Orville J. (Orville James) Victor.

The private and public life of Abraham Lincoln : comprising a full account of his early years, and a succinct record of his career as statesman and president (Volume copy 2) online

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Online LibraryOrville J. (Orville James) VictorThe private and public life of Abraham Lincoln : comprising a full account of his early years, and a succinct record of his career as statesman and president (Volume copy 2) → online text (page 3 of 9)
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melted (in the early part of March, 1831), traveling by land
became impracticable, as the country was entirely flooded ; so
they purchased a large canoe, and came down the Sangamon
river therein. By this mode Mr. Lincoln made his first
entrance into the county of Sangamon. Ofi'ult, however, had
failed to procure the boat ; so they hired themselves to him at
twelve dollars per month each, and were employed in getting
the timber out of the forest, and in building a boat, at old
Sangamon town, seven miles north-west of Springfield, on the
Sangamon river. In this craft they eventually proceeded to
New Orleans.

During the prosecution of this boating enterprise, Offult
conceived a liking for young Lincoln, and contracted with him
to act as a clerk, in charge of a store and mill at New Salem,

After his return fi-om New Orleans, Lincoln, in pursuance
of his new contract, remained at New Salem. This was in
July, 1831. Here he soon made many acquaintances and
friends, and won the respect of all with whom he had business
dealings, while, socially, he was even more beloved by his
acquaintances, and came to be familiarly known as " Honest

In less than a year, however, Ofi'ult's business feU oflf


considerably ; and, upon the breaking out of the Black-Hawk
war of 1832, Lincoln joined a volunteer company, and, to bis
great surprise, was elected captain thereof He says that he
has not since had any success in life which gave him so much

An anecdote is current of our subject, pertaining to this
era of his life, which is interesting :

Soon after the election of the company officers, a friend of
Captain Lincoln had vaunted the newly-elected commander as
t^ strongest man in Illinois, when a stranger, who was
listening, expressed a doubt as to the truth of the assertion,
at the same time mentioning another individual whom he
considered ^s the stouter man. The friend of the newly-
elected captain at length proposed a small wager, which was
accepted, that his champion could lift a barrel of whisky,
holding forty gallons, and drink out of the bung-hole.

The interested parties proceeded to Captain Abe, who was
nothing averse to making the experiment for the gratification
of his friend. A barrel of whisky containing the necessary
amount of gallons was accordingly procured, when the test
was performed with readiness and apparent ease. As another
man might have raised a six-gallon demijohn, the barrel was
lifted, and the requisite mouthful extracted from the bung-
hole, to the astonishment of the incredulous stranger.

" The bet is mine," cried the athlete's admirer, as the former
replaced the barrel on the floor ; " but that is the first dram
of whisky I ever saw you swallow, Abe.'*

The captain immediately spirted the cheek full of whisky
upon the floor, with the exclamation :

" And I haven't swallowed that^ you see,"

His friend burst out laughing at this demonstration of the
incorrigible teetotaler. And this same friend, long afterward,

" That was the only drink of intoxicating liquor I ever
knew him to take, and that he spirted out on the floor."

Whether true or not, this little anecdote, so far as it concerns
the whisky, is in • keeping with the temperate habits which
have since distinguished him.

Young Lincoln's company, shortly afterward, proceeded to
Beardstown, whence in a few days it was summoned to the


expected scene of conflict. But -when the term of enlistment
(thirty days) had expired, the men "were disbanded at Ottawa,
with most of their fellow-volunteers, and returned to their
homes without having seen the enemy. However, a new levy
being called for, Abraham did what few of our embryo cap-
tains of the present day would be likely to do — regnlisted as a
private. Again, their term of enlistment having expired, they
were disbanded, and the war stUl not over. Determined to
serve his country as long as the war should last, and desirous
of participating in a battle, he enlisted for a third time ; but
the battle of Bad Ax was, nevertheless, fought without him,
and, before the last term of enlistment had expired, the con-
test was at an end. He returned home, neither covered with
honors, nor honored by scars.

" Having lost his horse, near where the town of JanesviUe,
Wisconsin, now stands, he went down Rock river to Dixon in
a canoe. Thence he crossed the country on foot to Peoria,
where he again took canoe to a point on the Illinois river,
within forty miles of home. The latter distance he accom-
plished on foot."

