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Opinion

June 7, 2014

Shribman: Lincoln's three campaigns

(Continued)

Today, the name Leonard Swett, a Republican delegate from Illinois, is known only by Lincoln specialists. The lawyer, whose name was spelled Sweat in the official transcript of the convention, was a native of Maine who settled in Illinois and was drawn into Lincoln’s circle, by some accounts becoming his confidante, at least on political matters. He knew Lincoln wanted to be re-nominated and was “much more eager for it than he was for the first one,” adding, “and yet from the first he discouraged all efforts on the part of his friends to obtain it.”

At the Baltimore convention, Swett rose to his feet and said, “Mr. Lincoln was our citizen, but when we gave him, then, to the country we felt that our claims upon him were relieved; and now, more than ever, we feel that this Convention, in re-nominating him, has nominated not especially the child of Illinois, but the favored child of this great nation.”

It was a run-on sentence, but a sentence to run on.

The Lincoln Papers include a manuscript that is not in Lincoln’s hand, but that nonetheless quotes him saying he was gratified to have been deemed “not unworthy to remain in my present position.”

The double negative reflected his mood, and the country’s.

Shortly thereafter, a delegation from the convention descended upon the president, who said his re-nomination was less a “personal compliment” than a symbol of what he described as “a higher view of the interests of the country for the present and the great future.” Then he added:

“I have not permitted myself, gentlemen, to conclude that I am the best man in the country; but I am reminded, in this connection, of a story of an old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that it was ‘not best to swap horses when crossing streams.’”

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