By john g. Nioolay and john hay



Download 4.94 Mb.
Page21/45
Date conversion21.02.2016
Size4.94 Mb.
1   ...   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   ...   45
MABRIAOE 199

never-absent idea that there is one still unhappy chaf. xl whom I have contributed to make so. That still kills my soul I cannot but reproach myself for even wishing myself to be happy while she is otherwise."

During the summer of 1842 the letters of the friends still discuss, with waning intensity, how­ever, their respective affairs of the heart. Speed, in the ease and happiness of his home, thanks Lin­coln for his important part in his welfare, 'and gives him sage counsel for himself. Lincoln replies (July 4? 1842): "I could not have done less than I did. I always was superstitious; I believe G-od made me one of the instruments of bringing your Fanny and you together, which union I have no doubt he foreordained. Whatever he designs, he will do for me yet." A better name than " super­stition " might properly be applied to this frame of mind. He acknowledges Speed's kindly advice, but says : " Before I resolve to do the one thing or the other, I must gain my confidence in my own ability to keep my resolves when they are made. In that ability you know I once prided myself, as the only or chief gem of my character; that gem I lost, how and where you know too well. I have not yet regained it; and until I do I cannot trust myself in any matter of much importance. I believe now, that had you understood my case at the time as well as I understood yours afterwards, by the aid you would have given me I should have sailed through clear; but that does not afford me confidence to begin that, or the like of that, again." Still, he was nearing the end of his -doubts and self-torturing sophistry. A last glimpse of his im-

200 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xi. perious curiosity, kept alive by saucy hopes and fears, is seen in his letter to Speed of the 5th of October. He ventures, with a genuine timidity, to ask a question which we may believe has not often been asked by one civilized man of another, with the hope of a candid answer, since marriages were celebrated with ring and book. "I want to ask you a close question — Are you now, in feeling as well as judgment, glad you are married as you are ? From anybody but me this would be an impudent question, not to be tolerated; but I know you will pardon it in me. Please answer it quickly, as I am impatient to know." It is probable that Mr. Speed replied promptly in the way in which such questions must almost of necessity be answered. On the 4th of November, 1842, a marriage license was issued to Lincoln, and on the same day he was married to Miss Mary Todd, the ceremony being performed by the Eev. Charles Dresser. Four sons were the issue of this marriage : Eobert Todd, born August 1, 1843; Edward Baker, March 10, 1846; "William "Wallace, December 21, 1850; Thomas, April 4, 1853. Of these only the eldest lived to maturity.

In this way Abraham Lincoln met and passed through one of the most important crises of his life. There was so much of idiosyncrasy in it that it has been, and will continue to be for years to come, the occasion of endless gossip in Sangamon County and elsewhere. Because it was- not pre­cisely like the experience of other people, who are married and given in marriage every day without any ado, a dozen conflicting stories have grown up, more or less false and injurious to both contracting

MAEEIAGE 201

* parties. But it may not be fanciful to suppose chap. xi. that characters like that of Lincoln, elected for great conflicts and trials, are fashioned by different processes from those of ordinary men, and pass their stated ordeals in a different way. By cir­cumstances which seem commonplace enough to commonplace people, he was thrown for more than a year into a sea of perplexities and sufferings beyond the reach of the common run of souls.

It is as useless as it would be indelicate to seek to penetrate in detail the incidents and special causes which produced in his mind this darkness as of the valley of the shadow of death. There was probably nothing worth recording in them; we are only concerned with their effect upon a character which was to be hereafter for all time one of the posses­sions of the nation. It is enough for us to know that a great trouble came upon him, and that he bore it nobly after his kind. That the manner in which he confronted this crisis was strangely different from that of most men in similar circum­stances need surely occasion no surprise. Neither in this nor in other matters was he shaped in the average mold of his contemporaries. In many respects he was doomed to a certain loneliness of excellence. There are few men that have had his stern and tyrannous sense of duty, his womanly tenderness of heart, his wakeful and inflexible conscience, which was so easy towards others and so merciless towards himself. Therefore when the time came for all of these qualities at once to be put to the most strenuous proof, the whole course of his development and the tendency of his nature made it inevitable that his suffering should be of the

