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    [Illinois]. Richard Yates Archive of Correspondence. An extensive and remarkable archive consisting of approximately 92 letters to and from Yates, including 54 letters from Yates to his wife Catherine Geers Yates (1822-1908) and their children. The letters, various sizes and from various locations, dating from June 13, 1843 to February 8, 1901, include 3 letters that are not or from Yates. Virtually all of the letters in the archive cover Yates's career in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Governor of Illinois, and as U.S. Senator.

    The earliest letter in the archive, dated June 13, 1843, is from the secretary of Illinois College to Yates, then serving in the Illinois House of Representatives, inviting him, as a member of the examining committee, to attend the examinations of the college for the current year. Yates had graduated from Illinois College in 1835. Yates served as a Whig in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1851 to 1855, and one of the earliest letters in the archive, dated December 27, 1851, is to his wife in which he described his living accommodations in the nation's capital. "I have a room to myself. Each boarder at this house has a room to himself and we receive our company usually in the parlor. We have the best boarding house in the city and yet we do not pay more than others and a great deal less than some. Though we have to pay very high. I pay ten dollars a week....We are furnished with everything, have a good active intelligent negro man to attend to our rooms, make fires, black boots, carry our letters to Post Office, etc. My room is very well furnished, among other things, a large fine bureau is in it which I find very serviceable for my clothes and papers." In his next letter to his wife, dated January 4, 1851 (really 1852), Yates describes a dinner hosted by General Winfield Scott (1786-1866), who would be the 1852 Whig candidate for president. "I was invited by Genl. Scott in person. We sat at table from 9 till 12 oclock. The Genl. edifying us with descriptions of his ham, tongue, sallad [sic], wines, etc. and with references to his military life. I found every thing very fine except his wines which I did not taste. He is electioneering hard for the Presidency, & between you & me u he will be the Whig Candidate /u . Fillmore is no where. I know that our Whigs at home are for Fillmore but it is no use." He then writes of attending the New Year's reception at the White House, where he met President Millard Fillmore and his family. "We came to the Reception Room a large circular room, in the centre of which stood the Prest. and shook hands with each person as he went by, for there was no such thing as stopping. Just back of him was his wife, u a homely /u looking woman, seated and his daughter not very good looking standing....We saw all sorts of bowing & scraping-among the sights was that of Genl. Scott dressed in full parade dress." On April 30, 1852, Yates wrote his wife that he was "now engaged in franking my speech," presumably his April 24 speech in the House of Representatives on "The Land Policy of the United States, and in Defense of the West," which was published as a pamphlet by the Congressional Globe. "You will find that it is the speech for u the West /u . I labored hard to get it right. It was listened to with great attention. Thousands of copies have been subscribed for by the members-and I think it will give great satisfaction to my constituents." Many of Yates's letters to his wife during his congressional career discuss missing his family and home, troubles with finding suitable and affordable rooms in Washington, and the weather. By the end of 1854, he had his sights set on higher office, including the U.S. Senate. In a December 25, 1854 letter, Yates discusses his interest in the U.S. Senate, but admits he cannot beat his friend Abraham Lincoln. "The House adjourned on Friday and I have been employing my time in writing to my friends in Illinois about the Senate. I have not much hopes as Lincoln got the start of me and I cannot in good faith contest with him." Three days later, on December 28, Yates writes that his name has been mentioned as a possible senate candidate, along with his good friend Abraham Lincoln. "I have at an early age reached the point where I am at least talked of for a Senator and I consider it some honor and distinction that I am one of the four or five persons out of the million souls in Illinois who is talked of for an office which is the most honorable of all in the world except one, the Presidency. But I must confess that my relations to Lincoln and my absence from the scene of contest render my election a very improbable event."

