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Letter surfaces from Abraham Lincoln calling for bipartisanship, transparency

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A newly unearthed letter from Abraham Lincoln shows politics was polarized even 164 years ago. (Courtesy The Raab Collection)

A 164-year-old letter penned by Abraham Lincoln proves that calls for transparency and bipartisanship in Washington are nothing new.

The yellowed, handwritten letter, sent out by the congressman from Springfield, Ill., goes up for sale Tuesday morning on the website of Raab Collection, a Philadelphia rare documents dealer with the price set at $80,000. The sale is not an auction, said Nathan Raab, who called the letter “extremely significant.”

In it, the 40-year-old future president, then a member of the Whig Party, instructs the recipient to conduct the people’s business out in the open.

“I can’t imagine anyone writing a book about Lincoln in the future without referring to this letter.”

- Nathan Raab, rare documents expert

“Now I request you… and everybody else, to get up a full and fair meeting of the Whigs (and Democrats too if you think fit) within the limits accommodated by that office; and give a decisive expression,” wrote Lincoln in the letter dated April 21, 1849. “Let it be public, full, and fair. No cliqueism or cheatery about it.”

Raab said the letter offers a rare glimpse into Lincoln’s early political career, from which few letters have survived. It has been in a private collection for generations, according to Raab, and was not known to Lincoln scholars.

“It was a treasured family heirloom,” said Raab. “The scholarly community never knew about it. Lincoln rarely used terminology like this later in his career. Letters from his congressional career and this period are much less common than letters from when he was president.”

The letter was written near the end of Lincoln’s first and only term in the House of Representatives. Fellow members of the Whig Party, of which Lincoln was a member until becoming a Republican in 1854, had written him earlier in a bid to get his backing for a federal appointment. That original letter is in the Library of Congress, but Lincoln’s reply was long thought lost to history.

Now that it has surfaced, “I can’t imagine anyone writing a book about Lincoln in the future without referring to this letter,” said Raab.