Beginning his campaign in April, he had three full months before him for electioneering, and he evidently used the time to good advantage. The pursuit of popularity probably consisted mainly of the same methods that in backwoods districts prevail even to our day: personal visits and solicitations, attendance at various kinds of neighborhood gatherings, such as raisings of new cabins, horse-races, shooting-matches, sales of town lots or of personal property under execution, or whatever occasion served to call a dozen or two of the settlers together. One recorded incident illustrates the practical nature of the politician's art at that day:
"He [Lincoln] came to my house, near Island Grove, during harvest. There were some thirty men in the field. He got his dinner and went out in the field where the men were at work. I gave him an introduction, and the boys said that they could not vote for a man unless he could make a hand. 'Well, boys,' said he, 'if that is all, I am sure of your votes.' He took hold of the cradle, and led the way all the round with perfect ease. The boys were satisfied, and I don't think he lost a vote in the crowd."
Sometimes two or more candidates would meet at such places, and short speeches be called for and given. Altogether, the campaign was livelier than that of two years before. Thirteen candidates were again contesting for the four seats in the legislature, to say nothing of candidates for governor, for Congress, and for the State Senate. The scope of discussion was enlarged and localized. From the published address of an industrious aspirant who received only ninety-two votes, we learn that the issues now were the construction by the general government of a canal from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, the improvement of the Sangamon River, the location of the State capital at Springfield, a United States bank, a better road law, and amendments to the estray laws.
When the election returns came in Lincoln had reason to be satisfied with the efforts he had made. He received the second highest number of votes in the long list of candidates. Those cast for the representatives chosen stood: Dawson, 1390; Lincoln, 1376; Carpenter 1170; Stuart, 1164. The location of the State capital had also been submitted to popular vote at this election. Springfield, being much nearer the geographical center of the State, was anxious to deprive Vandalia of that honor, and the activity of the Sangamon politicians proved it to be a dangerous rival. In the course of a month the returns from all parts of the State had come in, and showed that Springfield was third in the race.
It must be frankly admitted that Lincoln's success at this juncture was one of the most important events of his life. A second defeat might have discouraged his efforts to lift himself to a professional career, and sent him to the anvil to make horseshoes and to iron wagons for the balance of his days. But this handsome popular indorsement assured his standing and confirmed his credit. With this lift in the clouds of his horizon, he could resolutely carry his burden of debt and hopefully look to wider fields of public usefulness. Already, during the progress of the canvass, he had received cheering encouragement and promise of most valuable help. One of the four successful candidates was John T. Stuart, who had been major of volunteers in the Black Hawk War while Lincoln was captain, and who, together with Lincoln, had reenlisted as a private in the Independent Spy Battalion. There is every likelihood that the two had begun a personal friendship during their military service, which was of course strongly cemented by their being fellow-candidates and both belonging to the Whig party. Mr. Lincoln relates:
"Major John T. Stuart, then in full practice of the law [at Springfield], was also elected. During the canvass, in a private conversation he encouraged Abraham to study law. After the election, he borrowed books of Stuart, took them home with him, and went at it in good earnest. He studied with nobody.... In the autumn of 1836 he obtained a law license, and on April 15, 1837, removed to Springfield and commenced the practice, his old friend Stuart taking him into partnership."
From and after this election in 1834 as a representative, Lincoln was a permanent factor in the politics and the progress of Sangamon County. At a Springfield meeting in the following November to promote common schools, he was appointed one of eleven delegates to attend a convention at Vandalia called to deliberate on that subject. He was reelected to the legislature in 1836, in 1838, and in 1840, and thus for a period of eight years took a full share in shaping and enacting the public and private laws of Illinois, which in our day has become one of the leading States in the Mississippi valley. Of Lincoln's share in that legislation, it need only be said that it was as intelligent and beneficial to the public interest as that of the best of his colleagues. The most serious error committed by the legislature of Illinois during that period was that it enacted laws setting on foot an extensive system of internal improvements, in the form of railroads and canals, altogether beyond the actual needs of transportation for the then existing population of the State, and the consequent reckless creation of a State debt for money borrowed at extravagant interest and liberal commissions. The State underwent a season of speculative intoxication, in which, by the promised and expected rush of immigration and the swelling currents of its business, its farms were suddenly to become villages, its villages spreading towns, and its towns transformed into great cities, while all its people were to be made rich by the increased value of their land and property. Both parties entered with equal recklessness into this ill-advised internal improvement system, which in the course of about four years brought the State to bankruptcy, with no substantial works to show for the foolishly expended millions.
In voting for these measures, Mr. Lincoln represented the public opinion and wish of his county and the whole State; and while he was as blamable, he was at the same time no more so than the wisest of his colleagues. It must be remembered in extenuation that he was just beginning his parliamentary education. From the very first, however, he seems to have become a force in the legislature, and to have rendered special service to his constituents. It is conceded that the one object which Springfield and the most of Sangamon County had at heart was the removal of the capital from Vandalia to that place. This was accomplished in 1836, and the management of the measure appears to have been intrusted mainly to Mr. Lincoln.
One incident of his legislative career stands out in such prominent relation to the great events of his after life that it deserves special explanation and emphasis. Even at that early date, a quarter of a century before the outbreak of the Civil War, the slavery question was now and then obtruding itself as an irritating and perplexing element into the local legislation of almost every new State. Illinois, though guaranteed its freedom by the Ordinance of 1787, nevertheless underwent a severe political struggle in which, about four years after her admission into the Union, politicians and settlers from the South made a determined effort to change her to a slave State. The legislature of 1822-23, with a two-thirds pro-slavery majority of the State Senate, and a technical, but legally questionable, two-thirds majority in the House, submitted to popular vote an act calling a State convention to change the constitution. It happened, fortunately, that Governor Coles, though a Virginian, was strongly antislavery, and gave the weight of his official influence and his whole four years' salary to counteract the dangerous scheme. From the fact that southern Illinois up to that time was mostly peopled from the slave States, the result was seriously in doubt through an active and exciting campaign, and the convention was finally defeated by a majority of eighteen hundred in a total vote of eleven thousand six hundred and twelve. While this result effectually decided that Illinois would remain a free State, the propagandism and reorganization left a deep and tenacious undercurrent of pro-slavery opinion that for many years manifested itself in vehement and intolerant outcries against "abolitionism," which on one occasion caused the murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy for persisting in his right to print an antislavery newspaper at Alton.
Nearly a year before this tragedy the Illinois legislature had under consideration certain resolutions from the Eastern States on the subject of slavery, and the committee to which they had been referred reported a set of resolves "highly disapproving abolition societies," holding that "the right of property in slaves is secured to the slaveholding States by the Federal Constitution," together with other phraseology calculated on the whole to soothe and comfort pro-slavery sentiment. After much irritating discussion, the committee's resolutions were finally passed, with but Lincoln and five others voting in the negative. No record remains whether or not Lincoln joined in the debate; but, to leave no doubt upon his exact position and feeling, he and his colleague, Dan Stone, caused the following protest to be formally entered on the journals of the House:
"Resolutions upon the subject of domestic slavery having passed both branches of the General Assembly at its present session, the undersigned hereby protest against the passage of the same."
"They believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils."
"They believe that the Congress of the United States has no power under the Constitution to interfere with the institution of slavery in the different States."
"They believe that the Congress of the United States has the power, under the Constitution, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, but that the power ought not to be exercised, unless at the request of the people of the District."
"The difference between these opinions and those contained in the said resolutions is their reasons for entering this protest."
In view of the great scope and quality of Lincoln's public service in after life, it would be a waste of time to trace out in detail his words or his votes upon the multitude of questions on which he acted during this legislative career of eight years. It needs only to be remembered that it formed a varied and thorough school of parliamentary practice and experience that laid the broad foundation of that extraordinary skill and sagacity in statesmanship which he afterward displayed in party controversy and executive direction. The quick proficiency and ready aptitude for leadership evidenced by him in this, as it may be called, his preliminary parliamentary school are strikingly proved by the fact that the Whig members of the Illinois House of Representatives gave him their full party vote for Speaker, both in 1838 and 1840. But being in a minority, they could not, of course, elect him.
