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 MANHOOD The second period of Lincoln's religious life extends from his removal into Illinois in March of 1830 until the establishment of his residence in Springfield, April 15, 1837.
Thomas Lincoln was a thriftless farmer who blamed external conditions for his misfortunes. Following a second appearance of the "milk sick," which came to southern Indiana in the winter of 1829, he and his family removed in March of 1830 to Illinois. Abraham was twenty-one years of age. He assisted his father to get established in the new home, to which a wearying journey of fourteen days had brought the household, and then set out in life for himself. For several months he worked near home, but in the spring of 1831 he made his second flatboat trip to New Orleans. The boat stuck on a dam at Rutledge's mill at New Salem, and his ingenuity in getting it over the dam won him local fame and had something to do with his subsequent establishment of a home there. The flatboat stuck on April 19, 1831. In June he returned to New Salem and entered into business with Denton Offutt in a small and non-remunerative general store. While waiting for the opening of this store he became acquainted with Mentor Graham, a school teacher of local celebrity, whom Lincoln assisted as clerk of a local election, and through him learned the contents of Kirkham's Grammar, and also acquired the essential elements of surveying. New Salem was a sporadic town which had no good reason to exist. It was established in 1829 and lasted barely seven years. It was located on the Sangamon River, some fifteen miles from Springfield.
In February, 1832, this flatboat hand, then working as clerk, began his canvass for the Legislature, his formal an[Pg 52]nouncement of candidacy appearing March 9. He was defeated, but received an encouraging local vote. In 1832 he had a brief experience as a soldier, serving in the Black Hawk War, starting in pursuit of the Indians on April 27 and returning in July. Excepting for his absences at the Black Hawk War and in attendance upon the meetings of the Legislature in Vandalia, he was in New Salem practically during the whole of the history of that little town. He established a partnership in the firm of Lincoln & Berry, keepers of a general store, a business for which he had no qualification, and he accumulated debts, which he was unable to pay in full until after his first term in Congress seventeen years later. On May 7, 1833, he became postmaster of the microscopic village of New Salem, and held that position until May 30, 1836, about which date the town disappeared. In August, 1834, he was elected to the Legislature, then sitting at Vandalia, and had an important share in the removal of the state capital from there to Springfield.
In New Salem occurred two of Lincoln's three recorded love affairs.[16] In 1834 he fell in love with Ann Rutledge, to[Pg 53] whom he became engaged, and who died, August 25, 1835. In the autumn of 1836 he made love to Miss Mary Owens, who refused him. These two love affairs are related in detail by Lamon and by Herndon; the second of them gave rise to Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Browning, one of the least creditable things that ever came from his pen (Herndon, I, 192).
Heart-broken over the death of Ann Rutledge and ashamed of himself for his lack of gallantry in his love affair with Miss Owens, he saw New Salem doomed in all its hopes of being a city.
While sitting about the store waiting for business which did not come, he read law after a desultory fashion, becoming what he called not inappropriately "a mast-fed lawyer." For the benefit of any reader to whom this term conveys no meaning, it may be stated that "mast" consists of acorns, nuts, and other edible commodities, which hogs running at large in the wilderness are able to feed upon. Between a hog corn-fed in a stye and a backwoods mast-fed razor-back, there is a marked difference, and Lincoln's phrase was a very apt one. In the autumn of 1836 he obtained a law license. On March, 1837, he was admitted to the bar. On April 15, 1837, he moved to Springfield.
With his Springfield experience we shall deal later; that is an epoch by itself. We now consider the conditions of life in New Salem and their influence in shaking the religious character of Abraham Lincoln. New Salem, while an insignificant hamlet, was located on the Sangamon River and received its share of the travel to and from Springfield. Its central institutions were its tavern, where Lincoln boarded, and the store,[Pg 54] where he read grammar and law, discussed politics, and occasionally sold goods.
