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hood of New Salem he received all but three votes out
of over two hundred. The defeat, instead of discour-
aging him, only aroused his ambition. He realized that


he must keep on studying men, and that he must know
as much as the men knew with whom he had to deal.
He made friends with Mentor Graham, the village
school-teacher, and being determined to learn how to
make what he had to say perfectly clear to the most
ignorant of his hearers, he borrowed an English gram-
mar of Mr. Graham and began to study the science of
language. From others he secured the works of Robert
Burns and Shakespeare, which he read until he had
many of the better passages by heart. His unlettered
friends used to laugh at him as they watched him with
one of these books in his hand, lying in the shade of
a tree-trunk near the store where he worked, with his
bare feet above his head, too absorbed to notice pass-
ers-by or to think of possible customers. From the
poet of the common people, from Shakespeare, and
from the Bible, which he kept always near at hand
and studied and memorized in his hours of leisure, he
was getting the mastery of straightforward speech and
becoming familiar with the simple, vigorous words that
men have always understood. Thus was he fitting him-
self to become one of the world's masters of English
literary style.

With the grammar to study and the masterpieces
of English literature for daily companionship, he had
something now to occupy all his thoughts and take his
mind away from his day-dreams. But how was he to
make a living in the meanwhile ? If he continued in the
service of other men, his time would not be his own
and his studies would suffer. When the opportunity
came, not long afterward, to buy the New Salem store
on credit, in partnership with a man named Berry, it
offered him just what he most wished, — the possi-
bility of making a living and pursuing his studies at


the same time. But the fortunes of New Salem soon
began to decline, his partner went to the bad, and the
store of Berry and Lincoln " winked out," leaving
unpaid a mass of notes whose magnitude led Lincoln
to call them " the national debt," but all of which he
finally paid in full.

It was while he was trying to conduct this unfortu-
nate business enterprise that a happy accident put into
his hands his first law-book, and strengthened his deter-
mination to become a lawyer. As he tells it : "A man
who was migrating to the west drove up with a wagon
which contained his household plunder. He asked if
I would buy an old barrel for which he had no room,
and which he said contained nothing of special value.
I did not want it, but to oblige him, I paid a half-dol-
lar for it, put it away, and forgot all about it. Some
time after, I came upon the barrel, and emptying it
upon the floor, I found at the bottom of the rubbish
a complete edition of Blackstone's Commentaries. I
began to read those famous works and I had plenty
of time, for during the long summer days, when the
farmers were busy with their crops, my customers
were few and far between. The more I read, the more
intensely interested I became. Never in my life was
my mind so absorbed. I read until I devoured them."

The failure of Berry and Lincoln brought the young
student face to face once more with the problem of
making a living without giving up his studies. Just at
this crisis came an appointment as postmaster at the
hands of President Jackson. For a few months he
carried the mail in his high hat and read the news-
papers that came into his keeping. Then came the first
profitable employment he ever had. John Calhoun,
the public surveyor, a Democratic official, needed an


assistant on whose honesty and intelligence he could
rely. Although Lincoln was a AVhig, Mr. Calhoun
persuaded him to study surveying and take the place,
assuring him that he might retain his political inde-
pendence. Following unconsciously in the footsteps of
George Washington, he soon mastered the science of
surveying, and found himself for the first time earning
more money than the bare needs of life required. As
postmaster and as surveyor he was enlarging his ac-
quaintance and winning the regard of men. Already
he had become known as " honest Abe Lincoln."

