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still. Very little money passed between buyer and seller. The merchant was obliged to take farm produce at low price in exchange for his goods. Creditors were suing those who owed them. Lawyers were making out writs and trying cases. Taxes were especially burdensome by the action of State officials, who refused all bank-bills and demanded gold or silver, which had disappeared from circulation. People saw their farms sold for taxes and were powerless to prevent the sale.
The official most active in this period of financial distress was Mr. Shields, an emigrant from Ireland, who had been elected State Auditor. He was believed by many to be vain, egotistical, and pompous in the discharge of the duties of the office. The Auditor regarded himself with much complacency when in the society of ladies, and lost no opportunity of showing them attentions. He was a Democrat, whereas quite a number of the young ladies of Springfield were ardent Whigs, especially Miss Mary Todd and Miss Julia Jayne. The action of Shields in refusing to receive bank-bills in payment for taxes gave
great offence. He was bitterly denounced. Abraham Lincoln gave utterance to no denunciation, but, knowing Shields was sensitive to
ridicule, adopted a far different method of attack. The “Spring
field Journal,” the last week in August, contained a letter which set the Whigs to laughing, but which irritated Mr. Shields. It was written from “ Lost Township,” a place not found on any map. The writer was a widow, and signed herself “ Rebecca.” The widow gave an account of a visit to her neighbor, whom she found very angry. “What is the matter, Jeff ?” she asked. “I'm mad, Aunt 'Becca! I've been tugging ever since harvest, getting out wheat and hauling it to the river to raise State bank paper enough to pay my tax this year and a little school debt I owe; and now, just as I've got it, here I open this infernal · Extra Register? [Democratic newspaper], expecting to find it full of Glorious Democratic Victories and High Com’d Cocks, when, lo and behold! I find a set of fellows calling themselves officers of the State have forbidden the tax collectors and school commissioners to receive State paper at all; so here it is, dead on my hands."
The widow went on to tell how her neighbor used some bad words. "Don't swear so," she said, in expostulation to Jeff ; "you know I belong to the meetin', and swearing hurts my feelings.”
• Beg pardon, Aunt ’Becca, but I do say that it is enough to make one swear, to have to pay taxes in silver for nothing only that Ford may get his $2000, Shields his $2400, and Carpenter his $1600 a year, and all without danger of loss from State paper.” (°)
The ridicule of "Rebecca” was merciless. A week passed and a second letter appeared, not written by Abraham Lincoln, but by Vary Todd and Julia Jayne, in which “Rebecca” satirized the Auditor upon his attention to the ladies. Besides the letter there were rhymes :
“Ye Jew's harp, awake! the Auditor's won ;
Rebecca the widow has gained Erin's son ;
The Auditor, instead of laughing at the satire, became very angry, and demanded the name of the writer.
“Give him my name, but say nothing about the young ladies," said Lincoln.()
Shields demanded satisfaction. In the Southern States a refusal to fight a duel was looked upon as evidence of cowardice. Many public men had fought duels- Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, Colonel
Benton and General Jackson, Commodore Decatur and Commodore Barron, Henry Clay and John Randolph. Four years before the writing of the “Rebecca” letter Mr. Graves, of Kentucky, and Mr. Cilley, of Maine, members of Congress, fought a duel, in which Cilley was killed. Lincoln was quite willing to come to satisfactory terms with Shields for anything that he had written bimself, but he could not in honor say to him that the second letter and poetry had been written by two estimable young ladies.
“What will you do?" asked a friend.
“I am wholly opposed to duelling, and will do anything to avoid it that will not degrade me in the estimation of myself and friends; but if degradation or a fight are the alternatives, I shall fight.” (°)
He knew the party challenged could name the weapons. He knew, too, that small swords were generally used, but with grotesque humor he selected heavy broadswords. He stipulated that there should be a barrier between himself and Shields, over which they were to hack at each other, and they were to be confined to a limited space. The laws of Illinois prohibited duelling, and he demanded that the meeting should be outside the State. Shields undoubtedly knew Lincoln was opposed to fighting a duel—that his moral sense would revolt at the thought, and that he would not be likely to break the law by fighting in the State. Possibly he thought Lincoln would make a humble apology. Shields was brave but foolish, and would not listen to overtures for explanation. It was arranged that the meeting should be in Missouri, opposite Alton. They proceeded to the place selected, but friends interfered and there was no duel. There is little doubt that the man who had swung a beetle and driven iron wedges into gnarled hickory logs could have cleft the skull of his antagonist, but he had no such intention. He repeatedly said to the friends of Shields that in writing the first article he had no thought of anything personal. The Auditor's vanity had been sorely wounded by the second letter, in regard to which Lincoln could not make any explanation except that he had had no band in writing it. The affair set all Springfield to laughing at Shields, but it detracted from the happiness of Lincoln. By accepting the challenge he had violated his sense of right and outraged his better nature. He would gladly have blotted it from memory. It was ever a regret. (°)
Martin Van Buren, freed from the cares of the nation by the election of General Harrison, journeyed westward to Illinois. The roads were deep with mud, and instead of reaching Springfield on the day he intended, found night overtaking him when six miles from the capital. Word came to his friends that he would spend the night in the village of Rochester. They knew the accommodations at the little tavern would be scanty. The food would be bacon and eggs, or other homely fare; and so, providing themselves with delicacies, they hastened to Rochester.
Abraham Lincoln had made speeches supporting Harrison; he had commented severely upon the shortcomings of Van Buren's administration; but a man wbo had been chief executive of the nation should be honored by all, irrespective of party. He accepted the invitation of his Democratic fellow-citizens to accompany them to Rochester. Courteous the welcome extended to Van Buren, and equally kind the reception on the part of the ex-President, who talked of events in New York and Washington, and narrated anecdotes to the company, who were charmed by his genial ways. But it was the young Whig lawyer from Springfield who convulsed the ex-President with laughter by his anecdotes and stories. It was an evening often referred to with many expressions of pleasure by Mr. Van Buren in after-life.
“My sides ached from laughing,” he was wont to say. (')
Although the marriage engagement between Mr. Lincoln and Mary Todd had been suddenly suspended, the friendship had not been irrevocably sundered. Again he was a welcome guest at the hospitable home of Governor Edwards. A renewal of friendship led to a re-engagement, resulting in their marriage, November 4, 1842. The officiating clergyman, Rev. Mr. Dresser, used the marriage service of the Episcopal Church, which was new to one of the guests, Judge Thos. C. Browne, an early settler of that section of the country. Mr. Lincoln placed the ring upon the bride's finger, and solemnly repeated the words:
With this ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” Suddenly there came an exclamation from the judge not found in the service: “Good gracious, Lincoln, the statute fixes all that!" To an old-time, straightforward country lawyer the formula was needless superfluity. A ripple of laughter went round the room; but the clergyman, recovering his self-possession, proceeded with the service.
The newly-married couple found accommodations at the Globe Tavern. Soon after his marriage Mr. Lincoln associated himself in his profession with William H. Herndon. It was a congenial partnership. Mr. Herndon was an Abolitionist, and was holding correspondence with William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and other leading agitators for the immediate abolition of slavery. Antislavery publications found their way to the office of Lincoln & Herndon. Mr. Lincoln thought an immediate abolition of slavery was not possible. IIe hated the institution, but saw that it was intrenched in State and Church alike. It was recognized by the Constitution of the United States; it existed in half the States composing the Union. Public opinion regarding slavery must change before laws could be changed. The Abolitionists denounced the Constitution and the Union because the Constitution recognized slavery. Mr. Lincoln believed the government of the people under that agree
MARTIN VAN BUREN.