The influence of life in New Salem upon the mind of Abraham Lincoln was very marked. We must not make the mistake of considering it solely in the character of a poor little frontier town destined to short life and in its day of no consequence to the world. To Lincoln it was a city, and it had its own ambitions to become a greater city. Although it had scarcely twenty houses, not one of them costing much over a hundred dollars, and not more than a hundred inhabitants, it was to him no mean city. Here Lincoln developed rapidly. He read, discussed, thought, wrote, and spoke on a wide variety of subjects. His style was that of florid declamation, a stump oratory with some affectation of erudition. He made the most of his few books, and every one of them left its deep impression upon him. He continued to read the Bible, and grew somewhat familiar with Shakespeare, Burns, and even Byron. While there was no church building in New Salem, and church services were irregular, such services as were held were generally in the tavern where he boarded, a tavern kept at first by James Rutledge and afterward by Henry Onstott. It is interesting to cull out of T. G. Onstott's reminiscences a number that are based on his own recollections, supplemented perhaps by traditions received from his father:
"After James Rutledge moved out of the log tavern, my father, Henry Onstott, moved in and occupied it from 1833 till 1835, and still had for a boarder Abraham Lincoln. It was at this time that my early impressions of him were formed. We did not know at that time that we were entertaining an angel unawares. My first knowledge of him was as a great marble player. He kept us small boys running in all directions gathering up the marbles he would scatter. During this time he followed surveying, having learned in six weeks from books furnished him by John Calhoun, of Springfield. About this time he commenced to read some law-books which he borrowed of Bowling Green, who lived one-half mile north of Salem. I think my father and Esquire Green did more than any other two men in determining Lincoln's future destiny."— [Pg 55]T. G. Onstott: Lincoln and Salem—Pioneers of Menard and Mason Counties, p. 25.
Of Lincoln's habits he says:
"Lincoln never drank liquor of any kind and never chewed or smoked. We never heard him swear, though Judge Weldon said at the Salem Chautauqua that once in his life when he was excited he said, 'By Jing!'"—Onstott: Lincoln and Salem, p. 73.
Of Peter Cartwright, Onstott says:
"He was a great man for camp-meetings and prayer meetings. He was converted at a camp-meeting, and in his early ministry lived in a tented grove from two to three months in a year. He said: 'May the day be eternally distant when camp-meetings, class meetings, prayer meetings, and love feasts shall be laid aside in Methodist churches.'...
"There was sound preaching in those days. The preachers preached hell and damnation more than they do now. They could hold a sinner over the pit of fire and brimstone till he could see himself hanging by a slender thread, and he would surrender and accept the gospel that was offered to him."—Onstott: Lincoln and Salem, pp. 120, 127.
Of one of these preachers, Abraham Bale, Onstott says:
"He had a habit when preaching of grasping his left ear with his hand, then leaning over as far as he could and lowering his voice. He would commence to straighten up and his voice would rise to a high key. He would pound the Bible with his fist and stamp the floor, and carry everything before him. He created excitement in the first years of his ministry in Salem. He was a Baptist, though not of the hardshell persuasion."—Onstott: Lincoln and Salem, p. 149.
This was the general and accepted habit of Baptist preachers in that movement, and the author has heard scores of sermons delivered in this fashion.
Of the religious life of early Illinois and of frontier communities in general, Professor Pease says:
[Pg 56]
"Religion came to be the most universally persuasive intellectual force of the frontier. As might be expected, on the frontier the first tendency was toward a disregard of religious observances. The emigrant from the older settled regions left behind him the machinery and the establishment of sectarian religion. Until that machinery could be set up again on the frontier he lived without formal worship and often for the time at least the sense of the need of it passed out of his life. In cases where observance had been due to social convention, there was no doubt a welcome feeling of freedom and unrestraint.
