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THE INFLUENCE OF ILLINOIS IN

THE DEVELOPMENT OF

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

WILLIAM E. BARTON. D. D.. LL D.




REPRINTFD (ROM THE TRANSACTIOMS OF THE ILLINOIS .. . A , > ■. loTORKTM
SOQETY FOR THE YEAR 1<)2I



(7tlM-SV)



THE INFLUENCE OF ILLINOIS IN

THE DEVELOPMENT OF

ABRAHAM LINCOLN



BY



WILLIAM E. BARTON. D. D.. LL. D.




REPRINTED FROM THE TRANSACTIONS OF THE II LINOIS STATE HIi-TORICAL
SOQETY FOR THE YEAR 1921



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73186—225—1922



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ABRAHAM LINCOLN



THE INFLUENCE OF ILLINOIS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF
ABRAHAM LINCOLN.



By Wiixiam K. Hakton. D.D.. LL.D.

Lincoln and Illinois were twin-horn. Abraham Lincoln first saw
light on Suntlay, February H, 1809. Nine days before his birth, Illi-
nois, by'Act of Congress, began its autonomous existence as a territory.
The future commonwealth and its most illustrious citizen began life
together, both iinc«tnscious of the influence which each was to exert
upon the destiny of the other.

The first seven years of Lincoln's life were spent in Kentucky, and
twice seven years following were spent in Indiana. Roth of those
States did well by him; but when he came to his twenty-first year,
Illinois, his own State, beckoned to him. and he came. He came in
the dawn of his young manhood, and the whole of that mnnhood he
spent as a citizen of this, his State. From the time he entered the
young commonwealth in the .'Spring of 18.^0, driviiig an ox-team
through the rich, deep mud of her prairies, until he left it to be inau-
gurated President of the I'^nited States, he lived in Illinois- Gladly
yielding him to the Nation, when the Nation called. Illinois still knew
him as her own. and believed in him and loved him ; and when his work
was accomplished, and crowned by his martyrdom. Illinois stood tear-
fully awaiting the arrival of that majestic funeral train that wound
its way westward through many cities from the Nation's capitol. and
received back again into the heart of her soil the precious dust of her
own Abraham Lincoln.

It should be an interesting and profitable in(iuir\-. what influence
had Illinois upon Abraham Lincoln? Did she help or hinder in his
development? Might it have been as well for him and the State had
he lived otherwhere? These arc legitimate questions, and not unprofit-
able : the more so because I do not find that thc> have been answered,
or even very seriousl)' asked. Among the biographers of Lincoln, no
one. I think, traced his life so lovingly in its relation to that of his
State, as Hon. Isaac N. Arnold. He approached the possibility of
considering this question, but did not pursue the inquiry far. nor did
he, apparently, arrive at a convincing answer. He said:

"WTien. In 1830. Lincoln liecanie a rltizen of Illinois, thin great common-
wraith, now the third or fourth stato In the Union, and treadlnK fai«t upon
the heels of Ohio and Pennsylvania, w.is on the frontier with a population a
little exreedinc one hundre<l and fifty thousand. In ISCO. when Lincoln was
elected President. It had nearly two millions, and was rapidly becomlni: the
center of the Repiibllc. Perhaps he was fortunate In seleclInK Illinois as
his home." — Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 29.



Mr. Arnold went on to show how central to the Union Illinois
had become, and he wrote of the growing importance of Illinois geo-
graphically, but he did not in any definite way undertake to answer
his question, whether it was well for Lincoln to have lived here, other
than with a judicial qualification. "Perhaps he was fortunate in select-
ing Illinois as his home."

It seems to me that the time has come for a more positive answer.
I believe that Lincoln would have been a great man if he had lived
in another State, but that Illinois contributed to his making some ele-
ments which were of particular significance, and which may have been
indispensable to his preparation for the particular work to which God
and the Nation called him.

Two Theories of the Origin of Great Men.

There are two opposing theories of the origin of great men. One
of them, derived from Buckle and his school, attempts to account for
all men, both individually and racially, by their environment, and by
the conditions of the times in which they live. The other, of whose
conviction Carlyle is the indignant spokesman*, explains not the man
by his times, but his times by the man. Emerson agreed with Carlyle,
and went even farther. Emerson would seem to say that the Atlantic
Ocean was there because nothing smaller would have answered the
purposes of Columbus. Columbus needed a large earth and a round
earth and a wide ocean to express what was inherent in himself. The
world and all external conditions are to be explained by the man, and
not the man by his world.

