John George Nicolay.

Abraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 online

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the atmosphere of that city becoming dangerous to him on account of
the freedom of his comments upon Southern institutions, he moved to
Alton, in Illinois, twenty-five miles further up the river. His
arrival excited an immediate tumult in that place; a mob gathered
there on the day he came - it was Sunday, and the good people were at
leisure - and threw his press into the Mississippi. Having thus
expressed their determination to vindicate the law, they held a
meeting, and cited him before it to declare his intentions. He said
they were altogether peaceful and legal; that he intended to publish a
religious newspaper and not to meddle with politics. This seemed
satisfactory to the people, and he was allowed to fish out his press,
buy new types, and set up his paper. But Mr. Lovejoy was a predestined
martyr. He felt there was a "woe" upon him if he held his peace
against the wickedness across the river. He wrote and published what
was in his heart to say, and Alton was again vehemently moved. A
committee appointed itself to wait upon him; for this sort of outrage
is usually accomplished with a curious formality which makes it seem
to the participants legal and orderly. The preacher met them with an
undaunted front and told them he must do his duty as it appeared to
him; that he was amenable to law, but nothing else; he even spoke in
condemnation of mobs. Such language "from a minister of the gospel"
shocked and infuriated the committee and those whom they represented.
"The people assembled," says Governor Ford, "and quietly took the
press and types and threw them into the river." We venture to say that
the word "quietly" never before found itself in such company. It is
not worth while to give the details of the bloody drama that now
rapidly ran to its close. There was a fruitless effort at compromise,
which to Lovejoy meant merely surrender, and which he firmly rejected.
The threats of the mob were answered by defiance; from the little band
that surrounded the abolitionist. A new press was ordered, and
arrived, and was stored in a warehouse, where Lovejoy and his friends
shut themselves up, determined to defend it with their lives. They
were there besieged by the infuriated crowd, and after a short
interchange of shots Lovejoy was killed, his friends dispersed, and
the press once more - and this time finally - thrown into the turbid

These events took place in the autumn of 1837, but they indicate
sufficiently the temper of the people of the State in the earlier part
of the year.

[Sidenote: Law approved Dec. 26, 1831.]

The vehemence with which the early antislavery apostles were
conducting their agitation in the East naturally roused a
corresponding violence of expression in every other part of the
country. William Lloyd Garrison, the boldest and most aggressive non-
resistant that ever lived, had, since 1831, been pouring forth once a
week in the "Liberator" his earnest and eloquent denunciations of
slavery, taking no account of the expedient or the possible, but
demanding with all the fervor of an ancient prophet the immediate
removal of the cause of offense. Oliver Johnson attacked the national
sin and wrong, in the "Standard," with zeal and energy equally hot and
untiring. Their words stung the slave-holding States to something like
frenzy. The Georgia Legislature offered a reward of five thousand
dollars to any one who should kidnap Garrison, or who should bring to
conviction any one circulating the "Liberator" in the State. Yet so
little known in their own neighborhoods were these early workers in
this great reform that when the Mayor of Boston received remonstrances
from certain Southern States against such an incendiary publication as
the "Liberator," he was able to say that no member of the city
government and no person of his acquaintance had ever heard of the
paper or its editor; that on search being made it was found that "his
office was an obscure hole, his only visible auxiliary a negro boy,
and his supporters a very few insignificant persons of all colors."
But the leaven worked continually, and by the time of which we are
writing the antislavery societies of the North-east had attained a
considerable vitality, and the echoes of their work came back from the
South in furious resolutions of legislatures and other bodies, which,
in their exasperation, could not refrain from this injudicious
advertising of their enemies. Petitions to Congress, which were met by
gag-laws, constantly increasing in severity, brought the dreaded
discussion more and more before the public. But there was as yet
little or no antislavery agitation in Illinois.

[Sidenote: Jan 25, 1837.]

