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ILLINOIS IN 1830

65


statutes of Illinois that they are far better drawn ^ up, and better edited, than those of a later period, when illiterate tricksters, conscious of the party strength behind them, insisted on shaping legisla­tion according to their own fancy. The men of cultivation wielded an influence in the Legislature entirely out of proportion to their numbers, as the ruder sort of pioneers were naturally in a large majority. The type of a not uncommon class in, Illinois tradition was a member from the South who could neither read nor write, and whose appar­ently ironical patronymic was Grammar. When first elected he had never worn anything except leather; but regarding his tattered buckskin as unfit for the garb of a lawgiver, he and his sons gathered hazel-nuts enough to barter at the nearest store for a few yards of blue strouding such as the Indians used for breech-clouts. When he came home with his purchase and had called together the women of the settlement to make his clothes, it was found that there was only material enough for a very short coat and a long pair of leggins, and thus attired he went to Kaskaskia, the territorial capital. Uncouth as was his appearance, he had in him the raw material of a politician. He invented a system — which was afterwards adopted by many whose breeches were more fashionably cut — of voting against every measure which was proposed. If it failed, the responsibility was broadly shared; if it passed and was popular, no one would care who voted against it; if it passed and did not meet the favor of the people, John Grammar could vaunt his foresight. Between the men like Coles and the men like Grammar there was a wide interval, and vol. I.— 5

chap. III.

Ford,

"History of

Illinois,"

p. 31.

66 ABEAHAM LINCOLN

chap. in. the average was about what the people of the State deserved and could appreciate. A legislator was as likely to suffer for doing right as for doing wrong. Governor Ford, in his admirable sketch of the early history of the State, mentions two acts of the Legislature, both of them proper and bene­ficial, as unequaled in their destructive influence upon the great folks of the State. One was a bill for a loan to meet the honest obligations of the commonwealth, commonly called " the "Wiggins loan "; and the other was a law to prevent bulls of inferior size and breed from running at large. This latter set loose all the winds of popular fury: it was cruel, it was aristocratic; it was in the interest of rich men and pampered foreign bulls ; and it ended the career of many an aspiring politician in a blast of democratic indignation and scorn. The poli­tician who relied upon immediate and constant contact with the people certainly earned all the emoluments of office he received. His successes were hardly purchased by laborious affability. "A friend of mine," says Ford, " once informed me that he intended to be a candidate for the Legisla­ture, but would not declare himself until just before the election, and assigned as a reason that it was so very hard to be clever for a long time at once." Before the caucus had eliminated the individual initiative, there was much more of personal feeling in elections. A vote against a man had something of offense in it, and sometimes stirred up a defeated candidate to heroic vengeance. In 1827 the Legis­lature elected a State treasurer after an exciting contest, and before the members had left the house the unsuccessful aspirant canie in and soundly

ILLINOIS IN 1830 67

thrashed, one after the other, four of the represent- chap. m. atives who had voted against him. Such energy Ford, p. si. was sure to meet its reward, and he was soon after made clerk of the Circuit Court. It is related by old citizens of Menard County, as a circumstance greatly to the credit of Abraham Lincoln, that when he was a candidate for the Legislature a man who wanted his vote for another place walked to the polls with him and ostentatiously voted for him, hoping to receive his vote in return. Lincoln voted against him, and the act was much admired by those who saw it.

One noticeable fact is observed in relation to the politicians of the day—their careers were generally brief. Superannuation came early. In the latter part of the last century and the first half of this, men were called old whom we should regard as in the prime of life. When the friends of Washington were first pressing the Presidency upon him in 1788, he urged his " advanced age" as an imperative reason for declining it: he was fifty-six years old. When Mnian Edwards was a candidate for Gov­ernor of Illinois in 1826, he was only fifty-one, and yet he considered it necessary in his published ad­dresses to refer to the charge that he was too old for the place, and, while admitting the fact that he was no longer young, to urge in extenuation that there are some old things,—like old whisky, old bacon, and old friends,— which are not without their merits. Even so late as 1848, we find a remarkable letter from Mr. Lincoln, who was then in Congress, bearing upon the same point. His partner, William H. Herndon, had written him a letter, complaining that the old men in Sangamon