Something of this latter theory must be held as to genius. It has
its own laws. It produces its great exponents in manner and form
which cannot be predicted- It is impossible to explain Robert Burns
without Scotland, but Scotland alone does not explain Burns. Scot-
land has been on the map for a long time, and still there is but one
Robert Burns. Henry Ward Beecher stood at the foot of his class
in Amherst College. Since his day many men in Amherst College



* Thus, with hot indignation, did Carlyle reply to the theory that gre&t men ai'e
the product of their time and only that : "I am well aware that in their days hero-
worship, the thing I call hero-worship, professes to have gone out and finally ceased.
This, for reasons which it will be worth while some time to inquire into, is an age
that as it were denies the existence of great men ; denies the desirability of great men.
Show our critics a great man, a Luther, for example, they begin to what they call
'account' for him ; not to worship him, but to take the dimensions of him and bring
him out to be a little kind of man ! He was the 'creature of the time.' they say ; the
time called him forth, the time did everything, he nothing — but whatever the little critic
could have done, too ! This seems to me but melancholy work. The time call forth ?
Alas, we have known times call loudly enough for their great man, but could not find
him when he was called ! He was not there : Providence had not sent him ; the time
calling its loudest, had to go down to confusion and wreck because he would not
come when called.

"For if we will think of it, no time need have gone to ruin could It have found
a man great enough, a man wise and good enough ; wishing to discern truly what the
times wanted, valor to lead it on the right road thither : these are the salvation of
any time. But I liken common languid times, with their unbelief, distress, per-
plexity, with their languid doubting characters and embarrassed circumstances im-
potently crumbling — down into ever worse distress toward final ruin — all this I
liken to dry, dead fuel, waiting for the lightning out of heaven that should kindle It.
The great man, with his free force out of God's own hand, is the lightning. The
dry, mouldering sticks arc supposed to have called him forth ! They are critics of
small vision, I think, who cry : 'See is it not the sticks that make the fire?' No sadder
proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men." —
Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship, Chapter 1, pp. 14-15.



have stood at the foot of the class, and it is not known that that cnvi-
ronmcnt has procUiccd any more I'eechers. Scjcrates was the product
of the Hfe and spirit of Athens; but Athens has long since given up
the expectation of producing by wholesale and as the product of Athe-
nian enviroiunent men of Socratic mind. Of each of these men we
must say that Hrinkwater says first of other great leaders and then of
Lincoln. "He was the lonl of his event."

I'.ut no great man can he understood entirely apart from his envi-
ronment, and if he could, it would be unfair both to him and to his
environment thus to attempt to interpret him.

Lincoln would have been a great man in almost any environment.
Rut Gray is not the only man who has had occasion to moralize con-
cerning the "mute inglorious Miltons" or the Cromwells guiltless of
their country's blood, and guiltless f)f anything else good or bad enough
to be mentioned, who lived and died in environments unsuited to their
development.

If Lintoi.n Had Lived in Another State.

Illinois lias a right to remind herself of those elements m the
character of Lincoln which were, we will not say produced or created,
but developed, by his Illinois environment.

Lincoln was born in the very heart of Kentucky. It was the claim
of the La Rue County when its representatives asked to be severed
from Hardin and to become a separate county, that La Rue County, as
measured from east to west, and from the northernx)st point in the
State direct to the southern boundary, was the precise geographical
center of the State. Its ccntrality gave rise to some semi-burlesque
oratory at the time, and this probably suggested to Proctor Knott a
portion of his noted speech which many years later did so much for
Duluth. and relieved the solenm tedium of the United States House
of Representatives with a hearty laugh.

