By john g. Nioolay and john hay

Download 4.94 Mb.
Date conversion21.02.2016
Size4.94 Mb.
1   ...   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   ...   45

chap. vi. it had become evident to the observant politicians of the district that he was a man whom it would not do to leave out of their calculations. There seemed to be no limit to his popularity nor to his aptitudes, in the opinion of his admirers. He was continually called on to serve in the most incon­gruous capacities. Old residents say he was the best judge at a horse-race the county afforded; he was occasionally second in a duel of fisticuffs, though he usually contrived to reconcile the adver­saries on the turf before any damage was done; he was the arbiter on all controverted points of litera­ture, science, or woodcraft among the disputatious denizens of Clary's Grove, and his decisions were never appealed from. His native tact and humor were invaluable in his work as a peacemaker, and his enormous physical strength, which he always used with a magnanimity rare among giants, placed his off-hand decrees beyond the reach of contempt­uous question. He composed differences among friends and equals wdth good-natured raillery, but he was as rough as need be when his wrath was roused by meanness and cruelty. We hardly know whether to credit some of the stories, apparently well-attested by living witnesses, of his prodigious muscular powers. He is said to have lifted, at Eutledge's mill, a box of stones weighing over half a ton! It is also related that he could raise a bar­rel of whisky from the ground and drink from the bung — but the narrator adds that he never swal­lowed the whisky. Whether these traditions are strictly true or not, they are evidently founded on the current reputation he enjoyed among his fel­lows for extraordinary strength, and this was an


important element in his influence. He was known to be capable of handling almost any man he met, yet he never sought a quarrel. He was every­body's friend and yet used no liquor or tobacco. He was poor and had scarcely ever been at school, yet he was the best-informed young man in the village. He had grown up on the frontier, the utmost fringe of civilization, yet he was gentle and clean of speech, innocent of blasphemy or scandal. His good qualities might have excited resentment if displayed by a well-dressed stranger from an Eastern State, but the most uncouth ruffians of New Salem took a sort of proprietary interest and pride in the decency and the cleverness and the learning of their friend and comrade, Abe Lincoln. It was regarded, therefore, almost as a matter of course that Lincoln should be a candidate for the Legislature at the next election, which took place in August, 1834. He was sure of the united sup­port of the Whigs, and so many of the Democrats also wanted to vote for him that some of the lead­ing members of that party came to him and pro­posed they should give him an organized support. He was too loyal a partisan to accept their over­tures without taking counsel from the Whig candidates. He laid the matter before Major Stuart, who at once advised him to make the can­vass. It was a generous and chivalrous action, for by thus encouraging the candidacy of Lincoln he was endangering his own election. But his success two years before, in the face of a vindictive oppo­sition led by the strongest Jackson men in the district, had made him somewhat confident, and he perhaps thought he was risking little by giving


chap. vi. a helping hand to his comrade in the Spy Battalion, Before the election Lincoln's popularity developed itself in rather a portentous manner, and it required some exertion to save the seat of his generous friend. At the close of the poll, the four success­ful candidates held the following relative positions: Lincoln, 1376; Dawson, 1370; Carpenter, 1170; and Stuart, at that time probably the most prominent young man in the district, and the one marked out by the public voice for an early election to Con­gress, 1164,




HE election of Mr. Lincoln to the Legislature chap.vii. may be said to have closed the pioneer portion of his life. He was done with the wild carelessness of the woods, with the jolly ruffianism of Clary's Grove, with the petty chaffering of grocery stores, with odd jobs for daily bread, with all the uncouth squalor of the frontier poverty. It was not that his pecuniary circumstances were materially improved. He was still, and for years continued to be, a very poor man, harassed by debts which he was always working to pay, and sometimes in distress for the means of decent subsistence. But from this time forward his associations were with a better class of men than he had ever known before, and a new feeling of self-respect must naturally have grown up in his mind from his constant intercourse with them—a feeling which extended to the minor morals of civilized life. A sophisticated reader may smile at the mention of anything like social ethics in Yandalia in 1834; but, compared with Grentryville and New Salem, the society which assembled in the winter at that little capital was polished and elegant. The State then contained nearly 250,000 inhabitants, and the members of the



