Page images

it. He did not dress shabbily to win votes, or excite comment, but partly because he was too poor to dress well, and partly because he had no love for dress, or taste in its arrangement. He was not honest because he thought honesty was “the best policy,” but because honesty was with him “the natural way of living.” With a modest estimate of his own powers, and a still humbler one of his acquisitions, he never assumed to be more or other than he was. A lie in any form seemed impossible to him. He could neither speak one nor act one, and in the light of this fact all the words and acts of his life are to be judged.

If this brief statement of his qualities and powers represents a wonderfully perfect character-so strangely pure and noble that it seems like the sketch of an enthusiast, it is not the writer's fault. Its materials are drawn from the lips of old friends who speak of him with tears—who loved him then as if he were their brother, and who worship his memory with a fond idolatry. It is drawn from such humble materials as composed his early history. He loved all, was kind to all, was without a vice of appetite or passion, was honest, was truthful, was simple, was unselfish, was religious, was intelligent and self-helpful, was all that a good man could desire in a son ready to enter life. We shall see how such a man with such a character entered life, and passed through it.


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,

[ocr errors]

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."

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 uttereid, 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


[ocr errors]

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. Ilis 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 Ilogan, at present a member of Congress from St. Louis; General

« PreviousContinue »