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A SHORT LIFE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
CONDENSED FROM NICOLAY & HAY'S ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY
JOHN G. NICOLAY
NEW YORK The Century Co. 1904
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Published October, 1902
THE DEVINNE PRESS.
Ancestry—Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks—Rock Spring Farm—Lincoln's Birth—Kentucky Schools—The Journey to Indiana—Pigeon Creek Settlement—Indiana Schools—Sally Bush Lincoln—Gentryville—Work and Books—Satires and Sermons—Flatboat Voyage to New Orleans—The Journey to Illinois
Flatboat—New Salem—Election Clerk—Store and Mill—Kirkham's "Grammar"—"Sangamo Journal"—The Talisman—Lincoln's Address, March 9, 1832—Black Hawk War—Lincoln Elected Captain—Mustered out May 27, 1832—Re-enlisted in Independent Spy Battalion—Finally Mustered out, June 16, 1832—Defeated for the Legislature—Blacksmith or Lawyer?—The Lincoln-Berry Store—Appointed Postmaster, May 7, 1833—National Politics
Appointed Deputy Surveyor—Elected to Legislature in 1834—Campaign Issues—Begins Study of Law—Internal Improvement System—The Lincoln-Stone Protest—Candidate for Speaker in 1838 and 1840
Law Practice—Rules for a Lawyer—Law and Politics: Twin Occupations—The Springfield Coterie—Friendly Help—Anne Rutledge—Mary Owens
Springfield Society—Miss Mary Todd—Lincoln's Engagement—His Deep Despondency—Visit to Kentucky—Letters to Speed—The Shields Duel—Marriage—Law Partnership with Logan—Hardin Nominated for Congress, 1843—Baker Nominated for Congress, 1844—Lincoln Nominated and Elected, 1846
First Session of the Thirtieth Congress—Mexican War—"Wilmot Proviso"—Campaign of 1848—Letters to Herndon about Young Men in Politics—Speech in Congress on the Mexican War—Second Session of the Thirtieth Congress—Bill to Prohibit Slavery in the District of Columbia—Lincoln's Recommendations of Office-Seekers—Letters to Speed—Commissioner of the General Land Office—Declines Governorship of Oregon
Repeal of the Missouri Compromise—State Fair Debate—Peoria Debate—Trumbull Elected—Letter to Robinson—The Know-Nothings—Decatur Meeting—Bloomington Convention—Philadelphia Convention—Lincoln's Vote for Vice-President—Fremont and Dayton—Lincoln's Campaign Speeches—Chicago Banquet Speech
Buchanan Elected President—The Dred Scott Decision—Douglas's Springfield Speech, 1857—Lincoln's Answering Speech—Criticism of Dred Scott Decision—Kansas Civil War—Buchanan Appoints Walker—Walker's Letter on Kansas—The Lecompton Constitution—Revolt of Douglas
The Senatorial Contest in Illinois—"House Divided against Itself" Speech—The Lincoln-Douglas Debates—The Freeport Doctrine—Douglas Deposed from Chairmanship of Committee on Territories—Benjamin on Douglas—Lincoln's Popular Majority—Douglas Gains Legislature—Greeley, Crittenden et al.—"The Fight Must Go On"—Douglas's Southern Speeches—Senator Brown's Questions—Lincoln's Warning against Popular Sovereignty—The War of Pamphlets—Lincoln's Ohio Speeches—The John Brown Raid—Lincoln's Comment
Lincoln's Kansas Speeches—The Cooper Institute Speech—New England Speeches—The Democratic Schism—Senator Brown's Resolutions—Jefferson Davis's Resolutions—The Charleston Convention—Majority and Minority Reports—Cotton State Delegations Secede—Charleston Convention Adjourns—Democratic Baltimore Convention Splits—Breckinridge Nominated—Douglas Nominated—Bell Nominated by Union Constitutional Convention—Chicago Convention—Lincoln's Letters to Pickett and Judd—The Pivotal States—Lincoln Nominated
Candidates and Platforms—The Political Chances—Decatur Lincoln Resolution—John Hanks and the Lincoln Rails—The Rail-Splitter Candidate—The Wide-Awakes—Douglas's Southern Tour—Jefferson Davis's Address—Fusion—Lincoln at the State House—The Election Result
Lincoln's Cabinet Program—Members from the South—Questions and Answers—Correspondence with Stephens—Action of Congress—Peace Convention—Preparation of the Inaugural—Lincoln's Farewell Address—The Journey to Washington—Lincoln's Midnight Journey
The Secession Movement—South Carolina Secession—Buchanan's Neglect—Disloyal Cabinet Members—Washington Central Cabal—Anderson's Transfer to Sumter—Star of the West—Montgomery Rebellion—Davis and Stephens—Corner-stone Theory—Lincoln Inaugurated—His Inaugural Address—Lincoln's Cabinet—The Question of Sumter—Seward's Memorandum—Lincoln's Answer—Bombardment of Sumter—Anderson's Capitulation
President's Proclamation Calling for Seventy-five Regiments—Responses of the Governors—Maryland and Virginia—The Baltimore Riot—Washington Isolated—Lincoln Takes the Responsibility—Robert E. Lee—Arrival of the New York Seventh—Suspension of Habeas Corpus—The Annapolis Route—Butler in Baltimore—Taney on the Merryman Case—Kentucky—Missouri—Lyon Captures Camp Jackson—Boonville Skirmish—The Missouri Convention—Gamble made Governor—The Border States
Davis's Proclamation for Privateers—Lincoln's Proclamation of Blockade—The Call for Three Years' Volunteers—Southern Military Preparations—Rebel Capital Moved to Richmond—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas Admitted to Confederate States—Desertion of Army and Navy Officers—Union Troops Fortify Virginia Shore of the Potomac—Concentration at Harper's Ferry—Concentration at Fortress Monroe and Cairo—English Neutrality—Seward's 21st-of-May Despatch—Lincoln's Corrections—Preliminary Skirmishes—Forward to Richmond—Plan of McDowell's Campaign
Congress—The President's Message—Men and Money Voted—The Contraband—Dennison Appoints McClellan—Rich Mountain—McDowell—Bull Run—Patterson's Failure—McClellan at Washington
General Scott's Plans—Criticized as the "Anaconda"—The Three Fields of Conflict—Fremont Appointed Major-General—His Military Failures—Battle of Wilson's Creek—Hunter Ordered to Fremont—Fremont's Proclamation—President Revokes Fremont's Proclamation—Lincoln's Letter to Browning—Surrender of Lexington—Fremont Takes the Field—Cameron's Visit to Fremont—Fremont's Removal
Blockade—Hatteras Inlet—Port Royal Captured—The Trent Affair—Lincoln Suggests Arbitration—Seward's Despatch—McClellan at Washington—Army of the Potomac—McClellan's Quarrel with Scott—Retirement of Scott—Lincoln's Memorandum—"All Quiet on the Potomac"—Conditions in Kentucky—Cameron's Visit to Sherman—East Tennessee—Instructions to Buell—Buell's Neglect—Halleck in Missouri
Lincoln Directs Cooeperation—Halleck and Buell—Ulysses S. Grant—Grant's Demonstration—Victory at Mill River—Fort Henry—Fort Donelson—Buell's Tardiness—Halleck's Activity—Victory of Pea Ridge—Halleck Receives General Command—Pittsburg Landing—Island No. 10—Halleck's Corinth Campaign—Halleck's Mistakes
The Blockade—Hatteras Inlet—Roanoke Island—Fort Pulaski—Merrimac and Monitor—The Cumberland Sunk—The Congress Burned—Battle of the Ironclads—Flag-Officer Farragut—Forts Jackson and St. Philip—New Orleans Captured—Farragut at Vicksburg—Farragut's Second Expedition to Vicksburg—Return to New Orleans
McClellan's Illness—Lincoln Consults McDowell and Franklin—President's Plan against Manassas—McClellan's Plan against Richmond—Cameron and Stanton—President's War Order No. 1—Lincoln's Questions to McClellan—News from the West—Death of Willie Lincoln—The Harper's Ferry Fiasco—President's War Order No. 3—The News from Hampton Roads—Manassas Evacuated—Movement to the Peninsula—Yorktown—The Peninsula Campaign—Seven Days' Battles—Retreat to Harrison's Landing
Jackson's Valley Campaign—Lincoln's Visit to Scott—Pope Assigned to Command—Lee's Attack on McClellan—Retreat to Harrison's Landing—Seward Sent to New York—Lincoln's Letter to Seward—Lincoln's Letter to McClellan—Lincoln's Visit to McClellan—Halleck Made General-in-Chief—Halleck's Visit to McClellan—Withdrawal from Harrison's Landing—Pope Assumes Command—Second Battle of Bull Run—The Cabinet Protest—McClellan Ordered to Defend Washington—The Maryland Campaign—Battle of Antietam—Lincoln visits Antietam—Lincoln's Letter to McClellan—McClellan Removed from Command
