“A change of scene might help me”

On January 23, 1841 Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to his law partner, John Todd Stuart, who had been elected to Congress as a Whig.  This is the same letter in which Lincoln referred to himself as “the most miserable man living,” a reference to the melancholy spell he went through in the wake of his broken engagement with Mary Todd and his friend Joshua Speed’s departure for Kentucky.

There’s an interesting passage near the end of this document that isn’t quoted as frequently as the references to Lincoln’s bout with depression: “The matter you speak of on my account, you may attend to as you say, unless you shall hear of my condition forbidding it. I say this, because I fear I shall be unable to attend to any bussiness here, and a change of scene might help me.”

What “matter” was Lincoln referring to?  Maybe it had something to do with a position Stuart tried to secure for him later that year.  In March, Stuart wrote to Secretary of State Daniel Webster, recommending Lincoln for the post of chargé d’affaires in Bogotá.  The post was already occupied by an Illinoisan, and Stuart argued that if it became vacant it should be “filled by a Citizen of the same state,” commending Lincoln as a man with “talents of a very high order” and “a favorite with the people.”

Lincoln never ended up in Bogotá, of course, but today there’s a school named for him there.  It’s hard for me to see him carrying out diplomatic assignments in a South American capital; that’s quite a long way from a Kentucky log cabin.  Then again, so is Washington, D.C.

Plaza Mayor de Bogota in 1846, by Edward Mark Walhouse. Wikimedia Commons


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