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“A Most Abandoned Hypocrite”

June 2024
20min read

A newly discovered document almost certainly written by the young Abraham Lincoln shows him dismantling a shifty political rival with ruthless wit and logic

As soon as he moved to Illinois in 1830, Abraham Lincoln found himself on the opposite side of the political fence from Peter Cartwright, a well-known Methodist preacher and politician. They crossed paths in the Illinois legislature, but their best-known confrontation was as opponents in the 1846 congressional election, which Lincoln won handily. Late in that campaign Lincoln found himself having to combat a rumor that he was an “infidel,” or unbeliever, a charge uncomfortably close to the truth. If Cartwright had anything to do with that rumor, he may have regarded Lincoln’s discomfort as the evening of an old score, for what follows is the story of a stinging satirical attack on Cartwright, written a dozen years earlier, but hitherto unknown in Lincoln biography.

When William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s old law partner, was gathering information for his biography of the President, he collected two accounts of how Lincoln had once pilloried Cartwright in print. Caleb Carman, one of Lincoln’s New Salem friends, wrote to Herndon, “Lincoln once rote an Artical against Peter Cartwrgh which was a good one the name Sined to it was Diotrefus you may Bet it used the old man very Ruff it was a hard one it was Published in the Beardstown Cronicle by Francis Earns Simeon Francis would not publish in the Sangamon Journal.”

John McNamar, another former New Salem resident, wrote: “Mr Lincoln wrote a first rate Notice of the Revd Peter Cartwright, before he left here … the article alluding to Mr Cartwright obtained a good deal of notoriety from the fact that Mr Hill [New Salem’s most successful merchant] rather inocently I should think, signed the article with his own name and published it and consequently Received the Skinning that old Peter administered in a public speech at Salem shortly after, I think Lincoln must have enjoyed the joke rather Hugely, I think you can find the article in the Journal somewhere from 33 to 36.”

There are notable differences in these two stories—about the newspaper involved and about the name signed to the article—but they do agree that Lincoln pseudonymously wrote a satiric newspaper piece at Cartwright’s expense. And although Herndon was unable to locate it, such an article does exist. If we assume it is indeed by Lincoln, it is the earliest surviving political satire from his hand.

It is clear from Herndon’s notes for his biography that he ransacked Simeon Francis’s Springfield newspaper, Sangamo Journal , for material relating to Lincoln, and he presumably would have found the piece had it been there. But it actually appeared, as Carman indicated, in an obscure Beardstown paper published from 1833 to 1835, the Beardstown Chronicle and Illinois Military Bounty Land Advertiser , on November 1, 1834. And as McNamar stated, it bore the signature of Samuel Hill.

Testimony about the distant past is often dubious with respect to details, even if the central facts are faithfully recalled, and precise accuracy may often be a matter of circumstance. Caleb Carman remembered why the article hadn’t appeared in the Journal and thus was right about the newspaper though wrong about the signature; McNamar, while wrong about the newspaper, correctly remembered the signature, because it earned his former business partner a public “skinning.” Better complementary, cross-correcting testimony is hard to imagine.

Twenty-five years old, Lincoln had been living at New Salem for three years and was probably working at Samuel Hill’s store when the attack on Peter Cartwright was written. He had been, among other things, a surveyor, a volunteer in the Black Hawk War, a partner in an unsuccessful store, and the local postmaster, and he had just been elected to his first term in the Illinois General Assembly.

Peter Cartwright had just completed a term in the state legislature, and though he hadn’t run for re-election, he remained a formidable Jacksonian political protagonist. But his chief claim to fame was his standing as the foremost Methodist circuit rider in pioneer Illinois. In a fearless frontier ministry, preaching the Gospel to a far-flung constituency unreached and unreachable by conventional college-trained ministers, Cartwright was already a legend. His biographer, Robert Bray, writes, “Throughout his career Cartwright either could not or would not clearly distinguish church from state, religion from civic life, preaching from politicking—especially when he was concurrently doing both himself.” This trait exasperated his political opponents, especially when he boasted of the support of a loyal Methodist political “militia.”