Cameron's Report—Lincoln's Letter to Bancroft—Annual Message on Slavery—The Delaware Experiment—Joint Resolution on Compensated Abolishment—First Border State Interview—Stevens's Comment—District of Columbia Abolishment—Committee on Abolishment—Hunter's Order Revoked—Antislavery Measures of Congress—Second Border State Interview—Emancipation Proposed and Postponed
Criticism of the President for his Action on Slavery—Lincoln's Letters to Louisiana Friends—Greeley's Open Letter—Mr. Lincoln's Reply—Chicago Clergymen Urge Emancipation—Lincoln's Answer—Lincoln Issues Preliminary Proclamation—President Proposes Constitutional Amendment—Cabinet Considers Final Proclamation—Cabinet Discusses Admission of West Virginia—Lincoln Signs Edict of Freedom—Lincoln's Letter to Hodges
Negro Soldiers—Fort Pillow—Retaliation—Draft—Northern Democrats—Governor Seymour's Attitude—Draft Riots in New York—Vallandigham—Lincoln on his Authority to Suspend Writ of Habeas Corpus—Knights of the Golden Circle—Jacob Thompson in Canada
Burnside—Fredericksburg—A Tangle of Cross-Purposes—Hooker Succeeds Burnside—Lincoln to Hooker—Chancellorsville—Lee's Second Invasion—Lincoln's Criticisms of Hooker's Plans—Hooker Relieved—Meade—Gettysburg—Lee's Retreat—Lincoln's Letter to Meade—Lincoln's Gettysburg Address—Autumn Strategy—The Armies go into Winter Quarters
Buell and Bragg—Perryville—Rosecrans and Murfreesboro—Grant's Vicksburg Experiments—Grant's May Battles—Siege and Surrender of Vicksburg—Lincoln to Grant—Rosecrans's March to Chattanooga—Battle of Chickamauga—Grant at Chattanooga—Battle of Chattanooga—Burnside at Knoxville—Burnside Repulses Longstreet
Grant Lieutenant-General—Interview with Lincoln—Grant Visits Sherman—Plan of Campaigns—Lincoln to Grant—From the Wilderness to Cold Harbor—The Move to City Point—Siege of Petersburg—Early Menaces Washington—Lincoln under Fire—Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley
Sherman's Meridian Expedition—Capture of Atlanta—Hood Supersedes Johnston—Hood's Invasion of Tennessee—Franklin and Nashville—Sherman's March to the Sea—Capture of Savannah—Sherman to Lincoln—Lincoln to Sherman—Sherman's March through the Carolinas—The Burning of Charleston and Columbia—Arrival at Goldsboro—Junction with Schofield—Visit to Grant
Military Governors—Lincoln's Theory of Reconstruction—Congressional Election in Louisiana—Letter to Military Governors—Letter to Shepley—Amnesty Proclamation, December 8, 1863—Instructions to Banks—Banks's Action in Louisiana—Louisiana Abolishes Slavery—Arkansas Abolishes Slavery—Reconstruction in Tennessee—Missouri Emancipation—Lincoln's Letter to Drake—Missouri Abolishes Slavery—Emancipation in Maryland—Maryland Abolishes Slavery
Shaping of the Presidential Campaign—Criticisms of Mr. Lincoln—Chase's Presidential Ambitions—The Pomeroy Circular—Cleveland Convention—Attempt to Nominate Grant—Meeting of Baltimore Convention—Lincoln's Letter to Schurz—Platform of Republican Convention—Lincoln Renominated—Refuses to Indicate Preference for Vice-President—Johnson Nominated for Vice-President—Lincoln's Speech to Committee of Notification—Reference to Mexico in his Letter of Acceptance—The French in Mexico
The Bogus Proclamation—The Wade-Davis Manifesto—Resignation of Mr. Chase—Fessenden Succeeds Him—The Greeley Peace Conference—Jaquess-Gilmore Mission—Letter of Raymond—Bad Outlook for the Election—Mr. Lincoln on the Issues of the Campaign—President's Secret Memorandum—Meeting of Democratic National Convention—McClellan Nominated—His Letter of Acceptance—Lincoln Reelected—His Speech on Night of Election—The Electoral Vote—Annual Message of December 6, 1864—Resignation of McClellan from the Army
The Thirteenth Amendment—The President's Speech on its Adoption—The Two Constitutional Amendments of Lincoln's Term—Lincoln on Peace and Slavery in his Annual Message of December 6, 1864—Blair's Mexican Project—The Hampton Roads Conference
Blair—Chase Chief Justice—Speed Succeeds Bates—McCulloch Succeeds Fessenden—Resignation of Mr. Usher—Lincoln's Offer of $400,000,000—The Second Inaugural—Lincoln's Literary Rank—His Last Speech
Depreciation of Confederate Currency—Rigor of Conscription—Dissatisfaction with the Confederate Government—Lee General-in-Chief—J.E. Johnston Reappointed to Oppose Sherman's March—Value of Slave Property Gone in Richmond—Davis's Recommendation of Emancipation—Benjamin's Last Despatch to Slidell—Condition of the Army when Lee took Command—Lee Attempts Negotiations with Grant—Lincoln's Directions—Lee and Davis Agree upon Line of Retreat—Assault on Fort Stedman—Five Forks—Evacuation of Petersburg—Surrender of Richmond—Pursuit of Lee—Surrender of Lee—Burning of Richmond—Lincoln in Richmond
Lincoln's Interviews with Campbell—Withdraws Authority for Meeting of Virginia Legislature—Conference of Davis and Johnston at Greensboro—Johnston Asks for an Armistice—Meeting of Sherman and Johnston—Their Agreement—Rejected at Washington—Surrender of Johnston—Surrender of other Confederate Forces—End of the Rebel Navy—Capture of Jefferson Davis—Surrender of E. Kirby Smith—Number of Confederates Surrendered and Exchanged—Reduction of Federal Army to a Peace Footing—Grand Review of the Army
The 14th of April—Celebration at Fort Sumter—Last Cabinet Meeting—Lincoln's Attitude toward Threats of Assassination—Booth's Plot—Ford's Theater—Fate of the Assassins—The Mourning Pageant
Lincoln's Early Environment—Its Effect on his Character—His Attitude toward Slavery and the Slaveholder—His Schooling in Disappointment—His Seeming Failures—His Real Successes—The Final Trial—His Achievements—His Place in History
Ancestry—Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks—Rock Spring Farm—Lincoln's Birth—Kentucky Schools—The Journey to Indiana—Pigeon Creek Settlement—Indiana Schools—Sally Bush Lincoln—Gentryville—Work and Books—Satires and Sermons—Flatboat Voyage to New Orleans—The Journey to Illinois
Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, was born in a log cabin in the backwoods of Kentucky on the 12th day of February 1809. His father, Thomas Lincoln, was sixth in direct line of descent from Samuel Lincoln, who emigrated from England to Massachusetts in 1638. Following the prevailing drift of American settlement, these descendants had, during a century and a half, successively moved from Massachusetts to New Jersey, from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, from Pennsylvania to Virginia, and from Virginia to Kentucky; while collateral branches of the family eventually made homes in other parts of the West. In Pennsylvania and Virginia some of them had acquired considerable property and local prominence.
In the year 1780, Abraham Lincoln, the President's grandfather, was able to pay into the public treasury of Virginia "one hundred and sixty pounds, current money," for which he received a warrant, directed to the "Principal Surveyor of any County within the commonwealth of Virginia," to lay off in one or more surveys for Abraham Linkhorn, his heirs or assigns, the quantity of four hundred acres of land. The error in spelling the name was a blunder of the clerk who made out the warrant.
With this warrant and his family of five children—Mordecai, Josiah, Mary, Nancy, and Thomas—he moved to Kentucky, then still a county of Virginia, in 1780, and began opening a farm. Four years later, while at work with his three boys in the edge of his clearing, a party of Indians, concealed in the brush, shot and killed him. Josiah, the second son, ran to a neighboring fort for assistance; Mordecai, the eldest, hurried to the cabin for his gun, leaving Thomas, youngest of the family, a child of six years, by his father. Mordecai had just taken down his rifle from its convenient resting-place over the door of the cabin when, turning, he saw an Indian in his war-paint stooping to seize the child. He took quick aim through a loop-hole, shot, and killed the savage, at which the little boy also ran to the house, and from this citadel Mordecai continued firing at the Indians until Josiah brought help from the fort.
