Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"I Can Not But Tremble For You"

The president-elect was receiving dozens of letters everyday.

Some were threatening. “Permit me to address you from the verry center of secessionism & fire eating,” one began. The writer relayed a message from the citizens of Alabama: “They sweare that Mr Lincoln shall never be Enaugurated – as sure as He comes to Washington He will be shot, let the concequencies be what they may --”

Other letters offered advice. A Massachusetts politician predicted that “all fear of danger” would pass away “at the hour of your Inauguration” if Lincoln would simply remain quiet for the next few months. He should “maintain a ‘masterly inactivity’ in both word & deed.” The crisis would solve itself.

Conversely, the editor of the New York Times wrote Lincoln and encouraged him to say something to the South. Lincoln, or possibly a Republican friend, needed to issue a statement or make a speech. “The South misunderstands the Republican party,” he explained. It was up to the new administration to “correct the error.”

Yet amongst the threats and the contradictory advice, there were letters that no-doubt brought a smile to Lincoln’s face.

Joshua F. Speed wrote to the president-elect on this day in 1860. He had been Lincoln’s best friend two decades earlier. Though they slowly drifted apart, Speed wanted to congratulate his old friend:

Louisville Nov 14 1860

Dear Lincoln

I desire to tender you my sincere congratulations upon your election to the highest position in the world -- by the suffrage of a free people-- As a friend, I am rejoiced at your success -- as a political opponent I am not disappointed-- The result is what I expected--

That you will bring an honest purpose to bear upon all subjects upon which you are called to act I do not doubt-- Knowing you as I do and feeling for you as I have ever done -- I can not but tremble for you-- But all men and all questions sink into utter insignificance when compared with the good of our whole country and the preservation of our glorious Union-- You are I know as proud of its past glories as any man in the nation--

Its continuance and its future will depend very much upon how you deal with the inflamable material by which you are, and will be surrounded--

The eyes of the whole nation will be upon you while unfortunately the ears of one half of it will be closed to any thing you may say-- How to deal with the combustible material lying around you without setting fire to the edifice of which we are all so proud and of which you will be the chief custodian is a difficult task--

Upon this subject I have the views of a private citizen seeking no office for himself nor for any friend he has.

I will not even broach them in a letter-- But if it would be agreeable to you I will come & see you -- and I think can impart to you some information as to men & public sentiment here which may be valuable

With kind regards to Mrs L

I am as ever

Your friend

J. F. Speed

I know how you are troubled with admirers -- and letters of this kind-- Knowing this -- I will deem it no disrespect, and not take it unkindly if you decline the interview--

Be as frank as the pure commerce of friendship dictates--


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