John George Nicolay.

Abraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 online

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armed with his book went out to the schoolmaster's (Menton Graham's),
and in six weeks' close application made himself a surveyor.
[Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote (2) relocated to chapter end.]

[Illustration: AUTOGRAPH PLAN OF ROAD SURVEYED BY A. LINCOLN AND
OTHERS. The lower half is the right-hand side of the plan which, in
the original, is in one piece.]

[Illustration: Fac-simile of Lincoln's Report of the road survey.]

It will be remembered that Washington in his youth adopted the same
profession, but there were few points of similarity in the lives of
the two great Presidents, in youth or later manhood. The Virginian had
every social advantage in his favor, and was by nature a man of more
thrift and greater sagacity in money matters. He used the knowledge
gained in the practice of his profession so wisely that he became
rather early in life a large land-holder, and continually increased
his possessions until his death. Lincoln, with almost unbounded
opportunities for the selection and purchase of valuable tracts, made
no use whatever of them. He employed his skill and knowledge merely as
a bread-winner, and made so little provision for the future that when
Mr. Van Bergen, who had purchased the Radford note, sued and got
judgment on it, his horse and his surveying instruments were taken to
pay the debt, and only by the generous intervention of a friend was he
able to redeem these invaluable means of living. He was, nevertheless,
an excellent surveyor. His portion of the public work executed under
the directions of Mr. Calhoun and his successor, T. M. Neale, was well
performed, and he soon found his time pretty well employed with
private business which came to him from Sangamon and the adjoining
counties. Early in the year 1834 we find him appointed one of three
"viewers" to locate a road from Salt Creek to the county line in the
direction of Jacksonville. The board seems to have consisted mainly of
its chairman, as Lincoln made the deposit of money required by law,
surveyed the route, plotted the road, and wrote the report.
[Transcriber's Note: (3) Lengthy footnote relocated to chapter end.]

Though it is evident that the post-office and the surveyor's compass
were not making a rich man of him, they were sufficient to enable him
to live decently, and during the year he greatly increased his
acquaintance and his influence in the county. The one followed the
other naturally; every acquaintance he made became his friend, and
even before the end of his unsuccessful canvass in 1832 it had become
evident to the observant politicians of the district that he was a man
whom it would not do to leave out of their calculations. There seemed
to be no limit to his popularity nor to his aptitudes, in the opinion
of his admirers. He was continually called on to serve in the most
incongruous capacities. Old residents say he was the best judge at a
horse-race the county afforded; he was occasionally second in a duel
of fisticuffs, though he usually contrived to reconcile the
adversaries on the turf before any damage was done; he was the arbiter
on all controverted points of literature, science, or woodcraft among
the disputatious denizens of Clary's Grove, and his decisions were
never appealed from. His native tact and humor were invaluable in his
work as a peacemaker, and his enormous physical strength, which he
always used with a magnanimity rare among giants, placed his off-hand
decrees beyond the reach of contemptuous question. He composed
differences among friends and equals with good-natured raillery, but
he was as rough as need be when his wrath was roused by meanness and
cruelty. We hardly know whether to credit some of the stories,
apparently well-attested by living witnesses, of his prodigious
muscular powers. He is said to have lifted, at Rutledge's mill, a box
of stones weighing over half a ton! It is also related that he could
raise a barrel of whisky from the ground and drink from the bung - but
the narrator adds that he never swallowed the whisky. Whether these
traditions are strictly true or not, they are evidently founded on the
current reputation he enjoyed among his fellows for extraordinary
strength, and this was an important element in his influence. He was
known to be capable of handling almost any man he met, yet he never
sought a quarrel. He was everybody's friend and yet used no liquor or
tobacco. He was poor and had scarcely ever been at school, yet he was
the best-informed young man in the village. He had grown up on the
frontier, the utmost fringe of civilization, yet he was gentle and
clean of speech, innocent of blasphemy or scandal. His good qualities
might have excited resentment if displayed by a well-dressed stranger
from an Eastern State, but the most uncouth ruffians of New Salem took
a sort of proprietary interest and pride in the decency and the
cleverness and the learning of their friend and comrade, Abe Lincoln.