chap. vu. Legislature, elected purely on personal grounds, nominated by themselves or their neighbors with­out the intervention of party machinery, were necessarily the leading men, in one way or another, in their several districts. . Among the colleagues of Lincoln at Yandalia were young men with destinies only less brilliant than his own. They were to become governors, senators, and judges; they were to organize the "Whig party of Illinois, and after­wards the Republican; they were to lead brigades and divisions in two great wars. Among the first persons he met there—not in the Legislature proper, but in the lobby, where he was trying to appropriate an office then filled by Colonel John J. Hardin— was his future antagonist, Stephen A. Douglas. Neither seemed to have any presentiment of the future greatness of the other. Douglas thought little of the raw youth from the Sangamon timber, and Lincoln said the dwarfish Vermonter was •" the least man he had ever seen." To all appearance, Vandalia was full of better men than either of them — clever lawyers, men of wit and standing, some of them the sons of provident early settlers, but more who had come from older States to seek their fortunes in these fresh fields.

During his first session Lincoln occupied no especially conspicuous position. He held his own respectably among the best. One of his colleagues tells us he was not distinguished by any external eccentricity; that he wore, according to the custom of the time, a decent suit of blue jeans; that he was known simply as a rather quiet young man, good-natured and sensible. Before the session ended he had made the acquaintance of most of


the members, and had evidently come to be looked chap.vii. upon as possessing more than ordinary capacity. His unusual common-sense began to be recognized. His name does not often appear in the records of the year. He introduced a resolution in favor of securing to the State a part of the proceeds of the sales of public lands within its limits; he took part in the organization of the ephemeral "White" party, which was designed to unite all the anti-Jackson elements under the leadership of Hugh L. White, of Tennessee; he voted with the minority in favor of Young against Eobinson for senator, and with the majority that passed the Bank and Canal bills, which were received with great enthu­siasm throughout Illinois, and which were only the precursors of those gigantic and ill-advised schemes that came to maturity two years later, and inflicted incalculable injury upon the State.

Lincoln returned to New Salem, after this win­ter's experience of men and things at the little capital, much firmer on his feet than ever before. He had had the opportunity of measuring himself with the leading men of the community, and had found no difficulty whatever in keeping pace with them. He continued his studies of the law and surveying together, and became quite indispen­sable in the latter capacity— so much so that Gen­eral Neale, announcing in September, 1835, the names of the deputy surveyors of Sanganion County, placed the name of Lincoln before that of his old master in the science, John Calhoun. He returned to the Legislature in the winter of 1835-6, and one of the first important incidents of the session was the election of a senator to fill the


chap. vn. vacancy occasioned by the death of Elias Kent Kane. There was no lack of candidates. A journal of the time says: " This intelligence reached Van-dalia on the evening of the 26th of December, and in the morning nine candidates appeared in that place, and it was anticipated that a number more would soon be in, among them 'the lion of the North,' who, it is thought, will claim the office by preemption." It is not known who was the roaring celebrity here referred to, but the successful candi­date, was General William L. D. Ewing, who was elected by a majority of one vote. Lincoln and the other Whigs voted for him, not because he was a " White " man, as they frankly stated, but because " he had been proscribed by the Van Buren party." Mr. Semple, the candidate for the regular Demo­cratic caucus, was beaten simply on account of his political orthodoxy.

A minority is always strongly in favor of inde­pendent action and bitterly opposed to caucuses, and therefore we need not be surprised at finding Mr. Lincoln, a few days later in the session, joining in hearty denunciation of the convention system, which had already become popular in the East, and which General Jackson was then urging upon his faithful followers. The missionaries of this new system in Illinois were Stephen A. Douglas, re­cently from Vermont, the shifty young lawyer from Morgan County, who had just succeeded in having himself made circuit attorney in place of Colonel Hardin, and a man who was then regarded in Yandalia as a far more important and dangerous person than Douglas, Ebenezer Peck, of Chicago. Peck was looked upon with distrust and suspicion


for several reasons, all of which seemed valid to chap.vii. the rural legislators assembled there. He came from Canada, where he had been a member of the pro­vincial parliament; it was therefore imagined that he was permeated with secret hostility to republican institutions ; his garb, his furs, were of the fashion of Quebec; and he passed his time indoctrinating the Jackson men with the theory and practice of party organization, teachings which they eagerly absorbed, and which seemed sinister and ominous to the Whigs. He was showing them, in fact, the way in which elections were to be won; and though the Whigs denounced his system as subversive of individual freedom and private judgment, it was not long before they were also forced to adopt it, or be left alone with their virtue. The organiza­tion of political parties in Illinois really takes its rise from this time, and in great measure from the work of Mr. Peck with the Vandalia Legislature. There was no man more dreaded and disliked than he was by the stalwart young Whigs against whom he was organizing that solid and disci­plined opposition. • But a quarter of a century brings wonderful changes. Twenty-five years later Mr. Peck stood shoulder to shoulder with these very men who then reviled him as a Cana­dian emissary of tyranny and corruption, — with S. T. Logan, 0. H. Browning, and J. K. Dubois,— organizing a new party for victory under the name of Abraham Lincoln.

