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Four Great Americans: Washington, Franklin, Webster, Lincoln by James Baldwin

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* * * * *


Not far from Hodgensville, in Kentucky, there once lived a man whose
name was Thomas Lincoln. This man had built for himself a little log
cabin by the side of a brook, where there was an ever-flowing spring of

There was but one room in this cabin. On the side next to the brook
there was a low doorway; and at one end there was a large fireplace,
built of rough stones and clay.

The chimney was very broad at the bottom and narrow at the top. It was
made of clay, with flat stones and slender sticks laid around the
outside to keep it from falling apart.

In the wall, on one side of the fireplace, there was a square hole for a
window. But there was no glass in this window. In the summer it was
left open all the time. In cold weather a deerskin, or a piece of
coarse cloth, was hung over it to keep out the wind and the snow.

At night, or on stormy days, the skin of a bear was hung across the
doorway; for there was no door on hinges to be opened and shut.

There was no ceiling to the room. But the inmates of the cabin, by
looking up, could see the bare rafters and the rough roof-boards, which
Mr. Lincoln himself had split and hewn.

There was no floor, but only the bare ground that had been smoothed and
beaten until it was as level and hard as pavement.

For chairs there were only blocks of wood and a rude bench on one side
of the fireplace. The bed was a little platform of poles, on which were
spread the furry skins of wild animals, and a patchwork quilt of
homespun goods.

In this poor cabin, on the 12th of February, 1809, a baby boy was born.
There was already one child in the family--a girl, two years old, whose
name was Sarah.

The little boy grew and became strong like other babies, and his
parents named him Abraham, after his grandfather, who had been killed by
the Indians many years before.

When he was old enough to run about, he liked to play under the trees by
the cabin door. Sometimes he would go with his little sister into the
woods and watch the birds and the squirrels.

He had no playmates. He did not know the meaning of toys or playthings.
But he was a happy child and had many pleasant ways.

Thomas Lincoln, the father, was a kind-hearted man, very strong and
brave. Sometimes he would take the child on his knee and tell him
strange, true stories of the great forest, and of the Indians and the
fierce beasts that roamed among the woods and hills.

For Thomas Lincoln had always lived on the wild frontier; and he would
rather hunt deer and other game in the forest than do anything else.
Perhaps this is why he was so poor. Perhaps this is why he was content
to live in the little log cabin with so few of the comforts of life.

But Nancy Lincoln, the young mother, did not complain. She, too, had
grown up among the rude scenes of the backwoods. She had never known
better things.

And yet she was by nature refined and gentle; and people who knew her
said that she was very handsome. She was a model housekeeper, too; and
her poor log cabin was the neatest and best-kept house in all that

No woman could be busier than she. She knew how to spin and weave, and
she made all the clothing for her family.

She knew how to wield the ax and the hoe; and she could work on the farm
or in the garden when her help was needed.

She had also learned how to shoot with a rifle; and she could bring down
a deer or other wild game with as much ease as could her husband. And
when the game was brought home, she could dress it, she could cook the
flesh for food, and of the skins she could make clothing for her husband
and children.

There was still another thing that she could do--she could read; and she
read all the books that she could get hold of. She taught her husband
the letters of the alphabet; and she showed him how to write his name.
For Thomas Lincoln had never gone to school, and he had never learned
how to read.

As soon as little Abraham Lincoln was old enough to understand, his
mother read stories to him from the Bible. Then, while he was still very
young, she taught him to read the stories for himself.

The neighbors thought it a wonderful thing that so small a boy could
read. There were very few of them who could do as much. Few of them
thought it of any great use to learn how to read.

There were no school-houses in that part of Kentucky in those days, and
of course there were no public schools.

One winter a traveling schoolmaster came that way. He got leave to use a
cabin not far from Mr. Lincoln's, and gave notice that he would teach
school for two or three weeks. The people were too poor to pay him for
teaching longer.

The name of this schoolmaster was Zachariah Riney.

The young people for miles around flocked to the school. Most of them
were big boys and girls, and a few were grown up young men. The only
little child was Abraham Lincoln, and he was not yet five years old.

There was only one book studied at that school, and it was a
spelling-book. It had some easy reading lessons at the end, but these
were not to be read until after every word in the book had been spelled.

You can imagine how the big boys and girls felt when Abraham Lincoln
proved that he could spell and read better than any of them.

* * * * *


In the autumn, just after Abraham Lincoln was eight years old, his
parents left their Kentucky home and moved to Spencer county, in

It was not yet a year since Indiana had become a state. Land could be
bought very cheap, and Mr. Lincoln thought that he could make a good
living there for his family. He had heard also that game was plentiful
in the Indiana woods.

It was not more than seventy or eighty miles from the old home to the
new. But it seemed very far, indeed, and it was a good many days before
the travelers reached their journey's end. Over a part of the way there
was no road, and the movers had to cut a path for themselves through the
thick woods.

The boy, Abraham, was tall and very strong for his age. He already knew
how to handle an ax, and few men could shoot with a rifle better than
he. He was his father's helper in all kinds of work.

It was in November when the family came to the place which was to be
their future home. Winter was near at hand. There was no house, nor
shelter of any kind. What would become of the patient, tired mother, and
the gentle little sister, who had borne themselves so bravely during the
long, hard journey?

No sooner had the horses been loosed from the wagon than Abraham and
his father were at work with their axes. In a short time they had built
what they called a "camp."

This camp was but a rude shed, made of poles and thatched with leaves
and branches. It was enclosed on three sides, so that the chill winds or
the driving rains from the north and west could not enter. The fourth
side was left open, and in front of it a fire was built.

