Members of Congress: Edward D. Baker (1811-1861)

Edward D. Baker
Edward D. Baker
Edward D. Baker
Edward D. Baker
Edward D. Baker

The friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Edward D. Baker continued for more than two decades – despite differences of politics and geographic distance. The Lincolns’ second son, Edward Baker Lincoln, was named for him when he was born in May 1846. On one occasion in the 1840 campaign, Mr. Lincoln had to rescue Baker when a campaign speech for the State Senate got him in trouble. Baker’s attack on Democratic newspaper editors drew a strong reaction from the crowd. Cries of “Pull him down” brought Mr. Lincoln down onto the platform from a trap door above. William H. Herndon related the story:

Baker was a brilliant and effective speaker, and quite as full too of courage as invective. He was addressing a crowd in the court room, which was immediately underneath Stuart and Lincoln’s office. Just above the platform on which the speaker stood was a trap door in the floor, which opened into Lincoln’s office. Lincoln at the time, as was often his habit, was lying on the floor looking down through the door at the speaker. I was in the body of the crowd. Baker was hot-headed and impulsive, but brave as a lion. Growing warm in his arraignment of the Democratic party, he charged that ‘wherever there was a land office there was a Democratic newspaper to defend its corruptions. This angered the brother of the editor of our town paper, who was present, and who cried out, ‘Pull him down,’ at the same time advancing from the crowd as if to perform the task himself. Baker, his face pale with excitement, squared himself for resistance. A shuffling of feet, a forward movement of the crowd, and great confusion followed. Just then a long pair of legs was seen dangling from the aperture above, and instantly the figure of Lincoln dropped on the platform. Motioning with his hands for silence and not succeeding, he seized a stone water-pitcher standing near by, threatening to break it over the head of the first man who laid hands on Baker. ‘Hold on, gentlemen,’ he shouted, ‘this is the land of free speech. Mr. Baker has a right to speak and ought to be heard. I am here to protect him, and no man shall take him from this stand if I can prevent it.’ His interference had the desired effect. Quiet was soon restored, and the valiant Baker was allowed to proceed. I was in the back part of the crowd that night, and an enthusiastic Baker man myself. I knew he was a brave man, and even if Lincoln had not interposed, I felt sure he wouldn’t have been pulled from the platform without a bitter struggle.”1

Fellow Whig politician Usher Linder was apparently present that night and later related Mr. Lincoln’s statement to biographer Josiah G. Holland: “Gentlemen let us not disgrace the age and country in which we live. This is a land where freedom of speech is guaranteed. Mr. Baker has a right to speak and ought to be permitted to do so. None shall take him from the stand while I am here if I can prevent it.”2

The Baker-Lincoln friendship survived their rivalry with John Hardin for the Springfield congressional nomination in 1843. According to Stephen T. Logan “there was a bitter hostility between Hardin & Baker’ and “a suspicion and dislike between Baker & Lincoln.” One reason apparently was the argument used by Baker’s supporters that Mr. Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd had made him one of the “aristocracy.”3

Mr. Lincoln was in a difficult position because he was chosen as a delegate of the Sangamon County delegation that was pledged to back Baker. George U. Miles was a Menard County delegate pledged to Mr. Lincoln at the convention that eventually chose Hardin. “My honor is out with Baker. I’d Suffer my right arm to be cut off before I’d violate it,” Miles said Mr. Lincoln told him. He said he would decline nomination and support Baker and wanted Miles to support him as well. Miles replied that Menard County had bound him to vote “for Hardin after you,” adding that he would “suffer my right arm Cut off before I’ll violate my instructions.”4 Hardin served one term, and then Baker was elected to take office in 1846. He resigned, however, to serve in the Mexican-American War. When Baker returned from the war, Mr. Lincoln was in Congress and Stephen Logan was slated to run for the next opening. Rather than contest Logan, Baker moved to the Galena congressional district from which he was elected in 1848.

