Page images
PDF
EPUB

ate men, and he took great pains to make them understand what was meant by the “preponderance of evidence." He said that in a civil suit, absolute certainty, or such certainty as would be required to convict a man of crime, was not essential. They must decide the case according to the impression which the evidence had produced upon their minds, and, if they felt puzzled at all, he would give them a test by which they could bring themselves to a just conclusion. “Now," said he, “if you were going to bet on this case, on which side would you be willing to risk a picayune? That side on which you would be willing to bet a picayune, is the side on which rests the preponderance of evidence in your minds. It is possible that you may not be right, but that is not the

question. The question is as to where the preponderance of evidence lies, and you can judge exactly where it lies in your minds, by deciding as to which side you would be willing to bet on."

The jury understood this. There was no mystification about it. They had got hold of a test by which they could render an intelligent verdict. Mr. Lincoln saw into their minds, and knew exactly what they needed ; and the moment they received it, he knew that his case was safe, as a quick verdict for the defendant proved it to be. In nothing connected with this case was the ingenuity of Mr. Lincoln more evident, perhaps, than in the insignificance of the sum which he placed in risk by the hypothetical wager. It was not a hundred dollars, or a thousand dollars, or even a dollar, but the smallest silver coin, to show to them that the verdict should go with the preponderance of evidence, even if the preponderance should be only a hair's weight.

If it was the habit of Mr. Lincoln to present both sides of his cases to the jury, it was, of course, his habit to study both sides with equal thoroughness. He was called slow in arriving at the points of a case. It is probably true that his mind was not one of the quickest in the processes of investigation. He certainly exercised great care in coming to his conclusions. It was then, in the days of his legal practice, his habit to

argue against himself, and it always remained the habit of his life. He took special interest in the investigation of every point that could be made against him and his positions. This babit made his processes of investigation slower than those of other men, while the limited range of his legal education rendered it necessary that he should bestow more study upon his cases than better educated lawyers found it necessary to bestow.

One of the most even-tempered men that ever lived, Mr. Lincoln was the subject of great varieties of mood, and extremes of feeling. His constitution embraced remarkable contradictions. Oppressed with a deep melancholy at times, weighed down by the great problems of his own life and of humanity at large, assuming and carrying patiently the most important public burdens, he was as simple as a boy, took delight in the most trivial things, and with the subtlest and quickest sense of the ludicrous, laughed incontinently over incidents and stories that would hardly move any other man in his position to a smile. At one time, while riding the circuit with a friend, he entered into an exposition of his feelings touching what seemed to him the growing corruption of the world, in politics and morals. “Oh how hard it is,” he exclaimed, " to die, and not to be able to leave the world any better for one's little life in it!" Here was a key to one cause of his depression, and an index to his aspirations. After this conversation and the ride were over, he probably arrived at a country tavern, and there spent the evening in telling stories to his brother lawyers, and in laughing over the most trifling incidents.

It will perhaps be as well, at this point of his history as elsewhere, to allude to his habit of telling stories that it would not be proper to repeat in the presence of women. It is useless for Mr. Lincoln's biographers to ignore this habit, for it was notorious. The whole West, if not the whole country, is full of these stories; and there is no doubt at all that he indulged in them with the same freedom that he did in those of a less exceptionable character. Good people are

It was

at a loss to account for this apparent love of impurity, in a man of such exalted aims, such deep truthfulness, such high aspirations. The matter is easily explained.

Those who have heard these stories will readily admit that they are the wittiest and most amusing of their kind, and, when they have admitted that, they have in their minds the only reason of Mr. Lincoln's indulgence in them. always the elements of wit and humor that captivated him. He was not an impure man in his life, or in his imaginations. For impurity's sake, he never uttered an impure word, or made an impure allusion, but, whenever he found anything humorous, ludicrous or witty, he could not resist the inclination to use it, whatever the incidents inight be with which it was associated. Anything that was morally beautiful touched him to tears. He was equally sensitive to all that was heroic, beautiful, grand, sweet, ludicrous and grotesque in human life. He wept as readily over a tale of heroic self-devotion, as he laughed over a humorous story.

It is also to be said that the habit of telling these exceptionable stories was the habit of his profession, in his region of country, at the time he was engaged in practice there. He indulged in them no more than his brother lawyers, and he excelled them in his stories no more than he did in everything else. It is to be said, further, that there is something in the practice of the law that makes these stories more tolerable in the legal profession, even when the members of it are Christian men-men of pure morals and pure instincts—than in any other profession in the world. The legal profession brings men into constant association with impurity, with the details of cases of shame, with all the smut and dirt that can be raked from the haunts of vice, with all the particulars of prurient dalliance and bestial licentiousness. With this habitual—this professional—familiarity with impurity, it is not strange that the sense of propriety in language becomes deadened; and none know better than lawyers that there is in their profession, in the older parts of the country as well as in the newer, great laxity of speech, touching subjects which they would blush to introduce-which would cost them their selfrespect and the respect of the community to introduce—among women. Mr. Lincoln was not a sinner in this thing above other men, equally pure and good in his profession. It is not a habit to be justified in any man.

It is not a habit to be tolerated in any man who indulges in it to gratify simply his love of that which is beastly. In Mr. Lincoln’s case, it is a habit to be explained and regretted. His whole life had been spent with people without refinement. His legal study and practice had rendered this class of subjects familiar. It was the habit of his professional brethren to tell these objectionable stories, and, even if his pure sensibilities sometimes rebelledfor he possessed and always maintained the profoundest respect for women—the wit and humor they contained overtempted him.

One of the most beautiful traits of Mr. Lincoln was his considerate regard for the poor and obscure relatives he had left

, plodding along in their humble ways of life. Wherever upon his circuit he found them, he always went to their dwellings, ate with them, and, when convenient, made their houses his home. He never assumed in their presence the slightest superiority to them, in the facts and conditions of his life. He gave them money when they needed and he possessed it. Countless times he was known to leave his companions at the village hotel, after a hard day's work in the court room, and spend the evening with these old friends and companions of his humbler days. On one occasion, when urged not to go, he replied, “Why, aunt's heart would be broken if I should leave town without calling upon her;" yet he was obliged to walk several miles to make the call.

A little fact in this connection will illustrate his ever-present desire to deal honestly and justly with men.

He had always a partner in his professional life, and, when he went out upon 'the circuit, this partner was usually at home. While out, he

frequently took up and disposed of cases that were never entered at the office. In these cases, after receiving his fees, he divided the money in his pocket book, labeling each sum (wrapped in a piece of paper,) that belonged to his partner, stating his name, and the case on which it was received. He could not be content to keep an account. He divided the money, so that if he, by any casualty, should fail of an opportunity to pay it over, there could be no dispute as to the exact amount that was his partner's due. This may seem trivial, nay, boyish, but it was like Mr. Lincoln. But we must set aside the professional man for a while, to notice other affairs which mingled in his life.

« PreviousContinue »