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 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 → online text (page 2 of 8)
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mother's death ; and it may well be presumed that he did not
permit this key to knowledge to become rusty in his keeping.
He was an inveterate book-worm, as far as materials could be
procured, from the moment of his mastery of the rudiments,
and soon became the subject of remark among the neighbor-
ing settlers for his thoughtful ways and mental industry.
About the time of his father's second marriage, a person by
the name of Crawford, who came into their vicinage, was
induced to open a school, it being understood that he was
familiar at least with reading, writing, and the rudimentary
rules of arithmetic. Our young pioneer, in the pursuit of
learning, was sent to this school when about twelve or thir-
teen years old. Previous to this he had learned to write,
being assisted therein by a young man of the neighborhood,
and chiefly practicing out of doors with a piece of chalk or a
charred stick. In his new school he greatly improved him-
self in the first two branches named, and soon was master of
his teacher's store of arithmetic. His school dress, during the
prosecution of these " higher branches," consisted of buckskin
clothes and a raccoonskin cap. He attended two other

schools successively, kept by one Sweeney, and Azel

W. Dorsey ; but his circumstances were such as to render his
amount of regular schooling exceedingly limited.

Mr. Lincoln afterward remarked that he did not think the
aggregate of his schooling amounted to one year. He never
attended a college or academy as a student, and never, indeed,
even saw the inside of a college or academy till "after he had
won his law license. What he possessed in the way of an
" education " — as generally understood — he obtained by dint
of hard, unaided study.


Probably the most interesting period in the biography of a
great man — be he thinker, statesman or soldier — is this early
stage of life, when the desire for honor is rather a dream-like
or enthusiastic hope than the hungry longing of succeeding
years — when our little taste of the " Pierian spring " has
grown into a- thirst which would drink deeply and forever.
For at this period — at this charming danger of the first
draught — we seem to behold the incentives, the germs, the
incipient dawn, as it were, of those after-deeds which shed
luster upon the world and upon the doer's name. We feel
curious to know what were his first loves in the way of
books, human characters, and the visible objects of the natu-
ral universe. For in these we can look back upon our own
experiences, and find similitude or antithesis, or place them
alongside the similar characteristics of others of the world's
great men with whose histories we are familiar.

Our subject took uncommon pride in his early studies, and
his praiseworthy diligence soon won him the esteem of his
masters, while his attainments, limited as they then were, en-
abled him to act as a scribe for the more untutored settlers,
whenever they had letters to be written. He was quicker to
learn than most boys in his circumstances would have been,
and was gifted with, and aided by, a very retentive memory.

Of course, books were his great delight, and the procuring
of a sufficient number of them to employ his mind one of his
principal anxieties. His father did mUch to aid him in his
difficult pursuit, and whenever he heard of any particular
volume which he thought desirable, or for which Abraham
asked, he always endeavored to obtain it for the use of his

" In. this way," says Mr. Raymond, "he became acquainted
with Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Esop's Fables * a Life of
Henry Clay,f and Weems' Life of Washington. The ' hatchet*
story of Washington, which has done more to make boys
truthful than a hundred solemn exhortations, made a strong
impression upon Abraham, and was one of those unseen,

* May we not presume this selection to be an indication of that love
for anecdote which has made our Chief Magistrate so distinguished as a
relater of pithy stories.

t This fact may he significant when we reflect that Mr. Lincoln always
remained an admirer of Mr. Clay, and that he was afterward a " Clay
Whig.' 1


gentle influences which helped to form his character for integ-
rity and honesty. Its effect may be traced in the following
story, which bids fair to become as never-failing an accom-
paniment to a Life of Lincoln as the hatchet case to that of

" Mr. Crawford had lent him a copy of Kamsey's Life of
"Washington. During a severe storm, Abraham improved his
leisure by reading this book. One night he laid it down
carefully, as he thought, and the next morning he found it
soaked through with water. The wind had changed, the
rain had beaten in through a crack in the logs, and the book
was ruined. How could he face the owner under such cir-
cumstances ? He had no money to offer as a return, but he
took the book, went directly to Mr. Crawford, showed him
the irreparable injury, and frankly and honestly offered to
work for him until he should be satisfied. Mr. Crawford ac-
cepted the offer, and gave Abraham the book for his own, in
return for three days' steady labor in ' pulling fodder.' His
manliness and straightforwardness won the esteem of the
Crawfords, and, indeed, of all the neighborhood."

