« PreviousContinue »
them deserted. Indeed, the force became reduced to one-half of its original numbers. Lincoln, however, remained true to his obligations, although it was not his good fortune to participate in the engagements which brought the war to a speedy close. The Indians were overtaken at last by a force under General Henry. The pursuit had led them to the Wisconsin River, and here the Indians were found in full retreat. They were charged upon, and driven in great confusion. Sixtyeight Indians were killed, a large number wounded, and at last, just as the savages were crossing the Mississippi, the battle of Bad-Ax was fought which resulted in the capture of. Black Hawk himself, with nearly all his warriors.
The Black Hawk war was not a very remarkable affair. It made no military reputations, but it was noteworthy in the single fact that the two simplest, homeliest and truest men engaged in it afterward became Presidents of the United States, viz: General ( then Colonel ) Zachary Taylor, and Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln never spoke of it as anything more than an interesting episode in his life, except upon one occasion when he used it as an instrument for turning the military pretensions of another into ridicule. The friends of General Cass, when that gentleman was a candidate for the presidency, endeavored to endow him with a military reputation. Mr. Lincoln, at that time a representative in Congress, delivered a speech before the House, which, in its allusions to General Cass, was exquisitely sarcastic and irresistibly humorous. “By the way, Mr. Speaker,” said Mr. Lincoln, " do you know I am a military hero? Yes, sir, in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled and came away. Speaking of General Cass's career reminds me of
my own. I was not at Stillman's Defeat, but I was about as near it as Cass to Hull's surrender; and like him I saw the place very soon afterward. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I had none to break; but I bent my musket pretty badly on one occasion. * * * If General Cass went in advance of me in picking whortleberries, I guess I surpassed him in charges upon the wild onions. If he saw any live, fighting Indians, it was more than I did, but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes; and although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.” Mr. Lincoln then went on to say that if he should ever turn democrat, and be taken up as a candidate for the presidency by the democratic party, he hoped they would not make fun of him by attempting to make of him a military hero. He lived to see himself the candidate of another party, and witnessed a decided disposition on the part of his campaign biographers to make a little political capital for him out of his connection with the Black Hawk war-an attempt which must have appealed to his quick sense of the ludicrous, as well as recalled the speech from which an extract has been quoted.
The soldiers from Sangamon County arrived home just ten days before the state election, and Mr. Lincoln was immediately applied to for permission to place his name among the candidates for the legislature. He was then but twenty-three years old, had but just emerged from obscurity, and had been but a short time a resident of the county. The application was a great surprise to him. Indeed, aside from the evidence of personal and neighborhood friendship which it afforded him, the surprise could hardly have been a pleasant one, for his political convictions had placed him among those who were in almost a hopeless minority. Party feeling ran high between the friends of General Jackson and Henry Clay, but the friends of Mr. Clay had little power. Illinois was strongly democratic and for many years remained so. His opponents in the canvass were well known men, and had shown themselves and made their speeches throughout the county; yet in Mr. Lincoln's own precinct he was voted for alike by political friend and foe. The official vote of the New Salem precinct, as shown by the poll-book in the clerk's office at Springfield, was, at this time, for Congress : Jonathan H. Pugh 179, Joseph Duncan 97 ; while the vote for Abraham Lincoln for the legislature was 277, or one more than the aggregate for both the candidates for Congress. This vote was undoubtedly the result of the personal popularity acquired by Lincoln during his brief military campaign. All his soldiers voted for him, and worked for his election wherever they had influence. But he was defeated on the general vote, and immediately looked about to find what there was for him to do.
It is interesting to recall the fact that at this time he seriously took into consideration the project of learning the blacksmith's trade. He was without means, and felt the immediate necessity of undertaking some business that would give him bread. It was while he was entertaining this project that an event occurred which, in his undetermined state of mind, seemed to open a way to success in another quarter. A man named Reuben Radford, the keeper of a small store in the village of New Salem, had somehow incurred the displeasure of the Clary's Grove Boys, who had exercised their “ regulating” prerogatives by irregularly breaking in his windows. William G. Greene, a friend of young Lincoln, riding by Radford's store soon afterward, was hailed by him, and told that he intended to sell out. Mr. Greene went into the store, and, looking around, offered him at random four hundred dollars for his stock. The offer was immediately accepted. Lincoln happening in the next day, and being familiar with the value of the goods, Mr. Greene proposed to him to take an inventory of the stock, and see what sort of a bargain he had made. This he did, and it was found that the goods were worth six hundred dollars. Lincoln then made him an offer of a hundred and twenty-five dollars for his bargain, with the proposition that he and a man named Berry, as his partner, should take his (Greene's) place in the notes given to Radford. Mr. Greene agreed to the arrangement, but Radford declined it, except on condition that Greene would be their security, and this he at last assented to.
