Judge Gillespie tells a good story, to the effect that Lincoln and General U.P. Linder were once defending a man who was being tried on a criminal charge before Judge David Davis, who said at dinner-time that the case must be disposed of that night. Lincoln suggested that the best thing they could do would be to run Benedict, the prosecuting attorney, as far into the night as possible, in hopes that he might, in his rage, commit some indiscretion that would help their case. Lincoln began, but to save his life he could not speak one hour, and the laboring oar fell into Linder's hands. "But," said Lincoln, "he was equal to the occasion. He spoke most interestingly three mortal hours, about everything in the world. He discussed Benedict from head to foot, and put in about three-quarters of an hour on the subject of Benedict's whiskers." Lincoln said he never envied a man so much as he did Linder on that occasion. He thought he was inimitable in his capacity to talk interestingly about everything and nothing, by the hour.
But if Lincoln had not General Linder's art of "talking against time," his wit often suggested some readier method of gaining advantage in a case. On one occasion, a suit was on trial in the Circuit Court of Sangamon County, in which Lincoln was attorney for the plaintiff, and Mr. James C. Conkling, then a young man just entering practice, was attorney for the defendant. It was a jury trial, and Lincoln waived the opening argument to the jury, leaving Mr. Conkling to sum up his case for the defense. The latter spoke at considerable length, in a sophomoric style, laboring under the impression that unless he made an extraordinary exertion to influence the jury he would be quite eclipsed by Lincoln in his closing speech. But he was completely taken back by the unlooked-for light manner in which Lincoln treated the case in his closing. Lincoln proceeded to reply but, in doing so he talked on without making the slightest reference to the case on hearing or to the argument of Mr. Conkling. His summing-up to the jury was to the following effect: "Gentlemen of the jury: In early days there lived in this vicinity, over on the Sangamon river, an old Indian of the Kickapoo tribe by the name of Johnnie Kongapod. He had been taken in charge by some good missionaries, converted to Christianity, and educated to such extent that he could read and write. He took a great fancy to poetry and became somewhat of a poet himself. His desire was that after his death there should be placed at the head of his grave an epitaph, which he prepared himself, in rhyme, in the following words:
"'Here lies poor Johnnie Kongapod; Have mercy on him, gracious God, As he would do if he were God And you were Johnnie Kongapod.'"
Of course all this had no reference to the case, nor did Lincoln intend it should have any. It was merely his way of ridiculing the eloquence of his opponent. The verdict of the jury was for the plaintiff, as Lincoln expected it would be; and this was the reason of his treating the case as he did.
A story somewhat similar to the above was told by the late Judge John Pearson shortly before his death. In the February term, 1850, of the Circuit Court of Vermilion County, Illinois, a case was being tried in which a young lady had brought suit for $10,000 against a recreant lover who had married another girl. The amount sued for was thought to be an enormous sum in those days, and the ablest talent to be found was brought into requisition by both sides. Richard Thompson and Daniel W. Voorhees were associated with O.L. Davis for the fair plaintiff. H.W. Beckwith, Ward Lamon, and Abraham Lincoln were for the defendant. The little town of Danville was crowded with people from far and near who had come to hear the big speeches. The evidence brought out in the trial was in every way against the defendant, and the sympathy of the public was, naturally enough, with the young lady plaintiff. Lincoln and his associate counsel plainly saw the hopelessness of their cause; and they wisely concluded to let their side of the case stand upon its merits, without even a plea of extenuating circumstances. Voorhees was young, ambitious, and anxious to display his oratory. He arranged with his colleagues at the beginning that he should make a speech, and he spent several hours in his room at the hotel in the preparation of an oratorical avalanche. It became generally known that Dan was going to out-do himself, and the expectation of the community was at its highest tension. The little old court-house was crowded. The ladies were out in full force. Voorhees came in a little late, glowing with the excitement of the occasion. It had been arranged that Davis was to open, Lincoln was to follow, and Voorhees should come next. Mr. Davis made a clear statement of the case, recited the character of the evidence, and closed with a plain logical argument. Then Lincoln arose, and stood in silence for a moment, looking at the jury. He deliberately re-arranged some of the books and papers on the table before him, as though "making a good ready," as he used to say, and began in a spirited but deliberate way: "Your Honor, the evidence in this case is all in, and doubtless all concerned comprehend its fullest import without the aid of further argument. Therefore we will rest our case here." This move, of course, cut off all future discussion. Voorhees, with his load of pyrotechnics was shut out. An ominous silence followed Lincoln's remark; then Voorhees arose, white with rage, and entered a protest against the tactics of the defense. All the others were disappointed, but amused, and the only consolation that Voorhees got out of this affair was a verdict for the full amount claimed by his client. But he never forgave Lincoln for thus "nipping" his great speech "in the bud."
Mr. Wickizer gives a story which illustrates the off-hand readiness of Lincoln's wit. "In the court at Bloomington Mr. Lincoln was engaged in a case of no great importance; but the attorney on the other side, Mr. S., a young lawyer of fine abilities, was always very sensitive about being beaten, and in this case he manifested unusual zeal and interest. The case lasted until late at night, when it was finally submitted to the jury. Mr. S. spent a sleepless night in anxiety, and early next morning learned, to his great chagrin, that he had lost the case. Mr. Lincoln met him at the court-house and asked him what had become of his case. With lugubrious countenance and melancholy tone, Mr. S. said, 'It's gone to hell!' 'Oh, well!' replied Lincoln, 'Never mind,—you can try it again there!'"
Lincoln was always ready to join in a laugh at his own expense, and used to tell the following story with intense enjoyment: "In the days when I used to be 'on the circuit' I was accosted in the cars by a stranger who said, 'Excuse me, sir, but I have an article in my possession which belongs to you.' 'How is that?' I asked, considerably astonished. The stranger took a jack-knife from his pocket. 'This knife,' said he, 'was placed in my hands some years ago with the injunction that I was to keep it until I found a man uglier than myself. I have carried it from that time to this. Allow me to say, sir, that I think you are fairly entitled to the property.'"
Mr. Gillespie says of Lincoln's passion for story-telling: "As a boon companion, Lincoln, although he never drank liquor or used tobacco in any form, was without a rival. No one would ever think of 'putting in' when he was talking. He could illustrate any subject, it seemed to me, with an appropriate and amusing anecdote. He did not tell stories merely for the sake of telling them, but rather by way of illustration of something that had happened or been said. There seemed to be no end to his fund of stories." Mr. Lamon states: "Lincoln frequently said that he lived by his humor and would have died without it. His manner of telling a story was irresistibly comical, the fun of it dancing in his eyes and playing over every feature. His face changed in an instant; the hard lines faded out of it, and the mirth seemed to diffuse itself all over him like a spontaneous tickle. You could see it coming long before he opened his mouth, and he began to enjoy the 'point' before his eager auditors could catch the faintest glimpse of it. Telling and hearing ridiculous stories was one of his ruling passions." A good illustration of this fondness for story-telling is given by Judge Sibley, of Quincy, Illinois, who knew Lincoln when practicing law at Springfield. One day a party of lawyers were sitting in the law library of the court-house at Springfield, awaiting the opening of court, and telling stories to fill the time. Judge Breese of the Supreme bench—one of the most distinguished of American jurists, and a man of great personal dignity—passed through the room where the lawyers were sitting, on his way to open court. Lincoln, seeing him, called out in his hearty way, "Hold on, Breese! Don't open court yet! Here's Bob Blackwell just going to tell a new story!" The judge passed on without replying, evidently regarding it as beneath the dignity of the Supreme Court to delay proceedings for the sake of a story.
Lincoln in the Legislature—Eight Consecutive Years of Service—His Influence in the House—Leader of the Whig Party in Illinois—Takes a Hand in National Politics—Presidential Election in 1840—A "Log Cabin" Reminiscence—Some Memorable Political Encounters—A Tilt with Douglas—Lincoln Facing a Mob—His Physical Courage—Lincoln as a Duellist—The Affair with General Shields—An Eye-Witness' Account of the Duel—Courtship and Marriage.
In 1838 Lincoln was for a third time a candidate for the State Legislature. Mr. Wilson, one of his colleagues from Sangamon County, states that a question of the division of the county was one of the local issues. "Mr. Lincoln and myself," says Mr. Wilson, "among others residing in the portion of the county which sought to be organized into a new county, opposed the division; and it became necessary that I should make a special canvass through the northwest part of the county, then known as Sand Ridge. I made the canvass. Mr. Lincoln accompanied me, and being personally acquainted with everyone we called at nearly every house. At that time it was the universal custom to keep some whiskey in the house for private use and to treat friends. The subject was always mentioned as a matter of politeness, but with the usual remark to Mr. Lincoln, 'We know you never drink, but maybe your friend would like to take a little.' I never saw Mr. Lincoln drink. He often told me he never drank; had no desire for drink, nor for the companionship of drinking men."
