Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln
Pratt, Harry E.
Page  99

VI. The Cost of Politics

When I received the bond I was dabbling in politics, and of course neglecting business. Having since been beaten out I have gone to work again.


WHEN Lincoln was nominated for United States Senator by the Republican State Convention in Springfield, June 16, 1858, he was the undisputed leader of his party. The nomination was made be|cause of his ability as an orator, debater, and campaign strategist. It was also a recognition of his sacrifice of time and money for twenty years in the interests of the party. He had missed the fall terms of the courts in campaign after campaign to carry on the political fight. Four times, in 1840, 1844, 1852 and 1856, he was a presidential elector, a post which then carried with it the obligation of extensive stump speaking.

Writing in 1860, Lincoln stated that he had "spent much time and labor in the canvasses."1 In 1840 and 1844 he went on long speaking tours through southern Illinois, and in the latter campaign he spoke also in Kentucky and Indiana. In 1844 he was unable to attend the fall terms of any of the courts of the Eighth Judicial Circuit except Sanga|mon, which met after the election.2 To the loss of income from his prac|tice should be added the incidental expense of nearly four months of travel. The only compensation he is known to have received on these two tours was for bringing the Lawrence County election returns to Springfield. In 1840 he received $19.00 on this account from the State Auditor, and in 1844 the payment was $17.60.3

Page  100In addition to stump speaking, Lincoln took an active part in party management. He was one of the Junto leaders responsible for the first state convention of the Whig Party, which met in Springfield in Oc|tober, 1839, and for the Young Men's Whig Convention in June, 1840, the largest political gathering which Illinois was to see for many years. He was also one of the editors of The Old Soldier, the campaign paper which the Whigs published in 1840, and doubtless a financial contribu|tor too, since part of the cost of publications was usually borne by the party leaders.

Lincoln was nominated for Congress in the Seventh District by a Whig convention which met at Petersburg, May 1, 1846. His opponent was the eminent Methodist circuit rider, Peter Cartwright, and a spirited campaign was carried on in the eleven counties of the district. Many years later Joshua F. Speed stated that the Whig leaders col|lected a purse of $200, and that he himself handed it to Lincoln to pay the latter's personal expenses in the canvass. After the election Lincoln returned $199.25, with the request that it be given back to the sub|scribers. "I did not need the money," he said. "I made the canvass on my own horse, my entertainment being at the houses of friends, cost me nothing; and my only outlay was 75 cents for a barrel of cider, which some farmhands insisted I should treat them to." But one should remember that Speed sold his store in Springfield in 1841 and removed to Kentucky, and that it is improbable that he was present in 1846 to hand the money to Lincoln. Perhaps that is why Speed's story appeared in the Nicolay & Hay life of Lincoln in the Century Magazine for Feb|ruary, 1887, but was omitted by the authors when their biography came out in book form three years later.

General Zachary Taylor's victories in the Mexican War made him a popular hero and the favorite of many Whigs as their party candidate for President in 1848. Lincoln was one of the earliest Taylor converts and promoted the General's candidacy at every opportunity, both be|fore and after the nomination. He urged his friends and constituents Page  101 in Illinois to subscribe for The Battery, the campaign sheet issued in Washington, and subscribed for two copies himself. To Stephen A. Hurlbut, a party leader at Belvidere, he wrote that the paper promised well, and asked Hurlbut to get as many subscribers as possible. "I have put you down for one copy," he wrote, "the subscription for which I will pay myself, if you are not satisfied with it."4

To present his own views on the Mexican War, as well as to support Taylor's candidacy, Lincoln spent $132.30 for speeches in the first ses|sion of the Thirtieth Congress, and franked them to his constituents. The speeches were issued at one cent each, regardless of length. Lin|coln's speech of January 12, 1848, on the origin of the Mexican War probably made up the bulk of the 7,580 copies of his own speeches which he purchased. Only six of the 232 members of the House spent more than $100 for speeches at this session.5