There was conflict between outgoing Congressman Lincoln and newly elected Congressman Baker over some patronage – notably the Land Office. After the 1848 elections, noted historian William Lee Miller, “there was not a lone-star Whig from Illinois; there was, rather the fading star Lincoln in the Thirtieth Congress, and the rising star Baker, already in Washington, anticipating being in the Thirty-first.”5 The two lawyers’ friendship also survived differences over Illinois patronage during Baker’s term in Congress, Baker’s unfulfilled dreams to get appointment to the Cabinet or a foreign mission under Zachary Taylor, and Baker’s subsequent move to the West Coast. Joshua Speed said that Mr. Lincoln wrote him in 1849 asking him to get a recommendation from Kentucky Governor John Crittenden for Baker to be appointed to a foreign mission. Crittenden told Speed that he was “not very favorably impressed” with Baker but did think Mr. Lincoln was “a rising man.” Speed suggested that Mr. Lincoln ask Crittenden for a letter of recommendation for himself. Speed later recalled, “In his reply he says I have pledged myself to Baker & can not under any circumstances consent to the use of my name so long as his is urged for some place….”6

During this period, Mr. Lincoln and Baker competed in another sphere, according to Mr. Lincoln’s neighbor James Gourley. He said that in 1844 he used “used to play ball with Abe Lincoln”, Baker and others. The “game was Called fives – Striking a ball with our hands against a wall that Served as alley.”7 Baker and Lincoln were often rivals at more than handball.

Legal colleague Milton Hay said Baker “was a more brilliant man than Lincoln – but was not recognized as having that steadfast and reliable ability which Lincoln had.”8 Both Edwin D. Baker and Mr. Lincoln had been law partners of Stephen T. Logan. “Baker was a brilliant man but very negligent: while Lincoln was growing all the time, from the time I first knew him,” Logan later recalled. “I recollect very well an observation I made,” said Logan, “on an occasion when he had got very much discouraged. He had been over about Danville on the circuit and Baker had got very much the advantage of him in some matters there. He came and complained to me that Baker had got so much the start of him that he despaired of getting even with him in acquirements and skill.” Logan replied that “it does not depend on the start a man gets, it depends on how he keeps up his labors and efforts until middle life.” Logan later testified: “I think he remembered and acted upon that advice, for he spoke to me several times and mentioned the comfort and assistance he had derived from it.”9

According to early biographer Joseph Holland, “The lawyers of Springfield, particularly those who had political aspirations, were afraid to undertake the defense of any one who had been engaged in helping off fugitives slaves. It was a very unpopular business in those days and in that locality; and few felt that they could afford to engage in it. One who needed such aid went to Edward D. Baker, and was refused, distinctly and frankly, on the ground that, as a political man, he could not afford it. The man applied to an ardent anti-slavery fiend for advice. He spoke of Mr. Lincoln, and said, ‘He’s not afraid of an unpopular case. When I go for a lawyer to defend an arrested fugitive slave, other lawyers will refuse me; but if Mr. Lincoln is at home, he will always take my case.'”10

Mr. Lincoln lacked Edwin Baker’s sense of spirited adventure, or driving ambition. Lincoln did not march off to the Mexican-American War as did predecessors in Congress, Baker and John Hardin. He did not head off to California like Baker did in 1852 or to Oregon like Simeon Francis or Anson G. Henry….or as Baker did in 1860 in order to get the Republican nomination for the senate. After serving his second term in Congress, the restless and peripatetic Baker moved first to Panama and then to California, where he successfully practiced law and unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat. Baker had a strong sense of his own abilities and had become disgruntled by his failure to win election to the Senate from Illinois.

In 1860, Republicans in Oregon – including old Springfield associates such as Anson G. Henry – urged Baker to come North, campaign for Senate and seek to exploit a division between pro-Douglas and anti-Douglas Democrats. Republicans in the state were heavily outnumbered, but Baker did sail north and with the help of Douglas Democrats, was narrowly elected to the Senate by the new State legislature. “Such was his fidelity to principle, his commanding ability, his matchless eloquence and urbanity, that he was elected to the United States Senate at the next meeting of the Oregon Legislature,” wrote religious historian Nathaniel S. Haynes.11 Baker sailed for the East, visited relatives in Illinois, served in the Senate in the session that concluded with President Lincoln’s inauguration – at which Baker had the honor of introducing his friend.