The result of this canvass was that Lincoln was elected to the Legislature for the session of 1838-39. The next year he was elected for the session of 1840-41. This ended his legislative service, which comprised eight consecutive years, from 1834 to 1841. In these later sessions he was as active and prominent in the House as he had been in the earlier times when a member from New Salem.
Lincoln's faculty for getting the better of an adversary by an apt illustration or anecdote was seldom better shown than by an incident which occurred during his last term in the Legislature. Hon. James C. Conkling has given the following graphic description of the scene: "A gentleman who had formerly been Attorney-General of the State was also a member. Presuming upon his age, experience, and former official position, he thought it incumbent upon himself to oppose Lincoln, who was then one of the acknowledged leaders of his party. He at length attracted the attention of Lincoln, who replied to his remarks, telling one of his humorous anecdotes and making a personal application to his opponent which placed the latter in such a ridiculous attitude that it convulsed the whole House. All business was suspended. In vain the Speaker rapped with his gavel. Members of all parties, without distinction, were compelled to laugh. They not only laughed, they screamed and yelled; they thumped upon the floor with their canes; they clapped their hands and threw up their hats; they shouted and twisted themselves into all sorts of contortions, until their sides ached and the tears rolled down their cheeks. One paroxysm passed away, but was speedily succeeded by another, and again they laughed and screamed and yelled. Another lull occurred, and still another paroxysm, until they seemed to be perfectly exhausted. The ambition of Lincoln's opponent was abundantly gratified, and for the remainder of the session he lapsed into profound obscurity."
In June, 1842, ex-President Van Buren was journeying through Illinois with a company of friends. When near Springfield they were delayed by bad roads, and were compelled to spend the night at Rochester, some miles out. The accommodations at this place were very poor, and a few of the ex-President's Springfield friends proposed to go out to meet him and try to aid in entertaining him. Knowing Lincoln's ability as a talker and story-teller, they begged him to go with them and aid in making their guest at the country inn pass the evening as pleasantly as possible. Lincoln, with his usual good nature, went with them, and entertained the party for hours with graphic descriptions of Western life, anecdotes and witty stories. Judge Peck, who was of the party, and a warm friend of the ex-President, says that Lincoln was at his best. There was a constant succession of brilliant anecdotes and funny stories, accompanied by loud laughter in which Van Buren took his full share. "He also," says the Judge, "gave us incidents and anecdotes of Elisha Williams, and other leading members of the New York bar, going back to the days of Hamilton and Burr. Altogether there was a right merry time. Mr. Van Buren said the only drawback upon his enjoyment was that his sides were sore from laughing at Lincoln's stories for a week thereafter."
Lincoln's eight years of legislative service had given him considerable reputation in politics, and he had become the acknowledged leader of the Whig party in Illinois. In the exciting Presidential campaign of 1840, known as the "Log Cabin" campaign, he took a very active part. He had been nominated as Presidential Elector on the Harrison ticket, and stumped a large portion of the State. A peculiarly interesting reminiscence of Lincoln's appearance on one occasion during the "Log Cabin" campaign is furnished by Mr. G.W. Harris, who says: "In the fall of the year 1840 there came into the log school-house in a village in Southern Illinois where I, a lad, was a pupil, a tall, awkward, plain-looking young man dressed in a full suit of 'blue jean.' Approaching the master, he gave his name, and, apologizing for the intrusion, said, 'I am told you have a copy of Byron's works. I would like to borrow it for a few hours.' The book was produced and loaned to him. With his thanks and a 'Good-day' to the teacher, and a smile such as I have never seen on any other man's face and a look that took in all of us lads and lassies, the stranger passed out of the room. This was during a Presidential canvass. Isaac Walker, candidate for Democratic Elector, and Abraham Lincoln, candidate for Whig Elector, were by appointment to discuss political matters in the afternoon of that day. I asked for and got a half-holiday. I had given no thought to the matter until the appearance of Lincoln (for he it was) in the school-room. But, something in the man had aroused, not only in me but in others of the scholars, a strong desire to see him again and to hear him speak. Isaac Walker in his younger days had been a resident of the village. Lincoln was aware of this, and shrewdly suspected that Walker in his remarks would allude to the circumstance; so, having the opening speech, he determined to 'take the wind out of his sails.' He did so—how effectually, it is hardly necessary for me to say. He had borrowed Byron's works to read the opening lines of 'Lara':
"He, their unhoped, but unforgotten lord, The long self-exiled chieftain, is restored. There be bright faces in the busy hall, Bowls on the board, and banners on the wall;
* * * * *
"He comes at last in sudden loneliness, And whence they know not, why they need not guess; They more might marvel, when the greeting's o'er, Not that he came, but came not long before."
During this period Lincoln continued to enjoy the hospitality of Mr. Speed at Springfield. "After he made his home with me," says Mr. Speed, "on every winter's night at my store, by a big wood fire, no matter how inclement the weather, eight or ten choice spirits assembled, without distinction of party. It was a sort of social club without organization. They came there because they were sure to find Lincoln. His habit was to engage in conversation upon any and all subjects except politics. But one evening a political argument sprang up between Lincoln and Douglas, which for a time ran high. Douglas sprang to his feet and said: 'Gentlemen, this is no place to talk politics; we will discuss the questions publicly with you.'" A few days later the Whigs held a meeting and challenged the Democrats to a joint debate. The challenge was accepted. Douglas, Lamborn, Calhoun, and Jesse Thomas were deputed by the Democrats to meet Logan, Baker, Browning, and Lincoln on the part of the Whigs. The intellectual encounter between these noted champions is still described by those who witnessed it as "the great debate." It took place in the Second Presbyterian church at Springfield, and lasted eight nights, each speaker occupying a night in turn. Mr. Speed speaks thus of Lincoln's effort: "Lincoln delivered his speech without manuscript or notes. He had a wonderful faculty in that way. He might be writing an important document, be interrupted in the midst of a sentence, turn his attention to other matters entirely foreign to the subject on which he was engaged, and then take up his pen and begin where he left off without reading the previous part of the sentence. He could grasp, exhaust, and quit any subject with more facility than any man I have ever seen or heard of." The subjoined paragraphs from the speech above referred to show the impassioned feeling which Lincoln poured forth that night. Those familiar with his admirable style in his later years would scarcely recognize him in these florid and rather over-weighted periods:
Many free countries have lost their liberty, and ours may lose hers; but if she shall, be it my proudest plume, not that I was the last to desert, but that I never deserted her. I know that the great volcano at Washington, aroused and directed by the evil spirit that reigns there, is belching forth the lava of political corruption in a current broad and deep, which is sweeping with frightful velocity over the whole length and breadth of the land, bidding fair to leave unscathed no green spot or living thing; while on its bosom are riding, like demons on the waves of hell, the imps of the Evil Spirit, and fiendishly torturing and taunting all those who dare resist its destroying course with the hopelessness of their effort; and knowing this, I cannot deny that all may be swept away. Broken by it, I too may be; bow to it, I never will. The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause which we deem to be just. It shall not deter me. If I ever feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those dimensions not wholly unworthy of its Almighty architect, it is when I contemplate the cause of my country deserted by all the world beside, and I, standing up boldly and alone, hurling defiance at her victorious oppressors. And here, without contemplating consequences, before high Heaven and in the face of the whole world, I swear eternal fidelity to the just cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life, my liberty, and my love. And who that thinks with me will not fearlessly adopt the oath I take? Let none falter who thinks he is right, and we may succeed. But if, after all, we shall fail, be it so. We shall have the proud consolation of saying to our conscience and to the departed shade of our country's freedom, that the cause approved by our judgments and adored by our hearts in disaster, in chains, in torture, and in death, we never failed in defending.
In this canvass Lincoln came again into collision with Douglas, the adversary whom he had met two years before and with whom he was to sustain an almost life-long political conflict. He also had occasion to show his courage and presence of mind in rescuing from a mob his distinguished friend, Col. E.D. Baker, afterwards a Senator of the United States. "Baker was speaking in a large room," says Mr. Arnold, "rented and used for the court sessions, and Lincoln's office was in an apartment over the court-room, communicating with it by a trap-door. Lincoln was in his office listening to Baker through the open trap-door, when Baker, becoming excited, abused the Democrats, many of whom were present. A cry was raised, 'Pull him off the stand!' The instant Lincoln heard the cry, knowing a general fight was imminent, his athletic form was seen descending from above through the opening of the trap-door, and, springing to the side of Baker, and waving his hand for silence, he said with dignity: 'Gentlemen, let us not disgrace the age and country in which we live. This is a land where freedom of speech is guaranteed. Baker has a right to speak. I am here to protect him, and no man shall take him from this stand if I can prevent it.' Quiet was restored, and Baker finished his speech without further interruption."