When Congress adjourned on August 14, 1848, Lincoln was one of the few House members to stay in Washington and promote the party interest. He franked literature and made several addresses in Maryland prior to leaving Washington on September 9 on a speaking tour of New England. This tour began at Worcester and ended two weeks later at Boston, with eight intervening speeches. He probably received his expenses from the party. A leisurely trip with Mrs. Lincoln and the boys, by the lake route from Buffalo to Chicago, was followed by a month of active campaigning in Illinois prior to the election.6

As usual, Illinois went Democratic, but the election of President Taylor gave Lincoln hope of a federal appointment. He had renounced any claims to a second term in Congress, but he felt that his unwearied efforts in behalf of the party in the campaign should be rewarded. To Page  102 Speed he wrote that he had little hopes of a "first class office; and a sec|ond class one would not compensate me for being snarled at by others who want it for themselves;" nevertheless, he set out to press his claims.7

He soon found that his pledge to support Cyrus Edwards of Alton for Commissioner of the General Land Office—an appointment worth $3,000 a year—interfered with his own ambition. This was the office which, by general agreement, was to go to Illinois. It was quickly ap|parent, however, that there was danger that rival claimants would kill off each other, and that as a result, the appointment would go outside the state. Lincoln began to see himself as the only Illinoisan who could obtain the office. His friends urged him to take it. He hesitated. "If the office could be secured to Illinois only by my consent to accept it, and not otherwise," he wrote, "I give that consent;" but since he was pledged to Edwards, he "must not only be chaste, but above suspicion."8

Thus matters stood when he learned that Justin Butterfield of Chi|cago had become a candidate. This aroused Lincoln's anger. Butterfield, in his opinion, had less claim to the office than any of a hundred Whigs in Illinois. He had fought for Clay against Taylor, and now asked an office of the latter. "It will now mortify me deeply if General Taylor's administration shall trample all my wishes in the dust," wrote Lincoln to J. M. Lucas. Butterfield's appointment would be "an egregious politi|cal blunder" which would "give offense to the whole Whig party here," he wrote to Congressman Embree of Indiana.9 So he set out to get the office for himself.

Marshaling his forces, Lincoln wrote letter after letter in May and early June, 1849. Not satisfied with this long range action, he set off for Washington, but upon arrival found that Butterfield was to have the appointment, principally through his friendship with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Sorely disappointed, Lincoln returned to Springfield. Page  [unnumbered]

[missing figure]
portrait of Salmon P. Chase

Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury. Courtesy of the Illinois State Historical Library.
Page  [unnumbered]Page  103 There was some satisfaction in that the appointment went to Illinois, but to his disappointment, he had to add the expenses of the trip to Washington, and the loss of fees from failure to attend the circuit courts.

Stung by the ingratitude shown him in return for loyalty and im|portant service in the 1848 campaign, Lincoln believed his political fortunes were ended forever. Refusing appointments to the offices of Governor and of Secretary of the Oregon Territory, which paid $3,000 and $1,500 respectively, he went into political retirement for five years, emerging only temporarily in 1852 to serve as a presidential elector and make a few speeches for Winfield Scott, the Whig candidate.

His financial contribution to politics was slight from 1849 to 1854, and even in the latter year his speeches against the Kansas-Nebraska bill were sandwiched between his court work. However, he did make a short tour of the district in behalf of Richard Yates, candidate for Congress, speaking in Winchester, Carrollton, Jacksonville, and elsewhere in August, 1854. The campaign cost him something because he wrote to Owen Lovejoy a year later that he was "busy trying to pick up my lost crumbs of last year."10

Though not a delegate, Lincoln attended a convention, called by a group of editors, which met at Decatur, February 22, 1856. There he was one of the inner circle that made the plans for the Anti-Nebraska Convention held at Bloomington on May 29, 1856. At this convention he delivered the famous so-called "Lost Speech." The recognized leader of the new party, he entered vigorously into the campaign, speaking more than fifty times, and only intermittently practicing law. Both part|ners in the Lincoln and Herndon firm were Republican presidential electors.