"Normally the frontiersman was unreligious. Birkbeck noted with relish the absence of ceremony at baptism or funeral and the tolerance of all backwoods preachers alike, whether they raved or reasoned. Sunday was a day for riot and disorder. Other observers looked with horror on such a state of things, did their best to set up at least stated regular worship, and noted an improvement in morals as a result."—Pease: Centennial History of Illinois, II, 23.
There were, however, some compensations. Fordham wrote:
"This is not the land of hypocrisy. It would not here have its reward. Religion is not the road to wordly respectability, nor a possession of it the cloak of immorality."—Personal Narrative, p. 128.
Of the sporadic nature of much of the religious effort on the frontier, Professor Buck says:
"In spite of the tremendous exertions of the pioneer preachers, many of the remote settlements must have been practically devoid of religious observances, and even in the older settlements the influence of occasional visitations, however inspiring they might be, was often lacking in permanence."—Illinois in 1818, p. 179.
Of the lack of permanence there may be some room for a difference of judgment; there certainly was lack of continuity. As in Kentucky and southern Indiana, and for a time in[Pg 57] southern Illinois, there was no expectation of a regular weekly religious service conducted by any one minister, but preachers moved in extended circuits and no considerable settlement was long without occasional religious service.
There was much godlessness in many of the early settlements. John Messenger wrote in 1815: "The American inhabitants in the villages appear to have very little reverence for Christianity or serious things in any point of view."
While there was some attempt at Sabbath observance, Reynolds says:
"In early times in many settlements of Illinois, Sunday was observed by the Americans only as a day of rest from work. They generally were employed in hunting, fishing, getting up their stock, hunting bees, breaking young horses, shooting at marks, horse and foot racing, and the like. When the Americans were to make an important journey they generally started on Sunday and never on Friday; they often said; 'the better the day the better the deed,'"—Reynolds: My Own Times, p. 80.
One must not infer from the irregularity of religious services that the people in these new regions were wholly without religion. Professor Buck says:
"The spiritual welfare of the Illinois pioneers was not neglected. The religious observances, with the exception of those of the French Catholics, were of the familiar type. The principal Protestant denominations at the close of the territorial period were the Methodists and the Baptists, the latter classified as 'regular,' or 'hardshell,' and separating. Presbyterianism was just beginning to get a foothold. The ministers were of two types—the circuit rider, who covered wide stretches of country and devoted all his time to religious work, and the occasional preacher who supplemented his meager income from the church by farming or some other occupation."—Buck: Illinois in 1818, p. 173.
Governor Ford has left an account of the unlearned but zealous frontier preachers, of their sermons, and of the results of their work, which cannot easily be improved upon:
[Pg 58]
"Preachers of the gospel frequently sprang up from the body of the people at home, without previous training, except in religious exercises and in the study of the Holy Scriptures. In those primitive times it was not thought to be necessary that a teacher of religion should be a scholar. It was thought to be his business to preach from a knowledge of the Scriptures alone, to make appeals warm from the heart, to paint heaven and hell to the imagination of the sinner, to terrify him with the one, and to promise the other as a reward for a life of righteousness. However ignorant these first preachers may have been, they could be at no loss to find congregations still more ignorant, so that they were still capable of instructing someone. Many of them added to their knowledge of the Bible, a diligent perusal of Young's Night Thoughts, Watts' hymns, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Hervey's Meditations, a knowledge of which gave more compass to their thoughts, to be expressed in a profuse, flowery language, and raised their feelings to the utmost height of poetical enthusiasm.
"Sometimes their sermons turned upon matters of controversy; unlearned arguments on the subject of free grace, baptism, free-will, election, faith, good works, justification, sanctification, and the final perseverance of the saints. But that in which they excelled, was the earnestness of their words and manner, leaving no doubt of the strongest conviction in their own minds, and in the vividness of the pictures which they drew of the ineffable blessedness of heaven, and the awful torments of the wicked in the fire and brimstone appointed for eternal punishment. These, with the love of God to sinful man, the sufferings of the Saviour, the dangerous apathy of sinners, and exhortations to repentance, furnished themes for the most vehement and passionate declamations. But above all, they continually inculcated the great principles of justice and sound morality.