Another significant trait in his character is said to have
manifested itself while he still was at school. Among his
schoolfellows he was invariably a "peacemaker." He ad-
justed their misunderstandings, mediated in cases of extreme
difficulty, with remonstrance and soothing kindness ; and, in
more than one instance, he is said to have thrown himself
between infuriated urchins, and restored harmony at the risk
of personal injury to himself. Certain it is he ever afterward
retained this characteristic in an eminent degree. Not the
least memorable instance was his long, patient, and earnest
efforts for conciliation at the outbreak of the great Southern
rebellion. The immortal page of history will bear witness
that he went as far to preserve the peace and stay the mad-
ness of the slave propagandists as he dared to go, considering
his oath to support and maintain the Constitution and to
enforce the laws.

But when he had mastered the rule of three, the school-
days of Abraham Lincoln were over, and even ruder days of
physical toil than he had as yet experienced were in store for


Notk.— In a communication to the New York Independent, Rev. J. P.
Gulliver detailed some interesting circumstances connected with Mr.
Lincoln's education and early experiences, which he gleaned from the
Chief Magistrate during a lengthy personal interview. We must he per-
mitted to extract from the communication the following, as throwing
more light upon the President's peculiar mental constitution than any
thing that has yet heen given hy his biographers :

" ' I want very much to know, Mr. Lincoln, how you got this unusual
power of "putting things." It must have been a matter of education.
No man has it by nature alone. "What has your education been Y

" ' Well, as to education, the newspapers are correct — I never went to
school more than twelve months in my life. But, as you say, this must
be a product of culture in some form. I have been putting the question
you ask me to myself while you have been talking. I can say this, that
among my earliest recollections I remember how, when a mere child, I
used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not un-
derstand. I don't think I ever got angry at any thing else in my life.
But that always disturbed my temper, and has ever since. I can remem-
ber going to my little bedroom, after hearing the neighbors talk, of an
evening, with my father, and spending no small part of the night walking
up and down, and trying to make out what was the exact meaning of
some of their, to me, dark sayings. I could not sleep, though I often
tried to, when I got on such a hunt after an idea, until I had caught it ;
and when I thought I had got it, I was not satisfied until I had repeated
it over and over, until I had put it in language plain enough, as I thought,
for any boy I knew to comprehend. This was a kind of passion with me,
and it has since stuck by me, for I am never easy now, when I am hand-
ling a thought, till I have bounded it north and bounded it south, and
bounded it east and bounded it west. Perhaps that accounts for the char-
acteristic you observe in my speeches, though I never put the two things
together before.'

"'Mr. Lincoln, I thank you for this. It is the most splendid educa-
tional fact I ever happened upon. This is genius, with all its impulsive,
inspiring, dominating power over the mind of its possessor, developed by
education into talent, with its uniformity, its permanence* and its disci-
plined strength, always ready, always available, never capricious— the
highest possession of the human intellect But let me ask, did you not
have a law education f How did you prepare for your profession f '

