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Lincoln and Oregon

Lewis E. Lehrman

"Fellow citizens, I introduce you to Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect of the United States." The announcement was made by Oregon=s new Senator, Edward D. Baker, at the 1861 inauguration of his long-time friend. The former legal and political colleagues were so close that Lincoln had named his third son after the two-term Illinois congressman.

"Fellow citizens of the United States," Lincoln intoned after he found a place to stow his stove-pipe hat. The new president concluded his First Inaugural Address: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Oregon had a special place in Lincoln=s own heart. It was the adopted home of Lincoln's longtime friend and physician, Anson Henry, as well as Simeon Francis, the journalist for whose Springfield newspaper Lincoln had often written editorials. In 1842, Francis and his wife had used their home to rekindle the broken engagement of Lincoln and his future wife, Mary Todd. In 1849, Lincoln had been offered but rejected a patronage appointment as Oregon's territorial governor. Mary had opposed the move.

The man Lincoln would have succeeded as territorial governor, Joseph Lane, had pursued a political career in Oregon. In 1860, Senator Lane was named by southern Democrats as a vice presidential candidate on a ticket with then Vice President John Breckindge. In both the nation and in Oregon the Democratic Party was split. Because Lane was not seeking reelection, Republicans were in a position to coalesce with anti-Breckinrdge Democrats to choose Lane's successor.

Lincoln's old Springfield friends urged Baker to relocate to Oregon from California, where earlier he had unsuccessfully sought election to the Senate. Back in Illinois, Lincoln proclaimed he "would rather see Baker elected Senator than any man alive." They had been occasional rivals but always friends. Lincoln once defended Baker when a political meeting to which he was speaking threatened to turn into a riot. After service in Congress, they had gone different ways in the early 1850s - Baker to California in 1852 and Lincoln back into politics in 1854 to protest passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

On his way to Washington to take up his new congressional post, Baker stopped in Springfield, where Lincoln greeted him on Christmas Eve, 1860. Journalist Henry Villard observed the reunion and was impressed by the new senator: "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."

Baker, an eloquent and ambitious attorney barred by his English birth from pursuing the American presidency, was determined to make his mark. Senator Baker energetically supported the President while raising a military regiment to support him in the field. Less than eight months after Lincoln's inauguration, Colonel Baker would be dead - killed on October 21 at the Battle of Ball's Bluff near the Potomac River. The impact to the Union army was less injurious than to President Lincoln, who lost his best friend in the U.S. Senate. Lincoln told a journalist that "Baker's death Asmote upon him like a whirlwind from a desert." Lincoln's young son Willie was so moved that he wrote a poem in Baker's memory that was published in a Washington newspaper. "There was no patriot like Baker, So noble and so true," it began.

On a snowy day in mid-December 1861, a memorial service for Baker was held in the U.S. Capitol. Just as it commenced, President Lincoln arrived and took the seat of Vice President Hannibal Hamlin. "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", reported one of Lincoln's aides. "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."

Baker was buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery outside San Francisco. In 1863 Lincoln reminisced with an Illinois congressman about his deceased friend. Lincoln Aspoke of this 'Lone Mountain' on the shore of the Pacific, as a place of repose, and seemed almost to envy Baker his place of rest."

The Union they cherished would survive the Civil War that took both their lives.

Lewis E. Lehrman is author of Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point.

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