There was no sympathy with nor even toleration for any public
expression of hostility to slavery. The zeal of the followers of
Jackson, although he had ceased to be President, had been whetted by
his public denunciations of the antislavery propaganda; little more
than a year before he had called upon Congress to take measures to
"prohibit under severe penalties" the further progress of such
incendiary proceedings as were "calculated to stimulate the slaves to
insurrection and to produce all the horrors of civil war." But in
spite of all this, people with uneasy consciences continued to write
and talk and petition Congress against slavery, and most of the State
legislatures began to pass resolutions denouncing them. In the last
days of 1836 Governor Duncan sent to the Illinois Legislature the
reports and resolutions of several States in relation to this subject.
They were referred to a committee, who in due time reported a set of
resolves "highly disapproving abolition societies"; holding that "the
right of property in slaves is secured to the slave-holding States by
the Federal Constitution"; that the general Government cannot abolish
slavery in the District of Columbia against the consent of the
citizens of said District, without a manifest breach of good faith;
and requesting the Governor to transmit to the States which had sent
their resolutions to him a copy of those tranquilizing expressions. A
long and dragging debate ensued of which no record has been preserved;
the resolutions, after numberless amendments had been voted upon, were
finally passed, in the Senate, unanimously, in the House with none but
Lincoln and five others in the negative. [Footnote: We are under
obligations to John M. Adair for transcripts of the State records
bearing on this matter.] No report remains of the many speeches which
prolonged the debate; they have gone the way of all buncombe; the
sound and fury of them have passed away into silence; but they woke an
echo in one sincere heart which history will be glad to perpetuate.

There was no reason that Abraham Lincoln should take especial notice
of these resolutions, more than another. He had done his work at this
session in effecting the removal of the capital. He had only to shrug
his shoulders at the violence and untruthfulness of the majority, vote
against them, and go back to his admiring constituents, to his dinners
and his toasts. But his conscience and his reason forbade him to be
silent; he felt a word must be said on the other side to redress the
distorted balance. He wrote his protest, saying not one word he was
not ready to stand by then and thereafter, wasting not a syllable in
rhetoric or feeling, keeping close to law and truth and justice. When
he had finished it he showed it to some of his colleagues for their
adhesion; but one and all refused, except Dan Stone, who was not a
candidate for reelection, having retired from politics to a seat on
the bench. The risk was too great for the rest to run. Lincoln was
twenty-eight years old; after a youth, of singular privations and
struggles he had arrived at an enviable position in the politics and
the society of the State. His intimate friends, those whom he loved
and honored, were Browning, Butler, Logan, and Stuart - Kentuckians
all, and strongly averse to any discussion of the question of slavery.
The public opinion of his county, which was then little less than the
breath of his life, was all the same way. But all these considerations
could not withhold him from performing a simple duty - a duty which no
one could have blamed him for leaving undone. The crowning grace of
the whole act is in the closing sentence: "The difference between
these opinions and those contained in the said resolutions is their
reason for entering this protest." Reason enough for the Lincolns and

He had many years of growth and development before him. There was a
long distance to be traversed between the guarded utterances of this
protest and the heroic audacity which launched the proclamation of
emancipation. But the young man who dared declare, in the prosperous
beginning of his political life, in the midst of a community imbued
with slave-State superstitions, that "he believed the institution of
slavery was founded both on injustice and bad policy," - attacking thus
its moral and material supports, while at the same time recognizing
all the constitutional guarantees which protected it, - had in him the
making of a statesman and, if need be, a martyr. His whole career was
to run in the lines marked out by these words, written in the hurry of
a closing session, and he was to accomplish few acts, in that great
history which God reserved for him, wiser and nobler than this.



Mr. Lincoln had made thus far very little money - nothing more, in
fact, than a subsistence of the most modest character. But he had made
some warm friends, and this meant much among the early Illinoisans. He
had become intimately acquainted, at Vandalia, with William Butler,
who was greatly interested in the removal of the capital to
Springfield, and who urged the young legislator to take up his
residence at the new seat of government. Lincoln readily fell in with
this suggestion, and accompanied his friend home when the Legislature
adjourned, sharing the lodging of Joshua F. Speed, a young Kentucky
merchant, and taking his meals at the house of Mr. Butler for several

[Sidenote: "Sangamon Journal," November 7, 1835.]