Berry proved to be a dissipated, trifling man, and the business soon became a wreck. Mr. Greene was obliged to go in and help Lincoln close it up, and not only do this but pay Radford's notes. All that young Lincoln won from the store was some very valuable experience, and the burden of a debt to Greene which, in his conversations with the latter, he
always spoke of as “the national debt.” But this national debt, unlike the majority of those which bear the title, was paid to the utmost farthing in after years. Six years afterwards, Mr. Greene, who knew nothing of the law in such cases, and had not troubled himself to inquire about it, and who had, in the meantime, removed to Tennessee, received notice from Mr. Lincoln that he was ready to pay him what he had paid for Berry-he, Lincoln, being legally bound to pay the liabilities of his partner.
About this time Mr. Lincoln was appointed postmaster by President Jackson. The office was too insignificant to be considered politically, and it was given to the young man because everybody liked him, and because he was the only man willing to take it who could make out the returns. He was exceedingly pleased with the appointment, because it gave him a chance to read every newspaper that was taken in the vicinity. He had never been able to get half the newspapers he wanted before, and the office gave him the prospect of a constant feast. Not wishing to be tied to the office, as it yielded him no revenue that would reward him for the confinement, he made a post-office of his hat. Whenever he went out, the letters were placed in his hat. When an anxious looker for a letter found the postmaster, he had found his office; and the public officer, taking off his hat, looked over his mail wherever the public might find him. He kept the office until it was discontinued, or removed to Petersburgh.
One of the most beautiful exhibitions of Mr. Lincoln's rigid honesty occurred in connection with the settlement of his accounts with the post-office department, several years afterwards. It was after he had become a lawyer, and had been a legislator. He had passed through a period of great poverty, had acquired his education in the law in the midst of
many perplexities, inconveniences and hardships, and had met with temptations, such as few men could resist, to make a temporary use of any money he might have in his hands. One day, seated in the law office of his partner, the agent of the postoffice department entered, and inquired if Abraham Lincoln was within. Mr. Lincoln responded to his name, and was informed that the agent had called to collect a balanco due the department since the discontinuance of the New Salem office. A shade of perplexity passed over Mr. Lincoln's face, which did not escape the notice of friends who were present. One of them said at once : "Lincoln, if you are in want of money, let us help you."
us help you.” He made no reply, but suddenly rose, and pulled out from a pile of books a little old trunk, and, returning to the table, asked the agent how much the amount of his debt was. The sum was named, and then Mr. Lincoln opened the trunk, pulled out a little package of coin wrapped in a cotton rag, and counted out the exact sum, amounting to something more than seventeen dollars. After the agent had left the room, he remarked quietly that he never used any man's money but his own. Although this sum had been in his hands during all these years, he had never regarded it as available, even for any temporary purpose of his own.
The store having “winked out,” to use his own expression, he was ready for something else, and it came from an unexpected quarter. John Calhoun, a resident of Springfield, and since notorious as President of the Lecompton Constitutional Convention, in Kansas, was the surveyor of Sangamon County. The constant influx of immigrants made his office a busy one, and, looking around for assistance, he fixed upon Lincoln, and deputed to him all his work in the immediate vicinity of New Salem. Lincoln had not the slightest knowledge of surveying, and but the slenderest acquaintance with the science upon which it was based. He would be obliged to fit himself for his work in the shortest possible time, and he did. Mr. Calhoun lent him a copy of Flint and Gibson, and after a brief period of study, he procured a compass and chain, (the old settlers say that his first chain was a grape-vine,) and went at his work. The work procured bread, and, what seemed quite as essential to him, books; for during all these months he was a close student, and a constant reader. Mr. Lincoln surveyed the present town of Petersburgh, and much of the adjacent territory. He pursued this business steadily