During these years of struggle there came into his
life a few months of great happiness. When he was
twenty-three years of age, he met and loved Ann Rut-
ledge, a fair-haired, delicate girl of nineteen, and in time
he won her love. She had an air of gentleness and
distinction and a mind of unusual clearness and power.
As soon as he coidd become a lawyer and be able to
provide a home, they were to marry. Suddenly a dread-
ful illness came and she died. The shock that followed
her death plunged Lincoln into such melancholy that
his friends were afraid he would lose his mind. He
went often to the spot where, he declared, his heart
was buried. One stormy night he cried out in his
sorrow : " I cannot forget. The thought of the snow
and the rain on her grave fills me with indescribable



In 1834, the young man of twenty-five, who had been
common laborer, farm-hand, carpenter, ferryman, flat-
boatman, peddler, grocer's clerk, soldier, unsuccessful
merchant, postmaster, and surveyor, and, all the way
along, dreamer and thinker and student, became for a
second time a candidate for the legislature, and was

His work as lawmaker satisfied the people, and he
was elected again in 1836. The announcement of his
candidacy for the legislature in 1836 contained one
political principle which proved him a statesman rather
than a politician. It was : " If elected, I shall consider
the whole people of Sangamon my constituents, as
well those that oppose as those that support me."

In the legislative session of 1837, he brought about
the enactment of a law which removed the State capi-
tal from Vandalia to Springfield. This victory showed
that, while other legislators were playing party politics,
he had learned how to get things done.

Far more significant than this venture in practical
politics was the protest he made against slavery, which
he caused to be recorded in the legislative journals, and
to which he succeeded in getting one other representa-
tive to sign his name. At this time the negro had few
friends. Those who believed in ending human slavery
at once and forever seemed not to understand that
what they were proposing would not be possible in any
lawful way, and their efforts at destroying that great


evil not only made them feared and hated, but put off
the longer the reform for which they were laboring so
earnestly and so unwisely. Lincoln saw this, and yet
both his conscience and his heart rebelled against
slavery as an institution which, though lawful and
therefore not to be overthrown by violence, was yet
a great moral wrong. His feeling in the matter was
expressed in a protest containing the following words:
" Resolutions upon the subject of domestic slavery
having passed both branches of the General Assembly
at its present session, the undersigned hereby protest
against the passage of the same. They believe that the
institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and
bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition doc-
trines tends rather to increase than abate its evils."
It required courage to make this protest at a time
when those who expressed views on slavery even as
moderate as these were unpopular.

Meanwhile, Lincoln had been diligently reading law,
and in 1837 his great ambition was attained — he
passed his examination for admission to the bar.

The removal of the State capital that same year
to Springfield, chiefly through his own efforts, as we
have seen, led Lincoln to believe that in Springfield
he would succeed best in the practice of his new pro-
fession. Putting into his saddle-bags a little clothing
and two or three law-books, he borrowed a horse and
rode to the new capital. At the store of Joshua Speed,
who was to become his intimate friend, he figured on
the cost of furnishing a bedroom ; but the price, seven-
teen dollars, was more than he had, so he asked for
credit until Christmas, adding, " If my experiment here
as a lawyer is a success, I will pay you then. If I fail
in that, 1 will probably never pay you at all." He


looked so utterly gloomy that Speed offered to share
quarters with him. Lincoln took the saddle-bags up-
stairs, laid them on the floor, and came down, this time
beaming with smiles as he exclaimed, " Well, Speed,
I 'm moved."

At one end of Speed's store was a great fireplace
about which the men of Springfield were wont to gather.
Here the new lodger spent many spare hours arguing
with the leaders of public opinion about the religious
and political questions of the day. Here he met Ste-
phen A. Douglas, then a rising young politician of
opposite political faith, whose after-life, with its rival-
ries, and its bitternesses, and its final loyal friendship,
was to be so strangely interwoven with his own. Here
a debating tournament was arranged, in which all the
leading speakers were to take part. It was held in the
Presbyterian church, where they could have a suitable
audience, and it was at this gathering that Lincoln and
Douglas had their first serious public debate. Some of
the younger men in this group organized the literary
society of Springfield in which Lincoln was to become
a leading spirit. Here, also, he became famous as a
teller of stories.

