In January 1861, as a member of the House Committee of 33, Illinois Congressman William Kellogg sought President-elect Lincoln’s help in achieving a compromise with secessionists. Lincoln rejected such a compromise. Kellogg had written President-elect Lincoln in early December, “I feel anxious to do nothing that would be inconsistant with the general policy that you propose to addopt on that subject, but on the Contrary to act in accordance with it. Therefore should you feel at liberty to make any suggestions (not of course to be repeated or in fact to consider you responsible for them herafter) in relation to the remedy for the present [trouble] difficulties, I should be highly please to receive them…”1 On December 10, 1860 John G. Nicolay recorded:
Mr. Lincoln to-day received a letter from Hon Wm Kellogg, M.C. – the Member from Ill. Who has been placed on the Committee of 33, raised by Botelers motion to consider the secession portion of the President’s Message – asking advice as to his action in the Committee.
Mr. L. answered, advising him to entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery – that if this were done – the work achieved by the late election would all have to be done over again. That Douglas would again try to resuscitate his ‘Pop[ular] Sov[ereignty]’. That the issue had better be met now than later[.]
Mr. L. also intimated that he Kellogg knew that he believed the Fugitive Slave clause of the Constitution ought to be enforced.2
Kellogg had served as an attorney, State Representative, and Circuit Court Judge before winning election to Congress in 1856. He was called “Judge Kellogg” because of his six-year service as a Circuit Court Judge. As in the secession crisis, Kellogg sometimes took positions at odds with those preferred by Mr. Lincoln.
In December 1859, Mr. Lincoln wrote Kellogg regarding the controversy regarding New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley’s attempted intervention in the 1858 Illinois Senate race on behalf of Senator Stephen A. Douglas: “I have been a good deal relieved this morning by a sight of Greeley’s letter to you, published in the Tribune. Before seeing it, I much feared you had, in charging interviews between Douglas & Greely, stated what you believed, but did not certainly know to be true; and that it might be untrue, and our enemies would get an advantage of you. However, as G. admits the interviews, I think it will not hurt you that he denies conversing with D. about his re-[e]lection to the Senate. G. I think, will not tell a falsehood; and I think he will scarcely deny that he had the interviews with D. in order to assure himself from D’s own lips, better than he could from his public acts & declarations, whether to try to bring the Republican party to his support generally, including his re-election to the Senate. What else could the interviews be for? Why immediately followed in the Tribune the advice that all anti-Lecompton democrats should be re-elected? The world will not consider it any thing that D’s reelection to the Senate was not specifically talked of by him & G.
Now, mark, I do not charge that G. was corrupt in this. I do not think he was, or is. It was his judgement that the course he took was the best way of serving the Republican cause. For this reason, and for the further reason, that he is now pulling straight with us, I think, if I were you, I would not pursue him further than necessary to my own justification. If I were you I would however be greatly tempted [to] ask him if he really thinks D.s advice to his friends to vote for a Lecompton & Slave code man, is very ‘plucky’
Please excuse what I have said, in the way of unsolicited a[d]vice. I believe you will not doubt the sincerity of my friendship for you.3
Although Mr. Lincoln was clearly against a compromise on slavery, Congressman Kellogg took a different approach actually at variance to Mr. Lincoln – despite his announced intention of the first letter. In early 1861, he introduced a constitutional amendment to protect slavery in the South to preserve the union. “Hailed as a hero in Washington, Kellogg quickly found himself branded a ‘traitor’ by Republican newspapers back home,” wrote Frank van der Linden in Lincoln: The Road to War. “The Illinois State Journal, which often reflected Lincoln’s views, charged that the maverick ‘has sold himself to the Slave Power.”4
Kellogg returned to Illinois in an effort to convince Mr. Lincoln to help achieve a compromise. That clearly was not his policy. According to historian David Potter, “On this mission, it is fair to assume that Kellogg acted not entirely for himself but as an emissary” for compromise leaders William H. Seward in the Senate and Charles Francis Adams in the House. “The effect of Kellogg’s persuasion was in part offset, when, during the visit, Lincoln received a message from Lyman Trumbull telling him not to commit himself until he received letters which Trumbull was sending. Lincoln, therefore, would tell Kellogg nothing except that he would send Seward a letter which Kellogg might see.”5 Mr. Lincoln was quoted in the New York Tribune as saying: “I will suffer death before I will consent or will advise my friends to consent to any concession or compromise which looks like buying the privilege of taking possession of this government to which we have a constitutional right…”6
“This was the concession Lincoln had refused to make,” wrote Lincoln scholar Jay Monaghan. But Kellogg was also refusing to take abuse for proposing it. Chicago Tribune editor “Joe Medill, getting ready now to leave Washington, sent a scorching letter for publication in Chicago. [Charles] Ray published the letter, and Kellogg, when he read it, determined to give Medill a farewell thrashing. He met the editor in the National Hotel and knocked him to the floor. Out in Illinois, the Tribune cried, ‘If he [Kellogg] thinks to commend his valor to any portion of Illinois by making a midnight assault upon an invalid [Medill was crippled with rheumatism] we have only to say we believe he mistakes the temper of his constituents,” wrote Monaghan.7 The brutal attack brought a new round of denunciations of Kellogg around the country and in his own district.
