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In 1834, when he was twenty-five years old, Lincoln made his first entrance into politics, presenting himself as candidate for the Assembly. His defeat was not without compensations; he secured in his own village or township, New Salem, no less than 208 out of the 211 votes cast. This prophet had honour with those who knew him. Two years later, he tried again and this time with success. His journeys as a surveyor had brought him into touch with, and into the confidence of, enough voters throughout the county to secure the needed majority.

Lincoln's active work as a lawyer lasted from 1834 to 1860, or for about twenty-six years. He secured in the cases undertaken by him a very large proportion of successful decisions. Such a result is not entirely to be credited to his effectiveness as an advocate. The first reason was that in his individual work, that is to say, in the matters that were taken up by himself rather than by his partner, he accepted no case in the justice of which he did not himself have full confidence. As his fame as an advocate increased, he was approached by an increasing number of clients who wanted the advantage of the effective service of the young lawyer and also of his assured reputation for honesty of statement and of management. Unless, however, he believed in the case, he put such suggestions to one side even at the time when the income was meagre and when every dollar was of importance.

Lincoln's record at the Bar has been somewhat obscured by the value of his public service, but as it comes to be studied, it is shown to have been both distinctive and important. His law-books were, like those of his original library, few, but whatever volumes he had of his own and whatever he was able to place his hands upon from the shelves of his friends, he mastered thoroughly. His work at the Bar gave evidence of his exceptional powers of reasoning while it was itself also a large influence in the development of such powers. The counsel who practised with and against him, the judges before whom his arguments were presented, and the members of the juries, the hard-headed working citizens of the State, seem to have all been equally impressed with the exceptional fairness with which the young lawyer presented not only his own case but that of his opponent. He had great tact in holding his friends, in convincing those who did not agree with him, and in winning over opponents; but he gave no futile effort to tasks which his judgment convinced him would prove impossible. He never, says Horace Porter, citing Lincoln's words, "wasted any time in trying to massage the back of a political porcupine." "A man might as well," says Lincoln, "undertake to throw fleas across the barnyard with a shovel."

He had as a youngster won repute as a teller of dramatic stories, and those who listened to his arguments in court were expecting to have his words to the jury brightened and rendered for the moment more effective by such stories. The hearers were often disappointed in such expectation. Neither at the Bar, nor, it may be said here, in his later work as a political leader, did Lincoln indulge himself in the telling a story for the sake of the story, nor for the sake of the laugh to be raised by the story, nor for the momentary pleasure or possible temporary advantage of the discomfiture of the opponent. The story was used, whether in law or in politics, only when it happened to be the shortest and most effective method of making clear an issue or of illustrating a statement. In later years, when he had upon him the terrible burdens of the great struggle, Lincoln used stories from time to time as a vent to his feelings. The impression given was that by an effort of will and in order to keep his mind from dwelling too continuously upon the tremendous problems upon which he was engaged, he would, by the use of some humorous reminiscence, set his thoughts in a direction as different as possible from that of his cares. A third and very valuable use of the story which grew up in his Washington days was to turn aside some persistent but impossible application; and to give to the applicant, with the least risk of unnecessary annoyance to his feelings, the "no" that was necessary. It is doubtless also the case that, as has happened to other men gifted with humour, Lincoln's reputation as a story-teller caused to be ascribed to him a great series of anecdotes and incidents of one kind or another, some of which would have been entirely outside of, and inconsistent with, his own standard and his own method. There is the further and final word to be said about Lincoln's stories, that they were entitled to the geometrical commendation of "being neither too long nor too broad."

In 1846, Lincoln was elected to Congress as a Whig. The circle of acquaintances whom he had made in the county as surveyor had widened out with his work as a lawyer; he secured a unanimous nomination and was elected without difficulty in a constituency comprising six counties. I find in the record of the campaign the detail that Lincoln returned to certain of his friends who had undertaken to find the funds for election expenses, $199.90 out of the $200 subscribed.

In 1847, Lincoln was one of the group of Whigs in Congress who opposed the Mexican War. These men took the ground that the war was one of aggression and spoliation. Their views, which were quite prevalent throughout New England, are effectively presented in Lowell's Biglow Papers. When the army was once in the field, Lincoln was, however, ready to give his Congressional vote for the fullest and most energetic support. A year or more later, he worked actively for the election of General Taylor. He took the ground that the responsibility for the war rested not with the soldiers who had fought it to a successful conclusion, but with the politicians who had devised the original land-grabbing scheme.

In 1849, we find Lincoln's name connected with an invention for lifting vessels over shoals. His sojourn on the Sangamon River and his memory of the attempt, successful for the moment but ending in failure, to make the river available for steamboats, had attracted his attention to the problem of steering river vessels over shoals.

In 1864, when I was campaigning on the Red River in Louisiana, I noticed with interest a device that had been put into shape for the purpose of lifting river steamers over shoals. This device took the form of stilts which for the smaller vessels (and only the smaller steamers could as a rule be managed in this way) were fastened on pivots from the upper deck on the outside of the hull and were worked from the deck with a force of two or three men at each stilt. The difficulty on the Red River was that the Rebel sharp-shooters from the banks made the management of the stilts irregular.

