« PreviousContinue »
gling, and with such faint efforts that it was evident that he could not extricate himself from the mud. Mr. Lincoln looked at the pig and the mud which enveloped him, and then looked at some new clothes with which he had but a short time before enveloped himself. Deciding against the claims of the pig, he rode on, but he could not get rid of the vision of the poor brute, and, at last, after riding two miles, he turned back, determined to rescue the animal at the expense of his new clothes. Arrived at the spot, he tied his horse, and coolly went to work to build of old rails a passage to the bottom of the hole. Descending on these rails, he seized the pig and dragged him out, but not without serious damage to the clothes he wore. Washing his hands in the nearest brook, and wiping them on the grass, he mounted his gig and rode along. He then fell to examining the motive that sent him back to the release of the pig. At the first thought, it seemed to be pure benevolence, but, at length, he came to the conclusion that it was selfishness, for he certainly went to the pig's relief in order (as he said to the friend to whom he related the incident,) to "take a pain out of his own mind." This is certainly a new view of the nature of sympathy, and one which it will be well for the casuist to examine.
While Mr. Lincoln was not regarded by his professional associates as profoundly versed in the principles of law, he was looked upon by them as a very remarkable advocate. No man in Illinois had such power before a jury as he. This was a fact universally admitted. The elements of his power as an advocate were perfect lucidity of statement, great fairness in the treatment of both sides of a case, and the skill to conduct a common mind along the chain of his logic to his own conclusion. In presenting a case to a jury, he invariably presented both sides of it. After he had done this, there was really little more to be said, for he could state the points of his opponent better generally than his opponent could state them for himself. The man who followed him usually found himself handling that which Mr. Lincoln had already reduced to chaff. There was really no trick about this. In the first
place he would not take a case in which he did not believe he was on the side of justice. Believing that the right was with him, he felt that he could afford to give to the opposing counsel everything that he could claim, and still have material enough left for carrying his verdicts. His fairness was not only apparent but real, and the juries he addressed knew it to be so. He would stand before a jury and yield point after point that nearly every other lawyer would dispute under the same circumstances, so that, sometimes, his clients trembled with apprehension; and then, after he had given his opponent all he had claimed, and more than he had dared to claim, he would state his own side of the case with such power and clearness that that which had seemed strong against him was reduced to weakness, that which had seemed to be sound was proved to be specious, and that which had the appearance of being conclusive against him was plainly seen to be corroborative of his own positions on the question to be decided. Every juror was made to feel that Mr. Lincoln was an absolute aid to him in arriving at an intelligent and impartial verdict. The cunning lawyers thought that Mr. Lincoln was very cunning in all this-thought that his fairness was only apparent and assumed for a purpose-but it has already been stated that cunning was not an element of his nature. He had no interest in the establishment of anything but justice, and injustice, even if it favored him, could give him no satisfaction. The testimony of the lawyers who were obliged to try cases with him is that he was "a hard man to meet.”
Coming from the people, and being perfectly familiar with the modes of thought and mental capacity of the men who generally composed his juries, he knew all their difficulties, knew just what language to address to them, what illustrations to use, and how to bring his arguments to bear upon their minds. This point is well illustrated by the details of a case in the Coles Circuit Court.
The controversy was about a colt, in which thirty-four witnesses swore that they had known the colt from its falling, and that it was the property of the plaintiff, while thirty swore
that they had known the colt from its falling, and that it was the property of the defendant. It may be stated, at starting, that these witnesses were all honest, and that the mistake grew out of the exact resemblances which two colts bore to each other. One circumstance was proven by all the witnesses, or nearly all of them, viz: that the two claimants of the colt agreed to meet on a certain day with the two mares which were respectively claimed to be the dams of the colt, and permit the colt to decide which of the two he belonged to. The meeting occurred according to agreement, and, as it was a singular case and excited a good deal of popular interest, there were probably a hundred men assembled on their horses and mares, from far and near. Now the colt really belonged to the defendant in the case. It had strayed away and fallen into company with the plaintiff's horses. The plaintiff's colt had, at the same time, strayed "away, and had not returned, and was not to be found. The moment the two mares were brought upon the ground, the defendant's mare and the colt gave signs of recognition. The colt went to its dam, and would not leave her. They fondled each other; and, although the plaintiff brought his mare between them, and tried in various ways to divert the colt's attention, the colt would not be separated from its dam. It then followed her home, a distance of eight or ten miles, and, when within a mile or two of the stables, took a short cut to them in advance of its dam. The plaintiff had sued to recover the colt thus gone back to its owner.
