Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Insights into the Personal Friendship and Patronage of Abraham Lincoln and Anson Gordon Henry, M.D.: Letters for Dr. Henry to His Wife, Eliza

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Insights into the Personal Friendship and Patronage of Abraham Lincoln and Anson Gordon Henry, M.D.: Letters for Dr. Henry to His Wife, Eliza

Article excerpt

In the 183Os two impoverished ambitious young Whig politicians moved to Springfield. They had tried many lines of work, but they soon turned to the professions of law and medicine. They were wedded to politics and, on that basis, soon joined in a fast and firm friendship that would last for the rest of their lives. One man became President of the United States and, through the political patronage system, appointed the other man to a high position in the Washington Territory. These men were Abraham Lincoln and Anson Gordon Henry.

Unlike Henry's life, there is no lack of information about Lincoln's life and activities. Anson Henry, however, was important to Lincoln, as details regarding his background, character, activities and achievements will show.

Henry was born on 3 October 1804 in Richfield, New York. He received his medical education by studying under a practicing physician in Richfield and later attending a medical college for about a year in Cincinnati, Ohio. He served on a hospital staff in Louisville, Kentucky and, in addition, owned and ran a drug store. This business, however, perished in the February 1832 flood of the Ohio River.1 On 12 March 1832 he married Elizabeth (Eliza) Dudley Bradstreet, the daughter of a Harvard graduate, Dudley Story Bradstreet. Rather than stay and try to reconstruct the business, the young couple decided to move.

In October 1832 when they reached Springfield, Illinois, Henry, at age twenty-eight, had $5.31 1/2 cents in his pocket. With the help of another doctor, he established his own practice and advertised that he would serve patients in Springfield and Sangamon County. He became well respected in the profession and was regarded as a specialist in the prevention and treatment of Asiatic cholera. He was one of the founders of the Illinois State Medical Society and its first vice-president.2

Lincoln and Henry probably met in 1833 when they were postmasters in the villages of New Salem and Sangamo Town, which were located in close proximity to each other in Sangamon County. They became closely acquainted on or about 15 April 1837 when Lincoln, at age 28, moved to Springfield to enter into the practice of law. Lincoln was no wealthier than Henry as, according to his friend Joshua Fry Speed, he had all of his personal belongings in his saddle bags when he rode a borrowed horse into town that day from New Salem.1

Politics were at the forefront of the attentions of Lincoln and Dr. Henry. In their early manhood, they aligned themselves with the Whig party and became leaders of that party in Illinois. Lincoln served four terms in the House of Representatives in the Illinois General Assembly and led the Whigs in that legislative body. In 1837, he and others helped pass a bill that moved the Illinois State Capital from Vandalia to Springfield. Henry, with Lincoln's help, was appointed as one of three commissioners to construct the new Capitol building. He kept active in Whig politics and, as a result, incurred criticism from Democrats in the legislature. He held the position of commissioner from 3 March 1837, when the bill was signed by Governor Joseph Duncan, until 27 February 1841, when the state legislature abolished the commissioner positions.4

Henry regarded Lincoln highly, but he was a sharp critic of persons with whom he disagreed!5 Henry seemed to have bathed himself in partisan politics. He put the needs of the Whig Party above his medical practice. As a result, his practice suffered. He worked hard, without pay, for the Whig party by corresponding with leaders such as Henry clay, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Taylor. He served as Chairman of the Illinois Whig Central Committee and actively worked for the elections of William Henry Harrison, clay, and Taylor to the presidency in the general elections of 1840, 1844, and 1848. He was'a sort of unpaid office manager for the Illinois Whigs. He liked to write letters, editorials, pamphlets, and flyers about politics and ran, twice unsuccessfully, for elective political office before he moved to Oregon Territory in 1852. …

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