Page images
PDF
EPUB

ject of legislation. Under the excitement of the flush times of 1836, this business was indeed much overdone. Through subsequent mismanagement and the revulsion of the next year, the financial affairs of Illinois were presently tangled in a knot, which seemed about to be recklessly cut by a sharp stroke of repudiation. Douglas was one of the most zealous for the improvements. Lincoln warmly favored them. The former, having retired from the Legislature before the crisis, did nothing to avert the discredit which came upon the State, though his party had the responsible ascendency. Lincoln was active, as the records of the second session show, in his efforts to maintain honest dealing and to provide some method for satisfying all creditors in good faith.

At the first session charters were granted for a number of railways, and provision was made for the completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, from Chicago to Peru, in La Salle County, and for the improvement of the navigation of the Kaskaskia, Illinois, Rock, and Great and Little Wabash Rivers, with aid from the State requiring in the aggregate a loan of eight million dollars. Scarcely budded before the storm of 1837 came, these schemes were much more luxuriant in blossom than bountiful in fruit.

Slavery agitation had begun anew, and in more deadly earnest, a few years before. In the South it had sprung from the roots of Nullification directly after that baneful growth had been felled to the ground. The dominant party in the Illinois Legislature, stimulated by a reference to the subject in President Jackson's annual message of December, 1836, adopted, near the day of

adjournment, a series of resolutions strongly Southern in tone, in regard to slavery and Abolitionism. Those who refused or hesitated to take this extreme ground were in danger of being called Abolitionists, and that was an opprobrium which few politicians felt able to bear. There was then little anti-slavery sentiment in Central and Southern Illinois, at any rate, to sustain a Representative in refusing obsequious submission to such resolutions. Yet Lincoln could not honestly vote for them. He might have remained silent, but he chose to be frank and open. He entered his protest in the House journal, joined by only one other member, Dan Stone, a colleague from Sangamon County. The document bears the date of the last day of Andrew Jackson's Presidency, March 3, 1837. In it Lincoln declared (for the language is his own) his belief:

1. That "the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy; but that the promulgation of Abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than to abate its evils.”

2. That “the Congress of the United States has no power, under the Constitution, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different States."

3. That "the Congress of the United States has the power, under the Constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia ; but that the power ought not to be exercised unless at the request of the people of said District."

It was near the close of the same session that an act was passed removing the State capital from Vandalia to Springfield, a measure due more to the exertions of Lincoln than of any other member, even of the “ Long Nine.” The first capital, Kaskaskia, was convenient enough, if not quite central, for the small population

provided with a territorial government in 1809. On the admission of Illinois as a State in 1818, Vandalia, far up the Kaskaskia River, was laid out as the new seat of government. This was well to the southwest, in the heart of what has since been known as the “Egypt of the State. But during the several years immediately preceding 1837, the center of population had gradually moved northward, as the middle and upper parts of the State were becoming more extensively settled. As usual in like cases, many rival towns were competing for the prize when the question arose as to another capital, expected to be the permanent and final one. There was of course a formidable Vandalia interest opposed to change. But after a severe and protracted contest the battle at one time seeming to all the Springfield party except Lincoln to have been irretrievably lost – the act for removal to their locality was passed, to take effect July 4, 1839.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Admitted to the Bar Removal to Springfield - Law,

Politics and Personalities.

Lincoln was admitted to the bar "in the autumn of 1836.” *

He began practice at Springfield as partner of Major John T. Stuart in the following spring, his residence there beginning (as he said to the writer in 1860)“ on the 15th of April." Boarding with William Butler, afterward State Treasurer, he shared the lodgings of Joshua F. Speed over the store of the latter, a recent comer from Louisville. As one of the Sangamon

Long Nine,” known as the longest and most efficient in removing the capital, he was cordially welcomed to the place which was ever after to be his home. While the State had made a great advance since 1830, its northern half was still but sparsely settled. Chicago was yet an unimportant if not unpromising village. Alton was eminently the ambitious town, hoping to surpass or even to supplant St. Louis. Springfield had now not more than twelve hundred inhabitants a number soon to be largely exceeded. Its bar already, included several names that were to be distinguished in the profession and in public life.

The United States District Court and the Supreme

*These are his own words. Mr. Herndon gives a later date.

( 48 )

Court of Illinois soon came to hold their sessions here, and there were annually three terms of the Common Pleas Court of Sangamon County. Circuit practice as then prevalent also occupied several weeks each year in making the rounds of the dozen other counties of the Eighth District, judges and lawyers traveling mainly by private conveyance. Roads were bad and tavern accommodations simple. The court-houses were neither sightly nor spacious. These pilgrimages had their adventures and tales, which a Chaucer might not have been tempted to idealize in rhyme, but which were not lacking in charm for the pilgrims. The arrival of court officers, attorneys, litigants, witnesses and jurors at the opening of a term was an epoch for the little village, nominal or real, in which justice had a local dwelling. Attending court was one of the chief diversions of a people having as yet neither drama, circus, menagerie, nor county fair. Of evenings and in daylight intermissions of court there were eager listeners as these errant knights interchanged stories, indulged in short, sharp debates, or bandied jokes and repartees. These were scenes which Lincoln was seldom inclined to shun. On such occasions he cast care to the winds, and might have been thought the happiest spirit of all. In his tours, however, he passed many hours or sometimes a whole day alone. Jogging along on horseback through arduous ways, made still more tedious by mud or flood, he was absorbed in meditation or profound study. Sometimes in a vehicle with one or two companions, he might seem to be rather thinking aloud than conversing, his mind wandering over a wide area, from his own obscure days and varied

« PreviousContinue »