Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2009 Issue

Long Missing Lincoln Letter Returns Home

Cutler-lincolnletter

Long lost Lincoln letter from shortly before his Gettysburg Address.


While Lincoln proceeded to settle into local politics, Baker was more of a wanderer. He declined to seek re-election in 1846, leaving the door open for Lincoln's one term in the House of Representatives. Baker went off to fight in the Mexican War, returned to Illinois to serve a term in Congress from a different district, and in 1851, moved to San Francisco to practice law. He moved to Oregon in 1860, and was quickly elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican. However, once the Civil War started, Baker volunteered to form a brigade. In October of 1861, six months after his son-in-law's appointment to run the San Francisco Mint, Baker was killed in battle. He was the only sitting U.S. Senator to so give his life. Lincoln was devastated. Under the circumstances, this situation could only have been terribly painful to the President, who would shortly have to appear at the dedication of the bloody battlefield at Gettysburg. So, he asked his Treasury Secretary to give his friend's son-in-law every due recourse, undoubtedly knowing that his behavior was miles removed from the standards set by his father-in-law.

The National Archives monitors online auctions for documents they believe belong to the government. The nature of this one, communication between government officials, raised questions. Searching led to a series of treasury records where it was believed this letter might belong. When the volume was opened, it revealed a page had been torn from the location where this letter should appear. It is not known when it was removed, nor even whether the tearing was intentional or accidental, nor was it known how it then made its way to private hands. The Archives believes it was most likely removed in the 1880s, when the volume was bound, or the 1940s, when it was transferred to the National Archives. A thorough collection of Lincoln letters published in the 1950s, which does not contain this one, indicates it was gone by then.

The 2006 purchaser was Lawrence Cutler, an attorney and private collector from Scottsdale, Arizona. When first contacted by the National Archives, he was uncertain it was a public document, as it was not the same height as the part of the letter remaining with the Archives. However, further examination revealed the letter had been trimmed, and the remaining edge matched the edge of the letter. With identity established, Cutler gave the letter to the Archives in an official presentation a few weeks ago. In presenting the letter, Cutler said, "It is both a great honor and a pleasure for me to give this very important Abraham Lincoln letter back to the citizens of the United States of America, especially during this bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth." Cutler did not reveal the price he paid.

Rare Book Monthly

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    <center><b>California Virtual Book Fair<br>March 4-6, 2021<br>www.abaa.org/vbf</b>
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    <center><b>California Virtual Book Fair<br>March 4-6, 2021<br>www.abaa.org/vbf</b>

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