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Georgia family donates letter to Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

An undated letter, written by Abraham Lincoln has been donated  by its Georgia owners to the Abraham Lincoln  Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

The fiery letter, believed to be from January 1839, was written  to Capt. Andrew McCormack, who was an Illinois state representative and fellow member of the Whig party. Both were also members of  the “Long Nine,”a group of tall legislators with similar political views.

McCormack’s descendants held on to the yellowed letter, passing it from one generation to the next.

“You don’t see letters written with the passion or fire that is in this letter,” said Craig Schneeberger of Dunwoody, whose father, Fred Schneeberger II, donated the letter.

Schneeberger has done research on Lincoln and the letter. “It’s very fascinating,” he said.

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The letter was likely meant to shame McCormack, said Samuel Wheeler, the state historian of Illinois.

“He’s not really happy,” Wheeler said. “This is a different side of Mr. Lincoln that really illustrates how he could be fiercely partisan. Later on, we came to think of Mr. Lincoln as someone who transcended party politics, but here he stresses partisan politics and the frustration he feels with a trusted ally.”

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At issue, according to Wheeler, was the job of state printer. Lincoln wanted his friend and Whig ally Simeon Francis to get the post. He was concerned that McCormack was supporting Democrat William Walters, editor of the Illinois State Register newspaper. 

Dear Captain: 

 

I have just learned, with utter astonishment, that you have some notion of voting for Walters. This certainly can not be true. It can not be, that one so true, firm, and unwavering as you have ever been, can for a moment think of such a thing. What! Support that pet of all those who continually slander and abuse you, and labour, day and night, for your destruction. All our friends are ready to cut our throats about it. An angel from heaven could not make them believe, that we do not connive at it. For Heaven’s sake, for your friends sake, for the sake of the recollection of all the hard battles we have heretofore fought shoulder, to shoulder, do not forsake us this time. We have been told for two or three days that you were in danger; but we gave it the lie whenever we heard it. We were willing to bet our lives upon you. Stand by us this time, and nothing in our power to confer, shall ever be denied you. Surely! Surely! You do not doubt my friendship for you. If you do, what under Heaven can I do, to convince you. Surely you will not think those who have been your revilers, better friends than I. Read this & write what you will do. 

 It’s signed “Your friend Lincoln.”

McCormack (the family’s name was later changed to “McCormick”) would eventually become mayor of Springfield. 

The letter, from the nation’s 16th president, was well-known to scholars.Until recently, though, it  had remained in private hands.

GSU professor Wendy Hamand Venet talks about Abraham Lincoln's role in the Civil War and the Lion of Atlanta's role in healing. ERNIE SUGGS/ESUGGS@AJC.COM

Schneeberger said the letter was always passed down to the first-born male in each generation.

“This letter has always been my dad’s pride and joy,” he said.

Last December, Craig Schneeberger’s son, Zack, suggested donating the letter. The idea wasn’t embraced by everyone.

His son’s argument, though, eventually won out.

“He said ‘Every 20 years that letter comes out of someone’s safe deposit box and goes into someone else’s safe deposit box. How does anyone benefit from that’?”

The news of the donation was made just ahead of Lincon’s birthday on February 12. He would have been 209 years old.

Wheeler said the letter will now be included with more than 1,600 letters and documents written or signed by Lincoln in the library’s collection.

In addition to the letter, the presidential museum recently received a painting  by William Morton Jackson Rice, dating back to the late 1800s, that shows the young Lincoln reading while he takes a break from chopping wood.

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