Lincoln's Forgotten Friend: Leonard Swett.

Author:May, Robert E.
Position:Book review

Lincoln's Forgotten Friend: Leonard Swett. By Robert S. Eckley. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. 306 pp.

An antebellum attorney from the Eighth Judicial Circuit in Illinois who helped pioneer insanity defenses, Leonard Swett (1825-89) traversed his circuit with Abraham Lincoln from October 1849 until 1860--dining and lodging with him and serving either as Lincoln's cocounsel or opposing counsel in over 90 circuit court cases of record. He also played a significant role in Lincoln's political ascent and presidential administration.

In Lincoln's Forgotten Friend, author and Lincoln scholar Robert S. Eckley details how Swett labored unsuccessfully for Lincoln's U.S. Senate ambitions between 1855 and 1858, and was embroiled in the wire pulling that secured Lincoln's presidential nomination at the 1860 Republican National Convention, claiming that no cabinet positions were promised for the nomination. During the ensuing campaign and its aftermath, Swett spoke at Lincoln rallies, assisted Lincoln's political correspondence, was an elector taking Illinois's electoral votes to Washington, and advised on cabinet selections. In and out of Washington during the Civil War, he met with the chief executive on myriad matters--including patronage, outfitting Illinois soldiers, John Fremont's relief from command, Illinois's claims to revenues from federal land sales, emancipation, and the court-martial of General Fitz John Porter. He attended theater with the president and accompanied Lincoln's coterie to Gettysburg. At Lincoln's request, Swett became an intermediary with Illinois officials regarding Copperhead affairs. He also immersed himself in military hospital work, raising Illinois volunteers, presenting cases before the Union's Commission on War Claims in St. Louis, orating at a major recruitment rally in Washington, and going to California as a federal agent in litigation regarding the New Almaden quicksilver mine.

Though Eckley's focus is on the Lincoln-Swett relationship, he also serves up biography in its own right. Despite failing to achieve elective office beyond a single state legislative term, the Maine native, formally educated and twice married Swett served in the Mexican-American War and intersected frequently with public policy, as when he helped establish Illinois's first public college for teachers in 1857. After Lincoln's assassination, Swett maintained a successful law practice in Chicago and...

To continue reading