LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") to "Hon. J.J. Crittenden," Springfield, 4 November 1858. 1½ pages, 4to, light dampstain to a triangular area in lower portion, not affecting ink or readability.
"THE EMOTIONS OF DEFEAT, AT THE CLOSE OF A STRUGGLE IN WHICH I FELT MORE THAN A MERELY SELFISH INTEREST,...ARE FRESH UPON ME..."
A remarkable letter, resigned and dejected in tone, in which Lincoln seeks to close the books on a political scheme which had mis-fired and perhaps contributed to his loss in the hotly contested election against Stephen A. Douglas, a campaign made memorable by the famed series of passionately argued debates between Douglas and Lincoln. Senator Crittenden (1787-1863), some 22 years Lincoln's senior, had enjoyed a long judicial and political career as Attorney General of the Illinois Territory (1809-1810), Attorney General (under Harrison, Tyler and Fillmore), Senator (1842 to 1848, in the seat formerly held by Henry Clay), Governor of Kentucky (1848-50) and again, Senator (1855-1861). Lincoln had received assurances from Crittenden that he would not publicly support Stephen A. Douglas's candidacy for the Illinois Senate seat. But in the end, Crittenden wrote in support of Douglas, and the letter appeared in the Missouri Republican, a maneuver that, some believed, was the death-blow to Lincoln's campaign. Crittenden protested that the publication of his letter was unauthorized, and asked that Lincoln not publish any of their letters. Here, in the wake of that bitter defeat, Lincoln sifts through the ashes:
"Yours of the 27th Ulto was taken from the Post-Office by my law partner, and, in the confusion consequent upon the recent election, was handed to me only this moment. I am sorry the allusion made in the [Missouri] Republican to the private correspondence between yourself and me, has given you any pain. It gave me scarcely a thought, perhaps for the reason that, being away from home, I did not see it till only two days before the election. It never occurred to me to cast any blame upon you. I have been told that the correspondence has been alluded to in the M[issouri] Rep[ublican] several times, but I only saw one of the allusions in which it was stated, as I remember, that a gentleman of St. Louis had seen a copy of your letter to me. As I had given no copy, nor ever showed the original, of course I inferred he had seen it in your hands, but it did not occur to me to blame you for showing what you had written yourself. It was not said that the gentleman had seen a copy or the original of my letter to you."
"The emotions of defeat, at the close of a struggle in which I felt more than a merely selfish interest, and to which defeat the use of your name contributed largely, are fresh upon me; but, even in this mood l can not for a moment suspect you of anything dishonorable...."
The whole painful incident is of considerable interest. In July, as the campaign intensified, Lincoln's had written a confidential letter to Crittenden, deferentially urging the powerful Kentuckian to take a "hands-off" position on the contest and not write any letters endorsing Douglas (Collected Works, ed. R.P. Basler, 2:483-484, sold here at Christie's, 29 May, 1998, lot 141, $75,000). In his reply of 29 July (received by Lincoln the day after the election), the old Kentucky politico admitted that although he had "openly, ardently and frequently expressed" in conversation the conviction that Douglas should win the Senate seat, he had not written letters to anyone in Illinois to that effect. But a former friend of Lincoln's, T. Lyle Dickey, believing that the Republican party was taking too radical a course, had deserted to the Democrats and campaiged for Douglas. He too had written to Crittenden (on July 19) urging him to publicly support the "Little Giant" over Lincoln. In spite of his affirmation to Lincoln, Crittenden did finally write a letter endorsing Douglas. Dickey refrained from publishing it until just before the election, a stratagem which some Lincoln supporters believed dealt a devastating last-minute blow to his campaign: "The maneuver undoubtedly hurt Lincoln most in the very places he was beaten--that is, in the old Whig strongholds of central Illinois" (Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850s, p.118).
Published in Collected Works, ed. R.P. Basler, 2:335-336).