"As many of these preachers were nearly destitute of learning and knowledge, they made up in loud hallooing and violent action what they lacked in information. And it was a matter of astonishment to what length they could spin out a sermon embracing only a few ideas. The merit of a sermon was measured somewhat by the length of it, by the flowery language of the speaker, and by his vociferation and violent[Pg 59] gestures. Nevertheless, these first preachers were of incalculable benefit to the country. They inculcated justice and morality, and to the sanction of the highest human motives to regard them, added those which arise from a belief of the greatest conceivable amount of future rewards and punishments. They were truly patriotic also; for at a time when the country was so poor that no other kind of ministry could have been maintained in it, they preached without charge to the people, working week days to aid the scanty charities of their flocks, in furnishing themselves with a scantier living. They believed with a positive certainty that they saw the souls of men rushing to perdition; and they stepped forward to warn and to save, with all the enthusiasm and self-devotion of a generous man who risks his own life to save his neighbor from drowning. And to them are we indebted for the first Christian character of the Protestant portion of this people."—Thomas Ford: History of Illinois, pp. 38-40.
"Of the hostility of certain of the early Baptists to enlightenment, there is abundant evidence in their own fierce opposition to their ablest minister, John Mason Peck. He was born in 1789 in the Congregational atmosphere of Connecticut, but, becoming a Baptist by conviction, became a missionary to the West in 1817. His foes were they of his own household. They fiercely fought against Bible societies, Sunday schools, and missionary societies. In 1828, when Peter Cartwright and James Lemen endeavored to secure the passage of a bill for the prevention of vice and immorality, there was an attempt to amend it in the interests of certain of the Hardshell Baptists by adding to the section against the disturbance of public worship a clause to fine in any sum not less than five dollars or more than fifteen any person who on Sunday would sell any pamphlet or book or take up an offering 'for the support of missionary societies, Bible societies, or Sunday school.' There were not less than twelve members of the House of Representatives who voted for this bill."—Pease: Centennial History of Illinois, II, 28, 29.
One evidence of the hostility of many of the early inhabitants and especially of some who were active in politics toward organized religion, as well as the tendency of ministers of that[Pg 60] period to participate in politics, is found in the fact that Illinois narrowly escaped having in her Constitution a provision disqualifying all ministers to hold office in the State. When the Constitutional Convention assembled at Kaskaskia this question was earnestly discussed, and the controversy was waged also in the columns of the Western Intelligencer, which was published in Kaskaskia from 1806 to 1814. A writer who signed himself "A Foe to Religious Tyranny" roundly denounced the political sermons of certain of the ministers, and charged that they intended to disqualify any citizens for office excepting "professors of religion."
When the first draft of the Constitution was submitted in August, 1818, Article II, Section 26, read: "Whereas the ministers of the gospel are by their profession dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their function: Therefore, no minister of the gospel or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either house of the Legislature."
This article was warmly commended by a writer in the Intelligencer under date of August 12, 1818, who commended the framers of the Constitution for their provision "to exempt ministers of the gospel from the servile and arduous drudgery of legislation, and of electioneering to procure themselves seats in the Legislature," but urged the convention to extend the provision so as to disqualify ministers from holding any office whatever. A number of members of the Constitutional Convention favored this drastic proscription. On the first reading the proposed article was approved; but it was later reconsidered and voted down.
Ministers thus were left on a plane with other citizens as regarded the holding of public office; and their candidacy for the Legislature especially was not infrequent; indeed, one of the writers who engaged in this controversy considered the appalling possibility that the Constitutional Convention might have been composed entirely of ministers, and that some future session of the Legislature might find them in complete control. There never was any danger that ministers would make up a controlling faction in the Illinois Legislature; but they were[Pg 61] not a negligible element in the early political life of the State.
