Page images
PDF
EPUB

Douglas for the first time. Mr. Douglas was then only twenty-three years old, and was the youngest man in the House. Mr. Lincoln, in speaking of the fact subsequently, said that Douglas was then “the least man he ever saw. He was not only very short but very slender.

The two young men, who commenced their intellectual and political sparring during the session, could hardly have foreseen the struggle in which they were to engage in after years—a struggle which foreshadowed and even laid the basis of an epoch in the national history, and in the history of freedom and progress throughout the world.

This session of the legislature was notable for its connection with the beginning of Mr. Lincoln's anti-slavery history. It was at Vandalia, at this time, that Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas marked out the course in which they were to walkone to disappointment and a grave of unsatisfied hopes and baffled ambitions, the other to the realization of his highest dreams of achievement and renown, and a martyrdom that crowns his memory with an undying glory. Illinois contained many immigrants from the border slave

Its territory was joined to two of them; and there was a strong desire to live in harmony with neighbors quick to anger and resentment, and sensitive touching their “peculiar institution.” The prevailing sentiment in the state was in favor of slavery, or in favor of slaveholders in the exercise of their legal and constitutional rights. There were, in fact, a few hundred slaves living in the state at that time, as appears by the census tables, but by what law is not apparent. The democratic party was unanimously pro-slavery, and whatever there may have been of anti-slavery sentiment among the whigs was practically of little account. The abolitionist was hated and despised by both parties alike, and the whigs deprecated and disowned the title with indignation. There was doubtless some anti-slavery sentiment among the whigs, but it was weak and timid. Both parties were strong in their professed regard for the Constitution, and neither party doubted that the Constitution protected the institution of American Slavery.

states.

The agitation of the slavery question was just begirining to create uneasiness among slaveholders and politicians; and during the winter the subject was broached in the legislature. Resolutions were introduced of an extreme pro-slavery character, and the attempt was made to fix the stigma of abolitionism upon all who did not indorse them. They were carried through by the large democratic majority, and the opposition to them was weak in numbers and weaker still in its positions. We can judge something of its weakness when we learn that only two men among all the whig members were found willing to subscribe to a protest against these resolutions. Abraham Lincoln and Dan Stone, “representatives from the County of Sangamon," entered upon the Journal of the House their reasons for refusing to vote for these offensive resolutions, and they were the only men in the state who had the manliness to do it. The points of the protest were these: that while "the Congress of the United States has no power under the Constitution to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different states, and that while the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils," still, the “institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy,” and Congress has the power, under the Constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.” The latter proposition was qualified by the statement that this power

ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of said District.” Certainly this protest was a moderate one, and we may judge by it something of the character of the resolutions which compelled its utterance. We may judge something also of the low grade of anti-slavery sentiment in the whig party at that time, when only two men could be found to sign so moderate and guarded a document as this. Still, the refusal to sign may have been a matter of policy, for which a good reason could be given. It was something, however, for two men to stand out, and protest that slavery was a moral and political evil, over which Congress had power upon the national territory. It was the beginning of Mr. Lincoln's anti-slavery record, and modest and moderate as it

He never

was, and much as Mr. Lincoln afterwards accomplished for the abolition of slavery, he never became more extreme in his views than the words of this protest indicate. ceased to believe that Congress had no power under the Constitution to interfere with slavery in the different states. He never thought worse of slavery than that it was founded in injustice and bad policy. He never changed his belief touching the power of Congress over the institution of slavery in territory under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States. This little protest, entered into with his brother representative, Dan Stone, was the outline of the platform upon which he stood, and fought out the great anti-slavery battle whose trophies were four million freedmen, and a nation redeemed to justice and humanity.

In the meantime, Mr. Lincoln had made no money. He had walked his hundred miles to Vandalia in 1836, as he did in 1834, and when the session closed he walked home again. A gentleman in Menard County remembers meeting him and a detachment of “The Long Nine” on their way home. They were all mounted except Lincoln, who had thus far kept up with them on foot. If he had money, he was hoarding it for more important purposes than that of saving leg-weariness and leather. The weather was raw, and Lincoln's clothing was none of the warmest. Complaining of being cold to one of his companions, this irreverent member of “The Long Nine” told his future President that it was no wonder he was cold—“there was so much of him on the ground.” None of the party appreciated this homely joke at the expense of his feet (they were doubtless able to bear it) more thoroughly than Lincoln himself. We can imagine the cross-fires of wit and humor by which the way was enlivened during this cold and tedious journey. The scene was certainly a rude one, and seems more like a dream than a reality, when we remember that it occurred less than thirty years ago, in a state which now contains hardly less than a million and a half of people and three thousand miles of railway.

CHAPTER VII.

THE time had come with Mr. Lincoln for translation to a new sphere of life. By the scantiest means he had wrested from the hardest circumstances a development of his characteristic powers.

He had acquired the rudiments of an English education. He had read several text books of the natural sciences, with special attention to geology, in the facts and laws of which he had become particularly intelligent. He had read law as well as he could without the assistance of preceptors. He had attended a few sessions of the courts held near him, and had become somewhat familiar with the practical application of legal processes. He had, from the most discouraging beginnings, grown to be a notable political debater. He had had experience in legislation, had received public recognition as a man of mark and power, had been accepted as one of the leaders of an intelligent and morally influential political party, and had fairly outgrown the humble conditions by which his life had hitherto been surrounded.

At this time he received from his Springfield friend, Major Stuart, a proposition to become his partner in the practice of the law. Mr. Lincoln's influence in securing the transfer of the capital from Vandalia to Springfield had already given him a favorable introduction to the people of the city; and on the . 15th of April, 1837, he took up his abode there. He went to his new home with great self-distrust and with many misgivings concerning his future; but Springfield became his permanent home. He had been admitted to the bar during the

autumn of 1836, and went to his work with the ambition to be something, and the determination to do something.

It must have been with something of regret that he turned his back upon New Salem, for he left behind him a town full of friends, who had watched his progress with the friendliest interest, aided him when he needed aid, and appreciated him. He left behind him all the stepping-stones by which he had. mounted to the elevation he had reached the old store-house where he had been a successful clerk, the old store-house where he had been an unsuccessful principal, the scenes of his wrestling-matches and foot-races, the lounging-places where he had sat and told stories with a post-office in his hat, the rough audience-rooms in which he had “practiced polemics," the places where he had had his rough encounters with the Clary's Grove Boys, and, last, the old oak tree whose shadow he had followed to keep his law text out of the sun. But these things could have touched him but little when placed by the side of a few cabin homes, presided over by noble women who, with womanly instinct, had detected the manliness of his nature, and had given him a home “ for his company,” as they kindly said, when he needed one in charity. He never forgot these women, and occasion afterward came to show the constancy of his gratitude and the faithfulness of his friendship. Arriving in Springfield he became a member of the family of Hon. William Butler, afterward treasurer of the state, and here came under influences which, to a man bred as he had been, were of the most desirable character.

Mr. Lincoln's business connection with Mr. Stuart must have been broken and brief, for he was still a member of the legislature, which was summoned to a special session on the July following his removal to Springfield, and Mr. Stuart, himself, was soon afterwards elected to, and took his seat in, Congress. Still, the connection was one of advantage to the young lawyer. Mr. Stuart's willingness to receive him as a partner was an indorsement of his powers and acquisitions that must have helped him to make a start in professional life. This life the people of Springfield, who gratefully remembered

« PreviousContinue »