He is said to have been a great favorite in the army — an
efficient officer and a brave, danger-scorning, fatigue-defying



After his return from this campaign, in which, as he is
said to have subsequently expressed it, " he did not see any
live fighting Indians, but had a good many bloody struggles
with the musketoes," he looked about for something to do.
While thus employed "prospecting," he was astonished to
learn that it was a proposal, among his friends and admirers,
to nominate him for the Legislature. Though he had only
been a resident of the county for nine months, an undoubted,
intelligent " Henry Clay man " was required for the ticket,
and he was deemed a candidate " proper to success."


The choice was particularly influenced by the fact that the
county had given General Jackson a large majority the year
before; whereas, it was believed that Lincoln's popularity
would now insure success* to the opposite ticket. The nomi-
nation was accordingly made. It must have been a proud
moment, and one hard to realize, for the young man yet fresh
from the woods, when, across a brief interval, of retrospect, he
could thus contrast his humble life of physical toil with the
condition which found him worthy to sit in council beside the
statesmen of his new, but wealth-gathering and fkst-rising State.
He accepted the proffered dignity with the gratitude and
enthusiasm of youth and hope. The issue, however, was
averse to him, he receiving two hundred and seventy-seven
votes out of the two hundred and eighty-four cast in Kew
Salem ; there being, in all, eight aspirants for the legislative
distinction. This was the only time that Mr. Lincoln evqr was
beaten in a direct issue before the people.

We next find him as the purchaser of a store and stock of
goods on credit, and officiating as the postmaster of the town
in which he resided. He was desirous of studying the law at
this time, but was deterred on account of his limited educa-
tion. He had a partner m his store ; but the business soon
proving a profitless incumbrance, they sold out.

Nothing daunted by his ill-fortune, he next endeavored to
gain an insight into the profession of lawyer. To this end he
borrowed some books from a friend, and gradually made him-
self acquainted with the rudiments of the profession in which
he has since been so distinguished an actor.

He, meantime, pursued his studies diligently. He made
himself somewhat proficient in grammar; while his newer
opportunities gave him the means of far more extensive read-
ing than he had hitherto enjoyed. It was his custom to write
out an epitome of every book he read — a process which served
to impress the contents more indelibly on his memory, as well
as to give him skill in composition.

Before he had proceeded very profoundly in his study of
the law, he became acquainted with John Calhoun — afterward
President of the Lecompton (Kansas) Constitutional Conven-
tion, who proposed to Lincoln to take up the study and
vocation of surveying. Lincoln assented, a,nd immediately


commenced the requisite routine of study and practice. He fre-
quently went witli IVir. Calhoun to the field, and, in a short time,
set up for a surveyor on his own account. In this adventure
fortune was more in his favor than it yet had been. He set
to work with his usual industry and vigor, and soon obtained
plenty of work. He won quite a reputation in this vocation,
and continued in it for more than a year.

At the close of this period, in August of 1834.-^two years
after our subject was first a candidate for the Legislature, and
when he had just entered his twenty-sixth year — he was again
nominated as a candidate for the Legislature of Illinois. The
prospect of success was much brighter than before, for Abra-.
ham Lincoln had become a very popular man. The first to
enlist, and the last to leave, he was thought to have distin-
guished himself as a military man. He was an excellent
surveyor, a tolerable lawyer — in fact, a rising man, in the
Western sense of the term. More than this, he was heartily
esteemed for his good sense, greatness of heart, and integrity
of soul.

These auguries were not fallacious. The day of election
arrived ; a large vote was polled ; and, as had been generally
anticipated, Mr. Lincoln was the successful candidate by a
handsome majority.

In this manner was commenced the political life of the
humble and noble man who at length became the recipient of
the highest gift of dignity and honor which it is in the power
of the American people to bestow. To the Legislature of
Illinois he accordingly went.

