Joseph Benjamin Oakleaf.

Abraham Lincoln, his friendship for humanity and sacrifice for others; an address online

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FEBRUARY 12, 1909





Printers and Publishers

Moline, Illinois




'T^HROUGH all the ages no man has ever been
■*- accorded the honor which is being accorded
Abraham Lincoln today. Every school-house is a
mecca for the children, every college and university
is holding exercises today in commemoration of the
one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Abraham
Lincoln. Foreign lands are vying with Lincoln's
native land to do honor to his memory. It is fitting
and proper that we gather in this Chapel this
evening and repeat the theme which is the subject
of my address on this occasion, for in so doing we
tell the story of his life, recite the Gettysburg
address in unison and read that peer of eulogies,
the editorial of Daniel Willard Fiske, who was editor
of the Syracuse, New York, Daily Journal, on the
15th day of April, 1865.

Were I to address only the young men and young
ladies of this audience, I should want to confine
myself along one line, but as the audience is com-
posed of old and young, some of whom were on the
field of action during the memorable days of the
early sixties, and, as the faculty of this institution


has arranged for the exercises which are distinctively
in memory of Lincoln, I shall endeavor to present
such phases of Lincoln's life, as in my opinion will
be best fitting for this occasion.

If I should ask those in this audience who have
read the complete life of Abraham Lincoln to raise
their hands, I am confident that many would not
respond, yet there is not one in this audience who
is not familiar, more or less, with the life of Abraham
Lincoln, for the reason that so much has been written
in newspapers, magazines and other periodicals
concerning him that everyone must have read a
great deal about Lincoln.

/Lincoln 1
The Boy J

The Boy

Abraham Lincoln was brought up in penury and
want, and when he was but nine years old his
mother died. Like all frontier boys, Abraham
Lincoln was denied the benefits of the school.
Schools were held in deserted cabins found here
and there in the settlement, with earthen floors,
small holes for windows, sometimes illuminated by
as much light as could penetrate through paper
greased with lard. The teachers were usually in
keeping with their primitive surroundings, as the
salary was not sufficient to attract men of education,
and, as a rule, the pupils would, in a few months,


know as much as the teacher. While in Indiana
Abraham Lincoln would trudge nine miles to school,
and the last schooling he had was when he was a
lad of seventeen years of age. Up to that time his
whole time spent in school would not exceed six

Abraham was a husky lad, strong and muscular,
but he was not a huntsman. We have no record,
nor has anyone been able to say, that Abraham
Lincoln ever killed any game, for he had too kind
a heart to become a huntsman.

While at Gentryville he made a trip to New
Orleans with a tradesman, on a flatboat loaded
with produce, and it was on this trip that Abraham
Lincoln saw the possibilities of a future for any
young man who would be willing to apply himself.
The thirst for knowledge, as a means of rising in the
world, became a kind of passion in him and he left
no opportunity unimproved that would afford him
a chance to learn something that he had not known
before. It was while in Indiana that he read Aesop's
Fables, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, History
of the United States and Weem's Life of Washing-
ton, and he became acquainted with the town
constable who had a copy of the Revised Statutes
of Indiana, which book became to Lincoln the
loadstone to which he was drawn repeatedly.


/Lincoln 7

The Young Man J

Abraham Lincoln attained his full growth — six
feet and four inches — two years before he became of
age, and it was seldom that he met a man whom
he could not easily handle, if required to do so.

In 1830, just as Lincoln had attained his majority,
he came to Illinois with his father and step-mother.
Thomas Lincoln, his father, had heard of the prairies
of Illinois; had heard of the beauties of the land
which lay to the westward; that it was possible to
find hundreds of acres without a tree upon them.
Having grown tired of making a field by cutting
down the trees and grubbing the stumps, he
decided to leave for the rich prairies of Illinois.
It seemed that Fate guided the father of Abraham
Lincoln, for Abraham Lincoln fell in with a class
of people different from those whom he had met in
Kentucky and Indiana. In Illinois, in close prox-
imity to the Mississippi river, people from the far
east had settled, coming down the Ohio, thence up
the Mississippi; others having come up the Missis-
sippi from New Orleans, and still others from
the New England States by way of the Great

