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have made his fortune. His precinct (he had now settled in Sangamon county) was strongly for Jackson, while Lincoln had, from the start, warmly espoused the cause of Henry Clay. The State election occurred in August, and the Presidential election two or three months later, the same season. Political feeling ran high, at this the second election (as it proved) of Jackson. Notwithstanding this, such was the popularity which young Lincoln had brought home with him from the war, that out of the two hundred and eighty-four votes cast in his precinct, two hundred and seventy-seven--the entire Fote wanting seven-were cast for him. Yet, a little later in the same canvass, Gen. Jackson received a majority of one hundred and fifty-five for the Presidency, from the very same men, over Mr. Clay, whose cause Lincoln was known to favor. So marked an indication as this of his personal power to draw votes, made him a political celebrity at once. In future elections it became a point with aspirants to seek to combine his strength in their favor, by placing Lincoln's name on their ticket, to secure his battalion of voters. When he was elected to the Legislature for the first time, two years later, his majority ranged about two hundred votes higher than the rest of the ticket on which he ran.
Such was the beginning of Mr. Lincoln's political life, almost in his boyhood. This is the proper place to pause and review, in a brief way, the state of political affairs in Illinois, at the time of his first appearance upon this public arena. We shall find the revolution which has been wrought--Mr. Lincoln, though for long years in an apparently hopeless minority in the State, having been always a foremost leader on the side opposed to the Democracy-to be scarcely less remarkable than his youthful successes at the polls.
At the date of Mr. Lincoln's arrival—when just of age--in the State of Illinois, Gen. Jackson was in the midst of his first Presidential term. Since 1826 every general election in that State had resulted decisively in favor of his friends. In August, 1830, the first election after Lincoln became a resident of the State, and before he was a qualified voter, the only rival candidates for Governor; were both of the same
strongly predominant party. The Legislature then elected had a large majority on that side. In 1832, Gen. Jackson received the electoral vote of Illinois, for the second time, by a decisive majority. The Legislature of 1834 was so strongly Democratic, that the Whig members did not have any candidates of their own, in organizing the House, but chose rather to exercise the little power they had in favor of such Democratic candidate as they preferred. Against such odds, as we shall see, the opponents of that party struggled long and in vain. Even the great political tornado which swept over so large a portion of the Union in 1840, made no decisive impression upon Illinois. In spite of all these difiiculties and discouragements, Mr. Lincoln adhered steadily to his faith, never once dreaming of seeking profit in compliance, or in a compromise of his honest principles. Henry Clay was his model as a statesman, and always continued such, while any issues were left to contend for, of the celebrated American system of the great Kentuckian.
During the time Mr. Lincoln was pursuing his law studies, and making his first practical acquaintance with political life, he turned his attention to the business of a surveyor as a means of support. The mania for speculation in Western lands and lots was beginning to spread over the country at this time; and while our young student of law had neither means nor inclination to embark in any such enterprise for bimself, it was the means of bringing him some profitable employment with the chain and compass. From the earliest grand center of these operations in land and town lots, Chicago, which had also itself furnished, even then, most remarkable examples of fortunes easily made, the contagion spread everywhere through the State. Towns and cities without number were laid out in all directions, and innumerable fortunes were made, in anticipation, by the purchase of lots in all sorts of imaginary cities, during the four or five years preceding the memorable crisis and crash of 1837. It was during the year previous to that consummation, that this business had reached its hight in Illinois. With the revulsion, came also a brief period of adversity to the successful surveyor, whose occupation was now
It is said that even his surveying instruments were sold under the hammer. But this change only served to establish him more exclusively and permanently in his profession of the law.
Mr. Lincoln's first election to the Illinois Legislature, as has been stated, was in 1834. His associates on the ticket were Major John T. Stuart (two or three years later elected to Congress), John Dawson and William Carpenter. All were decided Clay men, or, as the party in that State was first styled, Democratic Republicans. About this time, the name of Whigs had begun to be their current designation. Lincoln was the youngest member of this Legislature, with the single exception of Hon. Jesse K. Dubois, of Lawrence county, now Auditor of State in Illinois, who served with him during his entire legislative career. He had not yet acquired position as a lawyer, or even been admitted to the bar, and had his reputation to make, no less, as a politician and orator. At this time he was very plain in his costume, as well as rather uncourtly in his address and general appearance. His clothing was of homely Kentucky jean, and the first impression made by his tall, lank figure, upon those who saw him, was not specially prepossessing. He had not outgrown his hard backwoods experience, and showed no inclination to disguise or to cast behind him the honest and manly, though unpolished characteristics of his earlier days. Never was a man further removed from all snobbish affectation. As little was there, also, of the demagogue art of assuming an uncouthness or rusticity of manner and outward habit, with the mistaken notion of thus securing particular favor as “one of the masses.” He chose to appear then, as he has at all times since, precisely what he was. His deportment was unassuming, though without any awkwardness of reserve.
