Four Great Americans  by James Baldwin

The Story of Abraham Lincoln

Part 3 of 4

VII.—The First Years in Illinois

Early in the spring of 1830, Thomas Lincoln sold his farm in Indiana, and the whole family moved to Illinois. The household goods were put in a wagon drawn by four yoke of oxen. The kind stepmother and her daughters rode also in the wagon.

Abraham Lincoln, with a long whip in his hand, trudged through the mud by the side of the road and guided the oxen. Who that saw him thus going into Illinois would have dreamed that he would in time become that state's greatest citizen?

The journey was a long and hard one; but in two weeks they reached Decatur, where they had decided to make their new home.

Abraham Lincoln was now over twenty-one years old. He was his own man. But he stayed with his father that spring. He helped him fence his land; he helped him plant his corn.

But his father had no money to give him. The young man's clothing was all worn out, and he had nothing with which to buy any more. What should he do?

Three miles from his father's cabin there lived a thrifty woman, whose name was Nancy Miller. Mrs. Miller owned a flock of sheep, and in her house there were a spinning-wheel and a loom that were always busy. And so you must know that she wove a great deal of jeans and home-made cloth.

Abraham Lincoln bargained with this woman to make him a pair of trousers. He agreed that for each yard of cloth required, he would split for her four hundred rails.

He had to split fourteen hundred rails in all; but he worked so fast that he had finished them before the trousers were ready.

The next April saw young Lincoln piloting another flatboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans. His companion this time was his mother's relative, John Hanks. This time he stayed longer in New Orleans, and he saw some things which he had barely noticed on his first trip.

He saw gangs of slaves being driven through the streets. He visited the slave-market, and saw women and girls sold to the highest bidder like so many cattle.

The young man, who would not be unkind to any living being, was shocked by these sights. "His heart bled; he was mad, thoughtful, sad, and depressed."

He said to John Hanks, "If I ever get a chance to hit that institution, I'll hit it hard, John."

He came back from New Orleans in July. Mr. Offut, the owner of the flatboat which he had taken down, then employed him to act as clerk in a country store which he had at New Salem.

New Salem was a little town not far from Springfield.

Young Lincoln was a good salesman, and all the customers liked him. Mr. Offut declared that the young man knew more than any one else in the United States, and that he could outrun and outwrestle any man in the county.

But in the spring of the next year Mr. Offut failed. The store was closed, and Abraham Lincoln was out of employment again.

VIII.—The Black Hawk War

There were still a good many Indians in the West. The Sac Indians had lately sold their lands in northern Illinois to the United States. They had then moved across the Mississippi River, to other lands that had been set apart for them.

But they did not like their new home. At last they made up their minds to go back to their former hunting-grounds. They were led by a chief whose name was Black Hawk; and they began by killing the white settlers and burning their houses and crops.

This was in the spring of 1832.

The whole state of Illinois was in alarm. The governor called for volunteers to help the United States soldiers drive the Indians back.

Abraham Lincoln enlisted. His company elected him captain.

He did not know anything about military tactics. He did not know how to give orders to his men. But he did the best that he could, and learned a great deal by experience.

His company marched northward and westward until they came to the Mississippi River. But they did not meet any Indians, and so there was no fighting.

The young men under Captain Lincoln were rude fellows from the prairies and backwoods. They were rough in their manners, and hard to control. But they had very high respect for their captain.

Perhaps this was because of his great strength, and his skill in wrestling; for he could put the roughest and strongest of them on their backs. Perhaps it was because he was good-natured and kind, and, at the same time, very firm and decisive.

In a few weeks the time for which the company had enlisted came to an end. The young men were tired of being soldiers; and so all, except Captain Lincoln and one man, were glad to hurry home.

But Captain Lincoln never gave up anything half done. He enlisted again. This time he was a private in a company of mounted rangers.

The main camp of the volunteers and soldiers was on the banks of the Rock River, in northern Illinois.

Here, one day, Abraham Lincoln saw a young lieutenant of the United States army, whose name was Jefferson Davis. It is not likely that the fine young officer noticed the rough-clad ranger; but they were to know more of each other at a future time.