An offer of $500 to defray the expenses incidental to the campaign came from Alexander Campbell of La Salle. Campbell had been a man|ager of iron works in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Missouri prior to his removal to La Salle in 1850. He was active in politics, serving as Page  104 mayor of La Salle in 1852-1853, and as a member of the lower house of the Illinois General Assembly in 1858-1859. Lincoln did not think so large a sum was needed, but did take between $200 and $300. Campbell later wrote that the "money was given to defray the personal expenses and otherwise promote the interest of the cause. . . ." He added: "From what I knew and learned of his [Lincoln's] careful habits in money mat|ters in the campaign of 1856 I am entirely confident that every dollar and dime I ever gave was carefully and faithfully applied to the uses and purposes for which it was given."11

Lincoln underestimated the expense of carrying on the campaign, for soon after the election he wrote to R. Thorne, a merchant of Ottawa: "Some little expense bills are on me and I have concluded to draw on you for $20 now, which is still ten dollars within the authority you kindly gave me."12 When a call came in May, 1857, to make some politi|cal speeches, Lincoln replied: "Having devoted the most of last year to politics, it is a necessity with me to devote this, to my private affairs."13

In the senatorial campaign against Douglas in 1858, Lincoln again called on Campbell for financial aid. Nine days after his nomination he wrote:

In 1856 you gave me authority to draw on you for any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars. I see clearly that such a privilege would be more available now than it was then. I am aware that times are tighter now than they were then. Please write me at all events; and whether you can now do anything or not, I shall continue grateful for the past.14

A few days after final arrangements were completed with Douglas for the seven joint debates, Lincoln ordered from the Illinois State Journal, 7,000 copies of his speech delivered in Springfield, July 17, 1858, for which he paid $50. This was his "most 'taking' speech" he Page  105 wrote to Gustave Koerner, and he expected the speech to be published in Chicago in the German language.15

Many years later William H. Hannah, then a young Bloomington lawyer, said that he had offered Lincoln $500 but was refused. Hannah recalled that Lincoln said to him: "I am not so poor as you suppose—don't want any money, don't know how to use money on such occasions—can't do it and never will—though much obliged to you."16 Ozias M. Hatch, Secretary of State of Illinois, 1857-1865, said he "never heard that anybody received money in '58. I know some of us paid rather lib|erally after the election as well as before. Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Dubois paid $300 each at one time after the election and I paid $275, but there was little or no money raised by the committee at that election."17

Lincoln opened his campaign against Douglas at Beardstown on August 12, and delivered his sixty-third speech at Springfield on Octo|ber 30, 1858. It was a hard campaign involving 4,200 miles of travel by every form of conveyance, and an expensive campaign in time and money, for he missed the fall term of courts of the Eighth Circuit and filed no new cases in the Supreme Court.

Two weeks after the election, Norman B. Judd, state chairman, wrote Lincoln that the party had unpaid bills and requested him to raise some money in Springfield. Lincoln replied: "As to the pecuniary matter, I am willing to pay according to my ability; but I am the poorest hand living to get others to pay.

"I have been on expenses so long without earning anything that I am absolutely without money now for even household expenses. Still, if you can put in two hundred and fifty dollars for me toward discharg|ing the debt of the committee, I will allow it when you and I settle the private matter between us." This suggestion was not adopted by Judd. Lincoln then added that he had subscribed $500 in addition to the ordi|nary Page  106 expenses incurred during the campaign, "all of which being added to my loss of time and business, bears heavily upon one no better off in this world's goods than I; but as I had the post of honor, it is not for me to be over nice."18

Expressions in his letters indicated the costliness of the senatorial campaign. To former Governor Matteson he wrote: "Now, being hard run, we propose a little compromise." "I must stick to the courts awhile," he told another, and to a close friend he wrote in 1859 that he must keep an "eye on this year, as I lost pretty nearly all of the last." Costly and disappointing had been the senatorial race, but whatever despond|ency defeat had occasioned had disappeared by June 15, 1859 when Lincoln sent the Chicago Press & Tribune a draft for seven dollars, to pay a year's subscription, with a short note which read: "I suppose I shall take the Press & Tribune so long as it, and I both live, unless I be|come unable to pay for it. In its devotion to our cause always, and to me personally last year, I owe it a debt of gratitude, which I fear I shall never be able to pay."19

