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The life of Abraham Lincoln for boys and girls (Volume c.5) online

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Lincoln determined to go to Congress and fight the
proposed wrong. He was elected in 1846, and was the ■
only Whig Congressman from Illinois. His eight years
in the State legislature, together with his close study
of politics and the history of his country, helped make
his influence felt at Washington. His old rival, Doug-
las, was elected the same year from another district,
but before his term commenced he was made Senator.

When Lincoln got to Washington, he found the slave-
holding interests protected by law on all sides. Although
the Whigs were in the majority, there was nothing they
could do to put an end to slavery. The city of Wash-
ington was in a little District ten miles square, sur-
rounded by the slave territory of Virginia and Mary-
land. Just in sight of his boarding-place Lincoln saw
what he described as " a sort of negro livery stable,"
where black men and women were bought and sold.
This District was under the control of Congress. So
Lincoln conceived the idea of persuading the people
of the District to sell their slaves and of paying for
them out of the United States Treasury, and forbidding
slavery in the District of Columbia for all time to come.


But Lincoln's plan failed. People did not yet fully
realize the wickedness of slavery ; Lincoln saw that
something more must be done to awaken men's con-
sciences, or slavery would not only keep its hold on
the South and in the new State of Texas, but would
ipread into the Territories and some day even into the
free States. The Democratic party was in power and
was controlled by the South, and the Whig party was
unwilling to take sides on the great question. A few
brave men were opposing slavery, but there was no
political party organized to carry on the fight. The
Republican party was not yet born.



With Texas admitted into the Union as a slave
State, the troubles between the South and the North
seemed at an end. The South had gained what it
wanted, while the North stiU had the assurance that
the Missouri Compromise would save Kansas and Ne-
braska and all the new Territories to freedom. Polities
settled down to a struggle among the politicians for
the offices. Lincoln went home to Springfield and took
up again the practice of the law.

For eight years he devoted his whole time to his
profession. Innumerable stories are told of his law
practice during these years. The judge, David Davis,
afterward a justice of the Supreme Court of the
United States, held court in fourteen different coun-
ties in central Illinois. Every week he would move
on to the next county seat, the leading members of
the bar going with him. They rode horseback over the
prairie, and filled in the spare hours as they rode, or
consoled themselves for the poor fare at the country
taverns, by teUing stories or talking politics. The law-
yers who rode the circuit with Lincoln and Judge
Davis were men of abihty, who had to try their cases
and argue their points of law without the help of books.
" Rough-and-ready " practitioners, they had learned to
reason out their cases upon broad principles, and to
take care of themselves and of their client's interests
by thinking clearly and quickly upon their feet. Lin-
coln seemed particularly well fitted to succeed under


these conditions, and his reputation as a lawyer grew

It is said of him that he could try a good case better
than any of the others, but that, when convinced that
his client was in the wrong, he would withdraw from
the case rather than show the court, as he was sure
to do, that he believed his client was wrong. Once a
mean man came to engage him to sue a widow. After
hearing his story Lincoln said : " Yes, there is a rea-
sonable chance of gaining your case for you ! I can set
a whole township at loggerheads. I can distress a poor
widow and her six fatherless children, and so get for
you six hundred dollars which rightfully belongs as
much to her as to you. But you should remember that
some things that are legally right are not morally
right. I shall not take your case, but I '11 give you
some advice for nothing. You seem to be an active,
energetic man. I would advise you to try your hand at
making six hundred dollars some other way."

