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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. Ile was a Democrat, whereas quite a number of the young ladies of Springfield were ardent Whigs, especialiy 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 bands."
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 Mary Todd and Julia Jayne, in which “ Rebecca " satirized the Auditor upon his attention to the ladies. Besides the letter there were rhymes :
Ye Jews-harp, awake! the Anditor's won ;
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 himself, 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 wbolly 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