Rare artifacts from Abraham Lincoln are going to the auction block tomorrow in New York City. Among the items up for bid is a letter signed “A. Lincoln” discusses the issue of slavery. Its presale estimate is $500,000 to $700,000.
Lincoln composed the letter in preparation for seven forthcoming debates with Democratic incumbent Stephen Douglas. (In 1858, senators were elected by state legislatures and these debates helped sway the Illinois General Assembly.)
Addressed to fellow attorney Henry Asbury, the letter outlines how Lincoln intended to debate whether a territory had the right to exclude slavery even in the wake of the Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court case stating that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in U.S. territories.
A recent convert to the Republican party after the collapse of the Whigs, Asbury had previously written to Lincoln on July 28 with suggestions for the second of seven debates with Douglas.
“Do not let him [Douglas] dodge here,” exhorted Douglas. Lincoln’s response, dated July 31, agrees with Asbury’s tactic to force Douglas to clarify his position on slavery, which in turn alienated Douglas from southern voters.
Though Lincoln lost his senate bid, the debates catapulted him into the national political consciousness. The resulting splintering of the Democratic Party gave Lincoln the necessary majority votes to become America’s sixteenth president in 1860.
Another Lincoln’s artifact will also be offered at Christie’s Dec. 5 sale of books, manuscripts and Americana. It is wooden mallet bearing the initials “A. L.” which could sell for $300,000 to $500,000. Lincoln used it during his youth in Indiana.