President Abraham Lincoln, In Making Anti-Slavery Republican Lewis Clephane the Post Master of Washington, Disappointed “my old friend Nathan Sargent, which wounds him, and consequently me, very deeply”

This famous, oft-quoted letter, written early in the War to his Treasury Secretary, is a vivid and rare demonstration of emotion and strong loyalty of Lincoln

“There is an office in your department, called the ‘Commissioner of Customs… I will be much obliged if you agree for me to appoint Mr. Sargent to this place.”

Lewis Clephane was the manager of the “Washington Era”, an anti-slavery newspaper courageously operating in the nation’s capital at a time when it...

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President Abraham Lincoln, In Making Anti-Slavery Republican Lewis Clephane the Post Master of Washington, Disappointed “my old friend Nathan Sargent, which wounds him, and consequently me, very deeply”

This famous, oft-quoted letter, written early in the War to his Treasury Secretary, is a vivid and rare demonstration of emotion and strong loyalty of Lincoln

“There is an office in your department, called the ‘Commissioner of Customs… I will be much obliged if you agree for me to appoint Mr. Sargent to this place.”

Lewis Clephane was the manager of the “Washington Era”, an anti-slavery newspaper courageously operating in the nation’s capital at a time when it was not popular to take that stand there. Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of its contributors. She wrote what became “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” at his request, after he asked for a story to serialize in his newspaper. In 1855 he and four other colleagues formed a group called the Republican Association of Washington, and sent forth the call for the formation of the Republican Party. The next year, he also put forth the call for the first Republican National Convention and served on its executive committee. Clephane campaigned for Lincoln in 1860, and in fact was president of the Washington Wide-Awakes. After Lincoln was elected, he changed the name of his paper to the Washington Republican. For his many services, and his political strength and support in the capital, the new President felt obliged to offer Clephane a federal position in the city, and settled on the postmastership.

Nathan Sargent was a Whig who had served as sergeant at arms of the House of Representatives during Lincoln’s term in Congress from 1847-9, and was then Register of the U.S. Treasury. The two were friendly at the time, and remained so afterwards. In 1859 Sargent wrote Lincoln setting forth his plan to unite the Republicans with old Whigs in the South in opposition to slavery for the 1860 election, but while Lincoln appreciated the suggestion and support, he realistically told Sargent, “If the rotten democracy shall be beaten in 1860, it has to be done by the North; no human invention can deprive them of the South.” Sargent knew Washington, and after Lincoln’s election hoped for the postmastership for himself.

Lincoln had to make a choice for Postmaster of Washington, D.C., and he chose Clephane. But he was unwilling to simply disappoint Sargent, and found another position for him, of as great or even greater import. And to accomplish the result he sought, he wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase.

Autograph letter signed, Executive Mansion, Washington, May 10, 1861, to Chase, requesting Sargent to be given a post in the War Department. “My dear Sir: I have felt myself obliged to refuse the post-office at this place to my old friend Nathan Sargent, which wounds him, and consequently me, very deeply. He now says there is an office in your department, called the ‘Commissioner of Customs,’ which the incumbent, a Mr. Ingham, wishes to vacate. I will be much obliged if you agree for me to appoint Mr. Sargent to this place.” Chase’s endorsement on the verso reads, “Received May 10 ’61. Desires appointment of Nathan Sargent as Commissioner of Customs.”

Chase complied. Sargent served as Commissioner of Customs from 1861-67. After he retired he wrote a book, “Public Men & Events from the Commencement of Mr. Monroe’s Administration, in 1817 to the Close of Mr. Fillmore’s”.

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