Lincoln soon came into the political atmosphere which was thus affected by religious controversy, and it had an influence upon him. His most formidable and persistent opponent, until he met Douglas, was a Methodist preacher, the redoubtable Peter Cartwright who defeated him in a contest for the Legislature and whom he defeated in a race for Congress. Lincoln was quite familiar with religion in its relation to politics in early Illinois.
Of Lincoln's theological opinions, especially those which he cherished while at New Salem, and which Herndon believed he did not materially change, Herndon says:
"Inasmuch as he was often a candidate for public office Mr. Lincoln said as little as possible about his religious opinions, especially if he failed to coincide with the orthodox world. In illustration of his religious code, I once heard him say that it was like that of an old man named Glenn, in Indiana, whom he heard speak at a religious meeting, and who said, 'When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad; and that's my religion.' In 1834, while still living in New Salem, and before he became a lawyer, he was surrounded by a class of people exceedingly liberal in matters of religion. Volney's Ruins and Paine's Age of Reason passed from hand to hand, and furnished food for the evening's discussion in the tavern and village store. Lincoln read both these books, and assimilated them into his own being. He prepared an extended essay—called by many, a book—in which he made an argument against Christianity, striving to prove that the Bible was not inspired, and therefore not God's revelation, and that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God. The manuscript containing these audacious and comprehensive propositions he intended to have published or given a wide circulation in some other way. He carried it to the store, where it was read and freely discussed. His friend and employer, Samuel Hill, was among the listeners, and seriously questioning the propriety of a promising young man like Lincoln fathering such unpopular notions, he snatched the manuscript from his hands, and thrust it into the stove. The book went up in[Pg 62] flames, and Mr. Lincoln's political future was secure. But his infidelity and his skeptical views were not diminished."—Herndon, III, 439-440.
We shall have occasion in a subsequent chapter to recur to this so-called book which Lincoln is alleged to have written while in New Salem. It is sufficient at this time to remember, and the fact must not be overlooked, that our knowledge of this book depends solely upon the testimony of Herndon. Herndon never saw the book, and so far as is known he never talked with anyone who had seen it. He affirms that Lincoln never denied having written a book on the subject of religion, but he nowhere claims that Lincoln told him in detail concerning its contents. Herndon's principal visit, and perhaps the only one which he made to New Salem in quest of literary material, was in October in 1866. He had attended the Circuit Court of Menard County on Saturday, October 13, and on Sunday morning at 11:20 A.M., as he tells us with painstaking and lawyer-like particularity, he visited the site of New Salem. That afternoon and a part of the next morning, which he says was misty, cloudy, foggy, and cold, he made inquiry of the oldest inhabitant of that part of the country and wrote out the substance of his lecture on Ann Rutledge. This was a whole generation after Lincoln had removed from the now depopulated New Salem, and there were very few people in the neighborhood who remembered him through any personal association. The town had completely disappeared, but Herndon found the site of the houses that once had stood there, and also found and identified the grave of Ann Rutledge. To that visit we are indebted for a good deal of our knowledge of the background of Lincoln's life during this formative epoch. But we are not bound to accept all of Mr. Herndon's inferences regarding it.
It must be remembered that Herndon's lecture did not pass unchallenged. So small was the audience when he delivered it and so uniformally unfavorable were the press comments that he never repeated this lecture, and some of its statements are open to question. It is not in this lecture that[Pg 63] we learn of the essay which Lincoln is alleged to have written in criticism of the Bible, but that was the visit on which Herndon appears to have gathered his information concerning Lincoln's more intimate relations with New Salem.
There is no good reason to doubt that Lincoln during this period read Volney and Paine, and that having read them he rushed rather quickly to paper and set down his immature thoughts in argumentative fashion. It would divert us from our present purpose of portraying the environment if we were to consider in detail at this point the story of Lincoln's burnt book. The reader will do well to remember, however, that Herndon, though truthful, was not infallible nor on this point free from bias; that neither Herndon nor anyone else then living was known to have seen, much less to have read, the book alleged to have been burned thirty-two years before; and that there was abundant opportunity not only for exaggeration but even for a complete misunderstanding concerning the actual content of this book.