Three weeks after that the war was at an end. The Indians had been beaten in a battle, and Black Hawk had been taken prisoner.

But Abraham Lincoln had not been in any fight. He had not seen any Indians, except peaceable ones.

In June his company was mustered out, and he returned home to New Salem.

He was then twenty-three years old.

IX.—In the Legislature

When Abraham Lincoln came back to New Salem it was nearly time for the state election. The people of the town and neighborhood wanted to send him to the legislature, and he agreed to be a candidate.

It was at Pappsville, twelve miles from Springfield, that he made his first campaign speech.

He said: "Gentlemen and fellow-citizens—

"I presume you all know who I am.

"I am humble Abraham Lincoln. I have been solicited by my friends to become a candidate for the legislature.

"My politics are short and sweet.

I am in favor of a national bank; am in favor of the internal improvement system, and a high protective tariff.

"These are my sentiments and political principles. If elected, I shall be thankful; if not, it will be all the same."

He was a tall, gawky, rough-looking fellow. He was dressed in a coarse suit of homespun, much the worse for wear.

A few days after that, he made a longer and better speech at Springfield.

But he was not elected.

About this time a worthless fellow, whose name was Berry, persuaded Mr. Lincoln to help him buy a store in New Salem. Mr. Lincoln had no money, but he gave his notes for the value of half the goods.

The venture was not a profitable one. In a few months the store was sold; but Abraham did not receive a dollar for it. It was six years before he was able to pay off the notes which he had given.

During all this time Mr. Lincoln did not give up the idea of being a lawyer. He bought a second-hand copy of Blackstone's Commentaries  at auction. He studied it so diligently that in a few weeks he had mastered the whole of it.

He bought an old form-book, and began to draw up contracts, deeds, and all kinds of legal papers.

He would often walk to Springfield, fourteen miles away, to borrow a book; and he would master thirty or forty pages of it while returning home.

Soon he began to practice in a small way before justices of the peace and country juries. He was appointed postmaster at New Salem, but so little mail came to the place that the office was soon discontinued.

He was nearly twenty-five years old. But, with all his industry, he could hardly earn money enough to pay for his board and clothing.

He had learned a little about surveying while living in Indiana. He now took up the study again, and was soon appointed deputy surveyor of Sangamon county.

He was very skillful as a surveyor. Although his chain was only a grapevine, he was very accurate and never made mistakes.

The next year he was again a candidate for the legislature. This time the people were ready to vote for him, and he was elected. It was no small thing for so young a man to be chosen to help make the laws of his state.

No man ever had fewer advantages than Abraham Lincoln. As a boy, he was the poorest of the poor. No rich friend held out a helping hand. But see what he had already accomplished by pluck, perseverance, and honesty!

He had not had access to many books, but he knew books better than most men of his age. He knew the Bible by heart; he was familiar with Shakespeare; he could repeat nearly all the poems of Burns; he knew much about physics and mechanics; he had mastered the elements of law.

He was very awkward and far from handsome, but he was so modest, so unselfish and kind, that every one who knew him liked him. He was a true gentleman—a gentleman at heart, if not in outside polish.

And so, as I have already said, Abraham Lincoln, at the age of twenty-five, was elected to the state legislature. He served the people so well that when his term closed, two years later, they sent him back for another term.

The capital of Illinois had, up to this time, been at Vandalia. Mr. Lincoln and his friends now succeeded in having a law passed to remove it to Springfield. Springfield was nearer to the center of the state; it was more convenient to everybody, and had other advantages which Vandalia did not have.

The people of Springfield were so delighted that they urged Mr. Lincoln to come there and practice law. An older lawyer, whose name was John T. Stuart, and who had a good practice, offered to take him in partnership with him.

And so, in 1837, Abraham Lincoln left New Salem and removed to Springfield. He did not have much to move. All the goods that he had in the world were a few clothes, which he carried in a pair of saddlebags, and two or three law books. He had no money, and he rode into Springfield on a borrowed horse.

He was then twenty-eight years old.

From that time on, Springfield was his home.

X.—Politics and Marriage

The next year after his removal to Springfield, Mr. Lincoln was elected to the legislature for the third time.