It was during the first session that he determined to follow
up the study of the law ; and he here formed the acquaintance
of his colleague, the Hon. John T. Stuart. He was three
times reelected to the Legislature — in 1836, 1838, and 1840.
"What were his particular services it is not necessary to, relate.
That he labored successfully and acceptably for the interests
of his constituents and for the advancement of his State is
true. The quick-discerning and strong-minded men who
generally compose the " first settlers" of a new country, were
not to be appeased with the pretense of work ; they judged
the tree by its fruits, and that Mr. Lincoln was so frequently
re-elected proves him to have been true to his old habits of


industry and well-doing. It was during his legislative duties
that Mr. Lincoln first became acquainted with Stephen A.
Douglas. Little did the two men th^i realize what a position
they were, ere long, to assume toward one another and towai;d
their country. Douglas, like Lincoln, was the sole architect
of his own fortunes ; the good State of Illinois cradled them
both in their humble estate, and gave them, as her own, to a
career of political glory now become historical.

He obtained a law license in 1836, removed to Springfield in
April, 1837, and commenced law-practice as partner of Mr. Stuart.

One instance, in connection with his practice of the law,
we may relate : A murder having^^been committed, " a young
man named Armstrong, a son of the aged couple for whom,
many years before, Abraham Lincoln had worked, was charged
with the deed. Being arrested and examined, a true bill was
found against him, and he was lodged in jail to await his trial.
As soon as Mr. Lincoln received intelligence of the affair, he
addressed' a kind letter to Mrs. Armstrong, stating his anxiety
that her son should have a fair trial, and offering, in return
for her kindness to him while in advdtse circumstances some
years before, his services gratuitously. Investigation con-
vinced the volunteer attorney that the young man was the
victim of a conspiracy, and he d^eri^jined to postpone the
case until the excitement had subsided. The day of trial,
however, finally arrived, and the accuser testified positively
that he saw the accused plunge the knife into the heart of the
murdered man. He remembered all the circumstances per-
fectly ; the murder was committed about half-past nine o'clock
at night, and the moon was shining brightly. Mr. Lincoln
reviewed all the testimony carefully, and then proved con-
clusively that the moon which the accuser had sworn was
shining brightly, did not rise until an hour or -moTQ after the
murder was committed ! Other discrepancies were exposed,
and, in thirty minutes after the jury retired, they returned ^ith
a verdict of ' not guilty.' "

The prisoner and his mother had been awaiting the verdict
with agonizing anxiety. No sooner had the most momentous
words, " not guilty," dropped from tfi.e foreman's lips, than the
mother swooned in the arms of her son. He raised her and
pressed her to his heart with words of glad reassurance.


"Wliere is iSli. Lincoln?" lie exclaimed, and then flew
across the room and grasped his deliverer by the hand, with
a heart too full for speech.

It was sunset-time, and they were n^ar a window that
fliced the west. Mr. Lincoln returned the warm grasp of the
prisoner, and then cast his glance through the window toward
the golden western horizon.

" It is not yet sundown," said he, tenderly, " and you are

One who was a witness to the impressive scene remarks :

*' I confess that my cheeks were not wholly unwet with
teai-s, and I turned from |tj|.e affecting scene. As I cast a
glance behiud, I saw Abraham Lincoln obeying the divine
injunction by comforting the. widowed and fatherless."

Mr. Lincoln continued prospering, devoting the succeeding
six years to the study as well as the practice of the law. Each
new case seemed to add to his growing reputation for ability
as a court and jury lawyer and eminence as counsel. Several
of his associates in practice at the Springfield bar were
remarkable men. Says a writer, familiar with the persons
and incidents of that gatheiing of great and peculiar men who
made the Illinois capital the arena of their combats :

" It would be hard to find in any backwoods town, at the
period of which I have been speaking, a coterie of equal ability
and equal possibilities with those who plead, and wrangled,
and electioneered together in Springfield. Logan, one of the
finest examples of the purely legal mind that the West has
ever produced ; M'Dougal, who afterward sought El Dorado ;
Bissell, and Shields, and Baker, brothers in arms and in coun-
cil, the flower of the Western chivalry, and the brightest
examples of western oratory ; Trumbull, then, as now, with a
mind pregminently cool, crystalline, sagacious ; Douglas, heart
of oak and bram of fire, of energy and undaunted courage
unparalleled, ambition insatiate and aspiration unsleeping;
Lincoln, then, as afterward, thoughtful, and honest, and brave,
conscious of great capabilities, and quietly sure of the future,
before all his peers in a broad humanity, and in that prophetic
lift of spirit that saw the triumph of pnnciples then dimly
discovered in the contest that was to come."