    After Yates completed his two terms in Congress, he held no political office until 1860, but kept active in politics, joining the new Republican Party in Illinois and campaigning for John C. Fremont, the Republican candidate for president in 1856. In 1860, Yates was elected governor of Illinois and his friend Lincoln was elected president. He would serve as Illinois governor during the Civil War. A number of letters in the archive are to Yates asking political favors, such as patronage appointments. One such letter, dated August 15, 1861 and marked "Strictly confidential", was from Francis Hoffman (1822-1903), then Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. Apparently, he was not satisfied with his office after the Civil War broke out and sought a military appointment from Yates. "I have for some time been fully convinced that in this hour of our country's peril none of the true sons should remain inactive....the malady to which I am subject makes it impossible for me to shoulder the musket. I am vain enough to believe that I could be of service to you and the State in some capacity....Can you think of any position which you might kindly grant me, in which I could make myself useful and at the same time have an opportunity of convincing both friend and enemy of the honesty of my purposes and the eagerness of my heart, to serve our glorious but bleeding Republic?" Yates, of course, used his office to seek appointments from Washington. In the archive is a copy of a letter he sent to his friend President Lincoln on April 2, 1863, recommending "James R. Hosmer of the 8th Regt. Md. Vols. who is desirous of the appointment as Asst Quartermaster U.S.A. He comes well recommended to me as a gentleman worthy and qualified for this position....Hope you will give this your attention." One letter sent to Yates, dated November 20, 1864, was from Jonathan Baldwin Turner (1805-1899), a classical scholar, botanist, and political activist who was involved in founding the University of Illinois. Written soon after Lincoln's reelection as president, Turner had some interesting things to say about Lincoln. "Old Abe has been courting the Newter [sic]=gender Kentucky=old=Maid, till thank God she has gilted [sic] him: Now I hope and believe that he will be more stiff in the knees: He rightly boasts that he never has taken a step backwards: I now want to see him take a few steps forward: I admire Old Abe as a man: I voted for him both times as President: But after all I cannot exactly admire an Executive officer whom 'events' or the Divine Providence has to drag us to justice and duty, like a pig by the tail, as he confesses that he has been dragged up to his, against his will: I personally more admire one who like old General Jackson, goes at it 'by the eternal' hit or miss: Still Old Abe has done bravely and nobly on the whole and we all rejoice it it."

    Yates served in the U.S. Senate from 1865 to 1871, where he supported reconstruction and the removal of President Andrew Johnson from office. In a December 11, 1866 letter to his wife, Yates writes of participating in a Senate debate over black suffrage in the District of Columbia. "I made a short speech to day. The question yesterday and to day was suffrage in the District....Yesterday & day before the galleries were crowded, principally by the Citizens of Washn. Who being all rebels don't want negro suffrage over them. They threaten all sorts of bad things at the first election in which the darkies are to cast their u maiden /u votes." President Johnson opposed the Republican's reconstruction plans and incurred the wrath of Yates and his fellow Republicans. One such was William Pickering, who was replaced as governor of Washington Territory by Johnson. In a January 5, 1867 letter to Yates, Pickering bemoaned that Johnson "appointed...a rank Copperhead, to be Governor of Washington Territory....This act of President Johnson, is another proof...that Johnson was removing and thereby punishing, all the life long personal friends of our beloved President Lincoln. And as one of Mr. Lincoln's oldest personal & political friends...I am coming in for my share of his spiteful revenge against the true Union loving friends & supporters of Lincoln & the Union cause." Yates liked to drink, sometimes to excess, but during his Senate career attempted to abstain. In a January 6, 1868 letter to his wife, Yates admits he was failing at controlling his drinking. "I am nearly dying to see you and the children but thought I would not go home till I could say I was once more free from liquor." His drinking got worse and by May 1870, he was quite ill. In a May 7, 1870 letter to his wife, written in a shaky hand, Yates admitted "my drinking got worse and worse till finally I was taken with bleeding of the bowels and never expected to see you or my children any more. I had four physicians twice to consult on my cure and two in attendance all the time."

    In addition to correspondence, the archive includes a printed letter, one page (of a bifolium), 8" x 9.75", entitled Proclamation/Thanksgiving Day from Yates to the people of Illinois announcing that Thursday, November 27, 1862, will be a day of thanksgiving and prayer.

    Richard Yates (1815-1873) was the Governor of Illinois during the American Civil War and has been considered one of the most effective war governors. He also represented Illinois in the United States House of Representatives (1851-1855) and in the U.S. Senate (1865-1871). As a Senator, he voted and spoke in favor of removing of Andrew Johnson from office.

    33 letters are accompanied by transcriptions and or brief biographies of the correspondents.

    An interesting archive of one of the leading Illinois politicians of the Civil War era.

    Condition: The letters in the archive have the usual folds; 29 letters have burn marks and paper loss, affecting some text; others overall are in good condition.


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    October, 2019
    26th Saturday
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