68 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. in. County were unwilling to let the young ones have any opportunity to distinguish themselves. To this Lincoln answered in his usual tone of grave kindness: " The subject of your letter is exceed­ingly painful to me ; and I cannot but think there is some mistake in your impression of the motives of the old men. I suppose I am now one of the old men, and I declare on my veracity, which I think is good with you, that nothing could afford me more satisfaction than to learn that you and others of my young friends at home were doing battle in the contest and endearing themselves to the people and taking a stand far above any I have ever been able to reach in their admiration. I cannot conceive that other old men feel differently. Of course, I cannot demonstrate what I say; but I was young once, and I am sure I was never un­generously thrust back.'7

The man who thus counseled petulant youth with the experienced calmness of age was thirty-nine years old. A state of society where one could at that age call himself or be called by others an old man, is proved by that fact alone to be one of wearing hardships and early decay of the vital powers. The survivors of the pioneers stoutly in­sist upon the contrary view. " It was a glorious life," says one old patriarch ; " men would fight for the love of it, and then shake hands and be friends; there is nothing like it now." Another says, "I never enjoy my breakfast now as I used to, when I got up and ran down a deer before I could have anything to eat." But they see the past through a rosy mist of memory, transfigured by the eternal magic of youth. The sober fact is that the life

JL

ILLINOIS IN 1830 69

was a hard one, with few rational pleasures, few chap. in. wholesome appliances. The strong ones lived, and some even attained great length of years; but to the many age came early and was full of infirmity and pain. If we could go back to what our fore­fathers endured in clearing the Western wilderness, we could then better appreciate our obligations to them. It is detracting from the honor which is their due to say that their lives had much of happi­ness or comfort, or were in any respect preferable to our own.

CHAPTER IV

. NEW SALEM

chap. iv. T~\UBIN"Gr the latter part of " the winter of the _LJ deep snow," Lincoln became acquainted with one Denton Offutt, an adventurous and dis­cursive sort of merchant, with more irons in the fire than he could well manage. He wanted to take a flat-boat and cargo to New Orleans, and having heard that Hanks and Lincoln had some experience of the river, he insisted on their joining him. John Johnston was afterwards added to the party, prob­ably at the request of his foster-brother, to share in the golden profits of the enterprise; for fifty cents a day, and a contingent dividend of twenty dollars apiece, seemed like a promise of immediate opulence to the boys. In the spring, when the rivers broke up and the melting snows began to pour in torrents down every ravine and gully, the three young men paddled down the Sangamon in a canoe to the point where Jamestown now stands ; whence they walked five miles to Springfield, where Offutt had given them rendezvous. They met him at Elliott's tavern and far from happy. Amid the multiplicity of his engagements he had failed to procure a flat-boat, and the first work his new hands must do was to build one. They cut

70

NEW SALEM : 71

the timber, with frontier innocence, from " Con- chap. iv. gress land," and soon had a serviceable craft afloat, with which they descended the current of the Sangamon to New Salem, a little village which seems to have been born for the occasion, as it came into existence just before the arrival of Lincoln, flourished for seven years while he remained one of its citizens, and died soon after he went away. His introduction to his fellow-citizens was effected in a peculiar and somewhat striking manner. Offutt's boat had come to serious embarrassment on Rutledge's mill-dam, and the un­wonted incident brought the entire population to the water's edge. They spent a good part of the day watching the hapless flat-boat, resting midships on the dam, the forward end in the air and the stern taking in the turbid Sangamon water. Nobody knew what to do with the disaster except " the bow-oar," who is described as a gigantic youth " with his trousers rolled up some five feet," who was wading about the boat and rigging up some undescribed contrivance by which the cargo was unloaded, the boat tilted and the water let out by boring a hole through the bottom, and everything brought safely to moorings below the dam. This exploit gained for young Lincoln the -enthusiastic admiration of his employer, and turned his own mind in the direction of an invention which he afterwards patented " for lifting vessels over shoals." The model on which he obtained this patent — a little boat whittled by his own hand in 1849, after he had become promi­nent as a lawyer and politician — is still shown to visitors at the Department of the Interior. We have never learned that it has served any other purpose.

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ABEAHAM LINCOLN


chap. IV.

Lamon,

p. 83.