" ' Oh, yes. I " read law," as the phrase is ; that is, I became a lawyer's
clerk in Springfield, and copied tedious documents, and picked up what I
could of law in the intervals of other work. But your question reminds
me of a bit of education I had, which I am bound in honesty to mention.
In the course of my law-reading I constantly came upon the word demon-
strate. I thought, at first, that I understood its meaning, but soon became
satisfied that I did not. I said to myself, " what do I do when I demon-
strate more than when I reason or prove ? How does demonstration differ
from any other proof?" I consulted Webster's Dictionary. That told
of " certain proof," " proof beyond the possibility of doubt ;" but I could


form no idea what sort of proof that was. I thought a great many things
were proved heyond a possibility of doubt, without recourse to any such
extraordinary process of reasoning as I understood " demonstration V to
be. I consulted all the dictionaries and books of reference I could find,
but with nc better results. You might as well have defined blue to a blind
man. At last I said, " Lincoln, you can never make a lawyer if you do
not understand what demonstrate means," and I left my situation in
Springfield, went home to my father's house, and stayed there till I could
give any propositions in the six books of Euclid at sight. I then found
out what " demonstrate " means, and went back to my law studies.'

"I could not refrain from saying, in my admiration of such a develop-
ment of character and genius combined, 'Mr. Lincoln, your success is no
longer a marvel. It is the legitimate result of adequate causes. You
deseTve it all, and a great deal more. If you will permit me, I would like
to use this fact publicly. It will be most valuable in inciting our young
men to that patient classical and mathematical culture which most minds
absolutely require. No man can talk well unless he is able, first of all, to
define to himself what he is talking about. Euclid, well studied, would
free the world of half its . calamities, by banishing half the nons«nse
which now deludes and curses it. I have often thought that Euclid would
be one of the best books to put on the catalogue of the Tract Society, if
they could only get people to read it. It would be a means of grace.'
-j." * I think so,' said he, laughing ; ' I vote for Euclid.' "



Between the time of his leaving school and the attainment
of his nineteenth year, the subject of our sketch was con-
stantly employed in the hardy avocation of a western wood-
man, cutting down trees, splitting rails, and the like, and,
during the evenings, eagerly devoting the few hours until
bedtime to such books as he could manage to procure.

When he was a year older (twenty), Abraham was hired
by a person who lived near by, at the rate of ten dollars per
month, to go to New Orleans on a flatboat loaded with stores,
which were to be vended at the Mississippi river plantations,
in the vicinity of the Crescent City.

The vocation of flatboating and keelboating on the great
watercourses of the West and Southwest was then almost the only



mode of transportation by means of navigation, for the era
of steamboats had barely commenced. The boatmen who
were employed in traversing these great water-routes were a
fearless, hardy, athletic class of men, exposed to many perils,
and almost shelterless in all phases of clime and weather.
" With no bed but the deck of their boats on which to lie at
night, and no covering but a blanket, they spent months and
years of their existence. It was on such boats that the rich
cargoes ascending the Mississippi were carried. By human
labor they were propelled against the strong current nearly
two thousand miles ; and it was a labor that required great
muscular strength and remarkable powers of endurance. The
result was that a class of men were trained in this business
of unusual courage, and proud only of their ability to breast
storms and endure hardships. In addition to this class, whose
life-business it was to propel these western boats, there were
others who only occasionally made a trip to New Orleans, to
sell their stores."

Abraham's new employer was of the latter class. He was,
at this time, peculiarly fitted for the hardy vocation which he
agreed, for a period, to embrace. Nature had bestowed upon
him a frame of much muscular power, a readiness of wit, and
a shrewdness of judgment, all of which qualities could be
used to advantage in the flatboat peddling voyage, as it may
be termed. Besides, he was full of the natural excitement
of leaving his home for a length of time, and of becoming
the beholder of remote and novel scenes.

The day of his departure at length was at hand. Accom-
panied by one associate (the son of his employer), young Lin-
coln embarked at the appointed time, and started upon his
voyage. They continued upon their way, from day to day,
with monotonous regularity, making fast to the shore as night
drew on, and swinging off into the stream again at break of
day. Their voyage was not wholly monotonous, but enlivened
with at least one perilous adventure, as we shall presently see.
The scenery of the banks was perpetually changing, like a
vast panorama, and they frequently met and passed other
crafts, with their numerous and jolly crews, and communicated
with the people who would appear upon the river-banks from
the neighboring villages and plantation*. The weather was


mostly fine, but several tempests caught them on their way,
reqiiiring their utmost exertions to keep their boat from cap-
sizing. Yet they managed to keep in good spirits, making the
best of the worst that came.