A similar occurrence, happening about the same period, is detailed by General Linder: "On a later occasion, when Colonel Baker and myself were both battling together in the Whig cause, at a convention held in Springfield, I made a speech at the State House, which I think now, looking back at it from this point, was the very best I ever made in my life. While I was addressing the vast assembly some ruffian in the galleries flung at me a gross personal insult accompanied with a threat. Lincoln and Colonel Baker, who were both present and were warm personal and political friends of mine, anticipating that I might be attacked when I left the State House, came upon the stand a little while before I concluded my speech and took their station on each side of me. When I was through, and after my audience had greeted me with three hearty cheers, each took one of my arms, and Lincoln said to me: 'Linder, Baker and I are apprehensive that you may be attacked by some of those ruffians who insulted you from the galleries, and we have come up to escort you to your hotel. We both think we can do a little fighting, so we want you to walk between us until we get you to your hotel. Your quarrel is our quarrel and that of the great Whig party of this nation. Your speech upon this occasion is the greatest that has been made by any of us, for which we wish to honor and defend you.' This I consider no ordinary compliment, coming from Lincoln, for he was no flatterer nor disposed to bestow praise where it was undeserved. Colonel Baker heartily concurred in all he said, and between those two glorious men I left the stand and we marched out of the State House through our friends, who trooped after us evidently anticipating what Lincoln and Baker had suggested to me, accompanying us to my hotel."
That Lincoln had an abundance of physical courage, and was well able to defend himself when necessity demanded, is clear from the incidents just given. Mr. Herndon, his intimate friend, adds his testimony on this point. As Lincoln was grand in his good nature, says Mr. Herndon, so he was grand in his rage. "Once I saw him incensed at a judge for giving an unfair decision. It was a terrible spectacle. At another time I saw two men come to blows in his presence. He picked them up separately and tossed them apart like a couple of kittens. He was the strongest man I ever knew, and has been known to lift a man of his own weight and throw him over a worm fence. Once in Springfield the Irish voters meditated taking possession of the polls. News came down the street that they would permit nobody to vote but those of their own party. Mr. Lincoln seized an axe-handle from a hardware store and went alone to open a way to the ballot-box. His appearance intimidated them, and we had neither threats nor collisions all that day."
An unsuspected side of Lincoln's character was shown, at this period of his life, in the affair with General Shields. With all his gentleness and his scrupulous regard for the rights of others, Lincoln was not one to submit to being bullied; while his physical courage had been proved in many a rough—and—tumble encounter, often against heavy odds, with the rude and boisterous spirits of his time. These encounters were usually with nature's weapons; but in the Shields affair—duel, it was sometimes called—he showed that he would not shrink from the use of more deadly weapons if forced to do so. In judging this phase of his character, account must be taken of his Kentucky birth and origin, and of the customs and standards of his time. James Shields (afterwards a distinguished Union General and U.S. Senator) was at this time (1842) living at Springfield, holding the office of State Auditor. He is described as "a gallant, hot-headed bachelor, from Tyrone County, Ireland." He was something of a beau in society, and was the subject of some satirical articles which, in a spirit of fun, Miss Mary Todd (afterwards Mrs. Lincoln) had written and published in a local journal. Shields was furious, and, demanding the name of the writer, Lincoln sent him word that he would assume full responsibility in the matter. A challenge to a duel followed, which Lincoln accepted and named broadswords as the weapons. General Linder states that Lincoln said to him that he did not want to kill Shields, and felt sure he could disarm him if they fought with broadswords, while he felt sure Shields would kill him if pistols were the weapons. It seems that Lincoln actually took lessons in broadsword exercise from a Major Duncan; and at the appointed time all parties proceeded to the chosen field, near Alton. But friends appeared on the scene while the preliminaries were being arranged, and succeeded in effecting a reconciliation. Major Lucas, of Springfield, who was on the field, stated that he "had no doubt Lincoln meant to fight. Lincoln was no coward, and he would unquestionably have held his own against his antagonist, for he was a powerful man and well skilled in the use of the broadsword. Lincoln said to me, after the affair was all over, 'I could have split him in two.'" But there can be little doubt that he was well pleased that the affair proved a bloodless one.
The mention of Miss Mary Todd, in the preceding paragraph, brings us to Lincoln's marriage with that lady, which occurred in 1842, he being then in his thirty—fourth year. Miss Todd was the daughter of the Hon. Robert T. Todd, of Lexington, Kentucky. She came to Springfield in 1839, to live with her sister, Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards. "She was young," says Mr. Lamon, "just twenty-one,—her family was of the best and her connections in Illinois among the most refined and distinguished people. Her mother having died when she was a little girl, she had been educated under the care of a French lady. She was gifted with rare talents, had a keen sense of the ridiculous, a ready insight into the weaknesses of individual character, and a most fiery and ungovernable temper. Her tongue and her pen were equally sharp. Highbred, proud, brilliant, witty, and with a will that bent every one else to her purpose, she took Lincoln captive. He was a rising politician, fresh from the people, and possessed of great power among them. Miss Todd was of aristocratic and distinguished family, able to lead through the awful portals of 'good society' whomsoever they chose to countenance. It was thought that a union between them could not fail of numerous benefits to both parties. Mr. Edwards thought so; Mrs. Edwards thought so; and it was not long before Mary Todd herself thought so. She was very ambitious, and even before she left Kentucky announced her belief that she was destined to be the wife of some future President. For a while she was courted by Douglas as well as by Lincoln. Being asked which of them she intended to have, she answered, 'The one that has the best chance of being President.' She decided in favor of Lincoln; and in the opinion of some of her husband's friends she aided to no small extent in the fulfilment of the prophecy which the bestowal of her hand implied." Mrs. Edwards, Miss Todd's sister, has related that "Lincoln was charmed with Mary's wit and fascinated with her quick sagacity, her will, her nature and culture. I have happened in the room," she says, "where they were sitting, often and often, and Mary led the conversation. Lincoln would listen, and gaze on her as if drawn by some superior power—irresistibly so. He listened, but seldom said a word."
Preparations were made for the marriage between Lincoln and Miss Todd. But they were interrupted by a painful occurrence—a sudden breaking out of a fit of melancholy, or temporary insanity, such as had afflicted Lincoln on a former occasion. This event has been made the subject of no little gossip, into which it is not now necessary or desirable to go, further than to mention that at about this time Lincoln seems to have formed a strong attachment for Miss Matilda Edwards, a sister of Ninian W. Edwards; and that the engagement with Miss Todd was for a time broken off. In consequence of these complications, Lincoln's health was seriously affected. He suffered from melancholy, which was so profound that "his friends were alarmed for his life." His intimate companion, Mr. Speed, endeavored to rescue him from the terrible depression, urging that he would die unless he rallied. Lincoln replied, "I am not afraid to die, and would be more than willing. But I have an irrepressible desire to live till I can be assured that the world is a little better for my having been in it."
Mr. Herndon gives as his opinion that Lincoln's insanity grew out of a most extraordinary complication of feelings—aversion to the marriage proposed, a counter—attachment to Miss Edwards, and a revival of his tenderness for the memory of Anne Rutledge. At all events, his derangement was nearly if not quite complete. "We had to remove razors from his room," says Mr. Speed, "take away all knives, and other dangerous things. It was terrible." Mr. Speed determined to do for him what Bowlin Greene had done on a similar occasion at New Salem. Having sold out his store on the first of January,
1841, he took Lincoln with him to his home in Kentucky and kept him there during most of the summer and fall, or until he seemed sufficiently restored to be given his liberty again, when he was brought back to Springfield. His health was soon regained, and on the 4th of November, 1842, the marriage between him and Miss Todd was celebrated according to the rites of the Episcopal Church. After the marriage Lincoln secured pleasant rooms for himself and wife at the Globe Tavern, at a cost of four dollars a week. In 1844 he purchased of the Rev. Nathan Dressar the plain dwelling which was his home for the ensuing seventeen years, and which he left in 1861 to enter the White House.
Lincoln in National Politics—His Congressional Aspirations—Law-Partnership of Lincoln and Herndon—The Presidential Campaign of 1844—Visit to Henry Clay—Lincoln Elected to Congress—Congressional Reputation—Acquaintance with Distinguished Men—First Speech in Congress—"Getting the Hang" of the House—Lincoln's Course on the Mexican War—Notable Speech in Congress—Ridicule of General Cass—Bill for the Abolition of Slavery—Delegate to the Whig National Convention of 1848—Stumping the Country for Taylor—Advice to Young Politicians—"Old Abe"—A Political Disappointment—Lincoln's Appearance as an Office Seeker in Washington—"A Divinity that Shapes our Ends."
In the spring of 1843 Lincoln was among the nominees proposed to represent the Sangamon district in Congress; but Col. Edward D. Baker carried the delegation, and was elected. In writing to his friend Speed, Lincoln treated the circumstance with his usual humor. "We had," he says, "a meeting of the Whigs of the county here last Monday to appoint delegates to a district convention. 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 the man who 'cut him out' and is marrying his own girl."
