National Archivists discovered the Lincoln letter being sold online in 2006. It originally had been torn or fallen from an 1880 bound volume of government correspondence to the Treasury Department. There is no evidence that the letter was ever stolen, and how it went missing remains a mystery.
When contacted by Archivists, the letter's owner, Lawrence Cutler, a private collector in Tempe, Arizona decided to donate it during the bicentennial of Lincoln's birthday. Cutler would not disclose what he paid for the letter at auction three years ago, but said a similar Lincoln letter sold for $78,000.
Lincoln's note concerns the misfortunes of Robert Stevens, the son-in-law of Lincoln's old friend, Oregon Sen. Edward Baker. Baker, a fellow Republican, died in battle in 1861. That year, Lincoln had appointed Stevens to a patronage job as head of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. However, in April, 1863 Treasury Secretary Chase fired Stevens based on an investigative report listing six charges against Stevens:
1) the hiring of bad men
2) partiality as to the wages of clerks and laborers
3) encouragement of insubordination and contempt for authority
4) "Sponges and Barnacles" on the payroll
5) purchase of inferior supplies at exorbitant rates
6) being arrogant and discourteous to his managers.
Stevens protested his firing, finally resorting to writing to President Lincoln. While Lincoln was not willing to override Chase's decision, he did feel that Stevens deserved to see the charges againt him, and that prompted the President to write this newly returned letter:
Hon. Sec. of Treasury
My Dear Sir,
Mr. Stevens, late Superintendent of the Mint at San Francisco, asks to have a copy, or be permitted to examine, and take extracts, of the evidence upon which he was removed. Please oblige him in one way or the other.
Yours truly, A.Lincoln