When Abraham Lincoln attained his majority
he bade good-bye to his father and step-mother
and struck out into the world without a dollar in


his pocket, with only sufficient clothing to cover his
nakedness, but with a heart as great as that which
beat within the breast of any man. He was strong
of limb, and had a rugged constitution that did not
succumb to the primitive habits of the frontiermen.
He was a welcome guest at every cabin, at every
gathering, and it only took a short time for him to
be considered the leader in any community in which
he settled. He had not been in Illinois very long
until it was learned that he had made a trip to
New Orleans and he was approached by a man who
wanted to send a cargo of produce to New Orleans
by way of the Sangamon and Mississippi rivers,
and Lincoln consented to take charge of the cargo
and make the trip. It was on this trip that he
witnessed an auction sale of slaves. Standing in
the slave market of New Orleans he beheld a negress
on the block being sold to the highest bidder. The
negress was a mulatto, with fine features, showing
a sensitiveness about her surroundings that was
not shown by the others, and she was, therefore,
singled out by Lincoln as one who particularly
felt the disgrace. At that time there was dealt
the first blow to slavery, for Abraham Lincoln
turned away with a sorrowful heart and remarked
with a vehemence that had never before been known
in Lincoln's manner, to the boys who were with
him: "By God, if I ever have a chance to hit that
thing I will hit it hard." He did not use the word


"God" in an irreverent manner, but he meant that
if he ever got a chance to hit the institution of
slavery by the help of God he would hit it hard.

/Lincoln 7

The Soldier J

He returned to Illinois with his vision broadened
by his second trip to New Orleans. He saw there
was to be a great awakening in agriculture and the
professions and he came back determined that he
would leave no stone unturned to fit himself for
any duty that might devolve upon him. Imme-
diately upon his return Governor Reynolds issued a
call for volunteers to subdue Black Hawk, who was
then operating in the Rock river country. Lincoln
thought it would be a good opportunity to see
what lay to the north of him. He had no idea of
what they were to do, but he knew they were going
out to fight Indians, and so he and a number of his
boy friends presented themselves for enlistment,
and on the evening of the 7th of May, 1832, he and
his command arrived at the mouth of Rock river,
and on the 10th of May, 1832, he was sworn into
the service of the United States. But Abraham
Lincoln was not a soldier, nor was he the son of a
soldier, nor did he know what was expected of him,
yet his comrades elected him captain of their com-
pany on account of his popularity. On their march


from Beardstown to Yellow Banks, now Oquawka,
and from Oquawka to the mouth of Rock river,
Lincoln found himself in a dilemma many times as
to what kind of command he should give in order
that his company should make a certain move, but
he was a tactful man, as he was in later years. When
they came up to a high rail fence where there was
a small opening, he could not think of the word of
command in order to get his men through the open-
ing in single file, so he called a halt and dismissed
them, with the request that they should assemble
on the other side of the fence. The chances are
that he got them through quicker than if he had
used the proper command.

After being elected President he told of an inci-
dent that occurred while he was in camp on Rock
river. At a ball at the White House thieves made
off with many of the hats and overcoats of the
guests, so that when ready to take leave Vice-
president Hamlin's head covering was not to be

"Ill tell you what, Hamlin," said a friend, "early
in the evening I saw a man, possessed of keen fore-
sight, hide his hat upstairs. I am sure he would
be willing to donate it to the administration, and
I will go and get it for you."

When the hat was produced it was found to be
very much after the style of Hamlin's hat, but it
bore a badge of mourning, which emblem the Vice-


president ripped off with his penknife. The party-
stood chatting merrily as they waited for the car-
riages to be driven up, when a man stepped directly
in front of Mr. Hamlin and stood staring at the
"tile" with which his head was covered.

"What are you looking at, sir?" asked Hamlin

"Your hat," answered the man mildly. "If it
had a weed on it, I should say it was mine."

"Well, it hasn't got a weed on it, has it?" asked
the Vice-president.

"No, sir," said the hatless man, "it hasn't."

"Then it isn't your hat, is it?" said the proud
possessor of it.

"No, I guess not," said the man as he turned to
walk away.