Although disappointed in the result of the 1858 election, and out of ready cash, Lincoln had received wide notice by the debates, and requests were numerous for him to help in the 1859 state campaigns. A trip to western Iowa in August, though primarily for the purpose of inspecting land, was featured by a speech to a large audience in Council Bluffs. In December he returned over much the same route to aid in a state election in Kansas, speaking to small gatherings in Elwood, Troy, Doniphan, Atchison, and Leavenworth. His host was Mark W. Delahay, a former Illinois lawyer and politician. This trip was probably made at Lincoln's expense. Three months later Delahay, who was described as "distressingly impecunious and awfully bibulous,"20 wrote that Kansas would probably send delegates to Chicago instructed for Lincoln and that he could be a delegate if he had the money to make the trip.

Page  107Lincoln replied:

As to your kind wishes for myself, allow me to say I can not enter the ring on the money basis—first, because, in the main, it is wrong: and secondly, I have not, and can not get, the money. I say, in the main, the use of money is wrong; but for certain objects, in a political contest, the use of some, is both right and indispensable. With me as with yourself, this long struggle has been one of great pecuniary loss. I now distinctly say this: If you shall be appointed a delegate to Chicago, I will furnish one hundred dollars to bear the expenses of the trip.21

Delahay met with a double disappointment: he was left off the dele|gation, and the delegates were instructed for William H. Seward instead of Lincoln. Nevertheless, when informed of the result, Lincoln told him to come to the convention anyhow, and he would keep his word about the $100 expense money.22

In 1859 Lincoln refused a request that he make several speeches in eastern Iowa, giving poverty as his reason. He wrote: "It is bad to be poor. I shall go to the wall for bread and meat, if I neglect my busi|ness this year as well as last."23 In the same letter he admitted receiving an invitation from Minnesota, which he had declined, but Douglas's speeches in Ohio had provoked him into accepting invitations to speak there. Mrs. Lincoln urged acceptance of the Ohio invitations. Expenses for himself and his wife were probably promised by the Republican committee, and the trip would give her the opportunity to visit her cousin, Mrs. William M. Dickson, in Cincinnati.

Withdrawing fifty dollars from the Springfield Marine and Fire Insurance Company for expenses, Lincoln, accompanied by Mrs. Lin|coln and one son, went first to Columbus, where he spoke twice on Sep|tember 16, 1859. Enroute to Cincinnati the following day he spoke in the court house in Dayton and for a few minutes in Hamilton. Arriving in Cincinnati, he and Mrs. Lincoln were escorted to the Burnet House. His evening address was delivered in Market House Square. On the return trip he spoke to an enthusiastic audience in the Masonic Hall Page  108 in Indianapolis. Nearly a year later he received from the proprietors of the Burnet House in Cincinnati, a bill for service. For "Board & Parlor self & family" from Saturday evening to Monday morning, the bill carried a charge of thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents. This seemed a "little steep," wrote Lincoln to Dickson, asking him to look into the bill. He denied emphatically that he was responsible for sixteen dollars' worth of wine and cigars, but he wrote: "I can and will pay it if it is right, but I do not wish to be 'diddled'."24

Soon after his return from Ohio, Lincoln went to Milwaukee where, on September 30, 1859, he delivered an address on agriculture before the Wisconsin Agricultural Society. For the speech, and for his expenses, he received $100.25 On the same trip he made political speeches in Mil|waukee, Beloit, and Janesville.

Before the end of the year Lincoln was invited to deliver an address in Henry Ward Beecher's church in Brooklyn. Three considerations prompted him to accept: first, the speech would promote his interests as a candidate for President; second, it would give him an opportunity to visit his son Robert in school at Exeter, New Hampshire; and third, two hundred dollars to defray expenses was guaranteed.

