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and by constitutional amendment, old questions, for a halfcentury the prime cause of sectional strife, had been irrevocably settled, and passed to the domain of history New men had come to the front, and new questions were to be discussed and determined.
To the student of history, the years immediately preceding the Civil War are of abiding interest. In some of its phases slavery was the all-absorbing subject of debate throughout the entire country. It had been the one recognized peril to the Union since the formation of the Government. Beginning with the debates in the convention that formulated the Federal Constitution, it remained for seventy years the apple of discord, the subject of patriotic apprehension and repeated compromise. The last serious attempt to settle this question in the manner just indicated was by the adjustment known in our political history as "the compromise measures of 1850." These measures, although bitterly denounced in the South as well as in the North, received the sanction in national convention of both of the great parties that two years later presented candidates for the Presidency. It is no doubt true that a majority of the people, in both sections of the country, then believed that the question that had been so fraught with peril to national unity from the beginning was at length settled for all time. The rude awakening came two years later, when the country was aroused, as it had rarely been before, by impassioned debate in and out of Congress, over the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. It was a period of excitement such as we shall probably not see again. Slavery in all its phases was the one topic of earnest discussion, both upon the hustings and at the fireside. There was little talk now of compromise. The old-time statesmen of the Clay and Webster, Winthrop and Crittenden, school soon disappeared from the arena. Men hitherto comparatively unknown to the country at large were soon to the front.
Conspicuous among them was a country lawyer whose home was at Springfield, Illinois. With the mighty events soon to follow, his name is imperishably linked. But it is not of Lincoln the President, the emancipator, the martyr,
we are now to speak. It is of Lincoln the country lawyer, as he stepped upon the arena of high debate, the unswerving antagonist of slavery extension half a century and more ago.
His home, during his entire professional life, was at the capital of the State. He was, at the time mentioned, in general practice as a lawyer and a regular attendant upon the neighboring courts. His early opportunities for education were meagre indeed. He had been a student of men, rather than of books. He was, in the most expressive sense, "of the people," the people as they then were. For,
"Know thou this, that men are as the time is."
His training was, in large measure, under the severe conditions to be briefly mentioned. The old-time custom of "riding the circuit" is to the present generation of lawyers only a tradition. The few who remember central Illinois as it was sixty years ago will readily recall the full meaning of the expression. The district in which Mr. Lincoln practised extended from the counties of Livingston and Woodford upon the north, almost to the Indiana line - embracing the present cities of Danville, Springfield, and Bloomington. The last named was the home of the Hon. David Davis, the presiding judge of the district. As is well known, he was the intimate friend of Mr. Lincoln, and the latter was often his guest during attendance upon the courts at Bloomington. At that early day, the term of court in few of the counties continued longer than a week, so that much of the time of the judge and the lawyers who travelled the circuit with him was spent upon horseback. When it is remembered that there were then no railroads, but few bridges, a sparse population, and that more than half of the area embraced in the district was unbroken prairie, the real significance of riding the circuit will fully appear. It was of this period that the late Governor Ford, speaking of Judge Young, -whose district extended from Quincy, upon the Mississippi River to Chicago, said: "He possesses in rare degree one of the highest requisites for a good circuit judge, - he is an excellent horseback rider."
At the period mentioned there were few law-books in the State. The monster libraries of later days had not yet arrived. The half-dozen volumes of State Reports, together with the Statutes and a few leading text-books, constituted the lawyer's library. To an Illinois lawyer upon the circuit, a pair of saddle-bags was an indispensable part of his outfit. With these, containing the few books mentioned and a change or two of linen, and supplied with the necessary horse, saddle and bridle, the lawyer of the pioneer days was duly equipped for the active duties of his calling. The lack of numerous volumes of adjudicated cases was, however, not an unmixed evil. Causes were necessarily argued upon principle. How well this conduced to the making of the real lawyer is well known. The admonition, "Beware the man who reads but one book," is of deep significance. The complaint to-day is not of scarcity, but that "of the making of many books there is no end." Professor Phelps is authority for the statement that "it is easy to find single opinions in which more authorities are cited than were mentioned by Marshall in the whole thirty years of his unexampled judicial life; and briefs that contain more cases than Webster referred to in all the arguments he ever delivered."
