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Studying! What, I should like to know?" "Law, sir."
"Great God Almighty!" exclaimed Godby. It was not a profane expression, but one of astonishment.
When the book was finished, the farm hand walked to Springfield and obtained another from his friend. He earned money enough to pay his board by assisting Mr. Ellis, who had opened a store. When a customer came he put his book aside, but took it up again the moment he was at leisure.
Just how it happened is not known, but he was appointed postmaster. President Jackson was a Democrat, and did not appoint many Whigs to office; for he had given utterance to the expression, "To the victors belong the spoils." Lincoln was in a Democratic community, but was popular with Whigs and Democrats alike. So few letters came to New Salem that the revenue would hardly pay him for the trouble of receiving and sending the weekly mail. His hat was the post-office. He thrust the letters into it, and kindly carried them to the people in the village to whom they were addressed.
The young postmaster at New Salem greatly admired Henry Clay, of Kentucky, who had been Senator, and also member of President John Quincy Adams's Cabinet. In 1829 a young man, George D. Prentice, who was born in Connecticut, established a newspaper, the "New England Review," at Hartford, in that State. He had graduated at Brown University, and was a very able and witty writer. His poems were appearing in the newspapers. Mr. Clay was a candidate for the Presidency, and Mr. Prentice was employed to write his life. So it came about that John G. Whittier, whom the world has since heard of, became editor of
the "Review," and Mr. Prentice went to Kentucky and prepared a life of Mr. Clay, a copy of which fell into the hands of the young postmaster at New Salem, who read it with great care, and who accepted the political principles of the Kentucky statesman. Mr. Clay needed a newspaper to set forth his principles, and Mr. Prentice accordingly estab
lished the "Louisville Journal," for which the postmaster at New Salem had subscribed. He found great pleasure in reading its witty and pungent paragraphs to the loungers in Mr. Hill's store, such as the following:
"An editor in Indiana threatens to handle us without gloves. We certainly would never think of handling him without three pair, and thick ones at that."
"What would you do, madam, if you were a gentleman ?"
"Sir, what would you do if you were one ?"
"Strange that a dinner to which a man has not been invited is generally the one that sits hardest on the stomach."
It is certain that he must have laughed heartily over Mr. Prentice's account of what happened in Louisville:
'Mr. Trotter, without provocation, attempted to shoot Mr. Clark in the street. Mr. O'Hara, friend of Trotter, made an attack upon Mr. Bryant, associate of Clark. Bryant gave O'Hara an effectual cudgelling, and then laid his cane over the head and shoulders of Mr. Trotter till the latter cried for quarter. There the matter ended. Mr. Clark retired to reload his pistols, Mr. Bryant to purchase a new cane, and Mr. Trotter and Mr. O'Hara to get their heads mended."
Mr. Trotter was editor of the "Louisville Gazette," and said in his paper: "The infamy of George D. Prentice is notorious. He is shunned by all honorable men. The mark of Cain is on his brow."
"Mr. George Trotter," wrote Prentice, in reply, "says that the mark of Cain is on our brow. We don't know about that; but we do know that the mark of cane is on his back."
It seems probable that Mr. Prentice greatly influenced Abraham Lincoln in forming his political opinions. The paper which came to New Salem-its able editorials upon the questions of the day and the measures before Congress-were read with as keen a zest as its witty and sarcastic lines.
People from the Eastern States brought books, which the postmaster borrowed. He read Baldwin's History, Gibbon's works, and the novels of Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz. (*)
The civilization of New Salem was still of the frontier type. The Clary Grove ruffians and many others delighted in cock - fights. Mr. McNab had a rooster which he boasted could whip any other cock in Sangamon. Another fellow was sure his chicken was the best bird. Bets were made, the day fixed, and the cocks tossed into the ring. McNab's, instead of fighting, flew to the fence, clapped its wings, and gave a lusty crow. "You are mighty fine on dress parade, but not much at fighting," said McNab, who paid his bet amid the laughter of
the spectators. Such was the sport, the delight, the civilization, surrounding the young man who wanted to become a lawyer.