202 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xr. keenest and his final triumph over himself should be of the most complete and signal character. In that struggle his youth of reveries and day-dreams passed away. Such furnace-blasts of proof, such pangs of transformation, seem necessary for excep­tional natures. The bread eaten in tears, of which Goethe speaks, the sleepless nights of sorrow, are required for a clear vision of the celestial powers. Fortunately the same qualities that occasion the conflict insure the victory also. From days of gloom and depression, such as we have been considering, no doubt came precious results in the way of sympathy, self-restraint, and that sober reliance on the final triumph of good over evil peculiar to those who have been greatly tried but not destroyed. The late but splendid maturity of Lincoln's mind and character dates from this time, and, although he grew in strength and knowledge to the end, from this year we observe a steadiness and sobriety of thought and purpose, as discernible in his life as in his style. He was like a blade forged in fire and tempered in the ice-brook, ready for battle whenever the battle might come.

CHAPTEB XII

THE SHIELDS STEEL""

N incident which occurred during the summer crap. xir.

preceding Mr. Lincoln's marriage, and which in the opinion of many had its influence in has­tening that event, deserves some attention, if only from its incongruity with the rest of his history. This was the farce —• which aspired at one time to be a tragedy — of his first and last duel. Among the officers of the State 'Government was a young Irishman named James Shields, who owed his post as Auditor, in great measure, to that alien vote to gain which the Democrats had overturned the Supreme Court. The finances of the State were in a deplorable condition: the treasury was empty; auditor's warrants were selling at half their nominal value; no more money was to be bor­rowed, and taxation was dreaded by both political parties more than disgrace. The currency of the State banks was well-nigh worthless, but it consti­tuted nearly the only circulating medium in the State.

In the middle of August the Governor, Auditor, and Treasurer issued a circular forbidding the pay­ment of State taxes in this depreciated paper. This order was naturally taken by the Whigs as

204 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xxl indicating on the part of these officers a keener interest in the integrity of their salaries than in the public welfare, and it was therefore severely attacked in all the opposition newspapers of the State.

The sharpest assault it had to endure, how­ever, was in a communication, dated August 27, and printed in the " Sangamo Journal" of Sep­tember 2, not only dissecting the administra­tion circular with the most savage satire, but covering the Auditor with merciless personal ridicule. It was written in the dialect of the country, dated from the " Lost Townships," and signed " Rebecca," and purported to come from a farmer widow of the county, who expressed in this fashion her discontent with the evil course of affairs.

Shields was a man of inordinate vanity and a corresponding irascibility. He was for that reason an irresistible mark for satire. Through a long life of somewhat conspicuous public service, he never lost a certain tone of absurdity which can only be accounted for by the qualities we have mentioned. Even his honorable wounds in battle, while they were productive of great public applause and political success, gained him scarcely less ridicule than praise. He never could refrain from talking of them himself, having none of Coriolanus's repugnance in that respect, and for that reason was a constant target for newspaper wits.

After Shields returned from the Mexican war, with his laurels still green, and at the close of the canvass which had made him Senator, he

THE SHIELDS DUEL 205

wrote an incredible letter to Judge Breese, his chap. xii. principal competitor, in which he committed the gratuitous folly of informing him that "he had sworn in his heart [if Breese had been elected] that he should never have profited by his success; and depend upon it," he added, in the arnazin§ impudence of triumph, "I would have kept that vow, regardless of consequences. That, however, is now past, and the vow is canceled by your defeat." He then went on, with threats equally indecent, to make certain demands which were altogether inadmissible, and which Judge Breese only noticed by sending this preposterous letter to

iT»a rvpaaa

tne piesb.

It may easily be imagined that a man who, after being elected a Senator of the United States, was capable of the insane insolence of signing his name to a letter informing his defeated competitor that he would have killed him if the result had been different, would not have been likely, when seven years younger, to bear newspaper ridicule with equanimity. His fury against the unknown author of the satire was the subject of much merriment in Springfield, and the next week another letter appeared, from a different hand, but adopting the machinery of the first, in which the widow offered to make up the quarrel by marrying the Auditor, and this, in time, was followed by an epithalamium, in which this happy compromise was celebrated in very bad verses.. In the change of hands all the humor of the thing had evaporated, and nothing was left but feminine mischief on one side and the exasperation of wounded vanity on the other.

