Letter to Fillmore Men (September 8, 1856)

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#105 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“I understand you are a Fillmore man. Let me prove to you that every vote withheld from Fremont, and given to Fillmore, in this state, actually lessens Fillmore’s chance of being President.”

On This Date

HD Daily Report, September 8, 1856

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How Historians Interpret

“Lincoln recognized that the Republican party faced formidable problems in the 1856 presidential contest.  Not only was it a new and imperfectly articulated organization, but it had powerful competition. . .The nativists, now calling themselves the American party, nominated ex-President Millard Fillmore, whose highly respectable Whig antecedents made him attractive to conservatives of all persuasions. . .Lincoln offered low-key, reasonable arguments to persuade American voters opposed to the expansion of slavery not to waste their votes on Fillmore, who had no chance of winning.  In private letters to old Whig friends, Lincoln made the same argument, stressing that a vote for Fillmore was really a vote for Buchanan. . .What effect Lincoln had on the outcome of the 1856 election in Illinois was hard for him or anybody else to determine.  In Republican newspapers his speeches were invariably praised as ‘unanswerable,’ showing ‘great eloquence and power.’  Democratic papers described his speeches as ‘prosy and dull in the extreme.’  He himself was under no illusions about the impact of his campaigning. . .In the end, the canvass verified the prediction Lincoln had made at the start: ‘With the Fremont and Fillmore men united, here in Illinois, we have Mr. Buchanan in the hollow of our hand; but with us divided, . . . he has us.’”

–David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 192-194

“On September 8, Lincoln wrote a form letter to the supporters of the American party’s candidate, arguing that Fillmore could only win if the election were thrown into the House of Representatives, where the former president might prevail as a compromise candidate. But that would never happen if Buchanan carried Illinois, whose electoral votes, when combined with those of the South and of the Democratic standard bearer’s home state of Pennsylvania, would assure his election. Therefore Fillmore backers in Illinois should vote for Frémont because Fillmore had no chance of carrying the state.”

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript By Chapters, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 1, Chapter 11 (PDF), pp. 1213

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Searchable Text

Springfield, Sept. 8, 1856
 
Dear Sir, 
I understand you are a Fillmore man. Let me prove to you that every vote withheld from Fremont, and given to Fillmore, in this state, actually lessens Fillmore’s chance of being President.
 
Suppose Buchanan gets all the slave states, and Pennsylvania, andany other one state besides; then he is elected, no matter who gets all the rest.
 
But suppose Fillmore gets the two slave states of Maryland and Kentucky; then Buchanan is not elected; Fillmore goes into the House of Representatives, and may be made President by a compromise.
 
But suppose again Fillmore’s friends throw away a few thousand votes on him, in Indiana and Illinois, it will inevitably give these states to Buchanan, which will more than compensate him for the loss of Maryland and Kentucky; will elect him, and leave Fillmore no chance in the H.R. or out of it.
 
This is as plain as the adding up of the weights of three small hogs. As Mr. Fillmore has no possible chance to carry Illinois for himself, it is plainly his interest to let Fremont take it, and thus keep it out of the hands of Buchanan. Be not deceived. Buchanan is the hard horse to beat in this race. Let him have Illinois, and nothing can beat him; and he will get Illinois, if men persist in throwing away votes upon Mr. Fillmore.
 
Does some one persuade, you that Mr. Fillmore can carry Illinois? Nonsense! There are over seventy newspapers in Illinois opposing Buchanan, only three or four of which support Mr. Fillmore, all the rest going for Fremont. Are not these newspapers a fair index of the proportion of the voters. If not, tell me why.
 
Again, of these three or four Fillmore newspapers, two at least, are supported, in part, by the Buchanan men, as I understand. Do not they know where the shoe pinches? They know the Fillmore movement helps them, and therefore they help it.
 
Do think these things over, and then act according to your judgment.
Yours very truly,
A. LINCOLN
 
(Confidential)
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