Law Practice—Rules for a Lawyer—Law and Politics: Twin Occupations—The Springfield Coterie—Friendly Help—Anne Rutledge—Mary Owens
Lincoln's removal from New Salem to Springfield and his entrance into a law partnership with Major John T. Stuart begin a distinctively new period in his career, From this point we need not trace in detail his progress in his new and this time deliberately chosen vocation. The lawyer who works his way up in professional merit from a five-dollar fee in a suit before a justice of the peace to a five-thousand-dollar fee before the Supreme Court of his State has a long and difficult path to climb. Mr. Lincoln climbed this path for twenty-five years with industry, perseverance, patience—above all, with that sense of moral responsibility that always clearly traced the dividing line between his duty to his client and his duty to society and truth. His unqualified frankness of statement assured him the confidence of judge and jury in every argument. His habit of fully admitting the weak points in his case gained their close attention to its strong ones, and when clients brought him bad cases, his uniform advice was not to begin the suit. Among his miscellaneous writings there exist some fragments of autograph notes, evidently intended for a little lecture or talk to law students which set forth with brevity and force his opinion of what a lawyer ought to be and do. He earnestly commends diligence in study, and, next to diligence, promptness in keeping up his work.
"As a general rule, never take your whole fee in advance," he says, "nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case as if something was still in prospect for you as well as for your client." "Extemporaneous speaking should be practised and cultivated. It is the lawyer's avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech. And yet, there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a failure in advance. Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser—in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough. Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it." "There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common—almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief. Resolve to be honest at all events; and if, in your own judgment, you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave."
While Lincoln thus became a lawyer, he did not cease to remain a politician. In the early West, law and politics were parallel roads to usefulness as well as distinction. Newspapers had not then reached any considerable circulation. There existed neither fast presses to print them, mail routes to carry them, nor subscribers to read them. Since even the laws had to be newly framed for those new communities, the lawyer became the inevitable political instructor and guide as far as ability and fame extended. His reputation as a lawyer was a twin of his influence as an orator, whether through logic or eloquence. Local conditions fostered, almost necessitated, this double pursuit. Westward emigration was in its full tide, and population was pouring into the great State of Illinois with ever accelerating rapidity. Settlements were spreading, roads were being opened, towns laid out, the larger counties divided and new ones organized, and the enthusiastic visions of coming prosperity threw the State into that fever of speculation which culminated in wholesale internal improvements on borrowed capital and brought collapse, stagnation, and bankruptcy in its inevitable train. As already said, these swift changes required a plentiful supply of new laws, to frame which lawyers were in a large proportion sent to the legislature every two years. These same lawyers also filled the bar and recruited the bench of the new State, and, as they followed the itinerant circuit courts from county to county in their various sections, were called upon in these summer wanderings to explain in public speeches their legislative work of the winter. By a natural connection, this also involved a discussion of national and party issues. It was also during this period that party activity was stimulated by the general adoption of the new system of party caucuses and party conventions to which President Jackson had given the impulse.
In the American system of representative government, elections not only occur with the regularity of clockwork, but pervade the whole organism in every degree of its structure from top to bottom—Federal, State, county, township, and school district. In Illinois, even the State judiciary has at different times been chosen by popular ballot. The function of the politician, therefore, is one of continuous watchfulness and activity, and he must have intimate knowledge of details if he would work out grand results. Activity in politics also produces eager competition and sharp rivalry. In 1839 the seat of government was definitely transferred from Vandalia to Springfield, and there soon gathered at the new State capital a group of young men whose varied ability and future success in public service has rarely been excelled—Douglas, Shields, Calhoun, Stuart, Logan, Baker, Treat, Hardin, Trumbull, McClernand, Browning, McDougall, and others.
His new surroundings greatly stimulated and reinforced Mr. Lincoln's growing experience and spreading acquaintance, giving him a larger share and wider influence in local and State politics. He became a valued and sagacious adviser in party caucuses, and a power in party conventions. Gradually, also, his gifts as an attractive and persuasive campaign speaker were making themselves felt and appreciated.
His removal, in April, 1837, from a village of twenty houses to a "city" of about two thousand inhabitants placed him in striking new relations and necessities as to dress, manners, and society, as well as politics; yet here again, as in the case of his removal from his father's cabin to New Salem six years before, peculiar conditions rendered the transition less abrupt than would at first appear. Springfield, notwithstanding its greater population and prospective dignity as the capital, was in many respects no great improvement on New Salem. It had no public buildings, its streets and sidewalks were unpaved, its stores, in spite of all their flourish of advertisements, were staggering under the hard times of 1837-39, and stagnation of business imposed a rigid economy on all classes. If we may credit tradition, this was one of the most serious crises of Lincoln's life. His intimate friend, William Butler, related to the writer that, having attended a session of the legislature at Vandalia, he and Lincoln returned together at its close to Springfield by the usual mode of horseback travel. At one of their stopping-places over night Lincoln, in one of his gloomy moods, told Butler the story of the almost hopeless prospects which lay immediately before him—that the session was over, his salary all drawn, and his money all spent; that he had no resources and no work; that he did not know where to turn to earn even a week's board. Butler bade him be of good cheer, and, without any formal proposition or agreement, took him and his belongings to his own house and domesticated him there as a permanent guest, with Lincoln's tacit compliance rather than any definite consent. Later Lincoln shared a room and genial companionship, which ripened into closest intimacy, in the store of his friend Joshua F. Speed, all without charge or expense; and these brotherly offerings helped the young lawyer over present necessities which might otherwise have driven him to muscular handiwork at weekly or monthly wages.
From this time onward, in daily conversation, in argument at the bar, in political consultation and discussion, Lincoln's life gradually broadened into contact with the leading professional minds of the growing State of Illinois. The man who could not pay a week's board bill was twice more elected to the legislature, was invited to public banquets and toasted by name, became a popular speaker, moved in the best society of the new capital, and made what was considered a brilliant marriage.
Lincoln's stature and strength, his intelligence and ambition—in short, all the elements which gave him popularity among men in New Salem, rendered him equally attractive to the fair sex of that village. On the other hand, his youth, his frank sincerity, his longing for sympathy and encouragement, made him peculiarly sensitive to the society and influence of women. Soon after coming to New Salem he chanced much in the society of Miss Anne Rutledge, a slender, blue-eyed blonde, nineteen years old, moderately educated, beautiful according to local standards—an altogether lovely, tender-hearted, universally admired, and generally fascinating girl. From the personal descriptions of her which tradition has preserved, the inference is naturally drawn that her temperament and disposition were very much akin to those of Mr. Lincoln himself. It is little wonder, therefore, that he fell in love with her. But two years before she had become engaged to a Mr. McNamar, who had gone to the East to settle certain family affairs, and whose absence became so unaccountably prolonged that Anne finally despaired of his return, and in time betrothed herself to Lincoln. A year or so after this event Anne Rutledge was taken sick and died—the neighbors said of a broken heart, but the doctor called it brain fever, and his science was more likely to be correct than their psychology. Whatever may have been the truth upon this point, the incident threw Lincoln into profound grief, and a period of melancholy so absorbing as to cause his friends apprehension for his own health. Gradually, however, their studied and devoted companionship won him back to cheerfulness, and his second affair of the heart assumed altogether different characteristics, most of which may be gathered from his own letters.
Two years before the death of Anne Rutledge, Mr. Lincoln had seen and made the acquaintance of Miss Mary Owens, who had come to visit her sister Mrs. Able, and had passed about four weeks in New Salem, after which she returned to Kentucky. Three years later, and perhaps a year after Miss Rutledge's death, Mrs. Able, before starting for Kentucky, told Mr. Lincoln probably more in jest than earnest, that she would bring her sister back with her on condition that he would become her—Mrs. Able's—brother-in-law. Lincoln, also probably more in jest than earnest, promptly agreed to the proposition; for he remembered Mary Owens as a tall, handsome, dark-haired girl, with fair skin and large blue eyes, who in conversation could be intellectual and serious as well as jovial and witty, who had a liberal education, and was considered wealthy—one of those well-poised, steady characters who look upon matrimony and life with practical views and social matronly instincts.
The bantering offer was made and accepted in the autumn of 1836, and in the following April Mr. Lincoln removed to Springfield. Before this occurred, however, he was surprised to learn that Mary Owens had actually returned with her sister from Kentucky, and felt that the romantic jest had become a serious and practical question. Their first interview dissipated some of the illusions in which each had indulged. The three years elapsed since they first met had greatly changed her personal appearance. She had become stout; her twenty-eight years (one year more than his) had somewhat hardened the lines of her face. Both in figure and feature she presented a disappointing contrast to the slim and not yet totally forgotten Anne Rutledge.
