Letter from Abraham Lincoln to James Lemen

Source citation

Lincoln, Abraham, to James Lemen, Springfield, IL, 2 March 1857. As printed in The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Philip Van Doren Stern. New York: Random House, 1940, p. 414 - 415.

Author (from)
Abraham Lincoln
Recipient (to)
Lemen, James
Date Certainty
Leah Suhrstedt
Transcription date
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print.  Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

Springfield, Illinois, March 2, 1857

Friend Lemen: Thanking you for your warm appreciation of my view in a former letter as to the importance in many features of your collection of old family notes and papers, I will add a few words more as to Elijah P. Lovejoy’s case. His letters among your old family notes were of more interest to me than even those of Thomas Jefferson, written to your father. Of course they were exceedingly important as a part of the history of the “Jefferson-Lemen Anti-Slavery Pact,” under which your father, Rev. James Lemen, Sr., as Jefferson’s anti-slavery agent in Illinois, founded his anti-slavery churches, among which was the present Bethel church, which set in motion the forces which finally made Illinois a free state, all of which was splendid; but Lovejoy’s tragic death for freedom in every sense marked his sad ending as the most important single event that ever happened in the new world.
Both your father and Lovejoy were pioneer leaders in the cause of freedom, and it has always been difficult for me to see why your father, who was a resolute, uncompromising, and aggressive leader, who boldly proclaimed his purpose to make both the territory and the State free, never aroused nor encountered any of that mob violence which both in St. Louis and Alton confronted or pursued Lovejoy, and finally doomed him to a felon’s death and a martyr’s crown, Perhaps the two cases are a little parallel with those of John and Peter. John was bold and fearless at the scene of the Crucifixion, standing near the cross receiving the Savior’s request to care for his mother, but was not annoyed; while Peter, whose disposition [was] to shrink from public vie, seemed to catch the attention of members of the mob on every hand, until finally to throw public attention off, he denied his master with an oath; though later the grand old apostle redeemed himself grandly, and like Lovejoy, died a martyr to his faith. Of course, there was no similarity between Peter’s treachery at the Temple and Lovejoy’s splendid courage when the pitiless mob were closing around him. But in the cases of the two apostles at the scene mentioned, John was more prominent or loyal in his presence and attention to the Great master than Peter was, but the latter seemed to catch the attention of the mob; and as Lovejoy, one of the most inoffensive of men, for merely printing a small paper, devoted to the freedom of the body and mind of man, was pursued to his death; while his older comrade in the cause of freedom, Rev. James Lemen, Sr., who boldly and aggressively proclaimed his purpose to make both the territory and the State free, was never molested a moment by the minions of violence. The madness and pitiless determination with which the mob steadily pursued Lovejoy to his doom, marks it as one of the most unreasoning and unreasonable in all time, except that which doomed the Savior to the cross.
If ever you should come to Springfield again, do not fail to call. The memory of our many “evening sittings” here and elsewhere, as we called them, suggests many a pleasant hour, both pleasant and helpful.

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