When Whig candidate Zachary Taylor was elected president in 1848, Congressman Lincoln found himself besieged by office-seekers. But although he had been an early advocate of General Taylor's campaign, Lincoln planned himself to return to Springfield and the law. Even before leaving Washington he wrote to his friend Joshua Speed, 20 February 1849, that he was not pursuing a patronage position because "there is nothing about me which would authorize me to think of a first class office; and a second class one would not compensate me for being snarled at by others who want it for themselves."
Eventually, though, Lincoln made himself a candidate for Commissioner of the General Land Office—a position within the Department of the Interior—when it seemed that the candidate he had proposed was going to lose out to another. He began an earnest letter-writing campaign and soon found "himself embroiled in a complicated and often mean-spirited struggle" (Burlingame, p. 296).
Basler prints nearly a score of solicitation letters sent by Lincoln, a number of them in the hand of his wife. Three of the letters are of the same date (but much less detailed) as the present one to Senator Joseph R. Underwood, Whig of Kentucky.
"You may remember that while at Washington I sought to have you recommend Mr. Cyrus Edwards, of this state for Commissioner of the General Land Office. Though not much disinclined, I believe you had not done so when I left. I think it probable you have since. I have received a Telegraphic despach from Washington of the 1st Inst. saying a Mr. Butterfield of Chicago, will be appointed, unless prevented by the use of my own name. Mr. B. though entirely competent, so far as I know, is not recommended by any citizen of this state directly for the office, and we feel, that should he receive it, we are emphatically under a foreign guardianship. This, you know, men rebel against. The despach says the appointment has been postponed three weeks in order that our state may be heard from. As against him, I desire the office, and while I shall rely chiefly upon recommendations from home, I wish to make it appear, if I can, that I was not greatly under par, for one of my limited acquaintance, and brief career, while at Washington. For the latter object, I shall be very grateful if you will write the President as pretty a letter for me, as, in your judgment, the truth will permit. If you write, so frame the letter as to save whatever chance Mr. Edwards, or any one else, you may have recommended, may yet have. Not a moment of time is to be lost."
The Land Office appointment did eventually go to Chicagoan Justin Butterfield, outraging many prominent Illinois Whigs. As a consolation, Lincoln was offered the secretaryship of the Oregon Territory, which he turned down. Burlingame quotes Richard W. Thompson to the effect that this "setback may have been a blessing in disguise. ... If he had been successful, Thompson speculated, he would have stayed on in Washington, 'separated from the people of Illinois,' sinking 'down into the grooves of a routine office, so that he would never have reached the eminence he afterwards achieved as a lawyer, or have become President of the United States" (p. 307).
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