Dear President Lincoln . . . Modern Letters to the President

Letters to President Lincoln

One of the most fascinating personalities in the history of the United States was that of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Many regard him as the greatest president this nation ever had. Regardless of your opinion about him, his impact on American history cannot be refuted.

James Getty was a student of Abraham Lincoln and has portrayed Mr. Lincoln in Gettysburg since 1978. For a few years we ran a feature in this website where viewers were able to write questions to President Lincoln and Mr. Getty answered them as he felt the president might have. His answers are very interesting, and provide additional insights into events at that time.


Michael R Ianiro, of Childersburg, Alabama, writes:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
After the Gettysburg Address, it was said that the county was transformed from a group of states bound together with the federal goverment playing only a supporting role, to a shift to the federal government playing a dominant role. Your phrase which focused on the United States seems to be the turning point. Is this what you had intended to do?

My dear Mr. Ianiro:

I would be flattered to consider that my brief talk at Gettysburg could have made both listeners and readers re-focus on the necessity for a federal government…by the people. As I had clearly stated at Cooper Union in February of 1860, no attempt was being made to deprive any southern state of any right, clearly written down in the Constitution.

However, the Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise (1820) clearly defined the geographic limitations on slavery expansion. I felt the federal government needed to maintain and defend such laws, and preserve our Union.

The intent on November 19, 1863 was to remember the 1776 birth of this Nation; composed of its people and its states.. .and to declare to those in attendance that day, “…it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…”

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

David Burgess, of Temple, Texas, wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
Are there any living descendents of you or any of you or your wife’s relatives? I am especially interested in the Todd line. I believe that Mary Todd may have common ancestors to that of my mother’s family.

My dear Mr. Burgess:

Concerning your inquiry about the Todd line of ancestors and descendents, I can report that our son, Robert, was the only surivor of our four boys to reach maturity. He married Sen. Harlan’s daughter (Iowa). They had a son, Abraham (called Jack) who died in high school of blood poisoning. Robert and Nancy Harlan also had two daughters, each married and had children. However, none of those children produced children. The last one, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith has now passed away, leaving no remaining descendents of Mary Todd Lincoln and myself.

With regard to any of Mary’s relatives, I suggest you contact the Lincoln Museum, 200 East Berry, Ft. Wayne, IN 46801.

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

J. R. Hafer, of Hickory, North Carolina, wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
If Robert (Bobby) Lee had accepted your offer to lead the Northern Forces, would there have been any question about loyality, in your mind? Would that have made any difference in circumventing any Battles or the longivity of the war?

My dear Mr. Hafer:

Gen. Winfield Scott advised me that the finest young officer he had seen in the Mexican War was Lt. Robert E. Lee. Stating that Lee was now a Colonel in the Federal Army, I would do well to offer him command. I instructed Preston Blair to make the offer on my behalf.

Of course Lee refused, stating he did not want to see our nation become divided, however he could not lead the Federal Army against his beloved Virginia.

I have always felt that had Robert E. Lee chosen to remain in the United States Army, it would have deprived the Confederacy of their most outstanding General, placing his magnificent talents with the Union, thereby allowing the Civil War to be shortened by two years and would have saved thousands of lives.

He made his loyalty clear at the beginning. Had he come with us, I also would never have questioned his allegiance to the Federal Government.

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

Candace Pearson, of Los Angeles, California, wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
I admire your address at Gettysburg. I wonder what the day was like when you delivered it. Was it a damp, grey November? Was it drizzling on the platform as you stood to speak? And what did you see as you looked out at the landscape — what kinds of trees, fields, crops? Did the sun appear when you spoke, or was the day a sad, dreary one?

Dear Candace:

As you asked about November 19, 1863, I would say the temperature climbed to about 50 degrees that day. unusual for mid-November. I had arrived the late afternoon of the 19th. The small town was extremely crowded with both civilian and military units, bands, etc. I was hosted by Judge David Wills and his good wife. They resided on the diamond, the center of the little town.

