Abraham among the Yankees: Lincoln's 1848 Visit to Massachusetts

Abraham among the Yankees: Lincoln's 1848 Visit to Massachusetts


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Filling in a portion of Lincoln’s political career that few are aware of, this engaging travelogue details Lincoln’s twelve-day trip through Massachusetts as a young, aspiring Illinois politician campaigning for Zachary Taylor, a slaveowner and the Whig candidate for president in 1848. Moving swiftly, William F. Hanna follows Lincoln from town to town, explaining why Lincoln supported a slaveholder and describing one of Lincoln’s earliest attempts to appeal to an audience beyond his home territory.

Hanna provides excellent context on the politics of the era, particularly the question of slavery, both in Massachusetts and nationwide, and he features the people Lincoln met and the cities or towns in which he spoke. Lincoln stumped for Taylor in Worcester, New Bedford, Boston, Lowell, Dorchester, Chelsea, Dedham, Cambridge, and Taunton. He gave twelve speeches in eleven days to audiences who responded with everything from catcalls to laughter to applause. Whatever they thought of Lincoln’s arguments, those who saw him were impressed by his unusual western style and remembered his style more than the substance of his talks.

Meticulously researched, Abraham among the Yankees invites readers to take an East Coast journey with a thirty-nine-year-old Lincoln during election season in 1848 to see how Massachusetts audiences responded to the humorous, informal approach that served Lincoln well during the rest of his political career.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780809337798
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date: 03/19/2020
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 118
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

William F. Hanna is a visiting lecturer at Bridgewater State University and serves as president of the Old Colony History Museum in Taunton, Massachusetts. A past president of the Lincoln Group of Boston, Hanna is the author of Avon, Massachusetts, 1720–1988 and A History of Taunton, Massachusetts. 


