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COLLAPSE OP THE SYSTEM


M


E. LINCOLN had made thus far very little chap.ix. money — nothing more, in fact, than a sub­sistence of the most modest character. But he had made some warm friends, and this meant much among the early Illinoisans. He had be­come intimately acquainted, at Vandalia, with William Butler, who was greatly interested in the removal of the capital to Springfield, and who urged the young legislator to take up his residence at the new seat of government. Lincoln readily fell in with this suggestion, and accompanied his friend home when the Legislature adjourned, shar­ing the lodging of Joshua F. Speed, a young Ken­tucky merchant, and taking his meals at the house of Mr. Butler for several years.

In this way began Mr. Lincoln's residence in Springfield, where he was to remain until called to one of the highest of destinies intrusted to men, and where his ashes were to rest forever in monu­mental marble. It would have seemed a dreary village to any one accustomed to the world, but in a letter written about this time, Lincoln speaks of

153

154: ABEAHAM LINCOLN

chap. ix. it as a place where there was a "good deal of flourishing about in carriages " a town of some pretentious to elegance. It had a population of 1500. The county contained nearly 18,000 souls, of whom 78 were free negroes, 20 registered inden­tured servants, and six slaves. Scarcely a percep-tible trace of color, one would say, yet we find in

the Springfield paper a leading article beginning with the startling announcement, "Our State is threatened to be oveiTun with free negroes." The county was one of the richest in Illinois, possessed of a soil of inexhaustible fertility, and divided to the best advantage between pfairie and forest. It was settled early in the history of the State, and

Re noids ^6 GOUn^YJ was ne^ m high esteem by the

"Lite and aborigines. The name of Sangamon is said to mean

p. 237. in the Pottawatomie language "land of plenty."

Its citizens were of an excellent class of people, a

large majority of them from Kentucky, though

representatives were not wanting from the Eastern

States, men of education and character.

There had been very little of what might be called pioneer life in Springfield. Civilization came in with a reasonably full equipment at the beginning. The Edwardses, in fair-top boots and ruffled shirts ; the Eidgelys brought their banking business from Maryland; the Logans and Conk-lings were good lawyers before they arrived; another family came from Kentucky, with a cot­ton manufactory which proved its aristocratic character by never doing any work. With a popu­lation like this, the town had, from the beginning, a more settled and orderly type than was usual in the South and West. A glance at the advertising

COLLAPSE OF THE SYSTEM 155

columns of the newspaper will show how much at-tention to dress was paid in the new capital. " Cloths, eassinetts, cassimeres, velvet, silk, satin, and Mar­seilles ve.stings, fine calf boots, seal and morocco pumps, for gentlemen," and .for the sex which in barbarism dresses less and in civilization dresses more than the male, " silks, bareges, crepe lisse, lace veils, thread lace, Thibet shawls, lace handker­chiefs, fine prunella shoes, etc." It is evident that the young politician was confronting a social world more formidably correct than anything he had as yet seen.

Governor Ford began some years before this to remark with pleasure the change in the dress of the people of Illinois: the gradual disappearance of leather and linsey-woolsey, the hunting-knife and tomahawk, from the garb of men; the deer­skin moccasin supplanted by the leather boot and shoe; the leather breeches tied around the ankle replaced by the modern pantaloons; and the still greater improvement in the adornment of women, the former bare feet decently shod, and homespun frocks giving way to gowns of calico and silk, and the heads tied up in red cotton turbans disappear­ing in favor of those surmounted by pretty bonnets of silk or straw. "We admit that these changes were not unattended with the grumbling ill-will of the pioneer patriarchs; they predicted nothing but ruin to a country that thus forsook the old ways " which were good enough for their fathers." But with the change in dress came other alterations which were all for the better — a growing self-respect among the young; an industry and thrift by which they could buy good clothes; a habit of attending

156

ABBAHAM LINCOLN


chap. IX.

Ford's « History,"

p. 94.

religious service, where they could show them; a progress in sociability, civility, trade, and morals.