On her part, it was more than likely that she did not find in him all the attractions her sister had pictured. The speech and manners of the Illinois frontier lacked much of the chivalric attentions and flattering compliments to which the Kentucky beaux were addicted. He was yet a diamond in the rough, and she would not immediately decide till she could better understand his character and prospects, so no formal engagement resulted.
In December, Lincoln went to his legislative duties at Vandalia, and in the following April took up his permanent abode in Springfield. Such a separation was not favorable to rapid courtship, yet they had occasional interviews and exchanged occasional letters. None of hers to him have been preserved, and only three of his to her. From these it appears that they sometimes discussed their affair in a cold, hypothetical way, even down to problems of housekeeping, in the light of mere worldly prudence, much as if they were guardians arranging a mariage de convenance, rather than impulsive and ardent lovers wandering in Arcady. Without Miss Owens's letters it is impossible to know what she may have said to him, but in May, 1837, Lincoln wrote to her:
"I am often thinking of what we said about your coming to live at Springfield. I am afraid you would not be satisfied. There is a great deal of flourishing about in carriages here, which it would be your doom to see without sharing it. You would have to be poor, without the means of hiding your poverty. Do you believe you could bear that patiently? Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented; and there is nothing I can imagine that would make me more unhappy than to fail in the effort. I know I should be much happier with you than the way I am, provided I saw no signs of discontent in you. What you have said to me may have been in the way of jest, or I may have misunderstood it. If so, then let it be forgotten; if otherwise, I much wish you would think seriously before you decide. What I have said I will most positively abide by, provided you wish it. My opinion is that you had better not do it. You have not been accustomed to hardship, and it may be more severe than you now imagine. I know you are capable of thinking correctly on any subject, and if you deliberate maturely upon this before you decide, then I am willing to abide your decision."
Whether, after receiving this, she wrote him the "good long letter" he asked for in the same epistle is not known. Apparently they did not meet again until August, and the interview must have been marked by reserve and coolness on both sides, which left each more uncertain than before; for on the same day Lincoln again wrote her, and, after saying that she might perhaps be mistaken in regard to his real feelings toward her, continued thus:
"I want in all cases to do right, and most particularly so in all cases with women. I want at this particular time, more than anything else, to do right with you; and if I knew it would be doing right, as I rather suspect it would, to let you alone, I would do it. And for the purpose of making the matter as plain as possible, I now say that you can now drop the subject, dismiss your thoughts (if you ever had any) from me forever, and leave this letter unanswered, without calling forth one accusing murmur from me. And I will even go further, and say that if it will add anything to your comfort or peace of mind to do so, it is my sincere wish that you should. Do not understand by this that I wish to cut your acquaintance. I mean no such thing. What I do wish is that our further acquaintance shall depend upon yourself. If such further acquaintance would contribute nothing to your happiness, I am sure it would not to mine. If you feel yourself in any degree bound to me, I am now willing to release you, provided you wish it; while, on the other hand, I am willing and even anxious to bind you faster, if I can be convinced that it will in any considerable degree add to your happiness. This, indeed, is the whole question with me."
All that we know of the sequel is contained in a letter which Lincoln wrote to his friend Mrs. Browning nearly a year later, after Miss Owens had finally returned to Kentucky, in which, without mentioning the lady's name, he gave a seriocomic description of what might be called a courtship to escape matrimony. He dwells on his disappointment at her changed appearance, and continues:
"But what could I do? I had told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse, and I made a point of honor and conscience in all things to stick to my word, especially if others had been induced to act on it, which in this case I had no doubt they had; for I was now fairly convinced that no other man on earth would have her, and hence the conclusion that they were bent on holding me to my bargain. 'Well,' thought I, 'I have said it, and, be the consequences what they may, it shall not be my fault if I fail to do it....' All this while, although I was fixed 'firm as the surge-repelling rock' in my resolution, I found I was continually repenting the rashness which had led me to make it. Through life I have been in no bondage, either real or imaginary, from the thraldom of which I so much desired to be free.... After I had delayed the matter as long as I thought I could in honor do (which, by the way, had brought me round into last fall), I concluded I might as well bring it to a consummation without further delay, and so I mustered my resolution and made the proposal to her direct; but, shocking to relate, she answered, No. At first I supposed she did it through an affectation of modesty, which I thought but ill became her under the peculiar circumstances of her case, but on my renewal of the charge I found she repelled it with greater firmness than before. I tried it again and again, but with the same success, or rather with the same want of success. I finally was forced to give it up, at which I very unexpectedly found myself mortified almost beyond endurance. I was mortified, it seemed to me, in a hundred different ways. My vanity was deeply wounded by the reflection that I had so long been too stupid to discover her intentions, and at the same time never doubting that I understood them perfectly; and also that she, whom I had taught myself to believe nobody else would have, had actually rejected me with all my fancied greatness. And, to cap the whole, I then for the first time began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her."
The serious side of this letter is undoubtedly genuine and candid, while the somewhat over-exaggeration of the comic side points as clearly that he had not fully recovered from the mental suffering he had undergone in the long conflict between doubt and duty. From the beginning, the match-making zeal of the sister had placed the parties in a false position, produced embarrassment, and created distrust. A different beginning might have resulted in a very different outcome, for Lincoln, while objecting to her corpulency, acknowledges that in both feature and intellect she was as attractive as any woman he had ever met; and Miss Owens's letters, written after his death, state that her principal objection lay in the fact that his training had been different from hers, and that "Mr. Lincoln was deficient in those little links which make up the chain of a woman's happiness." She adds: "The last message I ever received from him was about a year after we parted in Illinois. Mrs. Able visited Kentucky, and he said to her in Springfield, 'Tell your sister that I think she was a great fool because she did not stay here and marry me.'" She was even then not quite clear in her own mind but that his words were true.
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
The deep impression which the Mary Owens affair made upon Lincoln is further shown by one of the concluding phrases of his letter to Mrs. Browning: "I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying." But it was not long before a reaction set in from this pessimistic mood. The actual transfer of the seat of government from Vandalia to Springfield in 1839 gave the new capital fresh animation. Business revived, public improvements were begun, politics ran high. Already there was a spirit in the air that in the following year culminated in the extraordinary enthusiasm and fervor of the Harrison presidential campaign of 1840, that rollicking and uproarious party carnival of humor and satire, of song and jollification, of hard cider and log cabins. While the State of Illinois was strongly Democratic, Sangamon County was as distinctly Whig, and the local party disputes were hot and aggressive. The Whig delegation of Sangamon in the legislature, popularly called the "Long Nine," because the sum of the stature of its members was fifty-four feet, became noted for its influence in legislation in a body where the majority was against them; and of these Mr. Lincoln was the "tallest" both in person and ability, as was recognized by his twice receiving the minority vote for Speaker of the House.
Society also began organizing itself upon metropolitan rather than provincial assumptions. As yet, however society was liberal. Men of either wealth or position were still too few to fill its ranks. Energy, ambition talent, were necessarily the standard of admission; and Lincoln, though poor as a church mouse, was as welcome as those who could wear ruffled shirts and carry gold watches. The meetings of the legislature at Springfield then first brought together that splendid group of young men of genius whose phenomenal careers and distinguished services have given Illinois fame in the history of the nation. It is a marked peculiarity of the American character that the bitterest foes in party warfare generally meet each other on terms of perfect social courtesy in the drawing-rooms of society; and future presidential candidates, cabinet members, senators, congressmen, jurists, orators, and battle heroes lent the little social reunions of Springfield a zest and exaltation never found—perhaps impossible—amid the heavy, oppressive surroundings of conventional ceremony, gorgeous upholstery, and magnificent decorations.
It was at this period also that Lincoln began to feel and exercise his expanding influence and powers as a writer and speaker. Already, two years earlier, he had written and delivered before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield an able address upon "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions," strongly enforcing the doctrine of rigid obedience to law. In December, 1839, Douglas, in a heated conversation, challenged the young Whigs present to a political discussion. The challenge was immediately taken up, and the public of Springfield listened with eager interest to several nights of sharp debate between Whig and Democratic champions, in which Lincoln bore a prominent and successful share. In the following summer, Lincoln's name was placed upon the Harrison electoral ticket for Illinois, and he lent all his zeal and eloquence to swell the general popular enthusiasm for "Tippecanoe and Tyler too."
