Governor Lincoln?



Abraham Lincoln’s life had many twists and turns in it which ultimately led him to the White House in 1861 and immortality.  One of the more interesting “what ifs” in Lincoln’s career was in 1849 when he was offered by the Taylor administration the governorship of the territory of Oregon.  Lincoln was an important man in the Whig party in Illinois and he had been one of Taylor’s most ardent advocates in that state.  Lincoln was out of office at the time, and the prospect of a territorial governorship might well have been attractive to him.  However, Mary Lincoln had no desire to assume residence in the wild west, and she warned her husband that removal to the far off land of the Oregon Territory would remove any hope that he might have of rising to national prominence.  More to the point, Lincoln had already recommended fellow Whig and Illinoisan Simeon Francis, owner of the Sangamo Journal, for the post.

New York businessman George T. M. Davis had recommended Lincoln for the governorship, and he later recalled Lincoln’s declination of the post:

 The motives influencing Mr. Lincoln in declining the public honor which was held in abeyance for him were these: His friend and neighbor, Simeon Francis, who was the proprietor and editor of the Sangamon Journal of Springfield, and at the time the leading and most influential Whig paper in the state, was an applicant for the office of secretary of the Territory of Oregon. Mr. Lincoln had not only strongly recommended Francis to the president, but, upon both personal and political grounds, felt the deepest interest in his success. Of course, Mr. Lincoln was well aware that the president would not, for a moment, entertain the idea of making both appointments from the same state. And as soon as he received the letter from Mr. Addison, without hesitation and with his proverbial magnanimity and high sense of honor, wrote the letter in which he said: ‘I can not accept it.’ This disinterestedness became the more conspicuous, as Mr. Lincoln had been advised by us that for political reasons the president had determined against the appointment of Mr. Francis during his administration. Mr. Francis never did receive the appointment, but a short time previous to the election of Mr. Lincoln to the presidency he removed with his wife to Oregon, on account of his health.

 If Lincoln had served as governor of the Oregon Territory, that would have effectively removed him from Illinois politics for a number of years, probably until the end of the Fillmore administration.  At the end of his term he may have gone back to Illinois, or perhaps he would have embarked on a political career in Oregon, maybe becoming its first governor after its admission to the Union on February 14, 1859.  Perhaps Governor Lincoln of Oregon would have ended up as the Republican standard bearer in 1860, or perhaps he would have finished his political career with that post, remembered only by scholars of the history of Oregon.  Sheer speculation.  Once History has taken its course, there is no changing it, no matter how enticing speculation about paths not taken may be.

Published in: on February 22, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  


  1. Yes, but was there one other man in American politics at the time who could have taken the leaky Union boat home through four years of storms with the endurance and determination of Lincoln? Imagine a Seward administration; by about 1863, there would have been more fighting and mutual hatred in Washington DC than in any of the battlefield states.

  2. Who knows Fabio? If I had been asked my opinion of Mr. Lincoln in 1860 I would have responded that he could give a good speech but that I worried that he had no executive experience and had not held any office for a dozen years. Until the man is actually in office as President it is difficult to predict who will succeed and who will fail.

  3. Reblogged this on Practically Historical.

    • Thanks! A little known Lincoln factoid.

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