It was regarded, therefore, almost as a matter of course that Lincoln
should be a candidate for the Legislature at the next election, which
took place in August, 1834. He was sure of the united support of the
Whigs, and so many of the Democrats also wanted to vote for him that
some of the leading members of that party came to him and proposed
they should give him an organized support. He was too loyal a partisan
to accept their overtures without taking counsel from the Whig
candidates. He laid the matter before Major Stuart, who at once
advised him to make the canvass. It was a generous and chivalrous
action, for by thus encouraging the candidacy of Lincoln he was
endangering his own election. But his success two years before, in the
face of a vindictive opposition led by the strongest Jackson men in
the district, had made him somewhat confident, and he perhaps thought
he was risking little by giving a helping hand to his comrade in the
Spy Battalion. Before the election Lincoln's popularity developed
itself in rather a portentous manner, and it required some exertion to
save the seat of his generous friend. At the close of the poll, the
four successful candidates held the following relative positions:
Lincoln, 1376; Dawson, 1370; Carpenter, 1170; and Stuart, at that time
probably the most prominent young man in the district, and the one
marked out by the public voice for an early election to Congress,
1164.

[Relocated Footnote (1): The following is an extract from the court
record: "March 6, 1833. Ordered that William F. Berry, in the name of
Berry and Lincoln, have license to keep a tavern in New Salem, to
continue twelve months from this date, and that they pay one dollar in
addition to six dollars heretofore prepaid as per Treasurer's receipt,
and that they be allowed the following rates, viz.: French brandy, per
pint, 25; Peach, 183/4; Apple, 12; Holland Gin, 183/4; Domestic,
121/2; Wine, 25; Rum, 183/4; Whisky, 121/2; Breakfast, dinner, or
supper, 25; Lodging for night, 121/2; Horse for night, 25; Single
feed, 121/2; Breakfast, dinner, or supper, for stage passengers,
371/2. Who gave bond as required by law."]

[Relocated Footnote (2): There has been some discussion as to whether
Lincoln served as deputy under Calhoun or Neale. The truth is that he
served under both of them. Calhoun was surveyor in 1833, when Lincoln
first learned the business. Neale was elected in 1835, and immediately
appointed Lincoln and Calhoun as his deputies. The "Sangamo Journal"
of Sept, 12, 1835, contains the following official advertisement:

"SURVEYOR'S NOTICE. - I have appointed John B. Watson, Abram Lincoln,
and John Calhoun deputy surveyors for Sangamon County. In my absence
from town, any persons wishing their land surveyed will do well to
call at the Recorder's office and enter his or their names in a book
left for that purpose, stating township and range in which they
respectively live, and their business shall be promptly attended to.

"T. M. NEALE."

An article by Colonel G. A. Pierce, printed April 21, 1881, in the
Chicago "Inter-Ocean," describes an interview held in that month with
W.G. Green, of Menard County, in which this matter is referred to. But
Mr. Green relies more on the document in his possession than on his
recollection of what took place in 1833. "'Where did Lincoln learn
his surveying?' I asked. 'Took it up himself,' replied Mr. Green, 'as
he did a hundred things, and mastered it too. When he acted as
surveyor here he was deputy of T. M. Neale, and not of Calhoun, as has
often been said. There was a dispute about this, and many sketches of
his life gave Calhoun (Candle-box Calhoun, as he was afterwards known
during the Kansas troubles and election frauds) as the surveyor, but
it was Neale.' Mr. Green turned to his desk and drew out an old
certificate, in the handwriting of Lincoln, giving the boundaries of
certain lands, and signed, 'T. M. Neale, Surveyor, by A. Lincoln,
Deputy,' thus settling the question. Mr. Green was a Democrat, and has
leaned towards that party all his life, but what he thought and thinks
of Lincoln can be seen by an endorsement on the back of the
certificate named, which is as follows:"

(Preserve this, as it is the noblest of God's creation - A. Lincoln,
the 2d preserver of his country. May 3, 1865. - Penned by W. G. Green,
who taught Lincoln the English grammar in 1831.)]