They made a quick trip down the Sangamon, the Illinois, and the Missis­sippi rivers. Although it was but a repetition in great part of the trip young Lincoln had made with Gentry, it evidently created a far deeper im­pression on his mind than the former one. The sim­ple and honest words of John Hanks leave no doubt of this. At New Orleans, he said, they saw for the first time " negroes chained, mal­treated, whipped, and scourged. Lincoln saw it; his heart bled; said nothing much, was silent, looked bad. I can say, knowing it, that it was on this trip that he formed his opinion of slavery. It run its iron in him then and there, May,

1831. I have heard him say so often." The sight of men in chains was intolerable to him. Ten years after this he made another journey by water with his friend Joshua Speed, of Kentucky. Writing to Speed about it after the lapse of four­teen years, he says: "In 1841 you and I had to­gether a tedious low-water trip on a steamboat from



KEDUCED FAC-SIMILE OF DBAWINGS IN THE PATENT OFFICE,

74 ABEAHAM LINCOLN

chap. iv. Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, tliat from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were on board ten or a dozen slaves shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me, and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio or any other slave border. It is not fair for you to assume that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable."

There have been several ingenious attempts to show the origin and occasion of Mr. Lincoln's antislavery convictions. They seem to us an idle waste of labor. These sentiments came with the first awakening of his mind and conscience, and were roused into active life and energy by the sight of fellow-creatures in chains on an Ohio River steamboat, and on the wharf at New Orleans.

The party went up the river in the early summer and separated in St. Louis. Abraham walked in company with John Johnston from St. Louis to Coles County, and spent a few weeks there with his father, who had made another migration the year before. His final move was to Goose Nest Prairie, where he died in 1851,1 at the age of seventy-three years, after a life which, though not success­ful in any material or worldly point of view, was probably far happier than that of his illustrious son, being unvexed by enterprise or ambition. Abraham never lost sight of his parents. He con­tinued to aid and befriend them in every way, even

i His grave, a mile and a half propriate monument erected by west of the town of Farmingtori, his grandson, the Hon. Robert T. Illinois, is surmounted by an ap- Lincoln,

NEW SALEM 75

when he could ill afford it, and when his benefac- chap. iv. tions were imprudently used. He not only com­forted their declining years with every aid his affection could suggest, but he did everything in his power to assist his stepbrother Johnston — a hopeless task enough. The following rigidly truth­ful and yet kindly letters will show how mentor-like and masterful, as well as generous, were the relations that Mr. Lincoln held to these friends and companions of his childhood:

bear johnston : Your request for eighty dollars I do not think it best to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little, you have said to me, " We can get along very well now," but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler. I doubt whether, since I saw you, you have done a good whole day's work in any one day. You do not very much dislike to work, and still you do not work much, merely because it does not seem to you that you could get much for it. This habit of uselessly wasting time is the whole difficulty, and it is. vastly important to you, and still more so to your chil­dren, that you should break the habit. It is more impor­tant to them because they have longer to live, and can keep out of an idle habit before they are in it easier than they can get out after they are in.

You are now in need of some money; and what I pro­pose is that you shall go to work "tooth and nail" for somebody who will give you money for it. Let father and your boys take charge of things at home, prepare for a crop, and make the crop; and you go to work for the best money wages, or in discharge of any debt you owe, that you can get; and to secure you a fair reward for your labor, I now promise you that for every dollar you will, between this and the first of next May, get for your own labor, either in money or as discharging your own indebted­ness, I will then give you one other dollar. By this, if you

76 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

chap. iv. hire yourself at ten dollars a month, from me you will get ten more, making twenty dollars a month for your work. In this I do not mean you should go off to St. Louis, or the lead mines, or the gold mines in Cali­fornia ; but I mean for you to go at it for the best wages you can get close to home, in Coles County. Now, if you will do this you will soon be out of debt, and, what is better, you will have a habit that will keep you from getting in debt again. But if I should now clear you out of debt, next year you would be just as deep in as ever. You say you would almost give your place in heaven for seventy or eighty dollars. Then you value your place in heaven very cheap, for I am sure you can with the offer I make get the seventy or eighty dollars for four or five months7 work. You say if I will furnish you the money you will deed me the land, and if you don't pay the money back you will deliver possession. Nonsense. If you can't now live with the land, how will you then live without it ? You have always been kind to me, and I do not mean to be unkind to you. On the contrary, if you will but follow my advice, you will find it worth more than eighty times eighty dollars to you.

