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- The Life of Abraham Lincoln - 5/46 -
that Abe was the best boy I ever saw, or expect to see."
These words of praise redound to the honor of the speaker equally with that of her illustrious stepson.
Lincoln came into the estate of manhood morally clean. He had formed no habits that would cause years of struggle to overcome, he had committed no deed that would bring the blush of shame to his cheek, he was as free from vice as from crime. He was not profane, he had never tasted liquor, he was no brawler, he never gambled, he was honest and truthful. On the other hand, he had a genius for making friends, he was the center of every social circle, he was a good talker and a close reasoner. Without a thought of the great responsibilities awaiting him, he had thus far fitted himself well by his faithfulness in such duties as fell to him.
SECOND JOURNEY TO NEW ORLEANS.
The first winter in Illinois, 1830-31, was one of those epochal seasons which come to all communities. It is remembered by "the oldest inhabitant" to this day for the extraordinary amount of snow that fell. There is little doing in such a community during any winter; but in such a winter as that there was practically nothing doing. Lincoln always held himself ready to accept any opportunity for work, but there was no opening that winter. The only thing he accomplished was what he did every winter and every summer of his life: namely, he made many friends.
When spring opened, Denton Offutt decided to send a cargo of merchandise down to New Orleans. Hearing that Lincoln, John Hanks, and John Johnston were "likely boys," he employed them to take charge of the enterprise. Their pay was to be fifty cents a day and "found," and, if the enterprise proved successful, an additional sum of twenty dollars. Lincoln said that none of them had ever seen so much money at one time, and they were glad to accept the offer.
Two events occurred during this trip which are of sufficient interest to bear narration.
The boat with its cargo had been set afloat in the Sangamon River at Springfield. All went well until, at New Salem, they came to a mill dam where, in spite of the fact that the water was high, owing to the spring floods, the boat stuck. Lincoln rolled his trousers "five feet more or less" up his long, lank legs, waded out to the boat, and got the bow over the dam. Then, without waiting to bail the water out, he bored a hole in the bottom and let it run out. He constructed a machine which lifted and pushed the boat over the obstruction, and thus their voyage was quickly resumed. Many years later, when he was a practising lawyer, he whittled out a model of his invention and had it patented. The model may to-day be seen in the patent office at Washington. The patent brought him no fortune, but it is an interesting relic.
This incident is of itself entirely unimportant. It is narrated here solely because it illustrates one trait of the man--his ingenuity. He had remarkable fertility in devising ways and means of getting out of unexpected difficulties. When, in 1860, the Ship of State seemed like to run aground hopelessly, it was his determination and ingenuity that averted total wreck. As in his youth he saved the flatboat, so in his mature years he saved the nation.
The other event was that at New Orleans, where he saw with his own eyes some of the horrors of slavery. He never could tolerate a moral wrong. At a time when drinking was almost universal, he was a total abstainer. Though born in a slave state, he had an earnest and growing repugnance to slavery. Still, up to this time he had never seen much of its workings. At this time he saw a slave market--the auctioning off of human beings.
The details of this auction were so coarse and vile that it is impossible to defile these pages with an accurate and faithful description. Lincoln saw it all. He saw a beautiful mulatto girl exhibited like a race-horse, her "points" dwelt on, one by one, in order, as the auctioneer said, that "bidders might satisfy themselves whether the article they were offering to buy was sound or not." One of his companions justly said slavery ran the iron into him then and there. His soul was stirred with a righteous indignation. Turning to the others he exclaimed with a solemn oath: "Boys, if ever I get a chance to hit that thing [slavery] I'll hit it hard!"
He bided his time. One-third of a century later he had the chance to hit that thing. He redeemed his oath. He hit it hard.
Upon the arrival of the Lincoln family in Illinois, they had the few tools which would be considered almost necessary to every frontiersman: namely, a common ax, broad-ax, hand-saw, whip-saw. The mauls and wedges were of wood and were made by each workman for himself. To this stock of tools may also be added a small supply of nails brought from Indiana, for at that period nails were very expensive and used with the strictest economy. By means of pegs and other devices people managed to get along without them.