In 1854, Douglas carried through Congress the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. This bill repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and cancelled also the provisions of the series of compromises of 1850. Its purpose was to throw open for settlement and for later organisation as Slave States the whole territory of the North-west from which, under the Missouri Compromise, slavery had been excluded. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill not only threw open a great territory to slavery but re-opened the whole slavery discussion. The issues that were brought to the front in the discussions about this bill, and in the still more bitter contests after the passage of the bill in regard to the admission of Kansas as a Slave State, were the immediate precursors of the Civil War. The larger causes lay further back, but the War would have been postponed for an indefinite period if it had not been for the pressing on the part of the South for the right to make Slave States throughout the entire territory of the country, and for the readiness on the part of certain Democratic leaders of the North, of whom Douglas was the chief, to accept this contention, and through such expedients to gain, or to retain, political control for the Democratic party.

In one of the long series of debates in Congress on the question of the right to take slaves into free territory, a planter from South Carolina drew an affecting picture of his relations with his old coloured foster-mother, the "mammy" of the plantation. "Do you tell me," he said, addressing himself to a Free-soil opponent, "that I, a free American citizen, am not to be permitted, if I want to go across the Missouri River, to take with me my whole home circle? Do you say that I must leave my old 'Mammy' behind in South Carolina?" "Oh!" replied the Westerner, "the trouble with you is not that you cannot take your 'Mammy' into this free territory, but that you are not to be at liberty to sell her when you get her there."

Lincoln threw himself with full earnestness of conviction and ardour into the fight to preserve for freedom the territory belonging to the nation. In common with the majority of the Whig party, he held the opinion that if slavery could be restricted to the States in which it was already in existence, if no further States should be admitted into the union with the burden of slavery, the institution must, in the course of a generation or two, die out. He was clear in his mind that slavery was an enormous evil for the whites as well as for the blacks, for the individual as for the nation. He had himself, as a young man, been brought up to do toilsome manual labour. He would not admit that there was anything in manual labour that ought to impair the respect of the community for the labourer or the worker's respect for himself. Not the least of the evils of slavery was, in his judgment, its inevitable influence in bringing degradation upon labour and the labourer.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act made clear to the North that the South would accept no limitations for slavery. The position of the Southern leaders, in which they had the substantial backing of their constituents, was that slaves were property and that the Constitution, having guaranteed the protection of property to all the citizens of the commonwealth, a slaveholder was deprived of his constitutional rights as a citizen if his control of this portion of his property was in any way interfered with or restricted. The argument in behalf of this extreme Southern claim had been shaped most eloquently and most forcibly by John C. Calhoun during the years between 1830 and 1850. The Calhoun opinion was represented a few years later in the Presidential candidacy of John C. Breckinridge. The contention of the more extreme of the Northern opponents of slavery voters, whose spokesmen were William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, James G. Birney, Owen Lovejoy, and others, was that the Constitution in so far as it recognised slavery (which it did only by implication) was a compact with evil. They held that the Fathers had been led into this compact unwittingly and without full realisation of the responsibilities that they were assuming for the perpetuation of a great wrong. They refused to accept the view that later generations of American citizens were to be bound for an indefinite period by this error of judgment on the part of the Fathers. They proposed to get rid of slavery, as an institution incompatible with the principles on which the Republic was founded. They pointed out that under the Declaration of Independence all men had an equal right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and that there was no limitation of this claim to men of white race. If it was not going to be possible to argue slavery out of existence, these men preferred to have the union dissolved rather than to bring upon States like Massachusetts a share of the responsibility for the wrong done to mankind and to justice under the laws of South Carolina.

The Whig party, whose great leader, Henry Clay, had closed his life in 1852, just at the time when Lincoln was becoming prominent in politics, held that all citizens were bound by the compact entered into by their ancestors, first under the Articles of Confederation of 1783, and later under the Constitution of 1789. Our ancestors had, for the purpose of bringing about the organisation of the union, agreed to respect the institution of slavery in the States in which it existed. The Whigs of 1850, held, therefore, that in such of the Slave States as had been part of the original thirteen, slavery was an institution to be recognised and protected under the law of the land. They admitted, further, that what their grandfathers had done in 1789, had been in a measure confirmed by the action of their fathers in 1820. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, in making clear that all States thereafter organised north of the line thirty-six thirty were to be Free States, made clear also that States south of that line had the privilege of coming into the union with the institution of slavery and that the citizens in these newer Slave States should be assured of the same recognition and rights as had been accorded to those of the original thirteen.

The Missouri Compromise permitted also the introduction of Missouri itself into the union as a Slave State (as a counterpoise to the State of Maine admitted the same year), although almost the entire territory of the State of Missouri was north of the latitude 36° 30'.

We may recall that, under the Constitution, the States of the South, while denying the suffrage to the negro, had secured the right to include the negro population as a basis for their representation in the lower House. In apportioning the representatives to the population, five negroes were to be counted as the equivalent of three white men. The passage, in 1854, of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the purpose of which was to confirm the existence of slavery and to extend the institution throughout the country, was carried in the House by thirteen votes. The House contained at that time no less than twenty members representing the negro population. The negroes were, therefore, in this instance involuntarily made the instruments for strengthening the chains of their own serfdom.