It was doubtless this misfortune which rapidly changed the circumstances of the family. Kentucky was yet a wild, new country. As compared with later periods of emigration, settlement was slow and pioneer life a hard struggle. So it was probably under the stress of poverty, as well as by the marriage of the older children, that the home was gradually broken up, and Thomas Lincoln became "even in childhood ... a wandering laboring boy, and grew up literally without education.... Before he was grown he passed one year as a hired hand with his uncle Isaac on Watauga, a branch of the Holston River." Later, he seems to have undertaken to learn the trade of carpenter in the shop of Joseph Hanks in Elizabethtown.
[Footnote 1: By the law of primogeniture, which at that date was still unrepealed in Virginia, the family estate went to Mordecai, the eldest son.]
When Thomas Lincoln was about twenty-eight years old he married Nancy Hanks, a niece of his employer, near Beechland, in Washington County. She was a good-looking young woman of twenty-three, also from Virginia, and so far superior to her husband in education that she could read and write, and taught him how to sign his name. Neither one of the young couple had any money or property; but in those days living was not expensive, and they doubtless considered his trade a sufficient provision for the future. He brought her to a little house in Elizabethtown, where a daughter was born to them the following year.
During the next twelvemonth Thomas Lincoln either grew tired of his carpenter work, or found the wages he was able to earn insufficient to meet his growing household expenses. He therefore bought a little farm on the Big South Fork of Nolin Creek, in what was then Hardin and is now La Rue County, three miles from Hodgensville, and thirteen miles from Elizabethtown. Having no means, he of course bought the place on credit, a transaction not so difficult when we remember that in that early day there was plenty of land to be bought for mere promises to pay; under the disadvantage, however, that farms to be had on these terms were usually of a very poor quality, on which energetic or forehanded men did not care to waste their labor. It was a kind of land generally known in the West as "barrens"—rolling upland, with very thin, unproductive soil. Its momentary usefulness was that it was partly cleared and cultivated, that an indifferent cabin stood on it ready to be occupied, and that it had one specially attractive as well as useful feature—a fine spring of water, prettily situated amid a graceful clump of foliage, because of which the place was called Rock Spring Farm. The change of abode was perhaps in some respects an improvement upon Elizabethtown. To pioneer families in deep poverty, a little farm offered many more resources than a town lot—space, wood, water, greens in the spring, berries in the summer, nuts in the autumn, small game everywhere—and they were fully accustomed to the loss of companionship. On this farm, and in this cabin, the future President of the United States was born, on the 12th of February, 1809, and here the first four years of his childhood were spent.
When Abraham was about four years old the Lincoln home was changed to a much better farm of two hundred and thirty-eight acres on Knob Creek, six miles from Hodgensville, bought by Thomas Lincoln, again on credit, for the promise to pay one hundred and eighteen pounds. A year later he conveyed two hundred acres of it by deed to a new purchaser. In this new home the family spent four years more, and while here Abraham and his sister Sarah began going to A B C schools. Their first teacher was Zachariah Riney, who taught near the Lincoln cabin; the next, Caleb Hazel, at a distance of about four miles.
Thomas Lincoln was evidently one of those easy-going, good-natured men who carry the virtue of contentment to an extreme. He appears never to have exerted himself much beyond the attainment of a necessary subsistence. By a little farming and occasional jobs at his trade, he seems to have supplied his family with food and clothes. There is no record that he made any payment on either of his farms. The fever of westward emigration was in the air, and, listening to glowing accounts of rich lands and newer settlements in Indiana, he had neither valuable possessions nor cheerful associations to restrain the natural impulse of every frontiersman to "move." In this determination his carpenter's skill served him a good purpose, and made the enterprise not only feasible but reasonably cheap. In the fall of 1816 he built himself a small flatboat, which he launched at the mouth of Knob Creek, half a mile from his cabin, on the waters of the Rolling Fork. This stream would float him to Salt River, and Salt River to the Ohio. He also thought to combine a little speculation with his undertaking. Part of his personal property he traded for four hundred gallons of whisky; then, loading the rest on his boat with his carpenter's tools and the whisky, he made the voyage, with the help of the current, down the Rolling Fork to Salt River, down Salt River to the Ohio, and down the Ohio to Thompson's Ferry, in Perry County, on the Indiana shore. The boat capsized once on the way, but he saved most of the cargo.
Sixteen miles out from the river he found a location in the forest which suited him. Since his boat would not float up-stream, he sold it, left his property with a settler, and trudged back home to Kentucky, all the way on foot, to bring his wife and the two children—Sarah, nine years old, and Abraham, seven. Another son had been born to them some years before, but had died when only three days old. This time the trip to Indiana was made with the aid of two horses, used by the wife and children for riding and to carry their little equipage for camping at night by the way. In a straight line, the distance is about fifty miles; but it was probably doubled by the very few roads it was possible to follow.
Having reached the Ohio and crossed to where he had left his goods on the Indiana side, he hired a wagon, which carried them and his family the remaining sixteen miles through the forest to the spot he had chosen, which in due time became the Lincoln farm. It was a piece of heavily timbered land, one and a half miles east of what has since become the village of Gentryville, in Spencer County. The lateness of the autumn compelled him to provide a shelter as quickly as possible, and he built what is known on the frontier as a half-faced camp, about fourteen feet square. This structure differed from a cabin in that it was closed on only three sides, and open to the weather on the fourth. It was usual to build the fire in front of the open side, and the necessity of providing a chimney was thus avoided. He doubtless intended it for a mere temporary shelter, and as such it would have sufficed for good weather in the summer season. But it was a rude provision for the winds and snows of an Indiana winter. It illustrates Thomas Lincoln's want of energy, that the family remained housed in this primitive camp for nearly a whole year. He must, however, not be too hastily blamed for his dilatory improvement. It is not likely that he remained altogether idle. A more substantial cabin was probably begun, and, besides, there was the heavy work of clearing away the timber—that is, cutting down the large trees, chopping them into suitable lengths, and rolling them together into great log-heaps to be burned, or splitting them into rails to fence the small field upon which he managed to raise a patch of corn and other things during the ensuing summer.
Thomas Lincoln's arrival was in the autumn of 1816. That same winter Indiana was admitted to the Union as a State. There were as yet no roads worthy of the name to or from the settlement formed by himself and seven or eight neighbors at various distances. The village of Gentryville was not even begun. There was no sawmill to saw lumber. Breadstuff could be had only by sending young Abraham, on horseback, seven miles, with a bag of corn to be ground on a hand grist-mill. In the course of two or three years a road from Corydon to Evansville was laid out, running past the Lincoln farm; and perhaps two or three years afterward another from Rockport to Bloomington crossing the former. This gave rise to Gentryville. James Gentry entered the land at the cross-roads. Gideon Romine opened a small store, and their joint efforts succeeded in getting a post-office established from which the village gradually grew. For a year after his arrival Thomas Lincoln remained a mere squatter. Then he entered the quarter-section (one hundred and sixty acres) on which he opened his farm, and made some payments on his entry, but only enough in eleven years to obtain a patent for one half of it.
About the time that he moved into his new cabin, relatives and friends followed from Kentucky, and some of them in turn occupied the half-faced camp. In the ensuing autumn much sickness prevailed in the Pigeon Creek settlement. It was thirty miles to the nearest doctor, and several persons died, among them Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the mother of young Abraham. The mechanical skill of Thomas was called upon to make the coffins, the necessary lumber for which had to be cut with a whip-saw.
The death of Mrs. Lincoln was a serious loss to her husband and children. Abraham's sister Sarah was only eleven years old, and the tasks and cares of the little household were altogether too heavy for her years and experience. Nevertheless, they struggled on bravely through the winter and next summer, but in the autumn of 1819 Thomas Lincoln went back to Kentucky and married Sally Bush Johnston, whom he had known and, it is said, courted when she was merely Sally Bush. Johnston, to whom she was married about the time Lincoln married Nancy Hanks, had died, leaving her with three children. She came of a better station in life than Thomas, and is represented as a woman of uncommon energy and thrift, possessing excellent qualities both of head and heart. The household goods which she brought to the Lincoln home in Indiana filled a four-horse wagon. Not only were her own three children well clothed and cared for, but she was able at once to provide little Abraham and Sarah with home comforts to which they had been strangers during the whole of their young lives. Under her example and urging, Thomas at once supplied the yet unfinished cabin with floor, door, and windows, and existence took on a new aspect for all the inmates. Under her management and control, all friction and jealousy was avoided between the two sets of children, and contentment, if not happiness, reigned in the little cabin.
