for? Why immediately followed in the Tribune the advice that all anti-Lecompton democrats should be re-elected? The world will not consider it any thing that D's reelection to the Senate was not specifically talked of by him & G."

"Now, mark, I do not charge that G. was corrupt in this. I do not think he was, or is. It was his judgment that the course he took was the best way of serving the Republican cause. For this reason, and for the further reason, that he is now pulling straight with us, I would not pursue him further than necessary to my own justification. If I were you I would be greatly tempted [to] ask him if he really thinks D's advice to vote for a Lecompton & Slave code man, is very 'plucky'."
"Please excuse what I have said, in the way of unsolicited advice. I believe you will not doubt the sincerity of my friendship for you."

The letter, as Basler comments, demonstrates Lincoln's typical "lack of personal animosity and his wish to place the general party welfare above other considerations" (Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, 1946, p.507). Greeley, as he often did, was pursuing multiple goals. A dedicated foe of slavery, he had become convinced that Douglas's opposition to the Buchanan administration entitled him to re-election. But the Cooper Union Address, delivered on 27 February, earned Lincoln widespread recognition in New England and the East as a possible candidate. Following Lincoln's superb speech, Greeley, who had so recently parlayed with Douglas, enthusiastically spoke of Lincoln as "one of Nature's orators," and vowed that "no man ever before made such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience" (R.S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, pp.46-47). For more on Lincoln's difficult relations with Greeley see Mark Neely, Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia, pp.128-129, quoting this letter).

Published in Basler, 3:506-7.

Provenance: Oliver R. Barrett, in 1953; Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 20 June 1979, lot 755).

More from The Forbes Collection of American Historical Documents

View All
View All