Abraham Lincoln, Vol. I.
John T. Morse

Part 1 out of 5

Produced by Juliet Sutherland and PG Distributed Proofreaders

[Illustration: Abraham Lincoln]

American Statesmen


[Illustration: _The Early House of Abraham Lincoln_.]







The fifth and final group of biographies in the American Statesmen
series deals with the Period of the Civil War. The statesmen whose lives
are included in this group are Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward,
Salmon P. Chase, Charles Francis Adams, Charles Sumner, and Thaddeus

The years of the civil war constitute an episode rather than an
independent period in our national history. They were interposed between
two eras; and if they are to be integrally connected with either of
these, it is with the era which preceded them rather than with that
which followed them. They were the result, the closing act, of the
quarter-century of the anti-slavery crusade. When the war came to an end
the country made a new start under new conditions. Yet it is proper to
treat the years of the war by themselves, not only because they were
filled by the clearly defined and abnormal condition of warfare, but
because a distinct group of statesmen is peculiarly associated with
them. The men whose lives are found in this group had been struggling
for recognition during the years which preceded the war, but they only
arrived at the control of affairs after that event became assured. Soon
after its close their work was substantially done.

For a long while before hostilities actually broke out, it was evident
that a civil war would be a natural result of the antagonism between the
South and the North; it is now obvious enough that it was more than a
natural, that it was an absolutely inevitable result. Looking backward,
we can only be surprised that wise men ever fancied that a conflict
could be avoided; but, as usual, the strenuous hope became father to an
anxious belief. Abraham Lincoln, in the first year when he gave
indication of his political clear-sightedness, said truly that the
country could not continue half slave and half free. That truth involved
war. There was no other possible way to settle the question between the
two halves; talk of freeing the slaves by purchase, or by gradual
emancipation and colonization, was simple nonsense, the forlorn schemes
of men who would fain have escaped out of the track of inexorable
destiny. Yet the vast majority of the nation, appalled at the vision of
the great fact which lay right athwart their road, was obstinate in the
delusive expectation of flanking it, as though there were side paths
whereby mankind can circumvent fate and walk around that which _must
be_, just as if it were not. Thus it came to pass that when the South
seceded, as every intelligent man ought to have been perfectly sure
would be the case, a confusion fell for a time upon the North. In that
section of the country there was for a few months a spectacle which has
no parallel in history. There was paralysis, there was disintegration;
worse than either, there was an utter lack of straight sense and clear
thought. There were politicians, editors, writers, agitators, reformers
in multitudes whose reiteration of their moral convictions, whose
intense addresses and uncompromising articles, had for years been
bringing about precisely this event; yet when it came, it appeared that
no one of them had contemplated it with any realizing appreciation, no
one of them was ready for it, no one of them had any sensible, practical
course of action to recommend. There was no union among them, no
cohesion of opinion or of purpose, no agreement of forecast; each had
his own individual notion as to what could be done, what should be done,
what would be the train of events. Politically speaking, society was a
mere parcel of units, with topical proximity, but with no other element
of aggregation. The immensity of the crisis seemed to shake men's minds;
the enigma of duty involved such possibilities, in case of a wrong
solution, that the wisest leaders, becoming dazed and overawed, uttered
the grossest follies. Men who had been energetic and vigorous before,
when they were pursuing a purpose, who became so again afterward, when
the distinct issue had taken shape, now lost for a time their
intellectual self-possession. The picture of the country during three or
four months, or rather an observant study of the prominent men of the
country, is sufficiently interesting historically, but is vastly more so
psychologically. I know of no other period in history in which this
peculiar element of interest exists to anywhere near an equal degree. It
is the study of human nature which for a brief time absorbs us, much
more than the study of events.

But this condition was, by its nature, transitory. Events moved, and
soon created defined and clean-cut issues, in relation to which
individuals were compelled to find their positions,--positions where
they could establish a belief, whether that belief should prove at last
to be right or wrong; positions wherein they were willing to abide to
the end, be that end victory or ruin. Primarily everything depended upon
Abraham Lincoln. If he should prove to be a weak man, like his
predecessor, or if he should prove to be a man of merely ordinary
capacity and character like the presidents who had followed Van Buren,
then all was over for the North. With what anxiety, with how much
doubt, the people of the Northern States scanned their singular and
untried choice can never be fully appreciated by persons who cannot
remember those wearisome, overladen days. He was an unknown quantity in
the awful problem. In his debates with Douglas he had given some
indication of what was in him, but outside of Illinois not one man in a
hundred was familiar with those debates. Nor did even they furnish
conclusive proof of his administrative capacity, especially in these
days of novel and mortal stress. For a time he seemed to wait, to drift;
until the day of his inauguration he gave no sign; then in his speech
the people, whose hearts were standing still in their eagerness to hear,
found reassuring sentences. Yet nothing seemed to follow during many
anxious weeks; the suns rose and the suns set, and still the leader
raised no standard around which the people could rally, uttered no
inspiring word of command which could unite the dissevered political
cliques. What was in his mind all this while can never be known, though
no knowledge could be more interesting. Was he in a simple attitude of
expectancy, awaiting the march of events, watchful for some one of them
to give him the cue as well as the opportunity for action? Many believe
that this was the case; and if it was, no other course could have been
more intelligent. In due time events came which brought decision with
them, the crisis shaped itself, and he was ready with clear and prompt
action. When it was known what he would do, matters were settled. The
people, once assured that the fight would be made, entered upon it with
such a temper and in possession of such resources that, in spite of
those trying fluctuations which any wise man could have foreseen, they
were sure in the end to win.

It would be out of place in these prefatory paragraphs, to attempt any
skeleton picture of the momentous struggle. I believe that the story is
told very completely in the lives which compose this group. The
statesmen who controlled events during the war were a new group; they
were not young men, neither were they unknown or untried in public
affairs; but they were for the first time in control. In their younger
days they had been under the shadow and predominance of the old school
of statesmen, whose object had been to prevent, or at least to defer
indefinitely, precisely that crisis which was now present. They
themselves, on the other hand, had been strenuously advocating the
policies which had at last brought that crisis into existence. But the
election of Abraham Lincoln was their first, and as yet their only
triumph. In all previous trials of strength they had been defeated.
Their present success was like the bursting of a torrent through a dam.
At the instant when they attained it they found themselves involved in a
political swirl and clash of momentous difficulties. It was a tremendous
test to which they were being subjected. The part which Lincoln played,
at their head, I have endeavored to depict in his life. The manner in
which he controlled without commanding, his rare combination of
confidence in his own judgment with entire absence of self-assertion,
his instinctive appreciation of the meaning and bearing of facts, his
capacity to recognize the precise time until which action should be
postponed and then to know that action must be taken, suggesting the
idea of prescience, his long-suffering and tolerance towards impolitic,
obstructive, or over-rash individuals, his marvelous gift of keeping in
touch with the people, form a group of qualities which, united in the
President of the United States at that mortal juncture, are as strong
evidence as anything which this generation has seen to corroborate a
faith in an overruling Providence. Conceive what might have happened if
it had been some other of our presidents who had happened to have his
term begin in 1861! Yet, after all the study that can be made of him,
there are unexplainable elements in Lincoln's character which will leave
him forever an enigma. If the world ever settles down to the acceptance
of any definite, accurate picture of him, it will surely be a false
picture. There must always be vague, indefinable uncertainties in any
presentation of him which shall be truly made.

Of the men who labored with him, I have left myself room to say little,
nor need much be said here. Their lives tell their stories. Taken
together, these biographies contain the history, upon the civil side, of
the war period. Seward represents the policy of the administration as a
whole, for all civil business centred in the office of the secretary of
state. He was a man of extraordinary ability. It is true that he made a
strange blunder or two, at the outset, odd episodes in his intelligent,
clear-sighted, cool-headed career,--psychologically interesting, as has
been suggested; but he immediately recovered himself and settled down to
that course of wise statesmanship which was justly to be expected of

Chase handled the finances of the country with brilliant success. People
have criticised him, especially have said that his legal-tender scheme
was a needless and mischievous measure. But his task was immeasurably
difficult, and he had to act with great promptitude, having little time
for consideration, obliged to provide instantly for immediate
exigencies, forced to respect the present state of feeling among the
moneyed classes, though it might be transitory, and to be controlled by
the possibilities of the passing moment. He met the gigantic daily
outlay without even a temporary interruption, and the country grew rich,
not only nominally in an inflated currency, but actually in a great
development of material resources, beneath his management of the
treasury. To find fault with him, and to talk of the "_might have been_"
seems unworthy; also unsatisfactory, since the consequences of a
different policy are wholly matter of supposition.

Charles Sumner, the preacher of the crusade, stands for the moral
element. Possibly his most important work came before the war. But the
prestige which he had gained made him a man to be reckoned with, and he
had a following of fervent and resolute men in the country so numerous
that his support was essential and his opinions had to be treated with

The career of Charles Francis Adams in England will be read for the
first time in the life which forms a part of this series. It has been
written by his son, of course with every possible advantage, and it is
one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the civil war. Of
him, too, it may be said that he seems to have been specially raised up
for precisely the duty which he had to fulfill. A blunder on the part
of our envoy to Great Britain would have possibly led to consequences
which one trembles to contemplate even in imagination. The services of
Franklin in France and the positive good of the French alliance in the
Revolution, may be compared with the services of Mr. Adams in England
and the negative advantage of non-interference by England on behalf of
the South in the civil war. Mr. Adams's coolness, his unerring judgment,
and the prestige of his name, in combination, made him the one man in
the United States who ought by fitness to have held his post. That he
did hold it was, perhaps, one of the two or three essential facts which
together made Northern success possible, by the elimination of unfair
and extrinsic causes of defeat.

One part only of the picture remains to be drawn, the House of
Representatives. It is by no means conducive to a cheerful patriotic
pride to contemplate the general throng of the politicians of the
country during the war. In plain truth, they did themselves little
credit. Amid the excitement of the times they utterly failed to
appreciate their true position, their personal and official limitations.
They could not let military matters alone; they did not often recognize
the boundaries of their own knowledge, and the proper scope of their
usefulness. They intermeddled ceaselessly, embroiled everything, and as
a consequence they obstructed success in the field almost as much as if
they had been another Confederate army. It has been with some difficulty
that any one from among them has been found whose life it was desirable
to write. But Thaddeus Stevens was really a man of great power and note.
Intense and earnest, he exerted a magnificent influence in the way of
encouragement and inspiration. He adhered, if not altogether so closely
as he ought, yet at least more closely than did many others, to the
proper sphere of his duties as a civilian. Influential in oratory,
skillful in political management, masterful in temperament, and of
unflinching loyalty, he was long the genuine leader of the House. In
recalling the several members of that body he stands forth as the one
striking and dominant figure. Nor did his activity cease with the war;
he continued preeminent in the questions which immediately succeeded it,
so that the reconstruction of the country, without which our story would
be incomplete, finds its proper place in his biography. Therewith, I
think, the series reaches completion.


September, 1898.





From an original, unretouched negative, made in 1864, at the time he
commissioned Ulysses S. Grant Lieutenant-General and Commander of all
the armies of the Republic. It is said that this negative, with one of
General Grant, was made in commemoration of that event.

Autograph from the copy of the Gettysburg Address made by Lincoln for
the Soldiers' and Sailors' Fair at Baltimore, in 1864, and now in the
possession of Wm. J.A. Bliss, Esq., of that city.

The vignette of Lincoln's early home on Goose-Nest Prairie, near
Farmington, Ill., is from a drawing after a photograph. This log cabin
was built by Lincoln and his father in 1831.


From a photograph by Brady in the Library of the State Department at

Autograph from the Brady Register, owned by his nephew, Mr. Levin C.
Handy, Washington, D.C.


From a photograph by Brady in the Library of the State Department at

Autograph from the Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.


From a photograph by Brady in the Library of the State Department at

Autograph from the Chamberlain collection, Boston Public Library.


From the painting by W.F. Halsall in the Capitol at Washington.