Very early on the morning of the 19th, Secretary Seward and I went for a ride in a wagon across some of the battlefield. It appeared it had rained a small amount during the night.

From the speakers platform in the cemetery I remember looking to the west to see the beautiful line of the small mountains. You asked about the day being sad. I was much overwhelmed with the realization that those men in their graves had been willing to give their lives for something they would never see; a better county with the promise of equality and hope for all future generations with the preservation of our Union!

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

Ralph Coleman, of Brigham City, Utah, wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
Although you were not personally present at the Republican convention in Chicago, how actively involved were you in seeking the nomination for President? How much leeway did you give your convention representatives to speak/promise/get commitments in your behalf?

My Dear Mr. Coleman:

It is true that I did not make the trip from Springfield to Chicago for the 1860 Republican Convention. I did send a representative committee, headed by Norman Judd. Of the other candidates, from which a choice for standard-bearer would be made, included the favorite, William Seward (NY), Chase (Ohio) and Bates from St. Louis. My instructions to my committee were basically to try to position Abraham Lincoln as the “second choice” with as many state organizations as possible. . .and to make no deals.

However, a “deal” was made with Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, bringing his “favorite son” delegates into my camp, and thus expecting a seat on my cabinet if I truly did receive the Party nomination and win in the general election that fall.

The main activity for the public was at The Wigwam Convention Center at Lake Street and Wacker Drive. My committee had their headquarters at The Tremont House.

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

Katie Rowley, of Upperlake, California, wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
How did you ever think of the words for the Gettysburg address?

Dear Miss Rowley:
Mr. David Wills of Gettysburg, Governor Curtin’s appointee, invited me in early November of 1863 to be present on the 19th instant in his town to make a “few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the National Cemetery there. I was delighted.

Sometimes a brief oration is more difficult to formulate than a more lengthy one. I spent considerable time on preparation, though the Address lasted only a few seconds beyond two minutes.

I had two motives. The first was to pay tribute to those who had been willing to risk their lives (and many had paid the last, full measure) to maintain the form of government envisioned by our founding fathers eighty-seven years earlier. And the second was to remind the audience (and all Americans) it was rather for us, the living, to be dedicated here to the great task remaining before all of us.

I imagine, Katie, some of those “great tasks” remain in this country in your time.

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

p.s. An old friend of mine, Noah Brooks, a reporter for the Sacramento Union, was in Washington as a Civil War correspondant for that newspaper and he made trip on the train with me to Gettysburg. So when I gave my Address, there was someone from California with me.

Miss Ricks’ Class, in Idaho Falls, Idaho, wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
Our class has been studying about you and we have many questions. One of our questions is: did you like to be president of the Ulnited States? Some others included: who were some of your friends, how many children did you have, what did you like to do as a kid?
Thank you. We’ll be waiting to hear from you.

Dear Students:
With reference to your inquiry, please let me start by saying I did not really enjoy being President of the United States. I had little time to savor that office. A President wants to see resources (time and talent and monies) being spent on improvements – research in transportation, medicine and education. While some advances in all these could be noted, so much was being expended on destruction.

I had many friends as a young fellow; telling a lot of jokes, people seemed to enjoy being in my company. As an adult, my closest friend was Ward Hill Lamon of Danville, Illinois. He was also an attorney. I asked him to come to Washington when I won the 1860 election. He could be relied on not to share my concerns which I discussed with him. He entertained me with his banjo playing and his fine voice.

Mrs. Lincoln and I had four boys; Robert, Taddy (really named Thomas, for my father), Eddie (for Edward Baker, a close friend of ours) and Willie (William Wallace). And what I liked to do most as a boy was read. I also pitched horseshoes and wrestled a bit.

Best wishes for success in your school work.

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

Christopher Duncan wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
Beyond your personal values and beliefs, did you ever think that by going to war with the South, you were violating the United States Constitution in forcing the South to return to the Union and their individual state’s right to succeed?

My Dear Mr. Duncan:
You ask about my “going to war with the South, and violating their right to secede.” It was Jefferson Davis who ordered the firing on Fort Sumpter. I responded.