The new stepmother quickly perceived the superior aptitudes and abilities of Abraham. She became very fond of him, and in every way encouraged his marked inclination to study and improve himself. The opportunities for this were meager enough. Mr. Lincoln himself has drawn a vivid outline of the situation:
"It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools so called, but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond readin', writin', and cipherin' to the Rule of Three. If a straggler supposed to understand Latin happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizard. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education."
As Abraham was only in his eighth year when he left Kentucky, the little beginnings he had learned in the schools kept by Riney and Hazel in that State must have been very slight—probably only his alphabet, or possibly three or four pages of Webster's "Elementary Spelling Book." It is likely that the multiplication table was as yet an unfathomed mystery, and that he could not write or read more than the words he spelled. There is no record at what date he was able again to go to school in Indiana. Some of his schoolmates think it was in his tenth year, or soon after he fell under the care of his stepmother. The school-house was a low cabin of round logs, a mile and a half from the Lincoln home, with split logs or "puncheons" for a floor, split logs roughly leveled with an ax and set up on legs for benches, and a log cut out of one end and the space filled in with squares of greased paper for window panes. The main light in such primitive halls of learning was admitted by the open door. It was a type of school building common in the early West, in which many a statesman gained the first rudiments of knowledge. Very often Webster's "Elementary Spelling Book" was the only text-book. Abraham's first Indiana school was probably held five years before Gentryville was located and a store established there. Until then it was difficult, if not impossible, to obtain books, slates, pencils, pen, ink, and paper, and their use was limited to settlers who had brought them when they came. It is reasonable to infer that the Lincoln family had no such luxuries, and, as the Pigeon Creek settlement numbered only eight or ten families there must have been very few pupils to attend this first school. Nevertheless, it is worthy of special note that even under such difficulties and limitations, the American thirst for education planted a school-house on the very forefront of every settlement.
Abraham's second school in Indiana was held about the time he was fourteen years old, and the third in his seventeenth year. By this time he probably had better teachers and increased facilities, though with the disadvantage of having to walk four or five miles to the school-house. He learned to write, and was provided with pen, ink, and a copy-book, and probably a very limited supply of writing-paper, for facsimiles have been printed of several scraps and fragments upon which he had carefully copied tables, rules, and sums from his arithmetic, such as those of long measure, land measure, and dry measure, and examples in multiplication and compound division. All this indicates that he pursued his studies with a very unusual purpose and determination, not only to understand them at the moment, but to imprint them indelibly upon his memory, and even to regain them in visible form for reference when the school-book might no longer be in his hands or possession.
Mr. Lincoln has himself written that these three different schools were "kept successively by Andrew Crawford, —— Swaney, and Azel W. Dorsey." Other witnesses state the succession somewhat differently. The important fact to be gleaned from what we learn about Mr. Lincoln's schooling is that the instruction given him by these five different teachers—two in Kentucky and three in Indiana, in short sessions of attendance scattered over a period of nine years—made up in all less than a twelvemonth. He said of it in 1860, "Abraham now thinks that the aggregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year." This distribution of the tuition he received was doubtless an advantage. Had it all been given him at his first school in Indiana, it would probably not have carried him half through Webster's "Elementary Spelling Book." The lazy or indifferent pupils who were his schoolmates doubtless forgot what was taught them at one time before they had opportunity at another; but to the exceptional character of Abraham, these widely separated fragments of instruction were precious steps to self-help, of which he made unremitting use.
It is the concurrent testimony of his early companions that he employed all his spare moments in keeping on with some one of his studies. His stepmother says: "Abe read diligently.... He read every book he could lay his hands on; and when he came across a passage that struck him, he would write it down on boards, if he had no paper, and keep it there until he did get paper. Then he would rewrite it, look at it, repeat it. He had a copy-book, a kind of scrap-book, in which he put down all things, and thus preserved them." There is no mention that either he or other pupils had slates and slate-pencils to use at school or at home, but he found a ready substitute in pieces of board. It is stated that he occupied his long evenings at home doing sums on the fire-shovel. Iron fire-shovels were a rarity among pioneers; they used, instead a broad, thin clapboard with one end narrowed to a handle. In cooking by the open fire, this domestic implement was of the first necessity to arrange piles of live coals on the hearth, over which they set their "skillet" and "oven," upon the lids of which live coals were also heaped.
Upon such a wooden shovel Abraham was able to work his sums by the flickering firelight. If he had no pencil, he could use charcoal, and probably did so. When it was covered with figures he would take a drawing-knife, shave it off clean, and begin again. Under these various disadvantages, and by the help of such troublesome expedients, Abraham Lincoln worked his way to so much of an education as placed him far ahead of his schoolmates, and quickly abreast of the acquirements of his various teachers. The field from which he could glean knowledge was very limited, though he diligently borrowed every book in the neighborhood. The list is a short one—"Robinson Crusoe," Aesop's "Fables," Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," Weems's "Life of Washington," and a "History of the United States." When he had exhausted other books, he even resolutely attacked the Revised Statutes of Indiana, which Dave Turnham, the constable, had in daily use and permitted him to come to his house and read.
It needs to be borne in mind that all this effort at self-education extended from first to last over a period of twelve or thirteen years, during which he was also performing hard manual labor, and proves a degree of steady, unflinching perseverance in a line of conduct that brings into strong relief a high aim and the consciousness of abundant intellectual power. He was not permitted to forget that he was on an uphill path, a stern struggle with adversity. The leisure hours which he was able to devote to his reading, his penmanship, and his arithmetic were by no means overabundant. Writing of his father's removal from Kentucky to Indiana, he says:
"He settled in an unbroken forest, and the clearing away of surplus wood was the great task ahead. Abraham, though very young, was large of his age, and had an ax put into his hands at once; and from that till within his twenty-third year he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument—less, of course, in plowing and harvesting seasons."
John Hanks mentions the character of his work a little more in detail. "He and I worked barefoot, grubbed it, plowed, mowed, and cradled together; plowed corn, gathered it, and shucked corn." The sum of it all is that from his boyhood until after he was of age, most of his time was spent in the hard and varied muscular labor of the farm and the forest, sometimes on his father's place, sometimes as a hired hand for other pioneers. In this very useful but commonplace occupation he had, however, one advantage. He was not only very early in his life a tall, strong country boy, but as he grew up he soon became a tall, strong, sinewy man. He early attained the unusual height of six feet four inches, with arms of proportionate length. This gave him a degree of power and facility as an ax-man which few had or were able to acquire. He was therefore usually able to lead his fellows in efforts of both muscle and mind. He performed the tasks of his daily labor and mastered the lessons of his scanty schooling with an ease and rapidity they were unable to attain.
Twice during his life in Indiana this ordinary routine was somewhat varied. When he was sixteen, while working for a man who lived at the mouth of Anderson's Creek, it was part of his duty to manage a ferry-boat which transported passengers across the Ohio River. It was doubtless this which three years later brought him a new experience, that he himself related in these words:
"When he was nineteen, still residing in Indiana, he made his first trip upon a flatboat to New Orleans. He was a hired hand merely, and he and a son of the owner, without other assistance, made the trip. The nature of part of the 'cargo load,' as it was called, made it necessary for them to linger and trade along the sugar-coast, and one night they were attacked by seven negroes with intent to kill and rob them. They were hurt some in the melee, but succeeded in driving the negroes from the boat, and then 'cut cable,' 'weighed anchor,' and left."
This commercial enterprise was set on foot by Mr. Gentry, the founder of Gentryville. The affair shows us that Abraham had gained an enviable standing in the village as a man of honesty, skill, and judgment—one who could be depended on to meet such emergencies as might arise in selling their bacon and other produce to the cotton-planters along the shores of the lower Mississippi.
By this time Abraham's education was well advanced. His handwriting, his arithmetic, and his general intelligence were so good that he had occasionally been employed to help in the Gentryville store, and Gentry thus knew by personal test that he was entirely capable of assisting his son Allen in the trading expedition to New Orleans. For Abraham, on the other hand, it was an event which must have opened up wide vistas of future hope and ambition. Allen Gentry probably was nominal supercargo and steersman, but we may easily surmise that Lincoln, as the "bow oar," carried his full half of general responsibility. For this service the elder Gentry paid him eight dollars a month and his passage home on a steamboat. It was the future President's first eager look into the wide, wide world.
