SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan today announced that numerous original documents written by Abraham Lincoln’s family and associates, many giving valuable insights into Lincoln’s political career and the struggle to construct a monument after his death, have been donated to the Illinois State Historical Library.
The donation consists of a total of 426 letters and documents. They were written by Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln; U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull; Judge David Davis, who secured Lincoln’s nomination for President at the 1860 Republican Convention; Lincoln’s political supporters; and several other individuals who corresponded concerning a proposed memorial to Lincoln after the President’s assassination on April 15, 1865. All of the documents were acquired by Ozias Mather Hatch, the Illinois Secretary of State from 1856 – 1864, a Republican political ally who helped get Abraham Lincoln nominated for the Presidency in 1860. The letters were passed down to Hatch’s descendants, who donated them to the State of Illinois.
The letters include several pieces of correspondence considering where to construct a monument to Abraham Lincoln following his death 137 years ago. The Lincoln Monument Association had purchased land located where the Illinois State Capitol now stands, on which to build a monument and inter the slain President’s remains. However, the President’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, objected to the idea and
threatened to take her husband’s body to Chicago or Washington, D.C. unless the monument was constructed in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. Anson G. Henry, the Lincolns’ physician and a Monument Association member, wrote to Governor Richard J. Oglesby in June 1865:
"…I trust I will be pardoned for urging upon you the importance of ending all strife & contention about a matter where it is so important to have unity and harmony of action. I am confident this is quite as distasteful to you as it can be to me or any other friend of the lamented Lincoln and his family…"
Jesse M. Fell, a close associate of Lincoln’s, and other Monument Association Members wrote a letter to Congressman Shelby M. Cullom in June 1865 addressing the same issue:
"…Mrs. Lincoln & our friends abroad, favorable to this enterprise, so far as he knows or believes, will cheerfully acquiese in the present arrangement, provided the Monument is erected over or by his body where it now reposes; but that, if the effort is made to remove the body where it is, Mrs. L. and many others will make violent efforts to carry his remains to Chicago. Tho’ I differe from many as to her having the absolute right to take his body where she pleases, I submit whether it would not be wise, on the part of the people of Springfield, with a view to harmony & concert of action, to grant the first preference as to the location of Monument, & make sure work of it by erecting it at Oak Ridge…"
The writers also reminded Cullom that there were many people who thought that the plan to erect a Monument within the city limits of Springfield was a mere money-making scheme:
"To such however as are influenced more by the “almighty Dollar” than any thing else, and one have lots of such in any community it might be well to suggest, that many thousands even millions of people will stop & spend a day at Springfield, if the monument were at Oak Ridge, who, otherwise would pass along the cars, satisfied with a mere R.R. glance of the structure."
There are several letters to the Monument Association that note donations made by African-American army units to construct a Lincoln memorial, including the 56th, 57th and 58th U.S. Colored Infantry. An officer of the 56th, Lieutenant S.J. Clark, notes: “I cannot refrain from observing to your honorable association that our soldiers, colored though they are, have in this, as in all other instances, performed their whole duty as patriots.”
Other pieces of correspondence offer glimpses into important historical events. One letter, written December 28, 1860 by U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull from Illinois, paints a vivid picture of the country on the eve of Civil War:
"Hon. O.M. Hatch
My Dear Sir,
I expected to have seen you here. Why did you not come? Were you & Mrs. Hatch so fearful of the disunion force that you dared not risk yourselves in Washington? Please give my compliments to Mrs. Enos & tell her Mrs. T. & I were both much disappointed in not seeing her here. We are having exciting times here but the telegraph informs you of all. Maj. Anderson is showing himself a true patriot, & if let alone will defend Fort Sumpter: but Mr. Buchanan I fear is a Traitor. He seems to be imbecile, weak and wicked. The House will probably prefer articles of impeachment if he orders Fort Sumpter surrendered up but I suppose the Senate would not convict. Great efforts are being made to get all the slave states to join in this secession movement. Do not believe they can succeed in this, but if they should between this & the 4th of March, it would be a formidable affair. Nothing is to be made by concessions. This is not what the South want nothing short of surrendering up the Government to the South will satisfy the cotton states. Rule or ruin is their motto. I have all along thought that the leaders of the South outside of the Gulf States only wanted some decent excuse to back down from their position; but the trouble now is leaders no longer control the movement. The rabble have taken it out of their hands. I still think some way will be devised of keeping the border slave states quiet, & in the end the cotton states which secede will be glad to get back. I hope Mr. Lincoln will keep quiet, cool & self possessed, let what will happen. He can not speak to do any good until the 4th of March, & then I trust it will be with a voice which will command obedience.
The letters also provide valuable insight into Lincoln’s campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the Presidency. N.B. Judd was a Chicago minister who was working to get votes for the Republican Party and U.S. Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln, who was facing Stephen A. Douglas in the election. In March 1858 he wrote to O.M. Hatch:
"…How is the grace of the Lord according to Buchanan getting along, are the converted enough in point of numbers to form a nucleus around which all floating objects may collect. B.C. Cook and myself have been prospecting some in our region and we hope with good results. Is there anything we can do for you or any of your enemies. Our men here are all true to the faith hate Douglass to the bitter end…."
Judge David Davis was a long-time friend and associate who worked on Lincoln’s unsuccessful 1858 campaign for U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas, and on his successful 1860 Presidential campaign. On August 18, 1858, Davis lamented to Hatch that the U.S. Senate campaign was not going well:
"This campaign has not been managed right. The Central Com. Should have been (or a majority) at Springfield and composed of men of intellect and accustomed to a political campaign….A mass meeting for friends Lincoln was advertised for Tremont 14th inst. & really not over 50 persons (out of town) present. No enthusiasm & friends generally dispirited….I have such a thorough unmixed contempt for Douglass, he is such a rampant demagogue, such an audacious liar that I am sometimes sorry that I am not at ability to enter into the fight aft him as I shd like…."
Two years later Lincoln’s political fortunes had improved, but the prospect of southern secession cast an air of uncertainty over everything. On May 4, 1860 Davis wrote to Hatch about the upcoming Republican National Convention:
"Lincoln can be elected Presdt. If he is nominated at Chicago, the Republican party won’t regret it during my lifetime. Gov. Seward cannot get the vote of Ills. I am more & more convinced of it since I have been around the circuit. Lincoln would get 300 votes in every Co of this circuit more than Gov. Seward."
"We cannot give the vote of Illinois to Gov. Seward."
"The Charleston Convention has advanced to Balto 18th June. This in many respects is bad for us. Somebody will be nominated at Baltimore & it may be Douglass. I am afraid, our party will be in such high feather at the “irrepressible conflict” which has culminated at Charleston that they will think they can elect a President easily & hence will insist on Gov. Seward nomination…"
Several Robert Todd Lincoln letters to Hatch are among those acquired by the Historical Library, including this brief note from February 1870 in which he laments the atmosphere in Washington, D.C. nearly five years after Abraham Lincoln’s death:
"I want the enclosed letter to reach Nicolay & have no idea where he is and so I trespass in your kindness hoping you are better informed. He left Chicago very suddenly without giving me his address."
"I feel like a complete stranger here there has been such a change in five years. If you do not know where Nicolay is, please let me hear from you at Chicago."