When Baker returned to Illinois, his friendship with Mr. Lincoln was speedily revived. “On Christmas Eve, 1860, Baker arrived in Springfield to visit his step-daughter, Maria. Violating protocol, Mr. Lincoln went to the home of Maria and her husband, James Matheny. He walked in without bothering to knock. Greeting the new senator from Oregon, President-elect Lincoln said he ‘would rather see Baker elected Senator than any man alive.'” wrote Baker’s biographers, Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis.12 A contemporary journalist, Henry Villard wrote: “‘Ned,’ as he was familiarly called hereabouts in former days, was most cordially greeted, by his old friend, the President-elect, and a host of relatives and acquaintances.” Villard found Baker more impressive than his Springfield friend: Baker “is certainly a remarkable man and has made a remarkable career. Of restless ambition, indomitable energy, true English perseverance, fine natural parts, great elegance and popular manners, he could not well fail to make his mark.”13

Baker’s close relations with the President elicited jealousy – particularly from other California and Oregon Republicans who differed on the distribution of federal patronage. President Lincoln’s loyalty to old friends was amply demonstrated on the morning of March 30, 1861 when a group of California politicians sought and received an audience to discuss patronage for their states. It was the second meeting in two days on the topic. The President paid close attention to the views of U.S. Senators and congressmen in distributing patronage, but both of California’s Senators were Democrats. Only one West Coast Senator was a Republican – Oregon’s Baker from neighboring Oregon. Baker’s influence resulting in controversy.

The President’s loyalty to Senator Baker was strong, recalled Congressman George Julian: “Sometimes [President Lincoln] lost his temper. An instance of this occurred soon after his inauguration, which also illustrates his fidelity to his friends. A delegation of California Republicans called on him with a proposed political slate covering the chief offices on the Pacific coast. Their programme was opposed, in part, by Senator Baker, of Oregon, who quite naturally claimed the right to be consulted respecting the patronage of his section of the Union.”14
According to a Cincinnati Commercial reporter, “A highly exciting scene occurred at the White House yesterday morning. About a hundred citizens of California, including many leading Republicans, called on the president to protest against the interference of Senator Baker, of Oregon, with appointments in their state, and his attempt, as they claim, to foist corrupt and broken-down politicians of doubtful antecedents upon the administration and the people of the Golden State. The President had arranged, whether from love of fun or a sense of justice has not yet appeared, that Senator Baker should be present, without the knowledge of the protestants.”15

Julian wrote: “Some of the Californians very unwisely sought the accomplishment of their purpose by assailing both the public and private character of the Oregon Senator, who was an old-time friend of the President.”16 Baker had Mr. Lincoln had breakfast before they met with the 35-member delegation.

“Joseph A. Nunes spoke first. “Pointing out that Baker was officially a resident of Oregon, Nunes courteously suggested that the President appoint to the federal positions in California the men he and his associates would name rather than those of Baker’s choice. Nunes had made a good impression on Lincoln during the Springfield interview. Having no cause to change his opinion of Nunes now, Lincoln remarked that Nunes’ report was respectful in tone and that he would keep it for further reference,” wrote Baker’s biographers.

Then, James Simonton read an abusive document accusing Baker of associating with unsavory sorts like gamblers when he was a lawyer in San Francisco. Simonton finished by putting the document on a table. Mr. Lincoln asked if the document was intended for him to keep. When Simonton affirmed that was the case, Mr. Lincoln said: “I will burn it in the presence of the man who wrote it.” The President then crushed Simonton’s papers and threw them into the fireplace.17

Baker biographers Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis wrote: “D.J. Staples, a Californian who had come to Washington for the inauguration, attempted to speak in Baker’s defense. But Lincoln put up his hand and exclaimed: ‘Not a word; not a word. I don’t want to hear a word. I have known Colonel Baker twenty-five years. I have known him better than any of you know him, and I don’t want any defense of him from anyone.'”18

Mr. Lincoln said later: “The paper was an unjust attack upon my dearest personal friend, Ned Baker, who was at that time a member of my family. The delegation did not know what they were talking about when they made him responsible, almost abusively, for what I had done, or proposed to do. They told me that was my paper to do with as I liked. I could not trust myself to reply in words: I was so angry. That was the whole case.”19 Julian reported: “The anger of Mr. Lincoln was kindled instantly, and blazed forth with such vehemence and intensity that everybody present quailed before it. His wrath was simply terrible, as he put his foot down and told the delegation that Senator Baker was his friend; that he would permit no man to assail him in his presence; and that it was not possible for them to accomplish their purpose by any such methods. The result was that the charges against Senator Baker were summarily withdrawn and apologized for, and such a disposition of the offices on the Pacific slope finally made as proved satisfactory to all parties.”20

