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Before going to the war, Lincoln had announced himself a candidate for Representative in the Legislature, avowing in his printed address substantially the principles of Henry Clay, and enlarging especially on the feasibility and great advantage of making the Sangamon River navigable by steamboats to the vicinity of Springfield. Stress was also laid upon education under a public school system, and upon legal restriction of the rates of interest. As the county was strongly Jacksonian, he had little to hope as a candidate, even after his return with a popular military record; but he had been strongly encouraged at the outset by Mr. Rutledge and others, who had heard him speak at the debating club, and formed a high opinion of his capacity. They assured him that he would be benefited by running, even if defeated. He was beaten, but in his own precinct, out of the two hundred and eighty-four votes polled, he received two hundred and seventy-five. The prestige thus gained proved to be of essential value.
His next adventure was joining with one Berry in “keeping store” — they buying cheap for credit the goods and good-will of one establishment after another, for New Salem already showed signs of coming dissolution. The consolidated interests were found before spring to be in a bad way, and the summer of 1833 had scarcely begun when Berry departed, leaving all the responsibility to Lincoln, who manfully stood his ground, ultimately making good the claims of every creditor. As country storekeeper he but repeated an experience had by Patrick Henry and Andrew Jackson in their young days, without better success. Before the break-up Lincoln was appointed postmaster (May 7, 1833), and served until the office at New Salem was closed (May 28, 1836), its business being transferred to Petersburg. His postal duties occupied little of his time and brought but a pennyworth of pay.
At this juncture his war acquaintance, John Calhoun, the Democratic Surveyor of Sangamon County, invited him to become his deputy, and put him in the way of the needed instruction. After a few weeks' study of Flint and Gibson he became a competent surveyor, and for the next two or three years found a good business in settling boundaries, laying out roads and making village plats. In the meantime he was preparing for admission to the bar, as advised by Major Stuart, who loaned him text-books. All the while he assiduously kept up his historical and other reading. But the cardinal event of this period of his life was his election, two years after his first candidacy, as one of the four State Representatives from Sangamon County. Major Stuart and Captain Lincoln canvassed the county as Whig candidates, making speeches and “mixing” with the people. No caucus nominations were made in those days, and there were six other candidates on the same side. Lincoln had over two hundred votes more than Stuart, and the two were the only Whigs elected.
It may reasonably be imagined that a gentleman like Stuart more than once recalled, in the presence of his youthful colleague, what Jefferson and Randolph thought of Patrick Henry at nearly the same age, as told by Wirt. “ His manners," wrote Jefferson, “ had something of coarseness in them; his passion was music, dancing, and pleasantry. He excelled in the last, and it attached every one to him. Mr. Henry had, a little before, broken up his store, or rather it had broken him up; but his misfortunes were not to be traced either in his countenance or conduct.” Omitting in the comparison both the music and the dancing, it may be added that in height and angularity the two were as alike as in the other features of this picture. A little later, when Henry applied for admission to the bar, Randolph (afterward the King's Attorney-General) “was so much shocked by Henry's very ungainly figure and address that he refused to examine him.” These scruples were at length overcome, and Randolph became satisfied that it was an "erroneous conclusion which he had drawn from the exterior of the candidate.”
The young Illinois legislator was at least one not to escape attention, and before the close of his two years' term at Vandalia he had won the favor and influence that precede leadership. Stuart was now foremost among the Whig members of the House, of which James Semple, a Democrat,- afterward United States Senator -- was the Speaker The State was rapidly filling up; land speculation was bringing in Eastern money; it was an era of great expectations. Illinois, it was claimed, only needed liberal legislation toward developing her latent powers to rival the most prosperous States. The Jackson party was in the ascendant, but the measures adopted did not all accord with the Jackson policy. A new State bank, with a capital of one million and a half, was chartered; the old bank at Shawneetown — in suspended animation during the last dozen years — was resuscitated; a loan was granted to the Illinois and Michigan Canal Company, organized in 1825; and several railway corporations, without State aid, were created. Among the railways thus initiated were the Illinois Central and the Chicago and Galena lines.
It was during the earlier session of this Legislature that Lincoln first met Stephen A. Douglas, not himself a member. “He was then,” said Lincoln, “ the least man I had ever seen.” Short in stature, he was at that time exceptionally thin and meager. Late in the year 1833, while only in his twenty-first year, Douglas had come to Winchester, Illinois (his native State being Vermont), after a temporary stay at Cleveland, Ohio, Cincinnati, and places farther south. The next year he continued the study of law, begun at Cleveland, and took part in local politics. At this session an act, of which Douglas was an active lobby supporter, if not the originator, was passed, taking from the Governor the power of appointing State's Attorneys for the several judicial districts, and providing for their choice by the Legislature. Scarcely as yet an expert in the legal profession, he presented himself as a candidate for State's Attorney in his district against John J. Hardin, a distinguished Whig lawyer, then in office. The movement was so adroit that the younger aspirant distanced his surprised competitor by a majority of two votes in the joint assembly.
To this period belongs a romance, with tragic ending, current among Menard traditions thirty years later. Its substance was then communicated to the writer, as follows: “Miss Ann Rutledge was a rosy-cheeked, blueeyed, fair-haired girl, whose people were a branch of the family of that name so distinguished in the Carolinas, and were regarded as rather aristocratic. She died in 1835, in the summer. The family left this section a ,few years later. Lincoln's attachment to Miss Rutledge and his extraordinary grief when she died were matters of current interest among the old settlers when I first knew him.”
While there are different versions of the story as ultimately expanded and embellished, it is agreed that Ann had a lover named McNamar, to whom she was engaged, at least as early as 1832. In that or the next year he left for a visit to his former home in the State of New York, promising an early return. She never saw him again, and after two years, with only occasional and not reassuring communications from him, she died. The relations of the two were well known to Lincoln, who was a boarder at Rutledge's tavern, and his heart was moved by Ann's disappointment and prolonged suspense — for it appears that she still loved McNamar — “never quite gave him up." About this date Lincoln memorized the sad poem, “Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?” which he afterward often recited. It may be that the briefer lines of Landor's “Rose Aylmer” would have better suited his mood had he known them. The sense of a great personal loss is not the basis of the most poignant grief. Profound sorrow springs rather from an infinite sympathy for the one who has endured all and is forever silent.
During the three years in question, as storekeeper, captain of volunteers, postmaster and surveyor, he was struggling for existence and advancement, actively employing his spare time not only in improving his general education, but also in preparation for law practice. He