A letter from Zachariah Chandler, August 1860

Signature of Zachariah Chandler (from the B. Nash collection).



I have a letter in my collection written by Zachariah Chandler. It provides a glimpse of how active he was in politics as he asks Senator John Sherman (brother of William T. Sherman) to make a visit to Michigan. The letter is as follows:


Detroit, August 19, 1860


My Dear Sherman,

Wade will be here on the 4th as main________tice the 11th but we have advertised him to the 20______expected him to remain until that time. Can you not spend a week from the 12th to the 20th with us & in return take Howard or some one else who will be satisfactory to your people. We shall a Large Mass Meeting each day. I hope you can come. Please answer immediately.

Truly yours,

Z. Chandler


John Sherman

PS I think it will do you no harm to spend a few days in Mich. We will have you announced immediately for each day. You can stay in the place of Senator Wade, who must go to PA.on the 12th.

What was going on in August of 1860?  Slavery in America-a presidential campaign-threats of succession from the Union by some states-just to name a few things. Abraham Lincoln’s rise politically was in full swing. The climate in America was reaching a boiling point. Just the year prior, in March 1859, John Brown had met in Detroit with African-American leaders to discuss a proposed raid on Harper ‘s Ferry. He had brought with him fourteen slaves from Missouri, among others. Brown met with Frederick Douglass at that time. The rest is history. On July 5, 1860, The Detroit Light Guards entertained the famous Ellsworth Zouaves, who were in Detroit from Chicago. A great crowd of spectators gathered to watch the Zouaves drill on Grand River Street near Third Avenue. The Detrroit Light Guards would eventually become part of the First Regiment Of Michigan Infantry. They organized for war-and the war would come. Shortly after August of 1860, Stephen A. Douglas gave a speech in Detroit at an immense Democratic meeting held October 15th. His opponant, Abraham Lincoln, did not visit Detroit during the contest. However, everywhere Lincoln went, he “talked about freedom and an equal opportunity for all. His subject was the Declaration of Independence. On one occasion he said: ‘This is a world of compensation, and he who would be no slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God, cannot long retain it.’ ”

Zachariah Chandler was key in helping the Republican organization. His efforts played no small role in the election of Moses Wisner, Republican, as Michigan’s Governor. Chandler was making speeches both in Michigan and in other states. So it is not remarkable that he wrote to John Sherman-a fellow Republican and antislavery man. John Sherman was from Ohio (geographically bordering with Michigan). He served in the United States House of Representatives for three terms until March 1861. After that he was a U.S. Senator. During a speech in June of 1860, Sherman had this to say:

“…Our idea is that all men are equal, made so by God. If there are any natural inequalities in the condition of men, none but Providence can make them. All men are politically free, all men are equal, perhaps not in mental ability, but in political rights, for all men have a right to enjoy the blessings of  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We believe a majority of these men should govern the country, and the deliberate sense of the majority is that Abraham Lincoln shall be the next President…”


Those were interesting days. Too bad the war was not prevented. Hardly no one in 1860 could have known the toll that the coming conflict would exact on Americans. As Zachariah Chandler wrote his letter of August 19, 1860, perhaps the stage was already set and there would be no stopping it. Chandler, and everyone else in the country, had engaged on a course that would change everything.




History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan. Silas Farmer

Following Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865. Bernard Wall

Life of Zachariah Chandler. Post and Tribune Company.



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One Response to “A letter from Zachariah Chandler, August 1860”

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