Shields, however, had talked so much about the

206 ABKAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xii. matter that he now felt imperatively called upon to act, and he therefore sent General Whitesides to demand from the " Journal" the name of its con­tributor. Mr. Francis, the editor, was in a quan­dary. Lincoln had written the first letter, and the antic fury of Shields had induced two young ladies who took a lively interest in Illinois politics — and with good reason, for one was to be the wife of a Senator and the other of a President — to follow up the game with attacks in prose and verse which, however deficient in wit and meter, were not wanting in pungency. In his dilemma he applied to Lincoln, who, as he was starting to attend court at Tre-mont, told him to give his name and withhold the names of the ladies. As soon as Whitesides received this information, he and his fiery principal set out for Tremont, and as Shields did nothing in silence, the news came to Lincoln's friends, two of whom, Will­iam Butler and Dr. Merryman, one of those combat­ive medical men who have almost disappeared from American society, went off in a buggy in pursuit. They soon came in sight of the others, but loitered in the rear until evening, and then drove rapidly to Tremont, arriving there some time in advance of Shields; so that in the ensuing negotiations Abraham Lincoln had the assistance of friends whose fidelity and whose nerve were equally be­yond question.

It would be useless to recount all the tedious preliminaries of the affair. Shields opened the correspondence, as might have been expected, with blustering and with threats; his nature had no other way of expressing itself. His first letter was taken as a bar to any explanation or understand-

THE SHIELDS DUEL 207

ing, and he afterwards wrote a second, a little less chap. xn. offensive in tone, but without withdrawing the first. At every interview of the seconds General Whitesides deplored the bloodthirsty disposition of his principal, and urged that Mr. Lincoln should make the concessions which alone would prevent lamentable results. These representations seemed to avail nothing, however, and the parties, after ,endless talk, went to Alton and crossed the river to the Missouri shore. It seemed for a moment that the fight must take place. The terms had been left by the code, as then understood in the West, to Lincoln, and he certainly made no grudg­ing use of his privilege. The weapons chosen were " cavalry broadswords of the largest size"; and the combatants were to stand on either side of a board placed on the ground, each to fight in a limit of six feet on Ms own side of the board. It was evident that Lincoln did not desire the death of his adver­sary, and did not intend to be materially injured himself. The advantage morally was altogether against him. He felt intensely the stupidity of the whole affair, but thought he could not avoid the fight without degradation; while to Shields such a fracas was a delight. The duel came to its natural end by the intervention of the usual" gods out of a machine," the gods being John J. Hardin and one Dr. English, and the machine a canoe in which they had hastily paddled across the Mississippi. Shields suffered himself to be persuaded to with­draw his offensive challenge. Lincoln then made the explanation he had been ready to make from the beginning; avowing the one letter he had written, and saying that it had been printed solely

208 ABBAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xn. for political effect, and without any intention of injuring Shields personally.

One would think that, after a week passed in such unprofitable trifling, the parties, principal and secondary, would have been willing to drop the matter forever. We are sure that Lincoln would have been glad to banish it, even from his memory; but to men like Shields and Whitesides, the peculiar relish and enjoyment of such an affair is its publicity. On the 3d of October, therefore, eleven days after the meeting, as public attention seemed to be flagging, "Whitesides wrote an account of it to the " Sangamo Journal," for which he did not forget to say, "I hold myself responsible!" Of course he seized the occasion to paint a heroic por­trait of himself and his principal. It was an excel­lent story until the next week, when Dr. Merryman, who seems to have wielded a pen like a scalpel, gave a much fuller history of the matter, which he substantiated by printing all the documents, and, not content with that, gave little details of the negotiations which show, either that Whitesides was one of the most grotesque braggarts of the time, or that Merryman was an admirable writer of comic fiction. Among the most amusing facts he brought forward was that Whitesides, being a Fund Commissioner of the State, ran the risk of losing his office by engaging in a duel; and his anxiety to appear reckless and dangerous, and yet keep within the statute and save his salary, was depicted by Merryman with a droll fidelity. He concluded by charging Whitesides plainly with " inefficiency and want of knowledge of those laws which govern gentlemen in matters of this kind,"





HODSE IN WHICH ABRAHAM IOCOLK WAS MABEIED .HBT OWXD BV SIMA!f w. EDWAKB,, NOW OCCTOIED AS „.

SCHOOL.



1   ...   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   ...   45


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page