Abraham Lincoln knew little concerning his progenitors, and rested well
content with the scantiness of his knowledge. The character and
condition of his father, of whom alone upon that side of the house he
had personal cognizance, did not encourage him to pry into the obscurity
behind that luckless rover. He was sensitive on the subject; and when he
was applied to for information, a brief paragraph conveyed all that he
knew or desired to know. Without doubt he would have been best pleased
to have the world take him solely for himself, with no inquiry as to
whence he came,--as if he had dropped upon the planet like a meteorite;
as, indeed, many did piously hold that he came a direct gift from
heaven. The fullest statement which he ever made was given in December,
1859, to Mr. Fell, who had interrogated him with an eye "to the
possibilities of his being an available candidate for the presidency in
1860:" "My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished
families,--second families, perhaps I should say. My mother ... was of a
family of the name of Hanks, some of whom now remain in Adams, some
others in Macon, counties, Illinois. My paternal grandfather, Abraham
Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia, to Kentucky, about
1781 or 1782.... His ancestors, who were Quakers, went to Virginia from
Berks County, Pennsylvania. An effort to identify them with the New
England family of the same name ended in nothing more definite than a
similarity of Christian names in both families, such as Enoch, Levi,
Mordecai, Solomon, Abraham, and the like." This effort to connect the
President with the Lincolns of Massachusetts was afterward carried
forward by others, who felt an interest greater than his own in
establishing the fact. Yet if he had expected the quest to result
satisfactorily, he would probably have been less indifferent about it;
for it is obvious that, in common with all Americans of the old native
stock, he had a strenuous desire to come of "respectable people;" and
his very reluctance to have his apparently low extraction investigated
is evidence that he would have been glad to learn that he belonged to an
ancient and historical family of the old Puritan Commonwealth, settlers
not far from Plymouth Rock, and immigrants not long after the arrival of
the Mayflower. This descent has at last been traced by the patient

So early as 1848 the first useful step was taken by Hon. Solomon
Lincoln of Hingham, Massachusetts, who was struck by a speech delivered
by Abraham Lincoln in the national House of Representatives, and wrote
to ask facts as to his parentage. The response[1] stated substantially
what was afterward sent to Mr. Fell, above quoted. Mr. Solomon Lincoln,
however, pursued the search farther, and printed the results[2]. Later,
Mr. Samuel Shackford of Chicago, Illinois, himself a descendant from the
same original stock, pushed the investigation more persistently[3]. The
chain, as put together by these two gentlemen, is as follows: Hingham,
Massachusetts, was settled in 1635. In 1636 house lots were set off to
Thomas Lincoln, the miller, Thomas Lincoln, the weaver, and Thomas
Lincoln, the cooper. In 1638 other lots were set off to Thomas Lincoln,
the husbandman, and to Stephen, his brother. In 1637 Samuel Lincoln,
aged eighteen, came from England to Salem, Massachusetts, and three
years later went to Hingham; he also was a weaver, and a brother of
Thomas, the weaver. In 1644 there was a Daniel Lincoln in the place. All
these Lincolns are believed to have come from the County of Norfolk in
England[4], though what kinship existed between them is not known. It
is from Samuel that the President appears to have been descended.
Samuel's fourth son, Mordecai, a blacksmith, married a daughter of
Abraham Jones of Hull;[5] about 1704 he moved to the neighboring town of
Scituate, and there set up a furnace for smelting iron ore. This couple
had six children, of whom two were named respectively Mordecai and
Abraham; and these two are believed to have gone to Monmouth County, New
Jersey. There Mordecai seems to have continued in the iron business, and
later to have made another move to Chester County, Pennsylvania, still
continuing in the same business, until, in 1725, he sold out all his
"Mynes & Minerals, Forges, etc."[6] Then, migrating again, he settled in
Amity, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, where, at last, death caught
up with him. By his will, February 22, 1735-36, he bequeathed his land
in New Jersey to John, his eldest son; and gave other property to his
sons Mordecai and Thomas. He belied the old motto, for in spite of more
than three removes he left a fair estate, and in the probate proceedings
he is described as "gentleman."[7] In 1748 John sold all he had in New
Jersey, and in 1758 moved into Virginia, settling in that part of
Augusta County which was afterward set off as Rockingham County. Though
his will has not been found, there is "ample proof," says Mr. Shackford,
that he had five sons, named Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Thomas, and John. Of
these, Abraham went to North Carolina, there married Mary Shipley, and
by her had sons Mordecai, Josiah, and Thomas, who was born in 1778. In
1780 or 1782, as it is variously stated, this family moved to Kentucky.
There, one day in 1784, the father, at his labor in the field, was shot
by lurking Indians. His oldest son, working hard by, ran to the house
for a gun; returning toward the spot where lay his father's body, he saw
an Indian in the act of seizing his brother, the little boy named
Thomas. He fired, with happy aim; the Indian fell dead, and Thomas
escaped to the house. This Thomas it was who afterward became the father
of Abraham Lincoln.[8] Of the other sons of Mordecai (great-uncles of
the President), Thomas also went to Kentucky, Isaac went to Tennessee,
while Jacob and John stayed in Virginia, and begat progeny who became in
later times ferocious rebels, and of whom one wrote a very comical
blustering letter to his relative the President;[9] and probably
another, bearing oddly enough the name of Abraham, was a noted
fighter.[10] It is curious to observe of what migratory stock we have
here the sketch. Mr. Shackford calls attention to the fact that through
six successive generations all save one were "pioneers in the settlement
of new countries," thus: 1. Samuel came from England to Hingham,
Massachusetts. 2. Mordecai lived and died at Scituate, close by the
place of his birth. 3. Mordecai moved, and settled in Pennsylvania, in
the neighborhood which afterward became Berks County, while it was still
wilderness. 4. John moved into the wilds of Virginia. 5. Abraham went to
the backwoods of Kentucky shortly after Boone's settlement. 6. Thomas
moved first into the sparsely settled parts of Indiana, and thence went
onward to a similar region in Illinois.

Thus in time was corroborated what Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1848 in one
of the above-mentioned letters to Hon. Solomon Lincoln: "We have a vague
tradition that my great-grandfather went from Pennsylvania to Virginia,
and that he was a Quaker." It is of little consequence that this "vague
tradition" was stoutly contradicted by the President's father, the
ignorant Thomas, who indignantly denied that either a Puritan or a
Quaker could be found in the line of his forbears, and who certainly
seemed to set heredity at defiance if such were the case. But while thus
repudiating others, Thomas himself was in some danger of being
repudiated; for so pained have some persons been by the necessity of
recognizing Thomas Lincoln as the father of the President, that they
have welcomed, as a happy escape from this so miserable paternity, a bit
of gratuitous and unsupported gossip, published, though perhaps with
more of malice than of faith, by Mr. Herndon, to the effect that Abraham
Lincoln was the illegitimate son of some person unknown, presumably some
tolerably well-to-do Kentuckian, who induced Thomas to assume the role
of parent.

Upon the mother's side the ancestral showing is meagre, and fortunately
so, since the case seems to be a bad one beyond reasonable hope. Her
name was Nancy Hanks. She was born in Virginia, and was the illegitimate
child of one Lucy Hanks.[11] Nor was she the only instance of
illegitimacy[12] in a family which, by all accounts, seems to have been
very low in the social scale. Mr. Herndon calls them by the dread name
of "poor whites," and gives an unappetizing sketch of them.[13]
Throughout his pages and those of Lamon there is abundant and
disagreeable evidence to show the correctness of his estimate. Nancy
Hanks herself, who certainly was not to blame for her parentage, and
perhaps may have improved matters by an infusion of better blood from
her unknown father, is described by some as a very rare flower to have
bloomed amid the bed of ugly weeds which surrounded her. These friendly
writers make her a gentle, lovely, Christian creature, too delicate long
to survive the roughness of frontier life and the fellowship of the
shiftless rover to whom she was unfittingly wedded.[14] Whatever she may
have been, her picture is exceeding dim, and has been made upon scant
and not unquestionable evidence. Mr. Lincoln seems not often to have
referred to her; but when he did so it was with expressions of affection
for her character and respect for her mental qualities, provided at
least that it was really of her, and not of his stepmother, that he was
speaking,--a matter not clear from doubt.[15]

On June 10, 1806, Thomas Lincoln gave bond in the "just and full sum of
fifty pounds" to marry Nancy Hanks, and two days later, June 12, he did
so, in Washington County, Kentucky.[16] She was then twenty-three years
old. February 12, 1807, their daughter Sarah was born, who was married
and died leaving no issue. February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born;
no other children came save a boy who lived only a few days.

The domestic surroundings amid which the babe came into life were
wretched in the extreme. All the trustworthy evidence depicts a
condition of what civilized people call misery. It is just as well to
acknowledge a fact which cannot now be obscured by any amount of
euphemism. Yet very many of Lincoln's biographers have been greatly
concerned to color this truth, which he himself, with his honest nature,
was never willing to misrepresent, however much he resisted efforts to
give it a general publicity. He met curious inquiry with reticence, but
with no attempt to mislead. Some of his biographers, however, while
shunning direct false statements, have used alleviating adjectives with
literary skill, and have drawn fanciful pictures of a pious frugal
household, of a gallant frontiersman endowed with a long catalogue of
noble qualities, and of a mother like a Madonna in the wilderness.[17]
Yet all the evidence that there is goes to show that this romantic
coloring is purely illusive. Rough, coarse, low, ignorant, and
poverty-stricken surroundings were about the child; and though we may
gladly avail ourselves of the possibility of believing his mother to
have been superior to all the rest of it, yet she could by no means
leaven the mass. The father[18] was by calling a carpenter, but not good
at his trade, a shiftless migratory squatter by invincible tendency,
and a very ignorant man, for a long while able only to form the letters
which made his signature, though later he extended his accomplishments a
little. He rested not much above the very bottom of existence in the
pioneer settlements, apparently without capacity or desire to do better.
The family was imbued with the peculiar, intense, but unenlightened form
of Christianity, mingled with curious superstition, prevalent in the
backwoods, and begotten by the influence of the vast wilderness upon
illiterate men of a rude native force. It interests scholars to trace
the evolutions of religious faiths, but it might be not less suggestive
to study the retrogression of religion into superstition. Thomas was as
restless in matters of creed as of residence, and made various changes
in both during his life. These were, however, changes without
improvement, and, so far as he was concerned, his son Abraham might have
grown up to be what he himself was contented to remain.

It was in the second year after his marriage that Thomas Lincoln made
his first removal. Four years later he made another. Two or three years
afterwards, in the autumn of 1816, he abandoned Kentucky and went into
Indiana. Some writers have given to this migration the interesting
character of a flight from a slave-cursed society to a land of freedom,
but whatever poetic fitness there might be in such a motive, the
suggestion is entirely gratuitous and without the slightest
foundation.[19] In making this move, Thomas's outfit consisted of a
trifling parcel of tools and cooking utensils, with ever so little
bedding, and four hundred gallons of whiskey. At his new quarters he
built a "half-faced camp" fourteen feet square, that is to say, a
covered shed of three sides, the fourth side being left open to the
weather. In this, less snug than the winter's cave of a bear, the family
dwelt for a year, and then were translated to the luxury of a "cabin,"
four-walled indeed, but which for a long while had neither floor, door,
nor window. Amid this hardship and wretchedness Nancy Lincoln passed
away, October 5, 1818, of that dread and mysterious disease, the scourge
of those pioneer communities, known as the "milk-sickness."[20] In a
rough coffin, fashioned by her husband "out of green lumber cut with a
whip-saw," she was laid away in the forest clearing, and a few months
afterward an itinerant preacher performed some funeral rites over the
poor woman's humble grave.