News of the invitation reached the Democratic Illinois State Regis|ter, which commented satirically: "Subject, not known. Consideration, $200 and expenses. Object, presidential capital. Effect, disappoint|ment."26 This charge was taken up by other Democratic papers and reiterated for weeks after the speech was delivered.27 Lincoln refused to answer the charge, for he knew that his opponents were trying to involve him in a controversy which could do him no good, and might do harm. However, he did write to C. F. McNeil, editor of a small newspaper in Middleport, Illinois, denying that he had ever charged anything for a political speech, adding: "but this is true: Last October I was requested Page  109 by letter to deliver some sort of speech in Mr. Beecher's church, in Brooklyn—two hundred dollars being offered in the first letter." The sponsors agreed to take a political speech if he did not have time to pre|pare another, and not until his arrival in New York did he learn that the place was changed to Cooper Institute. "I made the speech," Lin|coln continued, "and left for New Hampshire, where I have a son at school, neither asking for pay, nor having any offered me. Three days after a check for two hundred dollars was sent to me at New Hampshire; and I took it, and did not know it was wrong. My understanding now is —though I knew nothing of it at the time—that they did charge for ad|mittance to the Cooper Institute, and that they took in more than twice two hundred dollars."28

The Register's prediction that the effect of the Cooper Union ad|dress would be "disappointment" was wide of the mark, for the speech gave a definite impetus to Lincoln's pre-convention campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. No sooner had he reached home than one would-be supporter wrote to him, apparently offering to work on his behalf in return for substantial compensation. "The money part of the arrangement you propose," Lincoln replied, "is, with me, an im|possibility. I could not raise ten thousand dollars if it would save me from the fate of John Brown. Nor have my friends, so far as I know, yet reached the point of staking any money on my chances of success."29 But this was merely modesty nicely expressed at a time when one wrong move could ruin his chance of getting the nomination. Several of his friends were both able and willing to spend their money in the promo|tion of his candidacy. When the Chicago Convention assembled in May, 1860. Judge David Davis adjourned the courts of the Eighth Circuit and took several of the lawyers with him to Chicago where he rented for $300 the third floor of the Tremont House, finest of the city's forty-two hotels. Here doubtful delegates were gathered in and urged to have a Page  110 cigar and a drink. How many delegates were entertained is not known, but the bill for refreshments included $34.50 for whiskey, $60.00 for wine, $77.00 for brandy, and $125.00 for porter. The total bill, $321.50, which also included $25.00 for cigars, was paid by Ozias M. Hatch, Sec|retary of State, and Ward H. Lamon, States Attorney of the Eighth Cir|cuit. They doubtless considered this the best investment of their lives.30

With his nomination Lincoln abandoned his law practice except for four pending cases in the federal court in which he appeared briefly in June, 1860. Several unpaid fees were collected, but otherwise his in|come ceased. Withdrawals from his bank account were numerous, al|though few checks were for large amounts. It was early recognized, how|ever, by his friends in Springfield that there would be expenses inciden|tal to the campaign which Lincoln should not be expected to meet. Stephen T. Logan, his second law partner, took the lead in raising funds.31 Five hundred dollars each was subscribed by ten Republican leaders. The names of only eight of these are known: Logan, Jacob Bunn, John W. Bunn, William Butler, Robert Irwin, John Williams, Ozias M. Hatch, and Thomas Condell. Jesse K. Dubois, State Audi|tor and a former member of the legislature with Lincoln, probably was one of the ten. John W. Bunn was appointed treasurer, and the group became known as the Sangamon County Finance Committee.32 John G. Nicolay, a clerk in the office of the Secretary of State, was em|ployed to assist Lincoln with his correspondence, and received seventy-five dollars a month from the committee. The Chenery House's bill of ninety-seven dollars for entertainment of the delegation that notified Lincoln of his nomination was paid by the committee, as were the hotel bills of prominent politicians who visited Springfield. Expenses of the great Republican rally held in Springfield on August 8th consumed the Page  [unnumbered]

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facsimile of receipt

William Butler's receipt for a contribution to the Springfield fund for Lincoln's campaign for the presidency. Original owned by Harry E. Pratt.
Page  112 unexpended portion of the $5,000. After the rally the committee met and each of the ten men subscribed an additional $500. Before the elec|tion this amount and $2,500 in addition were expended, bringing the total for the campaign to $12,500.

