#95 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“I have now been beaten one day over a week; and I am very happy to find myself quite convalescent.”

On This Date

HD Daily Report, February 16, 1855

The Lincoln Log, February 16, 1855

Custom Map

Screen shot 2014-01-26 at 6.09.19 PM
View in Larger Map

How Historians Interpret

“By the time the legislature convened in early January, Lincoln’s hard work lining up the antislavery members paid dividends; Washburne, Norton, Giddings, Ray, and others had overcome the objections of most abolitionists. Lincoln later told Norton: ‘Through the untiring efforts of friends, among whom yourself and Washburne were chief, I finally surmounted the difficulty with the extreme Anti-Slavery men, and got all their votes, Lovejoy’s included.'”

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), pp. 1135-1136.

“In 1855, however, Lincoln had been somewhat less cool, complaining to Norton about ‘maneuvering’ of Governor Matteson, which he insisted had ‘forced upon me and my friends the necessity of surrendering to Trumbull.’ The bile here does not make complete sense unless placed in the context of some unique details that Lincoln provided within the newly discovered letter about Matteson’s ‘tampering.’ There have long been other extant accounts from Lincoln describing the results of the 1855 senatorial balloting, but none except for this recently published letter to Norton identify by name those who cast all their ballots with Lincoln or Trumbull, but were still apparently pledged in secret to Matteson. The fact underscores the startling conclusion that Lincoln was almost surely pushed into a last-minute alliance with anti-Nebraska Democrats because the regular Democratic governor of the state was just about to succeed in buying the election. Other previously available evidence from the period has loosely suggested corruption by the Democrats, such as one of the newer letters from Lincoln which reported from the days before the balloting that his men had hoped the Democrats had ‘reached the bottom of the rotten material’ but conceded, ‘What mines and pitfalls they have under us we do not know.’ Only this summary provided to Norton makes explicit what has in the past been mere conjecture and highlights another reality of political culture in the 1850s—it was rife with fraud.”

—Matthew Pinsker ,”Boss Lincoln” in The Living LincolnEd. Thomas Horrocks, Harold Holzer, and Frank J. Williams (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), 30-31.


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

Springfield, Feb. 16, 1855
Hon: J.O. Norton
My dear Sir:
I have now been beaten one day over a week; and I am very happy to find myself quite convalescent.  Your kind letter of the 20th of Jan’y I did not receive till the day before yesterday –owing, I suppose to our great snow-storm.  The day after the election I wrote Washburne the particulars, tolerably fully.  Through the untiring efforts of friends, among whom yourself and Washburne were chief, I finally surmounted the difficulty with the extreme Anti-Slavery men, and got all their votes, Lovejoy’s included.  Cook, Judd, Palmer, and Baker of Alton were the men who never could vote for a whig; and without the votes of two of whom I never could reach the requisite number to make an election. I do not mean that I actually got within two votes of the required number; but I easily enough could have done so, provided I could have assured my friends that two of the above named four would go for me.  In this connection it is necessary to bear in mind that your Senator Osgood, together with Don. Morrison, Kinney & Trapp of St Clair had openly gone over to the enemy.  
It was Govr Matteson’s manoevering that forced upon me and my friends the necessity of surrendering to Trumbull.  He made his first successful hit by tampering with Old man Strunk.  Strunk was pledged to me, which Matteson knew, but he succeeded in persuading him that I stood no chance of an election, and in getting a pledge from him to go for him as second choice.  He next made similar impressions on Hills of DuPage, Parks of your town, and Strawn and Day of LaSalle –at least we saw strong signs that he had, and they being old democrats, and I an old whig, I could get no sufficient access to them to sound them to the bottom.  
That Matteson assured the Nebraska democrats, he could get their men after they should have made a respectable show by voting a few ballots for other men, I think there is no doubt; and by holding up to their greedy eyes this amount of capital in our ranks, it was, that he induced the Nebraska men to drop Shields and take him en masse.  The Nebraska men, since Osgood’s and Don’s defection, had control of the Senate; and they refused to pass the resolution for going into the election till three hours before the joint session was to, and did in fact, commence.  One of the Nebraska senators has since told me that they only passed the resolution when they did, upon being privately assured by the Governor that he had it all safe.  
I have omitted to say that it was well understood Baker would vote for Trumbull, but would go over to Matteson rather than me.  
Passing over the first eight ballots which you have doubtless seen, when, on the ninth, Matteson had 47 –having every Nebraska man, and the Old man Strunk besides, and wanting but three of an election; and when the looser sort of my friends had gone over to Trumbull, and raised him to 35 and reduced me to 15 it struck me that Hills, Parks, Strawn, Day, and Baker, or at least some three of them would go over from Trumbull to Matteson & elect him on the tenth ballot, unless they should be kept on T. by seeing my remaining men coming on to him.  I accordingly gave the intimation which my friends acted upon, electing T. that ballot.  All were taken by surprise, Trumbull quite as much as any one else.
There was no pre-concert about it –in fact I think a pre-concert to that effect could not have been made.  The heat of the battle, andimminent danger of Matteson’s election were indispensably necessary to the result.  I know that few, if any, of my remaining 15 men would have gone from me without my direction; and I gave the direction, simultaneously with forming the resolution to do it.
It is not true, as might appear by the first ballot, that Trumbull had only five friends who preferred him to me.  I know the business of all the men tolerably well, and my opinion is, that if the 51 who elected him, were compelled to a naked expression of preference between him and me, he would at the outside, have 16 and I would have the remainder.  And this again would depend substantially upon the fact that his 16 came from the old democratic ranks & the remainder from the whigs.  Such as preferred him, yet voted for me on the first ballottings and so on the idea that a minority among friends, ought not to stand out against a majority.  
Lest you might receive a different impression, I wish to say I hold Judge Parks in very high estimation; believing him to be neither knave or fool, but decidedly the reverse of both.  Now, as I have called names so freely, you will of course consider this confidential.
Yours much obliged, &c.
A. Lincoln