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SEVERAL of the old acquaintances of Mr. Lincoln speak of his having studied law, or having begun the study of law, previous to 1834. He had doubtless thought of it, and had made it a subject of consideration among his friends. With a vague project of doing this at some time, he had bought a copy of Blackstone at an auction in Springfield, and had looked it over. This fact was enough to furnish a basis for the story; but by his own statement he did not begin the study of his profession until after he had been a member of the legislature.
Two years had passed away since his unsuccessful attempt to be elected a representative of Sangamon County. In the meantime, he had become known more widely. His duties as surveyor had brought him into contact with people in other localities. He had become a political speaker, and, although rather rough and slow and argumentative, was very popular. He had made a few speeches on the condition that the friends who persuaded him to try the experiment "would not laugh at him." They agreed to the condition, and found no occasion to depart from it.
In 1834, he became again a candidate for the legislature, and was elected by the highest vote cast for any candidate. Major John T. Stuart, whose name has been mentioned as an officer in the Black Hawk war, and whose acquaintance Lincoln made at Beardstown, was also elected. Major Stuart had already conceived the highest opinion of the young man,
and seeing much of him during the canvass for the election, privately advised him to study law. Stuart was himself engaged in a large and lucrative legal practice at Springfield. Lincoln said he was poor-that he had no money to buy books, or to live where books might be borrowed and used. Major Stuart offered to lend him all he needed, and he decided to take the kind lawyer's advice, and accept his offer. At the close of the canvass which resulted in his election, he walked to Springfield, borrowed "a load" of books of Stuart, and took them home with him to New Salem. Here he began the study of law in good earnest, though with no preceptor. He studied while he had bread, and then started out on a surveying tour, to win the money that would buy more. One who remembers his habits during this period says that he went, day after day, for weeks, and sat under an oak tree on a hill near New Salem and read, moving around to keep in the shade, as the sun moved. He was so much absorbed that some people thought and said that he was crazy. Not unfrequently he met and passed his best friends without noticing them. The truth was that he had found the pursuit of his life, and had become very much in earnest.
During Lincoln's campaign, he possessed and rode a horse, to procure which he had quite likely sold his compass and chain, for, as soon as the canvass had closed, he sold a horse, and bought these instruments indispensable to him in the only pursuit by which he could make his living. When the time for the assembling of the legislature approached, Lincoln dropped his law books, shouldered his pack, and, on foot, trudged to Vandalia, then the capital of the state, about a hundred miles, to make his entrance into public life.
His personal appearance at this time must have been something of an improvement upon former days. A gentleman now living in Chicago, then a resident of Coles County,* met him at that time, or very soon afterwards, and says that he was dressed in plain mixed jeans, his coat being of the surtout fashion, which, at that day, and in that part of the country,
*U. F. Linder, Esq.
was a very reputable dress. He speaks of him, also, as being then extremely modest and retiring. Colonel Jesse K. Dubois, (one of the Sangamon County delegation,) and Lincoln were the two youngest men in the House. During this session, Mr. Lincoln said very little, but learned much. As he was a novice in legislation, he left the talking to older and wiser men. James Semple, afterwards United States Senator, was elected speaker, and by him Lincoln was assigned to the second place on the committee on public accounts and expenditures. The subject of controlling interest before the legislature has no special interest in connection with Mr. Lincoln's life. The state was new, and very imperfectly developed. A plan of internal improvements was in agitation, special reference being had to a loan for the benefit of the Illinois and Michigan Canal Company, which had been incorporated in 1825. The loan bill was not carried at this session, though it was at a subsequent one. Lincoln was constantly in his place, and faithful in the performance of all the duties that were devolved upon him. When the session closed, he walked home as he came, and resumed his law and his surveying.
