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- Lectures and Essays - 50/67 -

we did the sinking and not the sun."

Abe was tired of his home, as a son of Thomas Lincoln might be, without disparagement to his filial piety; and he was glad to get off with a neighbour on a commercial trip down the river to New Orleans. The trip was successful in a small way, and Abe soon after repeated it with other companions. He shewed his practical ingenuity in getting the boat off a dam, and perhaps still more signally in quieting some restive hogs by the simple expedient of sewing up their eyes. In the first trip the great emancipator came in contact with the negro in a way that did not seem likely to prepossess him in favour of the race. The boat was boarded by negro robbers, who were repulsed only after a fray in which Abe got a scar which he carried to the grave. But he saw with his own eyes slaves manacled and whipped at New Orleans; and though his sympathies were not far-reaching, the actual sight of suffering never failed to make an impression on his mind. "In 1841," he says, in a letter to a friend, "you and I had together a tedious low-water trip on a steamboat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that 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 continued torment to me, and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio or any other slave border." A negrophilist he never became. "I protest," he said afterwards, when engaged in the slavery controversy, "against the counterfeit logic which concludes that because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either. I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread which she earns with her own hands she is my equal and the equal of all others." It would be difficult to put the case better.

While Abraham Lincoln was trading to New Orleans his father, Thomas Lincoln, was on the move again. This time he migrated to Illinois, and there again shifted from place to place, gathering no moss, till he died as thriftless and poor as he had lived. We have, in later years, an application from him to his son for money, to which the son responds in a tone which implies some doubt as to the strict accuracy of the ground on which the old gentleman's request was preferred. Their relations were evidently not very affectionate, though there is nothing unfilial in Abe's conduct. Abraham himself drifted to Salem on the Sangamon, in Illinois, twenty miles north-west of Springfield, where he became clerk in a new store, set up by Denton Offutt, with whom he had formed a connection in one of his trips to New Orleans. Salem was then a village of a dozen houses, and the little centre of a society very like that of Pigeon Creek and its neighbourhood, but more decidedly western. We are told that "here Mr. Lincoln became acquainted with a class of men the world never saw the like of before or since. They were large men,--large in body and large in mind; hard to whip and never to be fooled. They were a bold, daring and reckless set of men; they were men of their own mind,--believed what was demonstrable, were men of great common sense. With these men Mr. Lincoln was thrown; with them he lived and with them he moved and almost had his being. They were sceptics all--scoffers some. These scoffers were good men, and their scoffs were protests against theology,--loud protests against the follies of Christianity; they had never heard of theism and the new and better religious thoughts of this age. Hence, being natural sceptics and being bold, brave men they uttered their thoughts freely.... They were on all occasions, when opportunity offered, debating the various questions of Christianity among themselves; they took their stand on common sense and on their own souls; and though their arguments were rude and rough, no man could overthrow their homely logic. They riddled all divines, and not unfrequently made them sceptics,--disbelievers as bad as themselves. They were a jovial, healthful, generous, true and manly set of people." It is evident that W. Herndon, the speaker, is himself a disbeliever in Christianity, and addicted to the "newer and better thought of this age." He gives one specimen, which we have omitted for fear of shocking our readers, of the theological criticism of these redoubtable logicians of nature; and we are inclined to infer from it that the divines whom they "riddled" and converted to scepticism must have been children of nature as well as themselves. The passage, however, is a life-like, though idealized, portrait of the Western man; and the tendency to religious scepticism of the most daring kind is as truly ascribed to him as the rest.

It seems to be proved by conclusive evidence that Mr. Lincoln shared the sentiments of his companions, and that he was never a member of any Church, a believer in the divinity of Christ, or a Christian of any denomination. He is described as an avowed, an open freethinker, sometimes bordering on atheism, going extreme lengths against Christian doctrines, and "shocking" men whom it was probably not very easy to shock. He even wrote a little work on "Infidelity," attacking Christianity in general, and especially the belief that Jesus was the Son of God; but the manuscript was destroyed by a prescient friend, who knew that its publication would ruin the writer in the political market. There is reason to believe that Burns contributed to Lincoln's scepticism, but he drew it more directly from Volney, Paine, Hume and Gibbon. His fits of downright atheism appear to have been transient; his settled belief was theism with a morality which, though he was not aware of it, he had really derived from the Gospel. It is needless to say that the case had never been rationally presented to him, and that his decision against Christianity would prove nothing, even if his mind had been more powerful than it was. His theism was not strong enough to save him from deep depression under misfortune; and we heard, on what we thought at the time good authority, that after Chancellorsville, he actually meditated suicide. Like many sceptics, he was liable to superstition, especially to the superstition of self-consciousness, a conviction that he was the subject of a special decree made by some nameless and mysterious power. Even from a belief in apparitions he was not free. "It was just after my election, in 1860," he said to his Secretary, John Hay, "when the news had been coming in thick and fast all day, and there had been a great 'hurrah, boys!' so that I was well tired, I went home to rest, throwing myself upon a lounge in my chamber. Opposite to where I lay was a bureau with a swinging glass upon it; and, on looking in that glass, I saw myself reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed, had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass; but the illusion vanished. On lying down again I saw it a second time--plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler--say five shades--than the other. I got up and the thing melted away; and I went off and in the excitement of the hour forgot all about it,--nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up and give me a little pang, as though something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home I told my wife about it; and in a few days afterwards I tried the experiment again, when, sure enough, the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously, to show it to my wife, who was worried about it somewhat. She thought it was 'a sign' that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term." The apparition is, of course, easily explained by reference to a generally morbid temperament and a specially excited fancy. The impression which it made on the mind of a sceptic, noted for never believing in anything which was not actually submitted to his senses, is an instance of the tendency of superstition to creep into the void left in the heart by faith, and as such may be classed with the astrological superstitions of the Roman Empire, and of that later age of religious and moral infidelity of which the prophet was Machiavelli. But if Mr. John Hay has faithfully repeated Lincoln's words, a point upon which we may have our doubts without prejudice to Mr. Hay's veracity, Mrs. Lincoln's interpretation of the vision is, to say the least, a very curious coincidence.