He was fair and even generous to the other side
unless he believed there was fraud or meanness for
him to punish. Then he was merciless. A paper of his
has been preserved which gives the notes of a closing
speech he made to a jury. It was a case in which he
was attorney for the widow of a Revolutionary soldier
who had been cheated out of her pension money by
a dishonest agent. His notes for his argument read :
" No contract. — Not professional services. — Unrea-
sonable charge. — Money retained by defendant. —
Not given by plaintiff. — Revolutionary War. — De-
scribe Valley Forge, privations, ice, soldier's bleeding
feet. — Plaintiff's husband. — Soldier leaving home for
army. — Skin Defendant. — Close." Lincoln was
deeply stirred in delivering this speech, and the jury


were in tears, while the miserable pension agent whom
Lincoln had " skinned " suffered tortures under the

Lincoln was often criticised by the other lawyers
because he charged such small fees. They declared that
it was no wonder he was poor. On one occasion Judge
Davis put him through a mock trial for this offense,
and, in fun, censured him at the bar of the court. On
another occasion he embarrassed one of his law part-
ners by making him pay back half of a fee that a
client had willingly paid. " The money comes out of
the pocket of a poor crazy girl," Lincoln said, " and I
would rather starve than swindle her in this way."

He was absolutely fair with the court. Once a part-
ner prepared for filing in a case an answer which was
not founded on facts, and Lincoln made him withdraw
it. " You know it's a sham," he said, "and a sham is
very often but another name for a lie. Don't let it go
on record. The cursed thing may come staring us in
the face long after this suit has been forgotten."

He had heard the word " demonstrate " as one of the
things that were done in geometry. He made up his
mind, as he had in his boyhood, that he would learn
how to demonstrate his points, that is, make them so
clear that men could not help accepting them. He got
himself a copy of Euclid's geometry and, as he rode
the circuit, he committed to memory many of Euclid's
demonstrations. He was still learning how to bound
his thought on all sides. His speech became so crystal
clear that men said, " If Lincoln is in the case, there
will be no trouble in understanding what it is all
about." He once said to his young partner, Mr. Hern-
don, as he found fault with his high-flown, oratorical
way of arguing his cases : " Billy, don't shoot too high


— aim lower, and the common people will understand
you. They are the ones you want to reach. The edu-
cated and refined people will understand you anyway."
His reading and observation had taught him that one
of the best ways to make a point stick in memory is to
illustrate it by a story, and he constantly told stories,
both in his speeches and conversation. Court in the old
eighth circuit, with Lincoln and his colleagues travel-
ing about, eating and sleeping together, and trying
their cases together, day after day, week in and week
out, and telling stories wherever they met, was not a
dignified, solemn place like the chambers of the Su-
preme Court of the United States. Lincoln was irre-
pressible. When he came on the scene he would intro-
duce himself in this fashion, " Well, fellows, are n't
you glad I 've come? " and then, out of his unlimited
store, he would bring forth a new story that would
sometimes make the good-natured judge adjourn court
to hear it.

The clerk of the court tells how he was once fined
for laughing out in the midst of a trial. " Lincoln had
just come in," he tells us, " and leaning over my desk
had told me a story so irresistibly funny that I broke
into a loud laugh. Judge Davis called me to order in
haste, as he said sternly, ' This must be stopped. Mr.
Lincoln, you are constantly disturbing this court with
your stories. Mr. Clerk, you may fine yourself five
dollars for your disturbance.' I apologized, but told
the judge the story was worth the money. A few min-
utes later he called me to him. ' What was that story
Lincoln told you ? ' he asked. I told him, and he
laughed aloud in spite of himself. ' You need not pay
that fine,' he said."

In the earlier years of his practice, Lincoln used his


stories with great effect in his jury speeches. Once he
was trying to make plain that his client, on trial for
striking a man, had clone the deed in an effort to defend
himself, and illustrated his point by saying that his
client was in the fix of the man who while carrying a
pitchfork along a country road was suddenly attacked
by a vicious dog. In the trouble that followed, the
prongs of the pitchfork killed the dog. " What made
you kill my dog ? " the farmer angrily cried. " What
made him try to bite me?" "But why didn't you go
at him with the other end of the pitchfork ? " " Why
didn't he come at me with the other end of the dog?"
The jury saw what self-defense meant.

In one of his cases he made fun of an opponent's
long speeches. " My friend," he said, " is peculiarly
constructed. When he begins to speak, his brain stops
working. He makes me think of a little old steamboat
we used to have on the Sangamon River in the early
days. It had a five-foot boiler and a seven-foot whistle,
and every time it whistled, it stopped."

