Friday, July 28, 2023

Abraham Lincoln's Government Job at New Salem, Illinois.

Postmaster Lincoln
1860 Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Leopold Grozelier.
The appointment of Abraham Lincoln as Postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, on May 7, 1833, was his first recognition by the general public. The fact that his political faith was not in harmony with the administration then in power must have assured him that he had gained the goodwill of all his neighbors. Following his election as a captain in the Black Hawk War and the very complimentary vote he received as a candidate for the legislature, this honor proved that he had the faculty of making friends. This was a fundamental qualification if one were to succeed in pioneer politics.

While the appointment as Postmaster did not come to Lincoln as a political favor for contributing to the party's success, then directing the affairs of the government, the position did afford him some exceptional opportunities for paving the way toward his own political success. He learned the entire population of that part of old Sangamon County, which later became Menard County. He was usually the first to make the acquaintance of new settlers who sought out the post office, that one point of general contact and information known in pioneer days.

The privilege of reading the newspapers and periodicals that came to the post office was of greater value than the purely local associations. It gave him a more comprehensive reading than most citizens in the county and allowed him to keep advised on all sides of any public question. I recently discovered in the Morgan County courthouse at Jacksonville, Illinois, the record book of the Postmaster at that place, which gives us a better knowledge than we had had before of the many journals in circulation in the state when Lincoln was Postmaster at New Salem. This old record book gives the titles of the papers and magazines and the names of the subscribers who received the publications between October 1831 and December 1832. Lincoln might be called a contemporary of the Jacksonville postmaster. His term of office began five months after the filing of these records. On the back cover of the old book is this citation: "Samuel Hill for two letters 37½¢." Hill was the Postmaster whom Lincoln succeeded at New Salem. As Jacksonville and New Salem were not more than thirty-five miles apart, it is reasonable to conclude that most of the publications which went through one post office were circulated through the other.

Mail arrived at the New Salem Post Office once a week, delivered on a route that ran from Springfield, IL, to Millers Ferry, IL. If addressees didn't collect their mail at the Post Office, which was customary, Lincoln delivered it personally — usually carrying the mail in his hat.

Lincoln received compensation of $55.70 ($1,931 today) in the fiscal year 1835. Besides his pay, Lincoln could send and receive personal letters free and get one daily newspaper delivered for free. Lincoln served as Postmaster until the office closed in May 1836.

About $18 ($590 today) was left in the New Salem Post Office's coffers when it closed in 1836, so Lincoln held onto the money. When a government agent later visited Lincoln to collect the funds, the future President, who was financially strapped then, retrieved the money from a trunk and presented it to the agent.

The following publications were delivered by the Postmaster of Jacksonville, Illinois, to subscribers residing in Morgan County, Illinois, between October 1, 1881, and December 31, 1832. The names of the subscribers and the amounts of postage they paid are listed with the title of the publication in a book in the archives of the Morgan County courthouse:

Alarm, Beardstown Chronicle, Bibical Repository, Boston Recorder, Casket, Christian Advocate, Christian Messenger, Christian Watchman, Cincinnati American, Evangelist, Farmers Chronicle, Focus, Gospel Herald, Home Messenger, Illinois Herald, Home Missionary, Journal of Commerce, Kankawn Banner, Kentucky Gazette, Kentucky Reporter, Ladies Book, Lexington Observer, Liberal Advocate, Louisville Focus, Louisville Post Advertiser, Marietta Gazette, Millenial Harbinger, Missionary Reporter, Missionary Herald, Missouri Republican, National Intelligencer, National Preacher, New York Observer, New York Optic, New York Post, New York Spectator, Niles Register, Ohio Patriot, Old Countryman, Palmyra Central, Philadelphia Evening Post, Plough Boy, Presbyterian, Revivalist, Sangamon Journal, Southern Advocate, Spirit Pilgrims, Standard, St. Louis Republican, St. Louis Times, Sunday School Banner, Sunday School Journal, Susquehana Democrat, Tennessee Herald, Theology, Vandalia Whig, Wayne Sentinel, Western Luminary, Western Pioneer, Youth's Friend. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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