June 01, 1849

Campaigning for General Land Office Commissioner, Lincoln Asks a Congressman to Write to “Old Zach” About Him

Autograph Letter Signed
1 page
SMC 853
Having worked hard to put Zachary Taylor in office, Lincoln naturally expected to have a say in the distribution of government jobs – which, under the spoils system, went to friends and loyal party members. The greatest plum, for Illinois, was the presidential appointment of the commissioner of the General Land Office at Washington. That position oversaw land surveys, sales of government land, swamp grants and railroad approval, and even set the boundaries of new territories. It was an important post, remunerative and powerful, and Lincoln wanted it for a friend and ally. He was not, however, the only Whig politician with claims to consideration, and after several months of jockeying, it appeared that if the Illinois Whigs could not decide on an appointee, the position would go out of state, or, just as galling to Lincoln, to an Illinoisian whom he deemed unworthy. Faced, then, with no good outcome, Lincoln threw his own hat into the ring, and began to write to Whigs around the country, drumming up support. Representative Moses Hampton of Pennsylvania, with whom Lincoln served in the Thirtieth Congress, was one such friend to whom he appealed, asking him, here, to appeal to the President himself: “Old Zach.”
At last I have concluded to take the General Land-Office if I can get it.  I have come to this conclusion, more to prevent what would be generally bad for the party here, and particularly bad for me, than a positive desire for the office. Will you please write Old Zach (not Mr. Ewing, but Old Zach) as pretty a letter for me, as you think the truth will permit?  Time is important. What you do, do quickly.
Lincoln did not get the office and, he later remarked, he “hardly ever felt so bad at any failure in my life.” He was offered, as consolation, the governorship of Oregon, but declined. He had been a one-term Congressman, a failed power broker, and an unsuccessful aspirant for a federal appointment. Abraham Lincoln was out of politics. He went home to work as a lawyer.
Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page, quarto, Charleston, Illinois, June 1, 1849. To Hon. Moses Hampton. With autograph envelope franked “free.”
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