The taste for civilization had sometimes a whim­sical manifestation. Mr. Stuart said the members of the Legislature bitterly complained of the amount of game — venison and grouse of the most delicious quality — which was served them at the taverns in Vandalia; they clamored for bacon — they were starving, they said, "for something civilized." There was plenty of civilized nourish­ment in Springfield. Wheat was fifty cents a bushel, rye thirty-three; corn and oats were twenty-five, potatoes twenty-five; butter was eight cents a pound, and eggs were eight cents a dozen ; pork was two and a half cents a pound.

The town was built on the edge of the woods, the north side touching the timber, the south en­croaching on the prairie. The richness of the soil was seen in the mud of the streets, black as ink, and of an unfathomable depth in time of thaw. There were, of course, no pavements or sidewalks; an attempt at crossings was made by laying down large chunks of wood. The houses were almost all wooden, and were disposed in rectangular blocks. A large square had been left in the middle of the town, in anticipation of future greatness, and there, when Lincoln began his residence, the work of clearing the ground for the new State-house was already going forward. In one of the largest houses looking on the square, at the north-west corner, the county court had its offices, and other rooms in the building were let to lawyers. One of these was occupied by Stuart and Lincoln, for the friendship formed in the Black Hawk war and

COLLAPSE OF THE SYSTEM 157

strengthened at Yandalia induced "Major" Stuart chap.ix. to offer a partnership to " Captain " Lincoln.1

Lincoln did not gain any immediate eminence at the bar. His preliminary studies had been cursory and slight, and Stuart was then too much en­grossed in politics to pay the unremitting attention to the law which that jealous mistress requires. He had been a candidate for Congress the year before, and had been defeated by W. L. May. He was a candidate again in 1838, and was elected over so agile an adversary as Stephen Arnold Douglas. His paramount interest in these canvasses neces­sarily prevented him from setting to his junior partner the example which Lincoln so greatly needed, of close and steady devotion to their pro­fession. It was several years later that Lincoln found with Judge Logan the companionship and inspiration which he required, and began to be really a lawyer. During the first year or two he is principally remembered in Springfield as an excel­lent talker, the life and soul of the little gatherings about the county offices, a story-teller of the first rank, a good-natured, friendly fellow whom every­body liked and trusted. He relied more upon his influence with a jury than upon his knowledge of law in the few cases he conducted in court, his acquaintance with human nature being far more extensive than his legal lore.

Lincoln was not yet done with Vandalia, its dinners of game, and its political intrigue. The

i It is not unworthy of notice Lincoln, who had actually been

that in a country where military commissioned, and had served

titles were conferred with ludi- as captain, never used the des-

crous profusion, and borne with ignation after he laid down his

absurd complacency, Abraham command,

158 ABBAHAM LINCOLN

chap. ix. archives of the State were not removed to Spring­field until 1839, and Lincoln remained a member of the Legislature by successive reflections from 1834 to 1842. His campaigns were carried on almost entirely without expense. Joshua Speed told the writers that on one occasion some of the "Whigs contributed a purse of two hundred dollars which Speed handed to Lincoln to pay his personal expenses in the canvass. After the election was over, the successful candidate handed Speed $199.25, with the request that he return it to the subscribers. " I did not need the money," he said. " I made the canvass on my own horse; my enter­tainment, being at the houses of friends, cost me nothing; and my only outlay was seventy-five cents for a barrel of cider, which some farm-hands insisted I should treat them to." He was called down to Yandalia in the summer of 1837, by a special session of the Legislature. The magnificent schemes of the foregoing winter required some repairing. The banks throughout the United States had suspended specie payments in the spring, and as the State banks in Illinois were the fiscal agents of the railroads and canals, the Gov­ernor called upon the law-makers to revise their own work, to legalize the suspension, and bring their improvement system within possible bounds. They acted as might have been expected: complied with the former suggestion, but flatly refused to touch their masterpiece. They had been glorifying their work too energetically to destroy it in its infancy. It was said you could recognize a leg­islator that year in any crowd by his automatic repetition of the phrase, " Thirteen hundred