His practical sense and his understanding of human
nature enabled him to save the life of the son of his
old Clary's Grove friend. Jack Armstrong, who was on
trial for murder. Lincoln, learning of it, went to the
old mother who had been kind to him in the days of his
boyhood poverty and promised her that he would get
her boy free. The witnesses were sure that Armstrong
was guilty, and one of them declared that he had seen
the fatal blow struck. It was late at night, he said, and
the light of the full moon had made it possible for him
to see the crime committed. Lincoln, on cross-exami-
nation, asked him only questions enough to make the
jury see that it was the full moon that made it possible
for the witness to see what occurred, got him to say two


or three times that he was sure of it, and seemed to give
up any further effort to save the boy. But when the
evidence was finished and Lincoln's time came to make
his argument, he called for an almanac, which the clerk
of the court had ready for him, and handed it to the
jury. They saw at once that on the night of the mur-
ier there was no moon at all. They were satisfied that
the witness had told what was not true. Lincoln's case
was won.

He argued his cases in a straightforward way, with-
out oratorical effort, shunning long words and strange
expressions, using the language of the Bible, or illus-
trating what he had to say with an apt story, talking
with the court and the jury as a man would talk famil-
iarly with a group of old friends and neighbors, and
*' demonstrating " his points as Euclid had taught him.

Mr. Herndon, who continued as Lincoln's law part-
ner during the later years of his life, has told of his
way of keeping a crowd amused : " I have seen him
surrounded by as many as two or three hundred per-
sons, all deeply interested in the outcome of a story.
His power of mimicry and his manner of recital were
remarkable. All his features seemed to take part in
the performance. As he neared the point of the joke,
or story, every vestige of seriousness disappeared from
his face. His little gray eyes sparkled ; a smile seemed
to gather up, curtain-like, the corners of his mouth ; his
frame quivered with suppressed excitement ; and when
the point or ' nub ' of the story, as he called it, came,
no one's laugh was heartier than his."

In those days he seemed not to know, or care, how
he looked. He was poor, and he had a growing family.
His very poverty made friends for him. His dress was
simple. His hat was rusty and faded with age. He


wore a gray shawl. His coat hung loosely on his gaunt
frame, and his trousers were always too short. He
carried a faded green umbrella, with the letters " A.
Lincoln," sewed on in white muslin. Its handle was
gone, and it was usually held together with a bit of

With all his traveling about over the circuit, there
were still four or five months in every year when court
was not in session. This gave the lawyers time for
other things. Lincoln's spare days were spent "mous-
ing about the libraries in the State House." He was
studying the Constitution of the United States, mak-
ing himself familiar with his country's history, and, in
season and out of season, studying the slavery question.
It was not in his years of successful law practice, when
he was one of the leaders of the bar in Illinois, that
he proved his greatness as a lawyer, so much as it was
in his complete mastery of the Constitution in its rela-
tion to the slavery question, as he afterward revealed
it in his debates with Douglas. In the prairies of Illi-
nois, sometimes dreaming, sometimes thinking deeply,
this country attorney became one of the learned con-
stitutional lawyers of his time.



Bust as lie was in the practice of law, Lincoln
kept on studying the signs of the times. The speeches
of abolitionist leaders came into his hands and he read
regularly two Southern newspapers. He wrote an
occasional political editorial for a Springfield paper
and he made a few campaign speeches, but his real
interest was in the practice of his profession.

While Lincoln was a looker-on at the great drama
of national politics, his old-time rival, Stephen A.
Douglas, Senator from Illinois, was becoming one of
the chief actors, restraining, as well as he could, the
growing feeling of discontent that the anti-slavery
spirit in the North had bred, and casting about for
some safe way in which the slave States might be held
loyal to the Union. Already the politicians in the
South were threatening to carry their States out of
the Union unless the demands of slavery were granted.
Already Douglas was dreaming that he himself might
be the means of holding South and North together,
and become the choice of both sections for President.