Board bills must be paid, and Abraham Lincoln, while studying the law-books loaned by friends in Springfield, was obliged to take his axe in hand once more. He split rails for James Short. He was working on the bank of the Sangamon when Pollard Simmons came along. "Good news for you," said Simmons.
"What is it?"
"Haven't you heard of your appointment?"
"Why, John Calhoun, who has been appointed by President Jackson surveyor of public land, has selected you for his assistant."
Calhoun was an ardent Democrat. Possibly he did not know any other person whom he thought competent to do the work. He knew Lincoln was to be trusted in everything that he would be willing to undertake.
"If I can be free to carry out my political principles I will accept; otherwise I will not take it," said Lincoln, and went on swinging his axe.(*)
He never had studied surveying; but Mentor Graham, the schoolmaster, kindly offered to assist him, and he soon comprehended the meaning of sines, cosines, and traverse tables. He obtained a compass and chain, and was ready to begin work. The Government surveyors, many years before, had erected the bounds of the quarter sections of land, but many of the monuments had disappeared and new ones must be established. A party planned a new town two miles down the Sangamon from New Salem, which they named Petersburg, and he was called upon to lay out the streets and lots. He resurveyed Russell Godby's land, and received for pay two buckskins, which Hannah Armstrong, wife of Jack the wrestler, sewed upon his linsey-woolsey trousers to protect them from the brambles. He was wanted in different parts of the county, and purchased a horse and saddle, also a pair of saddle-bags, in which he carried the compass, chain, survey-books, and other instruments. But the sheriff one day confronted him with a writ, and seized his horse and other property, demanding payment of the note which Berry and Lincoln had given for Radford's goods. The note had been sold to a man who was determined to collect it, although Berry was in his grave, and Lincoln was having hard work to pay his board and keep himself in decent clothes. James Short kindly purchased the horse and equipments, and turned them once more over to Lincoln, who
never forgot the great service rendered at a moment when he needed a true friend. People liked to help him, possibly because he liked to help others. He was riding towards Springfield, and was overtaken by a man who had ridden fast and far that he might make an entry of a tract of land in advance of a rich neighbor. He was poor, but his friends had contributed $100 to help him. "If I get there first I can secure it," he said. "See here," said Lincoln, "your horse is tired out; mine is fresh. I am in no hurry; take mine and go ahead. Put him up at Herndon's stable. I'll take yours and get there by-and-by." The man with a fresh horse reached Springfield, and secured the land a few minutes in advance of the other's arrival. Abraham Lincoln was ever ready to help those who needed help.
Once more Mr. Lincoln was a candidate for the Legislature, and the people were ready to vote for him. He had become acquainted with men in all sections of the county. There was no need for him to make speeches. Of the four persons elected, only one had more votes than he. When the time came for the Legislature to assemble a friend loaned him money enough to buy a new suit of clothes, and he made his way to Vandalia. When he entered the building in which the representatives met he crossed one of the dividing lines of his life. The future was to be far different from the past. He was associated with the foremost men of the State, who had been selected by their fellowcitizens to represent them in the Legislature. In the past he had compared himself with men who chopped wood, with boatmen, and the Clary Grove gang. As a legislator he was to measure himself with men who had enjoyed the advantages of academies and colleges, who had won reputations and the respect and esteem of their fellow-men. He heard their speeches, but said little himself.
He met in the lobby Stephen Arnold Douglas, born amid the Green Mountains of Vermont. His father died when he was only fifteen months old, but his mother tenderly cared for him. He attended the public-school, and usually stood at the head of his class. On the playground he was leader in the games. He wanted to go to college, but could not for lack of money.
"I will earn my own living," he resolutely said.
When fifteen years old he made furniture, obtaining enough money to attend an academy in Vermont one year. By teaching school he was able to attend a second year the academy at Canandaigua, N. Y. He studied law. With only 37 cents in his pocket he entered the town of Winchester, not far from Jacksonville, Ill., where he taught