Letter to Richard Oglesby (September 8, 1854)

Contributing Editors for this page include Chris Jaax

Ranking

#137 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“Other things being equal, I would much prefer a temperate man, to an intemperate one; still I do not make my vote depend absolutely upon the question of whether a candidate does or does not taste liquor.” 

On This Date

HD Daily Report, September 8, 1854

The Lincoln Log, September 8, 1854

Custom Map

Screen shot 2014-01-26 at 4.51.20 PM
View in Larger Map

Close Readings


Posted at YouTube by “Understanding Lincoln” course participant Chris Jaax, August 2014

How Historians Interpret

“When he heard that Democrats were whispering that Yates, though professing to be a temperate man, was a secret drinker, he recognized that the rumor might cost the Whigs the large prohibitionist vote and sought to kill the allegation. ‘I have never seen him drink liquor, nor act, or speak, as if he had been drinking, nor smelled it on his breath,’ he wrote. But then – almost as if he realized that the future would show that Yates did indulge in liquor, to the point of being intoxicated when he was inaugurated as governor of Illinois in 1861 – Lincoln carefully explained his own position to a friend: ‘Other things being equal I would much prefer a temperate man, to an intemperate one; still I do not make my vote depend absolutely upon the question of whether a candidates does or does not taste liquor.’”
–David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 171.

 

“Lincoln helped Yates plot campaign strategy. To counter rumors that the congressman was a nativist bigot, Lincoln drafted a letter for him to circulate. (Yates ignored the advice and later acknowledged that his failure to heed Lincoln probably cost him the election.) Antiforeign, anti-Catholic sentiment was sweeping the North, in some states becoming the dominant theme in 1854. Supporters of this movement, called Native Americans or Know Nothings, adopted the slogan, “Americans must rule America.” They believed that Catholicism was incompatible with America’s democratic, individualistic values; that Catholics had disproportionate power; that established political parties and professional politicians were corrupt and unresponsive to the popular will; that slavery and liquor were evil; and that immigrants were the source of crime, corruption, pauperism, wage reductions, voter fraud, and the defeat of antislavery candidates.”

–Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript by Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 1, Chapter 10 (PDF), 1087.

NOTE TO READERS

This page is under construction and will be developed further by students in the new “Understanding Lincoln” online course sponsored by the House Divided Project at Dickinson College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. To find out more about the course and to see some of our videotaped class sessions, including virtual field trips to Ford’s Theatre and Gettysburg, please visit our Livestream page at http://new.livestream.com/gilderlehrman/lincoln

 

Searchable Text

Confidential
Springfield, Sept. 8, 1854
 
R.J. Oglesby, Esq.
 
Dear Sir:
You perhaps know how anxious I am for Yates’ re-election in this District.  I understand his enemies are getting up a charge against him, that while he passes for a temperate man, he is in the habit of drinking secretly –and that they calculate on proving an instance of the charge by you.  If, indeed, you have told them any thing, I can not help thinking they have misunderstood what you did tell them.  Other things being equal, I would much prefer a temperate man, to an intemperate one; still I do not make my vote depend absolutely upon the question of whether a candidate does or does not taste liquor. 
 
Thousands and thousands of us, in point of fact, have known Yates for more than twenty years; and as I have never seen him drink liquor, nor act, or speak, as if he had been drinking, nor smelled it on his breath, nor heard any man say he ever had and as he has been twice elected to congress without any such thing being discovered I can not but think such a charge as the above must be incorrect.  Will you please write me, and tell me what the truth of the matter is?  I will reciprocate at any time.  
Yours truly,
A Lincoln
Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Honest Abe
About Site

Editor: Matthew Pinsker
House Divided Project
PO Box 1773 / 61 N. West Street
Dickinson College
Carlisle, PA 17013
hdivided@dickinson.edu
717.245.1865

Board of Advisors
David W. Blight
Catherine Clinton
Eric Foner
Harold Holzer
James Oakes
Anne Sarah Rubin

Contributing Editors
Additional Credits
Permissions and Citations
How to Use

Log in

“Best of the Web”
Named "Best of the Web" in Nov. 2013 by NEH EDSITEMENT
House Divided Project
Navigate our highlights here