The Legislature adjourned on the 18th of Janu­ary, having made a beginning, it is true, in the work of improving the State by statute, though its modest work, incorporating canal and bridge com-


chap. vn. parties and providing for public roads, bore no relation to the ambitious essays of its successor. Among the bills passed at this session was an Apportionment act, by which Sangamon County became entitled to seven representatives and two senators, and early in the spring eight " White" statesmen of the county were ready for the field —the ninth, Mr. Herndon, holding over as State Senator. It seems singular to us of a later day that just eight prominent men, on a side, should have offered themselves for these places, without the intervention of any primary meetings. Such a thing, if we mistake not, was never known again in Illinois. The convention system was afterwards seen to be an absolute necessity to prevent the dis­organization of parties through the restless vanity of obscure and insubordinate aspirants. But the eight who " took the stump " in Sangamon in the summer of 1836 were supported as loyally and as energetically as if they had been nominated with all the solemnity of modern days. They became famous in the history of the State, partly for their stature and partly for their influence in legisla­tion. They were called, with Herndon, the "Long Nine"; their average height was over six feet, and their aggregate altitude was said to be fifty-five feet. Their names were Abraham Lincoln, John Dawson, Dan Stone, Ninian W. Edwards, William F. Elkin, R. L. Wilson, and Andrew McCormick, candidates for the House of Repre­sentatives, and Job Fletcher for the Senate, of Illinois.

Mr. Lincoln began his canvass with the following circular:



new salem/June 13,1836. chap.vil To the Editor of the " Journal."

In your paper of last Saturday I see a communication over the signature " Many Voters n in which the candi­dates who are announced in the u Journal" are called upon to " show their hands." Agreed. Here 's mine.

I go for all sharing the privileges of the Government who assist in bearing its burdens. Consequently I go for admitting all whites to the right of suffrage who pay taxes or bear arms (by no means excluding females).

If elected, I shall consider the whole people of Saii-gamon my constituents, as well those that oppose as those that support me.

While acting as their representative I shall be gov­erned by their will on all subjects upon which I have the means of knowing what their will is, and upon all others I shall do what my own judgment teaches me will best advance their interests. Whether elected or not, I go for distributing the proceeds of the sales of the public lands to the several States, to enable our State, in common with others, to dig canals and construct railroads without bor­rowing money and paying interest on it.

If alive on the first Monday in November, I shall vote for Hugh L. White for President.1

Very respectfully,

A. lincoln.

It would be liard to imagine a more audacious and unqualified declaration of principles and inten­tions. But it was the fashion of the hour to prom­ise exact obedience to the will of the people, and the two practical questions touched by this circu­lar were the only ones then much talked about. The question of suffrage for aliens was a living problem, in the State, and Mr. Lincoln naturally took liberal ground on it; and he was also in favor of getting from the sale of public lands a portion of the money he was ready to vote for internal

1 This phrase seems to have anti- Jackson party. The "cards" been adopted as a formula by the of several candidates contain it.

vol. I.—9


chap. vii. improvements. This was good Whig doctrine at that time, and the young politician did not fancy he could go wrong in following in such a matter the lead of his idol, Henry Clay.

He made an active canvass, and spoke frequently during the summer. He must have made some part of the campaign on foot, for we find in the county paper an advertisement of a horse which had strayed or been stolen from him while on a visit to Springfield. It was not an imposing animal, to judge from the description; it was "plainly marked with harness," and was "believed to have lost some of his shoes "; but it was a large horse, as suited a cavalier of such stature, and " trotted and paced " in a serviceable manner. In July a rather remarkable discussion took place ' at the county-seat, in which many of the leading men on both sides took part. Ninian Edwards, son of the late Governor, is said to have opened the debate with much effect. Mr. Early, who followed him, was so roused by his energetic attack that he felt his only resource was a flat contradiction, which in those days meant mischief. In the midst of great and increasing excitement Dan Stone and John Calhoun made speeches which did not tend to pour oil on the waters of contention, and then came Mr. Lincoln's turn. An article in the " Jour­nal" states that he seemed embarrassed in his opening, for this was the most important contest in which he had ever been engaged. But he soon felt the easy mastery of his powers come back to him, and he finally made what was universally regarded as the strongest speech of the day. One of his col­leagues says that on this occasion he used in his


excitement for the first time that singularly effective chap. vn. clear tenor tone of voice which afterwards became so widely known in the political battles of the West.

