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tion, allowing citizens of slaveholding States coming
into the District on public business to “be attended · into and out of said District, and while there, by the necessary servants of themselves and their families," and recognized the right to reclaim fugitive slaves therein as in free territory elsewhere. Lincoln said he was authorized to state that of about fifteen of the leading citizens of the District to whom this plan had been submitted, there was no one who did not approve of the adoption of such a proposition. The bill, however, received no further attention. With the close of the short session, March 3, 1849, his Congressional service came to an end.
Since the Presidency of Jackson, a division of spoils had been expected to follow a party triumph. Lincoln having labored with more than his usual zeal for the nomination as well as the election of the new President, ought not the retiring Congressman to be offered a valuable place under the Government? No such offer came. He generously urged that a place in the Cabinet should be given to Colonel Edward D. Baker, but no office of that magnitude was wont to be flung so far West. Even so late as 1860 the highest Federal office distributed in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, or States more remote, was that of Commissioner of the General Land Office, which had been successively held by some of the foremost men in Ohio and Indiana. * General James
*Judge John McLean, after serving two terms in Congress, and some years on the Supreme Bench of Ohio, was appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office in 1822, and next year Postmaster General.
Shields, who held the place when the Mexican War began, had been succeeded as Commissioner by Richard M. Young, one of the Judges of the Supreme Court of Illinois. The Whig members of the Illinois Legislature and some other prominent men of the State had united in recommending Mr. Browning, of Quincy, to be Judge Young's successor. After mature reflection, Browning declined to have his name presented to the President. Then testimonials were prepared for Cyrus Edwards, a constituent of Lincoln, who added his own indorsement. A formidable competitor soon appeared in the person of Justin Butterfield, a prominent lawyer of Chicago, who had failed to get the coveted place of Solicitor of the Treasury. He had been a champion of Mr. Clay, and strongly opposed to the nomination of General Taylor, which no doubt brought him valuable support from the former's friends, and he secured the favor of the Secretary of the Interior, Hon. Thomas Ewing.
Butterfield was not a favorite among the Whigs of the State in general, and with the approval of Edwards, who was sure to be beaten, Lincoln became a candidate. About the middle of June two Illinois friends of Lincoln — Colonel Greene Wilcox and Josiah M. Lucas — waited on the President, hoping that he might be influenced to another decision than that which the Chicago applicant was confidently expecting. This embassy met a gracious reception at the White House; but it was soon discovered only too plainly that the blunt General had already made up his mind, and was not disposed to assume any disguise in talking of the matter. In answer to a mild inquiry, he said it was true that he intended to displace Judge Young. Thereupon, after reminding the President that Abraham Lincoln was a candidate for the succession, Colonel Wilcox said the gentleman was on his way to Washington, and had telegraphed from Dayton, Ohio, that he would be here as soon as possible; and expressed the hope that final action in the case would be delayed until Lincoln's arrival. This was promised.
In due course of railway trains Lincoln appeared, but the case was really no longer open. The chief interest in the matter now lies in the following memorandum (copied by the writer from the original in Lincoln's handwriting), addressed to President Taylor:
Nothing in my papers questions Mr. B.'s competency or honesty, and, I presume, nothing in his questions mine. Being equal so far, if it does not appear I am preferred by the Whigs of Illinois, I lay no claim to the office.
But if it does appear I am preferred, it will be argued that the whole Northwest, and not Illinois alone, should be heard. I answer I am strongly recommended by Ohio and Indiana, as well as Illinois; and further, that when the many appointments were made for Ohio, as for the Northwest, Illinois was not consulted. When an Indianian was nominated for Governor of Minnesota, and another appointed for Commissioner of Mexican Claims, as for the Northwest, Illinois was not consulted. When a citizen of Iowa was appointed Second Assistant Postmaster General and another to a Land Office in Minnesota, Illinois was not consulted. Of none of these have I ever complained. In each of them, the State whose citizen was appointed was allowed to control, and I think rightly. I only ask that Illinois be not cut off with less deference.
It will also be argued that all the Illinois appointments, so far, have been South, and that therefore this should go North. I answer, that of the local appointments every part has had its share, and Chicago far the best share of any. Of the transitory, the Marshal and Attorney are all; and
neither of these is within a hundred miles of me, the former being South and the latter North of West. I am in the center. Is the center nothing?—that center which alone has ever given you a Whig representative ? On the score of locality, I admit the claim of the North is no worse, and I deny that it is any better than that of the center.
Lincoln's peculiar skill in making the facts of a case their own argument has no better example than in this paper (never before printed). It was conclusive on the points he understood to be in issue. There was, however, another difficulty not then so well known as afterward. Taylor permitted his Cabinet to decide his appointments — contrary to Executive usage twelve years later. Under that policy, Cabinet officers mutually sustained one another, securing to each the control of offices in his own department. Secretary Ewing had promised the place in question; the case was referred to the Cabinet, and Ewing kept his word.
Mr. Lincoln wrote to a friend at Springfield, (said Colonel Wilcox to the writer,] that “nothing but Ewing's promise saved Butterfield.” A day or two after, he was walking in his room, and speaking of his pecuniary circumstances he paused and looking up to the ceiling said to a friend: “I am worth about three thousand dollars; I have a little property and owe no debts; it is perhaps well that I did not get this appointment. I will go home and resume my practice, at which I can make a living — and perhaps some day the people may have use for me.” ... He called on Mr. Ewing at the Department for the purpose of withdrawing his papers, when the Secretary remarked that if Mr. Lincoln had applied when the administration came in he should have had the office. The latter replied that if Mr. Ewing would reduce that statement to writing he would be satisfied, and the Secretary thereupon gave him a letter to that effect.
It is commonly reported into this day that the Governorship of Oregon was offered to Lincoln afterward, and declined on account of Mrs. Lincoln's disinclination to such banishment. This would imply that the Administration volunteered what was deemed a recompense for a previous disappointment. Lincoln made no complaint, asked nothing else, and the plain truth must be told that the only place offered him, so far as the files of the State Department show, was one he could not with due self-respect accept. In the writer's possession are two copies of commissions of the same date, certified under the seal of the department — issued August 9, 1849, and returned to the files with the indorsement “Declined ” – one to Hon. Joseph G. Marshall, of Indiana, as Governor of the Territory of Oregon, and the other to Hon. Abraham Lincoln as Secretary of that Territory.
A United States Senator was to be chosen at the next session of the Illinois Legislature, but a Whig majority in that body was not among the possibilities of the time. Lincoln was voted for by the Whig members for that office when the election came off, while the more effective vote of the Democratic majority was given to General James Shields, who had resigned his place as Commissioner of the General Land Office to go to the war, had been shot through the body on a Mexican battlefield, and had come back a military hero. who could easily distance all political competitors.