The practice of law develops in the beginner an
infinite patience. Its rewards come slowly. The young
lawyer had many friends, for he had a genius for win-
ning the good will of men. From the first his success
was assured, if only he could be patient long enough.
Those were days when law-books were few. The attor-
ney who won his cases needed a clear head and an
understanding of a few principles of law, but, more
than this, he must be able to win verdicts from jurors,
who almost always were men of scanty education and
many prejudices. Lincoln was not yet learned in the


law, but he understood human nature. In time it came
to be known that no lawyer gained more readily the
confidence of a jury and none won more verdicts than
" honest Abe Lincoln." The experiment, as he called
it, was a success, and his place at the bar was estab-
lished. Yet while he was winning verdicts he contin-
ued his studies. " The way to know the law," he said,
" is very simple, though laborious and tedious. It is
only to get books and read and study them carefully.
Work, work, work, is the main thing."

The best way to build up a practice and so make
the problem of a livelihood less serious seemed to lie
in the pursuit of politics, for in politics he could gain
a larger acquaintance, do favors for others, and so find
clients. The lawyers of that day were nearly all poli-
ticians. Thus his interest in politics steadily increased,
while his influence among his fellows was growing
wider. In his campaigns he met all sorts and conditions
of men, interested himself in their affairs, and discussed
with them questions of government, — national and
state, — displaying in his opinions much sound judg-
ment. In the places of influence and power which he
hoped some day to fill he expected opportunities for
wider service to the community of which he was a

In 1838 and in 1840, he was again elected to the
legislature. In each of these sessions, the Whig party
proposed him for presiding officer of the House of
Representatives of which he was a member. In 1840,
he was their candidate for presidential elector, to
vote for William Henry Harrison for President. The
men of Illinois had learned by this time to trust his
rugged honesty, for in politics, as in the wrestling-
matches of years ago, he " played fair." To the well-


dressed and somewhat aristocratic society of Springfield
Lincoln still presented the appearance of an overgrown,
uncultivated, young countryman. He was young and
poor, and he stiU realized how little he knew. But men
no longer despised him for his youth or his ignorance,
nor dared ridicule his poverty. Through the practice
he had had long ago in his Indiana boyhood in making
stump speeches and in public debate, as well as in his
later experiences in the Springfield debating society,
and in his discussions in the tavern and at the coun-
try store, he had become a master of debate, and was
abundantly able to take care of himself in a running
discussion that called for a ready response to every
interruption, whether looked for or not.

In Springfield a prominent citizen and legislator
named Forquer had built himself a new house upon
which he had set up a lightning-rod, the only one
in that part of the world. This man had recently de-
serted the Whig party and become a Democrat, and
his disloyalty to his former principles had just been
rewarded by appointment to an office that brought him
a good income, but cost him the respect of many of his
former associates. Lincoln's friend, Speed, tells how,
after one of Lincoln's campaign speeches, Forquer
asked leave to be heard. He commenced by saying
that the young man, Lincoln, would have to be "taken
down," and that he was sorry the task had fallen to
him. He went on to answer Lincoln's speech in a way
that showed how much older and wiser he thought
himself than the young upstart whose ambition it
had become his duty to rebuke. Lincoln waited imtil
Forquer had finished, but his flashing eye showed that
he did not intend to accept such treatment meekly. He
closed his reply to Forquer by saying : " The gentle-


man has seen fit to allude to my being a young man ;
but he forgets that 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 ; but I would rather
die now, than, like the gentleman, live to see the day
that I would change my politics for an office worth three
thousand dollars a year, and then feel compelled to
erect a lightning-rod to protect a guilty conscience
from an offended God."

It was in one of these campaign speeches that Lin-
coln was interrupted by some one in the audience who,
thinking to humiliate him by reminding the people of
his poverty, called out in the midst of his speech : " Mr.
Lincoln, is it true that you entered this State bare-
footed, driving a yoke of oxen ? " After a pause, the
speaker replied that he thought he could prove the fact
by at least a dozen men in the crowd, any one of whom
was more respectable than his questioner.

