John George Nicolay.

Abraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 online

. (page 15 of 31)
Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 15 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Ill., wrote him a note demanding an explanation of his words and of
his "present feelings." Lincoln's reply shows that his habitual
peaceableness involved no lack of dignity; he said. "Your note of
yesterday is received. In the difficulty between us of which you
speak, you say you think I was the aggressor. I do not think I was.
You say my words 'imported insult.' I meant them as a fair set-off to
your own statements, and not otherwise; and in that light alone I now
wish you to understand them. You ask for my 'present feelings on the
subject.' I entertain no unkind feeling to you, and none of any sort
upon the subject, except a sincere regret that I permitted myself to
get into any such altercation." This seems to have ended the
matter - although the apology was made rather to himself than to Mr.
Anderson. (See the letter of William C. Wilkinson in "The Century
Magazine" for January, 1889.)]



In the letter to Stuart which we have quoted, Lincoln announced his
intention to form a partnership with Judge Logan, which was soon
carried out. His connection with Stuart was formally dissolved in
April, 1841, and one with Logan formed which continued for four years.
It may almost be said that Lincoln's practice as a lawyer begins from
this time. Stuart, though even then giving promise of the distinction
at which he arrived in his profession later in life, was at that
period so entirely devoted to politics that the business of the office
was altogether a secondary matter to him; and Lincoln, although no
longer in his first youth, being then thirty-two years of age, had not
yet formed those habits of close application which are indispensable
to permanent success at the bar. He was not behind the greater part of
his contemporaries in this respect. Among all the lawyers of the
circuit who were then, or who afterwards became, eminent
practitioners, [Footnote: They were Dan Stone, Jesse B. Thomas, Cyrus
Walker, Schuyler Strong, Albert T. Bledsoe, George Forquer, Samuel H.
Treat, Ninian W. Edwards, Josiah Lamborn, John J. Hardin, Edward D.
Baker, and others.] there were few indeed who in those days applied
themselves with any degree of persistency to the close study of legal
principles. One of these few was Stephen T. Logan. He was more or less
a politician, as were all his compeers at the bar, but he was always
more a lawyer than anything else. He had that love for his profession
which it jealously exacts as a condition of succeeding. He possessed
few books, and it used to be said of him long afterwards that he
carried his library in his hat. But the books which he had he never
ceased to read and ponder, and we heard him say when he was sixty
years old, that once every year since he came of age he had read
"Blackstone's Commentaries" through. He had that old-fashioned,
lawyer-like morality which was keenly intolerant of any laxity or
slovenliness of mind or character. His former partner had been Edward
D. Baker, but this brilliant and mercurial spirit was not congenial to
Logan; Baker's carelessness in money matters was Intolerable to him,
and he was glad to escape from an associate so gifted and so
exasperating. [Footnote: Logan's office was, in fact, a nursery of
statesmen. Three of his partners, William L. May, Baker, and Lincoln,
left him in rapid succession to go to Congress, and finally the
contagion gained the head of the firm, and the judge was himself the
candidate of his party, when it was no longer able to elect one. After
he had retired from practice, the office, under his son-in-law and
successor, Milton Hay, retained its prestige for cradling public men.
John M. Palmer and Shelby M. Cullom left it to be Governors of the
State, and the latter to be a Congressman and Senator.]

