Monday, August 27, 2012

Was Lincoln just Joking?.....Not sure.

Elizabethtown, Kentucky resident Samuel Haycraft wrote to Abraham Lincoln several times in the spring, summer, and fall of 1860 gathering some information and eventually suggesting that Lincoln might enjoy coming back to visit his boyhood home area. Lincoln apparently responded each time, affirming when information was correct and correcting when Haycraft was in  error, particularly in regard to his genealogy.

On June 4, Lincoln wrote back in repsonse to Haycraft's May 31 letter. In it Lincoln wrote, "You suggest that a visit to the place of my nativity might be pleasant to me. Indeed it would. But would it be safe? Would not the people Lynch me?"

On August 19, Haycraft wrote back to Lincoln, explaining that he had no knowledge of the statement made by a reporter in a recent edition of the New York Herald suggesting that Lincoln had been asked to come to Kentucky but had refused on account that he suspected a trap to do him violence. Haycraft said he had not invited Lincoln only suggested he might find it pleasant. He explained that he took Lincoln's lynching statement in jest and as a "little playfulness."  He said that he was going to write back and return the joke by saying that indeed Lincoln would be assaulted, although not with violence, but rather with potential office seekers if and when Lincoln became president - as Lincoln had received the Republican Party nomination in mid-May 1860. Haycraft went on to say that he didn't think Lincoln would make the trip to Kentucky, but if the politician did, Haycraft would like to visit with him.

Lincoln wrote to George Fogg on Aug. 16, 1860, three days before Haycraft wrote and explained that a New York Herald correspondent must have picked up the story from Lincoln himself as the presidential nominee had mentioned his response to Haycraft in conversations, but always in jest, or "playfully," as he put it. In this letter Lincoln asks Fogg to try to get the Herald correspondent to correct the story and even gave written copy to Fogg for the potential correction. The copy read "We have such assurance as satisfies us that our correspondent writing from Springfield, Ills, under date Aug. 8---was mistaken in representing Mr. Lincoln as expressing a suspicion of a design to inveigle him into Kentucky for the purpose of doing him violence. Mr. Lincoln neither entertains, nor  has intended to express any such suspicion." Lincoln asked Fogg that "In no event, let my name be used publicly."

Was Lincoln sincere in making the lynch statement as a joke? Possibly. But, for it to be a joke, surely there must there be some truth, or at least understanding, that Kentuckians did not appreciate Lincoln's politics so much that they might do violence to him if he entered their state? Was Lincoln only trying to do some nineteenth century political backpeddling as our current political leaders are so apt to do today when they gaff? It seems like it to me, but then again maybe I just don't get nineteenth century humor.

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

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