It was in 1854 that Lincoln first propounded the famous question, "Can the nation endure half slave and half free?" This question, slightly modified, became the keynote four years later of Lincoln's contention against the Douglas theory of "squatter sovereignty." The organisation of the Republican party dates from 1856. Various claims have been made concerning the precise date and place at which were first presented the statement of principles that constituted the final platform of the party, and in regard to the men who were responsible for such statement. At a meeting held as far back as July, 1854, at Jackson, Michigan, a platform was adopted by a convention which had been brought together to formulate opposition to any extension of slavery, and this Jackson platform did contain the substance of the conclusions and certain of the phrases which later were included in the Republican platform. In January, 1856, Parke Godwin published in Putnam's Monthly, of which he was political editor, an article outlining the necessary constitution of the new party. This article gave a fuller expression than had thus far been made of the views of the men who were later accepted as the leaders of the Republican party. In May, 1856, Lincoln made a speech at Bloomington, Illinois, setting forth the principles for the anti-slavery campaign as they were understood by his group of Whigs. In this speech, Lincoln speaks of "that perfect liberty for which our Southern fellow-citizens are sighing, the liberty of making slaves of other people"; and again, "It is the contention of Mr. Douglas, in his claim for the rights of American citizens, that if A sees fit to enslave B, no other man shall have the right to object." Of this Bloomington speech, Herndon says: "It was logic; it was pathos; it was enthusiasm; it was justice, integrity, truth, and right. The words seemed to be set ablaze by the divine fires of a soul maddened by a great wrong. The utterance was hard, knotty, gnarly, backed with wrath."

From this time on, Lincoln was becoming known throughout the country as one of the leaders in the new issues, able and ready to give time and service to the anti-slavery fight and to the campaign work of the Republican organisation. This political service interfered to some extent with his work at the Bar, but he did not permit political interests to stand in the way of any obligations that had been assumed to his clients. He simply accepted fewer cases, and to this extent reduced his very moderate earnings. In his work as a lawyer, he never showed any particular capacity for increasing income or for looking after his own business interests. It was his principle and his practice to discourage litigation. He appears, during the twenty-five years in which he was in active practice, to have made absolutely no enemies among his professional opponents. He enjoyed an exceptional reputation for the frankness with which he would accept the legitimate contentions of his opponents or would even himself state their case. Judge David Davis, before whom Lincoln had occasion during these years to practise, says that the Court was always prepared to accept as absolutely fair and substantially complete Lincoln's statement of the matters at issue. Davis says it occasionally happened that Lincoln would supply some consideration of importance on his opponent's side of the case that the other counsel had overlooked. It was Lincoln's principle to impress upon himself at the outset the full strength of the other man's position. It was also his principle to accept no case in the justice of which he had not been able himself to believe. He possessed also by nature an exceptional capacity for the detection of faulty reasoning; and his exercise of the power of analysis in his work at the Bar proved of great service later in widening his influence as a political leader. The power that he possessed, when he was assured of the justice of his cause, of convincing court and jury became the power of impressing his convictions upon great bodies of voters. Later, when he had upon his shoulders the leadership of the nation, he took the people into his confidence; he reasoned with them as if they were sitting as a great jury for the determination of the national policy, and he was able to impress upon them his perfect integrity of purpose and the soundness of his conclusions,—conclusions which thus became the policy of the nation.

He calls himself a "mast-fed lawyer" and it is true that his opportunities for reading continued to be most restricted. Davis said in regard to Lincoln's work as a lawyer: "He had a magnificent equipoise of head, conscience, and heart. In non-essentials he was pliable; but on the underlying principles of truth and justice, his will was as firm as steel." We find from the record of Lincoln's work in the Assembly and later in Congress that he would never do as a Representative what he was unwilling to do as an individual. His capacity for seeing the humorous side of things was of course but a phase of a general clearness of perception. The man who sees things clearly, who is able to recognise both sides of a matter, the man who can see all round a position, the opposite of the man in blinders, that man necessarily has a sense of humour. He is able, if occasion presents, to laugh at himself. Lincoln's capacity for absorbing and for retaining information and for having this in readiness for use at the proper time was, as we have seen, something that went back to his boyhood. He says of himself: "My mind is something like a piece of steel; it is very hard to scratch anything on it and almost impossible after you have got it there to rub it out."

Lincoln's correspondence has been preserved with what is probably substantial completeness. The letters written by him to friends, acquaintances, political correspondents, individual men of one kind or another, have been gathered together and have been brought into print not, as is most frequently the case, under the discretion or judgment of a friendly biographer, but by a great variety of more or less sympathetic people. It would seem as if but very few of Lincoln's letters could have been mislaid or destroyed. One can but be impressed, in reading these letters, with the absolute honesty of purpose and of statement that characterises them. There are very few men, particularly those whose active lives have been passed in a period of political struggle and civil war, whose correspondence could stand such a test. There never came to Lincoln requirement to say to his correspondent, "Burn this letter."

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