By David J. Kent
Thursday, November 3, 2022
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL has acquired a new Abraham Lincoln letter, one that hasn't been seen in decades. This is an exciting new acquisition and will be on display at ALPLM from November 1, 2022, through May 17, 2023. The original letter is dated March 26, 1843, and is addressed to Martin S. Morris, a longtime friend of Lincoln's from his days in New Salem. The letter was donated to ALPLM by Scott Terry of Bellevue, WA, the great-great grandson of Martin Morris. It had been passed down through the family over several generations and Terry felt it deserved to be at the Museum.
While the letter is new to ALPLM, it should actually be familiar to Lincoln historians. Morris made a handwritten copy of the letter for William Herndon soon after the assassination. That copy, including Morris's introduced spelling errors, can be read in its entirety in Basler's Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (pp. 319-321).
The intriguing thing about the letter is that Lincoln laments what he believes are unfair criticisms laid against him, most notably that he was some sort of rich aristocrat.
"It would astonish if not amuse, the older citizens of your County who twelve years ago knew me a strange, friendless, uneducated, penniless boy, working on a flat boat - at ten dollars per month to learn that I have been put down here as the candidate of pride, wealth, and aristocratic family distinction."
He also worried that some refused to vote for him because he "belonged to no church, was suspected of being a deist, and had talked about fighting a duel."
Not to be overly perturbed, Lincoln then instructs Morris on how to handle those questioning his candidacy. Mathematically inclined, and ever the vote-counter, Lincoln tells Morris how he thinks each of the regions will vote. All of this was to build a strategy for ensuring a Whig candidate be nominated that could win the district's seat in the U.S. Congress. Eventually this ended up going to John Hardin, who was followed by Edward Baker for the next term, before Lincoln finally got his chance for a single term in the House of Representatives.
The Morris letter will be on display at ALPLM as part of an exhibit exploring the period where Lincoln was seeking national office while also getting married, buying a house, and starting a family. After the display period, the letter will be held "in perpetuity" by ALPLM, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Terry.