Archives Announces Homecoming of Long-Lost Lincoln Letter
Press Release · Thursday, May 28, 2009
Private Collector Lawrence Cutler Donates Original Lincoln Letter to Archives
In a press conference today, the National Archives announced the homecoming of an original Abraham Lincoln hand-written letter to Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Lawrence M. Cutler, a private collector from Scottsdale, Arizona, donated the letter to the National Archives.
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Written on Executive Mansion letterhead, the November 14, 1863, letter states:
Hon. Sec. of Treasury
My dear Sir
Mr. Stevens, late Superintendent of the Mint at San Francisco, asks to have a copy, or be permitted to examine, and take extracts, of the evidence upon which he was removed. Please oblige him in one way or the other.
Yours truly, A. Lincoln.
In presenting the Lincoln letter to Acting Archivist Adrienne Thomas, Mr. Cutler said, “It is both a great honor and a pleasure for me to give this very important Abraham Lincoln letter back to the citizens of the United States of America, especially during this bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth. It may always remain a mystery as to how this letter left the public domain and has remained in private hands for as much as a century. However, what is more significant is that today I am returning this letter to its long lost home.”
“The National Archives is pleased to accept this important gift, the return of President Lincoln’s November 14, 1863, letter to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase” said Acting Archivist Thomas. “This brief note, written five days before President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, provides us with a window to look at a difficult personal crisis faced by Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War,” she continued.
The National Archives became aware of the existence of this Lincoln hand-written letter in 2006. Because the letter was written from the President to the Secretary of Treasury concerning a federal government matter, the National Archives launched an internal review to determine whether the document belonged in the National Archives.
The investigation revealed that at one time the letter was part of the General Records of the Department of Treasury, series 82 “Letters Received from Executive Officers, 1831-1869”. These included 141 volumes in which original letters were bound. According to the index to Volume 91, the letter should have been on page five. Upon examination of page five, it was discovered that only half of the page remained pasted into the volume---it included a one sentence summary of the letter, the date, and the author of the letter. The body of the letter was missing.
In part, the newly-found Lincoln letter is significant because the information in it was not known to Lincoln scholars or historians. The multi-volume Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln by Roy P. Basler, published in the 1950’s, does not include a copy of this letter. Although it is unclear exactly when the letter fragment was torn from the Department of Treasury volume, it appears that it predates Basler’s publication and may have happened when the volume was still at the Department of Treasury, sometime between the 1880’s when the letters were bound and the 1940’s when the records were transferred to the Archives.
Recently, the National Archives Document Conservation Laboratory examined the two parts of the letter with normal and transmitted light, ultraviolet lamp and stereo-binocular microscope. The letter and half folio were found to be identical in visual appearance. Both are on soft tan, medium-weight, smooth machine-made wove paper of even and identical formation. Both letter and half folio were measured with a micrometer and have the identical thickness of .012 millimeters. The one physical difference noted was the unevenly trimmed bottom edge of the letter. It appears approximately ⅛” to ¼” of the sheet is missing; otherwise the overall dimensions (5” x 8”) are identical.
When the folio was torn along its fold, small portions of the upper most layers of the paper support were torn, leaving behind matching indentations known as “beveled” or “shelved” areas. The small portions of the support that remain attached along the folio fold exactly match the shelved areas on the remaining folio half adhered in the volume.
At the end of March 1861, President Lincoln had approved the appointment of Robert Stevens as head of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. The President had appointed Stevens to the patronage job as a favor to Lincoln’s old friend, Oregon Senator Edward Baker. Stevens was Baker’s son-in-law. Baker, a fellow Republican, died in battle in 1861.
In 1863 Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase announced changes in the Customhouse and Mint, based on a report by special agent Thomas Brown who was sent to investigate Federal services in California. The report listed six charges against Stevens:
- The hiring of bad men
- Encouragement of insubordination and contempt for authority on the part of workers
- Partiality as to the wages of clerks and laborers while others' were fixed much lower
- “Sponges and barnacles” - many were absent without working but were still highly-paid
- Purchase of inferior supplies at exorbitant rates
- Being arrogant and discourteous to his managers
Based on these charges, Stevens was fired by Secretary Chase in April, 1863. For months following his removal, Stevens protested the firing, finally resorting to writing to President Lincoln.
The newly returned letter indicates that while Lincoln was not willing to override Chase’s decision, he did feel that Stevens deserved to see the charges against him. It emphasizes the President’s sense of fair-play and moral authority which served as a guide throughout his Presidency.
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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 202-357-5300.
This page was last reviewed on March 25, 2019.
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