Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 29NOTICE FROM CLERK OF SANGAMON COUNTY THAT LINCOLN HAS DECLINED TO SERVE IN THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
November 27, 1854
Abraham Lincoln had served as a congressman from 1847 to 1849, but his unpopular stand against the Mexican War and the decline of the Whig Party seemed to finish his political career. In the early 1850s he focused more on law than on politics.
In 1854, Congress, under the leadership of Stephen Douglas, passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln strongly opposed that act, which basically allowed slavery to spread into territories in the North. He actively reentered politics. The Kansas-Nebraska Act split the Democratic Party into two factions, the regular Democrats and the Anti-Nebraska Democrats. It also briefly reinvigorated the state's Whig Party.
Lincoln ran for state representative in 1854 not because he wanted to but because local Whigs convinced him he was needed on the ballot to help strengthen the Whig and anti-Democratic Party chances. On November 7, Lincoln and his former law partner, Stephen T. Logan, were both elected as state representatives from Sangamon County.
The anti-Democratic Party coalition did so well in the election that Lincoln thought the General Assembly might elect him as United States senator. However, the law stated that a member of the General Assembly could not be selected for United States Senate. Knowing this, on November 27, three weeks following his election, Lincoln resigned as state representative. This document is the official notification of Lincoln's resignation.
The General Assembly met in February 1855 to vote for U. S. senator. On the first ballot, Lincoln received forty-five votes, just shy of the fifty needed for election. Eight more ballots followed, but Lincoln's vote total declined. On the tenth ballot, he threw his votes behind Lyman Trumbull, an anti-Nebraska Democrat, who won 51-47.
In 1858 Lincoln would again seek the U.S. Senate seat, this time against Stephen Douglas. Lincoln lost again but the campaign made him famous enough to be elected president two years later.
Points to Consider
Why would Whigs want such prominent men as Lincoln and Logan to run for state representative?
What action created such strong feelings against the Democratic Party in Illinois?
How might have American history been different had Lincoln been elected by the legislature to the United States Senate in February 1855?