[Relocated Footnote (3): As this is probably the earliest public document
extant written and signed by Lincoln, we give it in full:

"March 3, 1834. Reuben Harrison presented the following petition: We,
the undersigned, respectfully request your honorable body to appoint
viewers to view and locate a road from Musick's ferry on Salt Creek,
via New Salem, to the county line in the direction of Jacksonville.

"And Abram Lincoln deposited with the clerk $10, as the law directs.
Ordered, that Michael Killion, Hugh Armstrong, and Abram Lincoln be
appointed to view said road, and said Lincoln to act as surveyor.

"To the County Commissioners' Court for the county of Sangamon, at its
June term, 1834. We, the undersigned, being appointed to view and
locate a "Whole length of road, 26 road, beginning at Musick's ferry
on Salt Creek, via New Salem, to the county line in the direction to
Jacksonville, respectfully report that we have performed the duties of
said view and location, as required by law, and that we have made the
location on good ground, and believe the establishment of the same to
be necessary and proper.

"The inclosed map gives the courses and distances as required by law.
Michael Killion, Hugh Armstrong, A. Lincoln."

(Indorsement in pencil, also in Lincoln's handwriting:)

"A. Lincoln, 5 days at $3.00, $15.00. John A. Kelsoe, chain-bearer, for
5 days at 75 cents, $3.75. Robert Lloyd, at 75 cents, $3.75. Hugh
Armstrong, for services as axeman, 5 days at 75 cents, $3.75. A.
Lincoln, for making plot and report, $2.50."

(On Map.) "Whole length of road, 26 miles and 70 chains. Scale, 2
inches to the mile."]




CHAPTER VII

LEGISLATIVE EXPERIENCE


The election of Mr. Lincoln to the Legislature may be said to have
closed the pioneer portion of his life. He was done with the wild
carelessness of the woods, with the jolly ruffianism of Clary's Grove,
with the petty chaffering of grocery stores, with odd jobs for daily
bread, with all the uncouth squalor of the frontier poverty. It was
not that his pecuniary circumstances were materially improved. He was
still, and for years continued to be, a very poor man, harassed by
debts which he was always working to pay, and sometimes in distress
for the means of decent subsistence. But from this time forward his
associations were with a better class of men than he had ever known
before, and a new feeling of self-respect must naturally have grown up
in his mind from his constant intercourse with them - a feeling which
extended to the minor morals of civilized life. A sophisticated reader
may smile at the mention of anything like social ethics in Vandalia in
1834; but, compared with Gentryville and New Salem, the society which
assembled in the winter at that little capital was polished and
elegant. The State then contained nearly 250,000 inhabitants, and the
members of the Legislature, elected purely on personal grounds,
nominated by themselves or their neighbors without the intervention of
party machinery, were necessarily the leading men, in one way or
another, in their several districts. Among the colleagues of Lincoln
at Vandalia were young men with destinies only less brilliant than his
own. They were to become governors, senators, and judges; they were to
organize the Whig party of Illinois, and afterwards the Republican;
they were to lead brigades and divisions in two great wars. Among the
first persons he met there - not in the Legislature proper, but in the
lobby, where he was trying to appropriate an office then filled by
Colonel John J. Hardin - was his future antagonist, Stephen A. Douglas.
Neither seemed to have any presentiment of the future greatness of the
other. Douglas thought little of the raw youth from the Sangamon
timber, and Lincoln said the dwarfish Vermonter was "the least man he
had ever seen." To all appearance, Vandalia was full of better men
than either of them - clever lawyers, men of wit and standing, some of
them the sons of provident early settlers, but more who had come from
older States to seek their fortunes in these fresh fields.