On the 20th of September, 1843, the partnership between Lincoln and Judge Logan was dissolved; and the same day a new association was formed with William H. Herndon, a relative of one of Lincoln's former friends of Clary Grove. It is said that in spite of their close friendship Mr. Herndon could not understand it when Lincoln one day plunged up the office stairs and said, "Herndon, should you like to be my partner?" "Don't laugh at me, Mr. Lincoln," was the response. Persistent repetition of the question could hardly gain a hearing; but at last Mr. Herndon said: "Mr. Lincoln, you know I am too young, and I have no standing and no money; but if you are in earnest, there is nothing in this world that would make me so happy." Nothing more was said till the papers were brought to Herndon to sign. The partnership of "Lincoln & Herndon" was a happy one, and continued until Lincoln became President, a period of nearly eighteen years.
The life of Henry Clay, which Lincoln read in his boyhood, had filled him with enthusiasm for the great Whig leader; and when the latter was nominated for the Presidency, in 1844, there was no more earnest adherent of his cause than the "Sangamon Chief," as Lincoln was now called. Lincoln canvassed Illinois and a part of Indiana during the campaign, meeting the chief Democratic speakers, and especially Douglas, in debate. Lincoln had not at this time heard the "silvery-tongued orator" of Kentucky; but two years later the opportunity was afforded and eagerly embraced. It is possible, as Dr. Holland remarks, that he "needed the influence of this visit to restore a healthy tone to his feelings, and to teach him that the person whom his imagination had transformed into a demigod was only a man, possessing the full measure of weaknesses common to men. In 1846 Lincoln learned that Clay was to deliver a speech at Lexington, Kentucky, in favor of gradual emancipation. This event seemed to give him an excuse for breaking away from his business and satisfying his desire to look his demigod in the face and hear the music of his eloquence. He accordingly went to Lexington, and arrived there in time to attend the meeting. On returning to his home from this visit he did not attempt to disguise his disappointment. Clay's speech was written and read; it lacked entirely the fire and eloquence which Lincoln had anticipated. At the close of the meeting Lincoln secured an introduction to the great orator and as Clay knew what a friend Lincoln had been to him, he invited his admirer and partisan to Ashland. No invitation could have delighted Lincoln more. But the result of his private intercourse with Clay was no more satisfactory than that which followed the speech. Those who have known both men will not wonder at this; for two men could hardly be more unlike in their motives and manners than the two thus brought together. One was a proud man; the other was a humble man. One was princely in his bearing; the other was lowly. One was distant and dignified; the other was as simple and approachable as a child. One received the deference of men as his due; the other received it with an uncomfortable sense of his unworthiness. A friend of Lincoln, who had a long conversation with him after his return from Ashland, found that his old enthusiasm was gone. Lincoln said that though Clay was polished in his manners, and very hospitable, he betrayed a consciousness of superiority that none could mistake."
For two years after the Presidential contest between Clay and Polk, Lincoln devoted himself assiduously to his law practice. But in 1846 he was again active in politics, this time striving for a seat in the National Congress. His chief opponent among the Whig candidates was his old friend John J. Hardin, who soon withdrew from the contest, leaving Mr. Lincoln alone in the field. The candidate on the Democratic ticket was Peter Cartwright, the famous Methodist preacher. It was supposed from his great popularity as a pulpit orator that Mr. Cartwright would run far ahead of his ticket. Instead of this, Lincoln received a majority of 1,511 in his district, which in 1844 had given Clay a majority of only 914 and in 1848 had allowed the Whig candidate for Congress to be defeated by 106 votes.
Lincoln took his seat in the Thirtieth Congress in December, 1847, the only Whig member from Illinois. Among the notable members of this Congress were ex-president John Quincy Adams; Andrew Johnson, elected Vice-President with Lincoln on his second election; A.H. Stephens, afterwards Vice-President of the Confederacy; Toombs, Rhett, Cobb, and others who afterwards became leaders of the Rebellion. In the Senate were Daniel Webster, Simon Cameron, Lewis Cass, Mason, Hunter, John C. Calhoun, and Jefferson Davis.
Lincoln entered Congress as the Illinois leader of the Whig party. He was reputed to be an able and effective speaker. In speaking of the impression he made upon his associates, the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop says: "I recall vividly the impressions I then formed both of his ability and amiability. We were old Whigs together, and agreed entirely upon all questions of public interest. I could not always concur in the policy of the party which made him President, but I never lost my personal regard for him. For shrewdness, sagacity, and keen practical sense, he has had no superior in our day or generation."
Alexander H. Stephens, writing seventeen years after Lincoln's death, recalled their service together in Congress. "I knew Mr. Lincoln well and intimately," said Mr. Stephens. "We both were ardent supporters of General Taylor for President in 1848. Lincoln, Toombs, Preston, myself, and others, formed the first Congressional Taylor Club, known as 'The Young Indians,' and organized the Taylor movement which resulted in his nomination. Mr. Lincoln was careless as to his manners and awkward in his speech, but possessed a strong, clear, vigorous mind. He always attracted and riveted the attention of the House when he spoke. His manner of speech as well as of thought was original. He had no model. He was a man of strong convictions, and what Carlyle would have called an earnest man. He abounded in anecdote. He illustrated everything he was talking about by an anecdote, always exceedingly apt and pointed; and socially he always kept his company in a roar of laughter."
Alluding to his first speech in Congress—on some post-office question of no special interest—Lincoln wrote to his friend Herndon that his principal object was to "get the hang of the House"; adding that he "found speaking here and elsewhere about the same thing. I was about as badly scared as when I spoke in court, but no more so."
Lincoln's mental power, as well as his self-confidence, developed rapidly under the responsibilities of his new position. During his term of service in the House he was zealous in the performance of his duties, alert to seize every opportunity to strike a blow for his party and acquit himself to the satisfaction of his constituents. In January, 1848, he made a telling speech in support of the "Spot Resolutions," in which his antagonism to the course of the Administration in regard to the war on Mexico was uncompromisingly announced. These resolutions were offered for the purpose of getting from President Polk a statement of facts regarding the beginning of the war. In this speech Lincoln warned the President not to try to "escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory—that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood, that serpent's eye that charms but to destroy." In writing, a few days after the delivery of this speech, to Mr. Herndon, Lincoln said: "I will stake my life that if you had been in my place you would have voted just as I did. Would you have voted what you felt and knew to be a lie? I know you would not. Would you have gone out of the House—skulked the vote? I expect not. If you had skulked one vote you would have had to skulk many more before the end of the session. Richardson's resolutions, introduced before I made any move or gave any vote upon the subject, make a direct question of the justice of the war; so no man can be silent if he would. You are compelled to speak; and your only alternative is to tell the truth or tell a lie. I cannot doubt which you would do."
Lincoln's position on the Mexican War has been generally approved by the moral sense of the country; but it gave his political enemies an opportunity, which they were not slow to improve, for trying to make political capital out of it and using it to create a prejudice against him. Douglas in particular never missed an opportunity of referring to it. In the great joint debate in 1858 he spoke of Lincoln's having "distinguished himself in Congress by his opposition to the Mexican War, taking the side of the common enemy against his own country." No better refutation of these oft-repeated charges could be made than that given by Lincoln himself on this occasion. "The Judge charges me," he said, "with having, while in Congress, opposed our soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican War. I will tell you what he can prove by referring to the record. You remember I was an old Whig; and whenever the Democratic party tried to get me to vote that the war had been righteously begun by the President, I would not do it. But whenever they asked for any money or land-warrants, or anything to pay the soldiers, I gave the same vote that Judge Douglas did. Such is the truth, and the Judge has a right to make all he can out of it."
The most ambitious utterance of Lincoln during this term in Congress was that of July 27, 1848, when he took for his subject the very comprehensive one of "The Presidency and General Politics." It was a piece of sound and forcible argumentation, relieved by strong and effective imagery and quiet humor. A considerable portion of it was occupied with an exposure of the weaknesses of General Cass, the Presidential candidate opposed to General Taylor. Lincoln ridiculed Cass with all the wit at his command. An extract from this speech has already been quoted in this work, in the account of Lincoln in the Black Hawk War. Another passage, equally telling, relates to the vacillating action of General Cass on the Wilmot Proviso. After citing a number of facts in reference to the case, Lincoln says: "These extracts show that in 1846 General Cass was for the Proviso at once; that in March, 1847, he was still for it, but not just then; and that in December, 1847, he was against it altogether. This is a true index to the whole man. When the question was raised, in 1846, he was in a blustering hurry to take ground for it. He sought to be in advance, and to avoid the uninteresting position of a mere follower. But soon he began to see glimpses of the great Democratic ox-gad waving in his face, and to hear indistinctly a voice saying, 'Back! Back, sir! Back a little!' He shakes his head and bats his eyes and blunders back to his position of March, 1847. But still the gad waves, and the voice grows more distinct and sharper still, 'Back, sir! Back, I say! Further back!' And back he goes to the position of December, 1847, at which the gad is still and the voice soothingly says, 'So! Stand still at that!'"
