March 18, 1864

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Telegram Sent on: March 18, 1864.
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Washington D.C., March 18, 1864

Gov. Murphy,

Little Rock, Ark.

Yours of yesterday recieved and

thank you for it. Send further returns when you recieve

them. Will do my best to protect people and new

state government, but can act with no better intentions

than have always done. Tell General Steele I have

Randolph's pardon and will send it by mail if he

says so.

A. Lincoln

Historical analysis

This analysis makes use of a heuristic for historical thinking know as SCIM-C developed by David Hicks, Peter Doolittle and Tom Ewing. For more about this historical thinking heuristic please see [ttp://]

Summary of the telegram

In this telegram, Lincoln promised Arkansas governor Isaac Murphy support for the newly elected Arkansas government. Lincoln also offered to send a pardon to Major General Steele of the Union Department of Arkansas for a Union solider named Randolph.

The Context for this telegram

The election of a new government in Arkansas followed the capture by Union troops of the capital at Little Rock in the fall of 1863. A provisional government was established in Little Rock after its capture. An election was held in early March of 1864 to approve a new constitution and formally install the provisional government under the appointed governor Isaac Murphy. Areas of Arkansas outside of Little Rock were still in Confederate hands. Union troops were needed to protect the new Union backed government in Little Rock.

Isaac Murphy was one a very small number of Arkansas politicians who opposed secession. He lived in Arkansas under constant threat until 1862 when he joined the Union army as a civilian aid.

Major General Frederick Steele was the commander of the newly formed Union army Department of Arkansas. Troops under Steele's command would engage Confederate troops later in 1864 in a failed attempt to take control of the entire state.

Lincoln sent this March 18th telegram in reply to a telegram sent on March 17th by Murphy informing Lincoln of partial election results from the vote on a new constitution. In this March 17th telegram, Murphy wrote "Only eight counties heard from they give 3,556 votes---only 137 votes against constitution. We feel sure of 10,000 when the other counties are heard from & soldiers vote obtained. Guerrillas made immense efforts to hinder the election. The people are full of enthusiasm but much alarmed. Will you give them assurance of the energetic protection of the government---praise be to God!"[1] Murphy sent another telegram on March 22 with more results along with a direct request for military support. Murphy wrote, "More than eight Thousand (8000) votes reported, the entire vote will exceed ten thousand (10,000) the people have been enthusiastic in view of the protection of law voting in immense risk of loss of life & property, the guerrilas having threatened to hand every one, that went to the polls. Should the army leave the line of the Arkansas unprotected terror would prevail the state. Will the Gov't accept of two (2) regts. of artillery, one (1) black & a regt of Cavalry armed for pursuit of guerrilas. The swamps & mountains are full of armed rebels waiting for the movement of the army to pounce upon unprotected points. . . . As it is, the risk is great. All may be lost that has been gained by the election. We need arms to arms the loyal. . ." [2]

Lincoln mentioned Willard M. Randolph, in this March 18th telegram. Randolph was an attorney for the Confederate government who wanted to take a loyalty oath and work for the new U.S. backed Arkansas provisional government. Randolph's name first appeared in a March 2, 1864 telegram from Frederick Steele. Steele wrote in that March 2nd telegram, "Willard M Randolph late Attorney Genl of the Confederate states for the Eastern district of Ark be pardoned, he only accepted office to keep out the rebel army. He is a man of talent---will be true to the U.S. He will assist in the election."[3]

Inferences about the telegram

Lincoln was very concerned about the situation in Arkansas.

The state was a test case for his new reconstruction policies. Although he was worried about a potential military failure in Arkansas, the main issue was political. If Arkansas could be brought back into the Union, and if the lenient policies of Lincoln were accepted by a majority of the population, Lincoln thought momentum might build in other border states for reconciliation and a return to the Union.

It is important to note that Lincoln was very concerned with the destabilizing the political situation in Little Rock. In this telegram, Lincoln said he would send forces to protect the new government so long as they did not do harm to the people. He did not want to seem heavy handed in the politics of Arkansas. We can infer that Lincoln wanted the new government to seem legitimate.

Evidence of Lincoln's concern with the situation in Arkansas can been seen in other telegrams sent in March requesting information on the political situation in the state. Lincoln sent a total of five telegrams to Governor Murphy between February 8 and April 27. Lincoln also exchanged numerous telegram with Major General Fredrick Steele of the U.S. Army Department of Arkansas.


  1. The text of this telegram is available in an annotation to Lincoln's March 18th telegram in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, (1957), online at;cc=lincoln;view=text;idno=lincoln7;rgn=div1;node=lincoln7:557
  2. In The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, (1957), online at;cc=lincoln;view=text;idno=lincoln7;rgn=div1;node=lincoln7:557
  3. This telegram is noted as an annotation on a March 7, 1864 sent by Lincoln to Attorney General Edward Bates in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln online at;cc=lincoln;view=text;idno=lincoln7;rgn=div1;node=lincoln7:495