« PreviousContinue »
might hope that in time his children could take an honorable position, won by industry and careful economy. The place of their destination was Spencer county, Indiana. For the last few miles they were obliged to cut their road as they went on. "With the resolution of veteran pioneers they toiled, sometimes being able to pick their way for a long distance without chopping, and then coming to a standstill in consequence of dense forests. Suffice it to say, that they were obliged to cut a road so much of the way that several days were employed in going eighteen miles. It was a difficult, wearisome, trying journey, and Mr. Lincoln often said, that he never passed through a harder experience than he did in going from Thompson's Ferry to Spencer county, Indiana."
Thus, before he was eight years old, Abraham Lin coln began the serious business of life. Their cabin was built of logs, and even the aid of such a mere child was of account in the wilderness where they now found themselves, after seven days of weary travel. Their neighbors, none of whom lived nearer than two or three miles, welcomed the strangers, and lent a hand towards building the rude dwelling in which the future President lay down, after fatiguing but healthful toil, to dream the dreams of childhood, undisturbed by thoughts of the future.
In this log-house, consisting of a room below and a room above, furnished by Thomas Lincoln and his son's own hands, Abraham passed the next twelve years of his life. So long as his mother lived, she assisted him in learning to read, and before her death, which occurred when he was ten years of age, she had
the satisfaction of seeing him read that Book which he has never since neglected.
After a while he learned to write.
This was an
accomplishment which some of the friendly neighbors thought unnecessary, but his father quietly persisted, and the boy was set down as a prodigy when he wrote to an old friend of his mother's, a travelling preacher, and begged him to come and preach a sermon over his mother's grave. Three months after, Parson Elkins came, and friends assembled, a year after her death, to pay a last tribute of respect to one universally beloved and respected. Her son's share in securing the presence of the clergyman was not unmentioned, and Abraham soon found himself called upon to write letters for his neighbors.
His father married a second time a Mrs. Sally Johnston, who proved an excellent mother to her step-son, and who now survives to take her share of the credit to which she is entitled for her faithful care. In the course of a year or two a Mr. Crawford, one of the settlers, opened a school in his own cabin, and Abraham's father embraced the opportunity to send him, in order that he might add some knowledge of arithmetic to his reading and writing. With buckskin clothes, a raccoon skin cap, and an old arithmetic which had been somewhere found for him, he commenced his studies in the "higher branches." His progress was rapid, and his perseverance and faithfulness won the interest and esteem of his teacher.
In that thinly settled country a book was a great rarity, but whenever Mr. Lincoln heard of one he endeavored to procure it for Abraham's perusal. In this
way he became acquainted with Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Esop's Fables, a Life of Henry Clay, and Weems's Life of Washington. The "hatchet" story of Washington, which has done more to make boys truthful than a hundred solemn exhortations, made a strong impression upon Abraham, and was one of those unseen, gentle influences, which helped to form his character for integrity and honesty. Its effect may be traced in the following story, which bids fair to become as never-failing an accompaniment to a Life of Lincoln as the hatchet case to that of Washington.
Mr. Crawford had lent him a copy of Ramsay's Life of Washington. During a severe storm Abraham improved his leisure by reading his book. One night he laid it down carefully, as he thought, and the next morning he found it soaked through! The wind had changed, the storm had beaten in through a crack in the logs, and the appearance of the book was ruined. How could he face the owner under such circumstances? He had no money to offer as a return, but he took the book, went directly to Mr. Crawford, showed him the irreparable injury, and frankly and honestly offered to work for him until he should be satisfied. Mr. Crawford accepted the offer and gave Abraham the book for his own, in return for three days' steady labor in "pulling fodder." His manliness and straightforwardness won the esteem of the Crawfords, and indeed of all the neighborhood.
At nineteen years of age he made a trip to NewOrleans, in company with a son of the owner of a flatboat, who intrusted a valuable cargo to their care. the way they were attacked by seven negroes, and their
lives and property were in great danger, but owing to their good use of the muscular force they had acquired as backwoodsmen, they succeeded in driving off the invaders, and pushing their boat out into the stream in safety. The result of the voyage was satisfactory to the owner, and Abraham Lincoln gained, in addition to his ten dollars a month, a reputation as a youth of promising business talent.
In 1830 Thomas Lincoln decided to make another change, and the log cabin which had been so long their home was deserted for a new one near Decatur, Illinois. This time the journey occupied fifteen days. Abraham was now twenty-one, but he did not begin his independent life until he had aided his father in settling his family, breaking the ground for corn, and making a rail fence around the farm. These rails have passed into song and story. "During the sitting of the Republican State Convention at Decatur, a banner, attached to two of these rails, and bearing an appropriate inscription, was brought into the assemblage, and formally presented to that body, amid a scene of unparalleled enthusiasm. After that they were in demand in every State of the Union in which free labor is honored, where they were borne in processions of the people, and hailed by hundreds of thousands of freemen, as a symbol of triumph, and as a glorious vindication of freedom and of the rights and dignity of free labor. These, however, were far from being the first or only rails made by Lincoln. He was a practised hand at the business. Mr. Lincoln has now a cane made from one of the rails split by his own hands in boyhood." After the first winter in Illinois, which was one of un
common severity, and required more than his father's care to keep the family in food, which was mostly obtained by hunting, Abraham Lincoln began life for himself. Sometimes he hired himself out as a farmhand, sometimes his learning procured him a situation as clerk in a store. When the Black Hawk war broke out in 1832, he joined a volunteer company, and was made captain. "He was an efficient, faithful officer, watchful of his men, and prompt in the discharge of duty, and his courage and patriotism shrank from no dangers or hardships." Thus the Commander-in-Chief of our armies has not been without a bit of military experience-much more, in fact, than the most of our Brigadier-Generals had had before the commencement of the war.
After his military life was over he looked about for something to do. He ran for the Legislature, but was beaten, though his own precinct gave him 277 votes out of 284. This was the only time he was ever beaten before the people. He bought a store and stock of goods on credit, and was appointed Postmaster. The store proved unprofitable, and he sold
All this time he pursued his studies. He had already learned grammar, and he had now opportunities for more extensive reading. He wrote out a synopsis of every book he read, and thus fixed it in his memory.
About this time he met John Calhoun, since President of the Lecompton (Kansas) Constitutional Convention. He proposed to Lincoln to take up surveying, and himself aided in his studies. He had plenty of employment as a surveyor, and won a good reputation in this new line of business.