September 04, 1860

Abraham Lincoln Reviews His Won-Lost Record in Electoral Politics Up to 1849

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The Reverend Peter Cartwright, whose religion and politics Lincoln detested equally, had been a Lincoln adversary, and defamer, for almost thirty years when Lincoln wrote this letter outlining his electoral win-loss record against Cartwright. Their first contest was the election of 1832, in which Lincoln and Cartwright were among thirteen candidates for four seats in the Illinois House of Representatives (Cartwright was elected, Lincoln -- suffering his very first defeat for public office -- was not); their last, in 1846, for Congress, in which the victorious Lincoln served his only term. It was in that match-up that Cartwright circulated the rumor that Lincoln was an infidel and a denier of the Scriptures – a charge Lincoln deeply resented. Which is probably why he remembers here, exactly, by how many votes he beat Cartwright in that contest: “as I recollect 1511 majority, being about double the party majority of the District.”

Of particular notice, however, is what Lincoln did not say here, but elsewhere, about  the election of 1832, in which "Peter Cartwright, and three others were elected, of whom I was not one." In  an autobiographical sketch written to aid a campaign biographer in 1860, Lincoln noted of that this loss "was the only time A. [he] was ever beaten on a direct vote of the people." That it so rankled, and that he left it out here, is yet ever more evidence of Lincoln's humility.

Autograph Letter Signed (“A. Lincoln”), 2 pages, recto and verso, octavo, Springfield, Illinois, September 4, 1860. To John Coulter. With autograph envelope.

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Transcript

Private

Springfield, Ills. Sept. 4, 1860

John Coulter, Esq

Dear Sir:

Yours of the 29th is received; and I presume I understand what has prompted you to write it. In 1832 I was first a candidate for the Legislature, with some ten or a dozen other candidates. Peter Cartwright, and three others were elected, of whom I was not one. In 1834 he, and I, and several others, again become candidates; he declined before the election, I saw the race through, and, with three others, was elected. In 1835 he became a candidate to fill a vacancy in the State Senate, and his sole competitor, Job Fletcher, beat him by near six hundred majority. In 1836, 1838, & 1840, I was successively elected to the Legislature---he not being a candidate at either of those elections.

I then ceased to be a candidate for anything till 1846, when I ran for Congress. Mr. Cartwright was my competitor, and I beat him, as I recollect 1511 majority, being about double the party majority of the District. I was never a candidate for Congress at any other time, and never had any contest with Mr. Cartwright other than as I have stated.

Please do not make this public

Yours truly 

 A. LINCOLN

 
[Envelope]

John Coulter, Esq
Niles,
Michigan.