In the midst of this political and social awakening of the new capital and the quickened interest and high hopes of leading citizens gathered there from all parts of the State, there came into the Springfield circles Miss Mary Todd of Kentucky, twenty-one years old, handsome, accomplished, vivacious, witty, a dashing and fascinating figure in dress and conversation, gracious and imperious by turns. She easily singled out and secured the admiration of such of the Springfield beaux as most pleased her somewhat capricious fancy. She was a sister of Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards, whose husband was one of the "Long Nine." This circumstance made Lincoln a frequent visitor at the Edwards house; and, being thus much thrown in her company, he found himself, almost before he knew it, entangled in a new love affair, and in the course of a twelvemonth engaged to marry her.
Much to the surprise of Springfield society, however, the courtship took a sudden turn. Whether it was caprice or jealousy, a new attachment, or mature reflection will always remain a mystery. Every such case is a law unto itself, and neither science nor poetry is ever able to analyze and explain its causes and effects. The conflicting stories then current, and the varying traditions that yet exist, either fail to agree or to fit the sparse facts which came to light. There remains no dispute, however, that the occurrence, whatever shape it took, threw Mr. Lincoln into a deeper despondency than any he had yet experienced, for on January 23, 1841, he wrote to his law partner, John T. Stuart:
"For not giving you a general summary of news you must pardon me; it is not in my power to do so. I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better."
Apparently his engagement to Miss Todd was broken off, but whether that was the result or the cause of his period of gloom seems still a matter of conjecture. His mind was so perturbed that he felt unable to attend the sessions of the legislature of which he was a member; and after its close his intimate friend Joshua F. Speed carried him off for a visit to Kentucky. The change of scene and surroundings proved of great benefit. He returned home about midsummer very much improved, but not yet completely restored to a natural mental equipoise. While on their visit to Kentucky, Speed had likewise fallen in love, and in the following winter had become afflicted with doubts and perplexities akin to those from which Lincoln had suffered. It now became his turn to give sympathy and counsel to his friend, and he did this with a warmth and delicacy born of his own spiritual trials, not yet entirely overmastered. He wrote letter after letter to Speed to convince him that his doubts about not truly loving the woman of his choice were all nonsense.
"Why, Speed, if you did not love her, although you might not wish her death, you would most certainly be resigned to it. Perhaps this point is no longer a question with you, and my pertinacious dwelling upon it is a rude intrusion upon your feelings. If so, you must pardon me. You know the hell I have suffered on that point, and how tender I am upon it.... I am now fully convinced that you love her, as ardently as you are capable of loving.... It is the peculiar misfortune of both you and me to dream dreams of Elysium far exceeding all that anything earthly can realize."
When Lincoln heard that Speed was finally married, he wrote him:
"It cannot be told how it now thrills me with joy to hear you say you are 'far happier than you ever expected to be,' That much, I know, is enough. I know you too well to suppose your expectations were not, at least, sometimes extravagant; and if the reality exceeds them all, I say, Enough, dear Lord. I am not going beyond the truth when I tell you that the short space it took me to read your last letter gave me more pleasure than the total sum of all I have enjoyed since the fatal first of January, 1841. Since then it seems to me I should have been entirely happy, but for the never-absent idea that there is one still unhappy whom I have contributed to make so. That still kills my soul. I cannot but reproach myself for even wishing to be happy while she is otherwise."
It is quite possible that a series of incidents that occurred during the summer in which the above was written had something to do with bringing such a frame of mind to a happier conclusion. James Shields, afterward a general in two wars and a senator from two States, was at that time auditor of Illinois, with his office at Springfield. Shields was an Irishman by birth, and, for an active politician of the Democratic party, had the misfortune to be both sensitive and irascible in party warfare. Shields, together with the Democratic governor and treasurer, issued a circular order forbidding the payment of taxes in the depreciated paper of the Illinois State banks, and the Whigs were endeavoring to make capital by charging that the order was issued for the purpose of bringing enough silver into the treasury to pay the salaries of these officials. Using this as a basis of argument, a couple of clever Springfield society girls wrote and printed in the "Sangamo Journal" a series of humorous letters in country dialect, purporting to come from the "Lost Townships," and signed by "Aunt Rebecca," who called herself a farmer's widow. It is hardly necessary to say that Mary Todd was one of the culprits. The young ladies originated the scheme more to poke fun at the personal weaknesses of Shields than for the sake of party effect, and they embellished their simulated plaint about taxes with an embroidery of fictitious social happenings and personal allusions to the auditor that put the town on a grin and Shields into fury. The fair and mischievous writers found it necessary to consult Lincoln about how they should frame the political features of their attack, and he set them a pattern by writing the first letter of the series himself.
Shields sent a friend to the editor of the "Journal," and demanded the name of the real "Rebecca." The editor, as in duty bound, asked Lincoln what he should do, and was instructed to give Lincoln's name, and not to mention the ladies. Then followed a letter from Shields to Lincoln demanding retraction and apology, Lincoln's reply that he declined to answer under menace, and a challenge from Shields. Thereupon Lincoln instructed his "friend" as follows: If former offensive correspondence were withdrawn and a polite and gentlemanly inquiry made, he was willing to explain that:
"I did write the 'Lost Townships' letter which appeared in the 'Journal' of the 2d instant, but had no participation in any form in any other article alluding to you. I wrote that wholly for political effect; I had no intention of injuring your personal or private character or standing as a man or a gentleman; and I did not then think, and do not now think, that that article could produce or has produced that effect against you, and had I anticipated such an effect I would have forborne to write it. And I will add that your conduct toward me, so far as I know, had always been gentlemanly, and that I had no personal pique against you and no cause for any.... If nothing like this is done, the preliminaries of the fight are to be:
"First. Weapons: Cavalry broadswords of the largest size, precisely equal in all respects, and such as now used by the cavalry company at Jacksonville.
"Second. Position: A plank ten feet long, and from nine to twelve inches broad, to be firmly fixed on edge, on the ground, as the line between us, which neither is to pass his foot over upon forfeit of his life. Next, a line drawn on the ground on either side of said plank and parallel with it, each at the distance of the whole length of the sword and three feet additional from the plank, and the passing of his own such line by either party during the fight shall be deemed a surrender of the contest."
The two seconds met, and, with great unction, pledged "our honor to each other that we would endeavor to settle the matter amicably," but persistently higgled over points till publicity and arrests seemed imminent. Procuring the necessary broadswords, all parties then hurried away to an island in the Mississippi River opposite Alton, where, long before the planks were set on edge or the swords drawn, mutual friends took the case out of the hands of the seconds and declared an adjustment. The terms of the fight as written by Mr. Lincoln show plainly enough that in his judgment it was to be treated as a farce, and would never proceed beyond "preliminaries." There, of course, ensued the usual very bellicose after-discussion in the newspapers, with additional challenges between the seconds about the proper etiquette of such farces, all resulting only in the shedding of much ink and furnishing Springfield with topics of lively conversation for a month. These occurrences, naturally enough, again drew Mr. Lincoln and Miss Todd together in friendly interviews, and Lincoln's letter to Speed detailing the news of the duels contains this significant paragraph:
"But I began this letter not for what I have been writing, but to say something on that subject which you know to be of such infinite solicitude to me. The immense sufferings you endured from the first days of September till the middle of February you never tried to conceal from me, and I well understood. You have now been the husband of a lovely woman nearly eight months. That you are happier now than the day you married her I well know, for without you could not be living. But I have your word for it too, and the returning elasticity of spirits which is manifested in your letters. But I want to ask a close question. 'Are you now in feeling as well as judgment glad that you are married as you are?' From anybody but me this would be an impudent question not to be tolerated, but I know you will pardon it in me. Please answer it quickly, as I am impatient to know."
The answer was evidently satisfactory, for on November 4, 1842, the Rev. Charles Dresser united Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd in the holy bonds of matrimony.
[Footnote 3: The following children were born of this marriage:
Robert Todd, August 1, 1843; Edward Baker, March 10, 1846; William Wallace, December 21, 1850; Thomas, April 4, 1853.
Edward died in infancy; William in the White House, February 20, 1862; Thomas in Chicago, July 15, 1871; and the mother, Mary Lincoln, in Springfield, July 16, 1882.
Robert, who filled the office of Secretary of War with distinction under the administrations of Presidents Garfield and Arthur, as well William as that of minister to England under the administration of President Harrison, now resides in Chicago, Illinois.]
