|Springfield, Illinois?, ca. 1860|
On May 18, 1860, while sitting in this armchair, Abraham Lincoln learned that he had received the Republican nomination for president of the United States. This was Lincoln’s favorite seat at the Illinois State Journal, where he frequently caught up on news and discussed local and national affairs. When the newspaper donated this rustic chair to the Lincoln Memorial Collection in 1886, the editor observed “We shall be happy if you can find some man to sit in it who is anywhere near as great as Lincoln.”
A bentwood hickory armchair, painted black, bow back crest leading to curved and bowed arms with D-shaped seat comprising bundled set of branches supported on four twig legs, joined by rear and front stretchers; portion of lower bow back rail lacking proper right section (approx. 13 in.) between the front post and rear junction of arm, lacking proper right side diagonal cross brace, front seat rail probably lost, upper bow re-nailed at junction of proper right post, front joint at seat of both posts re-secured with bound copper wire (proper left repair among the earliest, probably 19th century), lower back rail and rear cross of arms at back of chair bound with wire, minor losses to bark throughout, overall wear to surface commensurate with age.
|Location of Origin: North America|
|Medium/Materials: bentwood hickory, painted black|
|Primary Classification: Folk Art and Americana|
The Journal office was a home away from home for Lincoln, much like the War Department Telegraph Office during his presidency.“ The journal paper was always my friend and, of course, its editors the same,” he once remarked. Lincoln stopped in frequently to read the latest New York papers and talk with other visitors. The newspaper’s editor, Edward L. Baker, was an attorney and the husband of Mrs. Lincoln’s niece, Julia Edwards.
The day before the nomination, Lincoln had sent Baker to the Convention with a message written in the margins of a newspaper article about Seward’s position on slavery. “Make no contracts that will bind me,” Lincoln warned his delegates. Baker delivered the message, returned to Springfield, and joined Lincoln to await the results of the balloting.
When the Convention opened, Lincoln had been low on the list of those expected to become the party’s standard-bearer. William Seward of New York was the front-runner, but had many political enemies. Other delegations had their own favorite sons. Lincoln’s campaign manager, David Davis, pulled out all stops to make political allies, and (so rumor had it) also arranged a number of dirty tricks - including printing counterfeit tickets to pack the Convention with supporters. On the first ballot, 173½ votes went to William Seward, 102 to Lincoln, and 189½ to other candidates. Then, Lincoln’s strategy of holding back on the first ballot, but asking to be the top second-choice candidate for swing voters, began to work. The second ballot came in shortly after: 184½ to 181. Seward was still in the lead, but Lincoln had all but closed the gap; he needed just 52 more votes to clinch the nomination. On the final count of the third ballot, with 364 votes, Lincoln swept the nomination.
Henry Rankin, a supporter who was with Lincoln in the Journal office in Springfield, recalled that when the news came in “there was a hearty hand-shake of congratulations all round, followed by three rousing and prolonged cheers.”
No one but the nominee was able to control the joy the nomination had brought. He sat erect, rigid, and his face wore … firm-set stern lines. … Lincoln made his way slowly through the company and down the stairs. … He still looked very serious, but in a brief moment remarked, rather gravely, yet with the peculiar mellow emphasis he had when speaking with great sincerity: “There is a lady over yonder on Eighth Street who is deeply interested in this news; I will carry it to her.”
The lady, of course, was Mary Todd Lincoln. As news of Lincoln’s nomination spread through Springfield, a crowd of jubilant Republicans paraded to his home and serenaded the candidate. Lincoln replied with a brief, modest speech. An article in the next day’s Journal reported that when “Mr. Lincoln said he would invite the whole crowd into his house if it was large enough to hold them,” a voice from the crowd responded, ‘We will give you a larger house on the fourth of next March.’”
Back to the Chair
The Journal took pride in its “seat of power.” In January of 1865, shortly before Lincoln’s second inauguration and less than three months before his assassination, the paper touted it as “the chair in which Honest Abe Lincoln was sitting when he heard of his nomination as candidate for the Presidency.” For the next two decades it remained at the newspaper’s office. In 1886, when the publishers learned that S.B. Munson and J. Key[e]s were putting together a collection of Lincoln documents and relics, they decided to donate it and provided an “affidavit” of authenticity. Editor John R. Stewart wrote a letter explaining that “the old rustic chair…has faithfully held exchanges in this office for many years…. It is the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he received from Chicago the dispatch announcing his first nomination for the presidency.”
