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THERE is perhaps no point in which all human history, and the records of inspiration, are more clearly illustrative of each other than this--that Providence, in working out the great and mighty revolutions in the civil and social, no less than in the religious order, chooses the unknown, the lowly, the apparently unfit. But though drawn from obscurity, these instruments in the Mighty Hand are always intrinsically great-great in clearness of thought, great in calm deliberation, great in earnestness, in unaffectedness, in unselfish devotion to duty.
Thus viewed, Abraham Lincoln was truly great. Raised suddenly to the station which Washington was the first to fill, his sudden elevation sent a pang to the hearts of many, as though a sad degeneracy had fallen on our times; while others shuddered at the unequalness of the man for the most critical position which had yet arisen in American affairs.
Four years have so changed all this, that his name is uni versally revered; the great qualities which he really possessed, his knowledge of men, his uprightness and honesty, his kindliness of heart, his extreme caution in the unnumbered difficulties that daily arose in the constant civil and military emergencies, with a firmness that was never swerved by flattery or fear—all these, and the great results effected under his administration, have given him in the heart of the people a place second only to that of the Father of his Country. The sudden and terrible assassination which so suddenly cut short his second administrative term, has embalmed his memory, and in its very suddenness convinced men of all opinions and all parties of the extent and greatness of the national loss.
Sprung from the people, with no ancestral renown or services, with none of the auxiliaries which wealth, social position, or academic honors afford the mass of aspirants to great public honors, Abraham Lincoln rose step by step to the highest station in the gift of his fellow-countrymen. And although party virulence, which in our press has no check, persistently coupled his name with odious epithets, there has never been the slightest charge of any thing to detract from a high moral character. He was too great to stoop to vile means to accomplish his ends.
No Cæsar he, whom we lament,
Sent, it would seem, to do
The study of the life of the unpretending, homely Abraham Lincoln is, then, a study for the American people and the world. He is a man possible only under our form of government, and in life and death a proof of its excellence. He is no common man whose loss is so deplored; he is no common man whose loss a ruler-choosing-nation sees no one to fill in its confidence and affection.
Some industrious genealogist, tracing out the Lincoln family in America, will hereafter tell us of the original ancestor of the President in this country. He was, from all that family tradition preserves, one of the clear-headed honest Friends who came to settle the colony granted to William Penn, and made his new home in Berks county, Pennsylvania. Some of his descendants pushing southward became citizens of Virginia, and here in Rockingham county was born Abraham Lincoln, the grandfather of the President, and the eldest of five brothers. The influence of affairs had transformed the staid Quakers into hardy backwoodsmen, and when Boone laid open to the adventurous the rich lands of Kentucky then an outlying wilderness forming the western part of Virginia, Abraham Lincoln was one of the host of stalwart pioneers who, unheralded and unsung, pushed westward to found on the southern shore of the Ohio the high-toned State of Kentucky.
The young pioneer settled, it is generally supposed, on Floyd's Creek, and rearing there the log-cabin of a pioneer, cleared the
forest to begin the necessary cultivation. But before he could see his labors crowned with success, or a home for himself and his children blooming in the wilderness, the torrent of Indian war, so cruelly kept alive by the English authorities against us in the Revolution, swept that exposed frontier, and Abraham Lincoln was killed and scalped by the savages in one of their forays.
The widow, with her little family, was left thus bereft of all, far from the aid of civilized society; but her boys struggled manfully, and Thomas, the youngest, with the clear hereditary head and self-reliance, stood the buffets of fortune till he reached manhood. He married, in 1806, Lucy Hankes, and settled in Hardin county. Here, on a knoll that rises from the banks of Nolen Creek, and about a mile above Hodgensville, Abraham Lincoln was born, on the 12th of February, 1809, and here he remained until his sixth year, when his father removed a few miles further on to a new location.
At seven years of age he was sent to school to a Mr. Hazel, carrying with him an old copy of Dilworth's spelling-book, one of the three volumes that constituted the family library. He was also for a time under another teacher, of the name of Riney; but the whole period during which he was enabled to enjoy any of the advantages of a school was extremely limited, not exceeding at most a few months.
