Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview
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6

AL to Josephus Hewett:
CW, 1:450

Patrick W. Tompkins, a Kentucky-born Whig congressman from Mississippi who lived in the same boardinghouse as Lincoln during his one term in Congress, shared with his fellow Whig a letter he had received from Josephus Hewett, a mutual friend. Ten years earlier, Hewett had practiced law in Springfield, Illinois, and Lincoln used the correspondence to renew their acquaintance. What moved Hewett to consider rejecting the electoral college system of holding national elections is unknown. Lincoln admitted to having once agreed with his correspondent, but came back to the formulation conceived by the Founding Fathers to balance the three parts of government. He did so in part, as this letter makes clear, because direct elections would actually decrease the power of the slave states, since they could no longer count three-fifths of the black population as specified in the Constitution. A master strategist in the mold of Henry Clay, Lincoln rejected proposals that would upset the power relationship between free and slave states. According to Lincoln, Hewett, another transplanted Kentuckian, had not considered the unintended consequences of his idea. “Have you ever reflected on these things?” he inquired.

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