« PreviousContinue »
He left home before his father removed to Coles County, but he did not cut entirely loose from the family until this removal. Then he was ready for any opening to business, and it soon came. During the winter of the deep snow, one Denton Offutt, a trader, who belonged in Lexington, Kentucky, applied to him, John D. Johnston, his stepmother's son, and John Hanks, a relative of his own mother, to take a flat-boat to New Orleans. Abraham had already made the trip, and was regarded as a desirable man for the service. A bargain was made, and the three men agreed to join Offutt at Springfield, the present capital of the state, as soon as the snow should be gone. The snow melted about the first of March, but the accumulation had been so great that the low country was heavily flooded. Finding they could not make the journey on foot, they purchased a large canoe, and proceeded along the Sangamon River in it. They found Offutt at Springfield, but learned that he had failed to buy a boat at Beardstown, as he had expected. As all were disappointed, they finally settled upon an arrangement by which young Lincoln, Hanks and Johnston were to build a boat on Sangamon River, at Sangamon town, about seven miles north-west of Springfield. For this work they were to receive twelve dollars a month each. When the boat was finished, (and every plank of it was sawed by hand with a whip-saw,) it was launched on the Sangamon, and floated to a point below New Salem, in Menard (then Sangamon) County, where a drove of hogs was to be taken on board. At this time, the hogs of the region ran wild, as they do now in portions of the border states. Some of them were savage, and all, after the manner of swine, were difficult to manage. They had, however, been gathered and penned, but not an inch could they be made to move toward the boat. All the ordinary resources were exhausted in the attempts to get them on board. There was but one alternative, and this Abraham adopted. He actually carried them on board, one by one. His long arms and great strength enabled him to grasp them as in a vise, and to transfer them rapidly from the shore to the boat. They then took the boat to New Orleans substantially on the original contract, though Hanks, finding that he would be obliged to be absent from his family longer than he expected, left the boat at St. Louis, and came back.
The voyage was successfully accomplished, and so great was the satisfaction of Lincoln's employer, that he immediately proposed to him a different and higher grade of employment. Offutt had a store at New Salem, and a mill. These he proposed to place in Abraham's care. His previous clerks, during his long absences, had not only cheated him, but, by their insolence and dissipated habits, had driven away his customers. Offutt met Lincoln on the previous winter an entire stranger, but, during a brief intercourse, he had become impressed with his capacity and honesty. So Abraham became a clerk in a pioneer “store.” He had not many personal graces to exhibit there, but he at once became a center of attraction. Offutt's old customers came back, new ones were acquired, and all the business of the store was well performed.
It was while performing the duties of this new position that several incidents occurred which illustrated the young man's characteristics. He could not rest for an instant under the consciousness that he had, even unwittingly, defrauded anybody. On one occasion he sold a woman a little bill of goods amounting in value, by the reckoning, to two dollars and six and a quarter cents. He received the money, and the woman went away. On adding the items of the bill again, to make himself sure of correctness, he found that he had taken six and a quarter cents too much. It was night, and closing and locking the store, he started out on foot, a distance of two or three miles, for the house of his defrauded customer, and delivering over to her the sum whose possession had so much troubled him, went home satisfied. On another occasion, just as he was closing the store for the night, a woman entered, and asked for half a pound of tea. The tea was weighed out and paid for, and the store was left for the night. The next morning, Abraham entered to begin the duties of the day, when he discovered a four-ounce weight on the scales. He saw at once that he had made a mistake, and, shutting the store, he took a long walk before breakfast to deliver the remainder of the tea. These are very humble incidents, but they illustrate the man's perfect conscientiousness—his sensitive honesty-better perhaps than they would if they were of greater moment.