Truly a singular gathering of great souls — each one of whom


was destined to occupy prominent positions iiji their country's

His interest in the exciting and important political events
of the day — his steadily-increasing conception of their import-
ance not only to his own community but to the country — ere
long drew him into the vortex of politics. During the presi-
dential canvass of 1844, h& " stumped" the State of Illinois
with unwearying enthusiasm. His admiration of Henry Clay~
which had been early imbibed, influenced, in no small degree,
the remainder of his life.

The antagonism to Slavery — in which he was to become
such a distinguished mover and champion — was publicly
manifested as early as 1837. The Legislature of Illinois had,
like most of the newer Western States, lost no occasion to
placate the ruffled feelings of their " southern brethren " upon
the " agitation" of this subject, by the adoption of resolutions
of an eminently pro-slavery type, as well as by offering other
evidences of sympathy. But, in the session of 1837, when
Mr. Lincoln was one of the representatives from Sangamon
county, he refused to vote for several of these regularly-digested
resolutions for the propitiation of the southern sentiment ; and,
taking advantage of a constitutional privilege, combined with
his colleague from Sangamon in the following protest, which
was read to the house March 3d, 1837 :

" Resolutions on the subject of domestic slavery having passed
both houses of the General Assembly at its present session, the
undersigned hereby protest against the passage of the same.

" They believe that the institution of slaveiy is founded on
both injustice and bad policy; but that the promulgation of
abolition doctrines tends rather to abate its evils.

" They believe that the Congress of the United States has no
power, under the Constitution, to interfere with the institution
of slavery in the different States.

" They believe that the Congress of the United States has the
power, under the Constitution, to abolish slavery in the District
of Columbia; but that the power ought not to be exercised,
unless at the request of the people of said District.

" The difference between these opinions and those contained
in the said resolutions is their reason for entering this protest.

" Dan. Stone,
" A. Lincoln,
^'■Bepresentatives from the county of Sangamon"*

In the election of 1844 — already referred to — ^the tariff
14 2


question being the main subject at issue — Mr. Lincoln's name
beaded the Whig electoral ticket, as opposed to John Cal-
boun's on tbe Democratic side. Calhoun was then regarded
as tbe ablest debater of his party in Illinois. They " stumped "
the State together, usually making speeches, on alternate days,
at each place, where they were listened to generally by large
audiences. In these speeches, Mr. Lincoln gave evidence of a
surprising mastery of the principles, working and results of
the protective system. The canvass proved how thoroughly
he had studied the question in all its bearings — how exhaus-
tively he had read history and political economy. He demon-
strated not only his own native strength as a debater, but hi^
accomplishments as a well-read student and statesman. He
spoke with that directness and precision which ever are most
forcible in popular address. His manner was familiar, as if
talking to a large circle of friends — a feature of his oratory
which became one of his public characteristics. We say
oratory, yet it would hardly be termed such in the Ciceronean
sense of the word. The very familiarity of his discourse, the
homeliness of his illustrations, the quiet good-humor of his
temper, and the seemingly inexhaustible fund of anecdote and
story ever ready at his command — all served to divest his
speeches of the acknowledged constituents of the oration, and
to invest them with something of the characteristics of the
harangue ; yet, his simple words were weighty with an elo-
quence which swayed not only the hearts but the judgments
of his hearers, and few men ever left an audience under
greater weight of obligation for truths spoken and principles
enunciated. He came out of that first canvass the conceded
champion of the Whig party and policy in the State, and was
soon made to assume still more important functions in public
life by representing his district in the United States Congress.




Mr. Lincoln was elected to Congress from the central dis-
trict of Illinois in 1846 ; "and took his seat in that body on the
lii-st Monday in December, 1847.

Mr. Winthrop, of Massachusetts^ was elected Speaker of the
House, This house was replete with the best talent of the
country ; and it proved one of the most agitated and agitating
sessions ever convened in Washington. Enrolled with Mr.
Lincoln, as Whigs, were such names as Collamer, Tallmage,
Ingersoll, Botts, Clingman, Stephens, Toombs and Thompson ;
while, opposed to him in politics, were others, not less dis-
tinguished, of whom we may mention Wilmot, Bocock, Rhett,
Linn, Boyd and Andrew Johnson — the latter afterward his
associate and coadjutor in the great work of restoring the
Union. Such conspicuous lights as Webster, Calhoun, Dayton,
Davis, Dix, Dickinson, Hale, Bell, Crittenden and Coi-win
constituted a senatorial galaxy which seldom has been outshone.

