- From the Publisher
- A Cup Half-Empty
- Who Were the Lincoln Life Guards?
- Kepi Controversy
- Primary Source Material: Manuscripts
- Overlooked Evidence: Lincoln in Pioneer Chicago
- “THE UNION Is DISSOLVED” The Charleston Mercury Broadside: Points of Authenticity and Variations
- Lincoln Letter Fraud on Ebay
- What He Really Thought of Lincoln: The Discovery of an Unpublished Letter by William F. Herndon
- The Sanitary Fair’s Gifts to President Lincoln
- Behind the Scenes At Federal Hall
- In The Marketplace
- LINCOLNPHILE (book reviews)
- The Annotated Lincoln
- Lincoln’s Campaign Biographies
- Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History
- “Lincoln” Hits the Screens
- We Have The War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861
- Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War
- President James Buchanan and the Crisis of National Leadership
- Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln
- Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated With Our Greatest President.
- Abraham Lincoln: The Image of His Greatness.
- Letters to the Editor
- The Obvious Lincoln
- DeWitt Deaccession Debate
- Fake Lincoln Endorsement
- Historical inaccuracies found in CDV
- More on the Lincoln Avengers
- Cartoon Artist Identified
- Kepi Commentary
- An Item in Search of a Story
- Show & Tell
- Replicas For Sale
- Dueling Blogs
- Lincoln Artwork or Just Artwork?
- Devil with a Blue Dress On
- Breyer Model Horses
- Kudos on the new site!
- This daguerreotype looks like Lincoln, but is it Lincoln?
- What Is Lincoln’s Embalmer Worth?
- New Lincoln Stuff on the Market
- Rail Splinters
- Suspect Lincoln
- A Note from the Great Beyond
- ‘A. Lincoln’ Money Pit
- Added Cachet Value
- A Constant Flow of Fakes
- Problematic Copy Images
- Fraudulent Tintype
- If Only It Were Real!
- Rip-Off Ribbons
- Bogus Ballot
- “Ay, tear her tattered ensign down”
- Legit and Illegitimate Theater: The Ford’s Theatre Ticket
- Implausible Provenance
- Twice As [Not] Nice
- These Have Age, But Not Enough
- The Real and the Unreal
- Great Finds!
What He Really Thought of Lincoln:
The Discovery of an Unpublished Letter by William F. Herndon
Lincoln’s skill as a politician was not immediately appreciated: even his law partner and later biographer once questioned his political savvy. Last year, when we contacted Rail Splitter members to borrow material for our Bicentennial exhibit, we were told of an unpublished archive of correspondence to Illinois politician Richard Yates. The holding consisted of Yates’ retained correspondence -letters written to him that he intentionally kept. And, within this group were several letters referencing Lincoln. Naturally, we were intrigued.
Yates (1815-73) served in the House of Representatives, was Governor during the Civil War (a Republican), and later served in the Senate. We knew that the family sold off letters to Yates written by Lincoln many decades back. We also learned that the large body of his papers got divided among three branches of his family; the State of Illinois acquired one large grouping, others made their way into the market appearing at various auctions over the years. But, the letters in this small trove had never been reviewed … until we got our hands on them!
Most of the correspondence attended to routine matters: political appointments; “favors” for more “favored” constituents (the life-blood of 19th century politics!); and letters written during the War on troop quotas and supplies. Yates distinguished himself as the greatest wartime governor sending more troops to fight in the Union Army than any other.
Of all the missives, one really stood out – which we were proud to display in our exhibit. The letter was written to Yates July 28, 1856 by his good friend William Herndon. At the time of this letter, Yates, who fervently opposed slavery, had just been defeated on his third bid for Congress. Herndon was in his law practice with Lincoln, a partnership which began in 1841. While Herndon held Lincoln in esteem, he took issue with him as politically naive. Herndon had been a staunch opponent of slavery - he thought the Rail Splitter too slow to form a decisive opinion. (In fact Herndon later claimed that he helped change Lincoln’s views on the subject.) In this wonderful missive, now at the Library of Congress, Herndon writes of his own political abilities and the limitations of his partner’s.
“Friend Yates - I this day arrived at home, finding yours of 24th inst. You know I am punctual in this matter; and absense must be my excuse to you. Will you take that excuse?
Mr. Palmer has not officially, or publicly, declined the nomination; but suppose he will before long. I think it would be prudent for him to do so, when it is remembered, that his nomination is not liked by the K.N.’s or Fillmore men. These are curious boys; – honesty I suppose is the ruling power: “honesty my lord”: precisely so friend Yates. This is a great world. The vice of my political life is, and has been, unsuspiciousness; and my political virtue hereafter shall be a steady watchfulness to the end of things. It is not too late to commence is it? I hope not. You ask me if I would not run: I answer, Never, Never. I have seen Lincoln; and have talked over the matter; but he knows no more than you & I do - not so much. He is not, & never was, & never can be, a wire puller; he can drive a nail with power, if a man will hold the head and give its point the cunning direction.
They say Mr. Thornton – the Gen, made a Buchanan speech a few days since. This came to town on Sunday – do not know how this is. Can you not run? The boys say you must & shall run, yet - unalterable – Eh. Dick you did not write that word Who putthat in your letter?
We have had a small split here; but it seems to draw together- ligaments have reached over their nerve hooks; and drew on together the lips of the wound – Easily done this. I made a speech at Middletown in Logan Co. on Saturday – tolerably good one I think.
We think we shall have no trouble here – all will agree to all things except the Presidency – disagree in this badly.”
The K.N.’s referenced were, of course, the Know Nothings, aligned with Millard Fillmore. “Mr. Palmer” was John McAuley Palmer, later a Civil War General and Governor of Illinois. The ”Mr. Thornton” was Anthony Thornton, judge, lawyer, Democratic politician, militia officer, who once debated Lincoln.
So, there you go! What Herndon really thought of Old Abe! A political boob, if you will! Fortunate for history, Billy Herndon’s assessment wasn’t exactly accurate. Lincoln could both drive a nail with power and guide a Ship of State!
NOW AVAILABLE FROM THE RAIL SPLITTER PRESS:
Book Review Archive
- Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War.
- The Dark Intrigue: The True Story of a Civil War Conspiracy.
- President Lincoln: the Duty of a Statesman.
- Lincoln’s Men: The President and His Private Secretaries.
- The Lincoln’s: Portrait of a Marriage.
- The Madness of Mary Lincoln.
- Lincoln the Inventor.
- Lincoln and New York.
Rail Splinters Archive
- Stereo view photographs of Abraham Lincoln statue damaged in 1906 San Francisco earthquake
- Lincoln in Film
- John Wilkes Booth? Probably not.
- Answer to the question “Whatever became of the Gillett collection?”
- What happened to the Gillette Collection?
- This Train is Bound for Glory
- Lincoln Ballots 1834-1864
- Lincoln Museum in Boise
- Lincoln at the Abolition Ball
- Where East Meets West
- A Prince of a Guy
- In Memoriam: C. Peter Scanlan
- Portrait of Lincoln Legal Associate Unearthed
- Thomas T. Eckert Archive: Telegraphic History of the Civil War
- Beethoven’s medium channels news of Lincoln’s Death by composing “The Funeral March”
- Where is Mary Todd Lincoln’s 1861 Inaugural Ball dress?
- The Meatball does The Sauceman (and The Rail Splitter) proud
- Lincoln “apparently not” a sexist
- Campaign woodcuts in illustrated magazines, symbolism or adornment?
- 1890 Wide-Awake Reunion program
- Baltimore Coin & Currency Convention Highlights
Past Print Issues