LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln"), as President, to Schuyler Colfax (1823-1885), Executive Mansion, 8 March 1861. 2 pages, 4to, ruled paper, slight toning on first page.
"I...BEG THAT YOU WILL NOT DO ME THE INJUSTICE TO SUPPOSE, FOR A MOMENT, THAT I REMEMBERED ANYTHING AGAINST YOU IN MALICE"
LINCOLN REASSURES COLFAX THAT "THE APPOINTMENT WAS NOT WITHHELD...BECAUSE OF ANYTHING HAPPENING IN 1858." Only four days into his Presidency, Lincoln strokes the ego of a rejected (and distrusted) Cabinet candidate, leader of the Radical Republicans and later Vice-President (1869-1873). "When I said to you the other day, that I wished to write you a letter, I had reference, of course, to my not having offered you a Cabinet appointment. I meant to say, and now do say, you were most honorably and amply recommended; and a tender of the appointment was not withheld on any ground disparaging to you. Nor was it ever withheld, in any part, because of anything happening in 1858-- indeed I should have decided as I did, easier than I did, had that matter never existed. I had partly made up my mind in favor of Mr. Smith--not conclusively of course--before your name was mentioned in that connection. When you were brought forward I said 'Colfax is a young man, is already in position, is running a brilliant career, and is sure of a bright future in any event.' 'With Smith, it is now or never.' I considered either abundantly competent, and decided on the ground I have stated. I now have to beg that you will not do me the injustice to suppose, for a moment, that I remembered anything against you in malice."
Congressman Colfax thought he was denied a cabinet post because of what he called in his 6 March letter to Lincoln, "alleged Douglas proclivities" during the 1858 Senate campaign. Notably, Lincoln does not deny believing the allegations; he just says they were not a factor. Colfax always seemed to wrong-foot himself as far as Lincoln was concerned. Although a fellow former Whig, he turned in the 1850s to the anti-immigrant Know Nothings, whose discriminatory platform Lincoln abhorred. In 1860 he supported Edward Bates instead of Lincoln at the Chicago convention.
Nevertheless, he was one of two Indiana candidates for the Postmaster Generalship in 1861. In spite of his initial support for Bates, he stumped energetically for the Lincoln ticket and thought a Cabinet slot his due. But he lost out to fellow Hoosier Caleb Smith. Lincoln's attempt here to mollify him did no good, as Colfax threw in his lot with the Radical Republicans in Congress, and made close friends with two of Lincoln's most detested enemies, Salmon Chase and Horace Greeley. By the time the Indiana Congressman (whose nickname among his House colleagues was "the Smiler") became a candidate for Speaker in 1863, Lincoln told Gideon Welles that he thought Colfax "a little intriguer--plausible, but not trustworthy" (Donald, Lincoln, 468). He wasn't offered a Cabinet post in 1864 either. In Basler, 4:278.