For a year Thomas Lincoln was a widower. Then he went back to Kentucky,
and found there Mrs. Sally Johnston, a widow, whom, when she was the
maiden Sarah Bush, he had loved and courted, and by whom he had been
refused. He now asked again, and with better success. The marriage was a
little inroad of good luck into his career; for the new wife was thrifty
and industrious, with the ambition and the capacity to improve the
squalid condition of her husband's household. She had, too, worldly
possessions of bedding and furniture, enough to fill a four-horse wagon.
She made her husband put a floor, a door, and windows to his cabin. From
the day of her advent a new spirit made itself felt amid the belongings
of the inefficient Thomas. Her immediate effort was to make her new
husband's children "look a little more human," and the youthful Abraham
began to get crude notions of the simpler comforts and decencies of
life. All agree that she was a stepmother to whose credit it is to be
said that she manifested an intelligent kindness towards Abraham.

The opportunities for education were scant enough in that day and place.
In his childhood in Kentucky Abraham got a few weeks with one teacher,
and then a few weeks with another. Later, in Indiana, he studied a few
months, in a scattered way. Probably he had instruction at home, for the
sum of all the schooling which he had in his whole life was hardly one
year;[21] a singular start upon the road to the presidency of the United
States! The books which he saw were few, but a little later he laid
hands upon them all and read and re-read them till he must have absorbed
all their strong juice into his own nature. Nicolay and Hay give the
list: The Bible; "Aesop's Fables;" "Robinson Crusoe;" "The Pilgrim's
Progress;" a history of the United States; Weems's "Washington." He was
doubtless much older when he devoured the Revised Statutes of Indiana in
the office of the town constable. Dr. Holland adds Lives of Henry Clay
and of Franklin (probably the famous autobiography), and Ramsay's
"Washington;" and Arnold names Shakespeare and Burns. It was a small
library, but nourishing. He used to write and to do sums in arithmetic
on the wooden shovel by the fireside, and to shave off the surface in
order to renew the labor.

As he passed from boyhood to youth his mental development took its
characteristics from the popular demand of the neighborhood. He
scribbled verses and satirical prose, wherein the coarse wit was adapted
to the taste of the comrades whom it was designed to please; and it must
be admitted that, after giving due weight to all ameliorating
considerations, it is impossible to avoid disappointment at the
grossness of the jesting. No thought, no word raised it above the low
level of the audience made up of the laborers on the farms and the
loungers in the groceries. The biographer who has made public "The First
Chronicles of Reuben" deserves to be held in detestation.[22]

A more satisfactory form of intellectual effervescence consisted in
writing articles on the American Government, Temperance, etc., and in
speech-making to any who were near at the moment of inspiration. There
is abundant evidence, also, that already Lincoln was regarded as a witty
fellow, a rare mimic, and teller of jokes and stories; and therefore was
the champion of the fields and the favorite of all the primitive social
gatherings. This sort of life and popularity had its perils, for in that
day and region men seldom met without drinking together; but all
authorities are agreed that Lincoln, while the greatest talker, was the
smallest drinker.

The stories told of his physical strength rival those which decorate the
memory of Hercules. Others, which show his kindly and humane nature, are
more valuable. Any or all of these may or may not be true, and, though
they are not so poetical or marvelous as the myths which lend an antique
charm to the heroes of classic and romantic lore, yet they compare
fairly well with those which Weems has twined about the figure of the
youthful Washington. There is a tale of the rescue of a pig from a
quagmire, and another of the saving of a drunken man from freezing.
There are many stories of fights; others of the lifting of enormous
weights; and even some of the doing of great feats of labor in a day,
though for such tasks Lincoln had no love. These are not worth
recounting; there is store of such in every village about the popular
local hero; and though historians by such folk-lore may throw a glamour
about Lincoln's daily life, he himself, at the time, could hardly have
seen much that was romantic or poetical in the routine of ill-paid labor
and hard living. Until he came of age his "time" belonged to his father,
who let him out to the neighbors for any job that offered, making him a
man-of-all-work, without-doors and within. In 1825 he was thus earning
six dollars a month, presumably besides board and lodging. Sometimes he
slaughtered hogs, at thirty-one cents a day; and in this "rough work" he
was esteemed especially efficient. Such was the making of a President in
the United States in this nineteenth century!

Thomas Lincoln, like most men of his stamp, had the cheerful habit of
laying the results of his own worthlessness to the charge of the
conditions about him, which, naturally, he constantly sought to change,
since it seemed that no change could bring him to a lower level than he
had already found. As Abraham approached his "freedom-day," his luckless
parent conceived the notion that he might do better in Illinois than he
had done in Indiana. So he shuffled off the farm, for which he had never
paid, and about the middle of February the family caravan, with their
scanty household wares packed in an ox team, began a march which lasted
fourteen days and entailed no small measure of hardship. They finally
stopped at a bluff on the north bank of the north fork of the Sangamon,
a stream which empties into the Ohio. Here Thomas Lincoln renewed the
familiar process of "starting in life," and with an axe, a saw, and a
knife built a rough cabin of hewed logs, with a smoke-house and
"stable." Abraham, aided by John Hanks, cleared ten or fifteen acres of
land, split the rails and fenced it, planted it with corn, and made it
over to Thomas as a sort of bequest at the close of his term of legal
infancy. His subsequent relationship with his parents, especially with
his father, seems to have been slight, involving an occasional gift of
money, a very rare visit, and finally a commonplace letter of Christian
comfort when the old man was on his deathbed.[23]

At first Abraham's coming of age made no especial change in his
condition; he continued to find such jobs as he could, as an example of
which Is mentioned his bargain with Mrs. Nancy Miller "to split four
hundred rails for every yard of brown jeans dyed with white walnut bark
that would be necessary to make him a pair of trousers." After many
months there arrived in the neighborhood one Denton Offut, one of those
scheming, talkative, evanescent busybodies who skim vaguely over new
territories. This adventurer had a cargo of hogs, pork, and corn, which
he wanted to send to New Orleans, and the engagement fell to Lincoln and
two comrades at the wage of fifty cents per day and a bonus of $60 for
the three. It has been said that this and a preceding trip down the
Mississippi first gave Lincoln a glimpse of slavery in concrete form,
and that the spectacle of negroes "in chains, whipped and scourged,"
and of a slave auction, implanted in his mind an "unconquerable hate"
towards the institution, so that he exclaimed: "If ever I get a chance
to hit that thing, I'll hit it hard." So the loquacious myth-maker John
Hanks asserts;[24] but Lincoln himself refers his first vivid impression
to a later trip, made in 1841, when there were "on board ten or a dozen
slaves shackled together with irons." Of this subsequent incident he
wrote, fourteen years later, to his friend, Joshua Speed: "That sight
was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I
touch the Ohio or any other slave border. It is not fair for you to
assume that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually
exercises, the power of making me miserable."[25]

Of more immediate consequence was the notion which the rattle-brained
Offut conceived of Lincoln's general ability. This lively patron now
proposed to build a river steamboat, with "runners for ice and rollers
for shoals and dams," of which his redoubtable young employee was to be
captain. But this strange scheme gave way to another for opening in New
Salem a "general store" of all goods. This small town had been born only
a few months before this summer of 1831, and was destined to a brief but
riotous life of some seven years' duration. Now it had a dozen or
fifteen "houses," of which some had cost only ten dollars for the
building; yet to the sanguine Offut it presented a fair field for retail
commerce. He accordingly equipped his "store," and being himself engaged
in other enterprises, he installed Lincoln as manager. Soon he also gave
Lincoln a mill to run.

Besides all this patronage, Offut went about the region bragging in his
extravagant way that his clerk "knew more than any man in the United
States," would some day be President, and could now throw or thrash any
man in those parts. Now it so happened that some three miles out from
New Salem lay Clary's Grove, the haunt of a gang of frontier ruffians of
the familiar type, among whom one Jack Armstrong was champion bully.
Offut's boasting soon rendered an encounter between Lincoln and
Armstrong inevitable, though Lincoln did his best to avoid it, and
declared his aversion to "this woolling and pulling." The wrestling
match was arranged, and the settlers flocked to it like Spaniards to a
bull-fight. Battle was joined and Lincoln was getting the better of
Armstrong, whereupon the "Clary's Grove boys," with fine chivalry, were
about to rush in upon Lincoln and maim him, or worse, when the timely
intervention of a prominent citizen possibly saved even the life of the
future President.[26] Some of the biographers, borrowing the license of
poets, have chosen to tell about the "boys" and the wrestling match
with such picturesque epithets that the combat bids fair to appear to
posterity as romantic as that of Friar Tuck and Robin Hood. Its
consequence was that Armstrong and Lincoln were fast friends ever after.
Wherever Lincoln was at work, Armstrong used to "do his loafing," and
Lincoln made visits to Clary's Grove, and long afterward did a friendly
service to "old Hannah," Armstrong's wife, by saving one of her vicious
race from the gallows, which upon that especial occasion he did not
happen to deserve. Also Armstrong and his gang gave Lincoln hearty
political support, and an assistance at the polls which was very
effective, for success generally smiled on that candidate who had as his
constituency[27] the "butcher-knife boys," the "barefooted boys," the
"half-horse, half-alligator men," and the "huge-pawed boys."

An item less susceptible of a poetic coloring is that about this time
Lincoln ransacked the neighborhood in search of an English grammar, and
getting trace of one six miles out from the settlement, he walked over
to borrow or to buy it. He brought it back in triumph, and studied it

There are also some tales of his honesty which may stand without
disgrace beside that of Washington and the cherry-tree, and may be
better entitled to credit. It is said that, while he was "keeping shop"
for Offut, a woman one day accidentally overpaid him by the sum of
fourpence, and that he walked several miles that night to restore the
sum to her before he slept. On another occasion, discovering that in
selling half a pound of tea he had used too small a weight, he started
instantly forth to make good the deficiency. Perhaps this integrity does
not so much differentiate Lincoln from his fellows as it may seem to do,
for it is said that honesty was the one distinguishing virtue of that
queer society. None the less these legends are exponents, which the
numerous fighting stories are not, of the genuine nature of the man. His
chief trait all his life long was honesty of all kinds and in all
things; not only commonplace, material honesty in dealings, but honesty
in language, in purpose, in thought; _honesty of mind_, so that he could
never even practice the most tempting of all deceits, a deceit against
himself. This pervasive honesty was the trait of his identity, which
stayed with him from beginning to end, when other traits seemed to be
changing, appearing or disappearing, and bewildering the observer of his
career. All the while the universal honesty was there.

It took less than a year for Offut's shop to come to ruin, for the
proprietor to wander off into the unknown void from which he had come,
and for Lincoln to find himself again without occupation. He won some
local reputation by navigating the steamboat Talisman up the Sangamon
River to Springfield; but nothing came of it.