The admission of Texas as a slave State had strength-
ened the slave power, but it had not satisfied it. The
threats of secession continued. Clay and Webster and
Dougflas and others of those who dreaded war and were
willing to yield almost anything to preserve the Union,
devised a new measure called the Compromise of 1850,
the effect of which was to increase the feeling between
the North and the South. One of its features was the


passing of a new Fugitive Slave Law, which compelled
citizens in the free States to help the officers of the
United States capture runaway slaves and send them
back to their masters. Men of the North had not seen
human beings bought and sold, and, because they knew
little about slavery, had thought little about it. Some
who would not have been willing to own slaves believed
that perhaps the negroes were better off as slaves than
as free men. But when they saw a runaway black man
flying through the streets, and learned that they were
bound by law to help catch him and send him back to
life-long bondage, they began to awaken to the serious-
ness of slavery as a moral question. Wherever this
law was enforced, the anti-slavery feeling became more

But the passing of a new Fugitive Slave Law did
not satisfy the South. If slavery was right, as many
Southerners believed, it seemed hard that a slaveholder
should lose his slaves when he took them into free ter-
ritory. So the Southern leaders in Congress, believing
that the anti-slavery spirit was unjust, sought every
opportunity to strengthen the political power of the
South, and compelled the passage of a law repealing the
Missouri Compromise and clearing the way, as they
hoped, for introducing slavery into the vast territories
west and northwest of Missouri. Nebraska, as that
country was called, was unsettled except by Indians.
It was not to be opened for settlement until Congress
could decide whether it was to continue free or become
slave territory like Missouri. In 1854, Senator Douglas
secured the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, open-
ing Nebraska to settlement and leaving to the new set-
tlers the decision of the question whether there should
be slaves in the Territory or not. This plan of having


the people of the Territory settle the slavery ques-
tion for themselves was called "popular sovereignty."
Douglas believed that to leave to the people most con-
cerned — not counting the slaves as people, of course,
— the decision of this troublesome question was fair
to everybody, and he hoped that the North as well as
the South would be satisfied with it. But the South
protested at once that slavery could gain nothmg, for
most of the voters in the Territories would favor free-
dom. And in the North the enemies of slavery believed
that they saw in Douglas's "popular sovereignty " one
more surrender of principle to the slave power. If slav-
ery was wrong, they argued, why should the people of
the Territories be allowed to make it lawful ? This was
the question that Douglas had to answer when he came
back to Illinois on the adjournment of Congress in
1854. A crisis had come. The enemies of slavery were
at last ready to say to the slave power in Congress,
" Thus far shalt thou go and no farther ! "

Lincoln saw the danger and threw himself into poli-
tics again, heart and soul. The " irrepressible conflict"
between slavery and freedom had begun in earnest. It
was not long after this that he wrote a letter to his
friend Joshua Speed, who had gone back to Kentucky
to live. In this letter he showed how the Fugitive Slave
Law and the other laws in favor of slavery had stirred
his feelings. He wrote : " I confess I hate to see the
poor creatures hunted down and caught and carried
back to their stripes and unrequited toil ; but I bite
my lips and keep quiet. ... It is not fair for you to
assume that 1 have no interest in a thing which has,
and continually exercises, the power of making me
miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much
the great body of the Northern people do crucify their


feelings in order to maintain their loyalty to the Con-
stitution and the Union,"

He was fair enough to see, at the same time, that
there was a sincere difference of opinion between the
men of the South and the men of the North. He at-
tacked slavery as an institution, and tried to persuade
men to join him in his effort to keep slavery from grow-
ing. But he had no unkind words for those who did
not agree with him. One of his addresses, delivered at
Peoria, in 1854, makes this clear : " Let me say that I
think I have no prejudice against the Southern people.
They are just what we would be in their situation. If
slavery did not now exist among them, they would not
introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should
not instantly give it up."

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and the
repeal of the Missouri Compromise, largely through
Douglas's efforts, created instant alarm in Illinois.
Party feeling had not run high for many years. Doug-
las, who was believed at heart to be opposed to the
extension of slavery, had enjoyed the confidence of the
State in a remarkable way. Suddenly the entire situa-
tion changed. Thousands of Illinois Democrats who
were opposed to slavery began to doubt Douglas and
to be dissatisfied with his leadership.

