Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 4.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

To John A. Gilmer [1]

Strictly confidential.
Hon. John A. Gilmer: Springfield, Ill. Dec 15, 1860.

My dear Sir--- Yours of the 10th is received. I am greatly disinclined to write a letter on the subject embraced in yours; and I would not do so, even privately as I do, were it not that I fear you might misconstrue my silence. Is it desired that I shall shift the ground upon which I have been elected? I can not do it. You need only to acquaint yourself with that ground, and press it on the attention of the South. It is all in print and easy of access. May I be pardoned if I ask whether even you have ever attempted to procure the reading of the Republican platform, or my speeches, by the Southern people? If not, what reason have I to expect that any additional production of mine would meet a better fate? It wouldPage  152 make me appear as if I repented for the crime of having been elected, and was anxious to apologize and beg forgiveness. To so represent me, would be the principal use made of any letter I might now thrust upon the public. My old record cannot be so used; and that is precisely the reason that some new declaration is so much sought.

Now, my dear sir, be assured, that I am not questioning your candor; I am only pointing out, that, while a new letter would hurt the cause which I think a just one, you can quite as well effect every patriotic object with the old record. Carefully read pages 18, 19, 74, 75, 88, 89, & 267 of the volume of Joint Debates between Senator Douglas and myself, with the Republican Platform adopted at Chicago, and all your questions will be substantially answered. I have no thought of recommending the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, nor the slave trade among the slave states, even on the conditions indicated; and if I were to make such recommendation, it is quite clear Congress would not follow it.

As to employing slaves in Arsenals and Dockyards, it is a thing I never thought of in my life, to my recollection, till I saw your letter; and I may say of it, precisely as I have said of the two points above.

As to the use of patronage in the slave states, where there are few or no Republicans, I do not expect to inquire for the politics of the appointee, or whether he does or not own slaves. I intend in that matter to accommodate the people in the several localities, if they themselves will allow me to accommodate them. In one word, I never have been, am not now, and probably never shall be, in a mood of harassing the people, either North or South.

On the territorial question, [2] I am inflexible, as you see my position in the book. On that, there is a difference between you and us; and it is the only substantial difference. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. For this, neither has any just occasion to be angry with the other.

As to the state laws, mentioned in your sixth question, I really know very little of them. I never have read one. If any of them are in conflict with the fugitive slave clause, or any other part of the constitution, I certainly should be glad of their repeal; but I could hardly be justified, as a citizen of Illinois, or as President of the United States, to recommend the repeal of a statute of Vermont, or South Carolina.

With the assurance of my highest regards I subscribe myself Your obt. Servt., A. LINCOLN

Page  153P.S. The documents referred to, I suppose you will readily find in Washington. A. L.


[1]   Copy, DLC-RTL. Gilmer's letter of December 10, enclosed with Corwin's letter of December 11 (DLC-RTL), asked Lincoln to make a public statement answering specific questions, the nature of which is indicated by Lincoln's replies. Although Lincoln marked his letter ``strictly confidential,'' an article appeared shortly afterward in the Missouri Democrat (copied by Cincinnati Daily Commercial, January 10, 1861), which recounted an interview in the parlor of Lincoln's home while he was in the midst of writing ``to some Southern gentlemen.'' In the interview the identical points are made in almost identical language. Probably Francis P. Blair, Jr., wrote the article. See Lincoln to Blair, December 18, infra. Lincoln to Trumbull and to Weed, December 17, infra, indicate that the letter to Gilmer was enclosed to Thomas Corwin for delivery to Gilmer. A second letter to Gilmer broaching the question of his accepting a place in the cabinet, written on or after December 21, is presumably not extant. Gilmer to Lincoln, December 29, refers to receipt of a telegram dated December 21, and a letter received December 26, requesting Gilmer to come to Springfield. Gilmer replied that such a visit `` . . . would not be useful. . . . '' (DLC-RTL).

[2]   Gilmer's question read `` . . . whether, on the application of any new State for admission into the Union, you would veto an act of Congress admitting the same because slavery was tolerated in her constitution . . . also indicate the policy . . . to settle . . . the disturbing question of slavery in the Territories.'' (DLC-RTL).