The lawyers of the times whereof we write were, almost without exception, politicians in close touch with the people, easy of approach, and obliging to the last degree. Generally speaking, a lawyer's office was as open to the public as the Courthouse itself. That his surroundings were favorable to the cultivation of a high degree of sociability goes without saying. Story-telling helped often on the circuit to while away the long evenings at country taverns. At times, perchance,
"The night drave on wi' sangs and clatter."
Oratory counted for much more then than now. When an important case was on trial all other pursuits were for the time suspended, and the people for miles around were in prompt attendance. This was especially the case when it
was known that one or more of the leading advocates were to speak. The litigation, too, was to a large extent different from that of to-day. The country was new, population sparse; the luxuries and many of the comforts of life yet in the future; post-offices, schools, and churches many miles away. In every cabin were to be found the powder-horn, bullet-pouch, and rifle. The restraints and amenities of modern society were in large measure unknown; and altogether much was to be, and was, "pardoned to the spirit of liberty." There were no great corporations to be chosen defendants, but much of the time of the courts was taken up by suits in ejectment, actions for assault and battery, breach of promise, and slander. One, not infrequent, was replevin, involving the ownership of hogs, when by unquestioned usage all stock was permitted to run at large. But criminal trials of all grades, and in all their details, aroused the deepest interest. To these the people came from all directions, as if summoned to a general muster. This was especially true if a murder case was upon trial. Excitement then ran high, and the arguments of counsel, from beginning to close, were listened to with breathless interest. It will readily be seen that such occasions furnished rare opportunity to the gifted advocate. In very truth the general acquaintance thus formed, and the popularity achieved, have marked the beginning of more than one successful and brilliant political career. Moreover, the thorough knowledge of the people thus acquired by actual contact the knowledge of their condition, necessities, and wishes resulted often in legislation of enduring benefit to the new country. The Homestead law, the law setting apart a moiety of the public domain for the maintenance of free schools, and judicious provision for the establishment of the various charities, will readily be recalled.
Politics, in the modern sense-too often merely "for what there is in it" was unknown. As stepping-stones to local offices and even to Congress, the caucus and the convention were yet to come. Aspirants to public place presented their claims directly to the people, and the personal popularity of
the candidate was an important factor in achieving success. Bribery at elections was rarely heard of. The saying of the great bard,
"If money go before,
awaited its verification in a later and more civilized period. As late even as 1858, when Lincoln and Douglas were rival aspirants to the Senate, when every voter in the State was a partisan of one or the other candidate, and the excitement was for many months intense, there was never, from either side, an intimation of the corrupt use of a farthing to influence the result.
No period of our history has witnessed more intense devotion to great party leaders than that of which we write. Of eminent statesmen, whose names were still invoked, none had filled larger space than did Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson. The former was the early political idol of Mr. Lincoln; the latter, of Mr. Douglas. Possibly, since the foundation of the Government, no statesman has been so completely idolized by his friends and party as was Henry Clay. Words are meaningless when the attempt is made to express the idolatry of the Whigs of his own State for their great chieftain. For a lifetime he knew no rival. His wish was law to his followers. In the realm of party leadership a greater than he hath not appeared. At his last defeat for the Presidency strong men wept bitter tears. When his star set, it was felt to be the signal for the dissolution of the great party of which he was the founder. In words worthy to be recalled, "when the tidings came like wailing over the State that Harry Percy's spur was cold, the chivalrous felt somehow the world had grown commonplace."
The following incident, along the line indicated, may be considered characteristic. While Mr. Clay was a Senator, a resolution, in accordance with a sometime custom, was introduced into the Kentucky House of Representatives instructing the Senators from that State to vote in favor of a certain bill then pending in Congress. The resolution was in the act of passing without opposition, when a hitherto silent member