Needing some one, however, to assist him in his practice, which was
then considerable, he invited Lincoln into partnership. He had, as we
have seen, formed a favorable opinion of the young Kentuckian the
first time they had met. In his subsequent acquaintance with him he
had come to recognize and respect his abilities, his unpretending
common sense, and his innate integrity. The partnership continued
about four years, but the benefit Lincoln derived from it lasted all
his life. The example of Judge Logan's thrift, order, and severity of
morals; his straightforward devotion to his profession; his close and
careful study of his cases, together with the larger and more
important range of practice to which Lincoln was introduced by this
new association, confirmed all those salutary tendencies by which he
had been led into the profession, and corrected those less desirable
ones which he shared with most of the lawyers about him. He began for
the first time to study his cases with energy and patience; to resist
the tendency, almost universal at that day, to supply with florid
rhetoric the attorney's deficiency in law; in short, to educate,
discipline, and train the enormous faculty, hitherto latent in him,
for close and severe intellectual labor. Logan, who had expected that
Lincoln's chief value to him would be as a talking advocate before
juries, was surprised and pleased to find his new partner rapidly
becoming a lawyer. "He would study out his case and make about as much
of it as anybody," said Logan, many years afterwards. "His ambition as
a lawyer increased; he grew constantly. By close study of each case,
as it came up, he got to be quite a formidable lawyer." The character
of the man is in these words. He had vast concerns intrusted to him in
the course of his life, and disposed of them one at a time as they
were presented. At the end of four years the partnership was
dissolved. Judge Logan took his son David - afterwards a well-known
politician and lawyer of Oregon - into his office, and Lincoln opened
one of his own, into which he soon invited a young, bright, and
enthusiastic man named William Henry Herndon, who remained his partner
as long as Lincoln lived.

The old partners continued close and intimate friends. They practiced
at the same bar for twenty years, often as associates, and often as
adversaries, but always with relations of mutual confidence and
regard. They had the unusual honor, while they were still
comparatively young men, of seeing their names indissolubly associated
in the map of their State as a memorial to future ages of their
friendship and their fame, in the county of Logan, of which the city
of Lincoln is the county-seat.

They both prospered, each in his way. Logan rapidly gained a great
reputation and accumulated an ample fortune. Lincoln, while he did not
become rich, always earned a respectable livelihood, and never knew
the care of poverty or debt from that time forward, His wife and he
suited their style of living to their means, and were equally removed
from luxury and privation. They went to live, immediately after their
marriage, at a boarding-house [Footnote: This house is still standing,
opposite St, Paul's church.] called "The Globe," which was "very well
kept by a widow lady of the name of Beck," and there their first child
was born, who was one day to be Secretary of War and Minister to
England, and for whom was reserved the strange experience of standing
by the death-bed of two assassinated Presidents. Lincoln afterwards
built a comfortable house of wood on the corner of Eighth and Jackson
streets, where he lived until he removed to the White House.

Neither his marriage nor his new professional interests, however, put
an end to his participation in politics. Even that period of gloom and
depression of which we have spoken, and which has been so much
exaggerated by the chroniclers and the gossip of Springfield, could
not have interrupted for any length of time his activity as a member
of the Legislature. Only for a few days was he absent from his place
in the House. On the 19th of January, 1841, John J. Hardin apologized
for the delay in some committee business, alleging Mr. Lincoln's
indisposition as an excuse. On the 23d the letter to Stuart was
written; but on the 26th Lincoln had so far recovered his self-
possession as to resume his place in the House and the leadership of
his party. The journals of the next month show his constant activity
and prominence in the routine business of the Legislature until it
adjourned. In August, Stuart was reflected to Congress. Lincoln made
his visit to Kentucky with speed, and returned to find himself
generally talked of for Governor of the State. This idea did not
commend itself to the judgment of himself or his friends, and
accordingly we find in the "Sangamo Journal" one of those semi-
official announcements so much in vogue in early Western politics,
which, while disclaiming any direct inspiration from Mr. Lincoln,
expressed the gratitude of his friends for the movement in his favor,
but declined the nomination. "His talents and services endear him to
the Whig party; but we do not believe he desires the nomination. He
has already made great sacrifices in maintaining his party principles,
and before his political friends ask him to make additional
sacrifices, the subject should be well considered. The office of
Governor, which would of necessity interfere with the practice of his
profession, would poorly compensate him for the loss of four of the
best years of his life."

He served this year as a member of the Whig Central Committee, and
bore a prominent part in the movement set on foot at that time to
check intemperance in the use of spirits. It was a movement in the
name and memory of "Washington," and the orators of the cause made
effective rhetorical use of its august associations. A passage from
the close of a speech made by Lincoln on February 22, 1842, shows the
fervor and feeling of the hour: "Washington is the mightiest name of
earth - long since mightiest in the cause of civil liberty; still
mightiest in moral reformation. On that name no eulogy is expected. It
cannot be. To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of
Washington is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe
pronounce the name, and in its naked, deathless splendor leave it
shining on."