Another incident occurred in this store which illustrates other traits of his character. While showing goods to two or three women, a bully came in and began to talk in an offensive manner, using much profanity, and evidently wishing to provoke a quarrel. Lincoln leaned over the counter, and begged him, as ladies were present, not to indulge in such talk. The bully retorted that the opportunity had come for which he had long sought, and he would like to see the man who could hinder him from saying anything he might choose to say. Lincoln, still cool, told him that if he would wait until the ladies retired, he would hear what he had to say, and give him any satisfaction he desired. As soon as the women were gone, the man became furious. Lincoln heard his boasts and his abuse for a time, and finding that he was not to be put off without a fight, said—“ well, if you must be whipped, I suppose I may as well whip you as any other man.” This was just what the bully had been seeking, he said, so out of doors they went, and Lincoln made short work with him. He threw him upon the ground, held him there as if he had been a child, and gathering some “smart-weed” which grew upon the spot, rubbed it into his face and eyes, until the fellow bellowed with pain. Lincoln did all this without a particle of anger, and when the job was finished, went immediately for water, washed his victim's face, and did everything he could to alleviate his distress. The upshot of the matter was that the man became his fast and life-long friend, and was a better man from that day. It was impossible then, and it always remained impossible, for Lincoln to cherish resentment or revenge.
There lived at this time, in and around New Salem, a band of rollicking fellows or, more properly, roystering rowdies, known as “The Clary's Grove Boys.” The special tie that united them was physical courage and prowess. These fellows, although they embraced in their number many men who have since become respectable and influential, were wild and rough beyond toleration in any community not made up like that which produced them. They pretended to be “regulators,” and were the terror of all who did not acknowledge their rule; and their mode of securing allegiance was by flogging every man who failed to acknowledge it. They took it upon themselves to try the mettle of every new comer, and to learn the sort of stuff he was made of. Some one of their number was appointed to fight, wrestle, or run a foot-race, with each incoming stranger. Of course, Abraham Lincoln was obliged to pass the ordeal.
Perceiving that he was a man who would not easily be floored, they selected their champion, Jack Armstrong, and imposed upon him the task of laying Lincoln upon his back. There is no evidence that Lincoln was an unwilling party in the sport, for it was what he had always been accustomed to. The bout was entered upon, but Armstrong soon discovered that he had met with more than his match. The “ Boys” were looking on, and, seeing that their champion was likely to get the worst of it, did after the manner of such irresponsible bands. They gathered around Lincoln, struck and disabled him, and then Armstrong, by “legging” him, got him down.
Most men would have been indignant, not to say furiously angry, under such foul treatment as this; but if Lincoln was either, he did not show it. Getting up in perfect good humor, he fell to laughing over his discomfiture, and joking about it. They had all calculated upon making him angry, and then they intended, with the amiable spirit which characterized the “Clary's Grove Boys,” to give him a terrible drubbing. They were disappointed, and, in their admiration of him, immediately invited him to become one of the company. Strange as it may seem, this was the turning point, apparently, in Lincoln's life, a fact which will appear as our narrative progresses.
It was while young Lincoln was engaged in the duties of Offutt's store that he commenced the study of English gram
There was not a text-book to be obtained in the neighborhood, but hearing that there was a copy of Kirkham’s grammar in the possession of a person seven or eight miles distant, he walked to his house and succeeded in borrowing it. L. M. Green, a lawyer of Petersburg, in Menard County, says that every time he visited New Salem, at this period, Lincoln took him out upon a hill, and asked him to explain some point in Kirkham that had given him trouble. After having mastered the book, he remarked to a friend, that if that was what they called a science, he thought he could “subdue another.” Mr. Green says that Mr. Lincoln's talk at this time showed that he was beginning to think of a great life, and a great destiny. Lincoln said to him, on one occasion, that all his family seemed to have good sense, but, somehow, none had ever become distinguished. He thought that perhaps he might become so. He had talked, he said, with men who had the reputation of being great men, but he could not see that they differed much from others. During this year,
he was also much engaged with debating clubs, often walking six or seven miles to attend them. One of these clubs held its meetings at an old store-house in New Salem, and the first speech young Lincoln ever made was made there. He used to call the exercise " practicing polemics.” As these clubs were composed principally of men of no education whatever, some of their “polemics” are remembered as the most laughable of farces. His favorite newspaper, at this time, was the Louisville Journal, a paper which he received regularly by mail, and paid for during a number of years when he had not money enough to dress decently. He liked its politics, and was particularly delighted with its wit and humor, of which he had the keenest appreciation. When out of the store, he was always busy in the pursuit of knowledge. One gentleman who met him during this period, says that the first time he saw him he was lying on a trundle-bed, covered with books and papers, and rocking a cradle with his foot. Of the