Monday, November 5, 2007

Election Eve

The election of 1860 was now just a day away and Springfield was crawling with reporters. The presidential frontrunner was not talking about policy matters with them, nor was he eager to discuss Southern threats of secession. Instead, he wanted everyone to know he was not worried. The democratic process would play out and the danger would pass. When a reporter approached him with pen and pad, Lincoln was more apt to tell a joke than to recite a speech.

A reporter for the New York Tribune filed a story detailing one such incident that occurred on this day in 1860. As Lincoln entered the post office to collect his mail, a bystander asked, “How are you going to vote tomorrow?”

“For [Richard] Yates for governor,” Lincoln replied.

The man shook his head, clarifying his question, “But how are you going to vote for president?”

“By ballot!” Lincoln winked.

I’ve always been fascinated by the letters Lincoln received during this period. Several sources tell us that he was receiving death threats on a daily basis. Lincoln himself referred to these letters, as did several of his contemporaries, who claimed to have read some of them. However, the letters have not survived. Friends reported that Lincoln burned them.

But what other sorts of letters did he receive during this period? A quick survey of the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress for November 5, 1860 yields a fine cross-section.

The manager of the telegraph office in Springfield, C. F. McIntire, wrote Lincoln a short note, inviting him to spend election night in the telegraph office, where he promised “you can receive the good news without delay.”

Captain George W. Hazzard also offered his services to the presidential hopeful. He had a leave of absence of the army and was not expected to report back until spring. “I hope it is not improper for me to say that no person knows the American army better than I. I have studied its organization, laws, tactics and internal economy for seventeen years.” If Lincoln wished to speak with him about military affairs, he would travel to Springfield immediately.

Lincoln also received a letter from a former colleague. George N. Eckert had served a single term in the Thirtieth Congress along with Lincoln. He was delighted to report that Lincoln would win the state of Pennsylvania tomorrow. While that was good news, the former Whig wanted to warn Lincoln against making a grave mistake. If he had any ideas about placing Simon Cameron in his cabinet, he should be warned. “He is corrupt beyond belief. He is rich by plunder -- and can not be trusted any where,” he wrote. “The particulars I can give you on some convenient occasion. He being our Senator you should and must know him. I had intended to make you a visit this week for the express purpose of putting you on your guard against Genl Cameron, but circumstances forbid my absence.”

Lincoln received yet another letter from a political acquaintance. James Watson Webb had written Lincoln throughout the campaign with updates regarding the New York and Washington press. Weeks earlier, he had even encouraged Lincoln to issue some sort of statement to ease Southern fears, but Lincoln did not take his advice. Today, Webb warned of “a large band of ‘Plug-Ugly,’ and Rioters” who planned to disturb the election in Baltimore. Webb assured Lincoln that they would “be cared for.”

Though it is hardly a complete picture, the sketch provides some perspective of what Lincoln’s incoming correspondence might have looked like on one day in November, 1860.

Now the real waiting began. The election was just a day away.

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