Now, this concern of yours about our Constitution. I considered it would have been a weak organic Document that would allow for its own disintegration.

America was in its infancy during my Administration. We had proclaimed to the world in 1776 that our experiment in government — a government by its people — offered more opportunity for the advancement and fulfillment of its citizen’s dreams that did any other form of government in existence.

In May of 1861 I related this belief to my secretary, John Hay. I said, “For my part, I consider that the central idea prevading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.”

Now that Constitution . . . The South must have one. And have they, in it, allowed for further secession, as they say ours has provided? If they have lived up to that ideology, than any of their eleven states may secede from their Confederacy.

No! Our Union has to be preserved to guarantee, as I said at Gettysburg, that the marvelous dream of our Founding Fathers “shall not perish from the earth.”

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

Larry Birkbeck wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
How was the war won? Was it strategic errors on the part of General Lee? If not, what was the most decisive factor in the Civil War? Thank you!

My Dear Mr. Birkbeck:
You’re asking if strategic errors on the part of General Lee contributed to the outcome of our Civil War; a four year struggle, ending with a final Federal victory.

Not in my view. There were numerous miscalculations and mistakes on both sides. It was the brilliance, the skills of Lee and some other Southern leaders, managing to maneuver, often with fewer troops, less efficient equipment, and insufficient supplies, that prolonged the ordeal for nearly forty eight months.

The war was won by the determination of the Federal Government to see it through to its end. There was the will to persevere on the part of the Administration, its military leaders, its troops in the field and its sailors aboard ships, and its home-front loyal citizens, all combining to secure final victory.

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

Elizabeth M. Paul wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
I have always wondered about your feelings toward your wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. I have read that she was a very difficult woman to get along with. How is it that you fell in love with her and stayed with her until your death on April 14, 1965?

My Dear Miss Paul:
You asked about my good wife, Mary. I had often called her “Molly”, and as our family increased, “Mother”. I had met Miss Todd when she came to Springfield to live with her sister, Elizabeth and her husband, Ninian Edwards. (Nimian was in the Illinois General Assembly. His father had been the Territorial Governor of Illinois; both Whigs, as was I.)

I was taken by Mary’s charm, her wit and her interests. Our wedding was November 4, 1842 at the home of the Edwardses, though they had not favored such a union.

Mary’s life-style changed dramatically. A startling reality must have set in with her, having left the luxurious home of the Lexington, Kentucky Todds, to the confines of our simple, one-room we rented at the Globe Tavern for a bit more than a year. Our first son, Robert was born there. We eventually purchased a home in Springfield, giving her more room. She loved to entertain.

While our family added three more sons, I was an ambitious, struggling lawyer and politician. Time with family was not what it should have been. The death of our four year old son, Eddie, plus the loss of her father, while we were yet in Illinois, affected her greatly.

I suppose there will be some delving into the Lincoln marriage; some attempted analysis. But I would say, Miss Paul, your question could have read, “Were you, Abraham Lincoln, a very difficult man to get along with?” And I would answer, “Probably so.” And why did I stay with “Molly” until my death? I had the jeweler inscribe on the inside of her wedding band, “Love is Eternal”.

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)

Ivan Gullett wrote:

Dear Mr. Lincoln,
My dauther has a class in history and now they are studying about you. One of the question in todays lesson is what town was Abraham Lincoln was born in. Everywhere I look different states and towns try to claim you. It would be very helpful if you could answer this question.
Thank you.

Dear Mr. Gullett:
My father, Tom Lincoln, married Nancy Hanks in Elizabethtown, Kentucky in 1806. I was born in a log cabin, near Hodgenville, not far from there, on Sunday, February 12, 1809. We later moved to a cabin along Knob Creek and at the age of seven we crossed the Ohio River to a location in Spencer County, Indiana, not far from Gentryville.
Thank you for your inquiry. I hope this has helped.

Your obedient servant,
A. Lincoln (James Getty)


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