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House journal is sufficient to disprove the assertion of some biographers, that Lincoln, on account of great mental depression, was seldom in his seat during this winter's session of the Legislature. He was evidently, as regularly present then as at any other session, or as any other member. The terrible reality of his melancholy, however, may be judged from his own words in a letter to Major Stuart, at Washington (January 23, 1841): “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”
Temperance Address — Personal Difficulty with James
Shields — Marriage to Mary Todd — Defeated Candidate for Congressional Nomination in 1843 – An Evening with Van Buren — Polk Defeats Clay – Annexation of Texas — War with Mexico Begun — Lincoln Elected to Congress.
Early in 1842 Mr. Speed returned to his native State, married, and thenceforward resided on a country place near Louisyille, which was again his place of business. The former chums wrote to each other freely of their personal affairs for a year or two, but the correspondence was interrupted by long intervals after 1843. During the winter (1841-2) Lincoln was quite free from “hypo” or “ nervous debility,” both of which terms he used to describe his ailment.
On the 22d of February he delivered an address at Springfield in aid of the “Washingtonian” temperance movement, then lately inaugurated with the special object of reforming inebriates. He treated the subject in a manner peculiarly his own — with humanity, charity, and moderation. “When the dram-seller and drinker [he said] were incessantly told, not in accents of entreaty and persuasion, diffidently addressed by erring men to an erring brother, but in the thunder tones of anathema and denunciation, ... that they were the authors of all the vice and misery in the land, ... it is not wonderful that they were slow, very slow, to acknowledge the truth of such denunciations and to join the ranks of their denouncers in a hue and cry against themselves. To have expected them to do otherwise than they did ... was to expect a reversal of human nature, which is God's decree, and can never be reversed... When all such of us as have now reached the years of maturity first opened our eyes upon this stage of existence, we found intoxicating liquor recognized by everybody, used by everybody, repudiated by nobody. It commonly entered into the first draught of the infant and the last draught of the dying man. From the sideboard of the parson down to the ragged pocket of the homeless loafer, it was constantly found. Physicians prescribed it in this, that, and the other disease; government provided it for soldiers and sailors; and to have a rolling or raising, a husking or 'hoe-down' anywhere about without it was positively insufferable. So, too, it was everywhere a respectable article of manufacture and of merchandise. ... The universal sense of mankind on any subject is an argument, or at least an influence, not easily overcome. The success of the argument in favor of the existence of an overruling Providence mainly depends upon that sense; and men ought not, in justice, to be denounced for yielding to it in any case, or giving it up slowly, especially when they are backed by interest, fixed habits, or burning appetites. ... Whether or not the world would be vastly benefited by a total banishment from it of all intoxicating drinks seems to me not now an open question. Three-fourths of mankind confess the affirmative with their tongues, and I believe all the rest acknowledge it in their hearts."
Lincoln's former relations with Mary Todd, interrupted as we have seen, had not been at once renewed on his return from visiting the Speeds in Kentucky, yet the interruption was not to be permanent, as was apparent the following summer. Many an “affair of honor" has been somehow evolved from a like relationship; and such a trouble, though not after the usual course, happened in the present case. Happily, it was anything but serious in its outcome; and the same may be said of its immediate origin. Lincoln's adversary was a man afterward distinguished on the battlefield; a man of real courage as well as of considerable bluster, who was ere long to have a seat in the United States Senate. Particulars, tediously full and dull, may be found in newspaper files of the time. James Shields, born in Ireland, and now a gallant bachelor past thirty, was a member of the Illinois Legislature during Lincoln's second term, and later as State Auditor became a resident of Springfield. Certain contributions to the Sangamon Journal — a letter written by Lincoln, somewhat in the “ Jack Downing ” manner; another, over the same signature, said to have been concocted by Mary Todd and her friend, Miss Jayne (soon to be Mrs. Lyman Trumbull), and, most exasperating of all, some "lines" by Miss Todd — gave great offense to the Auditor. The editor, having been called upon by Shields' " friend,” General Whiteside, turned over the responsibility to Lincoln, to whom Shields wrote, demanding “a full, positive, and absolute retraction of
all offensive allusions used” in said communications, and “an apology for the insults conveyed in them" adding in conclusion: “ This may prevent consequences which no one will regret more than myself.”
Lincoln, who was at this time attending court in Tazewell County, more than fifty miles from Springfield — Shields having gone to Fremont on this personal errand — replied (Fremont, September 17, 1842): “ Your note of to-day was handed me by General Whiteside. In that note you say you have been informed, through the medium of the editor of the Journal, that I am the author of certain articles in that paper which you deem personally abusive of you; and, without stopping to inquire whether I am really the author, or to point out what is offensive in them, you demand an unqualified retraction of all that is offensive, and then proceed to hint at consequences. Now, sir, there is in this so much assumption of facts, and so much menace as to consequences, that I can not submit to answer that note any further than I have, and to add, that the consequence to which I suppose you allude would be matter of as great regret to me as it possibly could to you.”
Shields had not come so far, by such conveyance and thoroughfares as the country then afforded, without being very much in earnest. His letter was in terms that left no door ajar for explanation or disavowal, much less for retraction on the part of such a man as he had to deal with — a Kentuckian by birth, with associations largely of that type. Learning that Shields and Whiteside had started for Tazewell County, two friends of Lincoln-Dr. Merriman and Mr. Butler