Alex Gardner made this photograph of President Lincoln 11 days before he delivered his Gettysburg Address.
Alex Gardner made this photograph of President Lincoln 11 days before he delivered his Gettysburg Address. Bettmann/Corbis
Courtesy National Archives
This is an original letter handwritten by Abraham Lincoln to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. It was donated to the National Archives by Lawrence Cutler of Arizona.
This is an original letter handwritten by Abraham Lincoln to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. It was donated to the National Archives by Lawrence Cutler of Arizona. Courtesy National Archives
The National Archives on Thursday added a new prize to its collection of historic documents — a letter written in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln penned the two-sentence missive about a personnel issue to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase on executive mansion stationery on Nov. 14, 1863 — just five days before delivering the Gettysburg Address.
Historians were aware of the letter's existence because it was ripped from a volume of U.S. Treasury Department records. But the contents and whereabouts were a mystery until it surfaced in an online auction a few years ago, said Miriam Kleiman, spokeswoman for the National Archives.
Kleiman said the National Archives has a division that monitors auctions to see if government property is being sold. Investigators contacted Lawrence Cutler, the Arizona collector who bought the document — and the rest is history.
Cutler said when the letter was taken from the public domain remains a mystery. He donated it to the National Archives in a ceremony Thursday morning.
"It is both a great honor and a pleasure for me to give this very important Abraham Lincoln letter back to the citizens of the United States of America, especially during this bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth," Cutler said.
Acting Archivist Adrienne Thomas welcomed the letter's return and said it is an important page in U.S. history.
"This brief note, written five days before President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, provides us with a window to look at a difficult personal crisis faced by Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War," she said.
Experts believe the letter may have been torn from U.S. Treasury Department records between the 1880s, when the letters were bound, and the 1940s, when they were sent to the National Archives. The National Archives said the letter was not included in Roy P. Basler's Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, which was published in the 1950s.
Archive Says Letter Affirms Fairness
In the letter, the president asked Chase to give Robert Stevens, who had been fired from his job as head of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, access to the evidence that led to his dismissal. Stevens' appointment to the position had been approved by Lincoln as a favor to Oregon Sen. Edward Baker, Stevens' father-in-law.
Stevens protested his firing for months before appealing to Lincoln for access to the evidence that was the basis for his removal.
According to the National Archives Web site, Stevens' infractions included hiring "bad" men; encouraging insubordination; showing partiality in fixing wages; having employees who were chronically absent; buying inferior supplies at high rates; and being discourteous to his manager.
Experts said Lincoln's letter to Chase demonstrates the president's fairness.
"The newly returned letter indicates that while Lincoln was not willing to override Chase's decision, he did feel that Stevens deserved to see the charges against him. It emphasizes the president's sense of fair play and moral authority, which served as a guide throughout his presidency," according to a National Archives statement.