« PreviousContinue »
gone. It is said that even his surveying instruments were sold under the hammer. But this change only served to establish him more exclusively and permanently in his profession of the law.
Mr. Lincoln's first election to the Illinois Legislature, as has been stated, was in 1834. His associates on the ticket were Major John T. Stuart (two or three years later elected to Congress), John Dawson and William Carpenter. All were decided Clay men, or, as the party in that State was first styled, Democratic Republicans. About this time, the name of Whigs had begun to be their current designation. Lincoln was the youngest member of this Legislature, with the single exception of Hon Jesse K. Dubois, of Lawrence county, afterward State Auditor of Illinois, who served with him during his entire legislative
He had not yet acquired position as a lawyer, or even been admitted to the bar, and had his reputation to make, no less, as a politician and orator. At this time he was very plain in his costume, as well as rather uncourtly in his address and general appearance. His clothing was of homely Kentucky jean, and the first impression made by his tall, lank figure, upon those who saw him, was not specially prepossessing. He had not outgrown his hard backwoods experience, and showed no inclination to disguise or to cast behind him the honest and manly, though unpolished characteristics of his earlier days. Never was a man further removed from all snobbish affectation. As little was there, also, of the demagogue art of assuming an uncouthness or rusticity of manner and outward habit, with the mistaken notion of thus securing particular favor as “one of the masses." He chose to appear then, as in all his later life, precisely what he was. His deportment was unassuming, though without any awkwardness of reserve.
During this, his first session in the Legislature, he was taking lessons, as became his youth and inexperience, and preparing himself for the future, by close observation and attention to business, rather than by a prominent participation in debate. He seldom or never took the floor to speak, although before the close of this and the succeeding special session of the same Legislature, he had shown, as previously
in every other capacity in which he was engaged, qualities that clearly pointed to him as fitted to act a leading part. One of his associates from Sangamon county, Major Stuart, was now the most prominent member on the Whig side of the House.
The organization of this Legislature, was, of course, in the hands of the Democrats. The Speaker was Hon. James Semple, afterward United States Senator. In the selection of his committees, he assigned Lincoln the second place on the Committee on Public Accounts and Expenditures, as if with an intuition, in advance of acquaintance, of the propriety of setting “ Honest Abe” to look after the public treasury.
Hon. Joseph Duncan, then a member of Congress, had been elected Governor at the same time this Legislature was chosen, over Mr. Kinney, also a Democrat, and of what was then termed the whole bog " Jackson school. Notwithstanding the strong preponderance of the Democrats in both branches of the Legislature, and in the State, it is noticeable that in the distinguish. ing measures of Whig policy, in this as in subsequent years, the minority found their principles repeatedly in the ascendant, though unable to control the details of their practical application. This was true more particularly in regard to banks and internal improvements. Though inferior in numbers, the Whigs had superiority in ability, and in the real popularity and genuine democracy of their doctrines.
General attention had now come to be strongly fixed upon the remarkable natural advantages and resources of the new State of Illinois. Land speculation, as we have seen, had already begun to bring in Eastern money, and the population was rapidly increasing. According to the Whig policy, it now became des able that every proper and reasonable legislative aid should be afforded to further the development of the latent power of this young commonwealth, and its progress toward the high rank among the States of the Mississippi valley, which had been indicated and provided for by nature. Despite the strong Democratic predominancy in this Legislature, therefore, a new State bank, with a capital of one million and five hundred thousand dollars, was incorporated, and the Illinois bank at Shawneetown, which had suspended for twelve years, was
ro-chartered, with a capital of three hundred thousand dollars. It is to be noticed, however, that this bank legislation, just like that of many other States, similarly circumstanced, while it fully indorsed the Whig policy, in its fundamental principle, was by no means 50 skillfully done or so safely guarded as it should have been, and habitually was done in those States where the Whigs were in the ascendant. Whatever troubles have accrued in Illinois, under this head, have been chiefly due to the fact that Whig measures were not rightly shaped and executed by Democratic hands. Whig measures, framed and carried out by Democrats, have too often ended in a mere botch. At the same time, it is observable that these imperfect, yet plausible concessions to the public welfare, have often saved the Democratic party, at the expense of the real interest involved. The State bank charter passed the House of Representatives by one majority.