The foregoing narrative ought to have given some idea of the moral and
physical surroundings of Lincoln's early days. Americans need to carry
their memories hardly fifty years back, in order to have a lively
conception of that peculiar body of men which for many years was pushed
out in front of civilization in the West. Waifs and strays from highly
civilized communities, these wanderers had not civilization to learn,
but rather they had shuffled off much that belonged to civilization, and
afterwards they had to acquire it afresh. Among them crudity in thought
and uncouthness in habits were intertwined in odd, incongruous crossings
with the remnants of the more respectable customs with which they had
once been familiar. Much they forgot and much they put away as being no
longer useful; many of them--not all--became very ignorant without being
stupid, very brutal without being barbarous. Finding life hard, they
helped each other with a general kindliness which is impracticable among
the complexities of elaborate social organizations. Those who were born
on the land, among whom Lincoln belonged, were peculiar in having no
reminiscences, no antecedent ideas derived from their own past, whereby
to modify the influences of the immediate present. What they should
think about men and things they gathered from what they saw and heard
around them. Even the modification to be got from reading was of the
slightest, for very little reading was possible, even if desired. An
important trait of these Western communities was the closeness of
personal intercourse in them, and the utter lack of any kind of barriers
establishing strata of society. Individuals might differ ever so widely;
but the wisest and the dullest, the most worthless and the most
enterprising, had to rub shoulder to shoulder in daily life. Yet the
variety was considerable: hardy and danger-loving pioneers fulfilling
the requirements of romance; shiftless vagrants curiously combining
utter inefficiency with a sort of bastard contempt for hardship;
ruffians who could only offset against every brutal vice an ignoble
physical courage; intelligent men whose observant eyes ranged over the
whole region in a shrewd search after enterprise and profit; a few
educated men, decent in apparel and bearing, useful in legislation and
in preventing the ideal from becoming altogether vulgarized and debased;
and others whose energy was chiefly of the tongue, the class imbued with
a taste for small politics and the public business. All these and many
other varieties were like ingredients cast together into a caldron; they
could not keep apart, each with his own kind, to the degree which is
customary in old established communities; but they all ceaselessly
crossed and mingled and met, and talked, and dealt, and helped and
hustled each other, and exerted upon each other that subtle inevitable
influence resulting from such constant intercourse; and so they
inoculated each other with certain characteristics which became common
to all and formed the type of the early settler. Thus was made "the new
West," "the great West," which was pushed ever onward, and endured along
each successive frontier for about a generation. An eternal movement, a
tireless coming and going, pervaded these men; they passed hither and
thither without pause, phantasmagorically; they seemed to be forever
"moving on," some because they were real pioneers and natural rovers,
others because they were mere vagrants generally drifting away from
creditors, others because the better chance seemed ever in the newer
place, and all because they had struck no roots, gathered no
associations, no home ties, no local belongings. The shopkeeper "moved
on" when his notes became too pressing; the schoolmaster, after a short
stay, left his school to some successor whose accomplishments could
hardly be less than his own; clergymen ranged vaguely through the
country, to preach, to pray, to bury, to marry, as the case might be;
farmers heard of a more fruitful soil, and went to seek it. Men
certainly had at times to work hard in order to live at all, yet it was
perfectly possible for the natural idler to rove, to loaf, and to be
shiftless at intervals, and to become as demoralized as the tramp for
whom a shirt and trousers are the sum of worldly possessions. Books were
scarce; many teachers hardly had as much book-learning as lads of
thirteen years now have among ourselves. Men who could neither read nor
write abounded, and a deficiency so common could hardly imply much
disgrace or a marked inferiority; many learned these difficult arts only
in mature years. Fighting was a common pastime, and when these rough
fellows fought, they fought like savages; Lincoln's father bit off his
adversary's nose in a fight, and a cousin lost the same feature in the
same way; the "gouging" of eyes was a legitimate resource. The necessity
of fighting might at any moment come to any one; even the combination of
a peaceable disposition with formidable strength did not save Lincoln
from numerous personal affrays, of which many are remembered, and not
improbably many more have been forgotten. In spite of the picturesque
adjectives which have been so decoratively used in describing the
ruffian of the frontier, he seems to have been about what his class
always is; and when these fellows had forced a fight, or "set up" a
match, their chivalry never prevented any unfairness or brutality. A
tale illustrative of the times is told of a closely contested election
in the legislature for the office of state treasurer. The worsted
candidate strode into the hall of the Assembly, and gallantly selecting
four of the largest and strongest of those who had voted against him,
thrashed them soundly. The other legislators ran away. But before the
close of the session this pugilist, who so well understood practical
politics, was appointed clerk of the Circuit Court and county

Corn bread was the chief article of diet; potatoes were a luxury, and
were often eaten raw like apples. To the people at large whiskey
"straight" seemed the natural drink of man, and whiskey toddy was not
distasteful to woman. To refuse to drink was to subject one's self to
abuse and suspicion;[29] Lincoln's notorious lack of liking for it
passed for an eccentricity, or a physical peculiarity. The customary
social gatherings were at horse-racings, at corn-shuckings, at political
speech-makings, at weddings, whereat the coarse proceedings would not
nowadays bear recital; at log-rollings, where the neighbors gathered to
collect the logs of a newly cleared lot for burning; and at
house-raisings, where they kindly aided to set up the frame of a cabin
for a new-comer; at camp-meetings, where the hysterical excitement of a
community whose religion was more than half superstition found clamorous
and painful vent;[30] or perchance at a hanging, which, if it met public
approbation, would be sanctioned by the gathering of the neighbors
within a day's journey of the scene. At dancing-parties men and women
danced barefoot; indeed, they could hardly do better, since their
foot-wear was apt to be either moccasins, or such boots as they
themselves could make from the hides which they themselves had cured. In
Lincoln's boyhood the hunting-shirt and leggings made of skins were a
sufficiently respectable garb; and buckskin breeches dyed green were
enough to captivate the heart of any girl who wished a fashionable
lover; but by the time that he had become a young man, most
self-respecting men had suits of jeans. The ugly butcher's knife and
tomahawk, which had been essential as was the rapier to the costume of
gentlemen two centuries earlier, began now to be more rarely seen at the
belt about the waist. The women wore linsey-woolsey gowns, of home
manufacture, and dyed according to the taste or skill of the wearer in
stripes and bars with the brown juice of the butternut. In the towns it
was not long before calico was seen, and calfskin shoes; and in such
populous centres bonnets decorated the heads of the fair sex. Amid these
advances in the art of dress Lincoln was a laggard, being usually one of
the worst attired men of the neighborhood; not from affectation, but
from a natural indifference to such matters. The sketch is likely to
become classical in American history of the appearance which he
presented with his scant pair of trousers, "hitched" by a single
suspender over his shirt, and so short as to expose, at the lower end,
half a dozen inches of "shinbone, sharp, blue, and narrow."

In the clearings the dwellings of these men were the "half-faced camp"
open upon one side to the weather, or the doorless, floorless, and
windowless cabin which, with prosperity, might be made luxurious by
greased paper in the windows, and "puncheon" floors. The furniture was
in keeping with this exterior. At a corner the bed was constructed by
driving into the ground crotched sticks, whence poles extended to the
crevices of the walls; upon these poles were laid boards, and upon these
boards were tossed leaves and skins and such other alleviating material
as could be found. Three-legged stools and a table were hewed from the
felled trees with an axe, which was often the settler's only and
invaluable tool, and which he would travel long miles to sharpen. If a
woman wanted a looking-glass, she scoured a tin pan, but the temptation
to inspect one's self must have been feeble. A very few kitchen utensils
completed the outfit. Troughs served for washtubs, when wash tubs were
used; and wooden ploughs broke up the virgin soil. The whole was little,
if at all, more comfortable than the red man's wigwam. In "towns," so
called, there was of course somewhat more of civilization than in the
clearings. But one must not be misled by a name; a "town" might signify
only a score of houses, and the length of its life was wholly
problematical; a few days sufficed to build the wooden huts, which in a
few years might be abandoned. In the early days there was almost no
money among the people; sometimes barter was resorted to; one lover paid
for his marriage license with maple sugar, another with wolf-scalps.
More often a promise sufficed; credit was a system well understood, and
promissory notes constituted an unquestioned and popular method of
payment that would have made a millennium for Mr. Micawber. But however
scant might be cash and houses, each town had its grocery, and these
famous "stores" were by far the chief influence in shaping the ideas of
the Westerner. There all congregated, the idlers all day long, the busy
men in the evening; and there, stimulated by the whiskey of the
proprietor, they gossiped about everybody's affairs, talked about
business and the prospects of the neighborhood, and argued about the
politics of the county, the State, and even of the nation. Jokes and
stories, often most uncouth and gross, whiled away the time. It was in
these groceries, and in the rough crucible of such talk, wherein
grotesque imagery and extravagant phrases were used to ridicule
pretension and to bring every man to his place, sometimes also to escape
taking a hard fact too hardly, that what we now call "American humor,"
with its peculiar native flavor, was born. To this it is matter of
tradition that Lincoln contributed liberally. He liked neighborly chat
and discussion; and his fondness for political debate, and his gifts in
tale and jest, made him the most popular man in every "store" that he
entered. It is commonly believed that the effect of this familiarity
with coarse talk did not afterward disappear, so that he never became
fastidious in language or in story. But apologists of this habit are
doubtless correct in saying that vulgarity in itself had no attraction
for him; it simply did not repel him, when with it there was a flavor of
humor or a useful point. Apparently it simply meant nothing to him; a
mental attitude which is not difficult of comprehension in view of its

Some of the most picturesque and amusing pages of Ford's "History of
Illinois" describe the condition of the bench and bar of these
times.[32] "Boys, come in, our John is going to hold court," proclaimed
the sheriff; and the "boys" loitered into the barroom of the tavern, or
into a log cabin where the judge sat on the bed and thus, really from
the woolsack, administered "law" mixed with equity as best he knew it.
Usually these magistrates were prudent in guiding the course of
practical justice, and rarely summed up the facts lest they should make
dangerous enemies, especially in criminal cases; they often refused to
state the law, and generally for a very good reason. They liked best to
turn the whole matter over to the jurors, who doubtless "understood the
case, and would do justice between the parties." The books of the
science were scarce, and lawyers who studied them were perhaps scarcer.
But probably substantial fairness in decision did not suffer by reason
of lack of sheepskin learning.

Politics for a long while were strictly personal; the elections did not
turn upon principles or measures, but upon the popular estimate of the
candidates individually. Political discussion meant unstinted praise
and unbounded vilification. A man might, if he chose, resent a vote
against himself as a personal insult, and hence arose much secrecy and
the "keep dark" system. Stump-speaking, whiskey, and fighting were the
chief elements of a campaign, and the worst class in society furnished
the most efficient backing.[33]

Such was the condition of men and things in the neighborhood where
Abraham Lincoln was shaping in the days of his youth. Yet it was a
condition which did not last long; Illinois herself changed and grew as
rapidly as any youngster within her borders. The rate of advance in all
that goes to make up what we now regard as a civilized society was
astonishing. Between the time when Lincoln was fifteen and when he was
twenty-five, the alteration was so great as to be confusing. One hardly
became familiar with a condition before it had vanished. Some towns
began to acquire an aspect of permanence; clothes and manners became
like those prevalent in older communities; many men were settling down
in established residence, identifying themselves with the fortunes of
their neighborhood. Young persons were growing up and staying where they
had been "raised," as the phrase of a farming community had it.
Comfortable and presentable two-story houses lent an air of prosperity
and stimulated ambition; law-books began to be collected in small
numbers; and debts were occasionally paid in money, and could often be
collected by legal process. These improvements were largely due to the
swelling tide of immigration which brought men of a better type to push
their enterprises in a country presumably emerging from its disagreeable
stage. But the chief educational influence was to be found in the
Anglo-American passion for an argument and a speech. Hand in hand, as
has so long been the custom in our country, law and politics moved among
the people, who had an inborn, inherited taste for both; these
stimulated and educated the settlers in a way that only Americans can
appreciate. When Lincoln, as is soon to be seen, turned to them, he
turned to what then and there appeared the highest callings which could
tempt intellect and ambition.