A mass meeting of the Whigs of the district was held at Springfield on
the 1st of March, 1843, for the purpose of organizing the party for
the elections of the year. On this occasion Lincoln was the most
prominent figure. He called the meeting to order, stated its object,
and drew up the platform of principles, which embraced the orthodox
Whig tenets of a protective tariff, national bank, the distribution of
the proceeds of the public lands, and, finally, the tardy conversion
of the party to the convention system, which had been forced upon them
by the example of the Democrats, who had shown them that victory could
not be organized without it. Lincoln was also chairman of the
committee which was charged with the address to the people, and a
paragraph from this document is worth quoting, as showing the use
which he made at that early day of a pregnant text which was hereafter
to figure in a far more momentous connection, and exercise a powerful
influence upon his career. Exhorting the Whigs to harmony, he says:
"That union is strength is a truth that has been known, illustrated,
and declared in various ways and forms in all ages of the world. That
great fabulist and philosopher, Aesop, illustrated it by his fable of
the bundle of sticks; and He whose wisdom surpasses that of all
philosophers has declared that 'a house divided against itself cannot
stand.'" He calls to mind the victory of 1840, the overwhelming
majority gained by the Whigs that year, their ill success since, and
the necessity of unity and concord that the party may make its entire
strength felt.

Lincoln was at this time a candidate for the Whig nomination to
Congress; but he was confronted by formidable competition. The
adjoining county of Morgan was warmly devoted to one of its own
citizens, John J. Hardin, a man of an unusually gallant and chivalrous
strain of character; and several other counties, for reasons not worth
considering, were pledged to support any one whom Morgan County
presented. If Lincoln had carried Sangamon County, his strength was so
great in Menard and Mason, where he was personally known, that he
could have been easily nominated. But Edward D. Baker had long coveted
a seat in Congress, and went into the contest against Lincoln with
many points in his favor. He was of about the same age, but had
resided longer in the district, had a larger personal acquaintance,
and was a much readier and more pleasing speaker. In fact, there are
few men who have ever lived in this country with more of the peculiar
temperament of the orator than Edward Dickinson Baker, It is related
of him that on one occasion when the circumstances called for a policy
of reserve, he was urged by his friends to go out upon a balcony and
address an impromptu audience, which was calling for him. "No," he
replied, mistrusting his own fluency; "if I go out there, I will make
a better speech than I want to." He was hardly capable of the severe
study and care by which great parliamentary speakers are trained; but
before a popular audience, and on all occasions where brilliant and
effective improvisation was called for, he was almost unequaled. His
funeral oration over the dead body of Senator Broderick in California,
his thrilling and inspiriting appeal in Union Square, New York, at the
great meeting of April, 1861, and his reply to Breckinridge in the
Senate delivered upon the impulse of the moment, conceived as he
listened to the Kentuckian's peroration, leaning against the doorway
of the Chamber in full uniform, booted and spurred, as he had ridden
into Washington from the camp, are among the most remarkable specimens
of absolutely unstudied and thrilling eloquence which our annals
contain. He was also a man of extremely prepossessing appearance. Born
in England of poor yet educated parents, and brought as a child to
this country, his good looks and brightness had early attracted the
attention of prominent gentlemen in Illinois, especially of Governor
Edwards, who had made much of him and assisted him to a good
education. He had met with considerable success as a lawyer, though he
always relied rather upon his eloquence than his law, and there were
few juries which could resist the force and fury of his speech, and
not many lawyers could keep their equanimity in the face of his witty
persiflage and savage sarcasm. When to all this is added a genuine
love of every species of combat, physical and moral, we may understand
the name Charles Sumner - paraphrasing a well-known epigram - applied to
him in the Senate, after his heroic death at Ball's Bluff, "the Prince
Rupert of battle and debate."