This Legislature also gave some attention to what are technically called internal improvements within the State. In behalf of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the company for constructing which had been incorporated in 1825, a loan was agitated at the first session. Congress had granted for this work, in 1826, about 300,000 acres of land on the proposed route of the canal. But for a special message of Gov. Duncan, maintaining that the desired loan could be effected on a pledge of these canal lands alone, it is probable that the loan bill, reported by a Senator from Sangamon county, named George Forquer, would have passed. At the next session, in 1833, this measure was carried, a bill pledging the credit of the State in bebalf of the Canal Company, to the amount originally proposed, having become a law. The loan was negotiated by Gov. Duncan the next year, and the work on this important canal was commenced in June, 1836. At the same special session, a large number of railroads, without State aid, were chartered, including the Illinois Central and the Galena and Chicago routes.
It is hardly necessary to state more distinctly that these measures, securing, with all the defects of their origin, immense benefits to the people of Illinois, and in their spirit accordant with the great principles of the “American system,” were sup
ported by Mr. Lincoln and his Whig associates. Not all they desired, these measures were yet the nearest approach to their wishes that could be obtained of the majority.
It was during the regular session of this Legislature, that Stephen A. Douglas, not himself a member, became first known to Mr. Lincoln. Late in the year 1833, Mr. Douglas, then in his twenty-first year, had migrated to Illinois (Vermont being his native State), and commenced teaching a district school in Winchester, Scott county. During the succeeding year, he gave a portion of his time to the study of law, taking part also in the political affairs of his locality. The Legislature, at this session, had taken from the Governor the power of appointing State's attorneys for the several judicial districts, and provided that these officers should be elected by the Legislature, in joint convention. Though he had been but a little more than a year in the State, and was scarcely to be regarded as an expert in the profession of the law, Mr. Douglas presented himself before the Legislature as a candidate for State's attorney for the first judicial district, against Mr. Hardin, a distinguished lawyer, then in office. The movement was so adroit, that the youthful advocate distanced his unsuspecting competitor, receiving thirty-eight votes to thirty-six cast against him. Mr. Lincoln had not only preceded Mr. Douglas as a resident of Illinois, but, also, as thus seen, in gaining a political standing in the State.
In 1836, Mr. Lincoln was elected for a second term, as one of the seven representatives from Sangamon county. Among his associates were Mr. Dawson, re-elected, and Ninian W. Edwards. Mr. Douglas was one of the representatives from Morgan county (to which he had recently removed), and along with him Mr. Hardin, whom he had managed to supersede as State's attorney in 1835. The latter (who was subsequently in Congress, and who fell at Buena Vista) was the only Whig elected from that county, the other five representatives being Democrats. This canvass in Morgan county is memorable for introducing in Illinois, through the aid of Douglas, the convention system, the benefit of which he was subsequently
to reap in the local contests of that State. He had been put on the representative ticket to fill a vacancy occasioned by the declinature of one of the candidates, having failed himself in this instance to secure a nomination from the convention. He was never again elected to the Legislature, having in fact vacated his seat after the first session, and accepted the federal appointment of Register in the land office at Springfield.
In this House, as in that which immediately preceded, the Democrats had a decided majority. Gen. Semple was re-elected Speaker. Mr. Lincoln was assigned a place on the Committee on Finance. In addition to those we have already named, the House included many men of ability, who have been distinguished in the politics of the State or of the nation, among whom were James Shields, Augustus C. French, Robert Smith, John Dougherty, W. A. Richardson, and John A. McClerpand. At the two sessions of this Legislature, in 1836 and '37, Mr. Lincoln came forward more prominently in debato gradually, becoming recognized as the leading man on the Whig side.
The subject of internal improvements became one of the most prominent ones before this Legislature, as had happened with the last. Of this policy, in a judiciously guarded form, Mr. Lincoln had been from the first a stanch and efficient advocate. He held it to be the duty of Government to extend its fostering aid, in every Constitutional way, and to a reasonable extent, to whatever enterprise of public utility required such assistance, in order to the fullest development of the natural resources, and to the most rapid healthful growth of the State. The Democratic party, while professing the letalone (laissez faire) principle in general, was compelled to follow pretty closely in the wake of its adversary, in some of its most distinctive features of public policy. The question of internal improvements was one of these. And while the Democrats had a decided majority of the members of each House, it was understood that, by the aid of pledges made contrary to Democratic teaching in general, a majority for liberal legislation in regard to internal improvements had likewise been secured. The business, in fact, under the grand excitement of