LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A.Lincoln") to Governor James Grimes of Iowa (1816-1872), Springfield, 12 July 1856. 1½ pages, 4to, faint discoloration to margin, otherwise in very fine condition.
DURING THE TURBULENT CAMPAIGN OF 1856, LINCOLN DECLINES TO SPEAK IN IOWA: HE IS "SUPERSTITIOUS" ABOUT THE ELECTORATE'S DISTASTE FOR OUT-OF STATE "FOREIGNERS"
A fine, very characteristic letter, written the year that Lincoln--in the aftermath of the Kansas-Nebraska Act--re-dedicated himself to the national campaign against the spread of slavery and abandoned the Whig Party to play a commanding role in the newly formed Republican Party. The Republicans held their first national convention in Philadelphia, just a month earlier, coined a stirring slogan ("Free Speech, Free Press, Free Soil, Free Men") and nominated the glamorous John C. Frémont for president. Illinois in turn held its first state Republican convention on 29 May. Lincoln invested considerable energy and effort into the ensuing campaign, making--by his own account--some 50 speeches in Illinois and elsewhere, as far afield as Kalamazoo, Michigan, in support of Frémont. He clearly perceived that "the Republican party faced formidable problems in the 1856 presidential contest. Not only was it a new and imperfectly articulated organization, but it had powerful opposition" (D. H. Donald, Lincoln, 192). A few days prior to this letter, Lincoln had told James Berdan that "a union of our strength...is indispensible to our carrying the state against Buchanan" (Basler 2:347). Grimes, struck by the increasing eloquence and power of Lincoln's political oratory, wrote to ask Lincoln to speak in his own state of Iowa. But however close the race might be, Lincoln remained lukewarm ("plagued") to the idea that, to carry a particular state, outside political allies must be called in to stump for the party's candidates. Here, Lincoln pithily declines the Governor's request:
"Yours of the 29th of June was duly received, I did not answer it, because it plagued me. This morning I received another, from [Norman B.] Judd and [Ebenezer] Peck, written by consultation with you. Now let me tell you why I am plagued. First I can scarcely spare the time. Secondly, I am superstitious. I have scarcely known a party, preceding an election, to call in help from the neighboring states, but they lost the state. Last fall our friends had Wade of Ohio, & others in Maine; and they lost the state. Last Spring, our adversaries had New-Hampshire full of South Carolinians, and they lost the State. And so generally. It seems to stir up more enemies than friends."
But rather than completely close the door, Lincoln asks Grimes "Have the enemy called in any foreign help[?]. If they had a foreign champion there, I should have no objection to drive a nail in his track. I shall reach Chicago on the night of the 15th to attend a little business in court. Consider the things I have suggested, and write me at Chicago. Especially write me whether [Orville] Browning consents to visit you."
In Chicago to deal with legal affairs, Lincoln still found time on 19 July to make a well-received speech to a large audience in Dearborn Park. In that address he forcefully demonstrated, wrote one journalist, "that the only issue now before us is freedom or slavery" (Basler 349n.) At the end of the month, he gave strong encouragement to a group of Illinois republicans, urging them to "stand by the cause, and the cause will carry you through" (Basler 2:356-357). But in November, despite Lincoln's determined optimism, the critical swing states of Illinois, Pennsylvania and Indiana all voted for Buchanan, by modest margins, dooming Frémont's chances for the White House. Governor Grimes, originally from New Hampshire, was Iowa's Governor 1854-1858. He joined the Republican party and was elected Senator in 1859, serving from 1860 until health problems forced his resignation in 1869. Published in Collected Works, ed. R.P. Basler, 2:348.