Historians at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln believe they've solved
the riddle of this new Lincoln document. It was a note asking one of
Lincoln's allies to maintain a secret relationship with a notorious
political insider during the election of 1860.
David Lowenherz of Lion Heart Autographs in New York City recently
contacted the Papers of Abraham Lincoln about the document, which
My dear Sir,
I thank you for the
copy of [clipped section] If you can keep up a correspondence with
him without much effort, it will be well enough. I like to know his
Yours in haste
Learning more about the note required a close look at its
language. The most distinct phrase is "keep up a correspondence." A
quick search of the database created by the Papers of Abraham
Lincoln yielded a handful of documents with this phrase, not all
written by Abraham Lincoln. One was from fellow attorney and
Republican Leonard Swett of Bloomington, Ill.
Swett shared the details of a letter he had gotten from "our
friend T W of Albany." Swett ended by telling Lincoln: "I shall
answer the above soon, and if you approve, try to keep up a
correspondence during the Campaign. It may be questionable propriety
sending this to you yet I can see no harm in it. I would how ever
request you not to show it."
"T W of Albany" refers to Thurlow Weed, the Republican newspaper
editor and political boss of New York state. Less than a month
earlier, Lincoln had won the Republican presidential nomination,
stunning Weed's candidate, front-runner William H. Seward.
Lincoln wanted — and ultimately got — Weed's support in New York
(and Seward got the job of secretary of state under Lincoln). But
Lincoln couldn't afford to be seen as close to Weed during the
presidential campaign. Swett solved the problem by offering to play
intermediary to the East Coast insider, letting Lincoln receive
political intelligence from the critical state of New York without
having an open correspondence with Weed.
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This political intrigue likely explains why Swett referred to
Weed as "T W" and clipped Weed's name from Lincoln's letter.
The phrase "keep up a correspondence" was the key to linking
these two letters and providing the approximate date, recipient and
subject of Lincoln's note. It's likely that Lincoln wrote his note
in the third week of June 1860 in response to Swett's letter of June
13. Lincoln's reply merely echoed Swett's phrase about corresponding
Why was Lincoln "in haste"? A quick review of
The Lincoln Log: A Daily
Chronology of the Life of Abraham Lincoln, also maintained and
updated by the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, provides the answer. In
the third week of June 1860, Lincoln received hundreds of visitors
at his temporary office in the Illinois State Capitol and thousands
of pieces of mail providing advice and asking for jobs and favors.
That Lincoln took the time, even "in haste," to respond to
Swett's letter suggests the importance he placed on Weed's political
news from New York.
"This linkage once again demonstrates the value of the careful
work of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln," director Daniel W. Stowell
said. "To be able to identify the date, recipient and subject of
such a brief letter is a remarkable achievement."
"It was only through the active, generous and committed efforts
of the editors at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln that the mysteries
of this unpublished Abraham Lincoln letter were solved," said
Lowenherz, president of Lion Heart Autographs. "Without their
assistance, my research would have wound up at a dead end."
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a long-term documentary editing
project dedicated to identifying, transcribing and publishing all
documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime. The
project is administered through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum, a division of the Illinois Historic Preservation
Agency, and is co-sponsored by the Center for State Policy and
Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield and by the
Abraham Lincoln Association.
[Text from file received from the
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]