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of practice, with which Lincoln was little familiar, and both stood on the same footing as to the circumstances of their engagement. Mr. McCormick's attorneys were Hon. Reverdy Johnson and Mr. E. N. Dickinson — the latter's part being relatively the same as Mr. Harding's.
Lincoln had carefully prepared for the trial, his argument being written out in full. He had the popular side, which seemed to him the equitable one; and he was never more ambitious to acquit himself well than in the expected forensic contest with so eminent a lawyer as Mr. Johnson. Arguments having been limited to two in number on each side, and Mr. Harding being deemed indispensable, for the reason just stated, it was settled that Stanton should speak instead of Lincoln. It is not true (as has been stated *) that he thereupon abandoned the case, returned his retaining fee, and went home. Quite to the contrary, he put his written argument in the hands of Mr. Harding for the benefit of whatever suggestion it might give him, and remained until the close, taking a lively interest in the case. He kept his retainer ($500), and received the same additional compensation ($2,000) as if he had addressed the court. The case was argued at Cincinnati before Judge McLean, who dismissed the suit at the cost of the complainant.
When retained in this case, Lincoln had lately been the anti-Nebraska candidate for the Senatorship to succeed Shields, after the canvass of 1854, and had barely missed the place, which was given to Judge Trumbull. To this depressing defeat was now added the disappoint-, ment of his hope to gain new professional laurels in,
*In Lamon's “Recollections."
an encounter with a man of high national reputation as a lawyer and a statesman. The brusque ways of Stanton — a Democrat then in sympathy with Douglas and Shields — in this their first intercourse were no doubt somewhat exasperating Disparaging remarks about Lincoln — either overheard or reported to the latter by a tale-bearer — may have been added, as has been alleged; but this was the extent of Stanton's offending. There was no stir made about the matter by any one, and of course no complaint that was expected to go beyond the domestic circle in which this was a subject of conversation. *
Between a case involving perhaps millions of dollars and the interests of agricultural producers throughout the nation, before this high Federal court, and a simple case of assault and battery before a justice of the peace, there is a contrast sufficiently striking, yet one which illustrates the range of Lincoln's actual practice at this time. Only the week before, as stated by the late Judge Dickson, Lincoln had been counsel in a case of which he gave this account:
I was retained in the defense of a man charged before a justice of the peace with assault and battery. It was in the country, and when I got to the place of trial I found the whole neighborhood excited, and the feeling was strong against my client. I saw the only way was to get up a laugh and get the people in good humor. It turned out that the prosecuting witness was talkative; he described the fight at great length; how they had fought over a field, now by the barn, again down to the creek, and over it, and so on. I asked him on cross-examination how large that field was; he said it was ten acres; he knew it was, for he and some one else had stepped it off with a pole. “Well, then," I inquired, “was not that the smallest crap of a fight you have ever seen raised off of ten acres?” The hit took. The laughter was uproarious, and in half an hour the prosecuting witness was retreating amid the jeers of the crowd.
*While in Cincinnati on this occasion he was a guest of Judge W. M. Dickson, whose wife was a first cousin of Mrs. Lincoln.
A little later this mysteriously constituted man of the forum and the hustings would be found doing advocate's work in the famous Rock Island bridge case, and making an argument which entitled him to be classed in the highest grade of his profession.
Had he stuck to the law exclusively henceforward, Lincoln would have gained a moderate fortune and more than a local celebrity. Probably he would have been as well and as long remembered as any eminent lawyer of his time. Ultimately he might have been raised to the bench, for which he had some special qualifications. But did there not yet live, beneath the embers of disappointed hope and endeavor, something of the fire of political ambition? If so, its revival needed but opportunity; and the opportunity came unsought and unexpected.
The Great Surprise — Nebraska.
When the exclusion of slavery from the annexed Mexican territory and the suppression of slave-marketing in the District of Columbia were both demanded by a majority vote in the popular branch of the Thirtieth Congress, Calhoun and his sect at once set about kindling a new conflagration in the South. With great difficulty and after repeated failures the Compromise measures of 1850 were carried through Congress — admitting California as a free State; organizing the Territories of New Mexico and Utah without the exclusion of slavery; suppressing slave-trading in the District of Columbia; giving the South a new law for reclaiming fugitive slaves, and granting ten million dollars to Texas to quiet her claim to certain disputed territory. The followers of Calhoun were especially exasperated that California, the most essential part of the acquisition from Mexico, had added its weight to the scale it was not meant for.
Jefferson Davis, after the admission of California, resigned his seat in the Senate to run for Governor of Mississippi on a “Resistance" platform. The mode of resistance proposed was not distinctly defined in public, but it is certain that the “ State Rights associations,"
whose candidate Davis was, were straining every nerve to precipitate secession. Ex-Senator Henry S. Foote canvassed the State as the “ Union ” candidate — sustaining the compromise — in opposition to Davis, and beat him, though by only a slender majority. On this event, it may be, depended the postponement, for ten years, of a revolt already determined on. The Southern Democrats, for the moment divided into two segments, were presently rejoicing in the election of Franklin Pierce, who made Jefferson Davis a member of his Cabinet. “Peace, peace!" was the cry; and there seemed to be peace.
The unorganized remainder of the Louisiana Purchase, lying directly west of Missouri and Iowa, and north of the Missouri Compromise line, was a vast region, chiefly defined on the old maps as the “Great American Desert.” On its eastern border there were a few Indian reservations; and in time its desolateness was disclosed rather than relieved by two trails of traffic and emigration, one leading to Santa Fe, in New Mexico, and the other across the Rocky Mountains by the South Pass. These thoroughfares the Mexican war and the Mexican acquisitions had given increased consequence; and the settlers on the Missouri border were already coveting the Indian lands near them. So it happened that soon after the admission of California as a State and the organization of New Mexico as a Territory, Congress was petitioned to create a territorial government for this so-called “Platte country." In December, 1852, a bill responsive to this prayer was introduced in the House, and in the February following