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Bryant Congratulates Abraham Lincoln

In this current presidential election year it is fitting to recall another significant American election. In 1860, noted journalist and poet William Cullen Bryant, who founded the Reading Room in Roslyn (which later became the Bryant Library) was an early advocate for the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln. Bryant was among a group of prominent New York Republicans who invited Lincoln to come east from Illinois and speak in New York City.

He presided over the event and introduced Lincoln on the stage at Cooper Union in February 1860, where Lincoln gave his noted anti-slavery speech. Bryant then went on to support Lincoln for President. Bryant and Lincoln carried on a correspondence throughout Lincoln’s presidency. In the following letter (in the Library of Congress) Bryant congratulates Lincoln on his nomination for President by the Republican Party and offers some wise advice:

New York June 16, 1860.

My dear sir.

I was about to begin this letter by saying that I congratulate you on your nomination, but when I consider the importunities which will beset you as a candidate and the cares, responsibilities and vexations which your success will throw upon you, I do not congratulate you. It is the country that is to be congratulated. I was not without apprehensions that the nomination might fall upon some person encumbered with bad associates, and it was with a sense of relief and infinite satisfaction that I with thousands of others in this quarter heard that it was conferred upon you.

It is fortunate that you have never gathered about you a knot of political confederates who have their own interests to look after. You will excuse the frankness of an old campaigner who has been engaged in political controversies for more than a third of a century, if I say that I hope you will allow none to be formed around you while you are before the country as a candidate for the Presidency. I have observed that those candidates who are most cautious of making pledges, stating opinions or entering into arrangements of any sort for the future save themselves and their friends a great deal of trouble and have the best chance of success. The people have nominated you without any pledges or engagements of any sort; they are satisfied with you as you are, and they want you to do nothing at present but allow yourself to be elected. I am sure that I but express the wish of the vast majority of your friends when I say that they want you to make no speeches write no letters as a candidate, enter into no pledges, make no promises, nor even give any of those kind words which men are apt to interpret into promises. Several of our Presidents have had a great deal of trouble from this cause, and I suspect that Fremont if he had been elected would have had quite as much as any of them.

I hope that what I have said is no impertinence. I feel the strongest interest in your success, but it is only the interest of a citizen of our common country. What you do and say, concerns not yourself alone, but the people of the United States. I think you will be elected and I am anxious that you should go into the Executive Chair with every advantage for making the most judicious and worthy appointments and lending your aid to the wisest and most beneficial measures.

I am, dear Sir,

faithfully yours

Wm. C. Bryant.

This article by former LHC Archivist Myrna Sloam was originally published in the November/December 2004 Bryant Library Newsletter.


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