Again, after extended comment on the extra charges of General Cass upon the Treasury for military services, he continued in a still more sarcastic vein: "But I have introduced General Cass's accounts here chiefly to show the wonderful physical capacities of the man. They show that he not only did the labor of several men at the same time, but that he often did it at several places many hundred miles apart at the same time. And at eating, too, his capacities are shown to be quite as wonderful. From October, 1821, to May, 1822, he ate ten rations a day in Michigan, ten rations a day here in Washington, and near five dollars' worth a day besides, partly on the road between the two places. And then there is an important discovery in his example—the art of being paid for what one eats, instead of having to pay for it. Hereafter if any nice young man shall owe a bill which he cannot pay in any other way he can just board it out. Mr. Speaker, we have all heard of the animal standing in doubt between two stacks of hay and starving to death. The like of that would never happen to General Cass. Place the stacks a thousand miles apart, he would stand stock-still midway between them and eat them both at once; and the green grass along the line would be apt to suffer some, too, at the same time. By all means make him President, gentlemen. He will feed you bounteously—if—if—there is any left after he shall have helped himself."
Lincoln's most important act in the Congress of 1848-9 was the introduction of a bill for the gradual abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. But the state of feeling on the subject of emancipation was so feverish at the time that the bill could not even be got before the House.
The Whig National Convention met at Philadelphia the first of June, to nominate a candidate for the Presidency. Lincoln attended the Convention as a delegate from Illinois. During the campaign of 1848 he labored earnestly for the election of General Taylor. This campaign made him known more generally throughout the country, as he spoke in New York and New England as well as in Illinois and the West.
While in Washington, Lincoln kept up a free correspondence with his friend and law-partner Herndon, which affords many interesting glimpses of his thoughts and views. In one of these letters, endeavoring to incite Herndon to political ambition, he wrote: "Nothing could afford me more satisfaction than to learn that you and others of my young friends at home were doing battle in the contest, endearing themselves to the people and taking a stand far above any I have ever 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. The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself in 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. Now, in what I have said I am sure you will suspect nothing but sincere friendship. I would save you from a fatal error. You have been a laborious, studious young man. You are far better informed on almost all subjects than I have ever been. You cannot fail in any laudable object unless you allow your mind to be improperly directed. I have some the advantage of you in the world's experience, merely by being older; and it is this that induces me to offer you this advice."
It will be observed that, in this letter Lincoln speaks of himself as an "old man." This had been a habit with him for years; and yet at this date he was under thirty-nine. He was already beginning to be known as "Old Abe." Hon. E.B. Washburne states that he remembers hearing him thus called, in Chicago, in July, 1847. "One afternoon," says Mr. Washburne, "several of us sat on the sidewalk under the balcony in front of the Sherman House, and among the number was the accomplished scholar and unrivalled orator, Lisle Smith, who suddenly interrupted the conversation by exclaiming, 'There is Lincoln on the other side of the street! Just look at old Abe!' And from that time we all called him 'Old Abe.' No one who saw him can forget his personal appearance at that time. Tall, angular, and awkward, he had on a short-waisted, thin, swallow-tail coat, a short vest of the same material, thin pantaloons scarcely coming down to his ankles, a straw hat, and a pair of brogans, with woollen socks."
During the summer following the expiration of Lincoln's term in Congress (March 4, 1849) he made a strong effort to secure the position of Commissioner of the General Land Office, but without success. The place was given to Justin Butterfield of Chicago. It was a severe disappointment to Lincoln. Major Wilcox, who at the period referred to lived in McDonough County, Illinois, and in early days was a Whig politician, visited Washington to aid Lincoln in seeking this appointment, and has furnished a graphic account of the circumstances and of Lincoln's appearance at the national capital in the novel capacity of an office-seeker. Major Wilcox says that in June, 1849, he went to Washington and had an interview with the newly-inaugurated President, General Taylor, regarding Lincoln's appointment to the desired office. The interview was but partially satisfactory, the President remarking that he was favorable to Lincoln, but that Mr. Butterfield was very strongly urged for the place and the chances of appointment were in his favor. Lincoln had arranged to be in Washington at a time specified, after Major Wilcox should have had opportunity to look the ground over. Major Wilcox says that he went to the railroad depot to meet Lincoln at the train. It was in the afternoon, towards night. The day had been quite warm, and the road was dry and dusty. He found Lincoln just emerging from the depot. He had on a thin suit of summer clothes, his coat being a linen duster, much soiled. His whole appearance was decidedly shabby. He carried in his hand an old-fashioned carpet-sack, which added to the oddity of his appearance. Major Wilcox says if it had been anybody else he would have been rather shy of being seen in his company, because of the awkward and unseemly appearance he presented. Lincoln immediately began to talk about his chances for the appointment; whereupon Major Wilcox related to him everything that had transpired, and what President Taylor had said to him. They proceeded at once to Major Wilcox's room, where they sat down to look over the situation. Lincoln took from his pocket a paper he had prepared in the case, which comprised eleven reasons why he should be appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office. Amongst other things Lincoln presented the fact that he had been a member of Congress from Illinois two years; that his location was in the West, where the government lands were; that he was a native of the West, and had been reared under Western influences. He gave reasons why the appointment should be given to Illinois, and particularly to the southern part of the State. Major Wilcox says that he was forcibly struck by the clear, convincing, and methodical statement of Lincoln as contained in these eleven reasons why he should have the appointment. But it was given to Mr. Butterfield.
After Lincoln became President, a Member of Congress asked him for an appointment in the army in behalf of a son of the same Justin Butterfield. When the application was presented, the President paused, and after a moment's silence, said: "Mr. Justin Butterfield once obtained an appointment I very much wanted, in which my friends believed I could have been useful, and to which they thought I was fairly entitled. I hardly ever felt so bad at any failure in my life. But I am glad of an opportunity of doing a service to his son." And he made an order for his commission. In lieu of the desired office, General Taylor offered Lincoln the post of Governor, and afterwards of Secretary, of Oregon Territory; but these offers he declined. In after years a friend remarked to him, alluding to the event: "How fortunate that you declined! If you had gone to Oregon you might have come back as Senator, but you would never have been President." "Yes, you are probably right," said Lincoln; and then, with a musing, dreamy look, he added: "I have all my life been a fatalist. What is to be, will be; or, rather, I have found all my life, as Hamlet says,—
'There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.'"
Lincoln again in Springfield—Back to the Circuit—His Personal Manners and Appearance—Glimpses of Home-Life—His Family—His Absent-Mindedness—A Painful Subject—Lincoln a Man of Sorrows—Familiar Appearance on the Streets of Springfield—Scenes in the Law-Office—Forebodings of a "Great or Miserable End "—An Evening with Lincoln in Chicago—Lincoln's Tenderness to His Relatives—Death of His Father—A Sensible Adviser—Care of His Step-Mother—Tribute from Her.
Retiring, somewhat reluctantly, from Washington life, which he seems to have liked very much, Lincoln returned to Springfield in 1849 and resumed the practice of the law. He declined an advantageous offer of a law-partnership at Chicago, made him by Judge Goodrich, giving as a reason that if he went to Chicago he would have to sit down and study hard, and this would kill him; that he would rather go around the circuit in the country than to sit down and die in a big city. So he settled down once more in the rather uneventful and fairly prosperous life of a country lawyer.
A gentleman who knew Lincoln intimately in Springfield, in his maturity, has given the following capital description of him. "He stands six feet four inches high in his stockings. His frame is not muscular, but gaunt and wiry; his arms are long, but not disproportionately so for a person of his height; his lower limbs are not disproportioned to his body. In walking, his gait, though firm, is never brisk. He steps slowly and deliberately, almost always with his head inclined forward and his hands clasped behind his back. In matters of dress he is by no means precise. Always clean, he is never fashionable; he is careless, but not slovenly. In manner he is remarkably cordial and at the same time simple. His politeness is always sincere but never elaborate and oppressive. A warm shake of the hand and a warmer smile of recognition are his methods of greeting his friends. At rest, his features, though those of a man of mark, are not such as belong to a handsome man; but when his fine dark gray eyes are lighted up by any emotion, and his features begin their play, he would be chosen from among a crowd as one who had in him not only the kindly sentiments which women love but the heavier metal of which full-grown men and Presidents are made. His hair is black, and, though thin, is wiry. His head sits well on his shoulders, but beyond that it defies description. It nearer resembles that of Clay than that of Webster; but it is unlike either. It is very large, and phrenologically well proportioned, betokening power in all its developments. A slightly Roman nose, a wide-cut mouth, and a dark complexion, with the appearance of having been weather-beaten, complete the description."
