Page images


Lincoln could not rest for an instant under the consciousness that he had, even unwittingly, defrauded anybody. On one occasion, while clerking in Offutt's store, at New Salem, Ill., he sold a woman a little bale of goods, amounting in value by the reckoning to two dollars and twenty cents. He received the money, and the woman went away. On adding the items of the bill again to make himself sure of correctness, he found that he had taken six and a quarter cents too much. It was night, and, closing and locking the store, he started out on foot, a distance of two or three miles, for the house of his defrauded customer, and, delivering over to her the sum whose possession had so much troubled him, went home satisfied.

On another occasion, just as he was closing the store for the night, a woman entered, and asked for a half pound of tea. The tea was weighed out and paid for, and the store was left for the night. The next morning Lincoln entered to begin the duties of the day, when he discovered a four-ounce weight on the scales. He saw at once that he had made a mistake, and, shutting the store, he took a long walk before breakfast to deliver the remainder of the tea. These are very humble incidents, but they illustrate the man's perfect conscientiousness his sensitive honestybetter, perhaps, than they would if they were of greater moment.


Mr. Lincoln was appointed postmaster by President Jackson. The office was too insignificant to be con

sidered politically, and it was given to the young man because everybody liked him, and because he was the only man who was 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 Petersburg.

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 afterward.

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 Post-office 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 the balance 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 present. One of them said at once: "Lincoln, if you are in want of money, let 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 had 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 use of his own.


Governor Yates, of Illinois, in a speech at Springfield, quoted one of Mr. Lincoln's early friends—W. T. Green-as having said that the first time he ever saw Mr. Lincoln, he was in the Sangamon River with his trousers rolled up five feet, more or less, trying to pilot a flatboat over a mill-dam. The boat was so full of water that it was hard to manage. Lincoln got the prow over, and then, instead of waiting to bail the water out, bored a hole through the projecting part and let it run out; affording a forcible illustration of the ready ingenuity of the future President in the quick invention of moral expedients.


There lived, at the time young Lincoln resided at New Salem, Ill., in and around the village, a band of rollicking fellows, or, more properly, roistering rowdies, known as the "Clary's Grove Boys." The special tie that united them was physical courage and prowess. These fellows, although they embraced in their number many men who have since become respectable and influential, were wild and rough beyond toleration in any community not made up like that which produced them. They pretended to be "regulators," and were the terror of all who did not acknowledge their rule; and their mode of securing allegiance was by flogging every man who failed to acknowledge it.

They took it upon themselves to try the mettie of every new-comer, and to learn the sort of stuff he was made of.

[ocr errors]

Some of their number was appointed to fight, wrestle, or run a foot-race with each incoming stranger. Of course, Abraham Lincoln was obliged to pass the ordeal.

Perceiving that he was a man who would not easily be floored, they selected their champion, Jack Armstrong, and imposed upon him the task of laying Lincoln upon his back.

There is no evidence that Lincoln was an unwilling party to the sport, for it was what he had always been accustomed to. The bout was entered upon, but Armstrong soon discovered that he had met more than his match.

The boys were looking on, and seeing that their champion was likely to get the worst of it, did after



« PreviousContinue »