[Sidenote: Reynolds, "Life and Times" p. 237.]

In this way began Mr. Lincoln's residence in Springfield, where he was
to remain until called to one of the highest of destinies intrusted to
men, and where his ashes were to rest forever in monumental marble. It
would have seemed a dreary village to any one accustomed to the world,
but in a letter written about this time, Lincoln speaks of it as a
place where there was a "good deal of flourishing about in carriages"
- a town of some pretentious to elegance. It had a population of 1500.
The county contained nearly 18,000 souls, of whom 78 were free
negroes, 20 registered indentured servants, and six slaves. Scarcely a
perceptible trace of color, one would say, yet we find in the
Springfield paper a leading article beginning with the startling
announcement, "Our State is threatened to be overrun with free
negroes." The county was one of the richest in Illinois, possessed of
a soil of inexhaustible fertility, and divided to the best advantage
between prairie and forest. It was settled early in the history of the
State, and the country was held in high esteem by the aborigines. The
name of Sangamon is said to mean in the Pottawatomie language "land of
plenty." Its citizens were of an excellent class of people, a large
majority of them from Kentucky, though representatives were not
wanting from the Eastern States, men of education and character.

There had been very little of what might be called pioneer life in
Springfield. Civilization came in with a reasonably full equipment at
the beginning. The Edwardses, in fair-top boots and ruffled shirts;
the Ridgelys brought their banking business from Maryland; the Logans
and Conklings were good lawyers before they arrived; another family
came from Kentucky, with a cotton manufactory which proved its
aristocratic character by never doing any work. With a population like
this, the town had, from the beginning, a more settled and orderly
type than was usual in the South and West. A glance at the advertising
columns of the newspaper will show how much attention to dress was
paid in the new capital. "Cloths, cassinetts, cassimeres, velvet,
silk, satin, and Marseilles vestings, fine calf boots, seal and
morocco pumps, for gentlemen," and for the sex which in barbarism
dresses less and in civilization dresses more than the male, "silks,
bareges, crepe lisse, lace veils, thread lace, Thibet shawls, lace
handkerchiefs, fine prunella shoes, etc." It is evident that the young
politician was confronting a social world more formidably correct than
anything he had as yet seen.

[Sidenote: Ford's "History," p. 94.]

Governor Ford began some years before this to remark with pleasure the
change in the dress of the people of Illinois: the gradual
disappearance of leather and, linsey-woolsey, the hunting-knife and
tomahawk, from the garb of men; the deerskin moccasin supplanted by
the leather boot and shoe; the leather breeches tied around the ankle
replaced by the modern pantaloons; and the still greater improvement
in the adornment of women, the former bare feet decently shod, and
homespun frocks giving way to gowns of calico and silk, and the heads
tied up in red cotton turbans disappearing in favor of those
surmounted by pretty bonnets of silk or straw. We admit that these
changes were not unattended with the grumbling ill-will of the pioneer
patriarchs; they predicted nothing but ruin to a country that thus
forsook the old ways "which were good enough for their fathers." But
with the change in dress came other alterations which were all for the
better - a growing self-respect among the young; an industry and thrift
by which they could buy good clothes; a habit of attending religious
service, where they could show them; a progress in sociability,
civility, trade, and morals.

The taste for civilization had sometimes a whimsical manifestation.
Mr. Stuart said the members of the Legislature bitterly complained of
the amount of game - venison and grouse of the most delicious quality -
which was served them at the taverns in Vandalia; they clamored for
bacon - they were starving, they said, "for something civilized." There
was plenty of civilized nourishment in Springfield. Wheat was fifty
cents a bushel, rye thirty-three; corn and oats were twenty-five,
potatoes twenty-five; butter was eight cents a pound, and eggs were
eight cents a dozen; pork was two and a half cents a pound.

