Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

To James Shields [1]

Jas. Shields, Esq. Tremont, Sept. 17, 1842.

Your note of to-day was handed me by Gen. Whiteside. [2] In that note you say you have been informed, through the medium of the editor of the Journal, [3] that I am the author of certain articles in that paper which you deem personally abusive of you: and without stopping to enquire whether I really am the author, or to point out what is offensive in them, you demand an unqualified retraction of all that is offensive; and then proceed to hint at consequences.

Now, sir, there is in this so much assumption of facts, and so much of menace as to consequences, that I cannot submit to answer that note any farther than I have, and to add, that the consequence to which I suppose you allude, would be matter of as great regret to me as it possibly could to you. [4] Respectfully,

A. LINCOLN.

Annotation

[1]   Sangamo Journal, October 14, 1842. Shields' letters also appear in this issue of the Journal. Lincoln was in Tremont attending court. Shields and friend John D. Whiteside went to Tremont specifically to see Lincoln.

[2]   The text of the note follows: A. Lincoln, Esq. TREMONT, Sept. 17th, 1842.

I regret that my absence on public business compelled me to postpone a matter of private consideration a little longer than I could have desired. It will only be necessary, however, to account for it by informing you that I have been to Quincy on business that would not admit of delay. I will now state briefly the reasons of my troubling you with this communication, the disagreeable nature of which I regret---as I had hoped to avoid any difficulty with any one in Springfield, while residing there, by endeavoring to conduct myself in such a way amongst both my political friends and opponents, as to escape the necessity of any. Whilst thus abstaining from giving provocation, I have become the object of slander, vituperation and personal abuse, which were I capable of submitting to, I would prove myself worthy of the whole of it.

In two or three of the last numbers of the Sangamo Journal, articles of the most personal nature and calculated to degrade me, have made their appearance. On enquiring I was informed by the editor of that paper, through the medium of my friend, Gen. Whiteside, that you are the author of those articles. This information satisfies me that I have become by some means or other, the object of your secret hostility. I will not take the trouble of enquiring into the reason of all this, but I will take the liberty of requiring a full, positive and absolute retraction of all offensive allusions used by you in these communications, in relationPage  300 to my private character and standing as a man, as an apology for the insults conveyed in them.

This may prevent consequences which no one will regret more than myself. Your ob't serv't, JAS. SHIELDS.

[3]   Simeon Francis.

[4]   According to Dr. Elias H. Merryman, Lincoln's second, who published the full account of the circumstances in the Journal on October 14 in reply to an account, published in the Journal on October 7, by General John D. Whiteside, Shields' second, the following note from Shields was prepared in about an hour. Whiteside conferred ``two or three hours'' with Lincoln's friend William Butler without presenting the note to Lincoln. ``This was in consequence of an assurance from Mr. Butler that Mr. Lincoln could not receive any communication from Mr. Shields unless it were a withdrawal of his first note or a challenge. Mr. Butler further stated to Gen. Whiteside that on the withdrawal of the first note and a proper and gentlemanly request for an explanation, he had no doubt one would be given.'' Whiteside agreed to take the suggestion to Shields and wait until Monday (it being Saturday the seventeenth) before taking further action. Merryman continues, ``On Monday morning he called and presented Mr. Lincoln the same note as Mr. Butler says he had brought on Saturday evening. It was as follows: A. Lincoln, Esq. TREMONT, Sept. 17, 1842.

In your reply to my note of this date, you intimate that I assume facts, and menace consequences, and that you cannot submit to answer it further. As now, sir, you desire it, I will be a little more particular. The editor of the Sangamo Journal gave me to understand that you are the author of an article which appeared I think in that paper of the 2d Sept. inst, headed the Lost Townships, and signed Rebecca or Becca. I would therefore take the liberty of asking whether you are the author of said article or any other over the same signature, which has appeared in any of the late numbers of that paper. If so, I repeat my request of an absolute retraction of all offensive allusion contained therein in relation to my private character and standing. If you are not the author of any of the articles, your denial will be sufficient. I will say further, it is not my intention to menace, but to do myself justice. Your obd't serv't, JAS. SHIELDS.''

Merryman's account continues: ``This Mr. Lincoln perused, and returned to Gen. Whiteside, telling him verbally, that he did not think it consistent with his honor to negociate for peace with Mr. Shields, unless Mr. Shields would withdraw his former offensive letter.'' Shields, however, replied by designating Whiteside as his second, and Lincoln promptly designated Merryman as his. These gentlemen, mutually agreed to ``endeavor to settle the matter amicably,'' returned to Springfield Monday night only to discover that much excitement prevailed and that an arrest was probable. ``To prevent this,'' Merryman continues, ``it was agreed by Mr. Lincoln and myself that he should leave early on Tuesday morning. Accordingly he prepared the following instructions for my guide, on a suggestion from Mr. Butler, that he had reason to believe that an attempt would be made by the opposite party to have the matter accommodated.''