Of Lincoln's life at this period, another writer says: "He lived simply, comfortably, and respectably, with neither expensive tastes nor habits. His wants were few and simple. He occupied a small unostentatious house in Springfield, and was in the habit of entertaining, in a very simple way, his friends and his brethren of the bar during the terms of the court and the sessions of the Legislature. Mrs. Lincoln often entertained small numbers of friends at dinner and somewhat larger numbers at evening parties. In his modest and simple home everything was orderly and refined, and there was always, on the part of both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, a cordial and hearty Western welcome which put every guest at ease. Yet it was the wit and humor, anecdote, and unrivalled conversation of the host which formed the chief attraction and made a dinner at Lincoln's cottage an event to be remembered. Lincoln's income from his profession was now from $2,000 to $3,000 per annum. His property consisted of his house and lot in Springfield, a lot in the town of Lincoln which had been given to him, and 160 acres of wild land in Iowa which he had received for his services in the Black Hawk War. He owned a few law and miscellaneous books. All his property may have been of the value of $10,000 or $12,000."
Lincoln was at this time the father of two sons: Robert Todd, born on the 1st day of August, 1843; and Edward Baker, born on the 10th of March, 1846. In a letter to his friend Speed, dated October 22 of the latter year, Lincoln writes: "We have another boy, born the 10th of March. He is very much such a child as Bob was at his age, rather of a longer order. Bob is 'short and low,' and I expect he always will be. He talks very plainly, almost as plainly as anybody. He is quite smart enough. I sometimes fear he is one of the little rare-ripe sort that are smarter at about five than ever after. He has a great deal of that sort of mischief that is the offspring of much animal spirits. Since I began this letter a messenger came to tell me Bob was lost; but by the time I reached the house his mother had found him and had him whipped. By now, very likely, he is run away again."
December 21, 1850, a third son, William Wallace, was born to him; and on April 4, 1853, a fourth and last child, named Thomas.
"A young man bred in Springfield," says Dr. Holland, "speaks of a vision of Lincoln, as he appeared in those days, that has clung to his memory very vividly. The young man's way to school led by the lawyer's door. On almost any fair summer morning he would find Lincoln on the sidewalk in front of his house, drawing a child backward and forward in a little gig. Without hat or coat, wearing a pair of rough shoes, his hands behind him holding to the tongue of the gig, and his tall form bent forward to accommodate himself to the service, he paced up and down the walk forgetful of everything around him and intent only on some subject that absorbed his mind. The young man says he remembers wondering in his boyish way how so rough and plain a man should happen to live in so respectable a house. The habit of mental absorption, or 'absent-mindedness' as it is called, was common with him always, but particularly during the formative periods of his life. The New Salem people, it will be remembered, thought him crazy because he passed his best friends in the street without seeing them. At the table, in his own family, he often sat down without knowing or realizing where he was, and ate his food mechanically. When he 'came to himself' it was a trick with him to break the silence by the quotation of some verse of poetry from a favorite author. It relieved the awkwardness of the situation, served as a 'blind' to the thoughts which had possessed him, and started conversation in a channel that led as far as possible from the subject that he had set aside."
Mr. Lamon has written with great freedom of the sorrow that brooded over Lincoln's home. Some knowledge of the blight which this cast upon his life is necessary for a right interpretation of the gloomy moods that constantly oppressed him and left their indelible impress on his face and character. Mr. Lamon states unreservedly that Lincoln's marriage was an unhappy one. The circumstances preceding his union with Miss Todd have been related. Mr. Lamon says: "He was conscientious and honorable and just. There was but one way of repairing the injury he had done Miss Todd, and he adopted it. They were married; but they understood each other, and suffered the inevitable consequences. Such troubles seldom fail to find a tongue; and it is not strange that in this case neighbors and friends, and ultimately the whole country, came to know the state of things in that house. Lincoln scarcely attempted to conceal it. He talked of it with little or no reserve to his wife's relatives, as well as to his own friends. Yet the gentleness and patience with which he bore this affliction from day to day and from year to year was enough to move the shade of Socrates. It touched his acquaintances deeply, and they gave it the widest publicity." Mrs. Colonel Chapman, daughter of Dennis Hanks and a relative of Lincoln, made him a long visit previous to her marriage. "You ask me," says she, "how Mr. Lincoln acted at home. I can say, and that truly, he was all that a husband, father, and neighbor should be, kind and affectionate to his wife and child ('Bob' being the only one they had when I was with them), and very pleasant to all around him. Never did I hear him utter an unkind word."
It seems impossible to arrive at all the causes of Lincoln's melancholy disposition. He was, according to his most intimate friends, totally unlike other people,—was, in fact, "a mystery." But whatever the history or the cause,—whether physical reasons, the absence of domestic concord, a series of painful recollections of his mother, of early sorrows and hardships, of Anne Rutledge and fruitless hopes, or all these combined,—Lincoln was a terribly sad and gloomy man. "I do not think that he knew what happiness was for twenty years," says Mr. Herndon. "'Terrible' is the word which all his friends used to describe him in the black mood. 'It was terrible! It was terrible!' said one to another." Judge Davis believes that Lincoln's hilarity was mainly simulated, and that "his stories and jokes were intended to whistle off sadness." "The groundwork of his social nature was sad," says Judge Scott. "But for the fact that he studiously cultivated the humorous, it would have been very sad indeed. His mirth always seemed to me to be put on; like a plant produced in a hot-bed, it had an unnatural and luxuriant growth." Mr. Herndon, Lincoln's law-partner and most intimate friend, describes him at this period as a "thin, tall, wiry, sinewy, grizzly, raw-boned man, looking 'woe-struck.' His countenance was haggard and careworn, exhibiting all the marks of deep and protracted suffering. Every feature of the man—the hollow eyes, with the dark rings beneath; the long, sallow, cadaverous face intersected by those peculiar deep lines; his whole air; his walk; his long silent reveries, broken at long intervals by sudden and startling exclamations, as if to confound an observer who might suspect the nature of his thoughts,—showed he was a man of sorrows, not sorrows of to-day or yesterday, but long-treasured and deep, bearing with him a continual sense of weariness and pain. He was a plain, homely, sad, weary-looking man, to whom one's heart warmed involuntarily because he seemed at once miserable and kind."
Mr. Page Eaton, an old resident of Springfield, says: "Lincoln always did his own marketing, even after he was elected President and before he went to Washington. I used to see him at the butcher's or baker's every morning, with his basket on his arm. He was kind and sociable, and would always speak to everyone. He was so kind, so childlike, that I don't believe there was one in the city who didn't love him as a father or brother." "On a winter's morning," says Mr. Lamon, "he could be seen wending his way to the market, with a basket on his arm and at his side a little boy whose small feet rattled and pattered over the ice-bound pavement, attempting to make up by the number of his short steps for the long strides of his father. The little fellow jerked at the bony hand which held his, and prattled and questioned, begged and grew petulant, in a vain effort to make his father talk to him. But the latter was probably unconscious of the other's existence, and stalked on, absorbed in his own reflections. He wore on such occasions an old gray shawl, rolled into a coil and wrapped like a rope around his neck. The rest of his clothes were in keeping. 'He did not walk cunningly—Indian-like—but cautiously and firmly.' His tread was even and strong. He was a little pigeon-toed; and this, with another peculiarity, made his walk very singular. He set his whole foot flat on the ground, and in turn lifted it all at once—not resting momentarily upon the toe as the foot rose nor upon the heel as it fell. He never wore his shoes out at the heel and the toe, as most men do, more than at the middle. Yet his gait was not altogether awkward, and there was manifest physical power in his step. As he moved along thus, silent and abstracted, his thoughts dimly reflected in his sharp face, men turned to look after him as an object of sympathy as well as curiosity. His melancholy, in the words of Mr. Herndon, 'dripped from him as he walked.' If, however, he met a friend in the street, and was roused by a hearty 'Good-morning, Lincoln!' he would grasp the friend's hand with one or both of his own, and with his usual expression of 'Howdy! howdy!' would detain him to hear a story; something reminded him of it; it happened in Indiana, and it must be told, for it was wonderfully pertinent. It was not at home that he most enjoyed seeing company. He preferred to meet his friends abroad,—on a street-corner, in an office, at the court-house, or sitting on nail-kegs in a country store." Mrs. Lincoln experienced great difficulty in securing the punctual attendance of her husband at the family meals. Dr. Bateman has repeatedly seen two of the boys pulling with all their might at his coat-tails, and a third pushing in front, while paterfamilias stood upon the street cordially shaking the hand of an old acquaintance.
