Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lincoln Letter Rediscovered

Interesting news from the National Archives, which displayed a 'new' Lincoln letter on Thursday.  Evidently the letter, which might better be described as a mid-19th century inter-office memo, had been removed from a collection of such letters sent to the Department of the Treasury sometime before that collection was obtained by the National Archives in the 1940s.

The letter itself is not particularly interesting, contrary to some of the news reports.  It is valuable, given that it has Lincoln's famous signature, and also because it seems to have been written in Lincoln's hand.  (I've seen no official comment on this fact, and I'm not an expert in handwriting, but the script looks like Lincoln's handwriting to me.  It also looks like it was written in a hurry, larger and messier than Lincoln's polished writings -- like handwritten copies of the Gettysburg Address -- but who knows?)

It is a standard piece of Lincoln correspondence, where he directs one of the federal departments to do something.  The Collected Works is filled with such writings, usually brief, and often dealing with personal requests.  This one is a request by Lincoln on behalf of the son-in-law of a former Oregon senator -- who had been removed as the superintendent of the San Francisco mint.  Full text of the letter is available here.  

The AP story gets a director at the Archives to suggest that the letter "is an extremely important key to understanding Lincoln's relationship with Sen. Baker."  However, Lincoln is well-known to have responded to personal requests whenever he could, often for political allies and friends, but sometimes just for people who waited to see him in his office.  It seems pretty routine to me.

Still, a rediscovered letter by Abraham Lincoln is better than a Lincoln writing lost to history.  Correspondence such as this is important to show how Lincoln continued to do the non-war related work of the government in the midst of the virtually all-consuming war.

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