Last Friday, the Associated Press reported on the discovery of a previously unknown Abraham Lincoln document, and with it, a puzzling mystery. Addressed only to “My dear Sir,” a portion of the letter had been carefully removed, eliminating the key to understanding its meaning. Lincoln appears to have been writing “in haste” to someone asking if he or she could “keep up a correspondence” with an unknown person. “I like to know his views occasionally,” Lincoln wrote. Researchers at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project focused on the peculiar phrase, “keep up a correspondence,” and ran it through their database, matching it to a letter written to Lincoln by fellow Republican Leonard Swett in June 1860. In his note, Swett mentioned that he would “try to keep up a correspondence during the Campaign” with “our friend T W of Albany.” Researchers believe these initials refers to Thurlow Weed, the powerful editor of the Albany Evening Journal, a leading Republican newspaper from New York. During that period, Weed was essentially serving as a campaign manager for New York senator William Henry Seward, whom Lincoln had just defeated for the Republican presidential nomination in May 1860. Candidate Lincoln needed full backing from Seward, Weed and their various supporters in the upcoming election but worried that he might not receive it because they were so disappointed over Seward’s unexpected defeat. This would explain why Lincoln and Swett wanted to keep close tabs on Weed and his views and why Lincoln may have sent the mysterious letter featured above.
New letters and documents relating to Abraham Lincoln turn up more frequently than you might realize. Just a few weeks ago for Time magazine, House Divided Project director Matthew Pinsker highlighted some recent discoveries that give us powerful new insights into Lincoln. In 2008, scholars revealed that Lincoln had once fired off an angry letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune which belittled another Republican politician as “Sister Burlingame” and which Pinsker calls “the angriest, nastiest written statement Lincoln ever produced.” Another newly discovered letter from 1859 reveals that Lincoln privately called slavery the only “living issue of the day” and wrote that it would be “idiotic” to think otherwise. Pinsker also points out that even something as monumental as the transcript for Lincoln’s very first national speech (1847) has only just recently been made available to scholars.
For teachers and students using our Lincoln’s Writings: The Multi-Media Edition site, we’ve added a new tool to help you examine some of the best of these recent documents for yourself. Under the “Special Topics” heading, which can be found in the right-hand sidebar of every page, there is a link to “recently discovered documents.” As you browse each of these documents, you can also use the tags at the bottom of each page to find other related materials.
In your quest for new Lincoln materials, however, always keep in mind that there are sometimes Lincoln forgeries in circulation, especially over the Internet. This problem has even fooled us before. Just remember that the most reputable sources for Lincoln documents remain the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln and the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. And, of course, we’ll do our best to help navigate the truth as well.