According to Baker’s biographers Blair and Tarshis, “Although often sorely tried, this was one of the few recorded instances when Lincoln allowed his emotions to disturb his usual outward calm. Relenting later, Lincoln appointed a committee to iron out the California patronage troubles.”21 Baker was a member of the committee. the thirty-five California Republicans presented the President with a memorandum which each had signed.22

Baker served two roles during these early months of the war – both in the Senate and in the army. He raised a regiment in New York and Philadelphia and was named to command a brigade. His oratorical skills were an asset in both roles. Passionate and political, Colonel Baker shuttled between his roles in Congress and the army until the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in which he was killed on October 21, 1861.

According to journalist Noah Brooks, “Once he said the keenest blow of all the war was at an early stage, when the disaster of Ball’s Bluff and the death of his beloved [Edward D.] Baker smote upon him like a whirlwind from a desert.”23 As was often the case, President Lincoln’s concern extended to Baker’s son. Mr. Lincoln subsequently wrote Secretary of War Simon Cameron: “If the writer of the within, son of Col. E.D. Baker, who fell at Ball’s Bluff, can be transferred to be a Major of Oregon volunteers, consistently with the public service, I shall be very glad, being sincerely desirous to oblige him, for his father’s sake, as well as his own.”24 The President gave a note to young Baker to take to Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin in May 1862: “The bearer of this, Edward D. Baker, is the son of my very dear friend Col. Baker, who fell at Balls Bluff.”25 In January 1863, Mr. Lincoln wrote Commissary General Joseph P. Taylor about a potential appointment of young Baker as a Commissary: “Please see the bearer, Edward D. Baker, who is a son of my old friend Col. Baker, who fell at Ball’s Bluff.”26 A week later, President Lincoln sent a second note and month later, he asked Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs to appoint young Baker a quartermaster.27

Mr. Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay recorded the memorial service for Senator Baker on December 13, 1861: “The galleries were more crowded than ever before this session. There was something about the flash and glitter of Baker’s mind that irresistibly fascinated the people, and they all came to hear him mourned. And just before Senator [James] Nesmith rose to announce the death of his colleague, the door to the left of the President’s chair opened, and Abraham Lincoln entered, seemingly taller and more gaunt than of old, the lines deepening around his mouth, the first fall of the snow visible in his hair, dressed more carefully than in former days, and walking it seemed to me, more erectly than I had noticed before. He was accompanied by the Illinois Senators and by his private secretaries, Nicolay and Hay. The Vice President rose and resigned his own chair to him, taking a seat on his left. The President sat quietly there, leaning his shaggy leonine head upon his black-gloved hand, with more utter unconsciousness of attitude than I ever saw in a man accustomed to being stared at, and listened earnestly to what the Senators had to say about his old friend.”28

James G. Blaine, who was chairman of the Maine Republican Party at the outbreak of the Civil War, later wrote: “In personal appearance [Baker] was commanding, in manner most attractive, in speech irresistibly charming. Perhaps in the history of the Senate no man every left so brilliant a reputation from so short a service.”29 John Hay later wrote of Senator Baker after his death: “Of Baker I do not speak as a politician, though he had attained the highest place open to a foreigner; nor as a lawyer, though distinguished at the bar of three States; nor as a soldier, although the magic and magnetism of his presence once brought victory to our flag on the rocky slope of Cerro Gordo. But there was something almost superhuman about Senator Baker as an orator. He was almost utterly unknown in the East, for his great successes were attained at an early day in the West, where there were few journals and no reporters. He could not write a speech. He was forced to depend upon the stimulus of the occasion for all he accomplished. But that was always sufficient. He never rose without making a better speech than he intended. No one who ever saw him in action, the grand and simple presence, the thin gray hair, the ey that flashed pale fire, the eagle face and heard that silver snarling trumpet of his voice, could ever dismiss the vision from his mind. Two or three times he was supremely great. At the funeral of [California Senator David C.] Broderick he mourned the death of that brave and generous rowdy in strains of lyric beauty as fine as any uttered over the urns of dead victors of Marathon. At the great meeting in the Union-square [in New York], in April [1861] he was the only orator up to the level of the august occasion.”30

