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121. Leonard Swett to William H. Herndon.

Chicago, Jan. 15. 1866.

Dear Sir.

I unexpectedly got through with my case at Springfield, so as to let me off on the next train of the day I saw you I therefore failed to have another interview with you as I anticipated. I shall not fail to give you the letter as I suggested, but want to wait until I have time to read over your lecture again.

This afternoon, a banker at Richmond, who formerly lived in Washington & with whom I was intimate, sent me the two letters, which I enclose to you. He made no comment & did not state why he sent them to me, He only remarked that he had seen the originals in the hands of Robert Todd of St Louis, and knew them to be genuine.

I never knew Mr Lincoln had a brother It is perhaps a little singular, but I never heard him speak of any relative, except as connected with his boy history.

The letters which I send sound like Lincoln From the City from which they are sent, and from Mr Todd, if he is the man I think he is the construction put upon them may have been an unfavorable one to Mr Lincoln, as showing, in reference to his brother, a penurious disposition. To people who have been accustomed to look upon him only as President, with the supposed wealth & exalted ideas that station suggest the letter might bear that construction, but to you & I it would look different. Without knowing exactly I dont suppose in 1848. if that was the time the letter to the brother was written Mr Lincoln was worth $500. I do know generally that he was poor, with a professional practice suspended by his term in Congress as his only means of support Besides his ideas of money were always far from lavish. I never knew him to refuse to spend for anything he needed Yet he was always rigidly frugal and in no way indulged, in himself or others idleness or wastefulness I think he always gave to meritorious objects but I dont think he would in anyone, continence thoughtlessness I can therefore see how he would make it condition even with his brother, if he thought it necessary for his good that while he helped him that he should do something for himself This would be austerely right, it was seeing the thing just as it was It is another proof of your estimate of him. that he always rigidly saw the truth

To understand this letter, which I assume to be genuine, we must have two facts before us, one Mr Lincoln's estimate of amounts, the other the true character of that brother, The first I know, The second I do not.

I remember, not certainly to exceed three years before he was elected President, Mr Lincoln was, by agreement, holding Court, at Clinton, for Judge Davis. A case was pending of a merchant against the Father of a minor, for payment for a suit of clothes sold, without authority from the Father, by the merchant, to the son The question was whether they were necessaries & suited to his condition in life. The Father was a fair farmer living near Mt Pleasant & if I remember right owned a good farm. The bill for the entire suit was $28. I happened in Court, just as Lincoln


was giving his decision The substance of it was that the bill was too much Said he "I have very rarely in my life worn a suit of Clothes costing $28.

The character of the brother I know nothing about If he was simply poor & struggling in an humbler sphere in life, the letter would be unpardonable by the man who received it If the case was as strong as from the terms of the letter it may be supposed it may be justifiable

I cannot disguise that I have some curiosity to know whether there is any truth in this letter and if so to know what the real facts are.

There has been for a long time, among Mr Lincoln's Enemies, an effort to produce an impression that he was inhumane to his poor relatives I was in General Grants tent once at City Point when he read me, from [Harrisburg?], I think, a detailed Statement of the destitute condition of his brother's family there, I think it was his brother, The Statement was that applications had been made to Mr L. at Washington in their behalf which was inhumanly refused & Gen'l Grant was asked why he was fighting to uphold such a monster. The Gen'l said he showed it to me, not to enquire seriously for its probable truth but as a specimen of what he sometimes received I may get these details wrong but substantially I am correct. I assured Genl Grant, as I supposed, that he never had a brother.

If you know any facts in reference to this letter to the brother, or about the brother I would like to know them

Yours Truly
Leonard Swett

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2430 — 33



1. Probably letters to his stepbrother, John D. Johnston, dated December 24, 1848, and November 4, 1851. See CW 2:15 — 16, 111 — 12.