From Franklin Pierce, it may be said that Lincoln came to the Presidency, the Civil War, and this letter - written on behalf of a White House doorkeeper. The path began in 1854 when, with Pierce’s support, the Kansas-Nebraska bill was enacted – a law that Lincoln, then an attorney riding the circuit of fourteen Illinois counties, saw as a brazen attempt to nationalize slavery. Thunderstruck and outraged, he immediately spoke out against the Act’s abrogation of long-settled principles - and so revived his moribund political career.
By 1858 his cause brought him face-to-face with Pierce’s ally, Stephen A. Douglas, in seven closely-followed and much publicized debates, as he contested for Douglas’ Senate seat; and though defeated, his opposition to Pierce’s “solution” of the slavery issue led to his rise as the leader of the Republican party. By 1860, as Lincoln ran for the presidency, the Kansas-Nebraska Bill had resulted in Bleeding Kansas, John Brown, and the halving of the Democratic Party; by the time Lincoln was elected, it had worked its way to the sectional divide between North and South that would soon erupt into war.
But that was not all Lincoln could trace to Pierce, for as he evinces here, he had also to deal with Thomas Stackpole “whom I found in the White-House when I came, having been brought from New-Hampshire by Mr. Pierce.”
Stackpole, who had been brought to the White House by Pierce, had stayed on to serve Buchanan, and after him, Lincoln. Initially a watchman, he was promoted to doorkeeper and, by the Lincolns, to the delicate and powerful post of steward. He had, apparently, a pleasing manner, for he was one of Mrs. Lincoln’s (few) favorites, and he was liked well enough by the President himself that Lincoln even lent him money: three hundred and eighty four dollars which, today, would be worth some five thousand dollars. Lincoln also recommended him to General Wool, in ’62, as “a worthy and competent business man” and here, again, to General Butler, as “a straight, energetic man” who “desires to go into some business about oysters in your vicinity.”
Why Mrs. Lincoln liked Stackpole, who was a conniver in cahoots with the disreputable head groundskeeper John Watt, is by virtue of that connection, understandable. Lincoln’s fondness for the man suspected of being a Confederate sympathizer is more mysterious. Unknown, too, is why Lincoln’s recommendations, first to General Wool and here, warmly endorsed to General Butler - “so far as you can consistently facilitate him,” Lincoln says, “I shall be glad” – went nowhere: for Stackpole stayed at the White House until Andrew Johnson removed him, in August 1865, for lending a White House silver bowl to a Baltimore store as an advertisement.
Autograph Letter Signed (“A. Lincoln”), as President, 1 page, octavo, Executive Mansion, Washington, January 14, 1864. To Major General Benjamin F. Butler. With an Autograph Endorsement Signed, in the hand of BENJAMIN F. BUTLER, on the verso.