Instructions for John Nicolay (July 16, 1860)

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#82 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

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On This Date

HD Daily Report, July 16, 1860

The Lincoln Log, July 16, 1860

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How Historians Interpret

“It is only this scrap of writing which makes the incident at all worthy of record. There could be no better exemplification of Mr. Lincoln’s character and caution than this short memorandum of instructions. It reflects all his directness of method, all his sincerity of dealing, all his determination to keep free from any entanglements of intrigue, and to expressly avoid any inferential obligations. ‘Commit me to nothing’ is his positive injunction; on the other hand the announcement of his motto ‘fairness to all’ is the promise of that broad liberality which he carried out as President, and through which he maintained the easy party leadership that secured his renomination and re-election.”

–Michael Burlingame, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996), 94.

 

“Callers who tried to get at Lincoln personally in his temporary capital office were screened first by Nicolay, who was told to schedule interviews only if ‘indispensable’ and to ‘commit me to nothing’ Lincoln did not even write to the vice-presidential nominee whom the convention had selected for him Hannibal Hamlin, a former Maine Democrat, until mid-July.”

–Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 248.

“Although concerned with progress in all the Northern states, he focused his attention primarily on the critical West. He urged Caleb Smith to do his utmost in Indiana, believing that nothing would affect the November results in Illinois more strongly than the momentum provided by an Indiana victory in the October state elections. In July, he sent Nicolay to an Indiana supporter who wished to prevent a Bell ticket from being placed on the ballot. ‘Ascertain what he wants,’ Lincoln instructed Nicolay. ‘On what subjects he would converse with me. And the particulars if he will give them. Is an interview indispensable? Tell him my motto is ‘Fairness to all,’ but commit me to nothing.’”

–Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 272.

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Searchable Text

Ascertain what he wants.
 
On what subjects he would converse with me.
 
And the particulars if he will give them.
 
Is an interview indispensable?
 
Tell him my motto is “Fairness to all,”
 
But commit me to nothing.
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