The senatorial term of James Shields, Lincoln's an-
cient adversary and Douglas's friend, came to an end,
and Lincoln was the choice of the Whigs to succeed
him. When the legislature met to elect a Senator,
Lincoln needed five more votes to secure an election.
There were five anti-slavery Democrats in the legisla-
ture, but they were unwilling to vote for Lincoln and
held out for Lyman Trumbull. Trumbull's five votes
and Lincoln's forty-four were enough to control the


election. So Lincoln, fearful lest a Douglas Democrat
might be elected, made haste to withdraw from the
race and to persuade his friends to vote for Trumbull.
In this way Lincoln suffered one more disappointment,
but, by securing Trumbull's election, gained for free-
dom one more vote in the United States Senate.

Up to this time in the Northern States, party lines
had not been drawn on the slavery question. There
were Slavery Democrats and Free Soil Democrats,
and there were Slavery Whigs and Free Soil Whigs.
But by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the
adoption of measures which made slavery possible in
Kansas and Nebraska, the voters of Illinois were so
aroused that they refused to interest themselves in any
other political question. The Whig party began to go
to pieces, and many Democrats questioned Douglas's
leadership for the first time. Anti-slavery men broke
away from both Whigs and Democrats and organized
the Republican party, whose one aim was to keep slav-
ery out of the Territories. The friends of slavery within
the Whig party in Illinois became Douglas Democrats,
while the Republicans chose Lincoln for their leader.

From this time until Lincoln defeated Douglas for
the presidency in 1860, there was only one great na-
tional issue — the slavery question ; and the two men,
Lincoln and Douglas, by virtue of their leadership,
were constantly pitted against each other, the one de-
claring that slavery was a moral wrong and demanding
that it be kept out of the Territories, the other saying
nothing about the right or wrong of slavery, but insist-
ing that the people of the Territories be allowed to
decide for or against it as they saw fit, and adding
that he " did not care whether slavery was voted up
or voted down."


The first national convention of the new Republican
party was held, in 1856, at Philadelphia. It named
John C. Fremont for President and William L. Day-
ton for Vice-President. In this convention Lincoln
received 110 votes for Vice-President. He was evi-
dently not disappointed with the result, for he wrote
to one of the delegates afterward : " When you meet
Judge Dayton, present him my respects, and tell him
I think him a far better man than I for the position
he is in."

The presidential campaign of 1856 was, from the
first, a straight-out fight between the friends and the
enemies of slavery. James Buchanan led the slavery
forces and John C. Fremont commanded the hearty
support of nearly all the anti-slavery people. A small
number of Whigs, still unwilling to take sides, either
against slavery or in favor of it, nominated Millard Fill-
more for President, and adopted a platform, charging
the other parties with trying to destroy the Union.
The plan of the Democrats to give over to slavery the
new States of Kansas and Nebraska, if the people liv-
ing there should vote that way, and the declaration of
Senator Douglas that he did not care which way the
people of Kansas and Nebraska voted, filled Lincoln
with indignation. He went into the political struggle
with a grim determination to " demonstrate " to the
people of his State that slavery was wrong.

The idea of celebrating the Fourth of July by read-
ing the Declaration of Independence to the people and
proclaiming that " all men are created equal," in a
land where slavery was permitted and where new ter-
ritory was being turned over forever to the control
of the slave power, seemed horrible to him. In bit-
terness he exclaimed : " The Fourth of July has not


quite dwindled away ; it is still a great day — for
burning firecrackers ! ! ! "

The time was at hand when men could no longer
refuse to take sides. Buchanan was elected, but the
Republicans had cast nearly a million and a half votes.
Lincoln and the other enemies of slavery felt that their
fight for freedom had not been in vain. In his next
great public address in the summer of 1858, Lincoln
spoke these words of cheer to his followers : " Two
years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Washington) MooresThe life of Abraham Lincoln for boys and girls (Volume c.5) → online text (page 4 of 9)