The town was built on the edge of the woods, the north side touching
the timber, the south encroaching on the prairie. The richness of the
soil was seen in the mud of the streets, black as ink, and of an
unfathomable depth in time of thaw. There were, of course, no
pavements or sidewalks; an attempt at crossings was made by laying
down large chunks of wood. The houses were almost all wooden, and were
disposed in rectangular blocks. A large square had been left in the
middle of the town, in anticipation of future greatness, and there,
when Lincoln began his residence, the work of clearing the ground for
the new State-house was already going forward. In one of the largest
houses looking on the square, at the north-west corner, the county
court had its offices, and other rooms in the building were let to
lawyers. One of these was occupied by Stuart and Lincoln, for the
friendship formed in the Black Hawk war and strengthened at Vandalia
induced "Major" Stuart to offer a partnership to "Captain" Lincoln.
[Footnote: It is not unworthy of notice that in a country where
military titles were conferred with ludicrous profusion, and borne
with absurd complacency, Abraham Lincoln, who had actually been
commissioned, and had served as captain, never used the designation
after he laid down his command.]

Lincoln did not gain any immediate eminence at the bar. His
preliminary studies had been cursory and slight, and Stuart was then
too much engrossed in politics to pay the unremitting attention to the
law which that jealous mistress requires. He had been a candidate for
Congress the year before, and had been defeated by W. L. May. He was a
candidate again in 1838, and was elected over so agile an adversary as
Stephen Arnold Douglas. His paramount interest in these canvasses
necessarily prevented him from setting to his junior partner the
example which Lincoln so greatly needed, of close and steady devotion
to their profession. It was several years later that Lincoln found
with Judge Logan the companionship and inspiration which he required,
and began to be really a lawyer. During the first year or two he is
principally remembered in Springfield as an excellent talker, the life
and soul of the little gatherings about the county offices, a story-
teller of the first rank, a good-natured, friendly fellow whom
everybody liked and trusted. He relied more upon his influence with a
jury than upon his knowledge of law in the few cases he conducted in
court, his acquaintance with human nature being far more extensive
than his legal lore.

Lincoln was not yet done with Vandalia, its dinners of game, and its
political intrigue. The archives of the State were not removed to
Springfield until 1839, and Lincoln remained a member of the
Legislature by successive reelections from 1834 to 1842. His campaigns
were carried on almost entirely without expense. Joshua Speed told the
writers that on one occasion some of the Whigs contributed a purse of
two hundred dollars which Speed handed to Lincoln to pay his personal
expenses in the canvass. After the election was over, the successful
candidate handed Speed $199.25, with the request that he return it to
the subscribers. "I did not need the money," he said. "I made the
canvass on my own horse; my entertainment, being at the houses of
friends, cost me nothing; and my only outlay was seventy-five cents
for a barrel of cider, which some farm-hands insisted I should treat
them to." He was called down to Vandalia in the summer of 1837, by a
special session of the Legislature. The magnificent schemes of the
foregoing winter required some repairing. The banks throughout the
United States had suspended specie payments in the spring, and as the
State banks in Illinois were the fiscal agents of the railroads and
canals, the Governor called upon the law-makers to revise their own
work, to legalize the suspension, and bring their improvement system
within possible bounds. They acted as might have been expected:
complied with the former suggestion, but flatly refused to touch their
masterpiece. They had been glorifying their work too energetically to
destroy it in its infancy. It was said you could recognize a
legislator that year in any crowd by his automatic repetition of the
phrase, "Thirteen hundred - fellow-citiztens! - and fifty miles of
railroad!" There was nothing to be done but to go on with the
stupendous folly. Loans were effected with surprising and fatal
facility, and, "before the end of the year, work had begun at many
points on the railroads. The whole State was excited to the highest
pitch of frenzy and expectation. Money was as plenty as dirt.
Industry, instead of being stimulated, actually languished. We
exported nothing," says Governor Ford, "and everything from abroad was
paid for by the borrowed money expended among us." Not only upon the
railroads, but on the canal as well, the work was begun on a
magnificent scale. Nine millions of dollars were thought to be a mere
trifle in view of the colossal sum expected to be realized from the
sale of canal lands, three hundred thousand acres of which had been
given by the general Government. There were rumors of coming trouble,
and of an unhealthy condition of the banks; but it was considered
disloyal to look too curiously into such matters. One frank patriot,
who had been sent as one of a committee to examine the bank at
Shawneetown, when asked what he found there, replied with winning
candor, "Plenty of good whisky and sugar to sweeten it."

