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I've always been interested in the relationship between Lincoln and John M. Palmer, a political associate from the President's Illinois days.

I'll offer this disclaimer; I live two blocks from the Palmer home in Carlinville, Illinois. But, I think there's plenty of other reasons to be interested in Palmer.

I've never felt that Lincoln had a lot of close friends, but I think Palmer could be argued as one of them. Palmer (1817-1900) was an Illinois state senator before the war, was a major general during the war, and was elected governor of Illinois in 1868. He served during the Chicago Fire of 1871. Later, he was a U.S. Senator (1891-97) and was a third-party Presidential candidate on the Gold Democrat ticket in 1896.

Palmer had worked against Lincoln for Congress in 1855, but Lincoln forgave Palmer, believing his motives to be sound. This was a hallmark of Palmer; even his political enemies conceded his honesty (an honest Illinois politican. He's in the minority, isn't he?). Palmer changed political parties five times in his career, mainly because of his impulsive, idealistic personality. He never saw political party as a lifetime commitment, or something you were bound to if you didn't agree with it (hence the name of his 1941 biography, A Conscientious Turncoat). He actually broke with the main Republican party while in the governor's chair, giving up a sure renomination.

Palmer presided at the inaugural Illinois Republican state convention in 1856.

Palmer was no political hack; he was a competent general. One contemporary, R.W. Johnson, called him "one of the ablest and best generals in the army." He rose to major general command of the XIV Corps. Lincoln later appointed him Military Governor of Kentucky.

Interestingly, Palmer would write searing letters to Lincoln to criticize fellow commanders (kind of a breach of military protocol), and often spoke his mind around Lincoln. In their last meeting in 1865, Lincoln was shaving (Lincoln had said, "You are home folks, and I must shave. I cannot do it before senators and representatives...but I thought I could do it with you." )

Palmer recalled the conversation: "Mr. Lincoln, if I had known in Chicago that this great rebellion was to occur, I would not have consented to go to a one-horse town like Springfield and take a one-horse lawyer and make him President."

Lincoln, "in an excited manner," said, "Neither would I, Palmer, If we had had a great man for the presidency, one who had an inflexible policy and stuck to it, this rebellion would have succeeded and the southern confederacy would have been established."

During her insanity trials, Mary Todd remembered Palmer's honesty and integrity -- as well as his political influence -- and enlisted him to help her regain control of her finances. Unlike many others, Palmer understood the difficulty of all sides -- Mary's predicament, Robert's tough choices, the Lincoln legacy, etc. -- and was much more concilliatory than others, such as Leonard Swett. I've always found it noteworthy that Mary felt Palmer was the man to help her, and that he didn't automatically write her off, as many others did. [/i]

It also shows that Mary, who could certainly be cagey, recognized the need for political influence; as Mark Neely writes in his excellent work on the insanity trials, Mary, when in trouble, thought less of justice and the legal system, and more of influence. Palmer certainly had that.

A 2005 study of Illinois U.S. senators listed Palmer as "second only to Lincoln" in 19th-century Illinois political history. Note that ranks him ahead of Stephen A. Douglas, mainly because Palmer was around longer; his career spanned over a half-century, while Douglas had died on June 3, 1861.

A statue of Palmer was dedicated on the grounds of the Illinois statehouse on Oct. 16, 1923, as a testament to his legacy in Illinois politics. Neely devotes an entry in his Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia [i]to Palmer.
Here is the statue Tom mentioned in his post:

[Image: 4246950006_0208a782f9_z.jpg]
Thanks, Roger. It's a very good likeness of Palmer -- very representative of how he looked.

He also ran for Illinois governor --this time as a Democrat -- in 1888, losing by 12,547 votes. Palmer also received widespread support for the 1892 Democratic Presidential nomination in the months before the convention.

Palmer remained in robust health late in his life, as evidenced by his continued political involvement well into his late seventies. He died in his sleep on Sept. 24, 1900.
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