There were other unpleasant problems for Kellogg once the war started – ones which required President Lincoln’s intervention. “William Kellogg, Jr., quit the West Point military academy under demerit; if he had not resigned he would have been dismissed,” wrote biographer Carl Sandburg. Congressman Kellogg reappointed his son. “An investigation and report by General Joseph G. Totten disapproved of the boy’s going back to West Point.”8 President Lincoln wrote the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:
Herewith I return you the papers in relation to the proposed reappointment of William Kellogg, Jr. to a Cadetship. Upon Gen. Totten’s statement of the case I think it is natural that he should feel as he expresses himself. And yet the case comes upon me in the very strongest way to be painful to me. Hon. William Kellogg, the father, is not only a member of Congress from my state, but he is my friend of twenty years’ standing, and of whom I had many personal kindnesses. This matter touches him very deeply – the feelings of a father for a child – as he thinks, all the future of his child. I can not be the instrument to crush his heart. According to strict rule he has the right to make the re-nomination. Let the appointment be made. It needs not to become a precedent. Hereafter let no resignation be accepted under demerit amounting to cause for dismissal, unless upon express stipulation in writing that the cadet resigning shall not be re-nominated. In this I mean no censure upon Gen. Totten; and although I have marked this note ‘private’ I am quite willing for him to see it.9
“With his own son Willie not long dead, Lincoln understood the feelings of Congressman William Kellogg,” wrote historian Benjamin Thomas.10 Young Kellogg went back to West Point, but not for long. Like his son, Congressman Kellogg eventually became a presidential nuisance, especially on appointments. As with most congressmen, Kellogg’s impatience could be aggravating. In April 1863, Mr. Lincoln endorsed a letter from Kellogg: “I understand my friend Kellogg is ill-natured -therefore I do not read his letter.” Kellogg, who had been defeated for reelection in 1862, had written the President: “At one time, I was indiscreet enough to indicate to your Excellency, a desire for an appointment to an office, for which, I was vain enough to believe I was qualified but from the position now offered, I am forced to conclude, that your Excellency held a decidedly different opinion from my own on that subject, or that my political status was such that the administration would suffer by my appointment to an office of the grade of those held by Peck, Wilmot, Olin, Fisher, Swett, Gurley and Carter and many other recent appointees.”11
After he was defeated for reelection in 1862, Kellogg had been promoted for Commissioner of Indian Affairs, but President Lincoln was reluctant to replace Commissioner William Dole. Kellogg was appointed Consul at Valparaiso, Chile but declined the “honor” because it thought he deserved a judgeship like others mentioned in this letter:
I am in receipt of a note from your private Secretary informing me that as a “mark” of your “confidence and esteem” you had appointed me Consul at Valaparaiso, Chile.
Certainly the Honor, attached to the office ought to satisfy the Ambition of the most aspiring, and the Salary (which would but little if any more than defray the expenses of myself and family to & from the place of duty,) is as much as a reasonable man should desire; Yet I feel myself compelled to decline the appointment.
At one time, I was indiscreet enough to indicate to your Excellency a desire for an appointment to any office, for which, I was vain enough to believe I was qualified but from the position now offered I am forced to conclude, that your Excellency held a decidedly different opinion from my own on that subject, or that my political status was such that the administration would suffer by my appointment to an office of the grade of those held by Peck, Wilmot; Olin, Fisher, Swett, Gurley and Carter and many other recent appointees.
If I have lost the confidence and esteem and regard of those for whom I have had a most ardent esteem and whom I have most faithfully served, I must not loose my own self respect. I am therefore compelled to decline the position tendered.12
Kellogg sought a cotton trading permit from President Lincoln in 1863 (Secretary of the Treasury Chase objected). Finally in 1864, Kellogg received an appointment in 1864 as Minister to Guatemala, but he again declined. He subsequently served as Chief Justice of Nebraska and as a collector of internal revenue.
- David C. Mearns, editor, The Lincoln Papers, p. 327-328 (Letter from William Kellogg to Abraham Lincoln, December 6, 1860).
- Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 15-16 (Memorandum, December 11, 1860).
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume III, p. 506-507 (Letter to William Kellogg, December 11. 1859)
- Frank van der Linden, Lincoln: The Road to War, p. 185.
- David M. Potter, Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis, p. 299-300.
- Frank van der Linden, Lincoln: The Road to War, p. 184-185.
- Jay Monaghan, The Man Who Elected Lincoln, p. 218-219.
- Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Volume II, p. 48.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 261 (Letter to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, June 5, 1862).
- Benjamin P. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln, p. 468.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 167 (Letter from William Kellogg, April 8, 1863).
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from William Kellogg to Abraham Lincoln, April 8, 1863).