LINCOLN, Abraham (1809-1865), President. Autograph letter signed ("Abraham Lincoln") as President, addressed to "Whom it may concern," on behalf of EDWARD EVERETT (1794-1865), Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., 24 September 1862. 1 full page, 8vo (8 x 4 15/16 in.), on Executive Mansion stationery, integral blank, very slight separation along one vertical fold, otherwise in excellent condition.
LINCOLN'S LETTER OF INTRODUCTION FOR EDWARD EVERETT, THE OTHER SPEAKER AT THE GETTSBURG DEDICATION, ALLUDING TO "THE PRESENT CONDITION OF OUR COUNTRY"
A highly unusual letter uncharacteristically signed in full "Abraham Lincoln," in light of its semi-official nature. Dated only two days after the public announcement of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, it was intended as a letter of introduction for Edward Everett, former President of Harvard, Massachusetts Governor, Representative, Senator and Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore. Everett, an opponent of slavery, had long sought compromise on the incendiary issue in order to preserve the Union, and, in the 1860 campaign, he had reluctantly accepted the nomination as Vice-President on the Constitutional Union ticket, along with Presidential candidate John Bell. The Bell-Everett ticket ran third in the electoral vote. In addition to his prominence as a politician and educator, Everett was acknowledged to be one of the nation's foremost orators, the successor to Daniel Webster. It was he who, 13 months after this letter, would deliver the principal address at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery.
Since the 1860 election, relations between the eminent Bostonian and President Lincoln had been cordial, though rather formal in tone. Immediately after he delivered his first State of the Union address, Lincoln had forwarded a printed copy of the speech to Everett, and, from Boston on 12 December 1861, Everett penned a gracious letter of thanks, complimenting Lincoln on the message's "temperate and conservative tone" and tendering "best wishes for the success of your administration in these critical & arduous times" (Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress). From the start of hostilities, Everett showed a commendable willingness to support the Union cause. On August 4, 1862, Lincoln had issued a call for 300,000 volunteers to serve for nine months. On September 8, in a strong gesture of support for the administration and its recruitment policies, Everett delivered the keynote address at Boston's Fanueil Hall, encouraging enlistment from Boston's large Irish community. Later that month, Everett made plans for a trip to Europe, and, in preparation for his journey, sought a meeting with the President to discuss foreign policy issues that might arise in the course of his travels. From a Washington hotel, on 22 September, Everett wrote to Lincoln, at the suggestion of Montgomery Blair, who "has urged me to seek an opportunity of conversing with you, on a subject which he has mentioned to you. I should be greatly obliged to you, if you would be pleased to name a time, when you will allow me to wait upon you for that purpose" (LC). The meeting took place the next day, and, in light of Everett's prominence, it was decided that he should carry a letter from Lincoln disavowing that his journey was undertaken for any political motive or purpose. Lincoln accordingly penned the present letter:
"Hon. Edward Everett goes to Europe shortly. His reputation, and the present condition of our country, are such that his visit there is sure to attract notice, and may be misconstrued. I therefore think it fit to say that he bears no mission for this government. And yet no gentleman is better able to correct misunderstandings in the minds of foreigners in regard to American affairs. While I commend him to the consideration of those whom he may meet, I am quite conscious that he could better introduce me than I him, in Europe. Abraham Lincoln."
Lincoln's faintly self-deprecating, ironic comment at the end of the letter ("I am quite conscious that he could better introduce me than I him, in Europe") enhances the unusual nature of this little-known letter. Lincoln here alludes to the fact he himself had never been abroad, while Everett had traveled extensively in Europe, having even served as U.S. Minister to Great Britain from 1841 to 1845.
The following day, from his hotel, Everett responded to a request of Lincoln for a copy of this letter of introduction: "My dear Mr. President, In compliance with your request, I enclose a copy of the paper, which You were good enough to hand me, this morning" (LC). The two men conferred again on September 27 on foreign policy issues. Whether Everett actually made his planned overseas trip is unclear, but there is little doubt that his next meeting with President Lincoln took place at the railroad station at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the evening before the November 19 ceremony of consecration for the new cemetery at the site of the bloody three-days battle. At that famous ceremony, the 67-year-old Everett, the principal speaker, would deliver a two-hour oration followed by very brief "dedicatory remarks" by the President. In a letter to Lincoln the following day, Everett would compliment the president on the "eloquent simplicity & appropriateness" of his remarks, adding famously: "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."
Published in Collected Works, ed. R.P. Basler 5:437-438.