It is conceivable that Lincoln might have lived and died in Ken-
tucky. If so, it is not certain that he would have lived and died un-
known. Men from his own county rose to distinction, an<l he might
have done so. But it is certain that he would not there have lived in
an environment such as evoked in him thr)se qualities that matle him
President-

Infliana has its honorable place in the development of Lincoln.
We cannot spare the record of those years of frontier life, nor of
its proximity to that highway of traffic anfl thought, the Ohio River.
Lincoln's life-long interest in river navigation was prompted by his
experience in Indiana. His strong convictions on the slavery question
were influenced in no imimportant flegree by his voyage to New
Orleans and his visit to the slave-market. Kven if we discount the
statement of John Hanks that Lincoln then declared that if he had an
opportunity to "hit that institution" he would hit it hard, we know from
Lincoln himself that the sight of slaves, chained and sold, aroused in
him emotions of enduring significance ; and this we must credit in no
small part to his life in Infliana.



The Notable Influence of a Short Migration.

I have sometimes ventured to wonder what would have happened
to the Lincoln family had Thomas Lincoln continued to live in the
home on Nolin Creek where Abraham Lincoln was born until the
time when the Lincoln family left Kentucky. He would not have
sailed down the same stream. It might never have occurred to Thomas
Lincoln to sail down the river at all, for the distance by Nolin Creek
and Green River is several times as great.* By crossing Muldraugh's
Hill and living on Knob Creek he was within much shorter distance
of the Ohio River, and he reached it by an entirely different route.
Had he continued to live on the Nolin Creek farm, and had he taken
his long voyage from there, he would have landed much farther down
the Ohio, at a point where the confluence of the rivers had already
caused considerable settlements to be made. It is quite possible that
he might have floated on as far as the shores of Missouri before finding
land as convenient and as remote from settlement as he found in
Spencer County, Indiana.

If Lincoln had grown up in Hardin County, Kentucky, he might
have received as good an education as he received in Spencer County,
Indiana ; have studied law and been admitted to the bar ; have traveled
the circuit and entered political life, and possibly have been elected
to Congress. But it is hardly conceivable that Kentucky alone could
have made him the man that he was when he left Illinois.

Had the Lincoln family remained in Spencer County, Indiana,
Lincoln's most feasible avenue out into life was by way of the Ohio
river. That might have given him valuable contacts with life farther
south, and have widened his influence and made him a man of note
in some southern State. But that would not have done for him what
was done for him in Illinois.

Had the Lincoln family landed farther down the Ohio and made
their home, as Daniel Boone did toward the end of his life, and as many
other Kentuckians of Lincoln's day were doing, near the Mississ-
ippi river and within the borders of the State of Missouri, it is hardly
possible that he would have found there the environment which would
have made him what he became.

Social conditions in rural Kentucky, Alissouri and southern
Indiana were not notably different from those in the portion of Illinois
where Lincoln made his home ; but Lincoln found at New Salem and



* In response to my request, the Director of the United States Geological Survey
furnishes me this information :

From Knob Creek by way of Rolling Fork and Salt River, the flat boat of Thomas
Lincoln floated 42 miles to the Ohio, and then, assuming that he landed at the point
in Spencer County nearest his farm, 91 miles down the Ohio to his debarcation near
the mouth of Anderson River. Had he embarked on Nolin River, at its point nearest
to the Lincoln cabin before the removal from Nolin to Knob Creek, he would have
floated down Nolin and Green Rivers 256 miles to reach the Ohio, and would have
been 46 miles, by the Ohio channel, below the mouth of Anderson River.

So far as I am aware, no one has considered the imiiortance of this short removal
from one sterile farm to another in the same county. I intend at some future time to
work out more in detail the effects of the removal of the Lincoln family from Nolin
Creek to Knob Creek. For the present it is enough to state that it appears to me
that, while the distance was only about 15 miles, and within the same county, the
effect upon the life of Lincoln was very great. Had the family remained upon Nolin
Creek, they would not have been so likely to undertake a voyage of 256 miles to the
Ohio ; and had they done so, they would have been very likely not to locate till they
reached Missouri.



at Sprini^'fu'IiI. :\ui\ in tlic ciicuit <»i the l-j^hth Judicial Ui.siiict, some-
thing which he <litl not find, and to the same degree was not very
likely t(» have found, in any other place where he had lived, or was
likely to have lived, had he not removed to Illinois.