Indeed, this incident has been allowed to pass with too little criticism or challenge. Those who did not believe Lincoln to have been a man of faith were glad to accept the story; those who believed that he later was a man of faith were not wholly unwilling to believe that he had once been an infidel and later had undergone a marked change of opinion. There seemed no good reason to dispute Herndon, and no one else was supposed to know more about the subject than he. But we shall discover that Herndon may not have learned the whole truth. There is more than a possibility that the manuscript that was burned was a document of quite another sort.
If Lincoln was regarded as an infidel, and if he ever was tempted to think himself one, we should not be justified in accepting that judgment as final until we knew and considered what was required in that time and place to constitute a man an infidel.
In the mind of most if not all of the Baptist preachers whom Lincoln heard while he was at New Salem, a belief that the earth was round was sufficient to brand a man as an infidel. The Methodists, as a rule, would have admitted that[Pg 64] the earth was round, but Peter Cartwright would probably have considered a man an infidel who believed that the earth was not created in seven literal days. At Vandalia, Lincoln heard some ministers of wider vision, such as Edward Beecher and Julian M. Sturtevant, who were occasionally there, and John Mason Peck; but these experiences were rare. His association with Methodists was largely in the political arena, where he crossed swords three times with Peter Cartwright. That doughty hero of the Cross was born in Virginia on September 1, 1786, and exerted a mighty influence for good in early Illinois. With a nominal salary of $80 a year, and an actual salary of $30 or $40, he rode thousands of miles through deep mud, baptized 8,000 children and 4,000 adults, conducted camp-meetings and political campaigns, and sang and shouted and in his own language whipped the devil round the stump and hit him a crack at every jump until his death at Pleasant Plains, Illinois, September 25, 1872. He defeated Lincoln for the Legislature, and was defeated by him for Congress in 1846. So far as we know, Lincoln left no record of his feeling toward Cartwright and the Methodists. He could not have failed to respect such men, but it is not altogether certain that he was tempted to love them.
By the time Lincoln was seventeen, and possibly earlier, he believed the earth to be round. I shall not succeed in making the reader understand the possible effect of this discovery upon him and certain of his associates without relating an experience of my own.
In the summer of 1881, being then a college student on vacation, I taught school in the mountains of Kentucky far beyond the end of the railroad. The school was a large and prosperous one and brought many students from other districts who paid a trifling tuition and were preparing to teach. The curriculum included everything from the alphabet to a simplified normal course. A majority of my pupils had but one textbook, Webster's Blueback Speller. I endeavored to make up for the lack of textbooks by lessons in the Natural Sciences and in such other branches of study as seemed adapted to the requirements of my pupils. After a few weeks one of[Pg 65] my pupils, son of a Baptist minister, was taken out of school. His father being interviewed stated that he was sorry to have the boy lose his education, but could not afford to permit him to be converted to infidelity. What the boy had learned which disturbed his father was that the earth was round.
The subject provoked widespread discussion, and finally resulted in a joint debate between two school teachers and two Baptist preachers on the question:
"Resolved, That the earth is flat and stationary, and that the sun moves around it once in twenty-four hours."
