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    "If his allegation be true, burn this without answering it."

    Abraham Lincoln Autograph Letter Signed "A. Lincoln". One page, 8" x 10", September 16, 1858, Centralia, Illinois, written to Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, concerning an allegation by Stephen Douglas that Congressman Washburne was pledged "unconditionally against the admission of any more Slave States." Lincoln, in the midst of the famous Lincoln/Douglas Debates, writes, "If his allegation be true, burn this without answering it." In full as written: "Dear Sir/ Yesterday at Jonesborough, Douglas, by way of placing you and me on different ground, alledged that you were every where, pledging yourself unconditionally against the admission of any more Slave States. If his allegation be true, burn this without answering it. If it be untrue, write me such a letter as I may make public with which to contradict him./ Yours truly/ A. Lincoln".

    Illinois attorney Abraham Lincoln penned this letter two days before the fourth of seven Lincoln-Douglas debates. In those famous senatorial debates, Douglas, a Democrat, insisted that states be able to decide for themselves on the slavery issue. Lincoln, a Republican who hated slavery but did not think whites and blacks equal, argued along party lines that slavery should not be extended to new states; therefore, new states did not have a right to decide the slavery issue.* Douglas, a shrewd politician, labeled Lincoln as an advocate of social equality between the races, a radical position guaranteed to cause Lincoln to lose. The debates of 1858 lasted from August 21 through October 15. After writing this letter, Lincoln had 100 miles to travel to the next debate to be held in Charleston, Illinois.

    Elihu B. Washburne, a U.S. congressman serving the northern part of Illinois from 1853-1869, was an early organizer of the Republican Party in Illinois. He naturally supported Lincoln, the Republican candidate. As noted in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, volume 3 (Roy P. Basler, ed., [New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953]), Washburne likely did not respond to Lincoln's letter as such a letter has never surfaced. Douglas defeated Lincoln for the senate seat, but Lincoln's popularity was boosted by the debates, setting the stage for his presidential election in 1860. After that election, Washburne and William Seward were appointed to meet and escort the newly elected president to his hotel upon his first arrival in Washington in 1861. Washburne later served as President Grant's secretary of state. According to The Collected Works, after Elihu Washburne died, this letter was owned by his son, Hempstead Washburne. This is the first time it is being offered at public auction. The letter, written on laid paper, has been silked on verso and is hinged at the top to a mat. Ink has slightly faded.

    *According to Lincoln's Freeport speech given on August 27, 1858, Lincoln was not against the admission of new slave states. Asking himself a question posed in a previous debate by Stephens and then providing an answer, Lincoln says, "'Question: I desire him to answer whether he stands pledged today, as he did in 1854, against the admission of any more slave states into the Union, even if the people want them?' Answer: I do not now, nor ever did, stand pledged against the admission of any more slave states into the Union." (Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and Paul McClelland Angle, The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991], 141.)

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2009
    16th-17th Friday-Saturday
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