By john g. Nioolay and john hay



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162 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. ix. the banks, wished to prevent the adjournment of the special session until the regular session should begin, during the course of which they expected to renew the lease of life now held under sufferance by the banks — in which, it may be here said, they were finally successful. But on one occasion, being in the minority, and having exhausted every other parliamentary means of opposition and delay, and seeing the vote they dreaded imminent, they tried to defeat it by leaving the house in a body, and, the doors being locked, a number of them, among whom Mr. Lincoln's tall figure was prominent, jumped from the windows of the church where the Legislature was then holding its sessions. " I think," says Mr. Joseph Gillespie, who was one of those who performed this feat of acrobatic politics, " Mr. Lincoln always regretted it, as he deprecated everything that savored of the revolutionary."

Two years later the persecuted banks, harried by the demagogues and swindled by the State, fell with a great ruin, and the financial misery of the State was complete. Nothing was left of the brill­iant schemes of the historic Legislature of 1836 but a load of debt which crippled for many years the energies of the people, a few miles of embank­ments which the grass hastened to cover, and a few abutments which stood for years by the sides of leafy rivers, waiting for their long delaying bridges and trains.

During the winter of 1840-1 occurred the first clash of opinion and principle between Mr. Lincoln and his life-long adversary, Mr. Douglas. There are those who can see only envy and jealousy in that strong dislike and disapproval with which Mr.

COLLAPSE OF THE SYSTEM 163

Lincoln always regarded his famous rival. But chap.ix, we think that few men have ever lived who were more free from those degrading passions than Abraham Lincoln, and the personal reprobation with which he always visited the public acts of Douglas arose from his sincere conviction that, able as Douglas was, and in many respects admi­rable in character, he was essentially without fixed political morals. They had met for the first time in 1834 at Yandalia, where Douglas was busy in getting the circuit attorney ship away from John J. Hardin. He held it only long enough to secure a nomination to the Legislature in 1836. He went there to endeavor to have the capital moved to Jacksonville, where he lived, but he gave up the fight for the purpose of having himself appointed Eegister of the Land Office at Springfield. He held this place as a meanss of being nominated for Con­gress the next year; he was nominated and defeated. In 1840 he was engaged in another scheme to which we will give a moment's attention, as it resulted in giving him a seat on the Supreme Bench of the State, which he used merely as a perch from which to get into Congress.

There had been a difference of opinion in Illinois for some years as to whether the Constitution, which made voters of all white male inhabitants of six months' residence, meant to include aliens in that category. As the aliens were nearly all Democrats, that party insisted on their voting, and the "Whigs objected. The best lawyers in the State were "Whigs, and so it happened that most of the judges were of that complexion. A case was made up for decision and decided adversely to the

164 ABEAHAM LINCOLN

chap. ix. aliens, who appealed it to the Supreme Court. This case was to come on at the June term in 1840, and the Democratic counsel, chief among whom was Mr. Douglas, were in some anxiety, as an un­favorable decision would lose them about ten thou­sand alien votes in the Presidential election in November. In this conjuncture one Judge Smith, of the Supreme Court, an ardent Democrat, willing to enhance his value in his party, communicated to Mr. Douglas two important facts: first, that a majority of the court would certainly decide against the aliens; and, secondly, that there was a slight imperfection in the record by which counsel might throw the case over to the December term, and save the alien vote for Van Buren and the Demo­cratic ticket. This was done, and when the Legisla­ture came together with its large Democratic major­ity, Mr. Douglas handed in a bill " reforming" the Judiciary — for they had learned that serviceable word already. The circuit judges were turned out of office, and five new judges were added to the Supreme Court, who were to perform circuit duty also. It is needless to say that Judge Douglas was one of these, and he had contrived also in the course of the discussion to disgrace his friend Smith so thoroughly by quoting his treacherous communication of matters which took place within the court, that Smith was no longer a possible rival for political honors.

It was useless for the Whigs to try to prevent this degradation of the bench. There was no resource but a protest, and here again Lincoln uttered the voice of the conscience of the party. He was joined on this occasion by Edward D.

COLLAPSE OP THE SYSTEM

165

Baker1 and some others, who protested against the chap.ix. act because

1st. It violates the principles of free government by subjecting the Judiciary to the Legislature.

2d. It is a fatal blow at the independence of the judges and the constitutional term of their offices.

3d. It is a measure not asked for or wished for by the people.

4th. It will greatly increase the expense of our courts or else greatly diminish their utility.

5th. It will give our courts a political and partisan character, thereby impairing public confidence in their decisions.

6th. It will impair our standing with other States and the world.

7th. It is a party measure for party purposes from which no practical good to the people can possibly arise, but which may be the source of immeasurable evils.

The undersigned are well aware that this protest will be altogether unavailing with the majority of this body. The blow has already fallen j and we are compelled to stand by, the mournful spectators of the ruin it will cause.