Lincoln himself had been willing to gamble on his chances of being nominated for the presidency as early as the spring of 1859. On May 30, 1859, he purchased through his friend Jacob Bunn the type and other equipment of The Illinois Staats-Anzeiger, a German language news|paper recently established in Springfield. The consideration was $400. Title to the property was in John Burkhardt, local dry goods merchant, but the editor was Theodore Canisius. With him Lincoln made a con|tract providing that Canisius was to have free use of the equipment for the publication of a German newspaper, with the stipulation that it was to support the Republican party. Lincoln was to take possession in case Canisius failed to carry out the contract. No files of the paper have been found. Lincoln was satisfied with the support given to the party and to his own candidacy. He retained ownership for eighteen months, then turned over the paper to Canisius for a consideration on December 6, 1860. Later, as President, Lincoln appointed Canisius to the consulate in Vienna.33

A discussion of Lincoln's contributions of time and money to the welfare of the Whig and Republican parties would not be complete without some notice of the numerous legal cases of a political nature in which he gave his services with no hope of financial reward. Most important of these "political cases" were McClernand, Sec. of State v. Irwin & Co. (1839); People ex rel. Lanphier and Walker v. Hatch (1858); and the attempt to remove Thomas C. Browne, justice of the Supreme Court, in 1843 under a provision of the Constitution.

The case of John A. McClernand, Sec. of State v. Robert Irwin & Co. in the Sangamon Circuit Court, was a side-show to the Supreme Page  113 Court case, Field v. The People. Alexander P. Field, Secretary of State since 1828 and a strong Whig, was removed from office by Democratic Governor Thomas Carlin, and McClernand was appointed in his place. Field refused to give up the office, whereupon McClernand brought proceedings in the Fayette County Circuit Court and won the decision. Field appealed to the Supreme Court, in the meantime removing the files of his office to Springfield, the new state capital, and placing them in the custody of Irwin & Co. The store of Robert and John Irwin was more or less Whig headquarters in Springfield, and the storage of the seal of the state in Irwin's safe was a challenge to the Democrats. Stephen A. Douglas, representing McClernand, sued out a writ of replevin in the Sangamon County Circuit Court, whereupon Lincoln and Mason Brayman filed a motion to quash the writ. Judge Samuel H. Treat quashed the writ and ordered McClernand to pay the costs. The Su|preme Court, on almost the same day, reversed the Fayette Circuit Court and upheld Field's right to the office of Secretary of State. By this time, however. Field had caused so much dissension among the Whigs that some of them voted with the Democrats to oust him from office by approving the appointment of Stephen A. Douglas to the office of Sec|retary of State in November, 1840.34

Justice Browne was brought before the House of Representatives in the first attempt in Illinois to address a judge out of office. The mem|bers of the bar of northern Illinois, recruited principally from the east|ern states, were almost unanimous in their desire to remove the judge because of incompetency. Four members of the Galena bar filed a com|plaint with the House alleging that because of natural infirmity and feebleness of intellect Browne was unfit to preside over a court. Lincoln answered that the charges were too general and that the constitution provided that judges were entitled to hold office during good behavior. When Justice Sidney Breese, who was expected to be the star witness Page  114 against Browne, refused to testify to the injury of the defendant, the case broke down and was dismissed by the House.35

In The People ex rel. Lanphier and Walker v. Hatch, a case involv|ing a reapportionment act passed by the legislature in 1857, the Demo|crats maintained that the Republican governor, William H. Bissell, who had inadvertently signed his name and then crossed it off the bill, could not change his mind in this fashion. The Democrats brought a petition for a mandamus to the Supreme Court to compel Ozias M. Hatch, the Republican secretary of state, to certify the reapportionment act. Lin|coln appeared for Hatch and won the case when the court held that the governor had the right to scratch off his name as long as the bill was in his possession.36