COLLAPSE OF THE SYSTEM

159


Ford's, -History,"

p. 197.
fellow-citizens!—and fifty miles of railroad!" cpap.ix. There was nothing to be done but to go on with the stupendous folly. Loans were effected with surprising and fatal facility, and, " before the end of the year, work had begun at many points on the railroads. The whole State was excited to the highest pitch of frenzy and expectation. Money was as plenty as dirt. Industry, instead of being stimulated, actually languished. We exported nothing," says Governor Ford, " and everything from abroad was paid for by the borrowed money expended among us." Not only upon the railroads, but on the canal as well, the work was begun on a magnificent scale. Nine millions of dollars were thought to be a mere trifle in view of the colossal sum expected to be realized from the sale of canal lands, three hundred thousand acres of which had been given by the general Government. There were rumors of coming trouble, and of an unhealthy condition of the banks; but it was considered disloyal to look too curiously into such matters. One frank patriot, who had been sent as one of a committee to examine the bank at Shawneetown, when asked what he found there, replied with win­ning candor, " Plenty of good whisky and sugar to sweeten it."

But a year of baleful experience destroyed a great many illusions, and in the election of 1838 the subject of internal improvements was treated with much more reserve by candidates. The debt of the State, issued at a continually increasing discount, had already attained enormous proportions; the delirium of the last few years was ending, and sensible people began to be greatly disquieted.

160 ABBAHAM LINCOLN

chap. ix. Nevertheless, Mr. Cyrus Edwards boldly made Ms canvass for Governor as a supporter of the sys­tem of internal improvements, and his opponent, Thomas Carlin, was careful not to commit himself strongly on the other side. Carlin was elected, and finding that a majority of the Legislature was still opposed to any steps backward, he made no demonstration against the system at the first session. Lincoln was a member of this body, and, being by that time the unquestioned leader of the Whig minority, was nominated for Speaker, and came within one vote of an election. The Leg­islature was still stiff-necked and perverse in regard to the system. It refused to modify it in the le^st, and voted, as if in bravado, another eight hundred thousand dollars to extend it.

But this was the last paroxysm of a fever that was burnt out. The market was glutted with Illi­nois bonds; one banker and one broker after another, to whose hands they had been recklessly confided in New York and London, failed, or made away with the proceeds of sales. The system had utterly failed; there was nothing to do but repeal it, stop work upon the visionary roads, and en­deavor to invent some means of paying the enormous debt. This work taxed the energies of the Legislature in 1839, and for some years after. It was a dismal and disheartening task. Blue Monday had come after these years of intoxication, and a crushing debt rested upon a people who had been deceiving themselves with the fallacy that it would somehow pay itself by acts of the Legislature.

Many were the schemes devised for meeting



COLONEL K. I>. BAKER.

COLLAPSE OF THE SYSTEM 161

these oppressive obligations without unduly taxing chap. ix. the voters; one of them, not especially wiser than the rest, was contributed by Mr. Lincoln. It pro­vided for the issue of bonds for the payment of the interest due by the State, and for the appropriation of a special portion of State taxes to meet the obligations thus incurred. He supported his bill in a perfectly characteristic speech, making no effort to evade his share of the responsibility for the crisis, and submitting his views with diffidence to the approval of the Assembly. His plan was not adopted; it was too simple and straightfor­ward, even if it had any other merits, to meet the approval of an assembly intent only upon getting out of immediate embarrassment by means which might save them future trouble on the stump. There was even an undercurrent of sentiment in favor of repudiation. But the payment of the interest for that year was provided for by an ingenious expedient which shifted upon the Fund Commissioners the responsibility of deciding what portion of the debt was legal, and how much interest was therefore to be paid. Bonds were sold for this purpose at a heavy loss.

This session of the Legislature was enlivened by a singular contest between the Whigs and Demo­crats in relation to the State banks. Their suspen­sion of specie payments had been legalized up to " the adjournment of the next session of the Legis­lature." They were not now able to resume, and it was held by the Democrats that if the special ses­sion adjourned sine die the charter of the banks would be forfeited, a purpose the party was eager to accomplish. The Whigs, who were defending

vol. I—11

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