The preeminently striking feature in Lincoln's nature--not a trait of
character, but a characteristic of the man--which is noteworthy in these
early days, and grew more so to the very latest, was the extraordinary
degree to which he always appeared to be in close and sympathetic touch
with the people, that is to say, the people in the mass wherein he was
imbedded, the social body amid which he dwelt, which pressed upon him on
all sides, which for him formed "the public." First this group or body
was only the population of the frontier settlement; then it widened to
include the State of Illinois; then it expanded to the population of the
entire North; and such had come to be the popular appreciation of this
remarkably developed quality that, at the time of his death, his
admirers even dared to believe that it would be able to make itself one
with all the heterogeneous, discordant, antagonistic elements which then
composed the very disunited United States. It is by reason of this
quality that it has seemed necessary to depict so far as possible that
peculiar, transitory phase of society which surrounded his early days.
This quality in him caused him to be exceptionally susceptible to the
peculiar influences of the people among whom his lot was cast. This
quality for a while prevented his differentiating himself from them,
prevented his accepting standards and purposes unlike theirs either in
speech or action, prevented his rising rapidly to a higher moral plane
than theirs. This quality kept him essentially one of them, until his
"people" and his "public" expanded beyond them. It has been the fashion
of his admirers to manifest an extreme distaste for a truthful
presentation of his earlier days. Some writers have passed very lightly
over them; others, stating plain facts with a formal accuracy, have used
their skill to give to the picture an untruthful miscoloring; two or
three, instinct with the spirit of Zola, have made their sketch with
plain unsparing realism in color as well as in lines, and so have
brought upon themselves abuse, and perhaps have deserved much of it, by
reason of a lack of skill in doing an unwelcome thing, or rather by
reason of overdoing it. The feeling which has led to suppression or to
a falsely romantic description seems to me unreasonable and wrong. The
very quality which made Lincoln, as a young man, not much superior to
his coarse surroundings was precisely the same quality which, ripening
and expanding rapidly and grandly with maturing years and a greater
circle of humanity, made him what he was in later life. It is through
this quality that we get continuity in him; without it, we cannot evade
the insoluble problem of two men,--two lives,--one following the other
with no visible link of connection between them; without it we have
physically one creature, morally and mentally two beings. If we reject
this trait, we throw away the only key which unlocks the problem of the
most singular life, taken from end to end, which has ever been witnessed
among men, a life which many have been content to regard as an unsolved
enigma. But if we admit and really perceive and feel the full force of
this trait, developed in him in a degree probably unequaled in the
annals of men, then, besides the enlightenment which it brings, we have
the great satisfaction of eliminating much of the disagreeableness
attendant upon his youthful days. Even the commonness and painful
coarseness of his foolish written expressions become actually an
exponent of his chief and crowning quality, his receptiveness and his
expression of humanity,--that is to say, of all the humanity he then
knew. At first he expressed what he could discern with the limited,
inexperienced vision of the ignorant son of a wretched vagrant pioneer;
later he gave expression to the humanity of a people engaged in a
purpose physically and morally as vast and as grand as any enterprise
which the world has seen. Thus, with perfect fairness, without wrenching
or misrepresentation or sophistry, the ugliness of his youth ceases to
be his own and becomes only the presentation of a curious social
condition. In his youth he expressed a low condition, in later life a
noble one; at each period he expressed correctly what he found. His day
and generation uttered itself through him. With such thoughts, and from
this point of view, it is possible to contemplate Lincoln's early days,
amid all their degraded surroundings and influences and unmarked by
apparent antagonism or obvious superiority on his part, without serious


[1] Two letters, now in the possession of Mr. Francis H. Lincoln of
Boston, Mass.

[2] _New England Hist. and Gen. Register_, October, 1865.

[3] _Ibid._ April, 1887, vol. xli. p. 153.

[4] See articles in _N.E.H. and G. Reg._ above cited. Mr. Lincoln's
article states that in Norwich, Norfolk County, Eng., there is a
"curious chased copper box with the inscription 'Abraham Lincoln,
Norwich, 1731;'" also in St. Andrew's Church in the same place a mural
tablet: "In memory of Abraham Lincoln, of this parish, who died July 13,
1798, aged 79 years." Similarities of name are also noted.

[5] A town adjoining Hingham, Mass.

[6] His brother Abraham also resided in Chester County, and died there,
April, 1745.

[7] N. and H. i. 3.

[8] A different pedigree, published in the _Lancaster Intelligencer_,
September 24, 1879, by David J. Lincoln of Birdsboro, Berks County,
Penn., is refuted by George Lincoln of Hingham, Mass., in the _Hingham
Journal_, October 10, 1879.

[9] N. and H. i. 4 note.

[10] N. and H. i. 4 note.

[11] Herndon, 3.

[12] The unpleasant Dennis Hanks was an illegitimate son of an "aunt of
the President's mother." Herndon, 13; and see Lamon, 12.

[13] Herndon, 14.

[14] Holland, 23; Lamon, 11; N. and H. i. 24; Herndon, 13, 28; Raymond,
20; but Raymond is no authority as to Lincoln's youth, and Holland is
little more valuable for the same period.

[15] Lamon, 32. But see Herndon, 13.

[16] N. and H. 23; Herndon, 5; but see Lamon, 10.

[17] For instance, see the pages of the first chapter of the Life by
Arnold, a book which becomes excellent after the author has got free
from the fancied necessities of creating an appropriate background for
the origin and childhood of the hero. So, more briefly, Raymond, who
gives no authority to support the faith which is in him.

[18] For description of him, see Lamon, 8, 9; Herndon, 11.

[19] Herndon, 19; Lamon, 16; Holland, 25.

[20] Herndon, 25-28; Lamon, 26-28.

[21] Herndon, 34-37, 41; Lamon, 34-36; Holland, 28.

[22] Mr. Herndon did this ill deed; 50-54. Lamon prefers to say that
most of this literature is "too indecent for publication," 63.

[23] Thomas Lincoln died January 17, 1851.

[24] Herndon, 75, 76; Lamon, 82; Arnold, 30; N. and H. i. 72.

[25] N. and H. i. 74.

[26] Lamon, 92, 93, has the best account of this famous encounter.

[27] Ford, _Hist. of Illinois_, 88.

[28] Ford, _Hist. of Illinois_, 81.

[29] See anecdote in _The Good Old Times in McLean County_, 48.

[30] "The jerks" was the graphic name of an attack not uncommon at these
religious meetings.

[31] See Herndon, 104, 118; Holland has some singular remarks on this
subject, p. 83; N. and H., i. 121, say that Lincoln was "clean of
speech,"--an agreeable statement, for which one would like to have some

[32] Ford, _Hist. of Illinois_, 82-86.

[33] Ford, _Hist. of Illinois_, 55, 86, 88,104; Herndon, 103; N. and H.
i. 107; Lamon, 124, 230.



In Illinois during the years of Lincoln's boyhood the red man was
retiring sullenly before the fatal advance of the white man's frontier.
Shooting, scalping, and plundering forays still occurred, and in the
self-complaisant reminiscences of the old settlers of that day the
merciless and mysterious savage is apt to lend to the narrative the
lively coloring of mortal danger.[34] In the spring of 1832 a noted
chief of the Sacs led a campaign of such importance that it lives in
history under the dignified title of "the Black Hawk war." The Indians
gathered in numbers so formidable that Governor Reynolds issued a call
for volunteers to aid the national forces. Lincoln, left unemployed by
the failure of Offut, at once enlisted. The custom then was, so soon as
there were enough recruits for a company, to elect a captain by vote.
The method was simple: each candidate stood at some point in the field
and the men went over to one or another according to their several
preferences. Three fourths of the company to which Lincoln belonged
ranged themselves with him, and long afterward he used to say that no
other success in life had given him such pleasure as did this one.

The company was attached to the Fourth Illinois Regiment, commanded by
Colonel Samuel Thompson, in the brigade of General Samuel Whiteside. On
April 27 they started for the scene of conflict, and for many days
endured much hardship of hunger and rough marching. But thereby they
escaped serious danger, for they were too fatigued to go forward on May
12, when the cavalry battalions rode out gallantly, recklessly, perhaps
a little stupidly, into ambush and death. It so happened that Lincoln
never came nearer to any engagement than he did to this one of
"Stillman's Run;" so that in place of military glory he had to be
content with the reputation of being the best comrade and story-teller
at the camp fire. He had, however, an opportunity to do one honorable
act: the brief term of service of the volunteers expired on May 27, and
most of them eagerly hastened away from an irksome task, without regard
to the fact that their services were still much needed, whereas Lincoln
and some other officers reenlisted as privates. They were made the
"Independent Spy Battalion" of mounted volunteers, were given many
special privileges, but were concerned in no engagement, and erelong
were mustered out of service. Lincoln's certificate of discharge was
signed by Robert Anderson, who afterward was in command at Fort Sumter
at the outbreak of the rebellion. Thus, late in June, Lincoln was again
a civilian in New Salem, and was passing from war to politics.

Nomination by caucus had not yet been introduced into Illinois,[35] and
any person who wished to be a candidate for an elective office simply
made public announcement of the fact and then conducted his campaign as
best he could.[36] On March 9, 1832, shortly before his enlistment,
Lincoln issued a manifesto "To the People of Sangamon County," in which
he informed them that he should run as a candidate for the state
legislature at the autumn elections, and told them his political
principles.[37] He was in favor of internal improvements, such as
opening roads, clearing streams, building a railroad across Sangamon
County, and making the Sangamon River straight and navigable. He
advocated a usury law, and hazarded the extraordinary argument that "in
cases of extreme necessity there could always be means found to cheat
the law; while in all other cases it would have its intended effect." A
law ameliorated by infractions is no uncommon thing, but this is perhaps
the only instance in which a law has been befriended on the ground that
it can be circumvented. He believed that every man should "receive at
least a moderate education." He deprecated changes in existing laws;
for, he said, "considering the great probability that the framers of
those laws were wiser than myself, I should prefer not meddling with
them." The clumsy phraseology of his closing paragraph coupled not badly
a frank avowal of ambition with an ingenuous expression of personal
modesty. The principles thus set forth were those of Clay and the Whigs,
and at this time the "best people" in Sangamon County belonged to this
party. The Democrats, on the other hand, did not much concern themselves
with principles, but accepted General Jackson in place thereof, as
constituting in himself a party platform. In the rough-and-tumble
pioneer community they could not do better, and for many years they had
controlled the State; indeed, Lincoln himself had felt no small loyalty
towards a President who admirably expressed Western civilization. Now,
however, he considered himself "an avowed Clay man,"[38] and besides the
internal improvement system he spoke also for a national bank and a high
protective tariff; probably he knew very little about either, but his
partisanship was perfect, for if there was any distinguishing badge of
an anti-Jackson Whig, it certainly was advocacy of a national bank.

After his return from the "war," Lincoln set about electioneering with
a good show of energy. He hardly anticipated success, but at least upon
this trial trip he expected to make himself known to the people and to
gain useful experience. He "stumped" his own county thoroughly, and is
said to have made speeches which were blunt, crude, and inartificial,
but not displeasing to his audiences. A story goes that once "a general
fight" broke out among his hearers, and one of his friends was getting
roughly handled, whereupon Lincoln, descending from the rostrum, took a
hand in the affray, tossed one of the assailants "ten or twelve feet
easily," and then continued his harangue. Yet not even thus could he
win, and another was chosen over his head. He had, however, more reason
to be gratified than disappointed with the result; for, though in plain
fact he was a raw and unknown youngster, he stood third upon a list of
eight candidates, receiving 657 votes; and out of 208 votes cast in his
own county he scored 205.[39] In this there was ample encouragement for
the future.

The political campaign being over, and legislative functions postponed,
Lincoln was brought face to face with the pecuniary problem. He
contemplated, not without approbation, the calling of the blacksmith;
but the chance to obtain a part interest in a grocery "store" tempted
him into an occupation for which he was little fitted. He became junior
partner in the firm of Berry & Lincoln, which, by executing and
delivering sundry notes of hand, absorbed the whole grocery business of
the town. But Lincoln was hopelessly inefficient behind the counter, and
Berry was a tippler. So in a year's time the store "winked out," leaving
as its only important trace those ill-starred scraps of paper by which
it had been founded. Berry "moved on" from the inconvenient
neighborhood, and soon afterward died, contributing nothing to reduce
the indebtedness. Lincoln patiently continued to make payments during
several years to come, until he had discharged the whole amount. It was
only a few hundred dollars, but to him it seemed so enormous that
betwixt jest and earnest he called it "the national debt." So late as in
1848, when he was a member of the House of Representatives at
Washington, he applied part of his salary to this old indebtedness.

During this "store"-keeping episode he had begun to study law, and while
"keeping shop" he was with greater diligence reading Blackstone and such
other elementary classics of the profession as he could borrow. He
studied with zeal and became absorbed in his books. Perched upon a
woodpile, or lying under a tree with his feet thrust upwards against the
trunk and "grinding around with the shade," he caused some neighbors to
laugh uproariously, and others to say that he was daft. In fact, he was
in grim earnest, and held on his way with much persistence.

May 7, 1833, Lincoln was commissioned as postmaster at New Salem. His
method of distributing the scanty mail was to put all the letters in his
hat, and to hand them out as he happened to meet the persons to whom
they were addressed. The emoluments could hardly have gone far towards
the discharge of "the national debt." His incumbency in this office led
to a story worth telling. When New Salem, and by necessity also the
post-office, like the grocery shop, "winked out," in 1836, there was a
trifling balance of sixteen or eighteen dollars due from Lincoln to the
government. Several years afterward, when he was practicing law in
Springfield, the government agent at last appeared to demand a
settlement. Lincoln went to his trunk and drew forth "an old blue sock
with a quantity of silver and copper coin tied up in it," the identical
bits of money which he had gathered from the people at New Salem, and
which, through many days of need in the long intervening period, he had
not once touched.