Kememl)crinj.j that wherever he lived he woul<l have been an
honest and influential man, and remembering further, that, in any
environment which Thomas Lincoln wf)uld probably have chosen, con-
ditions of his life wouM have possessed many elements in Cf)mmon with
those which obtained in Illinois, we may move on from the realm of
hypothesis and iiK|uiie what as a matter of fact Illinois did for Lin-
coln that assisted in the development of his latent greatness-

Illinois Stimulated Lincoln's Love of Learning,

Lincoln fouiul in Illinois conditions wliich powerfully stimulated
his ambition to learn. He had received valualilc instruction in Indiana,
lie had learned to read, and had developed a strong desire to read.
He had read the P.iblc. Pilgrim's Progress, a History of the United
States, Robinson Crusoe. W'eems' Life of Washington and the Stat-
utes of Indiana. To this excellent list he had added a few other books
which happened to be within reach, and so far as we know they were
all remarkably good books. P>ut he himself declared that "There was
absolutel\' nothing to stimulate ambition to learn." He learnefl. not
because his environment was favorable, but because he hail within
him the determination to learn.

In Illinois. Lincoln found himself in an enviroiniu-nt wim ii gn-.illy
encouraged his love of learning. New Salem may seem to the modern
stuflent a poor, squalid little village, no one of whose few houses cost
much more than one hundred dollars. To Lincoln it was a city. It
was not sufliciently metropolitan to make him feel like a stranger, but
it had within it and passing through it men who greatly assisted in
making Lincoln what he would not have been likely to become in
Spencer County, Indiana. There he met Mentor Graham, the school-
master. The "few chicken-tracks" which Lincoln was able to make
on paper when he arrived became a clear, strong chirography. He had
already written his "Chronicles of Ruben," and certain treatises on
Temperance and on Cruelty to Animals ; but the debating society of
New Salem encouragefl him to write on many great themes, and gave
him an appreciative audience.

Oliver Wendell Holmes has reminded us that authors need a
"mutual aflmiration society" in order to do their best work. Such a
society, with its adjuncts of frank and robust criticism and free dis-
cussion, Lincoln found at New Salem.

There he studied Kirkham's Grammar under Mentor Graham.
There he learnefl the rudiments of surveying. There he obtained his
copy of I'lackstonc and read law. It was not simply that he found
books in slightly larger number than had been available in Indiana :
he found an atmosphere that encouraged him to make the largest pos-
sible use of books.



A College Education Not Impossible.

At this time Lincoln may even have considered the possibility of
a college education. Some of his associates at New Salem were stu-
dents at Illinois College. Lincoln himself became possessed of a book
of Greek exercises. He probably did not make large use of it ; but
the fact that he owned it shows us. that he did not think it impossible
that he might learn Greek. After his removal to Springfield he engaged
in a short study of German. Ann Rutledge desired him to spend at
least one year at Illinois College, while she attended its academy. I
have often wondered whether a college course would have made or
unmade Lincoln. It might not have done either, but it is an interesting
question, and one which I hope sometime to give a conjectural answer,
whether a college course, such as Lincoln might have obtained at Illi-
nois College in Jacksonville, would have developed his mind and
character more directly toward his success in life than did his years
at New Salem. He could probably have emerged from Illinois College
less deeply in debt that he was when he left New Salem. Financially
and geographically a college course was not impossible. At present we
will not ask whether it would have been better for him and the world
had he taken it, but only remind ourselves that Lincoln in Illinois was
so situated that a college course was one of the possibilities.

We cannot pursue the history of Lincoln's six years at New Salem
intelligently and confine our study to the financial adventures of the
firm of Lincoln and Berry, or the vicissitudes of Denton OflFutt or of
Lincoln's rough-and-tumble encounters with the Clary Grove boys.
Lincoln was in an environment that gave him adequate mental stimu-
lous and encouragement.

Illinois Favored Lincoln's Political Ambition.

Lincoln found in Illinois conditions highly favorable to his ambi-
tion to become a political leader. He had hardly landed from the
return voyage of the flat boat which had conveyed him to New Orleans
than he announced himself a candidate for the Legislature. The out-
break of the Black Hawk War, if it interrupted for a few weeks his
campaigning, brought him a popular election as captain, and did not
diminish his political ambition or his prospect of success in that field.

Had Abraham Lincoln's flat boat stuck, not on Rutledge's dam,
but let us say at the foot of Long Wharf, Boston, or at the Battery
in New York, or in Mobile or New Orleans, and had he made any one
of those cities his home, and there entered political life, he would not
have found conditions as favorable either for his immediate entry, or
for his prospective development, as he found in Illinois.

