As this week marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address it’s only fitting to highlight a collection here at Penn which is full of material relating to Abraham Lincoln for which we just completed a new online guide.
The Gordon Block Collection of Lincolniana (Ms. Coll. 941) was compiled by the Philadelphia lawyer and Penn alum Gordon Block (1885-1964) who bequeathed it to the university in his will. The collection includes over twenty documents signed by Lincoln or in his hand. Many of these date to his presidency, including a variety of notes with instructions to cabinet officials made on the back of petitions and orders. On the right is one of my favorites, written on the reverse of a petition by a group of citizens from Jeansville, Pa. asking that a 57 year-old man from their community be pardoned from his conviction by a military commission of obstructing the draft. Lincoln writes here a note passing along the document to Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, in which he notes that the prosecutor in the case also recommends a pardon and agrees that the man in question should be pardoned for the remainder of his sentence.
The Block collection is also notable for its wide array of material related to Lincoln’s assassination and death including pieces of mourning ephemera like the pass on the left which admits the bearer to the White House four days after the president’s death.
Researchers may also be interested in the large collection of visual materials depicting Lincoln made both during Lincoln’s life and as commemorative items later. Among these are several carte de visite photographs of Lincoln. The one on the right is exceptionally rare and was made by Alexander Kientzle of Philadelphia. Block’s gift also included a substantial number of printed books and pamphlets relating to Lincoln, several of which are in foreign languages (including Hawaiian, Dakota, and Chinese). In addition, Block also donated three volumes from the president’s own library including one law text used when he was an attorney in Illinois.
Beyond the documents signed or written by Lincoln, one of the really remarkable parts of the collection is a series of documents relating to the presidential elections of 1860 and 1864. Most of us are familiar with the concept of the Electoral College but its actual workings I think remain much more mysterious. The documents in the Block collection shed some light onto how the process worked in 1860s Pennsylvania. The story of how the documents came to Block is almost as interesting as the items themselves. In 1930, the old Post Office in Philadelphia needed to be cleared out and the postal service hired a paper scrap dealer to haul tons of miscellaneous paper out of its cavernous halls. Amongst these papers were a set of envelopes containing documents from the Pennsylvania Electoral College, addressed to the Eastern District Court in Philadelphia. Block later acquired the items and included them in his bequest to Penn. In essence these documents record the de jure election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and 1864. In 1860, for instance, the 27 men chosen by voters in November to elect the next president met in Harrisburg on December 5th. Below is a letter addressed that very day notifying E. Reed Myer of Bradford County, Pa. that he should report immediately to serve as an elector as another man failed to show up!
Myer obviously made it in time to cast his vote as that same day he was among the Pennsylvania electors to sign a set of documents affirming that they had deliberated and voted for Abraham Lincoln as president and Andrew Johnson as Vice-President. Below is the signed certification by the electors announcing that “it appeared that Abraham Lincoln of Illinois had twenty seven votes.”
This material text reminds us that in the eyes of the U.S. Constitution the votes cast by the men above were those which counted in electing Lincoln to the presidency.* Documents like this and the stories behind them are what make working in libraries so exciting and here at Penn we’re committed to providing as much context and information about our materials as possible in order to connect researchers and the public with resources like the Block Collection.
*Remarkably Penn also holds two pre-printed ballots from the 1956 Electoral College in its collection!