In the years following his death, a number of contemporaries recalled the day Lincoln learned of his presidential nomination. Though some details vary, most of the eyewitness accounts place Lincoln at the State Journal office (which had a direct telegraph connection to the Chicago “Wigwam” housing the convention) when he first got the news. A notable exception was the version told by Clinton L. Conkling. In speeches, articles, and letters, Conkling described himself as the first person to have informed Lincoln of his nomination. At first, though, Conkling couldn’t remember how he himself learned the results. Years later, he managed to recall, in detail, that he had heard the news in the telegraph office, run down the steps, and found Lincoln in the street, where he informed the future president of his victory. However, Henry Rankin, who was with Lincoln at the time, explains that Lincoln waited in the State Journal office until he received the news of his third ballot nomination. About 25 minutes later, after Lincoln had left the newspaper office and was out on the street, a messenger boy handed him a private dispatch from the superintendent of the telegraph office with the results “after all changes in the ballots had been made.” That, Rankin says, explains the mistaken belief that the boy (who Conkling identified as himself) had been the first bearer of the good news.
Provenance after 1886 Donation of the “Nomination Chair”
Beginning in 1887, the chair was exhibited as part of the Lincoln Memorial Collection at the Opera House Building in Chicago, under the stewardship of Lincoln’s old law partner, William H. Herndon. It was also put on display at the Exposition Building in Milwaukee, and shown at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (World’s Columbian Exposition). In 1894, the entire Lincoln Memorial Collection was put up for auction; the hickory chair, lot number 1601 (see Addendum A) was purchased for $140 by Louis Clark Vanuxem and his son-in-law William Potter. In February 1914, Potter and the remaining heirs of Vanuxem presented the chair, along with other furniture purchased from the Lincoln Memorial Collection, to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. A photograph showing the chair on display there was published in 1918 in Nathaniel W. Stephenson’s book Abraham Lincoln and the Union (see Addendum B). The Historical Society retained the chair until 1976, when it deaccessioned it along with other Lincoln-related furniture. The Society’s records show that the National Park Service arranged to buy most of the Lincoln pieces on behalf of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. The Lincoln Home was only interested in items from the Lincolns’ residence, so the hickory chair was not included in the transaction. In May of 1976, a group of Springfield attorneys, led by Robert B. Oxtoby, agreed to purchase from the Society several items from Lincoln’s law office, to be displayed in a reconstruction in the Lincoln & Herndon Building. The hickory chair was included in the agreement, although it was not actually associated with the law office. Not long after, Oxtoby sold the chair to John P. Clarke, publisher of the State Journal (by then, the State Journal-Register), who put it on view in his office. The Lincoln Nomination Chair was back home. At some point prior to 1983, the chair was transferred to the renowned historical collection of James S. Copley, the newspaper’s owner. At the May 20, 2011 Sotheby’s Copley Library sale, this piece appeared as lot 939, where we purchased it.
|Provenance: State Journal-RegisterLincoln Memorial Collection (presented to Collection co-owner J. Key[e]s on May 13, 1886 by J.R. Stewart, editor of the State Journal)Louis Clark Vanuxem and William Potter (purchased at Henkels sale, Dec. 5-6, 1894, lot 1601)Historical Society of Pennsylvania (presented by Potter et al, February 22, 1914)Robert B. Oxtoby et al (sold by Historical Society of Pennsylvania, May-July 1976)John P. Clarke, publisher of the Springfield, Ill. State Journal-Register (sold by Oxtoby ca. 1976)James S. Copley Library (prior to 1983; Copley was publisher of the State Journal-Register)Sotheby’s, May 20, 2011, James S. Copley Library sale, lot 939 [Sotheby’s did not have any of the historical research or provenance noted here], to Seth Kaller Inc.|
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121 Mount Vernon, Boston, MA 02108 USA
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