Illinois offered Lincoln an opportunity to enter politics almost the
moment he crossed the State line. After a year spent as a day laborer
in the vicinity of his father's home near Decatur, he made his second
flat-boat journey to New Orleans, and by good fortune his boat stuck
on the dam of Rutledge's mill at New Salem. Returning from New
Orleans, in the Summer of 1831, he took up his home in that micro-
scopic and short-lived village, and almost immediately proclaimed him-
self a candidate for the legislature.



Illinois politics up to this time h.ul been local .md factional. The
Slate was a Democratic State ; its southern part was settled very largely
from Kentucky, and its northern portion as yet was almost uninhab-
ited. National politics entered the State with the popularity of Andrew
Jackson, and took a strong hold on the life and enthusiasm of the
\oters in 1840, when William Ilcjiry llarrisf)n was a can<lidate, and
the watchwords were "Loj.j cabin and hard cider." It was not neces-
sary for a candi<late to have any larj.je political projjram in 1832. Abra-
ham Lincoln fitted well into his new environment. An unlettered
backwoodsnvin, just off a flat boat, could poll a very respectable vote
as a candidate for a member of the Icj^islature in 1832, and could l>e
elected two years thereafter, and re-elected regularly once in two years
so lonj^ as he cared to announce himself a candidate. liut Abraham
Lincoln and Illinois politics were both developing through that period.
Xcither he nor the political situation remainerl umnodified. Illinois
was not too proud to receive Abraham Lincoln as a member of her
legislature in 1834, and was gratified and honored to have a share in
electing him President in I8')0. Illinf)is furnished a part of the neces-
sary environment for the political development of Lincoln.

We know the political character of Illinois at the time when Lin-
coln became a resident of tht State. It was Democratic, and its De-
mocracy was divided between the "whole-hog" Democrats and those
whose devotion to Andrew lackson carried them to less violent ex-
tremes. Lincoln's personal backgrounds were those of Jack.sonian
Democracy. Thomas Lincoln was a Jackson Democrat; John Hanks,
as late as 1860, was "an old Democrat who will vote for Lincoln."
Persons who heard what is believed to have been Lincoln's first stump
speech at Decatur in the summer of 1830 say that he was then for
Jackson ami internal improvements. I have not found the personal
recollections of those who profess to have heard this speech very clear
or consistent, but they may be correct. Andrew Jackson was a name to
capture the imagination, and he may at that time have been Lincoln's
hero personally if not politically. Lamon hoKIs that Lincoln at the
outset was "a nominal Jackson man." Me says on the authority of
Dennis Hanks that Lincoln was "Whiggish but not a Whig." (Lamon:
Life of Lincoln, 123, 126. )

IVom the time of his first candidacy, however, there is nothing
that identifies Lincoln with Jackson Democracy. His earliest announce-
ment of himself as a candidate for the legislature did not name the
party with which he was afliliated, and he was warmly supported by
local Democrats as well as Whigs. P.ut as soon as he began to express
any principles which could be alligned with national issues, they were
unqualifiedly those of the \\ higs. He may have continued to admire
Andrew Jackson, but he became immediatelv a disciple of Henry Clay.
(See Nicolay and Hay, 1 : 102, 103; Morse. 1 : 38.)

In this development his personal evolution was like that of the
State, p.ut Lincoln's own development was in advance of that of the
State as a whole, and qualified him to lead in a movement that in time
committed Illinois against the policy of the extension of slavery.



10

The Incidental Values of Political Mistakes.

It would perhaps be but fair to add that the standards which ob-
tained in IlUnois poHtics were the more favorable to the advancement
of Lincoln because the mistakes of politicians in his day, in which mis-
takes Lincoln participated, were so largely the mistakes of the whole
body of the people and of Lincoln's constituents, that a public official
was not too summarily condemned to oblivion for his errors of judg-
ment. Governor Ford comments on this matter with characteristic
severity, condemning the "Long Nine" whose log-rolling in connection
with the removal of the Capital from Vandalia to Springfield cost the
State, as he maintained, more than the value of all the real estate in the
vicinity of Springfield, and he records the names of those members


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Online LibraryWilliam Eleazar BartonThe influence of Illinois in the development of Abraham Lincoln (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 3)