Ford's

'History,

p. 221.

It will be easy to ridicule this indignant protest as the angry outcry of beaten partisans; but for­tunately we have evidence which cannot be gain­said of the justice of its sentiments and the wisdom of its predictions. Governor Ford, himself a Dem­ocratic leader as able as he was honest, writing seven years after these proceedings, condemns them as wrong and impolitic, and adds, " Ever since this reforming measure the Judiciary has been unpopular with the Democratic majorities. Many and most of the judges have had great

i Afterwards senator from Ore- Pennsylvania (called the 1st Cali-gon, and as colonel of the 71st forma) killed at Ball's Bluff.

166 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. ix. personal popularity — so much so as to create complaint of so many of them being elected or appointed to other offices. But the Bench itself has been the subject of bitter attacks by every Legislature since." It had been soiled by unclean contact and could not be respected as before.

CHAPTER X

EARLY LAW PRACTICE


D


URINGr all the years of his service in the chap. x. Legislature, Lincoln was practicing law in Springfield in the dingy little office at the corner of the square. A youth named Milton Hay, who afterwards became one of the foremost lawyers of the State, had made the acquaintance of Lincoln at the County Clerk's office and proposed to study law with him. He was at once accepted as a pupil, and his days being otherwise employed he gave his nights to reading, and as his vigils were apt to be prolonged he furnished a bedroom adjoining the office, where Lincoln often passed the night with him. Mr. Hay gives this account of the practice of the law in those days :

" In forming our ideas of Lincoln's growth and development as a lawyer, we must remember that in those early days litigation was very simple as compared with that of modern times. Population was sparse and society scarcely organized, land was plentiful and employment abundant. There was an utter absence of the abstruse questions and complications which now beset the law. There was no need of that close and searching study into principles and precedents which keeps the modern

167

168

ABEAHAM LINCOLN

LINCOLN AND STUART'S LAW-OFFICE, SPRINGFIELD.




chap, x. law-student buried in his of8.ce. On the contrary, the very character of this simple litiga­tion drew the law­yer into the street and neighborhood, and into close and I Si active intercourse with all classes of his fellow-men. The suits consisted of actions of tort and assumpsit. If a man had a debt not collectible, the current phrase was, * I ?11 take it out of his hide.'

" This would bring on an action for assault and battery. The free comments of the neighbors on the fracas or the character of the parties would be productive of slander suits. A man would for his convenience lay down an iras­cible neighbor's fence, and indolently forget to put it up again, and an action of trespass would grow out of it. The suit would lead to a free fight, and sometimes furnish the bloody incidents for a murder trial. Occupied with this class of business, the half-legal, half-political lawyers were never found plodding in their offices. In that case they would have waited long for the recog­nition of their talents or a demand for their

EARLY LAW PBACTICE 169

services. Out of this characteristic of the times chap. x. also grew the street discussions I have adverted to. There was scarcely a day or hour when a knot of men might not have been seen near the door of some prominent store, or about the steps of the court-house eagerly discussing a current political topic — not as a question of news, for news was not then received quickly or frequently, as it is now, but rather for the sake of debate ; and the men from the country, the pioneers and farmers, always gathered eagerly about these groups and listened with open-mouthed interest, and frequently mani­fested their approval or dissent in strong words, and carried away to their neighborhoods a report of the debaters' wit and skill. It was in these street talks that the rising and aspiring young lawyer found his daily and liourly forum. Often by good luck or prudence he had the field entirely to himself, and so escaped the dangers and dis­couragements of a decisive conflict with a trained antagonist."

Mr. Stuart was either in Congress or actively engaged in canvassing his district a great part of the time that his partnership with Lincoln continued, so that the young lawyer was thrown a good deal on his own resources for occupation. There was not enough business to fill up all his hours, and he was not at that time a close student, so that he soon became as famous for his racy talk and good-fellowship at all the usual lounging-places in Springfield as he had ever been in New Salem. Mr. Hay says, speaking of the youths who made the County Clerk's office their place of rendez­vous, " It was always a great treat when Lincoln got



LINCOLN'S BOOKCASE AND INKSTAND.