After his breakfast-hour, says Mr. Lamon, he would appear at his office and go about the labors of the day with all his might, displaying prodigious industry and capacity for continuous application, although he never was a fast worker. Sometimes it happened that he came without his breakfast; and then he would have in his hands a piece of cheese or bologna sausage, and a few crackers, bought by the way. At such times he did not speak to his partner, or his friends if any happened to be present; the tears perhaps struggling into his eyes, while his pride was struggling to keep them back. Mr. Herndon knew the whole story at a glance. There was no speech between them, but neither wished the visitors at the office to witness the scene. So Lincoln retired to the back office while Mr. Herndon locked the front one and walked away with the key in his pocket. In an hour or more the latter would return and perhaps find Lincoln calm and collected. Otherwise he went out again and waited until he was so. Then the office was opened and everything went on as usual.
"His mind was filled with gloomy forebodings and strong apprehensions of impending evil, mingled with extravagant visions of personal grandeur and power. He never doubted for a moment that he was formed for some 'great or miserable end.' He talked about it frequently and sometimes calmly. Mr. Herndon remembers many of these conversations in their office at Springfield and in their rides around the circuit. Lincoln said the impression had grown in him all his life; but Mr. Herndon thinks it was about 1840 that it took the character of a 'religious conviction.' He had then suffered much, and considering his opportunities he had achieved great things. He was already a leader among men, and a most brilliant career had been promised him by the prophetic enthusiasm of many friends. Thus encouraged and stimulated, and feeling himself growing gradually stronger and stronger in the estimation of 'the plain people' whose voice was more potent than all the Warwicks, his ambition painted the rainbow of glory in the sky, while his morbid melancholy supplied the clouds that were to overcast and obliterate it with the wrath and ruin of the tempest. To him it was fate, and there was no escape or defense. The presentiment never deserted him. It was as clear, as perfect, as certain as any image conveyed by the senses. He had now entertained it so long that it was as much a part of his nature as the consciousness of identity. All doubts had faded away, and he submitted humbly to a power which he could neither comprehend nor resist. He was to fall,—fall from a lofty place and in the performance of a great work."
On one occasion Lincoln visited Chicago as counsel in a case in the U.S. District Court. The Hon. N.B. Judd, an intimate friend, was also engaged upon the case, and took Mr. Lincoln home with him as a guest. The following account of this visit is given by Mrs. Judd in Oldroyd's Memorial Album: "Mr. Judd had invited Mr. Lincoln to spend the evening at our pleasant home on the shore of Lake Michigan. After tea, and until quite late, we sat on the broad piazza, looking out upon as lovely a scene as that which has made the Bay of Naples so celebrated. A number of vessels were availing themselves of a fine breeze to leave the harbor, and the lake was studded with many a white sail. I remember that a flock of sea-gulls were flying along the beach, dipping their beaks and white-lined wings in the foam that capped the short waves as they fell upon the shore. Whilst we sat there the great white moon appeared on the rim of the eastern horizon and slowly crept above the water, throwing a perfect flood of silver light upon the dancing waves. The stars shone with the soft light of a midsummer night, and the breaking of the low waves upon the shore added the charm of pleasant sound to the beauty of the night. Mr. Lincoln, whose home was far inland from the great lakes, seemed greatly impressed with the wondrous beauty of the scene, and carried by its impressiveness away from all thought of jars and turmoil of earth. In that mild, pleasant voice, attuned to harmony with his surroundings, as was his wont when his soul was stirred by aught that was lovely or beautiful, Mr. Lincoln began to speak of the mystery which for ages enshrouded and shut out those distant worlds above us from our own; of the poetry and beauty which was seen and felt by seers of old when they contemplated Orion and Arcturus as they wheeled, seemingly around the earth, in their nightly course; of the discoveries since the invention of the telescope, which had thrown a flood of light and knowledge on what before was incomprehensible and mysterious; of the wonderful computations of scientists who had measured the miles of seemingly endless space which separated the planets in our solar system from our central sun, and our sun from other suns. He speculated on the possibilities of knowledge which an increased power of the lens would give in the years to come. When the night air became too chilling to remain longer on the piazza we went into the parlor. Seated on the sofa, his long limbs stretching across the carpet and his arms folded behind him, Mr. Lincoln went on to speak of other discoveries, of the inventions which had been made during the long cycles of time lying between the present and those early days when the sons of Adam began to make use of material things about them and invent instruments of various kinds in brass and gold and silver. He gave us a short but succinct account of all the inventions referred to in the Old Testament, from the time when Adam walked in the garden of Eden until the Bible record ended, 600 B.C. I said, 'Mr. Lincoln, I did not know you were such a Bible student.' He replied: 'I must be honest, Mrs. Judd, and tell you just how I come to know so much about these early inventions.' He then went on to say that in discussing with some friend the relative age of the discovery and use of the precious metals he went to the Bible to satisfy himself and became so interested in his researches that he made memoranda of the different discoveries and inventions. Soon after, he was invited to lecture before some literary society, I think in Bloomington. The interest he had felt in the study convinced him that the subject would interest others, and he therefore prepared and delivered his lecture on The Age of Different Inventions. 'Of course,' he added, 'I could not after that forget the order or time of such discoveries and inventions.'"
In all the years that had passed since Lincoln left his father's humble house, he had preserved an affectionate interest in the welfare of its various members. He paid them visits whenever he could find opportunity, and never failed to extend his aid and sympathy whenever needed. He had risen to success in his profession, was widely known throughout his section, and though still a poor man he had good prospects and considerable influence. Yet he ever retained a considerate regard and remembrance for the poor and obscure relatives he had left plodding in the humble ways of life. He never assumed the slightest superiority to them. Whenever, upon his circuit, he found time, he always visited them. Countless times he was known to leave his companions at the village hotel after a hard day's work in the court-room and spend the evening with these old friends and companions of his humbler days. On one occasion, when urged not to go, he replied, "Why, Aunt's heart would be broken if I should leave town without calling upon her,"—yet he was obliged to walk several miles to make the call. As his fortunes improved he often sent money and presents to his father and step-mother, bought land for them, and tried in every way to make them comfortable and happy. The father was gratified at these marks of affection, and felt great pride in the rising prosperity of his son. Mr. Herndon says that "for years Lincoln supported or helped to support his aged father and mother. It is to his honor that he dearly loved his step-mother, and it is equally true that she idolized her step-son. He purchased a piece of property in Coles County as a home for his father and mother, and had it deeded in trust for their use and benefit."
In 1851 Lincoln's father died, at the age of seventy-three. The following letter, written a few days before this event, reveals the affectionate solicitude of the son:
Springfield, Jan. 12,1851.
DEAR BROTHER:—On the day before yesterday I received a letter from Harriet, written at Greenup. She says she has just returned from your house, and that father is very low and will hardly recover. She also says that you have written me two letters, and that, although you do not expect me to come now, you wonder that I do not write. I received both your letters; and although I have not answered them, it is not because I have forgotten them, or not been interested about them, but because it appeared to me I could write nothing which could do any good. You already know I desire that neither father nor mother shall be in want of any comfort, either in health or sickness, while they live; and I feel sure you have not failed to use my name, if necessary, to procure a doctor or anything else for father in his present sickness. My business is such that I could hardly leave home now, if it were not, as it is, that my wife is sick a-bed. I sincerely hope father may yet recover his health; but, at all events, tell him to remember to call upon and confide in our great and good and merciful Maker, who will not turn away from him in any extremity. He notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads; and He will not forget the dying man who puts his trust in Him. Say to him, that if we could meet now it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant; but that if it be his lot to go now he will soon have a joyous meeting with loved ones gone before, and where the rest of us, through the help of God, hope ere long to join them.
Write me again when you receive this.
Affectionately, A. LINCOLN.
The step-brother, John Johnston, to whom the foregoing letter is addressed, was the cause of considerable anxiety to Lincoln. It was with him that their parents resided, and frequent were his appeals to Lincoln to extricate him from some pecuniary strait into which he had fallen through his confirmed thriftlessness and improvidence. "John Johnston," Mr. Herndon says, "was an indolent and shiftless man, one who was 'born tired.' Yet he was clever, generous and hospitable." The following document affords a hint of Lincoln's kindly patience as well as of his capacity for sound practical advice when it was much needed:
DEAR JOHNSTON:—Your request for eighty dollars I do not think it best to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little you have said to me, 'We can get along very well now'; but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now, this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is, I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler. I doubt whether, since I saw you, you have done a good whole day's work in any one day. You do not very much dislike to work, and still you do not work much, merely because it does not seem to you that you could get much for it. This habit of uselessly wasting time is the whole difficulty; and it is vastly important to you, and still more so to your children, that you should break the habit. It is more important to them, because they have longer to live, and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it easier than they can get out after they are in. You are now in need of some money; and what I propose is that you shall go to work, 'tooth and nail,' for somebody who will give you money for it. Let father and your boys take charge of things at home, prepare for a crop, and make the crop, and you go to work for the best money-wages, or in discharge of any debt you owe, that you can get; and, to secure you a fair reward for your labor, I now promise you, that, for every dollar you will, between this and the first of next May, get for your own labor, either in money or as your own indebtedness, I will then give you one other dollar. By this, if you hire yourself at ten dollars a month, from me you will get ten more, making twenty dollars a month for your work. In this I do not mean you shall go off to St. Louis, or the lead-mines, or the gold-mines in California; but I mean for you to go at it, for the best wages you can get, close to home, in Coles County. Now, if you will do this you will soon be out of debt, and, what is better, you will have a habit that will keep you from getting in debt again. But if I should now clear you out of debt, next year you would be in just as deep as ever. You say you would almost give your place in heaven for $70 or $80. Then you value your place in heaven very cheap; for I am sure you can, with the offer I make, get the seventy or eighty dollars for four or five months' work. You say, if I will furnish you the money, you will deed me the land, and if you don't pay the money back, you will deliver possession. Nonsense! If you can't now live with the land, how will you then live without it? You have always been kind to me, and I do not mean to be unkind to you. On the contrary, if you will but follow my advice, you will find it worth more than eighty times eighty dollars to you.
