LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A.Lincoln") as President-elect, to VICE-PRESIDENT-ELECT HANNIBAL HAMLIN, Springfield, Illinois, 24 December 1860. 1 page, 8vo (7½ x 4¾ in.), integral blank, docketed by Hamlin "A Lincoln," with note that he replied on December 29. Fine condition.
POWER, PATRONAGE AND REGIONAL REPRESENTATION: THE PRESIDENT-ELECT CONFERS WITH HIS VICE-PRESIDENT OVER THE SELECTION OF A SECRETARY OF NAVY
A letter written some seven weeks after the Lincoln-Hamlin ticket's narrow victory in the critical election of 1860. Lincoln seeks the advice of his Vice-President, whom he hardly knew, regarding the difficulties he faced in selecting a cabinet from a welter of contending candidates of widely varying abilities, each of whose appointment carried profound and sensitive political and regional implications. As one historian succintly put it, "basic to the process was patronage, staffing the new government with Republicans" (Eric Paludan, Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, p.35). Patronage, naturally, began from the top down, with the appointment of the cabinet. Lincoln's task was not merely to designate Republican stalwarts competent to serve in their respective posts, but to so tailor his appointments as to satisfy the uneasily alliance of political factions that comprised the new Republican party which had swept him into the White House. And, as if that were not enough, he also had to achieve balanced representation of regional Republican constituencies, for "given the diverse elements that made up the Republican party it was vital that all factions be heard" (ibid.). As a westerner, Lincoln was particularly anxious that New England be well-respresented in the cabinet.
In his quest to name a Secretary of Navy, Lincoln had queried Hamlin on December 8, asking whether Nathaniel P. Banks (1816-1894, Massachusetts Congressman [1853-57], Governor [1858-1861] and President of the Illinois Central Railroad) would accept a cabinet post. Hamlin, in his response, suggested that Gideon Welles or John A. Andrew, the current Governor of Massachusetts, would be a better prospect. Banks, he wrote candidly, while "a man of decided ability...is wonderfully cold and selfish. I do not hear him talked about by our N.E. friends" (see Basler 4:147-148).
Lincoln, in the present letter, clearly spells out his desire to appoint a New Englander to this key cabinet slot, and not just any New Englander, one who might be viewed in a positive light by at least some among the defeated Democratic factions: "I need a man of democratic antecedents from New England. I can not get a fair share of that element in without. This stands in the way of Mr. [Charles Francis] Adams. I think of Gov. Banks, Mr. [Gideon] Wells, and Mr. [Amos] Tuck. Which of these, do the New-England delegations prefer? Or shall I decide myself? Yours as ever A. Lincoln."
Lincoln's short-list is an interesting one. C.F. Adams (1807-1886), son of John Quincy Adams and a grandson of President John Adams, formerly a Democrat, later a Whig, had long been an outspoken opponent of slavery and was the Free-Soil Party's Vice-Presidential nominee in 1848; his politics, Lincoln here implies, were too closely identified with the anti-slavery movement to appeal to many moderate Democrats. (Adams was later named by Lincoln as Minister to the Court of Saint James, the third generation in his family to hold that post.) Amos Tuck (1810-1879) of New Hampshire boasted similar strong Republican credentials, having served as Congressman, a Free-Soil candidate for the 31st Congress, a delegate to the 1856 Republican Convention and chairman of his state's delegation to the 1860 Convention which nominated Lincoln and Hamlin. In his reply to the President-elect, on 29 December, Hamlin's recommendation was succint and unequivocal: "in my judgement, Mr. Welles is the better man for New England, and I feel confident will give better satisfaction than either of the others" (copy and transcript courtesy the Abraham Lincoln Papers at Library of Congress).
Lincoln concurred with Hamlin, and appointed Gideon Welles, who served with distinction, as promised. Welles, a "devoted Jeffersonian democrat" (DAB), had served as Democratic Congressman from Connecticut until joining the Republicans in 1855 over the issue of slavery. An influential political journalist, he also held several mostly administrative posts within the Navy Department. In short, he perfectly conformed to the "New England man of Democratic antecedents" sought by the President, but it was not until March 3, 1861, just before Lincoln's inauguration, that he was offered the appointment. Welles' appointment "gave New England, which had gone almost unanimously for Lincoln, a well-respected voice that, combined with Vice-President Hannibal Hamlim, ensured loyalty from that section of the country" (Paludan, p.43).
The process of forming a cabinet would prove long and contentious. While Welles proved an ideal choice for Secretary of the Navy, Lincoln's appointment of Simon Cameron as his counterpart in the post of Secretary of War aroused bitter controversy from the beginning. In January, importuned by a delegation of Pennsylvanians hostile to Cameron's appointment, Lincoln promised that "in the formation of my Cabinet, I shall aim as nearly as possible at perfection. Any man whom I may appoint to such a position, must be, as far as possible, like Caesar's wife, of unblemished reputation, and undoubted integrity" (Basler 4:180).
Published in Basler, 4:161.
Provenance: Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1978, lot 183).