Some, however, thought Baker’s ego was bigger than his ability. Historian Donald W. Riddle wrote: “A story (doubtless apocryphal) tells that Baker was once observed weeping bitterly, and saying, when asked the reason for his grief, that he had just then realized that because he was foreign-born he could never become President. But if this office was beyond his reach, he did not so concede any other. He was elected to both houses of the Assembly and twice elected to Congress.”31 Historian Michael Burlingame observed:“Not everyone admired Baker, however; many found him shallow, lacking in principle, and careless in business. Charles H. Ray spoke dismissively of his ‘frothy, ginger beer oratory,’ and Herndon recalled that Baker’s ‘style and matter were not absolutely original – nor deep – nor exact – not what the worlds calls philosophic.’ Other critics objected to Baker’s lack of ‘moral worthy & stability of character.’”32 Burlingame wrote: “The ethnologist George Gibbs considered him ‘a very corrupt man.’ As a law partner of Stephen T. Logan, Baker had mishandled clients’ money. During the Civil War, he received substantial sums to raise a regiment; upon his death in October 1861, it was discovered that he had left $10,000 unaccounted for. His closest political adviser was the notoriously corrupt Andrew J. Butler, brother of Massachusetts politico Benjamin F. Butler.33


  1. William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 158-159.
  2. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 569 (Letter from Josiah G. Holland to William H. Herndon, August 19, 1867).
  3. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 251, 211 (William H. Herndon interview with James H. Matheny, May 3, 1866 and Letter of Abner Y. Ellis to William H. Herndon, February 14, 1866).
  4. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 368 (William H. Herndon interview with George U. Miles, October 9, 1866).
  5. William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues, p. 174.
  6. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 212-213 (Letter from William H. Herndon to Joshua F. Speed, February 14, 1866).
  7. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 453 (William H. Herndon interview with James Gourley, [1865-1866]).
  8. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 28 (Conversation with Milton Hay, July 4, 1875).
  9. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 38 (Conversation with Stephen T. Logan July 6, 1875).
  10. Francis Fisher Browne, The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 162.
  11. Nathaniel S. Haynes, History of the Disciples of Christ in Illinois, 1819-1914, p. 467.
  12. Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis, Colonel Edward D. Baker: Lincoln’s Constant Ally, p. 116.
  13. Henry Villard, Lincoln on the Eve of ‘61, p. 43-44.
  14. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 50-51 (George Julian).
  15. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 96.
  16. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 51 (George Julian).
  17. Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis, Colonel Edward D. Baker: Lincoln’s Constant Ally, p. 126-127.
  18. Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis, Colonel Edward D. Baker: Lincoln’s Constant Ally, p. 128.
  19. Noah Brooks, Abraham Lincoln: The Nation’s Leader in the Great Struggle Through Which was Maintained the Existence of the United States, p. 416.
  20. Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 51 (George Julian).
  21. Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis, Colonel Edward D. Baker: Lincoln’s Constant Ally, p. 128.
  22. Harry C. Blair and Rebecca Tarshis, Colonel Edward D. Baker: Lincoln’s Constant Ally, p. 128.
  23. Michael Burlingame, editor, Noah Brooks, Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, p. 215 (from Noah Brooks, “Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln” first published in The Harper’s Monthly Magazine, May 1865).
  24. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, (Letter to Simon Cameron, November. 13, 1861).
  25. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, p. 239 (Letter to Andrew G. Curtin, May 26, 1862).
  26. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 86 (Letter to Joseph P. Taylor, January 31, 1863).
  27. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 119 (Letter to Montgomery C. Meigs, February 27, 1863).
  28. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press,1860-1864, 1860-1864, p. 164-165.
  29. James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congressman from Lincoln to Garfield, Volume I, p. 321.
  30. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, pp. 121-122.
  31. Donald W. Riddle, Lincoln Runs for Congress, p. 13.
  32. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume I, p. 213.
  33. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 81.