May 15, 2012
TOKYO, JAPAN – Nestled among the cherry trees of picturesque Meisei University on the outskirts of Tokyo is a nondescript building that is home to something unexpected – the largest collection of original Abraham Lincoln documents outside of the United States. It was here in April that researchers from The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a project of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, examined the university’s collection and found hidden treasures spanning Lincoln’s life from a young man in New Salem to his Presidency.
“We expected to find about 60 documents there, and we found nearly twice that number, including many we did not know were at Meisei University, and more than a dozen we did not know about at all,” said Daniel W. Stowell, Director and Editor of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln.
Meisei University officials acquired a portion of the collection in 1980 from businessman Masaharu Mochizuki, who created the Tokyo Lincoln Center in 1961. The university continued to add to the collection throughout the 1980s. Recently, Stowell was able to examine the collection to verify the documents’ authenticity and their value to Lincoln scholarship. What he found were original Lincoln documents the Papers of Abraham Lincoln did not know existed.
One early document, dated January 12, 1833, Lincoln wrote for New Salem tavern owner James Rutledge, Ann Rutledge’s father, regarding an overdue account. The document was signed by Rutledge and attested by Bowling Green, a local justice of the peace, who not only encouraged Lincoln’s law studies, but, as several villagers recalled, also helped him endure a period of deep depression following the death of Ann Rutledge. The document illustrates both Lincoln’s legal aspirations and the support he received from his friends in New Salem during this critical period in his early life.
Other original Lincoln documents previously unknown to researchers in the United States included an 1834 certification; 1835 promissory note; 1838 mortgage; 1840 legal notice; 1844 personal check; and an 1853 deed from William and Judith Allen to William Florville, Lincoln’s black Springfield barber, for four lots in Bloomington, Illinois. The Meisei University collection also includes an important exchange of letters with New York Governor Horatio Seymour from Lincoln’s time as President.
Among the most interesting documents is Lincoln’s characteristically brief 1858 autobiography in response to Charles Lanman, who was compiling a Dictionary of Congress: “Born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin county Kentucky. Education, defective. Profession, a lawyer. Have been a Captain of Volunteers in the Black Hawk War; Post-Master at a very small office, four times a member of the Illinois Legislature; and once a member of the lower House of Congress. Yours &c A. Lincoln.”
The discoveries did not stop with Abraham Lincoln. Researchers identified three letters from Mary Lincoln and three documents written by Ulysses S. Grant, including a three-page letter to his wife Julia written in May 1864 in the midst of his Overland Campaign against Richmond.
The Meisei University collection contains several previously identified Lincoln treasures including a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and the ten-page “Discoveries and Inventions” lecture that Lincoln presented at several locations in the late 1850s.
“This world-class Lincoln collection is largely unknown and unused by scholars,” said Stowell. “We expect that situation will soon change as a result of our visit to Meisei University.”
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln is a long-term documentary editing project dedicated to identifying, imaging, transcribing, annotating, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime (1809-1865). The project is administered through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and is cosponsored by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield and by the Abraham Lincoln Association.