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Lincoln Thanks Former Pro-Slavery and Newly Republican Congressman for a Fiery Anti-Slavery Speech at a Philadelphia Campaign Rally
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John Hickman, a pro-slavery Pennsylvania Democrat, became fervently anti-slavery over Buchanan’s moves to expand slavery into Kansas. Hickman migrated into the “anti-Lecompton” wing of the Democratic party, then towards the Know Nothings, and finally becoming a founder of the Republican Party. In the May 1860 Wigwam convention that chose Lincoln as the Republican Presidential nominee, Hickman was a candidate for the vice presidency; he came in third, after Hannibal Hamlin and Cassius Clay.

At a July 24, 1860, Philadelphia rally, with the nominees in place, Congressman Hickman made his case in support of Lincoln and Hamlin against the “extravagant and unconstitutional demands” of the South regarding the expansion of slavery. “We can only make it effectual in one way—by the support of Mr. LINCOLN. He is honest and capable, and attached to the principles of the Constitution, and his election will assign limits to sectional oligarchy, and make labor honorable and remunerative....” Less than a week later, Lincoln received a copy of the speech from Hickman and thanked him with this brief letter. Clearly, the battle lines of the watershed election of 1860 had been drawn.

A significant portion of Hickman’s speech was soon printed in pamphlet form attached to Lincoln’s already famous Cooper Union speech. Titled The Republican party vindicated--the demands of the South explained : Speech of Hon. Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, at the Cooper Institute, New York City, February 27, 1860. The pamphlet adds to Lincoln long excerpts from Hickman’s speech, pieces arguing against the Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas (“The Dred Scott Decision and Douglas’ Endorsement Thereof,” and “Practical Operation of Douglas’ ‘Non-Intervention.’”), and his running mate (“Herschel V. Johnson’s Views”).

To accompany our letter, we include a first edition of the pamphlet (#24290.03).  A digital copy of the whole pamphlet can also be seen:  https://archive.org/details/republicanparty00linc

ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Autograph Letter Signed, to John Hickman. Springfield, Ill., July 29, 1860. 1 p., 4½ x 7 in. With original envelope addressed to Hickman in Lincoln’s hand, with “Free” and “Springfield, IL July 30” postmark. [Lincoln didn’t have the franking privilege at the time, but it was free to send mail to members of Congress.]

Inventory #23781       Price: $26,000

Complete Transcript

                                    Springfield, Ill. July 29, 1860

Hon. John Hickman

            My dear Sir:

                        I have just received and read the speech you sent me, which you delivered recently at Philadelphia—It is indeed an excellent one; and you will please accept my thanks for both the making and sending of it.

            Yours very truly,

                        A. Lincoln

Envelope in Lincoln’s hand:

Hon. John Hickman M:C/Westchester/Pennsylvania

Historic Background

John Hickman (1810-1875) was a Pennsylvania Congressman from West Chester, Pennsylvania. He started his career as a Democrat, but split from proslavery Southerners in 1855 to begin forming the nascent Republican Party along with other disillusioned Democrats, the so-called “Know Nothings,” and Whigs. He was so incensed by President Buchanan’s support of the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution (1857) for Kansas that he was reelected to the House as an “Anti-Lecompton Democrat” in 1858 and then as a full-fledged Republican in 1860. He became known for his fiery orations and anti-slavery position.

As the Republican Party was forming its platform and choosing candidates, Stephen Douglas was at one point put forward as worthy of Republican support. Lincoln disagreed, believing that Douglas would bend the new party to his positions rather than the other way around. In the previous election, he had suggested lesser politicos:

“It is no disparagement to these men, Hickman and Davis, to say that individually they were comparatively small men, and the Republican party could take hold of them, use them, elect them, absorb them, expel them, or do whatever it pleased with them, and the Republican organization be in no wise shaken” Lincoln said in an 1859 Chicago speech. “But it is not so with Judge Douglas. Let the Republican party of Illinois dally with Judge Douglas; let them fall in behind him and make him their candidate, and they do not absorb him; he absorbs them. They would come out at the end all Douglas men....”

Lincoln was indeed correct, as Hickman took to Republican positions with the zeal of a religious convert. The Library of Congress has what they believe to be the actual clipping that Hickman sent Lincoln on July 25 or 26, 1860, that resulted in this letter. 

Excerpts of Hickman’s speech of July 24, 1860, at Philadelphia Concert Hall, at a campaign rally for Lincoln and Hamlin (from Library of Congress clipping):

“It will be my object, this evening, to endeavor to exhibit, in a distinct light, the dividing line between the political parties of the day.... But as I regard the contest, the determination will soon be made not alone as to our value in the confederacy but as to the destiny of the nation itself....

There was a time, not very far back in the past, when slavery was universally admitted to be a wrong in se, unwise in practice, detrimental to both individuals and communities, and against the spirit and genius of our free system. Now, however, it is declared to be divine in its origin, the highest type of human civilization, and indispensible to the maintenance of a Democratic republic. Formerly it was regarded as a condition to be constantly reduced, and finally to be extinguished. Now, on the contrary, the demand is urged that it shall be extended, and made controlling. Here I find the cause or source of the great political issue of the present. Shall slavery become a national institution and a governing power in the country, or shall it remain as the Constitution left it. This is not an inquiry propounded by us, of the North, but forced upon us by our brethren of the South...

Our true policy is that of resistance to the extravagant and unconstitutional demands of the South. We can only make it effectual in one way—by the support of Mr. LINCOLN. He is honest and capable, and attached to the principles of the Constitution, and his election will assign limits to sectional oligarchy, and make labor honorable and remunerative....”

As with slavery, Hickman also vociferously opposed secession, and on the day South Carolina seceded, he called for war at a Philadelphia political dinner.

“The time for action has arrived; every man must define his position; there is an eternal conflict between freedom and slavery; truces which will last cannot be formed between them. . . . You must now make up your minds whether to serve God or Belial [the Devil]....For myself I say distinctly — No more compromises....South Carolina is not out of the Union, and by the blessing of Almighty God she never will be out of the Union. ....The eighteen millions of the North are not to be put down by the eight millions of the South....”

 A year later, in 1861, Hickman was still on the House floor to declare that the North would never permit secession. When asked by future Confederate general Lucius Jeremiah Gartrell how the North would prevent it, he again replied: “With all the appliances of art to assist 18 million men—reared to industry, with habits of the right kind—will always be able to cope successfully with 8 million men without these auxiliaries.”

Our letter was published in the second supplement to Basler, based on the text from an April 9, 1974 Sotheby Parke Bernet sale, lot 217.


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