Fortunately an occupation now offered itself which was more lucrative,
and possessed also the valuable quality of leaving niches of leisure for
the study of the law. The mania for speculation in land had begun in
Illinois; great tracts were being cut up into "town lots," and there was
as lively a market for real estate as the world has ever seen. The
official surveyor of the county, John Calhoun, had more work than he
could do, and offered to appoint Lincoln as a deputy. A little study
made him competent for the work, which he performed for some time with
admirable accuracy, if the stories are to be believed. But he had not
long enjoyed the mild prosperity of this new career ere an untoward
interruption came from a creditor of the extinct grocery firm. This man
held one of the notes representing "the national debt," and now levied
execution upon Lincoln's horse and surveying instruments. Two friends,
however, were at hand in this hour of need, and Bolin Greene and James
Short are gratefully remembered as the men who generously furnished, in
that actual cash which was so scarce in Illinois, the sums of one
hundred and twenty-five dollars and one hundred and twenty dollars
respectively, to redeem these essential implements of Lincoln's

The summer of 1834 found Lincoln again a candidate for the legislature.
He ran as a Whig, but he received and accepted offers of aid from the
Democrats, and their votes swelled the flattering measure of his
success. It has usually been stated that he led the four successful
candidates, the poll standing: Lincoln, 1,376; Dawson, 1,370; Carpenter,
1,170; Stuart, 1,164. But Mr. Herndon adduces evidence that Dawson's
number was 1,390, whereby Lincoln is relegated to the second place.
Holland tells us that he "shouldered his pack and on foot trudged to
Vandalia, then the capital of the State, about a hundred miles, to make
his entrance into public life." But the correcting pen of the later
biographer interferes with this dramatic incident also. For it seems
that, after the result of the election was known, Lincoln visited a
friend, Coleman Smoot, and said: "Did you vote for me?" "I did," replied
Smoot. "Then," said Lincoln, "you must lend me two hundred dollars!"
This seemed a peculiar _sequitur_, for ordinary political logic would
have made any money that was to pass between voter and candidate move
the other way. Yet Smoot accepted the consequence entailed in part by
his own act, and furnished the money, whereby Lincoln was able to
purchase a new suit of clothes and to ride in the stage to Vandalia.

The records of this legislature show nothing noteworthy. Lincoln was
very inappropriately placed on the Committee on Public Accounts and
Expenditures; also it is recorded that he introduced a resolution to
obtain for the State a part of the proceeds of the public lands sold
within it. What has chiefly interested the chroniclers is, that at this
session he first saw Stephen A. Douglas, then a lobbyist, and said of
him: "He is the least man I ever saw." Lincoln's part seems to have been
rather that of an observer than of an actor. The account given is that
he was watching, learning, making acquaintances, prudently preparing for
future success, rather than endeavoring to seize it too greedily. In
fact, there is reason to believe that his thoughts were intent on far
other matter than the shaping of laws and statutes. For to this period
belongs the episode of Ann Rutledge. The two biographers whose personal
knowledge is the best regard this as the one real romance of Lincoln's
life. Heretofore he had held himself shyly aloof from women's society,
but this maiden won his heart. She comes before posterity amid a glamour
of rhetorical description, which attributes to her every grace of form
and feature, every charm of character and intellect. She was but a
schoolgirl of seventeen years when two men became her lovers; a year or
more afterward she became engaged to one of them, but before they could
be married he made a somewhat singular excuse for going to New York on
family affairs. His absence was prolonged and his letters became few.
People said that the girl had been deceived, and Lincoln began to hope
that the way was clearing for him. But under the prolonged strain Miss
Rutledge's health broke down, and on August 25, 1835, she died of brain
fever. Lincoln was allowed to see her as she lay near her end. The
effect upon him was grievous. Many declared him crazy, and his friends
feared that he might go so far as to take his own life; they watched him
closely, and one of them at last kindly took him away from the scene of
his sufferings for a while, and bore him constant and cheering company.
In time the cloud passed, but it seems certain that on only one or two
other occasions in his life did that deep melancholy, which formed a
permanent background to his temperament, take such overmastering, such
alarming and merciless possession of him. He was afflicted sorely with
a constitutional tendency to gloom, and the evil haunted him all his
life long. Like a dark fog-bank it hung, always dull and threatening, on
the verge of his horizon, sometimes rolling heavily down upon him,
sometimes drawing off into a more or less remote distance, but never
wholly disappearing. Every one saw it in his face and often felt it in
his manner, and few pictures of him have been made so bad as not in some
degree to present it. The access of it which was brought on by this
unhappy love affair was somewhat odd and uncouth in its manifestations,
but was so genuine and sincere that one feels that he was truly
undergoing the baptism of a great sorrow.

At no other point is there more occasion to note this trait of
character, which presents a curious and interesting subject for study.
Probably no exhaustive solution is possible. One wanders off into the
mystery of human nature, loses his way in the dimness of that which can
be felt but cannot be expressed, and becomes aware of even dimmer
regions beyond in which it is vain to grope. It is well known that the
coarse and rough side of life among the pioneers had its reaction in a
reserved and at times morose habit, nearly akin to sadness, at least in
those who frequented the wilderness; it was the expression of the
influence of the vast, desolate, and lonely nature amid which they
passed their lives. It is true that Lincoln was never a backwoodsman,
and never roved alone for long periods among the shadowy forests and the
limit-less prairies, so that their powerful and weird influences,
though not altogether remote, never bore upon him in full force; yet
their effect was everywhere around him, and through others he imbibed
it, for his disposition was sensitive and sympathetic for such purposes.
That there was also a simple prosaic physical inducement cannot be
denied. Hardship and daily discomfort in all the arrangements of life
counted for something, and especially so the bad food, greasy,
unwholesome, horribly cooked, enough to afflict an ostrich with the blue
devils of dyspepsia. The denizen of the town devoured messes vastly
worse than the simple meal of the hunter and trapper, and did not
counteract the ill effect by hard exercise in the free, inspiring air.
Such facts must be considered, though they diminish the poetry which
rhetoricians and sentimentalists have cast over the melancholy of
Lincoln's temperament. Yet they fall far short of wholly accounting for
a gloom which many have loved to attribute to the mysticism of a great
destiny, as though the awful weight of his immense task was making
itself felt in his strange, brooding nature long years before any human
prophet could have forecast any part of that which was to come. In this
apparent vague consciousness of the oppression of a great burden of
toil, duty, and responsibility, casting its shadow so far before, there
is something so fascinating to the imagination of man that we cannot
quite forego it, or accept any explanation which would compel us
altogether to part with it. The shuddering awe and terrible sense of
fate, which the grandeur of the Greek tragedies so powerfully expresses,
come to us when we contemplate this strange cloud which never left
Lincoln in any year after his earliest youth, although some traits in
his character seemed often incomprehensibly to violate it, and like
rebellious spirits to do outrage to it, while, in fact, they only made
it the more striking, picturesque, and mysterious. But, after all
explanations have been made, the conclusion must be that there is no one
and only thread to guide us through the labyrinth to the heart of this
singular trait, and each of us must follow that which his own nature
renders intelligible or congenial for him. To us, who know the awful
closing acts of his life-drama, it seems so appropriate that there
should be an impressive unity, and so an inevitable backward influence
working from the end towards the beginning, that we cannot avoid, nor
would avoid, an instinctive belief that an occult moral and mental
condition already existed in the years of Lincoln's life which we are
now observing, although the profound cause of that condition lay wholly
in the future, in the years which were still far away. There is a charm
in the very unreason and mysticism of such a faith, and mankind will
never quite fail to fancy, if not actually to believe, that the life
which Lincoln had to live in the future wrought in some inexplicable way
upon the life which he was living in the present. The explanation is not
more strange than the enigma.

Returning now to the narrative, an unpleasant necessity is encountered.
It must be confessed that the atmosphere of romance which lingers around
this love-tale of the fair and sweet Ann Rutledge, so untimely taken
away, is somewhat attenuated by the fact that only some fifteen months
rolled by after she was laid in the ground before Lincoln was again
intent upon matrimony. In the autumn of 1836 Miss Mary Owens, of
Kentucky, appeared in New Salem,--a comely lass, with "large blue eyes,"
"fine trimmings," and a long and varied list of attractions. Lincoln
immediately began to pay court to her, but in an ungainly and morbid
fashion. It is impossible to avoid feeling that his mind was not yet in
a natural and healthy condition. While offering to marry her, he advised
her not to have him. Upon her part she found him "deficient in those
little links which make up the chain of woman's happiness." So she would
none of him, but wedded another and became the mother of some
Confederate soldiers. Lincoln did not suffer on this second occasion as
he had done on the first; and in the spring of 1838 he wrote upon the
subject one of the most unfortunate epistles ever penned, in which he
turned the whole affair into coarse and almost ribald ridicule. In fact
he seems as much out of place in dealing with women and with love as he
was in place in dealing with politicians and with politics, and it is
pleasant to return from the former to the latter topics.[40]

The spring of 1836 found Lincoln again nominating himself before the
citizens of Sangamon County, but for the last time. His party denounced
the caucus system as a "Yankee contrivance, intended to abridge the
liberties of the people;" but they soon found that it would be as
sensible to do battle with pikes and bows, after the invention of
muskets and cannon, as to continue to oppose free self-nomination to the
Jacksonian method of nomination by convention. In enjoying this last
opportunity, not only of presenting himself, but also of constructing
his own "platform," Lincoln published the following card:--

NEW SALEM, June 13, 1836.


In your paper of last Saturday I see a communication over the signature
of "Many Voters" in which the candidates who are announced in the
"Journal" are called upon to "show their hands." Agreed. Here's mine.

I go for all sharing the privileges of the government who assist in
bearing its burdens. Consequently, I go for admitting all whites to the
right of suffrage who pay taxes or bear arms (by no means excluding

If elected, I shall consider the whole people of Sangamon my
constituents, as well those that oppose as those that support me.

While acting as their representative, I shall be governed by their will
on all subjects upon which I have the means of knowing what their will
is; and upon all others I shall do what my own judgment teaches me will
best advance their interests. Whether elected or not, I go for
distributing the proceeds of the sales of public lands to the several
States to enable our State, in common with others, to dig canals and
construct railroads without borrowing money and paying the interest on

If alive on the first Monday in November, I shall vote for Hugh L. White
for President.

Very respectfully,


The canvass was conducted after the usual fashion, with stump-speaking,
fighting, and drinking. Western voters especially fancied the joint
debate between rivals, and on such exciting occasions were apt to come
to the arbitrament of fists and knives. But it is pleasant to hear that
Lincoln calmed rather than excited such affrays, and that once, when
Ninian W. Edwards climbed upon a table and screamed at his opponent the
lie direct, Lincoln replied by "so fair a speech" that it quelled the
discord. Henceforward he practiced a calm, carefully-weighed,
dispassionate style in presenting facts and arguments. Even if he
cultivated it from appreciation of its efficiency, at least his skill in
it was due to the fact that it was congenial to his nature, and that his
mind worked instinctively along these lines. His mental constitution,
his way of thinking, were so honest that he always seemed to be a man
sincerely engaged in seeking the truth, and who, when he believed that
he had found it, would tell it precisely as he saw it, and tell it all.
This was the distinguishing trait or habit which differentiates Lincoln
from too many other political speakers and writers in the country. Yet
with it he combined the character of a practical politician and a stanch
party man. No party has a monopoly of truth and is always in the right;
but Lincoln, with the advantage of being naturally fair-minded to a rare
degree, understood that the best ingenuity is fairness, and that the
second best ingenuity is the appearance of fairness.