[Sidenote: Ford, "History," p. 197.]

But a year of baleful experience destroyed a great many illusions, and
in the election of 1838 the subject of internal improvements was
treated with much more reserve by candidates. The debt of the State,
issued at a continually increasing discount, had already attained
enormous proportions; the delirium of the last few years was ending,
and sensible people began to be greatly disquieted. Nevertheless, Mr.
Cyrus Edwards boldly made his canvass for Governor as a supporter of
the system of internal improvements, and his opponent, Thomas Carlin,
was careful not to commit himself strongly on the other side. Carlin
was elected, and finding that a majority of the Legislature was still
opposed to any steps backward, he made no demonstration against the
system at the first session. Lincoln was a member of this body, and,
being by that time the unquestioned leader of the Whig minority, was
nominated for Speaker, and came within one vote of an election. The
Legislature was still stiff-necked and perverse in regard to the
system. It refused to modify it in the least, and voted, as if in
bravado, another eight hundred thousand dollars to extend it.

But this was the last paroxysm of a fever that was burnt out. The
market was glutted with Illinois bonds; one banker and one broker
after another, to whose hands they had been recklessly confided in New
York and London, failed, or made away with the proceeds of sales. The
system had utterly failed; there was nothing to do but repeal it, stop
work upon the visionary roads, and endeavor to invent some means of
paying the enormous debt. This work taxed the energies of the
Legislature in 1839, and for some years after. It was a dismal and
disheartening task. Blue Monday had come after these years of
intoxication, and a crushing debt rested upon a people who had been
deceiving themselves with the fallacy that it would somehow pay itself
by acts of the Legislature.

[Illustration: "COLONEL E. D. BAKER."]

Many were the schemes devised for meeting these oppressive obligations
without unduly taxing the voters; one of them, not especially wiser
than the rest, was contributed by Mr. Lincoln. It provided for the
issue of bonds for the payment of the interest due by the State, and
for the appropriation of a special portion of State taxes to meet the
obligations thus incurred. He supported his bill in a perfectly
characteristic speech, making no effort to evade his share of the
responsibility for the crisis, and submitting his views with
diffidence to the approval of the Assembly. His plan was not adopted;
it was too simple and straightforward, even if it had any other
merits, to meet the approval of an assembly intent only upon getting
out of immediate embarrassment by means which might save them future
trouble on the stump. There was even an undercurrent of sentiment in
favor of repudiation. But the payment of the interest for that year
was provided for by an ingenious expedient which shifted upon the Fund
Commissioners the responsibility of deciding what portion of the debt
was legal, and how much interest was therefore to be paid. Bonds were
sold for this purpose at a heavy loss.

This session of the Legislature was enlivened by a singular contest
between the Whigs and Democrats in relation to the State banks. Their
suspension of specie payments had been legalized up to "the
adjournment of the next session of the Legislature." They were not now
able to resume, and it was held by the Democrats that if the special
session adjourned _sine die_ the charter of the banks would be
forfeited, a purpose the party was eager to accomplish. The Whigs, who
were defending the banks, wished to prevent the adjournment of the
special session until the regular session should begin, during the
course of which they expected to renew the lease of life now held
under sufferance by the banks - in which, it may be here said, they
were finally successful. But on one occasion, being in the minority,
and having exhausted every other parliamentary means of opposition and
delay, and seeing the vote they dreaded imminent, they tried to defeat
it by leaving the house in a body, and, the doors being locked, a
number of them, among whom Mr. Lincoln's tall figure was prominent,
jumped from the windows of the church where the Legislature was then
holding its sessions. "I think," says Mr. Joseph Gillespie, who was
one of those who performed this feat of acrobatic politics, "Mr.

Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 11 of 31)