At early candle-lighting on two successive Friday evenings this question was debated. On each night the procedure was the same. Each of the speakers spoke forty-five minutes, and each of the leaders spent a half-hour in rebuttal, a total of four hours each evening of solid oratory. I should like to relate, but it would unduly extend this narrative, the learned arguments of the two college students who stood for the rotundity of the earth, and how those arguments were met. I well remember the closing argument of my chief opponent, not the local preacher but an abler man whom he brought in, the cousin of a Confederate General of the same name (though himself a stanch union man) who stood beside and above me with long descending gestures that threatened to crush my skull as he shouted:
"He's a college student-ah! And he's come out here to larn us and instruct us about the shape of the yarth-ah! And he knows more'n Joshua-ah! And he'd take Joshua into this here school and tell him he didn't know what he'd ort to pray for-ah! He'd tell Joshua that he hadn't orter said, 'Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon-ah, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon-ah!' He'd tell Joshua that he'd ort to have prayed, 'Yarth, stand thou still upon thine axle-tree-ah!' But I reckon God knowed what Joshua had ort to have prayed for, for it is written in the Word of God that the sun stood still-ah! I tell ye, brethering, hit's the doctrine of infidelity-ah! And any man that teaches it ort to be drove out of the country-ah!"
There is much more of the story, but this must suffice[Pg 66] to illustrate an important point. Until he went to live in Springfield, Abraham Lincoln probably never had heard a Baptist preacher, unless it was John Mason Peck on some errand to Vandalia, who did not believe the earth flat, and who would not have classified Abraham Lincoln as an infidel for denying the declaration.
Now, I knew that I was not an infidel, even though I parted company with my friends in the Baptist ministry in my belief that the earth was round, and even though I had a similar debate with a well-informed Methodist preacher on the length of time that was required to make the earth. But Abraham Lincoln did not know. Thomas Paine and the preachers were agreed in their misinformation.
I count it a privilege to have lived with earnest and intelligent people who believed the earth flat, and to whom that belief was an important article of Christian faith. But I saw intelligent young men who had come to another opinion concerning some of these matters who accepted without protest the names that overzealous mountain preachers applied to them, and who, believing themselves to be infidels, in time became so.
Not many of Lincoln's biographers, if indeed any of them, have shared these advantages which for several profitable years I had in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee; and I am less ready than some of even the most orthodox of them have been to accept the declaration that when Lincoln left New Salem he was an infidel. Even if I knew that he thought himself to be such, I should like before forming my final conclusion to know just what he thought constituted an infidel. I do not think that at this period of his history Abraham Lincoln possessed an adequate knowledge of the subject to have been altogether competent to classify himself.
A few things we know about him. He had established a reputation for courage, for kindness, and for honesty. "Honest Abe" was his sobriquet, and he deserved it. Whatever his opinions, he held them honestly; and neither on earth nor in heaven can any man be rightfully condemned for the holding of an honest opinion.
We shall have occasion later to refer to Mentor Graham,[Pg 67] and to quote him. He came into Lincoln's life at this time, and taught him Kirkham's Grammar, and the study of surveying, and assisted him with his literary composition. He knew more of the mind of Abraham Lincoln during this period than any other man, and we shall hear from him in due time.
New Salem "winked out," as Lincoln was accustomed to say. It disappeared from the map. The post-office was discontinued. There was nothing to hold Lincoln there. But the great city of Springfield, with its one thousand inhabitants and its majestic pride in its new State Capitol, which Lincoln had done much to remove thither from Vandalia, beckoned to this ambitious young lawyer and politician, and on March 15, 1837, he borrowed a horse, rode to Springfield with all his worldly goods in his saddlebags, and the saddlebags none too full, and thereafter became a resident of the capital city of Illinois, and a permanent factor in its legal and political life.
Lincoln arrived in New Salem on April 19, 1831, a tall, lank flatboat hand, with his trousers rolled up "about five feet," and he left it on a borrowed horse with all his belongings in a pair of saddlebags, March 15, 1837. So far as worldly wealth was concerned, he was richer when he arrived at the age of twenty-two than when he left at the age of twenty-eight, for he was heavily in debt. It had fared better with him financially had he spent those six years in Illinois College at Jacksonville. He might have entered Springfield at the same time with a college diploma and a smaller debt. A college education was not impossible for him, and he might have had it had he cared for it as much as did the Green brothers or the brother of Ann Rutledge, or, among his later associates, Shelby M. Collum or Newton Bateman. It is a fair question whether an education under such good and great men as Julian M. Sturtevant and Edward Beecher would have been more or less valuable than what he actually got; in any event, it was not an impossibility if he had cared as much for it as did some other boys as poor as he.