Hard as it was to be laughed at, it was not for
Abraham Lincoln to become embittered by these un-
kind attacks, for through years of exposure to the real
hardships of life, he had learned patience. As he once
said : " I have endured a great deal of ridicule without
much malice ; and I have received a great deal of kind-
ness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it."
But ridicule was not all that he had had to bear. He
had endured suffering and sorrow ; and he had walked
through the valley of the shadov/ of death. Yet through
it all he had kept his faith in a destiny which sorrow
could not mar.



Springfield, in 1840, was an ambitious country
town of about twenty-five hundred inhabitants. There
was some wealth and some " flourishing around in
carriages," as Lincoln put it. Among those who had
money the young lawyer would have had little reason
to expect to be treated especially well, for he was " poor,
without the means of hiding his poverty." Fortunately
he had no false pride ; he was not ashamed that he
had nothing, nor did he boast of it in his speeches. The
men of Springfield respected him for what he had
accomplished. In society, although he was quiet and
timid, he was a welcome guest, because he talked intel-
ligently on the subjects that interested people, and his
droll sayings were often repeated and laughed at. It
seems odd that the rough flatboatman of ten years
before should be put on the cotiUion committee to
manage the fashionable dances of the winter's season,
but the fact was that he was liked by everybody, and
in that society a man was not despised if he had
real ability and was willing to help others and able to
interest them.

In the social life of the little town a young Demo-
cratic politician, James Shields, afterward a United
States Senator, and by President Lincoln's own ap-
pointment a general in the Union Army, was making
himself disliked by his airs of superiority. Lincoln,
whose spirit of fun was apt to get him into trouble,
wrote for the Whig paper a letter which he signed


•'Aunt Rebecca," and in which he made sport of
Shields. This letter Miss Mary Todd and another
Springfield belle followed up with one or two more of
the same sort. They made the people laugh at Shields,
and they made Shields angry. To protect the young
women, Lincoln let Shields believe that he was wholly
to blame. Shields challenged Lincoln to fight a duel.
Lincoln, being the challenged party, had the choice of
weapons and chose broadswords. When we remember
that Lincoln was a giant, six feet and four inches tall,
and strong enough to lift a load of six hundred pounds,
and that Shields was a little man with short arms and
short legs, we can believe that in calling for broadswords
Lincoln was really preventing a fight, for he knew that
Shields's sword could not touch him at any point, while
he with his gigantic arms could disarm his opponent
in a moment. It was his way of " laughing the case
out of court." The duel never took place. Lincoln had
made Shields look very foolish, but he had gone far
enough in the affair to be heartily ashamed of himself.
One lasting result of the Shields duel was that it
brought Lincoln and Mary Todd together. Not long
afterward they were married. Mrs. Lincoln was young
and handsome and proud, and she was ambitious both
for herself and for her husband. She had accepted
attentions from Stephen A. Douglas, the most admired
public man in Illinois, but she was saying already,
what her friends thought very foolish, that she had pi'e-
ferred Lincoln because he would live to become Presi-
dent of the United States. They had four boys, only
one of whom, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to manhood.
The boys were their father's comrades, and brought
into his very serious and sometimes unhappy life much
genuine fun.


For eight years Lincoln had served the people of
Illinois in the State legislature. As the nominee of the
Whig party for presidential elector, he had spoken in
all parts of the State in the exciting Harrison cam-
paign of 1840. The people everywhere wanted to hear
him, for his speeches were carefully prepared, and they
gave the people something to think about. In Congress,
at Wasliington, things were being done that made men
anxious and uneasy, and no one understood better than
Lincoln the meaning of events, or saw more clearly
than he what the future had in store for the American