His marriage to Miss Todd ended all those mental perplexities and periods of despondency from which he had suffered more or less during his several love affairs, extending over nearly a decade. Out of the keen anguish he had endured, he finally gained that perfect mastery over his own spirit which Scripture declares to denote a greatness superior to that of him who takes a city. Few men have ever attained that complete domination of the will over the emotions, of reason over passion, by which he was able in the years to come to meet and solve the tremendous questions destiny had in store for him. His wedding once over, he took up with resolute patience the hard, practical routine of daily life, in which he had already been so severely schooled. Even his sentimental correspondence with his friend Speed lapsed into neglect. He was so poor that he and his bride could not make the contemplated visit to Kentucky they would both have so much enjoyed. His "national debt" of the old New Salem days was not yet fully paid off. "We are not keeping house, but boarding at the Globe tavern," he writes. "Our room ... and boarding only cost us four dollars a week."
His law partnership with Stuart had lasted four years, but was dissolved by reason of Stuart's election to Congress, and a new one was formed with Judge Stephen T. Logan, who had recently resigned from the circuit bench, where he had learned the quality and promise of Lincoln's talents. It was an opportune and important change. Stuart had devoted himself mainly to politics, while with Logan law was the primary object. Under Logan's guidance and encouragement, he took up both the study and practical work of the profession in a more serious spirit. Lincoln's interest in politics, however, was in no way diminished, and, in truth, his limited practice at that date easily afforded him the time necessary for both.
Since 1840 he had declined a reelection to the legislature, and his ambition had doubtless contributed much to this decision. His late law partner, Stuart, had been three times a candidate for Congress. He was defeated in 1836, but successfully gained his election in 1838 and 1840, his service of two terms extending from December 2, 1839, to March 3, 1843. For some reason, the next election had been postponed from the year 1842 to 1843. It was but natural that Stuart's success should excite a similar desire in Lincoln, who had reached equal party prominence, and rendered even more conspicuous party service. Lincoln had profited greatly by the companionship and friendly emulation of the many talented young politicians of Springfield, but this same condition also increased competition and stimulated rivalry. Not only himself, but both Hardin and Baker desired the nomination, which, as the district then stood, was equivalent to an election.
When the leading Whigs of Sangamon County met, Lincoln was under the impression that it was Baker and not Hardin who was his most dangerous rival, as appears in a letter to Speed of March 24, 1843:
"We had a meeting of the Whigs of the county here on last Monday to appoint delegates to a district convention, and Baker beat me and got the delegation instructed to go for him. The meeting, in spite of my attempt to decline it, appointed me one of the delegates, so that in getting Baker the nomination I shall be fixed a good deal like a fellow who is made groomsman to a man that has cut him out and is marrying his own dear 'gal.'"
The causes that led to his disappointment are set forth more in detail in a letter, two days later, to a friend in the new county of Menard, which now included his old home, New Salem, whose powerful assistance was therefore lost from the party councils of Sangamon. The letter also dwells more particularly on the complicated influences which the practical politician has to reckon with, and shows that even his marriage had been used to turn popular opinion against him.
"It is truly gratifying to me to learn that while the people of Sangamon have cast me off, my old friends of Menard, who have known me longest and best, stick to me. It would astonish, if not amuse, the older citizens to learn that I (a stranger, friendless, uneducated, penniless boy, working on a flatboat at ten dollars per month) have been put down here as the candidate of pride, wealth, and aristocratic family distinction. Yet so, chiefly, it was. There was, too, the strangest combination of church influence against me. Baker is a Campbellite, and therefore, as I suppose, with few exceptions got all that church. My wife has some relations in the Presbyterian churches and some with the Episcopal churches; and therefore, wherever it would tell, I was set down as either the one or the other, while it was everywhere contended that no Christian ought to go for me, because I belonged to no church, was suspected of being a deist, and had talked about fighting a duel. With all these things, Baker of course had nothing to do. Nor do I complain of them. As to his own church going for him, I think that was right enough, and as to the influences I have spoken of in the other, though they were very strong, it would be grossly untrue and unjust to charge that they acted upon them in a body, or were very near so. I only mean that those influences levied a tax of a considerable per cent. upon my strength throughout the religious community."
In the same letter we have a striking illustration of Lincoln's intelligence and skill in the intricate details of political management, together with the high sense of honor and manliness which directed his action in such matters. Speaking of the influences of Menard County, he wrote:
"If she and Mason act circumspectly, they will in the convention be able so far to enforce their rights as to decide absolutely which one of the candidates shall be successful. Let me show the reason of this. Hardin, or some other Morgan candidate, will get Putnam, Marshall, Woodford, Tazewell, and Logan [counties], making sixteen. Then you and Mason, having three, can give the victory to either side. You say you shall instruct your delegates for me, unless I object. I certainly shall not object. That would be too pleasant a compliment for me to tread in the dust. And, besides, if anything should happen (which, however, is not probable) by which Baker should be thrown out of the fight, I would be at liberty to accept the nomination if I could get it. I do, however, feel myself bound not to hinder him in any way from getting the nomination. I should despise myself were I to attempt it. I think, then, it would be proper for your meeting to appoint three delegates, and to instruct them to go for some one as a first choice, some one else as a second, and perhaps some one as a third; and if in those instructions I were named as the first choice it would gratify me very much. If you wish to hold the balance of power, it is important for you to attend to and secure the vote of Mason also."
A few weeks again changed the situation, of which he informed Speed in a letter dated May 18:
"In relation to our Congress matter here, you were right in supposing I would support the nominee. Neither Baker nor I, however, is the man—but Hardin, so far as I can judge from present appearances. We shall have no split or trouble about the matter; all will be harmony."
In the following year (1844) Lincoln was once more compelled to exercise his patience. The Campbellite friends of Baker must have again been very active in behalf of their church favorite; for their influence, added to his dashing politics and eloquent oratory, appears to have secured him the nomination without serious contention, while Lincoln found a partial recompense in being nominated a candidate for presidential elector, which furnished him opportunity for all his party energy and zeal during the spirited but unsuccessful presidential campaign for Henry Clay. He not only made an extensive canvass in Illinois, but also made a number of speeches in the adjoining State of Indiana.
It was probably during that year that a tacit agreement was reached among the Whig leaders in Sangamon County, that each would be satisfied with one term in Congress and would not seek a second nomination. But Hardin was the aspirant from the neighboring county of Morgan, and apparently therefore not included in this arrangement. Already, in the fall of 1845, Lincoln industriously began his appeals and instructions to his friends in the district to secure the succession. Thus he wrote on November 17:
"The paper at Pekin has nominated Hardin for governor, and, commenting on this, the Alton paper indirectly nominated him for Congress. It would give Hardin a great start, and perhaps use me up, if the Whig papers of the district should nominate him for Congress. If your feelings toward me are the same as when I saw you (which I have no reason to doubt), I wish you would let nothing appear in your paper which may operate against me. You understand. Matters stand just as they did when I saw you. Baker is certainly off the track, and I fear Hardin intends to be on it."
But again, as before, the spirit of absolute fairness governed all his movements, and he took special pains to guard against it being "suspected that I was attempting to juggle Hardin out of a nomination for Congress by juggling him into one for governor." "I should be pleased," he wrote again in January, "if I could concur with you in the hope that my name would be the only one presented to the convention; but I cannot. Hardin is a man of desperate energy and perseverance, and one that never backs out; and, I fear, to think otherwise is to be deceived in the character of our adversary. I would rejoice to be spared the labor of a contest, but, 'being in,' I shall go it thoroughly and to the bottom." He then goes on to recount in much detail the chances for and against him in the several counties of the district, and in later letters discusses the system of selecting candidates, where the convention ought to be held, how the delegates should be chosen, the instructions they should receive, and how the places of absent delegates should be filled. He watched his field of operations, planned his strategy, and handled his forces almost with the vigilance of a military commander. As a result, he won both his nomination in May and his election to the Thirtieth Congress in August, 1846.
In that same year the Mexican War broke out. Hardin became colonel of one of the three regiments of Illinois volunteers called for by President Polk, while Baker raised a fourth regiment, which was also accepted. Colonel Hardin was killed in the battle of Buena Vista, and Colonel Baker won great distinction in the fighting near the City of Mexico.
Like Abraham Lincoln, Douglas was also elected to Congress in 1846, where he had already served the two preceding terms. But these redoubtable Illinois champions were not to have a personal tilt in the House of Representatives. Before Congress met, the Illinois legislature elected Douglas to the United States Senate for six years from March 4, 1847.
