What to Know about Buying Abraham Lincoln Autographs & Documents

Abraham Lincoln is considered by many the most consequential American President along with George Washington. His journey took him from frontiersman to lawyer to Congressman to President to a savior of the Union.  Lincoln was born in 1809 in Kentucky  and was raised in Indiana. He went on to serve in the Illinois House of Representatives (1834-1842), the US House of Representatives for one term in 1847, and President of the United States from 1861 through his assassination in 1865.

Lincoln’s rapid rise to national prominence left him personally something of an enigma. Books, firsthand accounts, and movies have attempted to get to the heart of his motivations and character.

Lincoln also left behind his own body of writing in the form of letters and documents. These survive, from his early days through his death, in some cases in the hours even before his death. Those from his early years are terribly scarce, with only a small number of pieces signed during his youth having ever reached the market.

Below is a brief survey of some of the types of historical documents one generally finds to buy signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln as a Member of Congress


Some of the earliest material one finds of Lincoln to buy date from his term as a Member of the U.S. Congress, when he carried on communication with constituents and others in Washington. These can relate to politics of the era or his own career.

1849 – Abraham Lincoln Secretly Maneuvers to Use His Newly Found Political Influence on the National Stage

Lincoln as a Lawyer


One finds letters and filings of Lincoln during his law partnerships in Springfield, IL; they can come in the form of letters, such as the below, or in what appear to be more formal legal filings. Some are signed by Lincoln and one of his law partners, the most famous being William Herndon. These letters span the better part of a decade and continue until his presidential term.

In the Wake of His Famed Senate Campaign Against Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln Handles a Case for a Troublesome Client

Abraham Lincoln’s Rise to National Prominence

Post the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln’s name was more commonly spoken, and he received invitations to speak and letters from supporters. Below are two examples of such responses Lincoln sent back to well wishers.

Abraham Lincoln’s Life Wisdom and Counsel to a Young Man: Get Involved, You Can Make a Difference

Just a Few Weeks Before the 1860 Election, Abraham Lincoln Writes from Springfield, Sending His Autograph to a Young Man

Lincoln’s Presidency

By far the most common and often the most important documents one can find for sale of Lincoln date from the Presidency, which also represents the final four years of his life, when the nation was in the midst of the Civil War and he was fighting to keep it together.

Some of these are responses to state actors and take the form of an endorsement, or a note written on another letter expressing his intent. These can be quite evocative and often contain a fair amount of his own handwriting.

Keeping the Union Together: Anxious to Keep Border State Kentucky Firmly in the Union, President Abraham Lincoln Approves and Forwards to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton a Petition from Loyal Kentuckians Asking for a Union Military Base in Western Kentucky

The Sanitary Fairs; A Tender Heart for Soldiers at War

The U.S. Sanitary Commission cared for the Union’s sick and wounded soldiers and promoted clean and healthy conditions and army camps. It held fairs in certain large cities around the country, mainly in 1863-4, to raise funds for its activities. Lincoln attended when he could, and contributed notes, documents and signatures to be sold or auctioned at the fairs, such as the example pictured here:

President Abraham Lincoln Expresses His Personal Concern for “our gallant and suffering soldiers”

Executive Action

Documents such as the below, ordering the Secretary of State to make official an action, can showcase the types of executive actions that were required by the President during the War. Such actions were in the hand of another person and then given to Lincoln for his authorization.

President Abraham Lincoln Orders Implementation of the New York Draft Call, Less than One Year After the Draft Riots in that State


Military Commissions Signed By Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln signed military commissions for officers throughout the war. They are also signed by another cabinet member, usually the Secretary of War. They are signed on vellum and contain gorgeous, ornate vignettes. Sometimes, they are for higher positions, famous people,  or relate to a famous event, such as the below.

“While we were marching through Georgia”: President Abraham Lincoln Awards a General’s Rank to Langdon C. Easton, Sherman’s Quartermaster General in the Victorious Georgia CampaignThe manuscript notes the promotion was “for distinguished and important service in the quartermaster’s department in the campaign terminating in the capture of Atlanta, Georgia”

Lincoln’s Communications with his Cabinet and the Military

Many of the letters written on Executive Mansion letterhead are between Lincoln and one of his cabinet secretaries. He seems to have written more often to Edwin Stanton, his Secretary of War, who was, with him, prosecuting the war.

President Abraham Lincoln Writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Urging Stanton to Help Gen. Montgomery Meigs Bolster the Quartermaster’s Department

Lincoln’s Civil Appointments

Lincoln’s appointments of civil positions, non-military in nature, Treasury officials, Ambassadors, etc. are signed on paper, not vellum like their military counterparts.

President Abraham Lincoln Recognizes and Approves the Posting by the Russian Government of a Consul to Philadelphia

The Last Days of Abraham Lincoln

One can find Lincoln autographs up to the very day he died. These are particularly poignant and can come in any of the above forms.

Signed the Day He Made His Final Speech – April 11, 1865

What Lincoln’s Contemporaries Said

Herndon’s Revelations on Lincoln’s Religion: A Primary Historical Source

“He…was a Theist & a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary – supernatural inspiration or revelation…doubting the immortality of the soul as the Christian world understands that term.”

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