SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Last month’s donation of a Lincoln letter to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has inspired another, related donation – a letter showing a future Illinois governor seeking to avoid an election showdown with Lincoln.
“I do not wish to put myself in the way of Lincoln,” wrote Richard Yates, a member of Congress who would serve as Illinois governor during the Civil War.
The initial donation was a Nov. 27, 1854, letter written by Abraham Lincoln in which he declines to serve in the Illinois House so he can retain his eligibility to run for the U.S. Senate in 1855. It was donated by attorney Guy Fraker of Bloomington.
Soon after that gift was announced, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum was contacted by someone saying he owned a related letter. After discussing the letter’s history and significance, he decided to donate it to the ALPLM anonymously.
“Donation announcements often inspire other people to step forward with interesting material, but it’s almost never related to the original gift,” said Christina Shutt, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. “Thanks to a generous and modest donor, we now have a better picture of the political maneuvering around the Senate seat coveted by Abraham Lincoln.”
Yates wrote his letter on Dec. 8, 1854, less than two weeks after Lincoln had written that he was keeping his options open to run for the U.S. Senate. At the time, Yates was finishing the second of his two terms in Congress and trying to figure out his next step.
The Jacksonville resident wrote to Gen. James Ruggles, one of the leaders of Illinois’ infant Republican Party.
“Believing ambition to be a virtue and not a vice, I must frankly confess to you that it would be most gratifying to my ambition to be elected to the Senate,” Yates said. “But I do not wish to put myself in the way of Lincoln who I understand desires the office and is pre-eminently worthy of it.”
Yates, a Lincoln ally, said he could see himself running only if it became clear Lincoln did not have the support of a majority of the state senators who would be voting on the office. “My name seasonably presented might be acceptable,” he said.
Yates wound up not seeking the Senate seat, but he was correct to foresee problems for Lincoln’s candidacy.
Lincoln ran and even got the most votes in the first balloting by state senators, but he could not capture the majority. Eventually he stepped aside for another anti-slavery candidate rather than continue splitting the vote and risking victory by someone open to expanding slavery.
Yates served as Illinois governor from 1861 to 1865. He later fulfilled his ambition of becoming a senator, serving from 1865 to 1871.
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.
For more information, visit www.PresidentLincoln.Illinois.gov or follow the ALPLM on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.