Samuel Hill’s store, where Lincoln worked, was described by a former resident, T. G. Onstot, as “headquarters for all political discussions. The farmers would congregate there and discuss the questions of the day. Peter Cartright [ sic ], who was a politician then as well as a preacher, would spend hours on the porch, and by his wit and sallies keep the audience in an uproar of laughter, and the man who undertook to badger Uncle Peter always came out second best.” None of this pleased Hill, an irritable man. Eventually an outright feud erupted between the two, and Cartwright began publicly to abuse Hill in front of his own store. “He would come and sit for hours and laugh and talk about Hill,” according to Onstot, “while Hill stayed indoors. He was describing one day to a crowd how he viewed Hill’s soul. He said he had some doubts whether he had a soul till one day he put a quarter of a dollar on Hill’s lips, when his soul came guggling up to get the piece of silver.”

The seeds for Lincoln’s attack on Cartwright were sown on May 30, 1834, when a national Methodist periodical, Christian Advocate and Journal , published a letter by the preacher reporting on his missionary activities and calling for the recruitment of devout Methodists to teach in Illinois’s public schools. This sounded to sectarian ears like a bold Methodist attempt to dominate public education, and it so aroused Ashford Smith, a Baptist printer, that he widely distributed a handbill reprinting and attacking Cartwright’s letter.

The beginning of Cartwright’s letter was to figure prominently in the attack printed in the Beardstown Chronicle : “This second report of the present conference year of the Fort Edwards, Henderson river, and Rock Island missions, under my superintendence, is made with gratitude to God for the success that crowns our little efforts in these regions of moral desolation.”

And here is what Cartwright had to say about teachers: “And now let me ask through the medium of the Christian Advocate and Journal, could we not, who live in the ‘far off West,’ obtain some pious young men and young women from the older States and Conferences, under the influence of our own church, with good literary qualifications, to teach common schools in this State. There is a vast opening here for school teachers. We greatly need them. I am confident that I could give employment to more than 100 immediately, in my district, and perhaps 500 in the State. It would afford the presiding elders and circuit preachers great pleasure, every where, to lend their aid in getting up schools for such teachers, if they could be prevailed upon to come.


“We expect our conference to form itself into a common school education society. All we lack is the right sort of teachers. These teachers would greatly aid our missionary efforts, train the rising generation, and do a good part for themselves in a pecuniary point of view.”

Ashford Smith asked in his handbill wasn’t Cartwright’s aim to “advance the missionary efforts, and the support of a speculative clergy? Is this not enough to make the parson hang his sham’d face, decline as a candidate for office, and hunt a place to hide himself from the free people of Sangamon County?”

Before the summer was out, Cartwright became aware that he had stirred up a vocal public reaction via Smith’s handbill. At least partly in response, he sent a letter in late August to the Sangamo Journal in which he pleaded his case. This letter was to play perfectly into the hands of his detractors. It ran under the heading THE VALLEY OF THE MISSISSIPPI, OR THE MORAL WASTE. NO. 1 . The bulk of it follows:

Fellow Citizens:

Permit me, through the medium of one of your public Journals, to state a few things on a subject of vital importance to the whole community. For a number of years past, the character of the citizens of the Valley of Mississippi , has been assailed and slandered, to an extent never surpassed, in any civilized country. We have been represented as totally destitute of all kinds of Literature, without religion, immoral, intemperate, rude, uncultivated in our manners, denying the obligation of the Sabbath for civil or religious purposes, destitute of any Evangelical Preachers; and, notwithstanding there have been, and still are, hundreds of ministers of the Gospel, of the different religious denominations, who preach with great acceptibility to listening thousands of deeply attentive hearers, yet we have been, and still are, represented, as in a perishing condition for want of competent Evangelical ministers of the Gospel … . And, notwithstanding this Valley of the Mississippi has furnished some or rhe ablesr statesmen and orators that ever graced the Legislative Halls of Congress, good jurists, sound, practical and successful Physicians, and able, intelligent, learned, Gentlemen of the Bar, and many Gentlemen that have stood preeminent in the Literary world, yet when we read the foul, false, and slanderous productions of a certain set of hired and mercenary men, whose letters have been published in many of the religious periodicals, on this continent, you would suppose the citizens of the Valley, and especially of the state of Illinois, were a perfect band of ignorant, lawless, Goths or Vandals , or something worse.

Who are these mighty men that write about the poor heathens in this Valley? are they not generally found in the ranks of the political and religious aristocrats of the day? Have not the theological seminaries produced more men designed for the ministry, than can be employed by the churches in the older states? and is it not a fact that American and national societies have been gotten up in those states in order to place those young men at the head of them, in order to secure them a good sound four or five hundred dollars salary? and is it not evident to all informed observers, that the devil might get all the poor, ignorant , Heathens, in this Valley if they did not get the money?