Abraham's devotion to his books and his sums stands forth in more striking light from the fact that his habits differed from those of most frontier boys in one important particular. Almost every youth of the backwoods early became a habitual hunter and superior marksman. The Indiana woods were yet swarming with game, and the larder of every cabin depended largely upon this great storehouse of wild meat. The Pigeon Creek settlement was especially fortunate on this point. There was in the neighborhood of the Lincoln home what was known in the West as a deer-lick—that is, there existed a feeble salt-spring, which impregnated the soil in its vicinity or created little pools of brackish water—and various kinds of animals, particularly deer, resorted there to satisfy their natural craving for salt by drinking from these or licking the moist earth. Hunters took advantage of this habit, and one of their common customs was to watch in the dusk or at night, and secure their approaching prey by an easy shot. Skill with the rifle and success in the chase were points of friendly emulation. In many localities the boy or youth who shot a squirrel in any part of the animal except its head became the butt of the jests of his companions and elders. Yet, under such conditions and opportunities Abraham was neither a hunter nor a marksman. He tells us:
"A few days before the completion of his eighth year, in the absence of his father, a flock of wild turkeys approached the new log cabin, and Abraham, with a rifle gun, standing inside, shot through a crack and killed one of them. He has never since pulled a trigger on any larger game."
[Footnote 2: Franklin points out how much this resource of the early Americans contributed to their spirit of independence by saying:
"I can retire cheerfully with my little family into the boundless woods of America, which are sure to afford freedom and subsistence to any man who can bait a hook or pull a trigger."
(See "The Century Magazine," "Franklin as a Diplomatist," October, 1899, p. 888.)]
The hours which other boys spent in roaming the woods or lying in ambush at the deer-lick, he preferred to devote to his effort at mental improvement. It can hardly be claimed that he did this from calculating ambition. It was a native intellectual thirst, the significance of which he did not himself yet understand. Such exceptional characteristics manifested themselves only in a few matters. In most particulars he grew up as the ordinary backwoods boy develops into the youth and man. As he was subjected to their usual labors, so also he was limited to their usual pastimes and enjoyments.
The varied amusements common to our day were not within their reach. The period of the circus, the political speech, and the itinerant show had not yet come. Schools, as we have seen, and probably meetings or church services, were irregular, to be had only at long intervals. Primitive athletic games and commonplace talk, enlivened by frontier jests and stories, formed the sum of social intercourse when half a dozen or a score of settlers of various ages came together at a house-raising or corn-husking, or when mere chance brought them at the same time to the post-office or the country store. On these occasions, however, Abraham was, according to his age, always able to contribute his full share or more. Most of his natural aptitudes equipped him especially to play his part well. He had quick intelligence, ready sympathy, a cheerful temperament, a kindling humor, a generous and helpful spirit. He was both a ready talker and appreciative listener. By virtue of his tall stature and unusual strength of sinew and muscle, he was from the beginning a leader in all athletic games; by reason of his studious habits and his extraordinarily retentive memory he quickly became the best story-teller among his companions. Even the slight training he gained from his studies greatly quickened his perceptions and broadened and steadied the strong reasoning faculty with which nature had endowed him.
As the years of his youth passed by, his less gifted comrades learned to accept his judgments and to welcome his power to entertain and instruct them. On his own part, he gradually learned to write not merely with the hand, but also with the mind—to think. It was an easy transition for him from remembering the jingle of a commonplace rhyme to the constructing of a doggerel verse, and he did not neglect the opportunity of practising his penmanship in such impromptus. Tradition also relates that he added to his list of stories and jokes humorous imitations from the sermons of eccentric preachers. But tradition has very likely both magnified and distorted these alleged exploits of his satire and mimicry. All that can be said of them is that his youth was marked by intellectual activity far beyond that of his companions.
It is an interesting coincidence that nine days before the birth of Abraham Lincoln Congress passed the act to organize the Territory of Illinois, which his future life and career were destined to render so illustrious. Another interesting coincidence may be found in the fact that in the same year (1818) in which Congress definitely fixed the number of stars and stripes in the national flag, Illinois was admitted as a State to the Union. The Star of Empire was moving westward at an accelerating speed. Alabama was admitted in 1819, Maine in 1820, Missouri in 1821. Little by little the line of frontier settlement was pushing itself toward the Mississippi. No sooner had the pioneer built him a cabin and opened his little farm, than during every summer canvas-covered wagons wound their toilsome way over the new-made roads into the newer wilderness, while his eyes followed them with wistful eagerness. Thomas Lincoln and his Pigeon Creek relatives and neighbors could not forever withstand the contagion of this example, and at length they yielded to the irrepressible longing by a common impulse. Mr. Lincoln writes:
"March 1, 1830, Abraham having just completed his twenty-first year, his father and family, with the families of the two daughters and sons-in-law of his stepmother, left the old homestead in Indiana and came to Illinois. Their mode of conveyance was wagons drawn by ox-teams, and Abraham drove one of the teams. They reached the county of Macon, and stopped there some time within the same month of March. His father and family settled a new place on the north side of the Sangamon River, at the junction of the timber land and prairie, about ten miles westerly from Decatur. Here they built a log cabin, into which they removed, and made sufficient of rails to fence ten acres of ground, fenced and broke the ground, and raised a crop of sown corn upon it the same year.... The sons-in-law were temporarily settled in other places in the county. In the autumn all hands were greatly afflicted with ague and fever, to which they had not been used, and by which they were greatly discouraged, so much so that they determined on leaving the county. They remained, however, through the succeeding winter, which was the winter of the very celebrated 'deep snow' of Illinois."
Flatboat—New Salem—Election Clerk—Store and Mill—Kirkham's "Grammar"—"Sangamo Journal"—The Talisman—Lincoln's Address, March 9, 1832—Black Hawk War—Lincoln Elected Captain—Mustered out May 27, 1832—Reenlisted in Independent Spy Battalion—Finally Mustered out, June 16, 1832—Defeated for the Legislature—Blacksmith or Lawyer?—The Lincoln-Berry Store—Appointed Postmaster, May 7, 1833—National Politics
The life of Abraham Lincoln, or that part of it which will interest readers for all future time, properly begins in March, 1831, after the winter of the "deep snow." According to frontier custom, being then twenty-one years old, he left his father's cabin to make his own fortune in the world. A man named Denton Offutt, one of a class of local traders and speculators usually found about early Western settlements, had probably heard something of young Lincoln's Indiana history, particularly that he had made a voyage on a flatboat from Indiana to New Orleans, and that he was strong, active, honest, and generally, as would be expressed in Western phrase, "a smart young fellow." He was therefore just the sort of man Offutt needed for one of his trading enterprises, and Mr. Lincoln himself relates somewhat in detail how Offutt engaged him and the beginning of the venture:
"Abraham, together with his stepmother's son, John D. Johnston, and John Hanks, yet residing in Macon County, hired themselves to Denton Offutt to take a flatboat from Beardstown, Illinois [on the Illinois River], to New Orleans; and for that purpose were to join him—Offutt—at Springfield, Illinois, so soon as the snow should go off. When it did go off, which was about the first of March, 1831, the county was so flooded as to make traveling by land impracticable, to obviate which difficulty they purchased a large canoe, and came down the Sangamon River in it. This is the time and the manner of Abraham's first entrance into Sangamon County. They found Offutt at Springfield, but learned from him that he had failed in getting a boat at Beardstown. This led to their hiring themselves to him for twelve dollars per month each, and getting the timber out of the trees and building a boat at Old Sangamon town on the Sangamon River, seven miles northwest of Springfield, which boat they took to New Orleans, substantially upon the old contract."
It needs here to be recalled that Lincoln's father was a carpenter, and that Abraham had no doubt acquired considerable skill in the use of tools during his boyhood and a practical knowledge of the construction of flatboats during his previous New Orleans trip, sufficient to enable him with confidence to undertake this task in shipbuilding. From the after history of both Johnston and Hanks, we know that neither of them was gifted with skill or industry, and it becomes clear that Lincoln was from the first leader of the party, master of construction, and captain of the craft.
