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290 ABEAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xvi. a perverted notion of honor and propriety held it discreditable in a member to ask for reelection. This state of things was not peculiar to that dis­trict, and it survives with more or less vigor throughout the country to this day, to the serious detriment of Congress. This consideration, coupled with what is called the claim of locality, must in time still further deteriorate the representatives of the States at Washington. To ask in a nominating convention who is best qualified for service in Congress is always regarded as an impertinence; but the question "what, county in the district has had the Congressman oftenest " is always con­sidered in order. For such reasons as these Mr. Lincoln refused to allow his name to go before the voters again, and the next year he again refused, writing an emphatic letter for publication, in which he said that there were many Whigs who could do as much as he "to bring the district right side up."

Colonel Baker had come back from the wars with all the glitter of Cerro Gordo about him, but did not find the prospect of political preferment flattering in Sangamon County, and therefore, with that versatility and sagacity which was more than once to render him signal service, he removed to the Galena district, in the extreme north-western corner of the State, and almost immediately on his arrival there received a nomination to Congress. He was doubly fortunate in this move, as the nomination he was unable to take away from Logan proved useless to the latter, who was defeated after a hot contest. Baker therefore took the place of Lincoln as the only Whig mem-

A FORTUNATE ESCAPE 291

ber from Illinois, and their names occur frequently chap.xvt. together in the arrangements for the distribution of " Federal patronage" at the close of the Ad­ministration of Polk and the beginning of that of Taylor.

During the period while the President-elect was considering the appointment of his Cabinet, Lin­coln used all the influence he could bring to bear, which was probably not very much, in favor of Baker for a place in the Government. The Whig members of the Legislatures of Illinois, Iowa, and Ms. letter Wisconsin joined in this effort, which came to nothing. The recommendations to office which Lincoln made after the inauguration of General Taylor are probably unique of their kind. Here is a specimen which is short enough to give entire. It is addressed to the Secretary of the Interior: u I recommend that William Butler be appointed Pension Agent for the Illinois agency when the place shall be vacant. Mr. Hurst, the present-incumbent, I believe has performed the duties very well. He is a decided partisan, and I believe expects to be removed. Whether he shall be, I submit to the Department. This office is not con­fined to nay district, but pertains to the whole State; so that Colonel Baker has an equal right with myself to be heard concerning it. However, the office is located here (at Springfield); and I think it is not probable any one would desire to remove from a distance to take it."

We have examined a large number of his rec­ommendations— for with a complete change of administration there would naturally be great activity among the office-seekers — and they are all

292 ABEAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xvi. in precisely the same vein. He nowhere asks for the removal of an incumbent; he never claims a place as subject to his disposition; in fact, he makes no personal claim whatever; he simply advises the Government, in case a vacancy occurs, who, in his opinion, is the best man to fill it. When there are two applicants, he indicates which is on the whole the better man, and sometimes adds that the weight of recommendations is in favor of the other ! In one instance he sends forward the recommendations of the man whom he does not prefer, with an indorsement emphasizing the importance of them, and adding: "From personal knowledge I consider Mr. Bond every way worthy of the office and qualified to fill it. Holding the individual opinion that the appointment of a different gentleman would be better, I ask especial attention and con­sideration for his claims, and for the opinions ex­pressed in his favor by those over whom I can claim no superiority." The candor, the fairness and moderation, together with the respect for the public service which these recommendations dis­play, are all the more remarkable when we reflect that there was as yet no sign of a public conscience upon the subject. The patronage of the Govern­ment was scrambled for, as a matter of course, in the mire into which Jackson had flung it.

For a few weeks in the spring of 1849 Mr. Lin­coln appears in a character which is entirely out of keeping with all his former and subsequent career. He became, for the first and only time in his life, an applicant for an appointment at the hands of the President. His bearing in this attitude was marked by his usual individuality. In the opinion

A FOKTUNATE ESCAPE 293

of many Illinoisans it was important that the place chap. xvi. of Commissioner of the General Land Office should be given to a citizen of their State, one thoroughly acquainted with the land law in the West and the special needs of that region. A letter to Lincoln was drawn up and signed by some half-dozen of the leading "Whigs of the State asking him to be­come an applicant for that position.