And these very men, after corning among us, and begging thousands of dollars for those national societies , then turn right round and abuse, and misrepresent the talents, worth and intelligence of the “ Far off West :” and is this course not intended to move on the sympathies of their brethren in the older states, in order to get more money from them into their own pockets, as agents? Now, I put this question to the sober judgment of every Christian and enlightened gentleman, whether this conduct is fair, truthful or honest? and whether these men ought not to be rebuked by an insulted and abused community? Now, after these very men have come on, and settled down in some flourishing town, or growing settlement, with their salaries made sure to them with all their travelling expenses, is it then right to circulate a subscription for their benefit? and after they have appealed to the best feelings of an uninformed and abused community and obtained their money for their national societies and agents, is it then right to slander and misrepresent them? …

Mr. Smith, the Editor of the Pioneer, or some other scribbler in that paper, has thought proper to sound an alarm, by quoting and commenting on a part of a letter written by me to the Editor of the Christian Advocate and Journal, which letter invited teachers from the older states and conferences, to teach in common schools in this state. If the Editor of the Advocate had published all my letter, then no man but an advocate for national societies could reasonably have objected: nor do I see any reasonable ground for objection any how. I did not ask for methodist teachers, and when I asked for those under the influence of our own church, I only meant those that were opposed to American or national societies , and in favor of each church carrying on these benevolent activities in its own proper name, without any amalgamation or combination. Now, where was the harm in this? …

And if any Editor or individual thinks proper to reply to these hasty remarks, I wish to come out in a tangible form, and with a proper name, and in some future number I may give some further remarks on the subject.

PETER CARTWRIGHT . Pleasant Plains, Aug. the 24th, 1834


To most readers of the time, this probably appeared a reasonable defense, and Cartwright himself seemed confident that he could handle any writer bold enough “to come out in a tangible form, and with a proper name.” But to someone with a keen eye for logical inconsistencies, a political animus toward Peter Cartwright, and a talent for satire, the conjunction of the Advocate letter and the “Moral Waste” represented an irresistible opportunity to hoist Uncle Peter by his own petard. While the date on the reply shows that it was written soon after Cartwright’s letter was printed in the August 30 issue of the Sangamo Journal , it did not appear in the Beardstown Chronicle until November 1, 1834:

For the Beardstown Chronicle.

New Salem, Sept. 7th, 1834

Mr. Editor:

In the Journal of August 30th, I see an article headed the “Valley of the Mississippi, or the Moral Waste, No. 1,” and signed “Peter Cartwright,” to which the writer seems to invite a reply from any editor or individual.

Now, if I could possibly conceive that this article was written with a view to aid the true religion in any shape, I should not meddle with it; or if I could conceive that it was intended to vindicate the character of the “West,” I should be the last to censure it. But being thoroughly satisfied that it is wholly a political manoeuvre, and being equally well satisfied that the author is a most abondoned [ sic ] hypocrite (I will not say in religion—for of this I pretend to know nothing—but) in politics, I venture to handle it without restraint.

The first sentence in the article that I shall notice is in the following words: “For a number of years past, the character of the citizens of the Valley of the Mississippi, has been assailed and slandered to an extent never surpassed in any civilized country.[”] Now, as to the truth of this charge of slander, I know but little. This much, however, I do know—that whenever an eastern man becomes a candidate for office in this country, this general charge of slander is resorted to, with a view to prejudice men against him. But I must confess that I have never known but one man fairly proved guilty of the charge; and that man was a western man—and no other than Peter Cartwright. He was proved guilty in the following manner:—

Some time last summer, the letter to which he alludes in his “Moral Waste,” was discovered in the Christian Advocate Journal, bearing his signature. In this letter, speaking of this country, he says: —“This land of moral desolation.” This letter was published in handbill form, and circulated in great numbers throughout Sangamon county, was posted up on the doors of stores and groceries, and even read in public companies of which he formed a part, and, so far as I can learn, the authorship was never disavowed by him. I have not the letter before me, and therefore cannot make many or long quotations from it; but the short one I have made I know is correct, and I well recollect that the whole tenor of the letter was in perfect unison with it.

The next sentence that I shall notice is in these words: “Who are these mighty men that write about the poor heathens in this Valley?” To this I answer that I cannot say who they all are; but the world has positive evidence that Peter Cartwright is one of them.

