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To Abraham Lincoln, Esteemed Friend

lincoln with glasses illustration
Quakers Caleb Russell and Sallie Fenton wrote President Abraham Lincoln a letter in support of the Emancipation Proclamation. He wrote them back. Illustration courtesy of University of Manchester, UK

In the mid-1850’s Caleb Russell, with his wife and family, left Goose Creek Meeting and Loudoun County, Virginia to seek their fortune, first in gold rush California, then as pioneers in the new state of Iowa. The cold, windswept plains of Iowa were a hard adjustment; the Russells persevered. Caleb and his wife were founding members of “Prairie Grove,” the local Quaker meeting.

By 1862 the nation was in the midst of Civil war. Caleb Russell and Sallie Fenton, clerks of Prarie Grove Meeting, sent a letter of support to President Abraham Lincoln for his decision to free enslaved men and women living in Confederate states not under Union control. A transcript of Russell and Fenton’s letter is below the image:

Dec. 27, 1862 letter from Prairie Grove Meeting, written by clerks Caleb Russell and Sallie Fenton to President Abraham Lincoln. Courtesy of Library of Congress
Dec. 27, 1862 letter from Prairie Grove Meeting clerks Caleb Russell and Sallie Fenton to President Abraham Lincoln. Courtesy Library of Congress

Transcript:

To Abraham Lincoln President of the United States Esteemed Friend,

On behalf of the Religious Society of Friends, in the state of Iowa, whom we represent, we desire briefly to express to thee the very deep solicitude we feel that in the present perilous condition of the nation’s life thou mayest be favored to ask counsel of Him who holdeth the destinies of nations in his hand. We desire to express our united approval of thy late Proclamation of Prospective Emancipation. We believe it is intrinsically right and in the decision to bring about a permanent peace in our beloved country and we hope it may be carried out uncompromisingly – At this very late period we can do but very little more, than bear our testimony in favor of justice and liberty and like Aaron and Him of old would gladly hold up thy hands as they did the hands of Moses In Christian love, we subscribe ourselves thy friends.

Signed by direction and on behalf of the monthly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends of Prairie Grover in the State of Iowa this 27th of the 12th mo AD 1862

Caleb Russell

Sallie A. Fenton Clerks

Though harried by constant obligations, Lincoln took time to respond to Prairie Grove Meeting’s support of his controversial decision to free enslaved men and women in the rebel states. Lincoln’s letter back to Russell and Fenton must have been highly prized by Prairie Grove members.

Lincoln letter to Quakers Caleb Russell and Susan Fenton 1863
Abraham Lincoln January 5, 1863 letter to Prairie Grove Society of Friends Caleb Russell and Susan Fenton 1863 Courtesy Library of Congress

Transcription:

My Good Friends

The Honorable Senator Harlan has just placed in my hands your letter of the 27th of December, which I have read with pleasure and graditude.

It is most cheering and encouraging for me to know that in the efforts which I have made and am making for the restoration of a righteous peace to our country, I am upheld and sustained by the good wishes and prayers of God’s people. No one is more deeply than myself aware that without his favor our highest widsom is but a foolishness and that our most strenuous efforts would avail nothing in the shadow of His displeasure. I am conscious of no desire for my country’s welfare, that is not in consenance with His will, and of no plan upon which we may not ask His blessing. It seems to me that if there be one subject upon which all good men may unitedly agree, it is imploring the gracious favor of the God of Nations upon the struggles our people are making for the preservation of their precious birthright of civil and religious liberty.

Very truly your friend, A. Lincoln

old cemetery in iowa
Marker with Russell and Fenton names, and others, at the site of Prairie Grove Meeting. Courtesy of Iowa gravestones.org

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