In 1844, the Whig party nominated Henry Clay for
President. Excepting only Andrew Jackson, no pub-
lic man had been so loved as Henry Clay. He was one
of the greatest of American orators, and school-boys
liked to declaim his speeches on Friday afternoons.
But he was more than an orator ; for he was the head
of a great political party, and, notwithstanding the fact
that he represented a slave State in Congress, he was
in sympathy with freedom. This power he had been able
to use to keep the friends and the enemies of slavery
from plunging the country into war. It was through his
efforts, twenty-four years before, that an agreement
between North and South had been reached which
men had hoped would end the slavery struggle for all
time. This was known as the Missouri Compromise.
Missouri had asked admission into the Union, and
the Northern people objected because Missouri would
have to come in as a slave State. The Missouri Com-
promise provided that Missouri should be admitted as
a slave State, on condition that, in the future, all new
States lying north of the south line of Missouri and
west of its west line should come in as free States. It


was largely because of his connection with the Mis-
souri Compromise that Henry Clay was so greatly

When Clay was nominated, Lincoln was no longer
in the legislature. He had become more interested in
national politics, and his services being needed by the
Whig party, he was again put on the electoral ticket
and sent to make speeches in every part of Illinois.
The people outside the State were asking for him, and
he went back to the old home country in Indiana, near
Rockport and Gentry ville. To be able to campaign for
Henry Clay, whom he idolized, and to go back to Indi-
ana, where he was remembered as " Josiah Crawford's
hired man," and find himself respected as an orator
and a party leader, seemed to him to be the realization
of his fondest ambition. Fourteen years had made great
changes in the young laborer who had begun to find
his fortune in Illinois, and they had changed the little
circle of his boyhood friends. In his sensitive nature
these changes stirred a poetic feeling that found ex-
pression in some verses that he wrote on " Memory,"
at his old home at Gentryville.

Among the people of the Northern States there had
been growing a feeling that it was wicked to keep
human beings in slavery. Along the Ohio River and
the north line of Maryland was a boundary, known as
Mason and Dixon's Line, which separated the free
States from the slave States. South of this line the
States were represented in Congress by men who fa-
vored slavery, and who, because the feeling in the North
was growing more and more unfriendly, were looking
in every direction for some means of increasing the
number of States in which slavery would be permitted.
They knew they could not persuade the States north


of Mason and Dixon's Line to permit slavery within
their borders, but they believed that if they could get
slavery introduced into the Territories, they would in
time admit these Territories as slave States. As every
State sent two Senators to Congress, the more Sena-
tors there were who favored slavery, the longer would
the slave States keep their control in national affairs.
There had been more free States than slave States, but
while practically everybody in the slave States favored
slavery, the feeling in the free States was divided.
In the free States, some men, known as abolitionists,
wished to destroy slavery at once all over the land,
while others were content if they could keep slavery
from being introduced into the Territories. In the free
States, too, there were large numbers of men who sym-
pathized with the South. The aim of the slaveholders,
then, was to push slavery into the Territories, and
finally into all the States, while the aim of the men
with whom Lincoln had allied himself was to keep
slavery where it was, in the hope that with the admis-
sion of the new Territories as free States the power of
slavery in national politics would grow gradually but
surely less.

Many of the slaves in the South were well cared
for; probably only a few masters were cruel to their
negroes. But wherever there were slaves, whether
treated kindly or harshly, under the law the negro had
no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
It was not because the masters were cruel, but because
the law permitted them to do what they pleased with
their slaves, treating them as property and not as hu-
man beings, and because this view of the law seemed
morally wrong, that the movement against slavery was
becoming more powerful in the Northern States. It


was not because the slaveholders actually did wrong,
but because the law permitted them to do wrong, that
men were beginning to protest against the extension of

Henry Clay, the Whig candidate for the presidency,
was defeated by James K. Polk of Tennessee, a friend
of the slaveholders. The election of Polk encouraged
the politicians in the Southern States to bring on a
war with Mexico, in the expectation that the success
of the war would add Texas to the Union as a slave
State. It was a war for the extension of slavery which
Lincoln and his friends believed was altogether wrong.

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Washington) MooresThe life of Abraham Lincoln for boys and girls (Volume c.5) → online text (page 3 of 9)