During this, his first session in the Legislature, he was taking lessons, as became his youth and inexperience, and preparing himself for the future, by close observation and attention to business, rather than by a prominent participation in debate. He seldom or never took the floor to speak, although before the close of this and the succeeding special session of the same Legislature, he had shown, as previously
in every other capacity in which he was engaged, qualities that clearly pointed to him as fitted to act a leading part. One of his associates from Sangamon county, Maj. Stuart, was now the most prominent member on the Whig side of the House.
The organization of this Legislature was of course in the hands of the Democrats. The Speaker was Hon. James Semple, afterward United States Senator. In the selection of his committees, he assigned Lincoln the second place on the Committee on Public Accounts and Expenditures, as if with an intuition, in advance of acquaintance, of the propriety of setting "Honest Abe" to look after the public treasury.
I!on. Joseph Duncan, then a member of Congress, had been elected Governor at the same time this Legislature was chosen, orer Mr. Kinney, also a Democrat, and of what was then termed the "whole hog" Jackson school. Notwithstanding the strong preponderance of the Democrats in both branches of the Legislature, and in the State, it is noticeable that in the distinguishing measures of Whig policy, in this as in subsequent years, the minority found their principles repeatedly in the ascendant, though unable to control the details of their practical application. This was true more particularly in regard to banks and internal improvements. Though inferior in numbers, the Whigs had superiority in ability, and in the real popularity and genuine democracy of their doctrines.
General attention had now come to be strongly fixed upon the remarkable natural advantages and resources of the new State of Illinois. Land speculation, as we have seen, had already begun to bring in Eastern money, and the population was rapidly increasing. According to the Whig policy, it now became desirable that every proper and reasonable legislative aid should be afforded to further the development of the latent power of this young commonwealth, and its progress toward the high rank among the States of the Mississippi valley, which had been indicated and provided for by nature. Despite the strong Democratic predominancy in this Legislature, therefore, a new State bank, with a capital of one million and fire hundred thousand dollars, was incorporated, and the Illinois bank at Shawneetown, which had suspended for twelve years, was rechartered, with a capital of three hundred thousand dollars. It is to be noticed, however, that this bank legislation, just like that of many other States, similarly circumstanced, while it fully indorsed the Whig policy, in its fundamental principle, was by no means so skillfully done or so safely guarded as it should have been, and habitually was done in those States where the Whigs were in the ascendant. Whatever troubles have accrued in Illinois, under this head, have been chiefly due to the fact that Whig measures were not rightly shaped and executed by Democratic hands. Whig measures, framed and carried out by Deniocrats, have too often ended in a mere botch. At the same time, it is observable that these imperfect, yet plausible concessions to the public welfare, have often saved the Democratic party, at the expense of the real interest involved. The State bank charter passed the House of Representatives by one majority.
This Legislature also gave some attention to what are technically called internal improvements within the State. In behalf of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the company for constructing which had been incorporated in 1825, a loan was agitated at the first session. Congress had granted for this work, in 1826, about 300,000-acres of land on the proposed route of the canal. But for a special message of Gov. Duncan, maintaining that the desired loan could be effected on a pledge of these canal lands alone, it is probable that the loan bill, reported by a Senator from Sangamon,county, named George Forquer, would have passca. At the next session, in 1835, this measure was carried, a bill piedging the credit of the State in behalf of the Canal Company, to the amount originally proposed, having become a law. The loan was negotiated by Gov. Duncan the next year, and the work on this important canal was commenced in June, 1836. At the same special session, a large number of railroads, without State aid, were chartered, including the Illinois Central and the Galena and Chicago routes.
It is hardly necessary to state more distinctly that these measures, securing, with all the defects of their origin, immense benefits to the people of Illinois, and in their spirit accordant with the great principles of the “ American system,” were sup