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fortunes to higher topics of national life and human destiny. In general, his early practice involved few weighty questions or heavy stakes, and brought him scanty fees.
Recalling his three or four years of intimate association with him, beginning in 1837, Mr. Speed said Lincoln “was a social man, though he did not seek company,” adding, “after he had his home with me, on every winter's night at my store, by a big wood fire, no matter how inclement the weather, eight or ten choice spirits assembled, without distinction of party. It was a sort of social club without organization. They came there because they were sure to find Lincoln. His habit was to engage in conversation upon any and all subjects except politics.”
It happened, nevertheless, that one evening, in the winter preceding the Presidential canvass of 1840, he became involved in a political argument with Douglas, then Register of the Land Office at Springfield. As the discussion grew warm, Douglas sprang to his feet and said: “Gentlemen, this is no place to talk politics; we will discuss the questions publicly with you." Not long after there was a meeting of Whigs, and a challenge to the Democrats for a joint debate between champions of the parties. This was accepted, the Democrats choosing on their part Messrs. Douglas, Lamborn, Calhoun, and Jesse B. Thomas — former Senator from Illinois, and famed for his connection with the Missouri Compromise legislation. The Whigs elected as their speakers Messrs. Logan, Baker, Browning, and Lincoln. The debate took place in the Presbyterian
church — where the Legislature held its sessions after the capital was removed until the completion of the new State House. Large audiences were present, each of the eight speakers having one night to himself. The date—January, 1840,—will sufficiently indicate the general nature of the discussion. General Harrison had already been nominated at Harrisburg for the Presidency; Van Buren's re-nomination was certain in the near future. Here, though little heard of in the wide land, was an opening cannonade — long locally famous as the "great debate” — in the remarkable campaign of the year just begun. Lincoln wrote his speech, though it was delivered without notes of any kind; and it was soon after printed, filling seven columns of the Sangamon Journal. The leading topic of all the speeches was Van Buren's sub-treasury method for “collecting, safekeeping, transferring, and disbursing the revenues of the nation, as contrasted with a National Bank for the same purposes.” Alleged extravagant expenditures “gold spoons ” for the White House and other incongruities in oppressively hard times — naturally found place among incidental diversions from the solid subject. Lincoln, making the closing speech of the series, was of course expected to reply to whatever he thought needed such attention in the speeches of the other side. He unhesitatingly grappled with the stoutest arguments of the Democratic champions; but a little by-play of less gravity probably gave more pleasure to the audience. One specimen will illustrate this feature of his speech:
Mr. Lamborn insists that the difference between the Van Buren party and the Whigs is, that, although the former
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sometimes err in practice, they are always correct in principle, whereas the latter are wrong in principle, and, the better to impress this proposition, he uses a figurative expression in these words: “The Democrats are vulnerable in the heel, but they are sound in the heart and head.” The first branch of the figure—that is, that the Democrats are vulnerable in the heel—I admit is not merely figuratively but literally true. Who that looks but for a moment at their Swartwouts, their Prices, their Harringtons, and their hundreds of others, scampering away with the public money to Texas, to Europe, and to every spot on earth where a villain may hope to find refuge from justice, can at all doubt that they are most distressingly affected in their heels with a species of "running itch"? It seems that the malady of their heels operates on the sound-headed and honest-hearted creatures very much like the cork leg in the comic song on its owner, which, when he had once started on it, the more he tried to stop it, the more it would run away. At the hazard of wearing the point threadbare, I will relate an anecdote which seems to be too strikingly in point to be omitted. A witty Irish soldier who was always boasting of his bravery when no danger was near, but who invariably retreated without orders at the first charge of the engagement, being asked by his captain why he did so, replied: "Captain, I have as brave a heart as Julius Cæsar ever had, but, somehow or other, whenever danger approaches my cowardly legs will run away with it.” So with Mr. Lamborn's party. They take the public money into their hands for the most laudable purpose that wise heads and honest hearts can dictate; but, before they can possibly get it out again, their rascally vulnerable heels will run away with them.
Referring, near the close of his speech, to Mr. Lamborn's argument, founded upon the indications of recent State elections, that Van Buren was sure to be re-elected, Lincoln gave his imagination free range among bold metaphors in denunciation of the administration — “the great volcano at Washington," that was “belching forth the lava of political corruption in
a current broad and deep,” by which “all may be swept away.”
The probability that we may fall in the struggle [he said] ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just. It shall not deter me. If ever I feel the soul within me dilate and expand to those dimensions not wholly unworthy of its Almighty Architect, it is when I contemplate the cause of my country, deserted by all the world beside, and I standing up boldly, alone, hurling defiance at her victorious oppressors. Here, without contemplating consequences, before heaven and in the face of the world, I swear eternal fealty to the just cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life, my liberty, and my love. And who that thinks with me will not fearlessly adopt the oath that I take? Let none falter who thinks he is right, and we may succeed. But if, after all, we shall fail, be it so; we still shall have the proud consolation of saying to our consciences, and to the departed shade of our country's freedom, that the cause approved of our judgment and adored of our hearts, in disaster, in chains, in torture, in death, we never faltered in defending
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This was one of his first published speeches, not altogether faultless in style or in the main of much moment, yet, judged in the light of later history, there is something more than mere declamation — something almost prophetic withal — in these final sentences.
At this time he was in his third term as Representative, to which he had been chosen in 1838. While he had been gaining a living practice at the bar, he had also been growing in prominence as a political leader, so that in the organization of the House of Representatives he was the choice of the Whigs for Speaker, and received a vote but slightly less than that of his Democratic competitor.
He again served on the Finance Committee, which
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had vexations enough in seeking to relieve the State from disastrous entanglements of its banking, loan and improvement system. Lincoln was not an expert financier, certainly, nor did the methods he proposed find favor with the majority, except in the first element of financial wisdom, good faith with public creditors.
He was chosen to the House of Representatives for the fourth time in 1840, and was again the candidate of the Whig minority for Speaker. Named for elector on the Harrison ticket, he spent much time in canvassing the central counties of the State especially, bearing the brunt of the Presidential battle on the Whig side, either Douglas or Calhoun being usually at hand to reply. Lincoln regarded the latter as the harder to meet. Illinois could not be wrested from the Democratic party, but the efforts made were not wasted on so helpless a cause as Lamborn's predictions implied, and Van Buren's defeat brought with it the delusive prospect of better days for the Whigs.
Douglas, then holding the comparatively lucrative position of Register of the Land Office, given him by Van Buren, continued to press forward with characteristic energy. He had already made one canvass as a Congressional candidate, and was beaten by Major Stuart (Lincoln's partner) by so close a vote that he was for some time disposed to contest the seat. A bill to abolish the Supreme and Circuit Courts of Illinois and providing a new judiciary organization - originated and lobbied for by Douglas, and alleged to have a partisan object — was passed by the Legislature, Lincoln, Baker, and thirty-three other Whig members filing their protest against it. Dan Stone and the