Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Presidents Day Blog Project: Abraham Lincoln

In our "Presidents Day Blog Project" entry last week we took a look at some documents from George Washington. This week we turn to our 16thpresident, Abraham Lincoln.

Sometimes the smallest notes mean the world to someone, and in this week’s letter we’ll see that. The above letter was written to President Lincoln on December 8th, 1863 from the town of Janesville, Illinois. It asks for Lincoln’s interference in a court martial decision against “a young soldier” who was sentenced to death. The petitioners cite the soldier’s “extreme youth” and “his aged parents” as reasons for Lincoln’s clemency. Lincoln's note reads: "In this case, let the sentence of death be commuted to imprisonment at hard labor for life. A. Lincoln. Jan. 7, 1864."

William Blake had been convicted of murder and further telegrams from Lincoln tell and even deeper story. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln and the Abraham Lincoln Association have published a telegram from Lincoln to Major General Butler, William Blake’s commander on December 21, 1863. The telegram read:

“It is said that William H. Blake is under sentence of death at Fort-Magruder, in your Department. Do not let him be executed without further order from me, & in the mean time have the record sent me. He is said to belong to the 1st. or 2nd. Pennsylvania Artillery. A. Lincoln.”[1]

Butler replied:

“General Butler replied on December 22: ``Private Wm. H. Blake Batty E 1st. Penn Artillery, is under sentence of death by hanging for murder. In my judgment a very deliberate one. He will not be executed without further orders from you."[2]

Interesting that General Butler found the accused murder “a very deliberate one”. Nonetheless, Blake’s sentence was commuted by Lincoln to life imprisonment with hard labor, as seen in our image above. Blake would then receive a presidential pardon in April of 1864.

For fans of Lincoln, the town of Janesville, Illinois might ring a bell: it was the town Lincoln’s parents settled in after moving to Illinois (first in Macon County, then to Janesville in Coles County) in 1830. Though Lincoln went off to work in New Salem, Illinois at this time, he returned to Janesville to visit. In 1851, with the death of his father, Thomas, Abraham continued to help maintain the homestead for his mother (Lincoln’s birth mother died when he was just 9). The important note in all of this is that Lincoln would have been known by the residents of Janesville, and he most certainly would have recognized the town heading the letter pictured above.

It might be said that the residents who drew up this petition thought they needed Lincoln to recognize the town it was coming from, which explains the overly large “J” at the top of the letter. This is only speculation, but such writing would presumably draw Lincoln’s attention, perhaps aiding their request of him.

Post by: Bruce Spadaccini (Museum Technician)

[1] Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 7, Abraham Lincoln Association and the University of Michigan, available at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/
[2] Ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment