University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Every One Likes a Compliment

Volume X  · Autumn 1954  · Number 1
"Every One Likes a Compliment"

My interest in President Lincoln was definitely the result of prenatal influence. My father, John Hay, poet, diplomat, statesman, and historian, was, in his early youth, private secretary to the Great Emancipator, and his children were brought up in that tradition.

When I married, I found that my husband, James W. Wadsworth, shared my appreciation of this great man. In the course of our fifty years of close and happy association, my husband and I naturally exchanged many gifts. Of those I gave him, I feel sure that the ones he valued most were our three children and an autograph letter from Abraham Lincoln to Thurlow Weed, dated March 15, 1865. Weed was editor of newspapers in Norwich, Rochester, Albany, and New York, and prominent in New York politics. He had apparently written to Lincoln, complimenting him on a speech.

The reasons why Mr. Wadsworth valued this particular letter so highly were twofold, i.e., his reverent admiration for Lincoln and the fact that Weed was a grandfather of William Barnes, the strong man of Albany in the 1900's and always a staunch friend of ours. When James Wadsworth went to Albany in 1905 as Assemblyman, representing Livingston County, political bosses were in their heyday, but it was rather the fashion for non-political critics to sneer at Bill Barnes for his practical politics. However, my husband always said that he had never met, in or out of public life, a more profound student of both the art and science of politics. The wise and kindly attitude of this older man did much to help launch my young recruit on his long and successful public career.

I gave the Lincoln letter to Mr. Wadsworth when he first went to the United States Senate in 1914, and throughout his twelve years as Senator from New York and later as a member of the lower House from 1934 to 1951, it had an honored place on the wall of his office. When Mr. Wadsworth came home, the letter came with him and hangs now in our library here in Geneseo.

A year ago, Mrs. E. B. Clark, experienced bibliographer, was looking through the set of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, and in volume VIII, page 356, noticed a letter from Lincoln to Weed, identical with mine, except for the last seven words. In my copy these had been struck out and substitutions made in Lincoln's own writing.

We found that the letter shown in The Collected Works was at present on deposit in The Library of the University of Rochester, having been placed there by Mrs. Harriet Hollister Spencer, great-granddaughter of Thurlow Weed. So Mrs. Clark and I made a pilgrimage to the Library -- a photostat of my letter in hand -- and Mr. John Russell kindly showed us the Lincoln-Weed letter belonging to Mrs. Spencer. He agreed with us that this letter was evidently a copy of mine, also in Lincoln's hand. So we knew to whom, and when the letter was written, but we had no idea whether or not the letter from Weed, to which Lincoln replied on March 15, 1865, was still in existence.

This past summer Mrs. Clark was with me again and once more we were working on indexing the Hay papers. To our great joy and excitement, we came across a letter written by Thurlow Weed to President Lincoln on March 5, 1865. This was the day following that on which was written the Weed letter quoted, in part, on the same page in The Collected Works as the Lincoln reply. Evidently Lincoln answered the two Weed letters, that of March 4, and of March 5, by his masterpiece of March 15 -- "Every One Likes a Compliment."

The letter of March 5 from Thurlow Weed and the first draft of the Lincoln letter follow. I hope the discovery of the Weed letter of March 5 will add a word to the rich saga of Abraham Lincoln.