When this little incident was explained to Presi-
dent Lincoln, he laughed heartily and said:

"That reminds me, Hamlin, of the 'stub-tailed

"It was a long time ago, when I was pioneering
and soldiering in Illinois (1832), and we put up a
joke on some officers of the United States army.
My party and I were a long way off from the com-
forts of civilized life, and our only neighbors were
the garrison of a United States fort. We did pretty
well for rations, had plenty of salt meat and flour,
but milk was not to be had for love or money;
and as we all longed for that delicacy, we thought


it pretty mean that the officers of the fort, who had
two cows — a stub-tailed one and a black and white
one — offered us no milk, though we threw out many
and strong hints that it would be acceptable. At
last, after much consultation, we decided to teach
them a lesson and to borrow or steal one of those
cows, just as you choose to put it. But how it
could be done without the cow being at once identi-
fied and recovered was the question.

"At last we hit on a plan. One of our party was
dispatched a day's ride to the nearest slaughter-
house, where he procured a long red cow's tail to
match the color of the stub-tailed cow. After
possessing ourselves of this animal, we neatly tied
our purchase to the poor stub, and with appetites
whetted by long abstinence we drank and relished
the sweet milk which 'our cow' gave. A few days
afterwards we were honored by a call from the com-
mander of the fort.

" 'Say, boys,' said he, 'we have lost one of our
cows.' Of course we felt very sorry and expressed
our regret accordingly. 'But,' continued the
commander, 'I came over to say that if that
cow of yours had a stub tail, I should say it was

"'But she hasn't a stub tail, has she?' asked we,
sure of our point.

" 'No,' said the officer, 'she certainly has not a
stub tail.'


" 'Well, she isn't your cow then/ and our argument
was unanswerable, as was Hamlin's."

The term of service for which Lincoln and the
rest of the volunteers had enlisted being now ended,
a large number re-enlisted and among them was
Abraham Lincoln. At the time of his second
enlistment he was sworn into the service by none
other than the gallant Robert Anderson, who was
in charge of Fort Sumter when the flag that Lincoln
loved so well was fired upon by one of its own.
This bright, energetic, young lieutenant did not
then realize that the tall uncouth youth, standing
six feet and four inches, would be the occupant of
the White House thirty years later, but so it is
with this ever-revolving wheel of chance, showing
new phases, presenting new things never thought
of before.

The Black Hawk war finally came to an end and
Lincoln never saw the enemy as he subsequently
said he never came close enough to smell powder.
Black Hawk had surrendered and the Rock river
country was cleared of the invader.

/Lincoln 1

The Politician J

Lincoln had no sooner returned to his home in
the Sangamon bottoms than he became a candidate
for the legislature. This was a new role to Lincoln,


but one that he accepted with a great deal of pleasure
for it was a delight to him to mingle with the people.
He was, as the politician says, "a good mixer," yet
he never drank and never smoked, so that he could
not in an off-hand way hand a cigar to a friend
and ask him to have a smoke with him, nor could
he ask a friend to go to a bar and take a drink, but
he had ways far more effective than these. He was
defeated the first time he ran for the office, but
it was always a source of great pleasure to him to
know that everyone of the boys who went with
him to the Rock river country voted for him. He
was subsequently elected and served with honor
in the legislature. He favored "internal improve-
ments" which question was then agitating the minds
of the people.

/Lincoln 1

The Surveyor J

But the legislative honors were not lucrative
and he resorted to many other means of gaining
a livelihood, such as keeping a store, which ended
in disaster, working for others for small pay,
and finally he took up surveying. It is stated that
he had no money with which to buy surveying
instruments and that his first chain was a grape-
vine, but as land was cheap and there were no
difficult boundaries to settle, the grape-vine answered


the purpose for awhile. It is a queer coincidence
that our first President should also be a surveyor;
that Washington and Lincoln, the two men who
stand uppermost in the hearts of the people as
Presidents of the United States, should begin life
by surveying. But when we realize that they were
both in new countries, that the demand was made
upon someone who was able to run the lines and
locate corners, it is no wonder that when there
was a person in a community who was capable of
doing it he should be sought after and urged to
assume such duties.

