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

To William H. Herndon [1]

Dear William: Washington Feb. 1- 1848

Your letter of the 19th. ult. was received last night, and for which I am much obliged. The only thing in it that I wish to talk to you about at once, is that, because of my vote for Mr. Ashmun's [2] amendment, you fear that you and I disagree about the war. I regret this, not because of any fear we shall remain disagreed, after you shall have read this letter, but because, if you misunderstand, I fear other good friends will also. That vote affirms that the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President; and I will stake my life, that if you had been in my place, you would have voted just as I did. Would you have voted what you felt you knew to be a lie? I knowPage  447 you would not. Would you have gone out of the House---skulked the vote? I expect not. If you had skulked one vote, you would have had to skulk many more, before the end of the session. Richardson's [3] resolutions, introduced before I made any move, or gave any vote upon the subject, make the direct question of the justice of the war; so that no man can be silent if he would. You are compelled to speak; and your only alternative is to tell the truth or tell a lie. I can not doubt which you would do.

This vote, has nothing to do, in determining my votes on the questions of supplies. I have always intended, and still intend, to vote supplies; perhaps not in the precise form recommended by the President, but in a better form for all purposes, except locofoco party purposes. It is in this particular you seem to be mistaken. The locos are untiring in their effort to make the impression that all who vote supplies, or take part in the war, do, of necessity, approve the Presidents conduct in the beginning of it; but the whigs have, from the beginning, made and kept the distinction between the two. In the very first act, nearly all the whigs voted against the preamble declaring that war existed by the act of Mexico, and yet nearly all of them voted for the supplies. As to the whig men who have participated in the war, so far as they have spoken to my hearing, they do not hesitate to denounce, as unjust, the Presidents conduct in the beginning of the war. They do not suppose that such denunciation, is dictated by undying hatred to them, as the Register would have it believed. There are two such whigs on this floor, Col. Haskell, [4] and Major Gaines [5]. The former, fought as a Col. by the side of Col. Baker [6] at Cerro Gordo, and stands side by side with me, in the vote, that you seem to be dissatisfied with. The latter, the history of whose capture with Cassius Clay, you well know, had not arrived here when that vote was given; but as I understand, he stands ready to give just such a vote, whenever an occasion shall present. Baker too, who is now here, says the truth is undoubtedly that way, and whenever he shall speak out, he will say so. Col. Donaphin [sic] [7] too, the favourite whig of Missouri, and who over ran all Northern Mexico, on his return home in a public speech at St. Louis, condemned the administration in relation to the war as I remember. G. T. M Davis, [8] who has been through almost the whole war, declares in favour of Mr. Clay, from which I infer that he adopts the sentiments of Mr. Clay, generally at least. On the other hand, I have heard of but one whig, who has been to the war, attempting to justify the President's conduct. That one is Capt. Bishop, [9] editor of the Charleston Courier, and a very clever fellow.

Page  448I do not mean this letter for the public, but for you. Before it reaches you, you will have seen and read my pamphlet speech, [10] and perhaps, scared anew, by it. After you get over your scare, read it over again, sentence by sentence, and tell me honestly what you think of it. I condensed all I could for fear of being cut off by the hour rule, and when I got through, I had spoke but 45 minutes.

Yours forever A. LINCOLN


[1]   ALS, InU.

[2]   George Ashmun of Massachusetts, Whig. His amendment was to a resolution of thanks to General Taylor for his victory at Buena Vista. This censure of President Polk was passed by the House, 82 to 81.

[3]   William A. Richardson of Schuyler County, Illinois, Democrat, whose resolutions were defeated.

[4]   William T. Haskell of Tennessee.

[5]   John P. Gaines of Kentucky.

[6]   Edward D. Baker of Illinois.

[7]   Alexander W. Doniphan.

[8]   George T. M. Davis, a lawyer at Alton, Illinois, and lieutenant in the Illinois Volunteers.

[9]   William W. Bishop.

[10]   See under date of January 12, 1848 (supra).