Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 his services to them in the legislature, would not permit him to pursue without interruption. They kept him upon the legislative ticket in 1838, and he was re-elected. On the assembling of this legislature, Mr. Lincoln was at once recognized to be the foremost man on the whig side of the house, and was brought forward, without any dissent, as their candidate for speaker. The strength of this legislature was pretty evenly divided between the two parties. A great change, indeed, had occurred in the state. The financial crash of 1837 had prostrated industry and trade, and the people had, either justly or unjustly, held the dominant party responsible for the disasters from which they had suffered. Anti-slavery agitation had been voted down in Congress by the friends of Mr. Van Buren, who came into the presidential office during the previous year. All papers relating to slavery were, by solemn resolution of Congress, laid on the table without being debated, read, printed or referred. With financial ruin in the country, and a gag-law in Congress, the democratic party had a heavier load than it could carry. This was felt in Illinois, where the old democratic majority was very nearly destroyed. Colonel W. L. D. Ewing was the candidate of the democrats for speaker, in opposition to Mr. Lincoln, and was at last elected by a majority of one vote. Mr. Lincoln took a prominent part in all the debates of the session. Some of them were political, and were intended to have a bearing upon the next presidential election, and especially upon the politics of the state; but the most of them related to local and ephemeral affairs which will be of no interest to the general reader.

Allusion has already been made to Mr. Lincoln's ingenuityhis quickness at expedients. One of his modes of getting rid of troublesome friends, as well as troublesome enemies, was by telling a story. He began these tactics early in life, and he grew to be wonderfully adept in them. If a man broached a subject which he did not wish to discuss, he told a story which changed the direction of the conversation. If he was called upon to answer a question, he answered it by telling a story. He had a story for everything—something had occurred at some place where he used to live, that illustrated every possible phase of every possible subject with which he might have connection. His faculty of finding or making a story to match every event in his history, and every event to which he bore any relation, was really marvelous. That he made, or adapted, some of his stories, there is no question. It is beyond belief that those which entered his mind left it no richer than they came. It is not to be supposed that he spent any time in elaborating them, but by some law of association every event that occurred suggested some story, and, almost by an involuntary process, his mind harmonized their discordant points, and the story was pronounced "pat,” because it was made so before it was uttered. Every truth, or combination of truths, seemed immediately to clothe itself in a form of life, where he kept it for reference. His mind was full of stories; and the great facts of his life and history on entering his mind seemed to take up their abode in these stories, and if the garment did not fit them it was so modified that it did.

A good instance of the execution which he sometimes effected with a story occurred in the legislature. There was a troublesome member from Wabash County, who gloried particularly in being a “strict constructionist.” He found something“ unconstitutional” in every measure that was brought forward for discussion. He was a member of the Judiciary Committee, and was quite apt, after giving every measure a heavy pounding, to advocate its reference to this committee. No amount of sober argument could floor the member from Wabash. At last, he came to be considered a man to be silenced, and Mr. Lincoln was resorted to for an expedient by which this object might be accomplished. He soon afterwards honored the draft thus made upon him. A measure was brought forward in which Mr. Lincoln's constituents were interested, when the member from Wabash rose and discharged all his batteries upon its unconstitutional points. Mr. Lincoln then took the floor, and, with the quizzical expression oí' features which he could assume at will, and a mirthful twinkle in his gray eyes, said: “Mr. Speaker, the

[ocr errors][merged small]

attack of the member from Wabash on the constitutionality of this measure reminds me of an old friend of mine. He's a peculiar looking old fellow, with shaggy, overhanging eyebrows, and a pair of spectacles under them. (Everybody turned to the member from Wabash, and recognized a personal description.) One morning just after the old man got up, he imagined, on looking out of his door, that he saw rather a lively squirrel on a tree near his house. So he took down his rifle, and fired at the squirrel, but the squirrel paid no attention to the shot. He loaded and fired again, and again, until, at the thirteenth shot, he set down his gun impatiently, and said to his boy, who was looking on, “boy, there 's something wrong about this rifle.' "Rifle 's all right, I know 'tis, responded the boy, 'but where 's your squirrel ?' 'Don't you see him, humped up about half way up the tree?' inquired the old man, peering over his spectacles, and getting mystified. “No, I don't,' responded the boy; and then turning and looking into his father's face, he exclaimed, 'I see your squirrel! You've been firing at a louse on your eyebrow!'”

The story needed neither application nor explanation. The House was in convulsions of laughter; for Mr. Lincoln's skill in telling a story was not inferior to his appreciation of its points and his power of adapting them to the case in hand. It killed off the member from Wabash, who was very careful afterwards not to provoke any allusion to his "eyebrows."

A man who practiced law in Illinois in the earlier years of the state “ rode the circuit,” a proceeding of which the older communities of the East know nothing. The state of Illinois, for instance, is divided into a number of districts, each composed of a number of counties, of which a single judge, appointed or elected, as the case may be, for that purpose, makes the circuit, holding courts at each county seat. Railroads being scarce, the earlier circuit judges made their trips from county to county on horseback, or in a gig; and, as lawyers were not located in each county, all the prominent lawyers living within the limits of the circuit made the tour of the circuit with the judge. After the business of one county was

« PreviousContinue »