In the presentation of this case to the jury, there were thirty-four witnesses on the side of the plaintiff, while the defendant had, on his side, only thirty witnesses; but he had on his side the colt itself and its dam-thirty-four men against thirty men and two brutes. Here was a case that was to be decided by the preponderance of evidence. All the witnesses were equally positive, and equally credible, Mr. Lincoln was on the side of the defendant, and contended that the voice of nature in the mare and colt ought to outweigh the testimony of a hundred men. The jury were all farmers, and all illiter
ate men, and he took great pains to make them understand what was meant by the "preponderance of evidence." He said that in a civil suit, absolute certainty, or such certainty as would be required to convict a man of crime, was not essential. They must decide the case according to the impression which the evidence had produced upon their minds, and, if they felt puzzled at all, he would give them a test by which they could bring themselves to a just conclusion. "Now," said he, "if you were going to bet on this case, on which side would you be willing to risk a picayune? That side on which you would be willing to bet a picayune, is the side on which rests the preponderance of evidence in your minds. It is possible that you may not be right, but that is not the question. The question is as to where the preponderance of evidence lies, and you can judge exactly where it lies in your minds, by deciding as to which side you would be willing to bet on."
The jury understood this. There was no mystification about it. They had got hold of a test by which they could render an intelligent verdict. Mr. Lincoln saw into their minds, and knew exactly what they needed; and the moment they received it, he knew that his case was safe, as a quick verdict for the defendant proved it to be. In nothing connected with this case was the ingenuity of Mr. Lincoln more evident, perhaps, than in the insignificance of the sum which he placed in risk by the hypothetical wager. It was not a hundred dollars, or a thousand dollars, or even a dollar, but the smallest silver coin, to show to them that the verdict should go with the preponderance of evidence, even if the preponderance should be only a hair's weight.
If it was the habit of Mr. Lincoln to present both sides of his cases to the jury, it was, of course, his habit to study both sides with equal thoroughness. He was called slow in arriving at the points of a case. It is probably true that his mind was not one of the quickest in the processes of investigation. He certainly exercised great care in coming to his conclusions. It was then, in the days of his legal practice, his habit to
argue against himself, and it always remained the habit of his life. He took special interest in the investigation of every point that could be made against him and his positions. This habit made his processes of investigation slower than those of other men, while the limited range of his legal education rendered it necessary that he should bestow more study upon his cases than better educated lawyers found it necessary to bestow.
One of the most even-tempered men that ever lived, Mr. Lincoln was the subject of great varieties of mood, and extremes of feeling. His constitution embraced remarkable contradictions. Oppressed with a deep melancholy at times, weighed down by the great problems of his own life and of humanity at large, assuming and carrying patiently the most important public burdens, he was as simple as a boy, took delight in the most trivial things, and with the subtlest and quickest sense of the ludicrous, laughed incontinently over incidents and stories that would hardly move any other man in his position to a smile. At one time, while riding the circuit with a friend, he entered into an exposition of his feelings touching what seemed to him the growing corruption of the world, in politics and morals. "Oh how hard it is," he exclaimed, “to die, and not to be able to leave the world any better for one's little life in it!" Here was a key to one cause of his depression, and an index to his aspirations. After this conversation and the ride were over, he probably arrived at a country tavern, and there spent the evening in telling stories to his brother lawyers, and in laughing over the most trifling incidents.
It will perhaps be as well, at this point of his history as elsewhere, to allude to his habit of telling stories that it would not be proper to repeat in the presence of women. It is useless for Mr. Lincoln's biographers to ignore this habit, for it was notorious. The whole West, if not the whole country, is full of these stories; and there is no doubt at all that he indulged in them with the same freedom that he did in those of a less exceptionable character. Good people are