During his first session Lincoln occupied no especially conspicuous
position. He held his own respectably among the best. One of his
colleagues tells us he was not distinguished by any external
eccentricity; that he wore, according to the custom of the time, a
decent suit of blue jeans; that he was known simply as a rather quiet
young man, good-natured and sensible. Before the session ended he had
made the acquaintance of most of the members, and had evidently come
to be looked upon as possessing more than ordinary capacity. His
unusual common-sense began to be recognized. His name does not often
appear in the records of the year. He introduced a resolution in favor
of securing to the State a part of the proceeds of the sales of public
lands within its limits; he took part in the organization of the
ephemeral "White" party, which was designed to unite all the anti-
Jackson elements under the leadership of Hugh L. White, of Tennessee;
he voted with the minority in favor of Young against Robinson for
senator, and with the majority that passed the Bank and Canal bills,
which were received with great enthusiasm throughout Illinois, and
which were only the precursors of those gigantic and ill-advised
schemes that came to maturity two years later, and inflicted
incalculable injury upon the State.

Lincoln returned to New Salem, after this winter's experience of men
and things at the little capital, much firmer on his feet than ever
before. He had had the opportunity of measuring himself with the
leading men of the community, and had found no difficulty whatever in
keeping pace with them. He continued his studies of the law and
surveying together, and became quite indispensable in the latter
capacity - so much so that General Neale, announcing in September,
1835, the names of the deputy surveyors of Sangarnon County, placed
the name of Lincoln before that of his old master in the science, John
Calhoun. He returned to the Legislature in the winter of 1835-6, and
one of the first important incidents of the session was the election
of a senator to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of Elias Kent
Kane. There was no lack of candidates. A journal of the time says:
"This intelligence reached Vandalia on the evening of the 26th of
December, and in the morning nine candidates appeared in that place,
and it was anticipated that a number more would soon be in, among them
'the lion of the North,' who, it is thought, will claim the office by
preemption." [Footnote: "Sangamo Journal," January 2.] It is not
known who was the roaring celebrity here referred to, but the
successful candidate was General William L. D. Ewing, who was elected
by a majority of one vote. Lincoln and the other Whigs voted for him,
not because he was a "White" man, as they frankly stated, but because
"he had been proscribed by the Van Buren party." Mr. Semple, the
candidate for the regular Democratic caucus, was beaten simply on
account of his political orthodoxy.

A minority is always strongly in favor of independent action and
bitterly opposed to caucuses, and therefore we need not be surprised
at finding Mr. Lincoln, a few days later in the session, joining in
hearty denunciation of the convention system, which had already become
popular in the East, and which General Jackson was then urging upon
his faithful followers. The missionaries of this new system in
Illinois were Stephen A. Douglas, recently from Vermont, the shifty
young lawyer from Morgan County, who had just succeeded in having
himself made circuit attorney in place of Colonel Hardin, and a man
who was then regarded in Vandalia as a far more important and
dangerous person than Douglas, Ebenezer Peck, of Chicago. Peck was
looked upon with distrust and suspicion for several reasons, all of
which seemed valid to the rural legislators assembled there. He came
from Canada, where he had been a member of the provincial parliament;
it was therefore imagined that he was permeated with secret hostility
to republican institutions; his garb, his furs, were of the fashion of
Quebec; and he passed his time indoctrinating the Jackson men with the
theory and practice of party organization, teachings which they
eagerly absorbed, and which seemed sinister and ominous to the Whigs.
He was showing them, in fact, the way in which elections were to be
won; and though the Whigs denounced his system as subversive of
individual freedom and private judgment, it was not long before they
were also forced to adopt it, or be left alone with their virtue. The
organization of political parties in Illinois really takes its rise
from this time, and in great measure from the work of Mr. Peck with
the Vandalia Legislature. There was no man more dreaded and disliked
than he was by the stalwart young Whigs against whom he was organizing
that solid and disciplined opposition. But a quarter of a century
brings wonderful changes. Twenty-five years later Mr. Peck stood
shoulder to shoulder with these very men who then reviled him as a
Canadian emissary of tyranny and corruption, - with S. T. Logan, 0. H.
Browning, and J. K. Dubois, - organizing a new party for victory under
the name of Abraham Lincoln.

[Illustration: O. H. Browning.]