He promptly answered, saying that if the posi­tion could be secured for a citizen of Illinois only by his accepting it, he would consent; but he went on to say that he had promised his best efforts to Cyrus Edwards for that place, and had after­wards stipulated with Colonel Baker that if J. L. D. Morrison, another Mexican hero, and Edwards could come to an understanding with each other as to which should withdraw, he would join in recom­mending the other; that he could not take the place, therefore, unless it became clearly impossi­ble for either of the others to get it. Some weeks later, the impossibility referred to having become apparent, Mr. Lincoln applied for the place; but a suitor for office so laggard and so scrupulous as he, stood very little chance of success in contests like those which periodically raged at Washington during the first weeks of every new administration. The place came, indeed, to Illinois, but to neither of the three we have mentioned. The fortunate applicant was Justin Butterfield, of Chicago, a man well and favorably known among the early members of the Illinois bar,1 who, however, devoted

1 Butter field had a great repu- old lawyers in Illinois, and show

tation for ready wit and was sus- at least a well-marked humorous

pected of deep learning. Some intention. On one occasion he

of his jests are still repeated by appeared before Judge Pope to

294 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xvi. less assiduous attention to the law than to the business of office-seeking, which he practiced with fair success all his days.

It was in this way that Abraham Lincoln met and escaped one of the greatest dangers of his life. In after days he recognized the error he had committed, and congratulated himself upon the happy deliverance he had obtained through no merit of his own. The loss of at least four years of the active pursuit of his profession would have been irreparable, leaving out of view the strong probability that the singular charm of Washington life to men who have a passion for politics might have kept him there forever. It has been said that a residence in Washington leaves no man precisely as it found him. This is an axiom which may be applied to most cities in a certain sense, but it is true in a peculiar degree of our capital.

To the men who go there from small rural com­munities in the South and the West, the bustle and stir, the intellectual movement, such as it is, the ordinary subjects of conversation, of such

ask the discharge of the famous that he had lost an office in New

Mormon Prophet, Joe Smith, York by opposing the war of

who was in custody surrounded 1812. " Henceforth," he said

Tby his church dignitaries. Bow- with cynical vehemence, " I am

ing profoundly to the court and for war, pestilence, and famine."

the ladies who thronged the hall, He was once defending the

he said: "I appear before you Shawneetown Bank and advocat-

under solemn and peculiar cir- ing the extension of its charter;

cumstances. I am to address the an opposing lawyer contended

Pope, surrounded by angels, in that this would be creating a new

the presence of the holy apostles, bank. Butterfield brought a

in behalf of the Prophet of the smile from the court and a laugh

Lord." We once heard Lincoln from the bar by asking " whether

say of Butterfield that he was when the Lord lengthened the

one of the few Whigs in Illinois life of Hezekiah he made a new

who approved the Mexican war. man, or whether it was the same

His reason, frankly given, was old Hezekiah ? "

A FORTUNATE ESCAPE 295

vastly greater importance than anything they have chap. xvi. previously known, the daily, even hourly combats on the floor of both houses, the intrigue and the struggle of office-hunting, which engage vast numbers besides the office-seekers, the superior piquancy and interest of the scandal which is talked at a Congressional boarding-house over that which seasons the dull days at village-tav­erns—all this gives a savor to life in Washington the memory of which doubles the tedium of the sequestered vale to which the beaten legislator re­turns when his brief hour of glory is over. It is this which brings to the State Department, after every general election, that crowd of specters, with their bales of recommendations from pitying colleagues who have been reflected, whose dimin­ishing prayers run down the whole gamut of sup­plication from St. James to St. Paul of Loando, and of whom at then last it must be said, as Mr. Evarts once said after an unusually heavy day, " Many called, but few chosen." Of those who do not achieve the ruinous success of going abroad to consulates that will not pay their board, or mis­sions where they avoid daily shame only by hid­ing their penury and their ignorance away from observation, a great portion yield to their fate and join that fleet of wrecks which floats forever on the pavements of Washington.

