DescriptionAbraham Lincoln (1809-1865) President, important Autograph Letter Signed "A. Lincoln" as President-elect, one page, 5.25" x 7.75", Springfield, Illinois, December 21, 1860 to Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin. (Published in Basler, The Collected Works...)
Marked "Confidential", Lincoln advises the governor on how to address the growing secession crisis. He writes: "I am much obliged by your kindness in asking my views in advance of preparing your inaugural. I think of nothing proper for me to suggest except a word about this secession and disunion movement -- On that subject, I think you would do well to express, without passion, threat, or appearance of boasting, but nevertheless, with firmness, the purpose of yourself and your state to maintain the Union at all hazards -- Also, if you can, procure the Legislature to pass resolutions to that effect-- A[s] [I] shall be very glad to see your friend, the Attorney General [Samuel A. Purviance], that is to be, but I think he need scarcely make a trip merely to confer with me on the subject you mention."
This important letter reveals a great deal of political savvy on the part of the Rail Splitter. Lincoln recognized the interregnum following his election for what it was: one of the most dangerous periods in our history. The four full months between Lincoln's election in 1860 and his inauguration in Washington on March the Fourth were accompanied by predictions of assassination. Arguably, the Federal government came close to collapse. Even the influential New York Herald cautioned the President-elect to consider mollifying his views... or choose the only sane course: resignation. "If he persists in his present position... he will totter into a dishonored grave, driven there perhaps by the hands of an assassin. " With sincere bravado, Lincoln responded "I will suffer death before I will consent or advise my friends to consent to any concession or compromise which looks like buying the privilege of taking possession of the Government to which we have a constitutional right." (Getting Lincoln safely into Washington became the concern of Alan Pinkerton and Ward Lamon... a trip fraught with danger.) True, this country had never suffered the heinous, despicable act of political assassination. (A failed attempt was made on the life of Andrew Jackson in 1835 by a deranged man.) But everyone knew these were extraordinary times creating depths of regional and ideological hatred that had never been seen. We often forget that Abraham Lincoln became a target the moment he stepped onto the national stage.
Marked "CONFIDENTIAL", this letter reflects Lincoln's use of surrogates to communicate his political intentions. Unwilling to reveal his plans for legislation prior to assuming office -- save for his quoting extensively from the Founding Documents in his address at Independence Hall as he traveled to Washington -- he let politicos such as Curtin argue the necessity of no compromise. He did not grant interviews nor reveal to the press his plans for holding the Union. But... as this letter points out, it would be just fine for Pennsylvania's State Legislature to do so! This missive mirrors what he would reveal in his first Inaugural Address three months later: that he would take whatever steps necessary to "maintain the Union at all hazards." Reports of South Carolina seceding reached the President-elect the day before writing his letter to Curtin. He is said to have taken the news calmly. But, he likewise made it clear through private letters -- such as this -- that he would not govern over a fractured country.
A tremendously important Lincoln letter -- one of the finest to remain in private hands. It has every component desired: insight, significant content, revelatory history. It will always remain a cornerstone to any major collection. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.
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