The family, as will readily be seen, were poor, and in a poor part of the country. Mr. U. F. Linder, a leading Democratic lawyer of Illinois, a friend of Mr. Lincoln from boyhood, says:
"I knew his father and his relatives in Kentucky. They were a good family. They were poor, and the very poorest people, I might say, of the middle classes; but they were true." In a slave State, the position of the poor white was one utterly disheartening and crushing; and Thomas Lincoln, after battling wearily with his disadvantages, resolved to strike forward to a field opening greater prospects of success for himself and his children. When Abraham was in his eighth year, his father sold his clearing, and, placing all his household goods on a raft, sought a new home in the wilds of Spencer county, Indiana. After seven days' journey through an almost uninhabited country, and, for part of the way, actually hewing a road through the woods, the pioneers reached their new home.
A log hut soon rose in the clearing, Abraham giving such
assistance as his age and strength permitted, for he was never in life an idler. His life here during the next twelve years. furnishes few incidents. For education, his opportunities were even less than in his native State; but he was ambitious, and sought to improve. Books were not more plenty in the cabins of the neighbors than in the humble domicil of the Lincolns; but Abraham sought out all that he could find, and, aided by his mother, he read them with avidity. A copy of Weems's Life of Washington, which he read, impressed him deeply, and the poor boy, little dreaming that he was ever to succeed the Father of his Country as the head of the Government, paid in toil for the pleasure which the perusal of the life afforded him. The rain at night, penetrating through the chinks of the cabin, spoiled the book, and some days' hard labor for the owner was the boy's only means of compensation, and this, with his proverbial honesty, he insisted on performing.
The arrival of a young man in the neighborhood who could write, and who kindly offered to teach young Lincoln, was indeed an epoch. Already filled with the idea that he needed but education to rise, and that he had good sound sense enough to fight his way, he allowed no occasion of improvement to escape.
He was now to lose his mother-his almost only teachera good, simple, pious woman, who sought to instil into her son the principles of virtue and religion, and give him such education as her ability afforded. Abraham deeply deplored her loss, and his first letter was one addressed to the Rev. Mr. Elkins, a travelling preacher and an old friend of his mother's, requesting him to come and perform funeral exercises over her grave. Three months after, the clergyman and the friends assembled to pay a last tribute to one universally beloved and respected.
A brief term at a school established near them, and we find Abraham, at the age of eighteen, seeking employment and preparing to relieve his father by doing for himself. A neighbor starting with a boat-load of stores for New Orleans invited him to join him, and the young man readily accepted the opportunity. In March, 1830, his father, who had married again, removed to a spot on the north side of the Sangamon river, ten miles west of Decatur, in Macon county, Illinois; and Abraham, after assisting him in the removal, as well as in erecting
a new house, split the rails for a fence--an incident which was taken up in the canvass for the Presidency, and made his rails as famous as Harrison's log cabin.
Working around by day, studying and improving himself by night, the young man pushed ahead, and, in the spring of 1831, was taken into the employ of a speculating trader named Denton Offutt, who had noticed his good qualities. With him, he took a boat again to New Orleans, but, on its return, the boat got aground near New Salem, in Illinois, near a mill and store. Offutt, deeming it a place for an opening, got possession of the place and opened the store, Lincoln being his clerk and manager. He soon made his mark: an attempt of a gang of the bullies of the place to give him a beating resulted in the defeat of their champion by the tall, sinewy stranger, who at once became a favorite with those who guaged men by their physical endurance and courage, while his affable manners, his unfailing cheerfulness, his ready wit, and his stories, made him a favorite with all. A store was soon his own; but he was too honest and too kind-hearted to drive sharp bargains, and soon found himself in difficulties which it required years of subsequent struggle to clear away, but which he allowed to stand no longer than his ability to discharge them. Honest Abraham Lincoln knew no bankrupt's discharge, but a receipt in full on payment in full.
The office of postmaster of New Salem, a petty office indeed, was his first public position, and one which gave him intense pleasure from the opportunity of reading it afforded him; and it is not a little remarkable that he began life, we may say, by serving the General Government in a civil, and, soon after, in a military capacity.
While still a clerk, the Black Hawk war broke out, and a company of volunteers was raised which elected him captain. He marched his force to Beardstown, but they were not called into active service during their term of thirty days; yet, with persistence characteristic of him, he enlisted in another company, and remained in service till the war was ended.
This early choice of one who was at most a clerk and hand in a country store, shows how clearly his fellow-citizens had recognized him as one born to be a ruler of men. At the next election for members of the Legislature, he was taken up as the