The Atlantic is a monthly publication which goes to press many weeks before its appearance on the news stands. Persons who expect to speak with the celerity of a daily or weekly paper are unreasonable. Realizing the interest of the public, we add these pages of explanation a week after the text of the magazine has already gone to press.
The Atlantic began the publication of the series of articles entitled 'Lincoln the Lover' in the belief, first, that the original documents on which the series was based were genuine, and second, that they were of public and historic value. Widespread controversy followed the appearance of the first article in December, and the authenticity of the documents was questioned. The Atlantic has with its best intelligence studied each criticism as it appeared, and from the beginning has taken the view that the common object of ourselves and our critics should be, not to prove either side of ease, but to arrive at the truth regarding documents in question.
So far as the criticisms based upon the December article are concerned, we felt, and still feel, that they are clearly susceptible of two opinions. We prepared a statement which we expected to publish embodying our conviction to that effect and the reasons for it. But with the appearance of the January Atlantic two specific criticisms were launched, both concerning one letter printed in the article in that issue, which we are not able to refute. The letter in question is dated New Salem, May 9, 1834; it is addressed to John Calhoun and signed 'A. Lincoln.' The letter begins:—
Dear Friend John
if you have in your possession or can tell me where you left the Certificate of Survey of Joshua Blackburn's Claim, seems some controversy between him and Green concerning that North East quarter of Section 40—you remember?
It has been pointed out that as early as 1785 the Federal Government established a system of surveying public lands which has remained unchanged. According to this system, townships were laid out in tracts six miles by six, with sections each one mile square, making thirty-six sections in all. Where a lake, Indian Reservation, or other irregularity occurred, a township might contain less than thirty-six sections, but under no circumstances could it contain more. This evidence seems decisive unless it should be possible that some local variation might occur in the application of the system. To determine this point we went much further than the mere examination of the laws governing the survey of public lands; actual section maps were consulted showing the townships as they had been surveyed in the very region under question— Sangamon County, Illinois. From all such maps as we have been able to consult it appears that no variation occurred. Since John Calhoun was official surveyor of Sangamon County, and Lincoln was his assistant, it could only be concluded that Lincoln could not have made such a reference as that occurring in the disputed letter, to the North East quarter of Section 40.'
In the same letter occurs the sentence: 'the "Bixbys" are leaving this week for some place in Kansas.' Kansas was organized as a territory in 1854; in the twenty years previous it was an Indian land, where a few whites—missionaries, traders, and land squatters —had established themselves. The name 'Kansas' during this time seems to have been restricted to the Kansas River. A reference to 'some place in Kansas,' therefore, implying a coherent territory to which a name had been given, seems a serious flaw in a letter dated 1834.
We have taken all possible pains to study these two questions, and have consumed many days in doing so, but the only conclusion which we are able to reach is that the letter in which these two references occur does not seem to be supported by the facts. We should be grateful for advice from any quarter regarding these or other points at issue. Under the circumstances, the Atlantic will of course not proceed with its plan to publish the whole collection in book form without being able to substantiate it. We are guided in this decision by what appear to be irrefutable facts. To other criticisms which have been made there are answers.
The same statement, for example, which advanced the two points just cited contained these words: 'In the undated diary entry, written presumably in 1833 or 1834, Matilda Cameron remarks, "Marthy Calhone teched Ann sum new patern of kroshay and she is going to tech me." Martha Calhoun, sixth child of John Calhoun, was born January 9, 1848, about nine years after the diary entry.'
True enough, but, a fact overlooked by our critics, John Calhoun also had a sister Martha, to whom, so far as we are able to see, the reference naturally applies.
The same critics make this statement, which can be answered partially, but we admit not effectually: 'In a letter purporting to be from Ann Rutledge a reference to Spencer's copy book is included, whereas Spencer's first publication on penmanship was made thirteen years after the death of Ann Rutledge.' Spencer was born in 1800 and began teaching penmanship at the age of fifteen. In 1833, when the letter in question would have been written, he had been teaching penmanship eighteen years. It seems well within possibility that he might have published, or at least printed, copy books or leaflets which have escaped notice, although the first formal Spencerian treatise appeared in 1848.