October 12, 1860
Abraham Lincoln: "The Government is About to Fall Into Our Hands"
The most momentous election in America history featured four major candidates, two of whom were Democrats; surrogate orators for the nominees, three of whom were silent; and in the lead, on October 12, 1860, a Western lawyer who had almost no experience in government, having only once been a congressman, for a term, ten years before. Yet in the Congressional elections of October 9th, Abraham Lincoln’s new Republican party swept to victory in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana and it looked, almost for a certainty, Lincoln writes here, “as if the Government is about to fall into our hands”…
Before the electorate stood candidates Stephen A. Douglas, for the Northern Democrats; John C. Breckinridge, for the Southern Democrats; John Bell, for the Constitutional Unionists, a new party of old Southern Whigs and old Northern Know-Nothings; and Abraham Lincoln, for the six-year-old Republicans. With them, schism coalition, and nascence strutted across the national stage, in mime, mostly - with only Douglas breaking with antebellum campaign presidential protocol that rendered candidates, in deference to the exalted nature of the presidency, mute. But if Lincoln was, as he said,
quite satisfied with what you said, at Chicago, upon the point I mentioned to you; and I am much obliged to you for saying it - I hope it did not give you much trouble weaving it into the general web of your discourse. I shall look up the speech made at DuBuque and published in the N.Y. Times... I have had no fear of New-York recently, though of course, I am glad to have the expression of your continued confidence. It now really looks as if the Government is about to fall into our hands. Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana have surpassed all expectation, even the most extravagant
Lincoln’s use of the phrase “in our hands” is particularly interesting, for it suggests a sureness, a literal grasp, that he would use again at another heightened, hard-won, and long-sought moment: writing at the end of the Civil War, he said, “'it is certain now that Richmond is in our hands.” It isn’t necessarily fanciful to imagine that perhaps Lincoln, who began life as a manual laborer - clearing fields, splitting rails, building fences – retained a workman’s sure sense as to when a job was done: he could feel it.
Autograph Letter Signed (“A. Lincoln”), 2 pages, octavo, Springfield, October 12, 1860. To William H. Seward.
Used with the permission of Shapell legacy partnership.