Abraham Lincoln to John M. Clayton, 28 July 1849,in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2: 60, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/.
Transcription adapted from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), edited by Roy P. Basler
Adapted by Matthew Pinsker, Dickinson College
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.
Springfield, Ill., July 28, 1849.
Hon. J. M. Clayton.
It is with some hesitation I presume to address this letter---and yet I wish not only you, but the whole cabinet, and the President too, would consider the subject matter of it. My being among the People while you and they are not, will excuse the apparent presumption. It is understood that the President at first adopted, as a general rule, to throw the responsibility of the appointments upon the respective Departments; and that such rule is adhered to and practised upon. This course I at first thought proper; and, of course, I am not now complaining of it. Still I am disappointed with the effect of it on the public mind. It is fixing for the President the unjust and ruinous character of being a mere man of straw. This must be arrested, or it will damn us all inevitably. It is said Gen. Taylor and his officers held a council of war, at Palo Alto (I believe); and that he then fought the battle against unanimous opinion of those officers. This fact (no matter whether rightfully or wrongfully) gives him more popularity than ten thousand submissions, however really wise and magnanimous those submissions may be.
The appointments need be no better than they have been, but the public must be brought to understand, that they are the President's appointments. He must occasionally say, or seem to say, “by the Eternal,” “I take the responsibility.” Those phrases were the “Samson's locks” of Gen. Jackson, and we dare not disregard the lessons of experience.