Rise of the Rail Splitter


Abraham Lincoln. Letter to Benjamin F. James, Springfield [Illinois], January 14, 1846. Manuscript.

In May 1846, Lincoln was nominated by the Illinois Whig party to represent the state’s seventh district in the U.S. House of Representatives; three months later he was elected to his one and only term in Congress.  This letter to Benjamin F. James, a supporter as well as the editor of the Tazewell Whig, was written several months before Lincoln won the nomination and shows that he had already developed the keen political sense for which he would become famous.  The letter demonstrates that Lincoln understood the political terrain and how he stood in several key counties: “As to my being able to make a break in the lower counties, I tell you that I can possibly get Cass, but I do not think I will.  Morgan & Scott are beyond my reach. Menard is safe to me.  Mason—neck and neck.  Logan is mine. To make the matter sure, your entire Senatorial District must be secured.  Of this, I suppose Tazewell is safe; and I have much done in both the other counties….I wish you all in Tazewell, to keep your eyes continually on Woodford and Marshall. Let no opportunity of making a mark escape. When they shall be safe, all will be safe—I think.”

f MS Am 1845.7  Papers of John Hay and Abraham Lincoln  Bequest of Clarence Leonard Hay, 1969, 1970.