It took some time to build the boat, and before it was finished the Sangamon River had fallen so that the new craft stuck midway across the dam at Rutledge's Mill, at New Salem, a village of fifteen or twenty houses. The inhabitants came down to the bank, and exhibited great interest in the fate of the boat, which, with its bow in the air and its stern under water, was half bird and half fish, and they probably jestingly inquired of the young captain whether he expected to dive or to fly to New Orleans. He was, however, equal to the occasion. He bored a hole in the bottom of the boat at the bow, and rigged some sort of lever or derrick to lift the stern, so that the water she had taken in behind ran out in front, enabling her to float over the partly submerged dam; and this feat, in turn, caused great wonderment in the crowd at the novel expedient of bailing a boat by boring a hole in her bottom.
This exploit of naval engineering fully established Lincoln's fame at New Salem, and grounded him so firmly in the esteem of his employer Offutt that the latter, already looking forward to his future usefulness, at once engaged him to come back to New Salem, after his New Orleans voyage, to act as his clerk in a store.
Once over the dam and her cargo reloaded, partly there and partly at Beardstown, the boat safely made the remainder of her voyage to New Orleans; and, returning by steamer to St. Louis, Lincoln and Johnston (Hanks had turned back from St. Louis) continued on foot to Illinois, Johnston remaining at the family home, which had meanwhile been removed from Macon to Coles County, and Lincoln going to his employer and friends at New Salem. This was in July or August, 1831. Neither Offutt nor his goods had yet arrived, and during his waiting he had a chance to show the New Salemites another accomplishment. An election was to be held, and one of the clerks was sick and failed to come. Scribes were not plenty on the frontier, and Mentor Graham, the clerk who was present, looking around for a properly qualified colleague, noticed Lincoln, and asked him if he could write, to which he answered, in local idiom, that he "could make a few rabbit tracks," and was thereupon immediately inducted into his first office. He performed his duties not only to the general satisfaction, but so as to interest Graham, who was a schoolmaster, and afterward made himself very useful to Lincoln.
Offutt finally arrived with a miscellaneous lot of goods, which Lincoln opened and put in order in a room that a former New Salem storekeeper was just ready to vacate, and whose remnant stock Offutt also purchased. Trade was evidently not brisk at New Salem, for the commercial zeal of Offutt led him to increase his venture by renting the Rutledge and Cameron mill, on whose historic dam the flatboat had stuck. For a while the charge of the mill was added to Lincoln's duties, until another clerk was engaged to help him. There is likewise good evidence that in addition to his duties at the store and the mill, Lincoln made himself generally useful—that he cut down trees and split rails enough to make a large hog-pen adjoining the mill, a proceeding quite natural when we remember that his hitherto active life and still growing muscles imperatively demanded the exercise which measuring calico or weighing out sugar and coffee failed to supply.
We know from other incidents that he was possessed of ample bodily strength. In frontier life it is not only needed for useful labor of many kinds, but is also called upon to aid in popular amusement. There was a settlement in the neighborhood of New Salem called Clary's Grove, where lived a group of restless, rollicking backwoodsmen with a strong liking for various forms of frontier athletics and rough practical jokes. In the progress of American settlement there has always been a time, whether the frontier was in New England or Pennsylvania or Kentucky, or on the banks of the Mississippi, when the champion wrestler held some fraction of the public consideration accorded to the victor in the Olympic games of Greece. Until Lincoln came, Jack Armstrong was the champion wrestler of Clary's Grove and New Salem, and picturesque stories are told how the neighborhood talk, inflamed by Offutt's fulsome laudation of his clerk, made Jack Armstrong feel that his fame was in danger. Lincoln put off the encounter as long as he could, and when the wrestling match finally came off neither could throw the other. The bystanders became satisfied that they were equally matched in strength and skill, and the cool courage which Lincoln manifested throughout the ordeal prevented the usual close of such incidents with a fight. Instead of becoming chronic enemies and leaders of a neighborhood feud, Lincoln's self-possession and good temper turned the contest into the beginning of a warm and lasting friendship.
If Lincoln's muscles were at times hungry for work, not less so was his mind. He was already instinctively feeling his way to his destiny when, in conversation with Mentor Graham, the schoolmaster, he indicated his desire to use some of his spare moments to increase his education, and confided to him his "notion to study English grammar." It was entirely in the nature of things that Graham should encourage this mental craving, and tell him: "If you expect to go before the public in any capacity, I think it the best thing you can do." Lincoln said that if he had a grammar he would begin at once. Graham was obliged to confess that there was no such book at New Salem, but remembered that there was one at Vaner's, six miles away. Promptly after breakfast the next morning Lincoln walked to Vaner's and procured the precious volume, and, probably with Graham's occasional help, found no great difficulty in mastering its contents. While tradition does not mention any other study begun at that time, we may fairly infer that, slight as may have been Graham's education, he must have had other books from which, together with his friendly advice, Lincoln's intellectual hunger derived further stimulus and nourishment.
In his duties at the store and his work at the mill, in his study of Kirkham's "Grammar," and educational conversations with Mentor Graham, in the somewhat rude but frank and hearty companionship of the citizens of New Salem and the exuberant boys of Clary's Grove, Lincoln's life for the second half of the year 1831 appears not to have been eventful, but was doubtless more comfortable and as interesting as had been his flatboat building and New Orleans voyage during the first half. He was busy in useful labor, and, though he had few chances to pick up scraps of schooling, was beginning to read deeply in that book of human nature, the profound knowledge of which rendered him such immense service in after years.
The restlessness and ambition of the village of New Salem was many times multiplied in the restlessness and ambition of Springfield, fifteen or twenty miles away, which, located approximately near the geographical center of Illinois, was already beginning to crave, if not yet to feel, its future destiny as the capital of the State. In November of the same year that aspiring town produced the first number of its weekly newspaper, the "Sangamo Journal," and in its columns we begin to find recorded historical data. Situated in a region of alternating spaces of prairie and forest, of attractive natural scenery and rich soil, it was nevertheless at a great disadvantage in the means of commercial transportation. Lying sixty miles from Beardstown, the nearest landing on the Illinois River, the peculiarities of soil, climate, and primitive roads rendered travel and land carriage extremely difficult—often entirely impossible—for nearly half of every year. The very first number of the "Sangamo Journal" sounded its strongest note on the then leading tenet of the Whig party—internal improvements by the general government, and active politics to secure them. In later numbers we learn that a regular Eastern mail had not been received for three weeks. The tide of immigration which was pouring into Illinois is illustrated in a tabular statement on the commerce of the Illinois River, showing that the steamboat arrivals at Beardstown had risen from one each in the years 1828 and 1829, and only four in 1830, to thirty-two during the year 1831. This naturally directed the thoughts of travelers and traders to some better means of reaching the river landing than the frozen or muddy roads and impassable creeks and sloughs of winter and spring. The use of the Sangamon River, flowing within five miles of Springfield and emptying itself into the Illinois ten or fifteen miles from Beardstown, seemed for the present the only solution of the problem, and a public meeting was called to discuss the project. The deep snows of the winter of 1830-31 abundantly filled the channels of that stream, and the winter of 1831-32 substantially repeated its swelling floods. Newcomers in that region were therefore warranted in drawing the inference that it might remain navigable for small craft. Public interest on the topic was greatly heightened when one Captain Bogue, commanding a small steamer then at Cincinnati, printed a letter in the "Journal" of January 26, 1832, saying: "I intend to try to ascend the river [Sangamo] immediately on the breaking up of the ice." It was well understood that the chief difficulty would be that the short turns in the channels were liable to be obstructed by a gorge of driftwood and the limbs and trunks of overhanging trees. To provide for this, Captain Bogue's letter added: "I should be met at the mouth of the river by ten or twelve men, having axes with long handles under the direction of some experienced man. I shall deliver freight from St. Louis at the landing on the Sangamo River opposite the town of Springfield for thirty-seven and a half cents per hundred pounds." The "Journal" of February 16 contained an advertisement that the "splendid upper-cabin steamer Talisman" would leave for Springfield, and the paper of March 1 announced her arrival at St. Louis on the 22d of February with a full cargo. In due time the citizen committee appointed by the public meeting met the Talisman at the mouth of the Sangamon, and the "Journal" of March 29 announced with great flourish that the "steamboat Talisman, of one hundred and fifty tons burden, arrived at the Portland landing opposite this town on Saturday last." There was great local rejoicing over this demonstration that the Sangamon was really navigable, and the "Journal" proclaimed with exultation that Springfield "could no longer be considered an inland town."