But New Salem was his alma mater, as Mrs. Atkinson[Pg 68] has aptly termed it, and there he got what had to stand as the equivalent of his academic course.
To have seen him entering New Salem on a flatboat and leaving it on a borrowed horse, one might easily have arrived at very erroneous conclusions as to what the six years had done for him. But the years were not lost.
He came to New Salem a strong pioneer, proud of his great height, and he always remained almost childishly proud of it, and ready to challenge any other tall man to back up to him and discover which was the taller. He was capable of hard work, and disinclined to perform it. Thomas Lincoln had taught him to work, but not to love work; and his employers declared that he loved labor far less than his meals and pay. If he must work, he preferred almost any kind of work rather than that of the farm, and he had welcomed the brief experiences of the river and had serious thoughts of being a blacksmith. He had prized his great strength less for the labor he might perform than for the supremacy which it gave him in physical contests; and it had made him the admired leader of the local wrestlers and the idol of the Clary Grove gang.
He had come to New Salem able to read, and to make what he called "rabbit tracks" as clerk on election day, assisting Mentor Graham, who rewarded him many fold in what he later taught to the young giant. He left New Salem a competent surveyor, a member of the bar, a representative in the Legislature, and, he might have called himself Captain, if he had chosen to do so, or even taken advantage of the frontier's ready system of post-bellum promotions and acquired higher rank as an officer who had seen actual military service. He had the good sense not to do this, and about the only commendable thing in his one important speech in Congress in later years was his mirthful description of his own military performance.
He had learned to think, to compose reasonably good English, to stand on his feet and debate. He had learned to measure his intellectual strength against that of other men, and to come out ahead at least part of the time. He was pos[Pg 69]sessed of almost inordinate ambition, and had no false notion that in his case the office was to seek the man;[17] he was more than ready for any office that would support him, enable him to reduce his "national debt," and advance him toward something higher. He was entering the profession of the law, but law was to him as yet a means to an end, and that end was office. Politics was the vocation and law the avocation in a large percentage of the law offices in Illinois and other new States; and Lincoln was a politician long before he was a lawyer.
His residence in New Salem had tested his moral character and confirmed his personal habits. He did not drink nor swear nor use tobacco.
In a state of society such as then existed, there was almost nothing which such a young man might not have aspired to, and Lincoln had high self-esteem and large aspiration. From this distance we see him leaving New Salem to "wink out" while he rode his borrowed steed far beyond Springfield, to tether him at last where Thomas Jefferson is alleged to have hitched his horse, to the palings of the White House.
But it was no exultant mood which possessed the soul of Lincoln as he turned his back upon his alma mater and went forth to conquer the world. He was a briefless lawyer, and bedless as well as briefless. He had met and mastered men, but had become painfully aware of his own poverty, his lack of education, his utter ignorance of the usages of even such polite society as had been in New Salem, to say nothing of that in Springfield.
He was unsettled in love and unsettled in religion, though he had been on speaking terms with both. He had loved and lost Ann Rutledge, and he did not love Mary Owens and could not lose her. He was about to begin one of the loneliest periods of his very lonely life. For a year only one woman in Springfield spoke to him, and she would rather not have[Pg 70] done so. He did not go to church nor mingle in society, but faced the hard and bitter problems that confronted him in earning a living, making some small payments on his debt, settling his relations with Mary Owens, and possibly giving some thought to his soul. But this was not a time of one of his spiritual high water-marks.
If we had seen Abraham Lincoln as he entered New Salem and again six years later as he left it, we should have found small reason to anticipate very much of what afterward occurred. But looking back upon him in the light of what occurred afterward, we discern the "promise and potency" of the great man he afterward became in the sad young man who already had become a leader of men, and had earned the right to be called "Honest Abe."

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