The Legislature adjourned on the 18th of January, having made a
beginning, it is true, in the work of improving the State by statute,
though its modest work, incorporating canal and bridge companies and
providing for public roads, bore no relation to the ambitious essays
of its successor. Among the bills passed at this session was an
Apportionment act, by which Sangamon County became entitled to seven
representatives and two senators, and early in the spring eight
"White" statesmen of the county were ready for the field - the ninth,
Mr. Herndon, holding over as State Senator. It seems singular to us of
a later day that just eight prominent men, on a side, should have
offered themselves for these places, without the intervention of any
primary meetings. Such a thing, if we mistake not, was never known
again in Illinois. The convention system was afterwards seen to be an
absolute necessity to prevent the disorganization of parties through
the restless vanity of obscure and insubordinate aspirants. But the
eight who "took the stump" in Sangamon in the summer of 1836 were
supported as loyally and as energetically as if they had been
nominated with all the solemnity of modern days. They became famous in
the history of the State, partly for their stature and partly for
their influence in legislation. They were called, with Herndon, the
"Long Nine;" their average height was over six feet, and their
aggregate altitude was said to be fifty-five feet. Their names were
Abraham Lincoln, John Dawson, Dan Stone, Ninian W. Edwards, William F.
Elkin, R. L. Wilson, and Andrew McCormick, candidates for the House of
Representatives, and Job Fletcher for the Senate, of Illinois.

Mr. Lincoln began his canvass with the following circular:


NEW SALEM/June 13, 1836.
To the Editor of the "Journal."

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

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

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

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

If alive on the first Monday in November, I shall vote for Hugh L.
White for President. [Footnote: This phrase seems to have been adopted
as a formula by the anti-Jackson party. The "cards" of several
candidates contain it.]

Very respectfully,
A. LINCOLN.


It would be hard to imagine a more audacious and unqualified
declaration of principles and intentions. But it was the fashion of
the hour to promise exact obedience to the will of the people, and the
two practical questions touched by this circular were the only ones
then much talked about. The question of suffrage for aliens was a
living problem in the State, and Mr. Lincoln naturally took liberal
ground on it; and he was also in favor of getting from the sale of
public lands a portion of the money he was ready to vote for internal
improvements. This was good Whig doctrine at that time, and the young
politician did not fancy he could go wrong in following in such a
matter the lead of his idol, Henry Clay.

He made an active canvass, and spoke frequently during the summer. He
must have made some part of the campaign on foot, for we find in the
county paper an advertisement of a horse which had strayed or been
stolen from him while on a visit to Springfield. It was not an
imposing animal, to judge from the description; it was "plainly marked
with harness," and was "believed to have lost some of his shoes"; but
it was a large horse, as suited a cavalier of such stature, and
"trotted and paced" in a serviceable manner. In July a rather
remarkable discussion took place at the county-seat, in which many of
the leading men on both sides took part. Ninian Edwards, son of the
late Governor, is said to have opened the debate with much effect. Mr.
Early, who followed him, was so roused by his energetic attack that he
felt his only resource was a flat contradiction, which in those days
meant mischief. In the midst of great and increasing excitement Dan
Stone and John Calhoun made speeches which did not tend to pour oil on
the waters of contention, and then came Mr. Lincoln's turn. An article
in the "Journal" states that he seemed embarrassed in his opening, for
this was the most important contest in which he had ever been engaged.
But he soon felt the easy mastery of his powers come back to him, and
he finally made what was universally regarded as the strongest speech
of the day. One of his colleagues says that on this occasion he used
in his excitement for the first time that singularly effective clear
tenor tone of voice which afterwards became so widely known in the
political battles of the West. The canvass was an energetic one
throughout, and excited more interest, in the district than even the
presidential election, which occurred some months later. Mr. Lincoln
was elected at the head of the poll by a majority greatly in excess of
the average majority of his friends, which shows conclusively how his
influence and popularity had increased. The Whigs in this election
effected a revolution in the politics of the county. By force of their
ability and standing they had before managed to divide the suffrages



Online LibraryJohn George NicolayAbraham Lincoln: a History — Volume 01 → online text (page 9 of 31)