The flower of the heroic race in the neighbourhood of Salem, were the "Clary's Grove boys," whose chief and champion was Jack Armstrong. "Never," we are assured, "was there a more generous parcel of ruffians than those over whom Jack held sway." It does not appear, however, that the term ruffian is altogether misplaced. The boys were in the habit of "initiating" candidates for admission to society at New Salem. "They first bantered the gentleman to run a foot race, jump, pitch the mall, or wrestle; and if none of these propositions seemed agreeable to him, they would request to know what he would do in case another gentleman should pull his nose or squirt tobacco juice in his face. If he did not seem entirely decided in his views as to what should be done in such a contingency, perhaps he would be nailed in a hogshead and rolled down New Salem hill, perhaps his ideas would be brightened by a brief ducking in the Sangamon; or perhaps he would be scoffed, kicked and cuffed by a great number of persons in concert, until he reached the confines of the village, and then turned adrift as being unfit company for the people of that settlement." If the stranger consented to race or wrestle, it was arranged that there should be foul play, which would lead to a fight; a proper display of mettle in which was accepted as a proof of the "gentleman's" fitness for society. Abe escaped initiation, his length and strength of limb being apparently deemed satisfactory evidence of his social respectability. But Clary's Grove was at last brought down upon him by the indiscretion of his friend and admirer, Offutt, who was already beginning to run him for President, and whose vauntings of his powers made a trial of strength inevitable. A wrestling match was contrived between Lincoln and Jack Armstrong, and money, jackknives and whiskey were freely staked on the result. Neither combatant could throw the other, and Abe proposed to Jack to "quit." But Jack, goaded on by his partisans, resorted to a "foul," upon which Abe's righteous wrath blazed up, and taking the champion of Clary's Grove by the throat he "shook him like a child." A fight was impending, and Abe, his back planted against Offutt's store, was facing a circle of foes, when a mediator appeared. Jack Armstrong was so satisfied of the strength of Abe's arm, that he at once declared him the best fellow that ever came into the settlement, and the two thenceforth reigned conjointly over the roughs and bullies of New Salem. Abe seems always to have used his power humanely and to have done his best to substitute arbitration for war. A strange man coming into the settlement, on being beset as usual by Clary's Grove and insulted by Jack Armstrong, knocked the bully down with a stick. Jack being as strong as two of him was going to "whip him badly," when Abe interposed, "Well Jack, what did you say to the man?" Jack repeated his words. "And what would you do if you were in a strange place and you were called a d--d liar?" "Whip him, by ---." "Then that man has done to you no more than you have done to him." Jack acknowledged the golden rule and "treated" his intended victim. If there were ever dissensions between the two "Caesars" of Salem, it was because Jack "in the abundance of his animal spirits" was addicted to nailing people in barrels and rolling them down the hill, while Abe was always on the side of mercy.

Abe's popularity grew apace; his ambition grew with it; it is astonishing how readily and freely the plant sprouts upon that soil. He was at this time carrying on his education evidently with a view to public life. Books were not easily found. He wanted to study English Grammar, considering that accomplishment desirable for a statesman; and, being told that there was a grammar in a house six miles from Salem, he left his breakfast at once and walked off to borrow it. He would slip away into the woods and spend hours in study and thinking. He sat up late at night, and as light was expensive, made a blaze of shavings in the cooper's shop. He waylaid every visitor to New Salem who had any pretence to scholarship, and extracted explanations of things which he did not understand. It does not appear that the work of Adam Smith, or any work upon political economy, currency, or any financial subject fell into the hands of the student who was destined to conduct the most tremendous operations in the whole history of finance.

The next episode in Lincoln's life which may be regarded as a part of his training was the command of a company of militia in the "Black Hawk"

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