ALPLM reaches milestone in releasing Lincoln documents


SPRINGFIELD – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has finished publishing every known Lincoln document from his birth to the end of his single term in Congress, an important milestone on the way to making all Lincoln documents available online.

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project had previously released all Lincoln documents through the end of his Illinois legislative career in 1841. Now the project has added 509 documents that extend through March 3, 1849, when Lincoln left Congress.

“These eight years were pivotal in the personal life and career of Lincoln,” said Dr. Daniel Worthington, director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. “Personally, he married, welcomed his first two sons and purchased the land on which he would build his only home. Professionally, he saw his law practice flourish. Politically, he rose from a little-known state politician to a U.S. congressman and a rising star in the Whig Party.”

Documents from this period include:

  • The letter in which Lincoln first uses the “house divided” metaphor that would later be the theme of one of his most famous speeches
  • The marriage certificate for Lincoln and Mary Todd
  • A satirical newspaper column that almost led to Lincoln fighting a duel
  • A brief message that is Lincoln’s first known use of the telegraph The “spot resolutions” Lincoln introduced in Congress to demand an accounting for what he considered an illegal war against Mexico.

The documents are available at along with extensive annotations explaining the people and events mentioned. Thousands of additional documents that provide context to Lincoln’s life are also available.

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln not only makes Lincoln documents available online but has discovered lost documents and digitally reunited documents that have been separated over time.

On July 6, 1847, Lincoln delivered a speech in Chicago on a hot topic of the day: infrastructure improvements and President Polk blocking projects on the Great Lakes. Yet this speech was somehow forgotten. Lincoln biographies and collections of his speeches said nothing about it. But the Papers staff came across a mention of it in an obscure book about internal improvements. They were then able to track down an account of the speech in a St. Louis newspaper.

Now anyone in the world with internet access can read Lincoln’s words. “We meet here to promote and advance the cause of internal improvement. Parties have differed on that subject, but we meet here to break down that difference — to unite, like a band of brothers, for the welfare of the common country,” Lincoln told the conference.

As a digital project, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln can update information and create new connections. One example involves two future presidents.

In 1848, Lincoln wrote to Secretary of State James Buchanan and requested a copy of an 1836 treaty between Mexico and what had been the independent nation of Texas. The text of that letter has been available for decades, but there was no known response from Buchanan, who would become the 15th president. Then a researcher pointed the ALPLM team to a 1909 collection of Buchanan’s papers. It contained his response (which was basically, sorry, I don’t have a copy).

Today, anyone researching Lincoln’s criticism of the Mexican War can read his letter and Buchanan’s reply together, along with the copy of the treaty that Lincoln eventually tracked down on his own.

In all, the Papers of Abraham Lincoln has now published 930 documents by or to Lincoln, all of which have been edited, transcribed and annotated. They are accompanied by 8,095 background documents, such as copies of legislation.

The project is now publishing documents from the next phase of Lincoln’s life – the period from leaving Congress to winning the presidential election in 1860, involving some 3,800 documents.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum uses a combination of rigorous scholarship and high-tech showmanship to immerse visitors in Lincoln’s life and times. The library holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln books, documents, photographs, artifacts and art, as well as some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history.

You can follow the ALPLM on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Christopher Wills

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