Lincoln was not a speculator; never owned but
one piece of real estate in this state, and that was
his home in Springfield. He was very much unlike
a certain man whom he had appointed to a position
in the General Land Office, and who was also a
surveyor, but who used his position as a means of
getting considerable land. Lincoln heard of it, and,
knowing that the man had been doing surveying
on the side, in addition to surveying for the public,
Lincoln looked at him with a quizzical eye and
said to him: "I understand you are monarch of all
you survey." The thrust went home. The man
resigned his position.

About this time in Lincoln's career occurred
something which was unusual to Lincoln but not
unusual to the average young man. I think all
young men have to go through such an experience


and they are the better for it; they become better

men; they have a better conception of life. Lincoln

bestowed his affection upon Ann Rutledge, who

will never be forgotten because her name was linked

with the immortal Lincoln. She died in 1835 and

when her remains were lowered into the grave

Lincoln's heart was broken. He never referred

to Ann Rutledge but that a tear came into his eye.

She was a good girl and would have made him an

excellent wife, but Fate decreed otherwise. It

was at this time that Mr. Lincoln first read the

poem by William Knox in which he saw so much

beauty, and when he would visit the grave of Ann

Rutledge the lines would come to him:

"Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave."

Her grave is marked by a boulder, placed there
by some kind friend, and on the face is chiseled
"Ann Rutledge," and no one can stand by the side
of that boulder without feeling that he is very close
to the soul of Abraham Lincoln.

/Lincoln 1

The Lawyer J

The Lawyer

Lincoln did not consider that the work he was
doing was in keeping with his ideas and he began
to read law and was finally admitted to the bar.


But he felt that he must make his home at the
Capitol. He went to Springfield and met his old
friend Speed, told him what he intended to do,
figured what it would cost to fit up a room and it
amounted to $17.00, which was beyond his means.
All he had with him were the saddlebags in which
he had stored away his belongings, and he had rid-
den into Springfield on a borrowed horse. He told
Speed of his predicament. Speed looked at him,
felt sorry for him and told him he had a room up-
stairs that was large enough for both of them and
that he could occupy it in company with him if he
wanted to. Lincoln went upstairs, looked at the
room, came back and said, "Speed, I have moved."
Such was Lincoln's entrance into the Capitol of
the State of Illinois, in 1837. He was a Whig
elector on the Harrison ticket in 1840, and was
elected to Congress in the fall of 1846, and at the
close of his term, in the spring of 1849, he went back
to Springfield fully intending to quit politics and
take up law in earnest. He had been at the Capitol
of the nation; he had seen there what he had not
seen at home; he met and conversed with educated
men, he saw affluence on every hand, whereas at
home he saw only poverty. He realized that these
men would be coming westward and that he would
have to cope with other talent than the f rontiermen ;
that it was necessary for him to equip himself for
the day when he would have to meet these men


face to face in forensic battles. And from that time
until 1856 Lincoln was out of politics. But during
this time his mind had become broadened. He was
then considered one of the foremost lawyers of the
State. He met and vanquished the best talent that
was to be found. He was now counted an antagonist
who must be reckoned with, and his legal services
were in demand. He became acquainted with David
Davis, 0. H. Browning, Leonard Swett, Stephen
A. Douglas, S. T. Logan, Lyman Trumble and a
score of others. In every county seat from Peoria
to the south of Springfield, from the Mississippi to
the eastern border of the State, he was known, and
not a term of court in any of these circuits would
pass but that Lincoln's services were in demand.
To give an idea of the men he had to meet, I will
relate an incident which occurred in 1842. Joseph
Smith, who was then a Mormon Prophet living
at Nauvoo, Illinois, the Mormon stronghold on the
banks of the Mississippi, had been arrested and
was wanted by a sheriff from Missouri, and the
chances were that if they had got him into Missouri
they would have railroaded him to the scaffold.
Smith was charged with having instigated an
attempt by some Mormons to assassinate Governor
Boggs, of Missouri. Mr. Butterfield, one of the
ablest lawyers of Chicago, on behalf of Smith, sued
out from Judge Pope a writ of habeas corpus and
Smith was brought before the United States District


