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saw at once that he had made a mistake, and, shutting the store, he took a long walk before breakfast to deliver the remainder of the tea. These are very humble incidents, but they illustrate the man's perfect conscientiousness—his sensitive honesty-better perhaps than they would if they were of greater moment.
Another incident occurred in this store which illustrates other traits of his character. While showing goods to two or three women, a bully came in and began to talk in an offensive manner, using much profanity, and evidently wishing to provoke a quarrel. Lincoln leaned over the counter, and begged him, as ladies were present, not to indulge in such talk. The bully retorted that the opportunity had come for which he had long sought, and he would like to see the man who could hinder him from saying anything he might choose to say. Lincoln, still cool, told him that if he would wait until the ladies retired, he would hear what he had to say, and give him any satisfaction he desired. As soon as the women were gone, the man became furious Lincoln heard his boasts and his abuse for a time, and finding that he was not to be put off without a fight, said—“Well, if you must be whipped, I suppose I may as well whip you as any other man.” This was just what the bully had been seeking, he said, so out of doors they went, and Lincoln made short work with him. He threw him upon the ground, held him there as if he had been a child, and gathering some “smart-weed” which grew upon the spot, rubbed it into his face and eyes, until the fellow bellowed with pain. Lincoln did all this without a particle of anger, and when the job was finished, went immediately for water, washed his victim's face, and did everything he could to alleviate his distress. The upshot of the matter was that the man became his fast and life-long friend, and was a better man from that day. It was impossible then, and it always remained impossible, for Lincoln to cherish resentment or revenge.
There lived at this time, in and around New Salem, a band of rollicking fellows or, more properly, roystering rowdies, known as “The Clary's Grove Boys.” The special tie that united them was physical courage and prowess. These fellows, although they embraced in their number many men who have since become respectable and influential, were wild and rough beyond toleration in any community not made up like that which produced them. They pretended to be “regulators," and were the terror of all who did not acknowledge their rule; and their mode of securing allegiance was by flogging every man who failed to acknowledge it. They took it upon
themselves to try the mettle of every new comer, and to learn the sort of stuff he was made of. Some one of their number was appointed to fight, wrestle, or run a foot-race, with each incoming stranger. Of course, Abraham Lincoln was obliged to pass the ordeal.
Perceiving that he was a man who would not easily be floored, they selected their champion, Jack Armstrong, and imposed upon him the task of laying Lincoln upon his back. There is no evidence that Lincoln was an unwilling party in the sport, for it was what he had always been accustomed to. The bout was entered upon, but Armstrong soon discovered that he had met with more than his match. The “ Boys were looking on, and, seeing that their champion was likely
the worst of it, did after the manner of such irresponsible bands. They gathered around Lincoln, struck and disabled him, and then Armstrong, by “legging” him, got him down.
Most men would have been indignant, not to say furiously angry, under such foul treatment as this; but if Lincoln was either, he did not show it. Getting up in perfect good humor, he fell to laughing over his discomfiture, and joking about it. They had all calculated upon making him angry, and then they intended, with the amiable spirit which characterized the
Clary's Grove Boys," to give him a terrible drubbing. They were disappointed, and, in their admiration of him, immediately invited him to become one of the company. Strange as it may seem, this was the turning point, apparently, in Lincoln's life, a fact which will appear as our narrative progresses.
It was while young Lincoln was engaged in the duties of Offutt's store that he commenced the study of English gram
There was not a text-book to be obtained in the neighborhood, but hearing that there was a copy of Kirkham's grammar in the possession of a person seven or eight miles distant, he walked to his house and succeeded in borrowing it. L. M. Green, a lawyer of Petersburg, in Menard County, says that every time he visited New Salem, at this period, Lincoln took him out upon a hill, and asked him to explain some point in Kirkham that had given him trouble. After having mastered the book, he remarked to a friend, that if that was what they called a science, he thought he could “subdue another.” Mr. Green says that Mr. Lincoln's talk at this time showed that he was beginning to think of a great life, and a great destiny. Lincoln said to him, on one occasion, that all his family seemed to have good sense, but, somehow, none had ever become distinguished. He thought that perhaps he might become so. He had talked, he said, with men who had the reputation of being great men, but he could not see that they differed much from others. During this year, he was also much engaged with debating clubs, often walking six or seven miles to attend them. One of these clubs held its meetings at an old store-house in New Salem, and the first speech young Lincoln ever made was made there. He used to call the exercise“ practicing polemics.”. As these clubs were composed principally of men of no education whatever, some of their “polemics” are remembered as the most laughable of farces. His favorite newspaper, at this time, was the Louisville Journal, a paper which he received regularly by mail, and paid for during a number of years when he had not money enough to dress decently. He liked its politics, and was particularly delighted with its wit and humor, of which he had the keenest appreciation. When out of the store, he was always busy in the pursuit of knowledge. One gentleman who met him during this period, says that the first time he saw him he was lying on a trundle-bed, covered with books and papers, and rocking a cradle with his foot. Of the amount of uncovered space between the extremities of his trousers and the top of his socks which this informant observed, there shall be no mention. The whole scene, however, was entirely characteristic-Lincoln reading and studying, and at the same time helping his landlady by quieting her child.
During the year that Lincoln was in Denton Offutt's store, that gentleman, whose business was somewhat widely and unwisely spread about the country, ceased to prosper in his finances, and finally failed. The store was shut up, the mill was closed, and Abraham Lincoln was out of business. The year had been one of great advances, in many respects. He had made new and valuable acquaintances, read many books, mastered the grammar of his own tongue, won multitudes of friends, and become ready for a step still further in advance. Those who could appreciate brains respected him, and those whose highest ideas of a man related to his muscles were de voted to him. Every one trusted him. It was while he was performing the duties of the store that he acquired the soubriquet “Honest Abe"-a characterization that he never dishonored, and an abbreviation that he never outgrew. He was judge, arbitrator, referee, umpire, authority, in all disputes, games and matches of man-flesh and horse-flesh; a pacificator in all quarrels; every body's friend; the best natured, the most sensible, the best informed, the most modest and unassuming, the kindest, gentlest, roughest, strongest, best young fellow in all New Salem and the region round about.
DURING the year that Lincoln was in the employ of Offutt; a series of Indian difficulties were in progress in the state. Black Hawk, a celebrated chief of the Sacs, a tribe that by the terms of a treaty entered into near the beginning of the century, were permanently removed to the western bank of the Mississippi, came down the river with three hundred of his own warriors, and a few allies from the Kickapoos and Pottawatomies, accompanied also by his women and children, and crossed to the eastern side with the avowed intention of taking possession of the old hunting grounds of the nation on the Rock River. As he was committing numerous outrages on the way, General Gaines, commanding the United States forces in that quarter, immediately marched a few companies of regulars to Rock Island, where he took up his position. Governor Reynolds seconded his efforts by sending to him several hundred volunteers, recruited in the northern and central portions of the state. Black Hawk, not being able to meet the force thus assembled, retreated, and, on receiving from General Gaines a threat to cross the river and chastise him on his own ground, sued for peace, and reaffirmed all the terms of the old treaty which confined him to the western shore of the Mississippi.
The old chief proved treacherous again, and showed in the spring of 1832 that his treaty was simply an expedient for gaining time, and raising a larger force. He gathered his warriors in large numbers, and crossed the river with the