Again he says, “Are they not generally found in the ranks of the political and religious aristocrats of the day.”

To this I cannot give a direct answer. However if uncle Peter be a fair sample of the clan, I should say they are.

Again he says, “Is is [ sic ] it not evident to all informed observers that the devil might get all the poor ignorant heathens in this Valley if they did not get the money.” To this I incline to answer yes. I beleive [ sic ] the people in this country are in some degree priest ridden. I also believe, and if I am not badly mistaken “all informed observers” will concur in the belief that Peter Cartwright bestrides, more than any four men in the northwestern part of the State. He [ sic ]

He has one of the largest and best improved farms in Sangamon county, with other property in proportion. And how has he got it? Only by the contributions he has been able to levy upon and collect from a priest ridden church. It will not do to say he has earned it “by the sweat of his brow;” for although he may sometimes labor, all know that he spends the greater part of his time in preaching and electioneering.

And then to hear him in electioneering times publicly boasting of mustering his militia, (alluding to the Methodist Church) and marching and counter-marching them in favor of, or against this or that candidate—why, this is not only hard riding, but it is riding clear off the track, stumps, logs and black-jack brush, notwithstanding. For a church or community to be priest ridden by a man who will take their money and treat them kindly in return is bad enough in all conscience; but to be ridden by one who is continually exposing them to ridicule by making a public boast of his power to hoodwink them, is insufferable.

Again, he says, “Now I put this question to the sober judgment of every Christian and enlightened gentleman, whether this conduct is fair, truthful, or honest? and whether these men ought not to be rebuked by an insulted and abused community?” In answer to this, I should say, that as a general punishment, I think those men ought to be rebuked as uncle Peter recommends: but in his particular case, I would recommend some more sanguinary punishment; for such punishments as rebuke will be forever lost upon one of such superlative hardihoood [ sic ] and as he possesses—he has been more than rebuked these twenty years.


Again he says, “Now after these men have come on, settled down in some, flourishing town or growing settlement with their salaries made sure to them, with all their travelling expenses, is it then right to circulate a subscription for their benefit? and after they have appealed to the best feelings of an uninformed and abused community, and obtained their money for their national societies and agents, is it then right to slander and misrepresent them?” What, in the name of common sense, is it of which uncle Peter is complaining? He has been quarrelling with—nobody knows whom—half down the column of a newspaper, because, as he says, somebody has misrepresented this community by calling it ignorant, &c; when suddenly forgetting himself, he calls this same community an “ uninformed and abused community.”—That he should be heard saying things that he does not believe himself, I do not wonder at; but that after his long dealing in duplicity, he should be found unable to travel half way down the column of a newspaper without crossing his own trail is passing strange. Speaking of his Advocate letter in his “Moral Waste,” Cartwright says, “I did not ask for Methodist teachers, and when I asked for those under the influence of our own church, I only meant those that were opposed to American or National societies, Sec.” Now this is worst of all.

If any of Cartwright’s real friends have a blush left, now is the time to use it. He did not ask for Methodist teachers! Will any man risk his reputation for common sense by pretending to believe this? Mark the circumstances. He was writing to the editor of the only Methodist periodical published in the nation—a paper seldomly opened by any but Methodists—so much so that although the letter had been published some considerable time, and the paper had many subscribers in Sangamon county, so far as I can learn, no eye, save that of a Methodist ever beheld it till the editor of the Pioneer, through the medium of his exchange list, I suppose, discovered it and republished a part of it.

Does this look like a general invitation to all who were opposed to American or National Societies?—To me it appears a general invitation to particular individuals—something of a public call made in a private way.

But this is not all—“These teachers were asked of the older States conferences”—mark the word conferences . Now I may be mistaken, but if I am not, no church except the mothodist [ sic ] has the word conference in its whole technical vocabulary. I will here venture a legal opinion: If asking for methodist teachers were a crime of the magnitude of homicide, none of Cartwright’s gentlemen of the bar, could be found able, intelligent and learned enough to save his neck from the halter—(no insinuations that the said neck ever deserved such a fate.) as I have before said, I have not the Advocate letter before me, neither can I recollect what Cartwright said in it about American and National societies, or whether he said any thing. I am, however confident he said nothing against them; and I well recollect, he, in terms congratulated the editor upon a late accession of members to the Temperance Society.