" Never for a moment did Abraham wish he had not un-
dertaken the voyage. He was not accustomed to undertake a work,
and fail to accomplish it. He always finished what he began,
and started with that determination."

They were approaching the Crescent City, and had disposed
of a portion of their cargo, when the moot noticeable incident
of the voyage occurred.

On the night after their arrival, they had made their boat
fast to the^ lonesome shore, and lain down to rest at their
usual early hour. Somewhere near the middle of the night,
young Lincoln was startled from his slumber by a noise whjch
aroused his apprehensions. Awaking his comrade, he called
out through the darkness, in order to learn if any one was
approaching the boat. A ferocious shout from several throats
in concert was his answer, and the boat was immediately at-
tacked by a party of seven desperate negroes, from some of
the neighboring plantations, who, doubtless, suspecting that
there was money on board, had thought it an easy undertaking
to overpower and murder the sleeping boatmen, and possess
themselves of the property they guarded.

There was no time for parley. The robbers, upon finding
their stealthy approach discovered, made a bold push for the
coveted prize. Hardly had young Lincoln's call of inquiry
passed from his lips before one of the ruffians sprung upon
the edge of the boat. But no sooner did he touch the deck
with his feet than he was knocked sprawling into the water
by a blow from our backwoodsman's terrible fist. Nothing
dashed by their comrade's fall, several more of the black
river-pirates leaped upon the boat with brandished billets.
But by this time the courageous boatmen had armed them-
selves with huge cudgels, to the serious detriment of the dark
assailants. Heavy and rapid blows fell upon either side, until
the fighting-quarters became so close that the clubs were par-
tially relinquished for a hand-to-hand fight.

After a desperate struggle of several moments' duration,
three more of the ruffians were tumbled into the river, and


those who fitill remained on the boat took counsel of prudence,
and beat a sore-headed retreat shoreward, as best they might
But young Lincoln, nothing disposed to rest satisfied with an
indecisive victory, was after them in an instant.

Before the last three who had been plunged into the river
had succeeded in crawling up the bank, Abraham had pounded
two of them, on the shore, almost to death with a ponderous
cudgel. The first negro who had been knocked into the
water, upon reaching the bank, fled from the avenging boat-
men in utter dismay. In fact, all of the "land-forces" of
the enemy were speedily scattered in panic-stricken rout, when
the victors paid their respects to the marine reenforcements,
dealing heavy blows upon the luckless darkies before they
were well out of the water.

Feeling that it was a case of life and death — doubting not
that the negroes meant to murder them — the young boatmen
fought with desperation; while the negroes, driven at bay,
were scarcely less determined. Abraham's strength is said to
have been almost superhuman on this occasion, but both he
and his comrade were badly bruised by the negroes' cudgels
before the latter were compelled to beat a final retreat.

Though aching from the blows which they had received,
the next immediate care of the victors was to unfasten their
craft and push her far out in the stream, as a precaution
against further attacks ; but none other were made.

A narrower minded youth, of the same age, and in the
position which we here find the subject of our sketch, might
have become tainted with a prejudice, either temporary or
lasting, against the benighted beings by whom he had been
so foully assaulted, and used hi& prejudice, thus pardonably
contracted, as a future " all-they-are-good-fbr " argument in
justification of the curse of slavery, which held -the unfortu-
nate Africans beneath its ban. But, even at this early age,
and under these trying circumstances, he viewed the outrage
with the calm and virtuous philosophy which blamed not the
savage slaves so much as the infernal operation of the institu-
tion that had made them savages.

The adventurers disposed of their cargo very profitably,
and returned safely to Indiana. When the details of their
expedition became known, together with an account of theil


narrow escape from murder, they were spoken of with con-
sideration and praise by those whose whole lives had been
passed in coping with danger, and young Lincoln's skill as a
boatman, manager and salesman, as well as his courage and
fidelity, were accredited accordingly.



