This document is a letter sent by Abraham Lincoln to Joseph O. Cunningham, a lawyer and civil servant from Urbana, Illinois, on August 22, 1858.
Joseph Oscar Cunningham, born in Lancaster, New York, in 1830, moved to Urbana, Illinois, in 1853. He published the Urbana Union newspaper from 1853-1858 and was a delegate to the 1856 Republican state convention in Bloomington. His career as a lawyer lasted almost fifty years, and he held several important civil positions in the community, including service as the first elected Judge of the Champaign County Court and Postmaster of Urbana. He was also a local historian and a philanthropist, supporting causes such as the Cunningham Children's Home. Through his involvement in Republican politics, he formed a friendship with Abraham Lincoln. Cunningham died in Urbana in 1917.
The letter was written by Abraham Lincoln on August 22, 1858 in response to an earlier letter in which Joseph Cunningham requested that Lincoln come to Urbana to speak to local Republican Club. Lincoln declined, citing other engagements, and instead invited Cunningham and the club to see him speak in Monticello on September 6. Lincoln then remarked that the day before (on August 21, 1858), he engaged with Stephen A. Douglas in a debate, which would be the first of their famous series of debates during the 1858 race for United States Senate.
Judge Joseph O. Cunningham donated the letter to the University Library sometime prior to 1909. It was initially framed in the University Librarian's office with documents from the legal case of Peter Spink vs. Charles Chiniquy (MS 1036). These documents were later separated.