A few more words and I shall have done. The sum totum of this matter is this: None has a greater thirst for political distinction than Peter Cartwright. When he wrote his Advocate letter he had no intention that any western man, save probably a few of his militia should see it: but, unfortunately, it was discovered. This was a trying time with Peter. He saw, as any man might have seen, that the effect of this letter was fastening itself upon his poltical [ sic ] prospects with the benumbing embrace of an incubus, and weighing them down wiht [ sic ] the weight of a mountain. Then came his “Moral Waste,” which is nothing more nor less than an effort to shake off the effect of the Advocate letter. But it is a failure. He will have to shake again.


Poor ghost of ambition! He must have two sets of opinions, one for his religious, and one for his political friends; and to plat them together smoothly, presents a task to which his feverish brain is incompetent. —Let the Advocate letter and the “Moral Waste, No. 1” be presented to an intelligent stranger, and be told that they are the productions of the same man, and he will be much puzzled to decide whether the auther [sic] is greater fool or knave; although he may readily see that he has but few rivals in either capacity.


Even in the rough-and-tumble world of frontier politics, this letter constitutes a scathing personal attack on Peter Cartwright. In the words of Caleb Carman, “it used the old man very Ruff,” and the prime question that confronts us is whether or not it should be considered the work of Abraham Lincoln. Samuel Hill, in signing his name to it, not only paid the price of being the recipient of Cartwright’s wrath and a public “Skinning” but also had to pay to have the letter published in the first place. On the back page of the issue carrying the letter appeared this notice: “On the first side of to-days paper will be found a cammunication [ sic ], signed Samuel Hill , addressed to the Rev. P. Cartwright. It is inserted by request and paid for as an advertisement. We place such like articles under contribution, in order to prevent a too frequent recurrence.” By acknowledging that the letter had been paid for, the editor was making clear that this kind of personal attack was exceptional and not to be encouraged.

Although paying to have the letter published could suggest Hill’s authorship, it also lends color, if not weight, to Caleb Carman’s contention that the piece, written by Lincoln, had been rejected by Simeon Francis, the editor of the Sangamo Journal , where Cartwright’s “Moral Waste” had appeared. Certainly the lateness of the letter’s appearance, nearly two months after its composition, supports Carman’s story that it had been submitted, turned down, and re-submitted elsewhere.

But Hill’s undoubted determination to have the letter published is a consideration that in the question of authorship could cut both ways. His signing his own name might simply reflect the fact that such a printed riposte was the only form of personal reprisal he had available. No other example of Hill’s literary abilities, if any, is known, but he did have a reputation for having others do battle with opponents who were too much for him. He could be sure he would get a “Skinning” from Cartwright when the letter appeared, but as one who had to suffer Cartwright’s abuse anyhow, he had very little to lose. In the absence of evidence that Hill was either capable of the satire in the Chronicle or given credit for it by others, the case for Hill’s authorship comes down to his signature on the letter.

The arguments for Lincoln’s authorship, on the other hand, are manifold. First, there is the positive testimony of two witnesses—Caleb Carman and John McNamar—that Lincoln wrote such a letter. Both appear responsible in the other testimony they gave Herndon, both had known Lincoln and New Salem very well, and neither had any known reason to deceive. The coinciding dates of their letters might indicates collusion, but the differing details in their stories suggest otherwise.

Why, if Lincoln wrote the letter, would he not have signed his own name? In fact, whether or not Hill published the letter just to get back at Cartwright, it would have been unprecedented for Lincoln to have put his own name on a piece written for political effect. Though he is reputed to have written prodigiously for Francis’s Sangamo Journal , nothing of this kind has been found over his own name. Nor is this at all surprising. Anonymous and pseudonymous pieces were the norm for political disputation in those days, and exceptions were relatively rare. Signing one’s own name, particularly to an abusive piece like the one in question, invited the imputation of a personal rather than political motive. Because Peter Cartwright was a minister of the Gospel, Hill could be fairly certain that he would be repaid with no worse than verbal abuse, but many of Hill’s and Lincoln’s contemporaries in public life would have felt called upon by such a letter to issue a challenge. For ridicule a good deal less venomous, James Shields did just that eight years later, because he believed Abraham Lincoln was the author of the pseudonymous “Lost Township” letters.