Court at Springfield. On the hearing it clearly-
appeared that he had not been in Missouri, nor out
of Illinois within the time in which the crime had
been committed, and that if he had any connection
with the offense the acts must have been done in
Illinois. Was he then a fugitive from justice?
Mr. Lamborn, the attorney- general of Illinois,
appeared on behalf of the people. Mr. Butterfield
moved for the discharge of Smith. The "Prophet,"
so-called, was attended by his twelve Apostles and
a large number of his followers and the case excited
great interest. The court room was thronged
with prominent members of the bar and public men.
Judge Pope was a gallant gentleman of the old
school and loved nothing better than to be in the
midst of youth and beauty. Seats were crowded
on the Judge's platform, on both sides and behind
him, and an array of brilliant and beautiful ladies
almost encircled the Court. Mr. Butterfield, dressed
a la Webster, in blue dress coat and metal buttons,
with a buff vest, arose with dignity and in pro-
found silence. Pausing and running his eyes admir-
ingly from the central figure of Judge Pope along
the rows of lovely women on each side of him, he
said: "May it please the Court, I appear before
you today under circumstances most novel and
peculiar. I am to address the Pope (bowing to
the Judge) surrounded by angels (bowing still lower
to the ladies) in the presence of the Holy Apostles


in behalf of the Prophet of the Lord." Can you
imagine Abraham Lincoln in such presence, such
surroundings? It does not appear that he took
part in the case but he was no doubt there for it
was in the city of Springfield and he was interested
as well as others. Mrs. Lincoln was one of the
"angels" referred to. Lincoln never omitted an
opportunity to hear a speech. At one time E. D.
Baker, an old friend of his, was making a speech
and Lincoln was occupying an office on the second
floor and there was a trap-door right over the plat-
form where Mr. Baker was speaking. Lincoln
opened the trap-door and stretched himself out on
the floor, and, looking down through the hole, was
listening to the speech. There was a gang of rowdies
in the hall who intended to break up the meeting.
The Whig doctrine, announced by Baker, was not
in harmony with their ideas and they were about to
pull the speaker off the platform. Lincoln thought
it was time for him to take a hand and he let himself
down through the trap-door and dropped to the
platform, much to the amazement of the crowd.
He assumed a belligerent attitude, and told them
that this was a free country and Mr. Baker should
be allowed to finish and then if any of them wanted
to say anything they could use the platform as long
as they desired. Baker finished his speech.

To show Lincoln's tact and wit I may mention
that one time when he was a candidate for the


legislature the Democrats had secured the services
of one Forquer, a very able speaker and a very fine
looking man who dressed with excellent taste. He
had, however, left the Whig party and gone over to
the Democratic party for the sake of an office and he
had ridiculed Lincoln a great deal. It was just a
little more than Lincoln could stand. This man
Forquer had recently built a fine house in Springfield
on the site occupied by the new Supreme Court build-
ing, one of the finest in that part of the country, and
had equipped it with lightning rods, the first lightning
rods that some of the people had seen, and the
house attracted a great deal of attention. People
would come miles to take a look at that house and
the lightning rods and hear the comments of the
people as to what the lightning rods were supposed
to do. When Lincoln got up to reply he stood very
calm but his eyes flashed with anger, his pale cheeks
indicating his indignation, and he commenced his
speech by saying: "I am informed that this gentle-
man has said that he intended to take this young
man down, alluding to me, but I will state that I
am not as young in years as I am in the tricks and
trades of the politician. But," said he, pointing his
long, bony finger at Forquer, "live long or die
young, I would rather die now, than, like the
gentleman, change my politics and with the change
receive an office worth $3,000.00 a year and then
feel obliged to erect a lightning rod over my


house to protect a guilty conscience from an
offended God."

As stated before, when Lincoln's congressional
term ended he returned to Springfield with the
intention of giving up politics, but the country would
not allow him to remain dormant very long and he
was soon compelled to come out and take a part in
the fight that was being waged. New questions

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Online LibraryJoseph Benjamin OakleafAbraham Lincoln, his friendship for humanity and sacrifice for others; an address → online text (page 1 of 3)