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
Very few men are fortunate enough to gain distinction during their first term in Congress. The reason is obvious. Legally, a term extends over two years; practically, a session of five or six months during the first, and three months during the second year ordinarily reduce their opportunities more than one half. In those two sessions, even if we presuppose some knowledge of parliamentary law, they must learn the daily routine of business, make the acquaintance of their fellow-members, who already, in the Thirtieth Congress, numbered something over two hundred, study the past and prospective legislation on a multitude of minor national questions entirely new to the new members, and perform the drudgery of haunting the departments in the character of unpaid agent and attorney to attend to the private interests of constituents—a physical task of no small proportions in Lincoln's day, when there was neither street-car nor omnibus in the "city of magnificent distances," as Washington was nicknamed. Add to this that the principal work of preparing legislation is done by the various committees in their committee-rooms, of which the public hears nothing, and that members cannot choose their own time for making speeches; still further, that the management of debate on prepared legislation must necessarily be intrusted to members of long experience as well as talent, and it will be seen that the novice need not expect immediate fame.
It is therefore not to be wondered at that Lincoln's single term in the House of Representatives at Washington added practically nothing to his reputation. He did not attempt to shine forth in debate by either a stinging retort or a witty epigram, or by a sudden burst of inspired eloquence. On the contrary, he took up his task as a quiet but earnest and patient apprentice in the great workshop of national legislation, and performed his share of duty with industry and intelligence, as well as with a modest and appreciative respect for the ability and experience of his seniors.
"As to speech-making," he wrote, "by way of getting the hang of the House, I made a little speech two or three days ago on a post-office question of no general interest. I find speaking here and elsewhere about the same thing. I was about as badly scared, and no worse, as I am when I speak in court. I expect to make one within a week or two in which I hope to succeed well enough to wish you to see it." And again, some weeks later: "I just take my pen to say that Mr. Stephens of Georgia, a little, slim, pale-faced consumptive man with a voice like Logan's, has just concluded the very best speech of an hour's length I ever heard. My old, withered, dry eyes are full of tears yet."
He was appointed the junior Whig member of the Committee on Post-offices and Post-roads, and shared its prosaic but eminently useful labors both in the committee-room and the House debates. His name appears on only one other committee,—that on Expenditures of the War Department,—and he seems to have interested himself in certain amendments of the law relating to bounty lands for soldiers and such minor military topics. He looked carefully after the interests of Illinois in certain grants of land to that State for railroads, but expressed his desire that the government price of the reserved sections should not be increased to actual settlers.
During the first session of the Thirtieth Congress he delivered three set speeches in the House, all of them carefully prepared and fully written out. The first of these, on January 12, 1848, was an elaborate defense of the Whig doctrine summarized in a House resolution passed a week or ten days before, that the Mexican War "had been unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President," James K. Polk. The speech is not a mere party diatribe, but a terse historical and legal examination of the origin of the Mexican War. In the after-light of our own times which shines upon these transactions, we may readily admit that Mr. Lincoln and the Whigs had the best of the argument, but it must be quite as readily conceded that they were far behind the President and his defenders in political and party strategy. The former were clearly wasting their time in discussing an abstract question of international law upon conditions existing twenty months before. During those twenty months the American arms had won victory after victory, and planted the American flag on the "halls of the Montezumas." Could even successful argument undo those victories or call back to life the brave American soldiers who had shed their blood to win them?
It may be assumed as an axiom that Providence has never gifted any political party with all of political wisdom or blinded it with all of political folly. Upon the foregoing point of controversy the Whigs were sadly thrown on the defensive, and labored heavily under their already discounted declamation. But instinct rather than sagacity led them to turn their eyes to the future, and successfully upon other points to retrieve their mistake. Within six weeks after Lincoln's speech President Polk sent to the Senate a treaty of peace, under which Mexico ceded to the United States an extent of territory equal in area to Germany, France, and Spain combined, and thereafter the origin of the war was an obsolete question. What should be done with the new territory was now the issue.
This issue embraced the already exciting slavery question, and Mr. Lincoln was doubtless gratified that the Whigs had taken a position upon it so consonant with his own convictions. Already, in the previous Congress, the body of the Whig members had joined a small group of antislavery Democrats in fastening upon an appropriation bill the famous "Wilmot Proviso," that slavery should never exist in territory acquired from Mexico, and the Whigs of the Thirtieth Congress steadily followed the policy of voting for the same restriction in regard to every piece of legislation where it was applicable. Mr. Lincoln often said he had voted forty or fifty times for the Wilmot Proviso in various forms during his single term.
Upon another point he and the other Whigs were equally wise. Repelling the Democratic charge that they were unpatriotic in denouncing the war, they voted in favor of every measure to sustain, supply, and encourage the soldiers in the field. But their most adroit piece of strategy, now that the war was ended, was in their movement to make General Taylor President.
In this movement Mr. Lincoln took a leading and active part. No living American statesman has ever been idolized by his party adherents as was Henry Clay for a whole generation, and Mr. Lincoln fully shared this hero-worship. But his practical campaigning as a candidate for presidential elector in the Harrison campaign of 1840, and the Clay campaign of 1844, in Illinois and the adjoining States, afforded him a basis for sound judgment, and convinced him that the day when Clay could have been elected President was forever passed.
"Mr. Clay's chance for an election is just no chance at all," he wrote on April 30. "He might get New York, and that would have elected in 1844, but it will not now, because he must now, at the least, lose Tennessee which he had then, and in addition the fifteen new votes of Florida, Texas, Iowa, and Wisconsin.... In my judgment, we can elect nobody but General Taylor; and we cannot elect him without a nomination. Therefore don't fail to send a delegate." And again on the same day: "Mr. Clay's letter has not advanced his interests any here. Several who were against Taylor, but not for anybody particularly before, are since taking ground, some for Scott and some for McLean. Who will be nominated neither I nor any one else can tell. Now, let me pray to you in turn. My prayer is that you let nothing discourage or baffle you, but that, in spite of every difficulty, you send us a good Taylor delegate from your circuit. Make Baker, who is now with you, I suppose, help about it. He is a good hand to raise a breeze."
In due time Mr. Lincoln's sagacity and earnestness were both justified; for on June 12 he was able to write to an Illinois friend:
"On my return from Philadelphia, where I had been attending the nomination of 'Old Rough,' I found your letter in a mass of others which had accumulated in my absence. By many, and often, it had been said they would not abide the nomination of Taylor; but since the deed has been done, they are fast falling in, and in my opinion we shall have a most overwhelming, glorious triumph. One unmistakable sign is that all the odds and ends are with us—Barnburners, Native Americans, Tyler men, disappointed office-seeking Locofocos, and the Lord knows what. This is important, if in nothing else, in showing which way the wind blows. Some of the sanguine men have set down all the States as certain for Taylor but Illinois, and it as doubtful. Cannot something be done even in Illinois? Taylor's nomination takes the Locos on the blind side. It turns the war-thunder against them. The war is now to them the gallows of Haman, which they built for us, and on which they are doomed to be hanged themselves."
Nobody understood better than Mr. Lincoln the obvious truth that in politics it does not suffice merely to nominate candidates. Something must also be done to elect them. Two of the letters which he at this time wrote home to his young law partner, William H. Herndon, are especially worth quoting in part, not alone to show his own zeal and industry, but also as a perennial instruction and encouragement to young men who have an ambition to make a name and a place for themselves in American politics:
"Last night I was attending a sort of caucus of the Whig members, held in relation to the coming presidential election. The whole field of the nation was scanned, and all is high hope and confidence.... Now, as to the young men. You must not wait to be brought forward by the older men. For instance, do you suppose that I should ever have got into notice if I had waited to be hunted up and pushed forward by older men? You young men get together and form a 'Rough and Ready Club,' and have regular meetings and speeches.... Let every one play the part he can play best,—some speak, some sing, and all 'holler.' Your meetings will be of evenings; the older men, and the women, will go to hear you; so that it will not only contribute to the election of 'Old Zach,' but will be an interesting pastime, and improving to the intellectual faculties of all engaged."