When Abraham Lincoln went to New Salem it was (like all frontier towns) a promising place. It grew until it had the enormous population of about one hundred people, housed--or log-cabined--in fifteen primitive structures. The tributary country was not very important in a commercial sense. To this population no less than four general stores-- that is, stores containing nearly everything that would be needed in that community--offered their wares.
The town flourished, at least it lived, about through the period that Lincoln dwelt there, after which it disappeared.
Lincoln was ready to take any work that would get him a living. A neighbor advised him to make use of his great strength in the work of a blacksmith. He seriously thought of learning the trade, but was, fortunately for the country, diverted from doing so.
The success of the expedition to New Orleans had won the admiration of his employer, Denton Offutt, and he now offered Lincoln a clerkship in his prospective store. The offer was accepted partly because it gave him some time to read, and it was here that he came to know the two great poets, Burns and Shakespeare.
Offutt's admiration of the young clerk did him credit, but his voluble expression of it was not judicious. He bragged that Lincoln was smart enough to be president, and that he could run faster, jump higher, throw farther, and "wrastle" better than any man in the country. In the neighborhood there was a gang of rowdies, kind at heart but very rough, known as "the Clary's Grove boys." They took the boasting of Offutt as a direct challenge to themselves and eagerly accepted it. So they put up a giant by the name of Jack Armstrong as their champion and arranged a "wrastling" match. All went indifferently for a while until Lincoln seemed to be getting the better of his antagonist, when the "boys" crowded in and interfered while Armstrong attempted a foul. Instantly Lincoln was furious. Putting forth all his strength he lifted Jack up and shook him as a terrier shakes a rat. The crowd, in their turn, became angry and set out to mob him. He backed up against a wall and in hot indignation awaited the onset. Armstrong was the first to recover his good sense. Exclaiming, "Boys, Abe Lincoln's the best fellow that ever broke into the settlement," he held out his hand to Lincoln who received it with perfect good nature. From that day these boys never lost their admiration for him. He was their hero. From that day, too, he became the permanent umpire, the general peacemaker of the region. His good nature, his self-command, and his manifest fairness placed his decisions beyond question. His popularity was established once for all in the entire community.
There are some, anecdotes connected with his work in the store which are worth preserving because they illustrate traits of his character. He once sold a half pound of tea to a customer. The next morning as he was tidying up the store he saw, by the weights which remained in the scales, that he had inadvertently given her four, instead of eight, ounces. He instantly weighed out the balance and carried it to her, not waiting for his breakfast.
At another time when he counted up his cash at night he discovered that he had charged a customer an excess of six and a quarter cents. He closed up the store at once and walked to the home of the customer, and returned the money. It was such things as these, in little matters as well as great, that gave him the nickname of "honest Abe" which, to his honor be it said, clung to him through life.
One incident illustrates his chivalry. While he was waiting upon some women, a ruffian came into the store using vulgar language. Lincoln asked him to desist, but he became more abusive than ever. After the women had gone, Lincoln took him out of the store, threw him on the ground, rubbed smartweed in his face and eyes until he howled for mercy, and then he gave him a lecture which did him more practical good than a volume of Chesterfield's letters.
Some time after Offutt's store had "winked out," while Lincoln was looking for employment there came a chance to buy one half interest in a store, the other half being owned by an idle, dissolute fellow named Berry who ultimately drank himself into his grave. Later, another opening came in the following way: the store of one Radford had been wrecked by the horse-play of some ruffians, and the lot was bought by Mr. Greene for four hundred dollars. He employed Lincoln to make an invoice of the goods and he in turn offered Greene two hundred and fifty dollars for the bargain and the offer was accepted. But even that was not the last investment. The fourth and only remaining store in the hamlet was owned by one Rutledge. This also was bought out by the firm of Berry & Lincoln. Thus they came to have the monopoly of the mercantile business in the hamlet of New Salem.
Be it known that in all these transactions not a dollar in money changed hands. Men bought with promissory notes and sold for the same consideration. The mercantile venture was not successful. Berry was drinking and loafing, and Lincoln, who did not work as faithfully for himself as for another, was usually reading or telling stories. So when a couple of strangers, Trent by name, offered to buy out the store, the offer was accepted and more promissory notes changed hands. About the time these last notes came due, the Trent brothers disappeared between two days. Then Berry died.
The outcome of the whole series of transactions was that Lincoln was left with an assortment of promissory notes bearing the names of the
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