If Hill is not known to have been a satirist, the opposite is true of Lincoln. He was writing satirical pieces at the expense of his Indiana neighbors as a teen-ager, and such was his success that Herndon found people there who recalled and could recite fragments from some of them thirty-five years later. His reported speeches in the legislature show an unmistakable talent for one-upmanship, and on the stump his powers of ridicule could be devastating. Robert Bray shows in a forthcoming essay that Lincoln’s literary gifts endowed him with “the power to hurt,” a power that he invoked frequently in the early years of his political career.

The text of the letter itself presents further evidence at least consistent with Lincoln’s authorship. Its personal vindictiveness, which Lincoln’s partisan neighbors found so effective, is likely to prove somewhat distasteful to modern readers and is certainly out of character with the generous and forbearing man who led the nation through the Civil War. But this letter comes from a much earlier time and exhibits an earlier and much rougher version of the man. While the work is hardly a masterpiece, as bareknuckled frontier satire it deserves to be judged successful. It clearly lacks the suppleness and natural quality of Lincoln’s best performances in this vein, such as his masterful send-up of Lewis Cass on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1848, but it nonetheless displays wit and lands some very solid blows.

When, for example, he writes, “why, this is not only hard riding, but it is riding clear off the track, stumps, logs, and blackjack brush, notwithstanding,” he scores twice: by effectively employing a surefire device, exaggeration, and by exuberantly following his metaphor into what was, for his frontier audience, physically familiar territory. Or, when he offers his legal opinion: “If asking for methodist teachers were a crime of the magnitude of homicide, none of Cartwright’s gentlemen of the bar, could be found able, intelligent and learned enough to save his neck from the halter,” he deftly sketches in a few words a comic scene that his audience can readily visualize: a hapless Uncle Peter arraigned before the bar of justice.

The most conspicuously Lincolnian aspect of the letter is surely its logical method. Perhaps the quality most remarked in his mental makeup by those who knew him, apart from his melancholy, was the logical cast of Lincoln’s mind. Clearly the underlying strategy of the letter is to show that Cartwright is guilty of precisely the thing he finds so offensive in others. Making a great show of castigating those who slander the Western country as inhabited by “a perfect band of ignorant, lawless, Goths or Vandals ” in one letter, Cartwright is caught referring to “these regions of moral desolation” in another. The great appeal of this tactic lies in making one’s opponent serve as his own accuser and presenting the argument in such a way that the opponent’s own words pronounce judgment upon himself. Lincoln practiced this technique to perfection in the debates with Douglas in 1858, but it had long been a deadly part of his arsenal, and the Cartwright piece is readily conceivable as an early example of his art.

The single passage in the letter most indicative of Lincoln’s authorship is perhaps this: “Poor ghost of ambition! He must have two sets of opinions, one for his religious, and one for his political friends; and to plat them together smoothly, presents a task to which his feverish brain is incompetent.” The ingenious imagery of platting is as unusual as it is effective, but its occurrence here is perhaps not so surprising if composed by one who had spent much time learning how to survey land and reconcile the stubbornly disparate plats of neighboring landholders.

In sum, the attack on Peter Cartwright’in the Beardstown Chronicle in November 1834, though signed and paid for by Samuel Hill, is far more likely to have come from the pen of the young Abraham Lincoln. Hill had the motive and opportunity, but there is no indication that he had the requisite ability. Lincoln had all three, plus experience, and he was acknowledged as the author by two of his New Salem friends.

The possibility that Lincoln was hired by Hill to write the letter would accord with what we know about Hill but would run counter to everything we know about Lincoln. A more plausible scenario is that Lincoln, seeing that Cartwright had tripped himself up in “Moral Waste. No. 1,” wrote the letter for the Sangamo Journal under a pseudonym but was turned down because it was too directly personal. Unwilling to publish it as his own, he may then have permitted or arranged for Samuel Hill, who was anxious to repay Cartwright’s insults anyway, to have it published over his own name in a paper that belonged to a man who would prove Lincoln’s friend and political ally, Francis Arenz. Arenz presumably agreed to publish it if a real name was affixed and it could be treated as a paid advertisement.

The letter is interesting enough as an example of frontier political satire and invective but doubly interesting as an early example of the rhetorical skills of Abraham Lincoln. Though lacking in smoothness and polish, and probably written as much to punish as to amuse and instruct, the latter has sufficient energy and Lincolnian verve to count as revealing apprentice work from the hand of a man who would eventually become a literary master.


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