If Baker had relied upon his own unquestionable merits he would have
been reasonably sure of succeeding in a community so well acquainted
with him as Sangamon County. But to make assurance doubly sure his
friends resorted to tactics which Lincoln, the most magnanimous and
placable of men, thought rather unfair. Baker and his wife belonged to
that numerous and powerful sect which has several times played an
important part in Western politics - the Disciples. They all supported
him energetically, and used as arguments against Lincoln that his wife
was a Presbyterian, that most of her family were Episcopalians, that
Lincoln himself belonged to no church, and that he had been suspected
of deism, and, finally, that he was the candidate of the aristocracy.
This last charge so amazed Lincoln that he was unable to frame any
satisfactory answer to it. The memory of his flat-boating days, of his
illiterate youth, even of his deer-skin breeches shrunken by rain and
exposure, appeared to have no power against this unexpected and
baleful charge. When the county convention met, the delegates to the
district convention were instructed to cast the vote of Sangamon for
Baker. It showed the confidence of the convention in the imperturbable
good-nature of the defeated candidate that they elected him a delegate
to the Congressional convention charged with the cause of his
successful rival. In a letter to Speed, he humorously refers to his
situation as that of a rejected suitor who is asked to act as
groomsman at the wedding of his sweetheart.

It soon became evident that Baker could not get strength enough
outside of the county to nominate him. Lincoln in a letter to Speed,
written in May, said: "In relation to our Congress matter here, you
were right in supposing I would support the nominee. Neither Baker nor
I, however, is the man, but Hardin, so far as I can judge from present
appearances. We shall have no split or trouble about the matter; all
will be harmony." A few days later this prediction was realized. The
convention met at Pekin, and nominated Hardin with all the customary
symptoms of spontaneous enthusiasm. He was elected in August,
[Footnote: The opposing candidate was James A. McDougall, who was
afterwards, as Senator from California, one of the most remarkable and
eccentric figures in Washington life.] after a short but active
canvass, in which Lincoln bore his part as usual. Hardin took his seat
in December. The next year the time of holding elections was changed,
and always afterwards the candidates were elected the year before
vacancies were to occur. In May, 1844, therefore, Baker attained the
desire of his heart by being nominated, and in August he was elected,
defeating John Calhoun, while Lincoln had the laborious and honorable
post of Presidential Elector.

[Illustration: BRIG.-GEN. JAMES SHIELDS.]

It was not the first nor the last time that he acted in this capacity.
The place had become his by a sort of prescription. His persuasive and
convincing oratory was thought so useful to his party that every four
years he was sent, in the character of electoral canvasser, to the
remotest regions of the State to talk to the people in their own
dialect, with their own habits of thought and feeling, in favor of the
Whig candidate. The office had its especial charm for him; if beaten,
as generally happened, the defeat had no personal significance; if
elected, the functions of the place were discharged in one day, and
the office passed from existence. But there was something more than
the orator and the partisan concerned in this campaign of 1844. The
whole heart of the man was enlisted in it - for the candidate was the
beloved and idolized leader of the Whigs, Henry Clay. It is probable
that we shall never see again in this country another such instance of
the personal devotion of a party to its chieftain as that which was
shown by the long and wonderful career of Mr. Clay. He became
prominent in the politics of Kentucky near the close of the last
century at twenty-three years of age. He was elected first to the
Senate at twenty-nine. He died a Senator at seventy-five, and for the
greater part of that long interval he was the most considerable
personal influence in American politics. As Senator, Representative,
Speaker of the House, and diplomatist, he filled the public eye for
half a century, and although he twice peremptorily retired from
office, and although he was the mark of the most furious partisan
hatred all his days, neither his own weariness nor the malice of his
enemies could ever keep him for any length of time from that
commanding position for which his temperament and his nature designed
him. He was beloved, respected, and served by his adherents with a
single-hearted allegiance which seems impossible to the more complex
life of a later generation. In 1844, it is true, he was no longer
young, and his power may be said to have been on the decline. But
there were circumstances connected with this his last candidacy which
excited his faithful followers to a peculiar intensity of devotion. He
had been, as many thought, unjustly passed over in 1840, and General
Harrison, a man of greatly inferior capacity, had been preferred to
him on the grounds of prudence and expediency, after three days of
balloting had shown that the eloquent Kentuckian had more friends and
more enemies than any other man in the republic. He had seemed to
regain all his popularity by the prompt and frank support which he
gave to the candidacy of Harrison; and after the President's death and
the treachery of Tyler had turned the victory of the Whigs into dust
and ashes, the entire party came back to Clay with passionate
affection and confidence, to lead them in the desperate battle which
perhaps no man could have won. The Whigs, however, were far from
appreciating this. There is evident in all their utterances of the
spring and early summer of 1844, an ardent and almost furious
conviction, not only of the necessity but the certainty of success.
Mr. Clay was nominated long before the convention met in Baltimore.
The convention of the 1st of May only ratified the popular will; no
other name was mentioned. Mr. Watkins Leigh had the honor of
presenting his name, "a word," he said "that expressed more
enthusiasm, that had in it more eloquence, than the names of Chatham,
Burke, Patrick Henry, and," he continued, rising to the requirements
of the occasion, "to us more than any other and all other names
together." Nothing was left to be said, and Clay was nominated without
a ballot; Mr. Lumpkin, of Georgia, then nominated Theodore
Frelinghuysen for Vice-President, not hesitating to avow, in the
warmth and expansion of the hour, that he believed that the baptismal
name of the New Jersey gentleman had a mystical appropriateness to the