The canvass was an energetic one throughout, and excited more interest, in the district than even the presidential election, which occurred some months later. Mr. Lincoln was elected at the head of the poll by a majority greatly in excess of the average majority of his friends, which shows con­clusively how his influence and popularity had increased. The Whigs in this election effected a revolution in the politics of the county. By force of their ability and standing they had before man­aged to divide the suffrages of the people, even while they were unquestionably in the minority; but this year they completely defeated their oppo­nents and gained that control of the county which they never lost as long as the party endured.

If Mr. Lincoln had no other claims to be re­membered than his services in the Legislature of 1836-7, there would be little to say in his favor. Its history is one of disaster to the State. Its legislation was almost wholly unwise and hurtful. The most we can say for Mr. Lincoln is that he obeyed the will of his constituents, as he promised to do, and labored with singular skill and ability to accom­plish the objects desired by the people who gave him their votes. The especial work intrusted to him was the subdivision of the county, and the project for the removal of the capital of the State to Springfield.1 In both of these he was successful.

i "Lincoln was at the head of manage. The members were all

the project to remove the seat of elected on one ticket, but they all

government to Springfield; it looked to Lincoln as the head."

was entirely intrusted to him to stephen T, logan.


chap. vii. In the account of errors and follies committed by the Legislature to the lasting injury of the State, he is entitled to no praise or blame beyond the rest. He shared in that sanguine epidemic of financial and industrial quackery which devastated the entire community, and voted with the best men of the country in favor of schemes which appeared then like a promise of an immediate millennium, and seem now like midsummer madness.

He entered political life in one of those eras of delusive prosperity which so often precede great financial convulsions. The population of the State was increasing at the enormous rate of two hundred per centum in ten years. It had extended northward along the lines of the wooded valleys of creeks and rivers in the center to Peoria ; on the west by the banks of the Mississippi to Galena ; on the east with wide intervals of wilderness to

Ford, p. 102. Chicago. The edge of the timber was everywhere pretty well occupied, though the immigrants from the forest States of Kentucky and Tennessee had as yet avoided the prairies. The rich soil and equable climate were now attracting an excellent class of settlers from the older States, and the long-neglected northern counties were receiving the attention they deserved. The war of Black Hawk had brought the country into notice; the utter defeat of his nation had given the guarantee of a permanent peace ; the last lodges of the Pottawatomies had disappeared from the country

Times? in 1833. The money spent by the general Govern­ment during the war, and paid to the volunteers at its close, added to the common prosperity. There was a brisk trade in real estate, and there


was even a beginning in Chicago of that passion chap. vil for speculation in. town lots which afterwards be­came a frenzy.

It was too much to expect of the Illinois Leg­islature that it should understand that the best thing it could do to forward this prosperous tendency of things was to do nothing; for this is a lesson which has not yet been learned by any leg­islature in the world. For several years they had been tinkering, at first modestly and tentatively, at a scheme of internal improvements which should not cost too much money. In 1835 they began to grant charters for railroads, which remained in . embryo, as the stock was never taken. Surveys for other railroads were also proposed, to cross the State in different directions; and the project of uniting Lake Michigan with the Illinois River by a canal was of too evident utility to be overlooked. In fact, the route had been surveyed, and estimates of cost made, companies incorporated, and all preliminaries completed many years before, though nothing further had been done, as no funds had been offered from any source. But at the special session of 1835 a law was passed authorizing a loan of half a million dollars for this purpose; the loan was effected by Governor Duncan the following year, and in June, a board of canal commissioners having been appointed, a beginning was actually made with pick and shovel.

A restless feeling of hazardous speculation seemed to be taking possession of the State. " It commenced," says Governor Ford, in his admirable chronicle, " at Chicago, and was the means of Ford,p.isi. building up that place in a year or two from a

1   ...   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   ...   45

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page