A pleasant touch of his humor illumined this campaign. George Forquer,
once a Whig but now a Democrat and an office-holder, had lately built
for himself the finest house in Springfield, and had decorated it with
the first lightning-rod ever seen in the neighborhood. One day, after
Forquer had been berating Lincoln as a young man who must "be taken
down," Lincoln turned to the audience with a few words: "It is for you,
not for me, to say whether I am up or down. The gentleman has alluded to
my being a young man;[41] I am older in years than I am in the tricks
and trades of politicians. I desire to live, and I desire place and
distinction as a politician; but I would rather die now than, like the
gentleman, live to see the day when I should have to erect a
lightning-rod to protect a guilty conscience from an offended God."

There are other stories of this campaign, amusing and characteristic of
the region and the times, but which there is not room to repeat. The
result of it was that Sangamon County, hitherto Democratic, was now won
by the Whigs, and that Lincoln had the personal satisfaction of leading
the poll. The county had in the legislature nine representatives, tall
fellows all, not one of them standing less than six feet, so that they
were nicknamed "the Long Nine." Such was their authority that one of
them afterward said: "All the bad or objectionable laws passed at that
session of the legislature, and for many years afterward, were
chargeable to the management and influence of 'the Long Nine.'" This
was a damning confession, for the "bad and objectionable" laws of that
session were numerous. A mania possessed the people. The whole State was
being cut up into towns and cities and house-lots, so that town-lots
were said to be the only article of export.[42] A system of internal
improvements at the public expense was pushed forward with incredible
recklessness. The State was to be "gridironed" with thirteen hundred
miles of railroad; the courses of the rivers were to be straightened;
and where nature had neglected to supply rivers, canals were to be dug.
A loan of twelve millions of dollars was authorized, and the counties
not benefited thereby received gifts of cash. The bonds were issued and
sent to the bankers of New York and of Europe, and work was vigorously
begun. The terrible financial panic of 1837 ought to have administered
an early check to this madness. But it did not. Resolutions of popular
conventions instructed legislators to institute "a general system of
internal improvements," which should be "commensurate with the wants of
the people;" and the lawgivers obeyed as implicitly as if each delegate
was lighting his steps by an Aladdin's lamp.

With this mad current Lincoln swam as wildly and as ignorantly as did
any of his comrades. He was absurdly misplaced as a member of the
Committee on Finance. Never in his life did he show the slightest
measure of "money sense." He had, however, declared his purpose to be
governed by the will of his constituents in all matters in which he knew
that will, and at this time he apparently held the American theory that
the multitude probably possesses the highest wisdom, and that at any
rate the majority is entitled to have its way. Therefore, in this
ambitious enterprise of putting Illinois at the very forefront of the
civilized world by an outburst of fine American energy, his ardor was as
warm as that of the warmest, and his intelligence was as utterly misled
as that of the most ignorant. He declared his ambition to be "the DeWitt
Clinton of Illinois." After the inevitable crash had come, amid the
perplexity of general ruin and distress, he honestly acknowledged that
he had blundered very badly. Nevertheless, no vengeance was exacted of
him by the people; which led Governor Ford to say that it is safer for a
politician to be wrong with his constituents than to be right against
them, and to illustrate this profound truth by naming Lincoln among the
"spared monuments of popular wrath."

"The Long Nine" had in this legislature a task peculiarly their own: to
divide Sangamon County, and to make Springfield instead of Vandalia the
state capital. Amid all the whirl of the legislation concerning
improvements Lincoln kept this especial purpose always in view. It is
said that his skill was infinite, and that he never lost heart. He
gained the reputation of being the best "log-roller" in the
legislature, and no measure got the support of the "Long Nine" without a
contract for votes to be given in return for the removal of the state
capital. It is unfortunate that such methods should enjoy the prestige
of having been conspicuously practiced by Abraham Lincoln, but the
evidence seems to establish the fact. That there was anything
objectionable in the skillful performance of such common transactions as
the trading of votes probably never occurred to him, being a
professional politician, any more than it did to his constituents, who
triumphed noisily in this success, and welcomed their candidates home
with great popular demonstrations of approval.[43]

A more agreeable occurrence at this session is the position taken by
Lincoln concerning slavery, a position which was looked upon with
extreme disfavor in those days in that State, and which he voluntarily
assumed when he was not called upon to act or commit himself in any way
concerning the matter. During the session sundry resolutions were
passed, disapproving abolition societies and doctrines, asserting the
sacredness of the right of property in slaves in the slave States, and
alleging that it would be against good faith to abolish slavery in the
District of Columbia without the consent of the citizens of the
District. Two days before the end of the session, March 3, 1837,
Lincoln introduced a strenuous protest. It bore only one signature
besides his own, and doubtless this fact was fortunate for Lincoln,
since it probably prevented the document from attracting the attention
and resentment of a community which, at the time, by no means held the
opinion that there was either "injustice" or "bad policy" in the great
"institution" of the South. It was within a few months after this very
time that the atrocious persecution and murder of Lovejoy took place in
the neighboring town of Alton.

In such hours as he could snatch from politics and bread-winning Lincoln
had continued to study law, and in March, 1837, he was admitted to the
bar. He decided to establish himself in Springfield, where certainly he
deserved a kindly welcome in return for what he had done towards making
it the capital. It was a little town of only between one and two
thousand inhabitants; but to Lincoln it seemed a metropolis. "There is a
great deal of flourishing about in carriages here," he wrote; there were
also social distinctions, and real aristocrats, who wore ruffled shirts,
and even adventured "fair top-boots" in the "unfathomable" mud of
streets which knew neither sidewalks nor pavements.

Lincoln came into the place bringing all his worldly belongings in a
pair of saddle-bags. He found there John T. Stuart, his comrade in the
Black Hawk campaign, engaged in the practice of the law. The two
promptly arranged a partnership. But Stuart was immersed in that too
common mixture of law and politics in which the former jealous mistress
is apt to take the traditional revenge upon her half-hearted suitor.
Such happened in this case; and these two partners, both making the same
blunder of yielding imperfect allegiance to their profession, paid the
inevitable penalty; they got perhaps work enough in mere point of
quantity, but it was neither interesting nor lucrative. Such business,
during the four years which he passed with Stuart, did not wean Lincoln
from his natural fondness for matters political. At the same time he was
a member of sundry literary gatherings and debating societies. Such of
his work as has been preserved does not transcend the ordinary
productions of a young man trying his wings in clumsy flights of
oratory; but he had the excuse that the thunderous declamatory style was
then regarded in the West as the only true eloquence. He learned better,
in course of time, and so did the West; and it was really good fortune
that he passed through the hobbledehoy period in the presence of
audiences whose taste was no better than his own.

Occasionally amid the tedium of these high-flown commonplaces there
opens a fissure through which the inner spirit of the man looks out for
an instant. It is well known that Lincoln was politically ambitious; his
friends knew it, his biographers have said it, he himself avowed it.
Now and again, in these early days, when his horizon could hardly have
ranged beyond the state legislature and the lower house of Congress, he
uttered some sentences which betrayed longings of a high moral grade,
and indicated that office and power were already regarded by him as the
opportunities for great actions. Strenuous as ought to be the objection
to that tone in speaking of Lincoln which seems to proceed from beneath
the sounding-board of the pulpit, and which uses him as a Sunday-school
figure to edify a piously admiring world, yet it certainly seems a plain
fact that his day-dreams at this period foreshadowed the acts of his
later years, and that what he pleased himself with imagining was not the
acquirement of official position but the achievement of some great
benefit for mankind. He did not, of course, expect to do this as a
philanthropist; for he understood himself sufficiently to know that his
road lay in the public service. Accordingly he talks not as Clarkson or
Wilberforce, but as a public man, of "emancipating slaves," of
eliminating slavery and drunkenness from the land; at the same time he
speaks thus not as a politician shrewdly anticipating the coming popular
impulse, but as one desiring to stir that impulse. When he said, in his
manifesto in 1832, that he had "no other ambition so great as that of
being truly esteemed by his fellow-men," he uttered words which in the
mouths of most politicians have the irritating effect of the dreariest
and cheapest of platitudes; but he obviously uttered them with the
sincerity of a deep inward ambition, that kind of an ambition which is
often kept sacred from one's nearest intimates. Many side glimpses show
him in this light, and it seems to be the genuine and uncolored one.

In 1838 Lincoln was again elected a member of the lower house of the
legislature, and many are the amusing stories told of the canvass. It
was in this year that he made sudden onslaught on the demagogue Dick
Taylor, and opening with a sudden jerk the artful colonel's waistcoat,
displayed a glittering wealth of jewelry hidden temporarily beneath it.
There is also the tale of his friend Baker haranguing a crowd in the
store beneath Lincoln's office. The audience differed with Baker, and
was about to punish him severely for the difference, when Lincoln
dangled down through a trap-door in the ceiling, intimated his intention
to share in the fight if there was to be one, and brought the audience
to a more pacific frame of mind. Such amenities of political debate at
least tested some of the qualities of the individual. The Whig party
made him their candidate for the speakership and he came within one vote
of being elected.[44] He was again a member of the Finance Committee;
but financiering by those wise lawgivers was no longer so lightsome and
exuberant a task as it had been. The hour of reckoning had come; and the
business proved to be chiefly a series of humiliating and futile
efforts to undo the follies of the preceding two and a half years.
Lincoln shared in this disagreeable labor, as he had shared in the mania
which had made it necessary. He admitted that he was "no financier," and
gave evidence of the fact by submitting a bill which did not deserve to
be passed, and was not. It can, however, be said for him that he never
favored repudiation, as some of his comrades did.

In 1840[45] Lincoln was again elected, again was the nominee of the Whig
party for the speakership, and again was beaten by Ewing, the Democratic
candidate, who mustered 46 votes against 36 for Lincoln. This
legislature held only one session, and apparently Holland's statement,
that "no important business of general interest was transacted," is a
fair summary. Lincoln did only one memorable thing, and that
unfortunately was discreditable. In a close and exciting contest, he,
with two other Whigs, jumped out of the window in order to break a
quorum. It is gratifying to hear from the chronicler of the event, who
was one of the parties concerned, that "Mr. Lincoln always regretted
that he entered into that arrangement, as he deprecated everything that
savored of the revolutionary."[46]

The year 1840 was made lively throughout the country by the spirited
and rollicking campaign which the Whigs made on behalf of General
Harrison. In that famous struggle for "Tippecanoe and Tyler too," the
log cabin, hard cider, and the 'coon skin were the popular emblems which
seemed to lend picturesqueness and enthusiasm and a kind of Western
spirit to the electioneering everywhere in the land. In Illinois Lincoln
was a candidate on the Whig electoral ticket, and threw himself with
great zeal into the congenial task of "stumping" the State. Douglas was
doing the same duty on the other side, and the two had many encounters.
Of Lincoln's speeches only one has been preserved,[47] and it leads to
the conclusion that nothing of value was lost when the others perished.
The effusion was in the worst style of the effervescent and exuberant
school of that region and generation. Nevertheless, it may have had the
greatest merit which oratory can possess, in being perfectly adapted to
the audience to which it was addressed. But rhetoric could not carry
Illinois for the Whigs; the Democrats cast the vote of the State.


[34] _The Good Old Times in McLean County_, passim.

[35] It was first advocated in 1835-36, and was adopted by slow degrees
thereafter. Ford, _Hist. of Illinois_, 204.

[36] _Ibid._ 201.

[37] Lamon, 129, where is given the text of the manifesto; Herndon, 101;
N. and H. i. 101, 105; Holland, 53, says that _after_ his return from
the Black Hawk campaign, Lincoln "was applied to" to become a candidate,
and that the "application was a great surprise to him." This seems an
obvious error, in view of the manifesto; yet see Lamon, 122.

[38] N. and H. i. 102. Lamon regards him as "a nominal Jackson man" in
contradistinction to a "whole-hog Jackson man;" as "Whiggish" rather
than actually a Whig. Lamon, 123, 126.

[39] Herndon, 105. But see N. and H. i. 109.