In the Democratic convention Mr. Van Buren had a majority of delegates
pledged to support him; but it had already been resolved in the inner
councils of the party that he should be defeated. The Southern leaders
had determined upon the immediate and unconditional annexation of
Texas, and Mr. Van Buren's views upon this vital question were too
moderate and conservative to suit the adventurous spirits who most
closely surrounded President Tyler. During the whole of the preceding
year a steady and earnest propaganda of annexation had been on foot,
starting from the immediate _entourage_ of the President and embracing
a large number of Southern Congressmen. A letter had been elicited
from General Jackson, declaring with his usual vehemence in favor of
the project, and urging it upon the ground that Texas was absolutely
necessary to us, as the most easily defensible frontier against Great
Britain. Using the favorite argument of the Southerners of his school,
he said: "Great Britain has already made treaties with Texas; and we
know that far-seeing nation never omits a circumstance in her
extensive intercourse with the world which can be turned to account in
increasing her military resources. May she not enter into an alliance
with Texas? And, reserving, as she doubtless will, the North-western
boundary question as the cause of war with us whenever she chooses to
declare it - let us suppose that, as an ally with Texas, we are to
fight her. Preparatory to such a movement she sends her 20,000 or
30,000 men to Texas; organizes them on the Sabine, where supplies and
arms can be concentrated before we have even notice of her intentions;
makes a lodgment on the Mississippi; excites the negroes to
insurrection; the lower country falls, with it New Orleans; and a
servile war rages through the whole South and West." [Footnote: This
letter was dated at the Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee, Feb. 13,
1843, and was printed a year later in the "National Intelligencer,"
with the date altered to 1844. ]

[Sidenote: T. H. Benton, "Thirty Years View."]

These fanciful prophecies of evil were privately circulated for a year
among those whom they would be most likely to influence, and the
entire letter was printed in 1844, with a result never intended by the
writer. It contributed greatly, in the opinion of many, to defeat Van
Buren, whom Jackson held in great esteem and regard, and served the
purposes of the Tyler faction, whom he detested. The argument based on
imaginary British intrigues was the one most relied upon by Mr.
Tyler's successive secretaries of state. John C. Calhoun, in his
dispatch of the 12th of August, 1844, instructed our minister in Paris
to impress upon the Government of France the nefarious character of
the English diplomacy, which was seeking, by defeating the annexation
of Texas, to accomplish the abolition of slavery first in that region,
and afterwards throughout the United States, "a blow calamitous to
this continent beyond description." No denials on the part of the

Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 15 of 31)