Description

    Abraham Lincoln: Highly Important Autograph Quotation Signed. Arguably the best piece in the Dow Collection, this fragment of a lost letter from Lincoln to Baltimore lawyer Reverdy Johnson, enunciates, in true Lincolnesque fashion, the President's position on the successful prosecution of the war. The letter was written on July 26, 1862 and, like many such letters, was meant for publication. Things had not been going well for the Union army and the President had come under attack from all sides. Since the start of the war, abolitionists had urged immediate emancipation and arming of the slaves. Peace Democrats thought the Union cause was doomed and urged some sort of conciliation with the South and a cessation of hostilities. On August 19, 1862, Horace Greeley published "The Prayer of Twenty Millions" in the Tribune, to which the President replied, via an open letter to the press, stating his primary goal was to preserve the Union, with or without slavery. On September 22, 1862, after the nominal Union victory at Antietam, the President issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. In July, when this letter was written, the President was still trying to mollify border state constituencies and assure them he did not support either emancipation or arming of former slaves. Reverdy Johnson had been appointed by the State Department to investigate complaints by foreign consuls against military proceedings in New Orleans under Benjamin F. Butler. One area of contention were efforts by Union General John S. Phelps to organize three regiments of black troops, composed of slaves who had escaped to Union lines. Phelps requested weapons, but Butler instead sent pick-axes and tents. Phelps demurred putting the men to menial tasks, saying he was not qualified as a slave overseer. On July 16th, Johnson wrote to the President, saying that pro-Union sentiment in Louisiana had evaporated primarily because of efforts by Phelps to arm the slaves and the overall impression that the administration was intent on emancipation. Lincoln replied on July 26th, assuring Johnson that "I never had a wish to touch the foundation of their society, or any right of theirs." He placed the blame squarely on the citizens of Louisiana who balked at reentering the Union. He then defended his action of sending Union troops through Baltimore after the riots of April 1861, despite warnings that it would alienate Maryland Unionists. The last paragraph of the Johnson letter begins: "I am a patient man - always willing to forgive on the Christian terms of repentance; and also to give ample time for repentance. Still I must save this government if possible. What I cannot do, of course I will not do; but it may as well be understood, once and for all, that I shall not surrender this game, leaving any available card unplayed. Yours truly A. Lincoln". This fragment, measuring 5" x 1", contains the last eleven words of the last sentence of the letter. This card playing analogy was typical of the times, as many cartoons and patriotic covers depict the principals engaged in a game of cards, or allude to someone playing their last card, or suggest that one antagonist or another is "played out". But, there is hidden meaning in the statement. Despite saying he did not "wish to touch the foundations of their society" [i.e., slavery] and not supporting the arming of slaves entering Union lines, Lincoln, both here and in his response to Greeley, indicates that he was open to any and all options, including emancipation and the arming of slaves, if it was deemed necessary to restore the Union. Indeed, Lincoln's policy was evolving in that direction. He averred that he did not control events, but that "events control me". So, even at this time, in the Summer of 1862, he foresaw a change in tactics and policy. The fragment is accompanied by an 1867 letter from Baltimore attorney Thomas Donaldson to a young Canadian lady he had met in Ireland who had requested an autograph or letter of President Lincoln. Possibly wishing to impress her, Donaldson made numerous efforts to obtain a signature, despairing of same until Reverdy Johnson finally came through in the clutch. It is unknown what became of the entire letter - whether Johnson cut off the signature which he forwarded to Donaldson, or whether Donaldson received the entire letter and cut it into fragments in order to comply with other requests for samples of the President's handwriting. The letter gives the historical background to Lincoln's letter to Johnson "... which concludes with the lines cut off to be sent to you..." and references Johnson's letter to Donaldson [not present] "... in order that you may have in your collection a voucher for the authenticity of the autograph." We include a book plate engraving of Lincoln, a clipped signature and a CDV of Reverdy Johnson for display purposes.


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    Auction Dates
    January, 2015
    24th Saturday
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