And in another letter, answering one from Herndon in which that young aspirant complains of having been neglected, he says:
"The subject of that letter is exceedingly painful to me; and I cannot but think there is some mistake in your impression of the motives of the old men. I suppose I am now one of the old men; and I declare, on my veracity, which I think is good with you, that nothing could afford me more satisfaction than to learn that you and others of my young friends at home are doing battle in the contest, and endearing themselves to the people, and taking a stand far above any I have been able to reach in their admiration. I cannot conceive that other old men feel differently. Of course I cannot demonstrate what I say; but I was young once, and I am sure I was never ungenerously thrust back. I hardly know what to say. The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that anybody wishes to hinder him. Allow me to assure you that suspicion and jealousy never did help any man in any situation. There may sometimes be ungenerous attempts to keep a young man down; and they will succeed, too, if he allows his mind to be diverted from its true channel to brood over the attempted injury. Cast about, and see if this feeling has not injured every person you have ever known to fall into it."
Mr. Lincoln's interest in this presidential campaign did not expend itself merely in advice to others. We have his own written record that he also took an active part for the election of General Taylor after his nomination, speaking a few times in Maryland near Washington, several times in Massachusetts, and canvassing quite fully his own district in Illinois. Before the session of Congress ended he also delivered two speeches in the House—one on the general subject of internal improvements, and the other the usual political campaign speech which members of Congress are in the habit of making to be printed for home circulation; made up mainly of humorous and satirical criticism, favoring the election of General Taylor, and opposing the election of General Cass, the Democratic candidate. Even this production, however, is lighted up by a passage of impressive earnestness and eloquence, in which he explains and defends the attitude of the Whigs in denouncing the origin of the Mexican War:
"If to say 'the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President,' be opposing the war, then the Whigs have very generally opposed it. Whenever they have spoken at all they have said this; and they have said it on what has appeared good reason to them. The marching an army into the midst of a peaceful Mexican settlement, frightening the inhabitants away, leaving their growing crops and other property to destruction, to you may appear a perfectly amiable, peaceful, unprovoking procedure; but it does not appear so to us. So to call such an act, to us appears no other than a naked, impudent absurdity, and we speak of it accordingly. But if, when the war had begun, and had become the cause of the country, the giving of our money and our blood, in common with yours, was support of the war, then it is not true that we have always opposed the war. With few individual exceptions, you have constantly had our votes here for all the necessary supplies. And, more than this, you have had the services, the blood, and the lives of our political brethren in every trial and on every field. The beardless boy and the mature man, the humble and the distinguished—you have had them. Through suffering and death, by disease and in battle, they have endured, and fought and fell with you. Clay and Webster each gave a son, never to be returned. From the State of my own residence, besides other worthy but less known Whig names, we sent Marshall, Morrison, Baker, and Hardin; they all fought and one fell, and in the fall of that one we lost our best Whig man. Nor were the Whigs few in number or laggard in the day of danger. In that fearful, bloody, breathless struggle at Buena Vista, where each man's hard task was to beat back five foes or die himself, of the five high officers who perished, four were Whigs. In speaking of this, I mean no odious comparison between the lion-hearted Whigs and the Democrats who fought there. On other occasions, and among the lower officers and privates on that occasion, I doubt not the proportion was different. I wish to do justice to all. I think of all those brave men as Americans, in whose proud fame, as an American, I, too, have a share. Many of them, Whigs and Democrats, are my constituents and personal friends; and I thank them—more than thank them—one and all, for the high, imperishable honor they have conferred on our common State."
During the second session of the Thirtieth Congress Mr. Lincoln made no long speeches, but in addition to the usual routine work devolved on him by the committee of which he was a member, he busied himself in preparing a special measure which, because of its relation to the great events of his later life, needs to be particularly mentioned. Slavery existed in Maryland and Virginia when these States ceded the territory out of which the District of Columbia was formed. Since, by that cession, this land passed under the exclusive control of the Federal government, the "institution" within this ten miles square could no longer be defended by the plea of State sovereignty, and antislavery sentiment naturally demanded that it should cease. Pro-slavery statesmen, on the other hand, as persistently opposed its removal, partly as a matter of pride and political consistency, partly because it was a convenience to Southern senators and members of Congress, when they came to Washington, to bring their family servants where the local laws afforded them the same security over their black chattels which existed at their homes. Mr. Lincoln, in his Peoria speech in 1854, emphasized the sectional dispute with this vivid touch of local color:
"The South clamored for a more efficient fugitive-slave law. The North clamored for the abolition of a peculiar species of slave trade in the District of Columbia, in connection with which, in view from the windows of the Capitol, a sort of negro livery-stable, where droves of negroes were collected, temporarily kept, and finally taken to Southern markets, precisely like droves of horses, had been openly maintained for fifty years."
Thus the question remained a minor but never ending bone of contention and point of irritation, and excited debate arose in the Thirtieth Congress over a House resolution that the Committee on the Judiciary be instructed to report a bill as soon as practicable prohibiting the slave trade in the District of Columbia. In this situation of affairs, Mr. Lincoln conceived the fond hope that he might be able to present a plan of compromise. He already entertained the idea which in later years during his presidency he urged upon both Congress and the border slave States, that the just and generous mode of getting rid of the barbarous institution of slavery was by a system of compensated emancipation giving freedom to the slave and a money indemnity to the owner. He therefore carefully framed a bill providing for the abolishment of slavery in the District upon the following principal conditions:
First. That the law should be adopted by a popular vote in the District.
Second. A temporary system of apprenticeship and gradual emancipation for children born of slave mothers after January 1, 1850.
Third. The government to pay full cash value for slaves voluntarily manumitted by their owners.
Fourth. Prohibiting bringing slaves into the District, or selling them out of it.
Fifth. Providing that government officers, citizens of slave States, might bring with them and take away again, their slave house-servants.
Sixth. Leaving the existing fugitive-slave law in force.
When Mr. Lincoln presented this amendment to the House, he said that he was authorized to state that of about fifteen of the leading citizens of the District of Columbia, to whom the proposition had been submitted, there was not one who did not approve the adoption of such a proposition. He did not wish to be misunderstood. He did not know whether or not they would vote for this bill on the first Monday in April; but he repeated that out of fifteen persons to whom it had been submitted, he had authority to say that every one of them desired that some proposition like this should pass.
While Mr. Lincoln did not so state to the House, it was well understood in intimate circles that the bill had the approval on the one hand of Mr. Seaton, the conservative mayor of Washington, and on the other hand of Mr. Giddings, the radical antislavery member of the House of Representatives. Notwithstanding the singular merit of the bill in reconciling such extremes of opposing factions in its support, the temper of Congress had already become too hot to accept such a rational and practical solution, and Mr. Lincoln's wise proposition was not allowed to come to a vote.
The triumphant election of General Taylor to the presidency in November, 1848, very soon devolved upon Mr. Lincoln the delicate and difficult duty of making recommendations to the incoming administration of persons suitable to be appointed to fill the various Federal offices in Illinois, as Colonel E.D. Baker and himself were the only Whigs elected to Congress from that State. In performing this duty, one of his leading characteristics, impartial honesty and absolute fairness to political friends and foes alike, stands out with noteworthy clearness. His term ended with General Taylor's inauguration, and he appears to have remained in Washington but a few days thereafter. Before leaving, he wrote to the new Secretary of the Treasury:
"Colonel E.D. Baker and myself are the only Whig members of Congress from Illinois—I of the Thirtieth, and he of the Thirty-first. We have reason to think the Whigs of that State hold us responsible, to some extent, for the appointments which may be made of our citizens. We do not know you personally, and our efforts to see you have, so far, been unavailing. I therefore hope I am not obtrusive in saying in this way, for him and myself, that when a citizen of Illinois is to be appointed, in your department, to an office, either in or out of the State, we most respectfully ask to be heard."
On the following day, March 10, 1849, he addressed to the Secretary of State his first formal recommendation. It is remarkable from the fact that between the two Whig applicants whose papers are transmitted, he says rather less in favor of his own choice than of the opposing claimant.
"SIR: There are several applicants for the office of United States Marshal for the District of Illinois, among the most prominent of whom are Benjamin Bond, Esq., of Carlyle, and —— Thomas, Esq., of Galena. Mr. Bond I know to be personally every way worthy of the office; and he is very numerously and most respectably recommended. His papers I send to you; and I solicit for his claims a full and fair consideration. Having said this much, I add that in my individual judgment the appointment of Mr. Thomas would be the better.
"Your obedient servant, "A. LINCOLN"
(Indorsed on Mr. Bond's papers.)
