Page images
PDF
EPUB

onward, a more genial future began to shape itself in the hopes and aspirations of the self-reliant youth. His later experiences had shown him more clearly that he was not to be a mere private in the great battle of life, but that he had certain qualities which could place him at the head of a brigade or of a column, if he were so minded. Nor was he indifferent to the good opinion of his fellow-men. The confessed satisfaction which the captaincy of a company of volunteers had given him, as the expressed preference of a hundred or two of associates for him above all others, as a leader, showed that, however distrustful as yet of his own powers, he was not without ambition, or unable to appreciate popular honors.

This campaign likewise, besides the excitements of varied adventure which it afforded, so much to his natural inclination, had brought him in contact with inspiring influences and associations, and had demonstrated, and doubtless improved, his powers of fixing the esteem and admiration of those around him. He had been, as is told of him, a wild sort of a boy, and in his peculiar way he had attached his associates to him to a remarkable degree. This will be seen from a circumstance to be presently related. His horizon had been enlarged and his dreams ennobled. Meantime, it is to be remembered, that he had come home from the Black Hawk war with no definite business to resort to, and still under a necessity of devoting his chief and immediate energies to self-support.

He has, then, reached a new epoch of his youth, at this date, and entered on another distinct period of his history. Proof of this we shall find in the fact that he became, on returning home, a candidate for representative in the State Legislature, the election of which was close at hand. youth of twenty-three, and not at all generally known through the county, or able, in the brief time allowed, to make himself so, it may have an appearance of presumption for him to have allowed the use of his name as a candidate. He was not elected, certainly, and could hardly have thought such an event possible; yet the noticeable fact remains that he received so wonderful a vote in his own precinct, where he was best if not almost exclusively known, as may almost be said to

[graphic][merged small]

have made his fortune. His precinct (he had now settled in Sangamon county) was strongly for Jackson, while Lincoln had, from the start, warmly espoused the cause of Henry Clay. The State election occurred in August, and the Presidential election two or three months later, the same season. Political feeling ran high, at this the second election (as it proved) of Jackson. Notwithstanding this, such was the popularity which young Lincoln had brought home with him from the war, that out of the two hundred and eighty-four votes cast in his precinct, two hundred and seventy-seven-the entire vote wanting seven-were cast for him. Yet, a little later in the same canvass, Gen. Jackson received a majority of one hundred and fifty-five for the Presidency, from the very same men, over Mr. Clay, whose cause Lincoln was known to favor. So marked an indication as this of his personal power to draw votes, made him a political celebrity at once. In future elections it became a point with aspirants to seck to combine his strength in their favor, by placing Lincoln's name on their ticket, to secure his battalion of voters. When he was elected to the Legislature for the first time, two years later, his majority ranged about two hundred votes higher than the rest of the ticket on which he ran.

Such was the beginning of Mr. Lincoln's political life, almost in his boyhood. This is the proper place to pause and review, in a brief way, the state of political affairs in Illinois, at the time of his first appearance upon this public arena. We shall find the revolution which has been wrought—Mr. Lincoln, though for long years in an apparently hopeless minority in the State, having been always a foremost leader on the side opposed to the Democracy—to be scarcely less remarkable than his youthful successes at the polls.

At the date of Mr. Lincoln's arrival—when just of age-in the State of Illinois, Gen. Jackson was in the midst of his first Presidential term. Since 1826 every general election in that State had resulted decisively in favor of his friends. In August, 1830, the first election after Lincoln became a resident of the State, and before he was a qualified voter, the only rival candidates for Governor, were both of the same strongly predominant party. The Legislature then elected had a large majority on that side. In 1832, Gen. Jackson received the electoral vote of Illinois, for the second time, by a decisive majority. The Legislature of 1834 was so strongly Democratic, that the Whig members did not have any candidates of their own, in organizing the House, but chose rather to exercise the little power they had in favor of such Democratic candidate as they 'preferred. Against such odds, as we shall see, the opponents of that party struggled long and in vain. Even the great political tornado which swept over so large a portion of the Union in 1810, made no decisive impression upon Illinois. In spite of all these difficulties and discouragements, Mr. Lincoln adhered steadily to his faith, never once dreaming of seeking profit in compliance, or in a compromise of his honest principles. Henry Clay was his model as a statesman, and always continued such, while any issues were left to contend for, of the celebrated American system of the great Kentuckian.

During the time Mr. Lincoln was pursuing his law studies, and making his first practical appearance with political life, he turned his attention to the business of a surveyor as a means of support. The mania for speculation in Western lands and lots was beginning to spread over the country at this time; and while our young student of law had neither means nor inclination to embark in any such enterprise for himself, it was the means of bringing him some profitable employment with the chain and compass. From the earliest grand center of these operations in lands and town lots, Chicago, which had also itself furnished, even then, most remarkable examples of fortunes easily made, the contagion spread everywhere through the State. Towns and cities without number were laid out in all directions, and innumerable fortunes were made, in anticipation, by the purchase of lots in all sorts of imaginary cities, during the four or five years preceding the memorable crisis and crash of 1837. It was during the year previous to that consummation that this business had reached its hight in Illinois. With the revulsion, came also a brief period of adversity to the successful surveyor, whose occupation was now

« PreviousContinue »