The documents were found at the National Archives in
Washington, D.C., by David J. Gerleman, assistant editor with the
Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. Nineteenth-century pay records
from the House of Representatives are scarce, but Gerleman came
across an 1848 pay voucher for Lincoln rival Stephen A. Douglas
while examining Treasury Department documents.
This small discovery sparked a targeted search of other Treasury
account records to try to pinpoint where other members' pay files
might be located, or if they even still existed.
After exhausting virtually every option, Gerleman ran across a
single entry of House records in an often-overlooked section of
Treasury Department records. Contained within several battered
volumes was exactly the information sought: Lincoln's official
signed pay and mileage accounts, complete with check numbers, date
of issue, amounts and miles traveled.
One entry shows Lincoln collected a total of $2,024 in salary for
January through August of 1848 and got an additional 1,300.80 for
travel. This and other Lincoln documents are available at
The volumes were likely kept by the House sergeant at arms, and
individual members had to sign off on their accounts at the close of
"I was excited to finally track down these records, and it was an
extra thrill to see that these volumes contain signatures of the
majority of House members from 1813 to 1889," Gerleman said.
"Unfortunately, the 1840s are a known gap for House salary and
spending information," he said. "One of the most difficult tasks was
trying to first reassemble the exact process of how members of
Congress were paid during the period."
Persistent research revealed that the speaker of the House had to
request warrants through the secretary of the Treasury. The speaker
signed individual pay vouchers and distributed them to members, who
could cash them at the Corcoran & Riggs Bank, the only federal
depository in Washington.
Representatives were paid according to an 1818 law fixing
compensation at $8 a day plus $8 per 20 miles traveled. The
legislation did not specify the shortest route, a fact that came
under scrutiny when congressman-turned-journalist Horace Greeley
publicly reproached members for taking less-than-direct routes home.
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With Steven Spielberg's film spotlighting Lincoln's political
skills and an upcoming book examining his House career, these
records provide a timely link to the future president's two years as
a Whig congressman. Those years gave Lincoln a valuable education on
policy and politicking at the national level. They also brought him
into contact with politicians who would either fight with or against
him during the Civil War, including both his vice presidents,
Hannibal Hamlin and Andrew Johnson, Cabinet secretaries Simon
Cameron and Caleb B. Smith, and a host of future Confederate
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a long-term documentary editing
project funded in part by the National Historical Publications and
Records Commission and is dedicated to identifying, imaging,
transcribing, annotating and publishing all documents written by or
to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime.
"These exciting new discoveries demonstrate the value of our
careful and thorough approach," said Daniel W. Stowell, director of
the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. "David Gerleman and our other
colleagues are searching tens of thousands of records with
incredible skill and tenacity to ensure we have the fullest possible
understanding of Lincoln's life."
David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, said: "I was very
excited to learn that once again researchers have mined the National
Archives to discover important documentation. This is just the
latest of many finds by the staff of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln
project. Their work adds to the historical record and will help
future researchers develop new insights."
Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
file received from the