Mr. Lincoln was the only representative from his State
who had been elected under the Whig standard-r-his six col-
leagues being all Democrats.

He entered into the spirit of his new duties with character-
istic energy, voting pro or con on every important question,
ever ready with his tongue for the argumentative contest, and
frequently exhibiting a power of utterance quite remarkable
in its effect upon his ever-attentive listeners.

Mr. Giddings having presented a memorial (December 21st,
1847) from certain citizens of the District of Columbia, asking
for the repeal of all laws upholding the slave-trade in the
District, a motion was made to lay it on the table, when Mr.
Lincoln voted in the negative.

Although he went with the majority of the Whig party in
opposing the declaration of war with Mexico, he invariably
supported, with his vote, any bill or resolutiojji having for its
object the sustenance of the health, comfort and honor of our
soldiers engaged in the war. On the 23d of December,


he introduced, Tvith one of his characteristically humorous
and logical speeches in their favor, a series of resolutions,
keenly criticising the motives which had superinduced the
war. In later years, it was charged against 'Mr. Lincoln by
those whose political enmity he had incurred that he lacked a
genuine patriotism, inasmuch as he had wted against the
Mexican war. " The charge was sharply and clearly m-ade
by Judge Douglas at the first of their joint discussions, in the
senatorial contest of 1858." Mr. Lmcoln replied : " I was an
old Whig, and whenever the Democratic party tried to get me
to vote that the war had been righteously begun by the Presi-
dent, I would not .do it. * * * But when he [Judge Douglas],
by a general charge, conveys the idea that I withheld supplies
from the soldiers w^ho were fighting in the Mexican war, or
did any thing else to hinder the soldiers, he is, to say the least,
grossly and altogether mistaken, as a consultatiop. of the
records will prove to him." This plain denial of a false
assertion is proof sufficient in itself; for it bears the impress
of veracity.

Mr. Lincoln's congressional career, though brief, was im-
portant and brilliant to a singular degree, and is well worthy
of a diligent study by the student in statesmanship.

" On the right of petition," saj'^s IVIi'. Raymond, " Mr. Lin-
coln, of course, held the right side, voting repeatedly against
laying on the table, without consideration, petitions in favor
of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.

" On the question of abolishing slavery in the district, he
took rather a prominent part. A Mr, Gott had introduced a
resolution directing the committee for the District to introduce
a bill abolishing the slave-trade in the District. To this Mr.
Lincoln moved an amendment instructing them to introduce a
bill for the abolition, not of the slave-trade, but of slavery,
within the District. The bill which he proposed prevented
any slave from ever being brought into the District, except in
the case of officers of the Government, who might bring the
necessary servants for themselves and their families while in
the District on public business. It prevented any one, when
resident within *ihe district, or thereafter bora within it, from
being held in slavery without the District. It declared that all
children of slave-mothers, bom in the disjtrict aftfer January


rt, 1850, sliould be free, but sbould be reasonably supported
and educated by the owners of their mothers, and that any
owners of slaves in the district might be paid their value from
the treasury, and the slaves should thereupon be free ; and it
provided, also, for the submission of the act to the people of
the district for their acceptance or rejection.

" The question of the Territories came up in many ways. -
The Wilmot proviso had made its appearance in the previous
session, in the August before; but it was repeatedly before «
this Congress also, when efforts were made to apply it to the
territory which we procured from Mexico, and to Oregon.
On all occasions, when it was before the house, it was sup-
ported by Mr. Lincoln ; and he stated, during his contest with
Judge Douglas, that he had voted for it, * in one way and an-
other, about forty times.' He thus showed himself, in 1847,
the same friend of freedom for the Territories which he was

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Online LibraryOrville J. (Orville James) VictorThe private and public life of Abraham Lincoln : comprising a full account of his early years, and a succinct record of his career as statesman and president (Volume copy 2) → online text (page 3 of 9)