The canvass of 1836, which resulted in his re-election to the legislature, was an unusually exciting one, and resulted in the choice of a House which has probably never been equaled in any state, in the whole history of the country, for its number of remarkable men. As early as June 13th, of that year, we find a letter in the Sangamon Journal, addressed by Mr. Lincoln to the editor, beginning as follows: "In your paper of last Saturday, I see a communication over the signature of 'Many Voters,' in which the candidates who are announced in the Journal, are called upon to 'show their hands.' Agreed. Here's mine." He then goes on in his characteristic way to "show his hand," which was that substantially of the new whig party. It was during this canvass that he made the most striking speech he had ever uttered, and one that established his reputation as a first-class political debater. It has been spoken of, by some writers, as the first speech he ever made; but this is a mistake. The opposing
candidates had met at Springfield, as is the custom in the western states, for a public discussion of the questions involved in the canvass; and a large number of citizens had gathered in the Court House to hear the speeches. Ninian W. Edwards, then a whig, led off, and was followed by Dr. Early, a sharp debater and a representative man among the democrats. Early bore down very heavily upon Edwardsso much so that the latter wanted the opportunity for an immediate rejoinder, but Lincoln took his turn upon the platform. Embarrassed at first, and speaking slowly, he began to lay down and fix his propositions. His auditors followed him with breathless attention, and saw him inclose his adversary in a wall of fact, and then weave over him a network of deductions so logically tight in all its meshes, that there was no escape for the victim. He forgot himself entirely, as he grew warm at his work. His audience applauded, and with ridicule and wit he riddled the man whom he had made helpless. Men who remember the speech allude particularly to the transformation which it wrought in Mr. Lincoln's appearance. The homely man was majestic, the plain, good-natured face was full of expression, the long, bent figure was straight as an arrow, and the kind and dreamy eyes flashed with the fire of true inspiration. His reputation was made, and from that day to the day of his death, he was recognized in Illinois as one of the most powerful orators in the state.
The Sangamon County delegation, consisting of nine representatives, was so remarkable for the physical altitude of its members that they were known as "The Long Nine." Not a man of the number was less than six feet high, and Lincoln was the tallest of the nine, as he was the leading man intellectually, in and out of the House. Among those who composed the House, were General John A. McClernand, afterwards a member of Congress, Jesse K. Dubois, afterwards ́auditor of the state; James Semple, the speaker of this and the previous House, and subsequently United States Senator; Robert Smith, afterwards member of Congress; John Hogan, at present a member of Congress from St. Louis; General
James Shields, afterwards United States Senator; John Dement, who has since been treasurer of the state; Stephen A. Douglas, whose subsequent public career is familiar to all; Newton Cloud, president of the convention which framed the present state constitution of Illinois; John J. Hardin, who fell at Buena Vista; John Moore, afterwards Lieutenant Governor of the state; William A. Richardson, subsequently United States Senator, and William McMurtny, who has since been Lieutenant Governor of the state. This list does not embrace all who had then, or who have since been distinguished, but it is large enough to show that Lincoln was, during the term of this legislature, thrown into association. and often into antagonism with the brightest men of the new state. It is enough, with this fact in mind, to say that he was by them and by the people regarded as one of the leading men in the House.
The principal measure with this legislature was the adoption of a general system of public improvements. It was a great object with the special friends of this measure to secure the co-operation and support of the two senators and nine representatives from Sangamon County, but they firmly refused to support the measure, unless the removal of the capital from Vandalia to Springfield was made a part of the proposed system. So the measure for this removal passed through its various stages in company with the internal improvement bill, and both were enacted on the same day. The measure which thus changed the location of the capital of the state to Springfield, brought great popularity to the members from Sangamon, at least in their own home, and especially to Mr. Lincoln, who was put forward on all occasions to do the important work in securing it. When it is remembered that he had achieved his position before the people and among the leading men of the state at the early age of twenty-seven, it must be admitted that the disadvantages under which he had labored had not hindered him from doing what the best educated and most favored would have been proud to do.
It was at this session that Mr. Lincoln met Stephen A.