Affectionately your brother, A. LINCOLN.
In other letters he wrote even more sharply to his thriftless step-brother.
Shelbyville, Nov. 4, 1851
DEAR BROTHER:—When I came into Charleston, day before yesterday, I learned that you are anxious to sell the land where you live, and move to Missouri. I have been thinking of this ever since, and cannot but think such a notion is utterly foolish. What can you do in Missouri better than here? Is the land any richer? Can you there, any more than here, raise corn and wheat and oats without work? Will any body there, any more than here, do your work for you? If you intend to go to work, there is no better place than right where you are; if you do not intend to go to work, you can not get along anywhere. Squirming and crawling about from place to place can do no good. You have raised no crop this year; and what you really want is to sell the land, get the money and spend it. Part with the land you have, and, my life upon it, you will never after own a spot big enough to bury you in. Half of what you will get for the land you will spend in moving to Missouri, and the other half you will eat and drink and wear out, and no foot of land will be bought. Now, I feel it is my duty to have no hand in such a piece of foolery. I feel that it is so even on your own account, and particularly on mother's account. The eastern forty acres I intend to keep for mother while she lives; if you will not cultivate it, it will rent for enough to support her; at least, it will rent for something. Her dower in the other two forties she can let you have, and no thanks to me. Now, do not misunderstand this letter. I do not write it in any unkindness. I write it in order, if possible, to get you to face the truth, which truth is, you are destitute because you have idled away all your time. Your thousand pretences for not getting along better are all nonsense. They deceive nobody but yourself. Go to work is the only cure for your case.
Sincerely yours, A. LINCOLN.
In still another letter he reveals his tender solicitude for his step-mother, as well as his care for his step-brother's unfortunate children.
Shelbyville, Nov. 9, 1851
DEAR BROTHER:—When I wrote you before, I had not received your letter. I still think as I did; but if the land can be sold so that I get $300 to put at interest for mother, I will not object, if she does not. But before I will make a deed, the money must be had, or secured beyond all doubt, at ten per cent. As to Abram, I do not want him on my own account; but I understand he wants to live with me, so that he can go to school, and get a fair start in the world, which I very much wish him to have. When I reach home, if I can make it convenient I will take him, provided there is no mistake between us as to the object and terms of my taking him.
In haste, as ever, A. LINCOLN.
In speaking of Lincoln's regard for his step-mother, it is interesting also to learn her opinion of him. A gentleman visiting the old lady after her son's death says: "She is eighty-four years old, and quite feeble. She is a plain, unsophisticated old lady, with a frank, open countenance, a warm heart full of kindness toward others, and in many respects very much like the President. Abraham was evidently her idol; she speaks of him still as her 'good boy,' and with much feeling said, 'He was always a good boy, and willing to do just what I wanted. He and his step-brother never quarrelled but once, and that, you know, is a great deal for step-brothers. I didn't want him elected President. I knowed they would kill him.'" She died in April, 1869, and was buried by the side of her husband, Thomas Lincoln.
Lincoln as a Lawyer—His Appearance in Court—Reminiscences of a Law-Student in Lincoln's Office—An "Office Copy" of Byron—Novel way of Keeping Partnership Accounts—Charges for Legal Services—Trial of Bill Armstrong—Lincoln before a Jury—Kindness toward Unfortunate Clients—Refusing to Defend Guilty Men—Courtroom Anecdotes—Anecdotes of Lincoln at the Bar—Some Striking Opinions of Lincoln as a Lawyer.
The ten years following the close of Lincoln's Congressional service, in 1849, were given to the uninterrupted practice of the law, to which he devoted himself laboriously and successfully, though not with great pecuniary gains. His legal fees were regarded by his brethren at the bar as "ridiculously small." His practice had extended to the Supreme Court of his State and to the United States District and Circuit Courts, and he was occasionally retained for cases in other States. With greater love of money and less sympathy for his fellows, he might have acquired a fortune in his profession.
Lincoln never speculated. Apparently he had no great desire to acquire wealth. He had many opportunities in the days of the State's early growth to make good and safe investments, but he never took advantage of them. Many of his fellow lawyers were becoming wealthy, but Lincoln still rode the circuit wearing the familiar gray shawl about his shoulders, carrying a carpet-bag filled with papers and a change of underclothing, and a faded, green cotton umbrella with "A. Lincoln" in large white muslin letters on the inside. The knob was gone from the handle of the umbrella and a piece of twine kept it from falling open. A young lawyer who saw him for the first time thus—one who grew to love him and who afterwards gave his life for the Union—in relating the circumstance a long time afterward, exclaimed: "He was the ungodliest figure I ever saw."
An interesting and vivid description of Lincoln's personal appearance and manner in the trial of a case is furnished by one who was a witness of the scenes which he so admirably describes. The writer says: "While living in Danville, Illinois, in 1854, I saw Abraham Lincoln for the first time. The occasion of his visit was as prosecutor of a slander suit brought by Dr. Fithian against a wealthy farmer whose wife died under the doctor's hands. The defense was represented by Edward A. Hannegan, of Indiana, ex-United States Senator and afterward Minister to Berlin, an able and eloquent man; and O.B. Ficklin, who, after Douglas and Lincoln, was considered the best lawyer in Illinois. Lincoln had all he could do to maintain himself against his two formidable adversaries, but he was equal to the occasion. The trial lasted three or four days, the examination of witnesses consuming most of the time. In this part of the work Lincoln displayed remarkable tact. He did not badger the witnesses, or attempt to confuse them. His questions were plain and practical, and elicited answers that had a direct bearing upon the case. He did nothing for effect, and made no attempt to dazzle the jury or captivate the audience. When he arose to speak he was confronted by an audience that was too numerous for all to find seats in the court-room. He was attired in a fine broadcloth suit, silk hat, and polished boots. His neck was encircled by an old-fashioned silk choker. He perspired freely, and used a red silk handkerchief to remove the perspiration. His clothes fitted him, and he was as genteel-looking as any man in the audience. The slouchy appearance which he is said to have presented on other occasions was conspicuously absent here. As he stood before the vast audience, towering above every person around him, he was the centre of attraction. I can never forget how he looked, as he cast his eyes over the crowd before beginning his argument. His face was long and sallow; high cheek bones; large, deep-set eyes, of a grayish-brown color, shaded by heavy eyebrows; high but not broad forehead; large, well-formed head, covered with an abundance of coarse black hair, worn rather long, through which he frequently passed his fingers; arms and legs of unusual length; head inclined slightly forward, which made him appear stoop-shouldered. His features betrayed neither excitement nor anxiety. They were calm and fixed. In short, his appearance was that of a man who felt the responsibility of his position and was determined to acquit himself to the best of his ability. I do not remember the points of his speech; but his manner was so peculiar, so different from that of other orators whom I have heard, that I can never forget it. He spoke for almost two hours, entirely without notes and with an eloquence that I have never heard surpassed. He was all life, all motion; every muscle and fibre of his body seemed brought into requisition. His voice was clear, distinct, and well modulated. Every word was clean-cut and exactly suited to its place. At times he would stoop over until his hands almost swept the floor. Then he would straighten himself up, fold his arms across his breast, and take a few steps forward or back. This movement completed, he would fling his arms above his head, or thrust them beneath his coat-tails, elevating or depressing his voice to suit the attitude assumed and the sentiment expressed. Arms and legs were continually in motion. It seemed impossible for him to stand still. In the midst of the most impassioned or pathetic portions of his speech, he would extend his long arms toward the judge or jury, and shake his bony fingers with an effect that is indescribable. He held his audience to the last; and when he sat down there was a murmur of applause which the judge with difficulty prevented from swelling to a roar. The argument must have been as able as the manner of the speaker was attractive, for the verdict was in favor of his client.