Four score and seven years ago tomorrow —on 30 May 1922— the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated.   As the Memorial’s website notes:

President Lincoln’s only surviving son was a special guest at the May 30, 1922 dedication ceremony for the Lincoln Memorial, receiving an ovation when he reached his seat. Robert Todd Lincoln did not deliver remarks but listened with great interest as other speakers paid tribute to his father. Robert took great interest in the memorial as it emerged within Potomac Park and frequently requested that his driver pass the site so that he could observe the progress; he even secured permission once to visit the site in the midst of ongoing construction.

There will be a re-dedication ceremony tomorrow at 2.15 — which will be carried on C-SPAN.

That’s tomorrow.  Yesterday, a letter written and signed by President Lincoln on 14 November 1863 —five days before he delivered the Gettysburg Address— was donated by the National Archives by a private Arizona collector.

The later had, at some point —not to put too fine a point on it— been pinched.  But Acting Archivist Adrienne Thomas was looking forward not back when she 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. It may always remain a mystery as to how this letter left the public domain and has remained in private hands for as much as a century. However, what is more significant is that today I am returning this letter to its long lost home.”

AP’s Natasha T. Metzler reported:

In the new letter, Lincoln asked his treasury secretary, Salmon Chase, to allow the fired head of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, Robert Stevens, to review the charges that led to his removal. Lincoln had appointed Stevens as a favor to Oregon Sen. Edward Baker, the ousted director’s father-in-law.

“This letter, while seemingly routine, is an extremely important key to understanding President Lincoln’s relationship with Sen. Baker,” said James Hastings, director of access programs at the archives. “It shows his interest, even in the midst of the Civil War, in political issues on the West Coast.”

The archives says it was torn years earlier from a bound volume of Chase’s correspondence with government officials. The removal occurred before the book of letters was inducted into the archives.

Specialists at the archives will reattach the letter to the place it was torn from the book.

“We will have this piece of the puzzle now where it belongs and scholars can now interpret its importance to this critical period,” Hastings said.

When the folio was torn along its fold, small portions of the upper most layers of the paper support were torn, leaving behind matching indentations known as “beveled” or “shelved” areas. The small portions of the support that remain attached along the folio fold exactly match the shelved areas on the remaining folio half adhered in the volume.

The National Archives became aware of the existence of this Lincoln hand-written letter in 2006. Because the letter was written from the President to the Secretary of Treasury concerning a federal government matter, the National Archives launched an internal review to determine whether the document belonged in the National Archives.

The investigation revealed that at one time the letter was part of the General Records of the Department of Treasury, series 82 “Letters Received from Executive Officers, 1831-1869.” These included 141 volumes in which original letters were bound. According to the index to Volume 91, the letter should have been on page five. Upon examination of page five, it was discovered that only half of the page remained pasted into the volume — it included a one sentence summary of the letter, the date, and the author of the letter. The body of the letter was missing.

In part, the newly-found Lincoln letter is significant because the information in it was not known to Lincoln scholars or historians. The multi-volume Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln by Roy P. Basler, published in the 1950s, does not include a copy of this letter. Although it is unclear exactly when the letter fragment was torn from the Department of Treasury volume, it appears that it predates Basler’s publication and may have happened when the volume was still at the Department of Treasury, sometime between the 1880’s when the letters were bound and the 1940’s when the records were transferred to the Archives.

Recently, the National Archives Document Conservation Laboratory examined the two parts of the letter with normal and transmitted light, ultraviolet lamp and stereo-binocular microscope. The letter and half folio were found to be identical in visual appearance. Both are on soft tan, medium-weight, smooth machine-made wove paper of even and identical formation. Both letter and half folio were measured with a micrometer and have the identical thickness of .012 millimeters. The one physical difference noted was the unevenly trimmed bottom edge of the letter. It appears approximately 1/2″ to 1/4″ of the sheet is missing; otherwise the overall dimensions (5″ x 8″) are identical.


President Lincoln’s letter is addressed to:  “Hon. Sec. of  the Treasury” and opens “My dear Sir,”.  The text reads: “Mr. Stevens, late Superintendent of the Mint at San Francisco, asks to have a copy, or be permitted to examine, and take extracts, of the evidence upon which he was removed. Please oblige him in one way or the other. Yours truly, A. Lincoln.”

A National Archives press release provided the backstory for the newly-acquired Lincoln letter:

At the end of March 1861, President Lincoln had approved the appointment of Robert Stevens as head of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. The President had appointed Stevens to the patronage job as a favor to Lincoln’s old friend, Oregon Senator Edward Baker. Stevens was Baker’s son-in-law. Baker, a fellow Republican, died in battle in 1861.

    In 1863 Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase announced changes in the Customhouse and Mint, based on a report by special agent Thomas Brown who was sent to investigate Federal services in California.

    The report listed six charges against Stevens:

    1. The hiring of bad men

    2. Encouragement of insubordination and contempt for authority on the part of workers

    3. Partiality as to the wages of clerks and laborers while others’ were fixed much lower

    4. “Sponges and barnacles” – many were absent without working but were still highly-paid

    5. Purchase of inferior supplies at exorbitant rates

    6. Being arrogant and discourteous to his managers

    Based on these charges, Stevens was fired by Secretary Chase in April, 1863. For months following his removal, Stevens protested the firing, finally resorting to writing to President Lincoln.

At last week’s National Memorial Day Concert held at the Lincoln Memorial, co-host Joe Mantegna read a moving letter President Lincoln wrote to the daughter of a friend who had been killed in battle.  Although it’s a bit mawkishly over-produced, the tenderness of his words and the elegance of his simple expression reach right across the centuries.