President Jackson's first term was nearing its close, and the Democratic party was preparing to reelect him. The Whigs, on their part, had held their first national convention in December, 1831, and nominated Henry Clay to dispute the succession. This nomination, made almost a year in advance of the election, indicates an unusual degree of political activity in the East, and voters in the new State of Illinois were fired with an equal party zeal. During the months of January and February, 1832, no less than six citizens of Sangamon County announced themselves in the "Sangamo Journal" as candidates for the State legislature, the election for which was not to occur until August; and the "Journal" of March 15 printed a long letter, addressed "To the People of Sangamon County," under date of the ninth, signed A. Lincoln, and beginning:
"FELLOW-CITIZENS: Having become a candidate for the honorable office of one of your representatives in the next general assembly of this State, in accordance with an established custom and the principles of true republicanism, it becomes my duty to make known to you, the people whom I propose to represent, my sentiments with regard to local affairs." He then takes up and discusses in an eminently methodical and practical way the absorbing topic of the moment—the Whig doctrine of internal improvements and its local application, the improvement of the Sangamon River. He mentions that meetings have been held to propose the construction of a railroad, and frankly acknowledges that "no other improvement that reason will justify us in hoping for can equal in utility the railroad," but contends that its enormous cost precludes any such hope, and that, therefore, "the improvement of the Sangamon River is an object much better suited to our infant resources." Relating his experience in building and navigating his flatboat, and his observation of the stage of the water since then, he draws the very plausible conclusion that by straightening its channel and clearing away its driftwood the stream can be made navigable "to vessels of from twenty-five to thirty tons burden for at least one half of all common years, and to vessels of much greater burden a part of the time," His letter very modestly touches a few other points of needed legislation—a law against usury, laws to promote education, and amendments to estray and road laws. The main interest for us, however, is in the frank avowal of his personal ambition.
"Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition is yet to be developed. I am young, and unknown to many of you. I was born, and have ever remained, in the most humble walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular relations or friends to recommend me. My case is thrown exclusively upon the independent voters of the country, and if elected they will have conferred a favor upon me for which I shall be unremitting in my labors to compensate. But if the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined."
This written and printed address gives us an accurate measure of the man and the time. When he wrote this document he was twenty-three years old. He had been in the town and county only about nine months of actual time. As Sangamon County covered an estimated area of twenty-one hundred and sixty square miles, he could know but little of either it or its people. How dared a "friendless, uneducated boy, working on a flatboat at twelve dollars a month," with "no wealthy or popular friends to recommend" him, aspire to the honors and responsibilities of a legislator? The only answer is that he was prompted by that intuition of genius, that consciousness of powers which justify their claims by their achievements. When we scan the circumstances more closely, we find distinct evidence of some reason for his confidence. Relatively speaking, he was neither uneducated nor friendless. His acquirements were already far beyond the simple elements of reading, writing, and ciphering. He wrote a good, clear, serviceable hand; he could talk well and reason cogently. The simple, manly style of his printed address fully equals in literary ability that of the average collegian in the twenties. His migration from Indiana to Illinois and his two voyages to New Orleans had given him a glimpse of the outside world. His natural logic readily grasped the significance of the railroad as a new factor in transportation, although the first American locomotive had been built only one year, and ten to fifteen years were yet to elapse before the first railroad train was to run in Illinois.
One other motive probably had its influence. He tells us that Offutt's business was failing, and his quick judgment warned him that he would soon be out of a job as clerk. This, however, could be only a secondary reason for announcing himself as a candidate, for the election was not to occur till August, and even if he were elected there would be neither service nor salary till the coming winter. His venture into politics must therefore be ascribed to the feeling which he so frankly announced in his letter, his ambition to become useful to his fellow-men—the impulse that throughout history has singled out the great leaders of mankind.
In this particular instance a crisis was also at hand, calculated to develop and utilize the impulse. Just about a month after the publication of Lincoln's announcement the "Sangamo Journal" of April 19 printed an official call from Governor Reynolds, directed to General Neale of the Illinois militia, to organize six hundred volunteers of his brigade for military service in a campaign against the Indians under Black Hawk, the war chief of the Sacs, who, in defiance of treaties and promises, had formed a combination with other tribes during the winter, and had now crossed back from the west to the east side of the Mississippi River with the determination to reoccupy their old homes in the Rock River country toward the northern end of the State.
In the memoranda which Mr. Lincoln furnished for a campaign biography, he thus relates what followed the call for troops:
"Abraham joined a volunteer company, and, to his own surprise, was elected captain of it. He says he has not since had any success in life which gave him so much satisfaction. He went to the campaign, served near three months, met the ordinary hardships of such an expedition, but was in no battle." Official documents furnish some further interesting details. As already said, the call was printed in the "Sangamo Journal" of April 19. On April 21 the company was organized at Richland, Sangamon County, and on April 28 was inspected and mustered into service at Beardstown and attached to Colonel Samuel Thompson's regiment, the Fourth Illinois Mounted Volunteers. They marched at once to the hostile frontier. As the campaign shaped itself, it probably became evident to the company that they were not likely to meet any serious fighting, and, not having been enlisted for any stated period, they became clamorous to return home. The governor therefore had them and other companies mustered out of service, at the mouth of Fox River, on May 27. Not, however, wishing to weaken his forces before the arrival of new levies already on the way, he called for volunteers to remain twenty days longer. Lincoln had gone to the frontier to perform real service, not merely to enjoy military rank or reap military glory. On the same day, therefore, on which he was mustered out as captain, he reenlisted, and became Private Lincoln in Captain Iles's company of mounted volunteers, organized apparently principally for scouting service, and sometimes called the Independent Spy Battalion. Among the other officers who imitated this patriotic example were General Whiteside and Major John T. Stuart, Lincoln's later law partner. The Independent Spy Battalion, having faithfully performed its new term of service, was finally mustered out on June 16, 1832. Lincoln and his messmate, George M. Harrison, had the misfortune to have their horses stolen the day before, but Harrison relates:
"I laughed at our fate and he joked at it, and we all started off merrily. The generous men of our company walked and rode by turns with us, and we fared about equal with the rest. But for this generosity our legs would have had to do the better work; for in that day this dreary route furnished no horses to buy or to steal, and, whether on horse or afoot, we always had company, for many of the horses' backs were too sore for riding."
Lincoln must have reached home about August 1, for the election was to occur in the second week of that month, and this left him but ten days in which to push his claims for popular indorsement. His friends, however had been doing manful duty for him during his three months' absence, and he lost nothing in public estimation by his prompt enlistment to defend the frontier. Successive announcements in the "Journal" had by this time swelled the list of candidates to thirteen. But Sangamon County was entitled to only four representatives and when the returns came in Lincoln was among those defeated. Nevertheless, he made a very respectable showing in the race. The list of successful and unsuccessful aspirants and their votes was as follows:
E.D. Taylor................ 1127 John T. Stuart.............. 991 Achilles Morris............. 945 Peter Cartwright............ 815
Under the plurality rule, these four had been elected. The unsuccessful candidates were:
A.G. Herndon.............. 806 W. Carpenter............... 774 J. Dawson.................. 717 A. Lincoln................. 657 T.M. Neale................ 571 R. Quinton................. 485 Z. Peter................... 214 E. Robinson................ 169 —— Kirkpatrick........... 44
The returns show that the total vote of the county was about twenty-one hundred and sixty-eight. Comparing this with the vote cast for Lincoln, we see that he received nearly one third of the total county vote, notwithstanding his absence from the canvass, notwithstanding the fact that his acquaintanceship was limited to the neighborhood of New Salem, notwithstanding the sharp competition. Indeed, his talent and fitness for active practical politics were demonstrated beyond question by the result in his home precinct of New Salem, which, though he ran as a Whig, gave two hundred and seventy-seven votes for him and only three against him. Three months later it gave one hundred and eighty-five for the Jackson and only seventy for the Clay electors, proving Lincoln's personal popularity. He remembered for the remainder of his life with great pride that this was the only time he was ever beaten on a direct vote of the people.
The result of the election brought him to one of the serious crises of his life, which he forcibly stated in after years in the following written words:
"He was now without means and out of business, but was anxious to remain with his friends, who had treated him with so much generosity, especially as he had nothing elsewhere to go to. He studied what he should do; thought of learning the blacksmith trade, thought of trying to study law, rather thought he could not succeed at that without a better education."
The perplexing problem between inclination and means to follow it, the struggle between conscious talent and the restraining fetters of poverty, has come to millions of young Americans before and since, but perhaps to none with a sharper trial of spirit or more resolute patience. Before he had definitely resolved upon either career, chance served not to solve, but to postpone his difficulty, and in the end to greatly increase it.