The nomadic Thomas Lincoln was again to strike his tent
for a newer home ; for the paradisian accounts of the prairie
lands of Illinois began to spread in the more eastern States.
Accordingly, he deputed Dennis Hanks, a relative of his living
wife, to proceed to Illinois and report upon actual advantages
offered, and the inducements held out for a change of resi-
dence. The tour of investigation was duly made, and the
subsequent report of the agent fully confirmed all that had
been reported by others. The change of home was decided
upon at once. It was a little more than two years after the
flatboat voyage, and Abraham was just arrived of age, that
Thomas Lincoln, in the month of March, 1830, accompanied
by his family, and the families of the two daughters and sons-
in-law of his second wife, left the homestead in Indiana for
the teeming prairies of Illinois. Their mode of convey-
ance was by ox-teams, and, this time, the transit occupied
fifteen days.

Reaching the county of Macon, they halted for a period,
and during this same month (March), the Lincoln family set-
tled on the north bank of the Sangamon river, about ten
miles, in a westerly direction, from Decatur. They reared a
log-cabin upon their new location, into which the family re-
moved. The next " improvement " was a rail fence sufficient
to surround ten acres of ground, for which young Lincoln
assisted in splitting th* rmla — the identical rails which


afterward became the theme of joke, song and story. Of their
history the following incident is related:

" During the sitting of the Kepublican State Convention at
Decatur, a banner, attached to two of these rails, and bearing
an appropriate inscription, was brought into the assemblage,
and formally presented to that body, amid a scene of unparal-
leled enthusiasm. After that, they were in demand in every
State of the Union in which freed labor is honored, where
they were borne in processions of the people, and hailed by
hundreds of thousands of freemen as a symbol of triumph,
and as a glorious vindication of freedom and of the rights
and dignity of free labor. These, however, were far from
being the first or only rails made by Lincoln. He was a
practiced hand at the business. Mr. Lincoln has now a cane
made from one of the rails split by his own hands, in boy-

Having built their cabin and fenced their farm, they broke
the ground, and raised a crop of sod-corn on it the first year.
The sons-in-law were, meantime, settled at other places in the
country. A hard siege of fever and ague afflicted the new
settlers before the close of the first autumn. Upon this ac-
count they were greatly discouraged, and determined to seek
a more congenial location. They remained, however, through
the succeeding winter, which was the season of the " deep
snow " of Illinois. For three weeks, or more, the snow was
three feet deep upon a level, and the weather intensely cold.
There was great consequent suffering entailed upon beasts as
well as men — all being totally unprepared for such extraor-
dinary severity of climate. Our pioneers were fortunate in
having a sufficient supply of corn^ but they had laid up an
insufficient quantity of meat, and the deep snow seriously in-
terfered with their dependence upon their rifles. Abraham,
however, was willing to brave any and every hardship to
relieve their household wants. Through his untiring exer-
tions, he managed to furnish enough game to keep the family
in food, although he was not a first-rate hunter,, his love
for books having early overcome the fondness and enthusiasm
with which he had at first adopted the rifle.

" We seldom went hunting together," writes one of his early
associates on this subject u Abe was not a noted hunter as


the time spent by other boys in such amusements was improved
by him in the perusal of some good book."

And yet we have the evidence that, during the first years
of the settlement in Indiana, he did become a proficient in the
use of the rifle. His after devotion to labor by day and books
by night evidently permitted his early skill to become some-
what rusty. During that memorable winter, the family realized
how much they were indebted to his devotion and remarkable
powers of endurance.

During this same winter, near its close, young Lincoln, in
company with his stepmother's son, John D. Johnston, and
John Hanks, proposed another flatboat trip to the Crescent
City. They therefore hired themselves to a person named
Dennis Offult to take a boat to that metropolis from Beards-
town, Dlinois — they agreeing to meet their employer at Spring-
field, Illinois, when the snow should have melted off, and
complete their arrangements for the trip. But when the snow

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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 → online text (page 2 of 8)