There were then, in this country, two great political parties, the Democrats and the Whigs. Mr. Lincoln was a Whig, and he soon became the leader of his party in the state. But the Whigs were not so strong as the Democrats.

The legislature was in session only a few weeks each year; and so Mr. Lincoln could devote all the rest of the time to the practice of law. There were many able lawyers in Illinois; but Abe Lincoln of Springfield soon made himself known among the best of them.

In 1840, he was again elected to the legislature. This was the year in which General William H. Harrison was elected president of the United States. General Harrison was a Whig; and Mr. Lincoln's name was on the Whig ticket as a candidate for presidential elector in his state.

The presidential campaign was one of the most exciting that had ever been known. It was called the "log cabin" campaign, because General Harrison had lived in a log cabin, and his opponents had sneered at his poverty.

In the East as well as in the West, the excitement was very great. In every city and town and village, wherever there was a political meeting, a log cabin was seen. On one side of the low door hung a long-handled gourd; on the other side, a coon-skin was nailed to the logs; the blue smoke curled up from the top of the stick-and-clay chimney.

You may believe that Abraham Lincoln went into this campaign with all his heart. He traveled over a part of the state, making stump-speeches for his party.

One of his ablest opponents was a young lawyer, not quite his own age, whose name was Stephen A. Douglas. In many places, during this campaign, Lincoln and Douglas met in public debate upon the questions of the day. And both of them were so shrewd, so well informed, and so eloquent, that those who heard them were unable to decide which was the greater of the two.

General Harrison was elected, but not through the help of Mr. Lincoln; for the vote of Illinois that year was for the Democratic candidate.

In 1842, when he was thirty-three years old, Mr. Lincoln was married to Miss Mary Todd, a young lady from Kentucky, who had lately come to Springfield on a visit.


For some time after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln lived in a hotel called the "Globe Tavern," paying four dollars a week for rooms and board. But, in 1844, Mr. Lincoln bought a small, but comfortable frame house, and in this they lived until they went to the White House, seventeen years later.

Although he had been successful as a young lawyer, Mr. Lincoln was still a poor man. But Mrs. Lincoln said: "I would rather have a good man, a man of mind, with bright prospects for success and power and fame, than marry one with all the horses and houses and gold in the world."

XI.—Congressman and Lawyer

In 1846, Mr. Lincoln was again elected to the legislature.

In the following year the people of his district chose him to be their representative in Congress. He took his seat in December. He was then thirty-nine years old. He was the only Whig from Illinois.

There were many famous men in Congress at that time. Mr. Lincoln's lifelong rival, Stephen A. Douglas, was one of the senators from Illinois. He had already served a term or two in the House of Representatives.

Daniel Webster was also in the senate; and so was John C. Calhoun; and so was Jefferson Davis.

Mr. Lincoln took an active interest in all the subjects that came before Congress. He made many speeches. But, perhaps, the most important thing that he did at this time was to propose a bill for the abolition of the slave-trade in the city of Washington.

He believed that slavery was unjust to the slave and harmful to the nation. He wanted to do what he could to keep it from becoming a still greater evil. But the bill was opposed so strongly that it was not even voted upon.

After the close of Mr. Lincoln's term in Congress, he hoped that President Taylor, who was a Whig, might appoint him to a good office. But in this he was disappointed.

And so, in 1849, he returned to his home in Springfield, and again settled down to the practice of law.

He was then forty years old. Considering the poverty of his youth, he had done great things for himself. But he had not done much for his country. Outside of his own state his name was still unknown.

His life for the next few years was like that of any other successful lawyer in the newly-settled West. He had a large practice, but his fees were very small. His income from his profession was seldom more than $2,000 a year.

His habits were very simple. He lived comfortably and respectably. In his modest little home there was an air of order and refinement, but no show of luxury.

No matter where he might go, Mr. Lincoln would have been known as a Western man. He was six feet four inches in height. His face was very homely, but very kind.

He was cordial and friendly in his manners. There was something about him which made everybody feel that he was a sincere, truthful, upright man. He was known among his neighbors as "Honest Abe Lincoln."