New Salem, which apparently never had any good reason for becoming a town, seems already at that time to have entered on the road to rapid decay. Offutt's speculations had failed, and he had disappeared. The brothers Herndon, who had opened a new store, found business dull and unpromising. Becoming tired of their undertaking, they offered to sell out to Lincoln and Berry on credit, and took their promissory notes in payment. The new partners, in that excess of hope which usually attends all new ventures, also bought two other similar establishments that were in extremity, and for these likewise gave their notes. It is evident that the confidence which Lincoln had inspired while he was a clerk in Offutt's store, and the enthusiastic support he had received as a candidate, were the basis of credit that sustained these several commercial transactions.
It turned out in the long run that Lincoln's credit and the popular confidence that supported it were as valuable both to his creditors and himself as if the sums which stood over his signature had been gold coin in a solvent bank. But this transmutation was not attained until he had passed through a very furnace of financial embarrassment. Berry proved a worthless partner, and the business a sorry failure. Seeing this, Lincoln and Berry sold out again on credit—to the Trent brothers, who soon broke up and ran away. Berry also departed and died, and finally all the notes came back upon Lincoln for payment. He was unable to meet these obligations, but he did the next best thing. He remained, promised to pay when he could, and most of his creditors, maintaining their confidence in his integrity, patiently bided their time, till, in the course of long years, he fully justified it by paying, with interest every cent of what he learned to call, in humorous satire upon his own folly, the "national debt."
With one of them he was not so fortunate. Van Bergen, who bought one of the Lincoln-Berry notes, obtained judgment, and, by peremptory sale, swept away the horse, saddle, and surveying instruments with the daily use of which Lincoln "procured bread and kept body and soul together," to use his own words. But here again Lincoln's recognized honesty was his safety. Out of personal friendship, James Short bought the property and restored it to the young surveyor, giving him time to repay. It was not until his return from Congress, seventeen years after the purchase of the store, that he finally relieved himself of the last instalments of his "national debt." But by these seventeen years of sober industry, rigid economy, and unflinching faith to his obligations he earned the title of "Honest old Abe," which proved of greater service to himself and his country than if he had gained the wealth of Croesus.
Out of this ill-starred commercial speculation, however, Lincoln derived one incidental benefit, and it may be said it became the determining factor in his career. It is evident from his own language that he underwent a severe mental struggle in deciding whether he would become a blacksmith or a lawyer. In taking a middle course, and trying to become a merchant, he probably kept the latter choice strongly in view. It seems well established by local tradition that during the period while the Lincoln-Berry store was running its fore-doomed course from bad to worse, Lincoln employed all the time he could spare from his customers (and he probably had many leisure hours) in reading and study of various kinds. This habit was greatly stimulated and assisted by his being appointed, May 7, 1833, postmaster at New Salem, which office he continued to hold until May 30, 1836, when New Salem partially disappeared and the office was removed to Petersburg. The influences which brought about the selection of Lincoln are not recorded, but it is suggested that he had acted for some time as deputy postmaster under the former incumbent, and thus became the natural successor. Evidently his politics formed no objection, as New Salem precinct had at the August election, when he ran as a Whig, given him its almost solid vote for representative notwithstanding the fact that it was more than two thirds Democratic. The postmastership increased his public consideration and authority, broadened his business experience, and the newspapers he handled provided him an abundance of reading matter on topics of both local and national importance up to the latest dates.
Those were stirring times, even on the frontier. The "Sangamo Journal" of December 30, 1832, printed Jackson's nullification proclamation. The same paper, of March 9, 1833, contained an editorial on Clay's compromise and that of the 16th had a notice of the great nullification debate in Congress. The speeches of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster were published in full during the following month, and Mr. Lincoln could not well help reading them and joining in the feelings and comments they provoked.
While the town of New Salem was locally dying, the county of Sangamon and the State of Illinois were having what is now called a boom. Other wide-awake newspapers, such as the "Missouri Republican" and "Louisville Journal," abounded in notices of the establishment of new stage lines and the general rush of immigration. But the joyous dream of the New Salemites, that the Sangamon River would become a commercial highway, quickly faded. The Talisman was obliged to hurry back down the rapidly falling stream, tearing away a portion of the famous dam to permit her departure. There were rumors that another steamer, the Sylph, would establish regular trips between Springfield and Beardstown, but she never came. The freshets and floods of 1831 and 1832 were succeeded by a series of dry seasons, and the navigation of the Sangamon River was never afterward a telling plank in the county platform of either political party.
Appointed Deputy Surveyor—Elected to Legislature in 1834—Campaign Issues—Begins Study of Law—Internal Improvement System—The Lincoln-Stone Protest—Candidate for Speaker in 1838 and 1840
When Lincoln was appointed postmaster, in May, 1833, the Lincoln-Berry store had not yet completely "winked out," to use his own picturesque phrase. When at length he ceased to be a merchant, he yet remained a government official, a man of consideration and authority, who still had a responsible occupation and definite home, where he could read, write, and study. The proceeds of his office were doubtless very meager, but in that day, when the rate of postage on letters was still twenty-five cents, a little change now and then came into his hands, which, in the scarcity of money prevailing on the frontier, had an importance difficult for us to appreciate. His positions as candidate for the legislature and as postmaster probably had much to do in bringing him another piece of good fortune. In the rapid settlement of Illinois and Sangamon County, and the obtaining titles to farms by purchase or preemption, as well as in the locating and opening of new roads, the county surveyor had more work on his hands than he could perform throughout a county extending forty miles east and west and fifty north and south, and was compelled to appoint deputies to assist him. The name of the county surveyor was John Calhoun, recognized by all his contemporaries in Sangamon as a man of education and talent and an aspiring Democratic politician. It was not an easy matter for Calhoun to find properly qualified deputies, and when he became acquainted with Lincoln, and learned his attainments and aptitudes, and the estimation in which he was held by the people of New Salem, he wisely concluded to utilize his talents and standing, notwithstanding their difference in politics. The incident is thus recorded by Lincoln:
"The surveyor of Sangamon offered to depute to Abraham that portion of his work which was within his part of the county. He accepted, procured a compass and chain, studied Flint and Gibson a little, and went at it. This procured bread, and kept soul and body together."
Tradition has it that Calhoun not only gave him the appointment, but lent him the book in which to study the art, which he accomplished in a period of six weeks, aided by the schoolmaster, Mentor Graham. The exact period of this increase in knowledge and business capacity is not recorded, but it must have taken place in the summer of 1833, as there exists a certificate of survey in Lincoln's handwriting signed, "J. Calhoun, S.S.C., by A. Lincoln," dated January 14, 1834. Before June of that year he had surveyed and located a public road from "Musick's Ferry on Salt Creek, via New Salem, to the county line in the direction to Jacksonville," twenty-six miles and seventy chains in length, the exact course of which survey, with detailed bearings and distances, was drawn on common white letter-paper pasted in a long slip, to a scale of two inches to the mile, in ordinary yet clear and distinct penmanship. The compensation he received for this service was three dollars per day for five days, and two dollars and fifty cents for making the plat and report.
An advertisement in the "Journal" shows that the regular fees of another deputy were "two dollars per day, or one dollar per lot of eight acres or less, and fifty cents for a single line, with ten cents per mile for traveling."
While this class of work and his post-office, with its emoluments, probably amply supplied his board, lodging and clothing, it left him no surplus with which to pay his debts, for it was in the latter part of that same year (1834) that Van Bergen caused his horse and surveying instruments to be sold under the hammer, as already related. Meanwhile, amid these fluctuations of good and bad luck, Lincoln maintained his equanimity, his steady, persevering industry, and his hopeful ambition and confidence in the future. Through all his misfortunes and his failures, he preserved his self-respect and his determination to succeed.
Two years had nearly elapsed since he was defeated for the legislature, and, having received so flattering a vote on that occasion, it was entirely natural that he should determine to try a second chance. Four new representatives were to be chosen at the August election of 1834, and near the end of April Lincoln published his announcement that he would again be a candidate. He could certainly view his expectations in every way in a more hopeful light. His knowledge had increased, his experience broadened, his acquaintanceship greatly increased. His talents were acknowledged, his ability recognized. He was postmaster and deputy surveyor. He had become a public character whose services were in demand. As compared with the majority of his neighbors, he was a man of learning who had seen the world. Greater, however, than all these advantages, his sympathetic kindness of heart, his sincere, open frankness, his sturdy, unshrinking honesty, and that inborn sense of justice that yielded to no influence, made up a nobility of character and bearing that impressed the rude frontiersmen as much as, if not more quickly and deeply than, it would have done the most polished and erudite society.