"In this and the accompanying envelop are the recommendations of about two hundred good citizens, of all parts of Illinois, that Benjamin Bond be appointed marshal for that district. They include the names of nearly all our Whigs who now are, or have ever been, members of the State legislature, besides forty-six of the Democratic members of the present legislature, and many other good citizens. I add that from personal knowledge I consider Mr. Bond every way worthy of the office, and qualified to fill it. Holding the individual opinion that the appointment of a different gentleman would be better, I ask especial attention and consideration for his claims, and for the opinions expressed in his favor by those over whom I can claim no superiority."
There were but three other prominent Federal appointments to be made in Mr. Lincoln's congressional district, and he waited until after his return home so that he might be better informed of the local opinion concerning them before making his recommendations. It was nearly a month after he left Washington before he sent his decision to the several departments at Washington. The letter quoted below, relating to one of these appointments, is in substance almost identical with the others, and particularly refrains from expressing any opinion of his own for or against the policy of political removals. He also expressly explains that Colonel Baker, the other Whig representative, claims no voice in the appointment.
"DEAR SIR: I recommend that Walter Davis be appointed Receiver of the Land Office at this place, whenever there shall be a vacancy. I cannot say that Mr. Herndon, the present incumbent, has failed in the proper discharge of any of the duties of the office. He is a very warm partizan, and openly and actively opposed to the election of General Taylor. I also understand that since General Taylor's election he has received a reappointment from Mr. Polk, his old commission not having expired. Whether this is true the records of the department will show. I may add that the Whigs here almost universally desire his removal."
If Mr. Lincoln's presence in Washington during two sessions in Congress did not add materially to either his local or national fame, it was of incalculable benefit in other respects. It afforded him a close inspection of the complex machinery of the Federal government and its relation to that of the States, and enabled him to notice both the easy routine and the occasional friction of their movements. It brought him into contact and, to some degree, intimate companionship with political leaders from all parts of the Union, and gave him the opportunity of joining in the caucus and the national convention that nominated General Taylor for President. It broadened immensely the horizon of his observation, and the sharp personal rivalries he noted at the center of the nation opened to him new lessons in the study of human nature. His quick intelligence acquired knowledge quite as, or even more, rapidly by process of logical intuition than by mere dry, laborious study; and it was the inestimable experience of this single term in the Congress of the United States which prepared him for his coming, yet undreamed-of, responsibilities, as fully as it would have done the ordinary man in a dozen.
Mr. Lincoln had frankly acknowledged to his friend Speed, after his election in 1846, that "being elected to Congress, though I am very grateful to our friends for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected." It has already been said that an agreement had been reached among the several Springfield aspirants, that they would limit their ambition to a single term, and take turns in securing and enjoying the coveted distinction; and Mr. Lincoln remained faithful to this agreement. When the time to prepare for the election of 1848 approached, he wrote to his law partner:
"It is very pleasant to learn from you that there are some who desire that I should be reelected. I most heartily thank them for their kind partiality; and I can say, as Mr. Clay said of the annexation of Texas, that 'personally I would not object' to a reelection, although I thought at the time, and still think, it would be quite as well for me to return to the law at the end of a single term. I made the declaration that I would not be a candidate again, more from a wish to deal fairly with others, to keep peace among our friends, and to keep the district from going to the enemy, than for any cause personal to myself; so that, if it should so happen that nobody else wishes to be elected, I could not refuse the people the right of sending me again. But to enter myself as a competitor of others, or to authorize any one so to enter me, is what my word and honor forbid."
Judge Stephen T. Logan, his late law partner, was nominated for the place, and heartily supported not only by Mr. Lincoln, but also by the Whigs of the district. By this time, however, the politics of the district had undergone a change by reason of the heavy emigration to Illinois at that period, and Judge Logan was defeated.
Mr. Lincoln's strict and sensitive adherence to his promises now brought him a disappointment which was one of those blessings in disguise so commonly deplored for the time being by the wisest and best. A number of the Western members of Congress had joined in a recommendation to President-elect Taylor to give Colonel E.D. Baker a place in his cabinet, a reward he richly deserved for his talents, his party service, and the military honor he had won in the Mexican War. When this application bore no fruit, the Whigs of Illinois, expecting at least some encouragement from the new administration, laid claim to a bureau appointment, that of Commissioner of the General Land Office, in the new Department of the Interior, recently established.
"I believe that, so far as the Whigs in Congress are concerned," wrote Lincoln to Speed twelve days before Taylor's inauguration, "I could have the General Land Office almost by common consent; but then Sweet and Don Morrison and Browning and Cyrus Edwards all want it, and what is worse, while I think I could easily take it myself, I fear I shall have trouble to get it for any other man in Illinois."
Unselfishly yielding his own chances, he tried to induce the four Illinois candidates to come to a mutual agreement in favor of one of their own number. They were so tardy in settling their differences as to excite his impatience, and he wrote to a Washington friend:
"I learn from Washington that a man by the name of Butterfield will probably be appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office, This ought not to be.... Some kind friends think I ought to be an applicant, but I am for Mr. Edwards. Try to defeat Butterfield, and, in doing so, use Mr. Edwards, J.L.D. Morrison, or myself, whichever you can to best advantage."
As the situation grew persistently worse, Mr. Lincoln at length, about the first of June, himself became a formal applicant. But the delay resulting from his devotion to his friends had dissipated his chances. Butterfield received the appointment, and the defeat was aggravated when, a few months later, his unrelenting spirit of justice and fairness impelled him to write a letter defending Butterfield and the Secretary of the Interior from an attack by one of Lincoln's warm personal but indiscreet friends in the Illinois legislature. It was, however, a fortunate escape. In the four succeeding years Mr. Lincoln qualified himself for better things than the monotonous drudgery of an administrative bureau at Washington. It is probable that this defeat also enabled him more easily to pass by another temptation. The Taylor administration, realizing its ingratitude, at length, in September, offered him the governorship of the recently organized territory of Oregon; but he replied:
"On as much reflection as I have had time to give the subject, I cannot consent to accept it."
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
After the expiration of his term in Congress Mr. Lincoln applied himself with unremitting assiduity to the practice of law, which the growth of the State in population, and the widening of his acquaintanceship no less than his own growth in experience and legal acumen, rendered ever more important and absorbing.
"In 1854," he writes, "his profession had almost superseded the thought of politics in his mind, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused him as he had never been before."
Not alone Mr. Lincoln, but, indeed, the whole nation, was so aroused—the Democratic party, and nearly the entire South, to force the passage of that repeal through Congress, and an alarmed majority, including even a considerable minority of the Democratic party in the North, to resist its passage.
Mr. Lincoln, of course, shared the general indignation of Northern sentiment that the whole of the remaining Louisiana Territory, out of which six States, and the greater part of two more, have since been organized and admitted to the Union, should be opened to the possible extension of slavery. But two points served specially to enlist his energy in the controversy. One was personal, in that Senator Douglas of Illinois, by whom the repeal was championed, and whose influence as a free-State senator and powerful Democratic leader alone made the repeal possible, had been his personal antagonist in Illinois politics for almost twenty years. The other was moral, in that the new question involved the elemental principles of the American government, the fundamental maxim of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. His intuitive logic needed no demonstration that bank, tariff, internal improvements, the Mexican War, and their related incidents, were questions of passing expediency; but that this sudden reaction, needlessly grafted upon a routine statute to organize a new territory, was the unmistakable herald of a coming struggle which might transform republican institutions.
It was in January, 1854, that the accidents of a Senate debate threw into Congress and upon the country the firebrand of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The repeal was not consummated till the month of May; and from May until the autumn elections the flame of acrimonious discussion ran over the whole country like a wild fire. There is no record that Mr. Lincoln took any public part in the discussion until the month of September, but it is very clear that he not only carefully watched its progress, but that he studied its phases of development, its historical origins, and its legal bearings with close industry, and gathered from party literature and legislative documents a harvest of substantial facts and data, rather than the wordy campaign phrases and explosive epithets with which more impulsive students and speakers were content to produce their oratorical effects. Here we may again quote Mr. Lincoln's exact written statement of the manner in which he resumed his political activity:
"In the autumn of that year  he took the stump, with no broader practical aim or object than to secure, if possible, the reelection of Hon. Richard Yates to Congress. His speeches at once attracted a more marked attention than they had ever before done. As the canvass proceeded he was drawn to different parts of the State, outside of Mr. Yates's district. He did not abandon the law, but gave his attention by turns to that and politics. The State Agricultural Fair was at Springfield that year, and Douglas was announced to speak there."