Read an Excerpt

In the fall of 1848 Abraham Lincoln, a little-known congressman from Illinois, spent eleven days touring eastern Massachusetts. The Whig Party, of which Lincoln was a loyal member, had nominated General Zachary Taylor for the presidency, a move that was deeply unpopular in New England. Lincoln came to the Bay State to speak on behalf of his party’s nominee.
Midway through his single term in Congress, the Illinoisan had thus far done little to distinguish himself. Like most Whigs, he was opposed to the war with Mexico, so it was left to him and a host of other campaigners to explain how an apolitical neophyte such as Taylor could possibly be fit for the presidency. To Massachusetts liberals in a badly divided Whig Party, the fact that Taylor’s fame had come solely because of his military exploits was proof positive that the party had abandoned all principle in favor of craven opportunism. Ever the pragmatist, Lincoln and other apologists traveled the state arguing that because of his national reputation, Taylor would win the White House, and in the end his administration would be better for the country than that of the Democratic Party’s nominee, Lewis Cass, of Michigan.
In 1848 no one had any notion that the future would look on Abraham Lincoln as one of America’s great figures. Thus our information about his visit, especially first-hand accounts, is not as complete as we would wish. On one hand, we are regrettably forced to rely heavily on contemporary newspaper stories, and these were notoriously biased. In another sense, however, this is entirely appropriate, because the Lincoln who came to Massachusetts in 1848 was an unsparing partisan warrior. On the stump, he pulled no punches, and those looking for an early glimpse of the author of the Gettysburg Address or the Second Inaugural will not find him in these pages. The 1848 Lincoln used humor, sarcasm, and ridicule to great advantage, but those few witnesses who in later years recalled his visit remembered him not so much for what he said but rather for the way in which he said it. Lincoln’s audiences may have roared with delight as he roasted both Cass and the Free Soil Party’s nominee, former president Martin Van Buren, but it was strictly style over substance.
Zachary Taylor carried Massachusetts and the nation, much to the delight of party regulars. Among them was Lincoln, who, having completed his agreed-upon single congressional term, had returned to Illinois hoping that his loyal service on Taylor’s behalf would yield an appointment as commissioner of public lands. In this he was to be twice disappointed when he learned that not only had he been passed over but also the job had gone to Justin Butterfield, an Illinois rival who had done practically nothing to secure Taylor’s election. After declining a couple of other patronage positions, Lincoln retired to Springfield and resumed the practice of law.
Although little attention has heretofore been given to Lincoln’s Bay State visit, a couple of misconceptions must be corrected. After her husband’s death, Mary Lincoln recalled that she had accompanied him on the trip to Massachusetts. In several decades of research, this author has found no contemporary evidence to support that claim. By all accounts, as he traveled the state, Lincoln was a man alone. Neither those who dealt with him directly nor the correspondents who covered his appearances for the press ever mentioned the presence of a companion. Likewise, Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her excellent book Team of Rivals, states that after the Tremont Temple campaign rally, Lincoln and William Seward shared a hotel room where they discussed politics long into the night. In all of the years of research into the subject of Lincoln’s 1848 visit, the author of this work has seen no contemporary evidence of that assertion.
Finally, I became interested in the subject of Lincoln in Massachusetts more than forty years ago, and when this book was originally published in 1983, I was careful to include the names of those who had assisted my research. Since then, and in the preparation of this edition, I have encountered many others—from a new generation of scholars and archivists—whose help has been essential to the project. I am pleased to place their names alongside their earlier counterparts as I again extend my deepest thanks.
My old friends the Honorable Frank J. Williams and Dr. Thomas R. Turner have been interested in my work from the beginning, and I owe them a continuing debt of gratitude. Both are accomplished Lincoln scholars and their help with the present volume is much appreciated. Likewise, another fine Lincoln scholar, Dr. James Tackach, president of the Lincoln Group of Boston, has been helpful throughout the entire process, and for his support I am deeply appreciative. I will always owe a debt of gratitude to my friend and mentor the late Dr. Jordan D. Fiore, who introduced me to this subject as a young graduate student.
At Southern Illinois University Press, it has been a pleasure to work with executive editor Sylvia Frank Rodrigue and acquisitions assistant Jennifer Egan. Also, at the Library of Congress, Jonathan Eaker was most helpful in offering illustrations from that extensive collection. Closer to home, in Massachusetts, Aaron Schmidt, of the Boston Public Library, was prompt and helpful in offering advice on that institution’s holdings. Katie MacDonald, Lisa Compton, and Carolyn Owen-Leary of the Old Colony History Museum in Taunton were generous with their time and expertise. Joyce Tracy and Frederick E. Bauer Jr., at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, accommodated every request, while nearby, at the Worcester Historical Museum, Wendy Essery and Jessica Goss helped locate photographs from their collection. At Old Sturbridge Village, Caitlin Emery Avenia and Caroline Nash were prompt and helpful in dealing with my requests. At the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Janine Whitcomb and her predecessor, Martha Mayo, were most obliging, as were Robert McLeod of the Lowell Historical Society, and local historian Brad Parker. Robert Collins, of the Chelsea Public Library, was helpful and so was Ann Porter, of the Cambridge Public Library. At the New Bedford Free Public Library, Janice Hodson quickly answered my every request, and at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, it was a pleasure to work with Mark Procknik and Ashleigh Almeida. Last but never least, I owe sincere thanks to Rebecca Carpenter and Robert Hanson, of the Dedham Historical Society, for their gracious assistance.
Thirty-six years ago, on completing the manuscript for Abraham among the Yankees, I acknowledged my wife Carol for her cheerful forbearance as we traveled throughout Massachusetts in search of Lincoln. These many years later, I thank her again, for that journey and for all those that have come since.
William F. Hanna
Taunton, Massachusetts 
April 15, 2019
[end of excerpt]

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Foreword Frank J. Williams xiii

Introduction xv

Itinerary xx

I Prelude: The Whigs in Turmoil 1

II Old Rough and Ready 7

III Worcester 13

IV New Bedford 27

V Boston: Washington Hall 33

VI Lowell 37

VII Dorchester and Chelsea 43

VIII Dedham 45

IX Cambridge 51

X Taunton 53

XI Boston: Tremont Temple 61

XII Epilogue 67

Notes 73

Bibliography 85

Index 91

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