Here is a later epistle, still more graphic and terse in statement, which has the unusual merit of painting both confessor and penitent to the life:

shelbyville, Nov. 4,1851.

dear brother: When I came into Charleston, day before yesterday, I learned that you were anxious to sell the land where you live and move to Missouri. I have been thinking of this ever since, and cannot but think such a notion is utterly foolish. What can you do in Missouri better than here ? Is the land any richer I Can you there, any more than here, raise corn and wheat and oats without work f Will anybody there, any more than here, do your work for you? If you intend to go to work, there is no better place than right where you are j if you do not intend to go to work, you cannot get along anywhere. Squirming and crawling about from place to place can do no good. You have raised no crop this year, and what you really want is to sell the land,

NEW SALEM 77

get the money, and spend it. Part with the land you chap.iv. have, and, my life upon it, you will never after own a spot big enough to bury you in. Half you will get for the land you will spend in moving to Missouri, and the other half you will eat and drink and wear out, and no foot of land will be bought. Now, I feel it is my duty to have no hand in such a piece of foolery. I feel that it is so even on your own account, and particularly on mother's account. The eastern forty acres I intend to keep for mother while she lives; if you will not cultivate it, it will rent for enough to support her; at least, it will rent for something. Her dower in the other two forties she can let you have, and no thanks to me. Now do not misunderstand this letter. I do not write it in any unkindness. I write it in order, if possible, to get you to face the truth, which truth is, you are destitute because you have idled away all your time. Your thou­sand pretenses deceive nobody but yourself. Go to work is the only cure for your case.

A volume of disquisition could not put more clearly before the reader the difference between Abraham Lincoln and the common run of Southern and Western rural laborers. He had the same dis­advantages that they had. He grew up in the midst of poverty and ignorance ; he was poisoned with the enervating malaria of the Western woods, as all his fellows were, and the consequences of it were seen in his character and conduct to the close of his life. But he had, what very few of them possessed any glimmering notion of, a fixed and inflexible will to succeed. He did not love work, probably, any better than John Johnston; but he had an innate self-respect, and a consciousness that his self was worthy of respect, that kept him from idleness as it kept him from all other vices, and made him a better man every year that he lived.

We have anticipated a score of years in speaking

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chap. iv. of Mr. Lincoln's relations to his family. It was in August of the year 1831 that he finally left his father's roof, and swung out for himself into the current of the world to make his fortune in his own way. He went down to New Salem again to assist Offutt in the business that lively specula­tor thought of establishing there. He was more punctual than either his employer or the merchan­dise, and met with the usual reward of punctuality in being forced to waste his time in waiting for the tardy ones. He seemed to the New Salem people to be " loafing"; several of them have given that description of him. He did one day's work acting as clerk of a local election, a lettered loafer being pretty sure of employment on such an occasion.1 He also piloted a boat down the San-gamon for one Dr. Nelson, who had had enough of New Salem and wanted to go to Texas. This was probably a task not requiring much pilot-craft, as the river was much swollen, and navigators had in most places two or three miles of channel to count upon. But Offutt and his goods arrived at last, and Lincoln and he got them immediately into position, and opened their doors to what commerce could be found in New Salem. There was clearly not enough to satisfy the volatile mind of Mr. Offutt, for he soon bought Cameron's mill at the historic dam, and made Abraham superintendent also of that branch of the business.

i Mrs. Lizzie H. Bell writes of come. They were looking around

this incident: " My father, Men- for a roan to fill his place when

ton Graham, was on that day, as my father noticed Mr. Lincoln

usual, appointed to be a clerk, and asked if he could write. He

and Mr. McNamee, who was to "be answered that 'he could make a

the other, was sick and failed to few rabbit tracks.' "

NEW SALEM 79

It is to be surmised that Offutt never inspired chap.iv. his neighbors and customers with any deep regard for his solidity of character. One of them says of Mm with injurious pleonasm, that he " talked too much with his mouth." A natural consequence of his excessive fluency was soon to be made dis­agreeably evident to his clerk. He admired Abra­ham beyond measure, and praised him beyond prudence. He said that Abe knew more than any man in the United States; and he was certainly not warranted in making such an assertion, as his own knowledge of the actual state of science in America could not have been exhaustive. He also said that Abe could beat any man in the county running, jumping, or "wrastling." This proposi­tion, being less abstract in its nature, was more readily grasped by the local mind, and was not likely to pass unchallenged.

Public opinion at New Salem was formed by a crowd of ruffianly young fellows who were called the " Clary's Grove Boys." Once or twice a week they descended upon the village and passed the day in drinking, fighting, and brutal horse-play. If a stranger appeared in the place, he was likely to suffer a rude initiation into the social life of New Salem at the hands of these jovial savages. Sometimes he was nailed up in a hogshead and rolled down hill; sometimes he was insulted into a fight and then mauled black and blue; for despite their pretentious to chivalry they had no scruples about fair play or any such superstitions of civil­ization. At first they did not seem inclined to molest young Lincoln. His appearance did not invite insolence; his reputation for strength and

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