Abraham Lincoln’s reply to Zachariah Chandler, November 1863

Lincoln by Jim Borden


Abraham Lincoln was physically ill November 20, 1863- the day he received a letter marked “private” from Senator Zachariah Chandler. He had contracted a mild form of small pox. Still, the illness didn’t cloud his mental ability. Just the day before- on November 19, 1863, he delivered a “few appropriate remarks” at Gettysburg that would eventually become immortal in the history of political writings.

Zachariah Chandler and Abraham Lincoln didn’t always see “eye to eye.” Lincoln was a Republican but not a “Radical Republican” as was Chandler. Neither was Lincoln an abolitionist-Chandler was. Their views on the conduct of the war had also clashed at times. So when Lincoln opened and read Chandler’s letter, he felt his temperature beginning to rise. He got angry. Chandler basically alleged that Lincoln “didn’t know his own mind.” That claim was a sore point with Lincoln because he counted it a matter of pride that he did make his decisions “in his own way.”

After cooling down, Lincoln wrote a reply to Chandler. It was not vindictive or mean-spirited. He concluded his short reply with a statement that summarized his approach to the “problem”- and could have been applied to the way Lincoln approached most of the vexing situations he faced in his political life. He wrote:

“I hope to ‘stand firm’ enough not to go backward, and yet not go forward fast enough to wreck the country’s cause.’

That concluding remark was so Lincoln. It probably sent Senator Chandler into a spasm. But Chandler had known and worked with Lincoln for a long time. They had their moments with each other-but they were on the same team. The reply was Lincoln’s last letter to Chandler- as it turned out.


Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Roy P. Basler, Editor

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