[40] The whole story of these two love affairs is given at great length
by Herndon and by Lamon. Other biographers deal lightly with these
episodes. Nicolay and Hay scantly refer to them, and, in their
admiration for Mr. Lincoln, even permit themselves to speak of that most
abominable letter to Mrs. Browning as "grotesquely comic." (Vol. i. p.
192.) It is certainly true that the revelations of Messrs. Herndon and
Lamon are painful, and in part even humiliating; and it would be most
satisfactory to give these things the go-by. But this seems impossible;
if one wishes to study and comprehend the character of Mr. Lincoln, the
strange and morbid condition in which he was for some years at this time
cannot possibly be passed over. It may even be said that it would be
unfair to him to do so; and a truthful idea of him, on the whole,
redounds more to his credit than a maimed and mutilated one, even though
the mutilation seems to consist in lopping off and casting out of sight
a deformity. Psychologically, perhaps physiologically, these episodes
are interesting, and as aiding a comprehension of Mr. Lincoln's nature
they are indispensable; but historically they are of no consequence, and
I am glad that the historical character of this work gives me the right
to dwell upon them lightly.

[41] It is amusing-to compare this Western oratory with the famous
outburst of the younger Pitt which he opened with those familiar words:
"The atrocious crime of being a young man which the honorable gentleman
has with such spirit and decency charged upon me," etc., etc.

[42] For the whole history of the rise, progress, and downfall of this
mania, see Ford, _Hist. of Illinois_, ch. vi.

[43] Ford, _Hist. of Illinois_, 186; Lamon, 198-201; Herndon, 176, 180.
N. and H., i. 137-139, endeavor to give a different color to this
transaction, but they make out no case as against the statements of
writers who had such opportunities to know the truth as had Governor
Ford, Lamon, and Herndon.

[44] N. and H. i. 160; Holland, 74; Lamon, 212; but see Herndon, 193.

[45] For the story of _The Skinning of Thomas_, belonging to this
campaign, see Herndon, 197; Lamon, 231; and for the Radford story, see
N. and H. i. 172; Lamon, 230.

[46] Lamon, 216, 217. Nicolay and Hay, i. 162, speak of "a number" of
the members, among whom Lincoln was "prominent," making this exit; but
there seem to have been only two besides him.

[47] N. and H. i. 173-177.



Collaterally with law and politics, Lincoln was at this time engaged
with that almost grotesque courtship which led to his marriage. The
story is a long and strange one; in its best gloss it is not agreeable,
and in its worst version it is exceedingly disagreeable. In any form it
is inexplicable, save so far as the apparent fact that his mind was
somewhat disordered can be taken as an explanation. In 1839 Miss Mary
Todd, who had been born in Lexington, Kentucky, December 13, 1818, came
to Springfield to stay with her sister, Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards. The
Western biographers describe her as "gifted with rare talents," as
"high-bred, proud, brilliant, witty," as "aristocratic" and
"accomplished," and as coming from a "long and distinguished ancestral
line." Later in her career critics with more exacting standards gave
other descriptions. There is, however, no doubt that in point of social
position and acquirements she stood at this time much above Lincoln.

Upon Lincoln's part it was a peculiar wooing, a series of morbid
misgivings as to the force of his affection, of alternate ardor and
coldness, advances and withdrawals, and every variety of strange
language and freakish behavior. In the course of it, oddly enough, his
omnipresent competitor, Douglas, crossed his path, his rival in love as
well as in politics, and ultimately outstripped by him in each alike.
After many months of this queer, uncertain zigzag progress, it was
arranged that the marriage should take place on January 1, 1841. At the
appointed hour the company gathered, the supper was set out, and the
bride, "bedecked in veil and silken gown, and nervously toying with the
flowers in her hair," according to the graphic description of Mr.
Herndon, sat in her sister's house awaiting the coming of her lover. She
waited, but he came not, and soon his friends were searching the town
for him. Towards morning they found him. Some said that he was insane;
if he was not, he was at least suffering from such a terrible access of
his constitutional gloom that for some time to come it was considered
necessary to watch him closely. His friend Speed took him away upon a
long visit to Kentucky, from which he returned in a much improved mental
condition, but soon again came under the influence of Miss Todd's

The memory of the absurd result of the recent effort at marriage
naturally led to the avoidance of publicity concerning the second
undertaking. So nothing was said till the last moment; then the license
was procured, a few friends were hastily notified, and the ceremony was
performed, all within a few hours, on November 4, 1842. A courtship
marked by so many singularities was inevitably prolific of gossip; and
by all this tittle-tattle, in which it is absolutely impossible to
separate probably a little truth from much fiction, the bride suffered
more than the groom. Among other things it was asserted that Lincoln at
last came to the altar most reluctantly. One says that he was "pale and
trembling, as if being driven to slaughter;" another relates that the
little son of a friend, noticing that his toilet had been more carefully
made than usual, asked him where he was going, and that he gloomily
responded: "To hell, I suppose." Probably enough, however, these
anecdotes are apocryphal; for why the proud and high-tempered Miss Todd
should have held so fast to an unwilling lover, who had behaved so
strangely and seemed to offer her so little, is a conundrum which has
been answered by no better explanation than the very lame one, that she
foresaw his future distinction. It was her misfortune that she failed to
make herself popular, so that no one has cared in how disagreeable or
foolish a position any story places her. She was charged with having a
sharp tongue, a sarcastic wit, and a shrewish temper, over which
perilous traits she had no control. It is related that her sister, Mrs.
Edwards, opposed the match, from a belief that the two were utterly
uncongenial, and later on this came to be the accepted belief of the
people at large. That Mrs. Lincoln often severely harassed her husband
always has been and always will be believed. One would gladly leave the
whole topic veiled in that privacy which ought always to be accorded to
domestic relations which are supposed to be only imperfectly happy; but
his countrymen have not shown any such respect to Mr. Lincoln, and it no
longer is possible wholly to omit mention of a matter about which so
much has been said and written. Moreover, it has usually been supposed
that the influence of Mrs. Lincoln upon her husband was unceasing and
powerful, and that her moods and her words constituted a very important
element in his life.[48]

Another disagreeable incident of this period was the quarrel with James
A. Shields. In the summer of 1842 sundry coarse assaults upon Shields,
attributed in great part, or wholly, to the so-called trenchant and
witty pen of Miss Todd, appeared in the Springfield "Journal." Lincoln
accepted the responsibility for them, received and reluctantly accepted
a challenge, and selected broadswords as the weapons! "Friends,"
however, brought about an "explanation," and the conflict was avoided.
But ink flowed in place of blood, and the newspapers were filled with a
mass of silly, grandiloquent, blustering, insolent, and altogether
pitiable stuff. All the parties concerned were placed in a most
humiliating light, and it is gratifying to hear that Lincoln had at
least the good feeling to be heartily ashamed of the affair, so that he
"always seemed willing to forget" it. But every veil which he ever
sought to throw over anything concerning himself has had the effect of
an irresistible provocation to drag the subject into the strongest glare
of publicity.[49]

All the while, amid so many distractions, Lincoln was seeking a
livelihood at the bar. On April 14, 1841, a good step was taken by
dissolving the partnership with Stuart and the establishment of a new
partnership with Stephen T. Logan, lately judge of the Circuit Court of
the United States, and whom Arnold calls "the head of the bar at the
capital." This gentleman, though not averse to politics, was a close
student, assiduous in his attention to business, and very accurate and
methodical in his ways. Thus he furnished a shining example of precisely
the qualities which Lincoln had most need to cultivate, and his
influence upon Lincoln was marked and beneficial. They continued
together until September 20, 1843, when they separated, and on the same
day Lincoln, heretofore a junior, became the senior in a new partnership
with William H. Herndon. This firm was never formally dissolved up to
the day of Lincoln's death.

When Lincoln was admitted to the bar the practice of the law was in a
very crude condition in Illinois. General principles gathered from a few
text-books formed the simple basis upon which lawyers tried cases and
framed arguments in improvised court-rooms. But the advance was rapid
and carried Lincoln forward with it. The raw material, if the phrase may
be pardoned, was excellent; there were many men in the State who united
a natural aptitude for the profession with high ability, ambition, and a
progressive spirit. Lincoln was brought in contact with them all,
whether they rode his circuit or not, because the federal courts were
held only in Springfield. Among them were Stephen A. Douglas, Lyman
Trumbull, afterward for a long while chairman of the Judiciary Committee
of the national Senate, David Davis, afterward a senator, and an
associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; O.H.
Browning, Ninian W. Edwards, Edward D. Baker, Justin Butterfield, Judge
Logan, and more. Precisely what position Lincoln occupied among these
men it is difficult to say with accuracy, because it is impossible to
know just how much of the praise which has been bestowed upon him is the
language of eulogy or of the brotherly courtesy of the bar, and how much
is a discriminating valuation of his qualities. That in the foregoing
list there were better and greater lawyers than he is unquestionable;
that he was primarily a politician and only secondarily a lawyer is
equally beyond denial. He has been described also as "a case lawyer,"
that is to say, a lawyer who studies each case as it comes to him simply
by and for itself, a method which makes the practitioner rather than the
jurist. That Lincoln was ever learned in the science is hardly
pretended. In fact it was not possible that the divided allegiance which
he gave to his profession for a score of years could have achieved such
a result.[50] But it is said, and the well-known manner of his mental
operations makes it easy to believe, that his arguments had a marvelous
simplicity and clearness, alike in thought and in expression. To these
traits they owed their great force; and a legal argument can have no
higher traits; fine-drawn subtlety is undeniably an inferior quality.
Noteworthy above all else was his extraordinary capacity for statement;
all agree that his statement of his case and his presentation of the
facts and the evidence were so plain and fair as to be far more
convincing than the argument which was built upon them. Again it may be
said that the power to state in this manner is as high in the order of
intellectual achievement as anything within forensic possibilities.

As an advocate Lincoln seems to have ranked better than he did in the
discussion of pure points of law. When he warmed to his work his power
over the emotions of a jury was very great. A less dignified but not
less valuable capacity lay in his humor and his store of illustrative
anecdotes. But the one trait, which all agree in attributing to him and
which above all others will redound to his honor, at least in the mind
of the layman, is that he was only efficient when his client was in the
right, and that he made but indifferent work in a wrong cause. He was
preeminently the honest lawyer, the counsel fitted to serve the litigant
who was justly entitled to win. His power of lucid statement was of
little service when the real facts were against him; and his eloquence
seemed paralyzed when he did not believe thoroughly that his client had
a just cause. He generally refused to take cases unless he could see
that as matter of genuine right he ought to win them. People who
consulted him were at times bluntly advised to withdraw from an unjust
or a hard-hearted contention, or were bidden to seek other counsel. He
could even go the length of leaving a case, while actually conducting
it, if he became satisfied of unfairness on the part of his client; and
when a coadjutor won a case from which he had withdrawn _in transitu_,
so to speak, he refused to accept any portion of the fee. Such habits
may not meet with the same measure of commendation from professional
men[51] which they will command on the part of others; but those who are
not members of this ingenious profession, contemning the fine logic
which they fail to overcome, stubbornly insist upon admiring the lawyer
who refuses to subordinate right to law. In this respect Lincoln
accepted the ideals of laymen rather than the doctrines of his

In the presidential campaign of 1844, in which Henry Clay was the
candidate of the Whig party, Lincoln was nominated upon the Whig
electoral ticket. He was an ardent admirer of Clay and he threw himself
into this contest with great zeal. Oblivious of courts and clients, he
devoted himself to "stumping" Illinois and a part of Indiana. When
Illinois sent nine Democratic electors to vote for James K. Polk, his
disappointment was bitter. All the members of the defeated party had a
peculiar sense of personal chagrin upon this occasion, and Lincoln felt
it even more than others. It is said that two years later a visit to
Ashland resulted in a disillusionment, and that his idol then came down
from its pedestal, or at least the pedestal was made much lower.[53]

In March, 1843, Lincoln had hopes that the Whigs would nominate him as
their candidate for the national House of Representatives. In the
canvass he developed some strength, but not quite enough, and the result
was somewhat ludicrous, for Sangamon County made him a delegate to the


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