It is needless to say that Mr. Lincoln received no damage from his term of service in Washing­ton, but we know of nothing which shows so strongly the perilous fascination of the place as the fact that a man of his extraordinary moral and mental qualities could ever have thought for a

296 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. xvi. moment of accepting a position so insignificant and incongruous as that which he was more than willing to assume when he left Congress. He would have filled the place with honor and creditbut at a monstrous expense. We do not so much refer to his exceptional career and his great figure in history; these momentous contingencies could not have suggested themselves to him. But the place he was reasonably sure of filling in the battle of life should have made a subordinate office in Washington a thing out of the question. He was already a lawyer of skill and reputation; an orator upon whom his party relied to speak for them to the people. An innate love of combat was in his heart; he loved discussion like a medi­eval schoolman. The air was already tremulous with faint bugle-notes that heralded a conflict of giants on a field of moral significance to which he was fully alive and awake, where he was certain to lead at least his hundreds and his thousands. Yet if Justin Butterfield had not been a more supple, more adroit, and less scrupulous suitor for office than himself, Abraham Lincoln would have sat for four inestimable years at a bureau-desk in the Interior Department, and when the hour of action sounded in Illinois, who would have filled the place which he took as if he had been born for it ? Who could have done the duty which he bore as lightly as if he had been fashioned for it from the begin­ning of time!

His temptation did not end even with Butter-field's success. The Administration of General Taylor, apparently feeling that some compensa­tion was due to one so earnestly recommended by

A FORTUNATE ESCAPE 297

the leading Whigs of the State, offered Mr, Lincoln chap..xvj. the governorship of Oregon. This was a place more suited to him than the other, and his accept­ance of it was urged by some of his most judicious friends1 on the ground that the new Territory would soon be a State, and that he could come back as a senator. This view of the matter com­mended itself favorably to Lincoln himself, who, however, gave it up on account of the natural unwillingness of his wife to remove to a country so wild and so remote.

This was all as it should be. The best place for him was Illinois, and he went about his work there until his time should come.

1 Among others John T, Stuart, who is our authority for this statement.

CHAPTEE XVII

THE CIRCUIT LAWYER

ch.xvii. 1TN that briefest of all autobiographies, which JL Mr. Lincoln wrote for Jesse Fell upon three pages of note-paper, he sketched in these words the period at which we have arrived : " From 1849 to 1854, both inclusive, I practiced law more assid­uously than ever before. . . I was losing interest in politics, when the repeal of the Missouri Com­promise aroused me again." His service in Con­gress had made him more generally known than formerly, and had increased his practical value as a member of any law firm. He was offered a partnership on favorable terms by a lawyer in good practice in Chicago; but he declined it on the ground that his health would not endure the close confinement necessary in a city office. He went back to Springfield, and resumed at once his practice there and in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, where his occupations and his associates were the most congenial that he could anywhere find. For five years he devoted himself to his work with more energy and more success than ever before.

It was at this time that he gave a notable proof of his unusual powers of mental discipline. His wider knowledge of men and things, acquired by contact with the great world, had shown him a cer-

298

THE CIRCUIT LAWYER 299

tain lack in himself of the power of close and ch.xvii. sustained reasoning. To remedy this defect, he applied himself, after his return from Congress, to such works upon logic and mathematics as he fancied would be serviceable. Devoting himself with dogged energy to the task in hand, he soon learned by heart six books of the propositions of Euclid, and he retained through life a thorough knowledge of the principles they contain.

The outward form and fashion of every institu­tion change rapidly in growing communities like our "Western States, and the practice of the law had already assumed a very different degree of dignity and formality from that which it presented only twenty years before. The lawyers in hunting-shirts and mocassins had long since passed away; so had the judges who apologized to the criminals that they sentenced, and charged them " to let their friends on Bear Creek understand it was the law and the jury who were responsible." Even the easy familiarity of a later date would no longer be tolerated. No successor of Judge Douglas had been known to follow his example by coming down from the bench, taking a seat in the lap of a friend, throwing an arm around his neck, and in that intimate attitude discussing, cor am publico, whatever interested him, David Davis — after-wards of the Supreme Court and of the Senate — was for many years the presiding judge of this circuit, and neither under him nor his predecessor, S. H. Treat, was any lapse of dignity or of pro­priety possible. Still there was much less of form and ceremony insisted upon than is considered proper and necessary in older communities.

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