170

EAELY LAW PBACTICE 171

amongst us. We were sure to have some of those chap. x. stories for which he already had a reputation, and there was this peculiarity about them, that they were not only entertaining in themselves, but always singularly illustrative of some point he wanted to make." After Mr. Hay entered his office, and was busily engaged with his briefs and decla­rations, the course of their labors was often broken by the older man's wise and witty digressions. Once an interruption occurred which affords an odd illustration of the character of discussion then prevalent. We will give it in Mr. Hay's words: " The custom of public political debate, while it was sharp and acrimonious, also engendered a spirit of equality and fairness. Every political meeting was a free fight open to every one who had talent and spirit, no matter to which party the speaker belonged. These discussions used often to be held in the court-room, just under our office, and through a trap-door, made there when the building was used for a store-house, we could hear every­thing that was said in the hall below. One night there was a discussion in which E. D. Baker took part. He was a fiery fellow, and when his impul­siveness was let loose among the rough element that composed his audience there was a fair prospect of trouble at any moment. Lincoln was lying on the bed, apparently paying no attention to what was going on. Lamborn was talking, and we suddenly heard Baker interrupting him with a sharp remark, then a rustling and uproar. Lincoln jumped from the bed and down the trap, lighting on the platform between Baker and the audience, and quieted the tumult as much by the surprise of his sudden

172 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. x. apparition as by his good-natured and reasonable words."

He was often unfaithful to his Quaker traditions in those days of his youth. Those who witnessed his wonderful forbearance and self-restraint in later manhood would find it difficult to believe how promptly and with what pleasure he used to resort to measures of repression against a bully or brawler. On the day of election in 1840, word came to him that one Eadford, a Democratic con­tractor, had taken possession of one of the polling-places with his workmen, and was preventing the Whigs from voting. Lincoln started off at a gait which showed his interest in the matter in hand. He went up to Eadford and persuaded him to leave the polls without a moment's delay. One of his candid remarks is remembered and recorded: " Eadford! you ?11 spoil and blow, if you live much longer." Eadford's prudence prevented an actual collision, which, it must be confessed, Lincoln regretted. He told his friend Speed he wanted Eadford to show fight so that he might " knock him down and leave him kicking."

Early in the year 1840 it seemed possible that the Whigs might elect General Harrison to the Presidency, and this hope lent added energy to the party even in the States where the majority was so strongly against them as in Illinois. Lincoln was nominated for Presidential Elector and threw himself with ardor into the canvass, traversing a great part of the State and speaking with remark­able effect. Only one of the speeches he made during the year has been preserved entire: this was an address delivered in Springfield as one of a

EAKLY LAW PRACTICE 173

series-—-a sort of oratorical tournament partici- chap. x. pated in by Douglas, Calhoun, Lamborn, and Thomas on the part of the Democrats, and Logan, Baker, Browning, and Lincoln on the part of the Whigs. The discussion began with great enthu­siasm and with crowded houses, but by the time it came to Lincoln's duty to close the debate the fickle public had tired of the intellectual jousts, and he spoke to a comparatively thin house. But his speech was considered the best of the series, and there was such a demand for it that he wrote it out, and it was printed and circulated in the spring as a campaign document.

It was a remarkable speech in many respects and in none more than in this, that it represented the highest expression of what might be called his " first manner." It was the most important and the last speech of its class which he ever delivered — not destitute of sound and close reasoning, yet filled with boisterous fun and florid rhetoric. It was, in short, a rattling stump speech of the kind then universally popular in the West, and which is still considered a very high grade of eloquence in the South. But it is of no kindred with his inaugural addresses, and resembles the Gettysburg speech no more than " The Comedy of Errors" resembles "Hamlet." One or two extracts will give some idea of its humorous satire and its lurid fervor. Attacking the corruptions and defalca­tions of the Administration party he said: "Mr. Lamborn insists that the difference between the Van Buren party and the Whigs is that, although the former sometimes err in practice they are always correct in principle, whereas the latter are wrong



globe tavern, springfield, where lincoln lived after his marriage.

174

EAELY LAW PRACTICE 175

in principle ; and the better to impress this propo- chap. x. sition he uses a figurative expression in these words, 4 The Democrats are vulnerable in the heel, but they are sound in the heart and head.' The first branch of the figure—-that is, the Democrats are vulnerable in the heel — I admit is not merely figuratively but literally true. Who that looks but for a moment at their Swartwouts, their Prices, their Harringtons, and their hundreds of others scampering away with the public money to Texas, to Europe, and to every spot of the earth where a villain may hope to find refuge from jus­tice, can at all doubt that they are most distress­ingly affected in their heels with a species of run'ning itch? It seems that this malady of their heels operates on the sound-headed and honest-hearted Creatures, very much as the cork leg in the comic song did on its owner, which, when he once got started on it, the more he tried to stop it the more it would run away. At the hazard of wear­ing this point threadbare, I will relate an anec­dote wljich seems to be too strikingly in point to be Qmitted. A witty Irish soldier who was always boasting of his bravery when no danger was ne4r, but who invariably retreated without orders a/t the first charge of the engagement, being asked by his captain why he did so, replied, * Cap­tain, I have as brave a heart as Julius Osesar ever had, but somehow or other whenever danger approaches, my cowardly legs will run away with it.' So |with Mr. Lamborn's party — they take the public money into their hands for the most laud­able piirpose that wise heads and honest hearts can dictate; bnt before they can possibly get it

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