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524. John Palmer, Alfred Orendorff, Shelby Cullom, William Jayne, James H. Matheny, Richard Oglesby (William H. Herndon interviews).

Tuesday Septr 6th, 1887.

(Let all this be private as to names)

I saw Govr. Palmer at his office privately and talked to him freely about Mr Lincoln — his mother — and Thomas Lincoln, and their ancestry — and origen.


This was at 9 o'c am. I asked him his advice — asked him to give me his opinion as best how to proceed — in writing the life of Lincoln, whether to state all the facts or to state none or only so much as history and the nations, world demanded. I carefully and cautiously related the facts — told him all I knew as well for Thomas — Nancy & Abraham as against them. Govr Palmer thought one moment and said — "This is too delicate a question and I do now wish to give any advice on the matter — will think more about it and then if I think proper I will tell you my opinion — will see you again however, nothing happening &c". I left the office. [Zimri?] A. Enos came into the room about the time the Govers & my conversation ended. Don't think he heard a word

I saw A. Orendorff — stated substantially what I did to Govr. Palmer and in reply he said — "The People wished and greatly wished to have the story of Lincoln's legitimacy well settled and forever fixed: he thought that on the whole and for the best, to tell the whole story and clear up Lincoln's legitimacy". This was about 9 — 10 ock am at or near the Bank just below Orendorff office.

I saw at Senator Cullom's office — Sen Cullom and Doct Wm Jayne — had a private conversation with both of these men — told them the whole story as I had it on my fingers end and the same as I told to Govr Palmer & Orendorff — and to all other persons — told them the story of Lincoln's supposed illegitimacy — went over all the facts, stating to them that I wished to make it appear that Lincoln was the legitimate child of Thomas & Nancy — that that was my intention. Cullom seemed surprised and said "The public believed that you want to make him Lincoln illegitimate". I said, in this you are mistaken — I want 1st to tell the truth and 2dly I want by that truth to make Lincoln appear — nay to be the lawful child and legitimate heir of Thomas Lincoln & Nancy Lincoln — once Nancy Hanks. Cullom thanked me for this declaration of intentions on my part. I further said to him that in so doing I should have to touch up old Thomas Lincoln and immediately after this running conversation I asked these gentlemen for their opinion and advice &c &c as to the best way in which to write the Life of Lincoln. These gentlemen said "That if you say anything about the matter you had better tell it out, giving all the facts so as to put Lincoln in his proper place or attitude in history — Glad that you expressed your opinion of intentions about Lincolns legitimacy, it being favorable to him." This Conversation was the longest which I had with any person or persons, knowing that Cullom misunderstood my purposes. &c. &c. I got up the meeting on purpose to hear Cullom & Jayne's opinion. This was about 9-20 m AM — Conversations all private.

I saw Judge Matheny at his office 11.30 am and had a private conversation with him — told him all the facts just as I did to all others — Palmer — Orendorff — Cullom & Jayne, — and when I had stated over all the facts I then asked him to give me his opinion — give me his advice as to the best method of dealing with


the matter and to which question he said — "If you can clearly make Lincoln out to be a legitimate — , a lawful child of Thomas & Nancy and make it out that Nancy Lincoln, Thomas Lincolns wife was chaste &c &c I would do it by all means, not thereby injuring others &c The whole story is new to me, but by all means clear Lincoln & his mother, if you treat the subject". I said this cannot be done without touching up Thomas Lincoln. The judge said — "That's bad but put Lincoln & his mother in their proper place." All persons Examined — advice & opinions asked for all seemed to talk honesty and fairly, though I kept my eyes open. — wide open.

I had a long and a good conversation with Govr. Oglesby — told him over & over all the facts of the case just as I did to all others and said to him that I had the materials out of which, by a lawyer's argument, that I could make it appear that Lincoln was the lawful child of Thomas & Nancy — told him that Thomas was castrated but that no time was fixed by the witnesses of the said event. The Govr. then said — "The very idea that old Thomas Lincoln would fool Mrs Johnson was foolish — (Here he gave his reasons). That Theory won't do — better go upon the Theory — proposition that Nancy Hanks was the illegitimate child of the Virginia planter and that the people had mixed things up. This is the best explanation, but it would be better for your book to say nothing about it at all. That the People's good sense had settled the whole matter long ago — That the People don't care about such things anyway. They go upon merit — the man and his own genius & character." This Conversation with the Govr was private as in all other cases and it took place in the Govr's room at 11 ˝ o'c AM — possibly 12

W H Herndon

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3411 — 13



1. This document records the substance of a series of WHH interviews on the same date. Above the date, WHH has written: Opinions of Men — file them.

2. Marginal note: All these various conversations were noted down by me within 10 minutes after they were made — each in succession — did it before — saw others — and had conversations with them. The replies were watched closely — more closey than anything else. / W. H Herndon.

3. Herndon probably intended to write "not."

4. Alfred Orendorff, former law partner of WHH.

5. Shelby Moore Cullom (1829 — 1914), then senior U.S. senator from Illinois.

6. By this WHH apparently meant glossing over the troubling reports of Thomas Lincoln's impotence.