This fire was kept burning all the time. It warmed the interior of the
camp. A big iron kettle was hung over it by means of a chain and pole,
and in this kettle the fat bacon, the venison, the beans, and the corn
were boiled for the family's dinner and supper. In the hot ashes the
good mother baked luscious "corn dodgers," and sometimes, perhaps, a few

In one end of the camp were the few cooking utensils and little articles
of furniture which even the poorest house cannot do without. The rest of
the space was the family sitting-room and bed-room. The floor was
covered with leaves, and on these were spread the furry skins of deer
and bears, and other animals.

It was in this camp that the family spent their first winter in Indiana.
How very cold and dreary that winter must have been! Think of the stormy
nights, of the shrieking wind, of the snow and the sleet and the bitter
frost! It is not much wonder if, before the spring months came, the
mother's strength began to fail.

But it was a busy winter for Thomas Lincoln. Every day his ax was heard
in the woods. He was clearing the ground, so that in the spring it might
be planted with corn and vegetables.

He was hewing logs for his new house; for he had made up his mind, now,
to have something better than a cabin.

The woods were full of wild animals. It was easy for Abraham and his
father to kill plenty of game, and thus keep the family supplied with
fresh meat.

And Abraham, with chopping and hewing and hunting and trapping, was very
busy for a little boy. He had but little time to play; and, since he
had no playmates, we cannot know whether he even wanted to play.

With his mother, he read over and over the Bible stories which both of
them loved so well. And, during the cold, stormy days, when he could not
leave the camp, his mother taught him how to write.

In the spring the new house was raised. It was only a hewed log house,
with one room below and a loft above. But it was so much better than the
old cabin in Kentucky that it seemed like a palace.

The family had become so tired of living in the "camp," that they moved
into the new house before the floor was laid, or any door hung at the

Then came the plowing and the planting and the hoeing. Everybody was
busy from daylight to dark. There were so many trees and stumps that
there was but little room for the corn to grow.

The summer passed, and autumn came. Then the poor mother's strength gave
out. She could no longer go about her household duties. She had to
depend more and more upon the help that her children could give her.

At length she became too feeble to leave her bed. She called her boy to
her side. She put her arms about him and said: "Abraham, I am going away
from you, and you will never see me again. I know that you will always
be good and kind to your sister and father. Try to live as I have taught
you, and to love your heavenly Father."

On the 5th of October she fell asleep, never to wake again.

Under a big sycamore tree, half a mile from the house, the neighbors dug
the grave for the mother of Abraham Lincoln. And there they buried her
in silence and great sorrow.

There was no minister there to conduct religious services. In all that
new country there was no church; and no holy man could be found to speak
words of comfort and hope to the grieving ones around the grave.

But the boy, Abraham, remembered a traveling preacher, whom they had
known in Kentucky. The name of this preacher was David Elkin. If he
would only come!

And so, after all was over, the lad sat down and wrote a letter to David
Elkin. He was only a child nine years old, but he believed that the good
man would remember his poor mother, and come.

It was no easy task to write a letter. Paper and ink were not things of
common use, as they are with us. A pen had to be made from the quill of
a goose.

But at last the letter was finished and sent away. How it was carried I
do not know; for the mails were few and far between in those days, and
postage was very high. It is more than likely that some friend, who was
going into Kentucky, undertook to have it finally handed to the good

Months passed. The leaves were again on the trees. The wild flowers were
blossoming in the woods. At last the preacher came.

He had ridden a hundred miles on horseback; he had forded rivers, and
traveled through pathless woods; he had dared the dangers of the wild
forest: all in answer to the lad's beseeching letter.

He had no hope of reward, save that which is given to every man who does
his duty. He did not know that there would come a time when the greatest
preachers in the world would envy him his sad task.

And now the friends and neighbors gathered again under the great
sycamore tree. The funeral sermon was preached. Hymns were sung. A
prayer was offered. Words of comfort and sympathy were spoken.

From that time forward the mind of Abraham Lincoln was filled with a
high and noble purpose. In his earliest childhood his mother had taught
him to love truth and justice, to be honest and upright among men, and
to reverence God. These lessons he never forgot.

Long afterward, when the world had come to know him as a very great man,
he said: "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."

* * * * *


The log house, which Abraham Lincoln called his home, was now more
lonely and cheerless than before. The sunlight of his mother's presence
had gone out of it forever.

His sister Sarah, twelve years old, was the housekeeper and cook. His
father had not yet found time to lay a floor in the house, or to hang a
door. There were great crevices between the logs, through which the wind
and the rain drifted on every stormy day. There was not much comfort in
such a house.

But the lad was never idle. In the long winter days, when there was no
work to be done, he spent the time in reading or in trying to improve
his writing.

There were very few books in the cabins of that backwoods settlement.
But if Abraham Lincoln heard of one, he could not rest till he had
borrowed it and read it.

Another summer passed, and then another winter. Then, one day, Mr.
Lincoln went on a visit to Kentucky, leaving his two children and their
cousin, Dennis Hanks, at home to care for the house and the farm.

I do not know how long he stayed away, but it could not have been many
weeks. One evening, the children were surprised to see a four-horse
wagon draw up before the door.

Their father was in the wagon; and by his side was a kind-faced woman;
and, sitting on the straw at the bottom of the wagon-bed, there were
three well-dressed children--two girls and a boy.

And there were some grand things in the wagon, too. There were six
split-bottomed chairs, a bureau with drawers, a wooden chest, and a
feather bed. All these things were very wonderful to the lad and lassie
who had never known the use of such luxuries.

"Abraham and Sarah," said Mr. Lincoln, as he leaped from the wagon, "I
have brought you a new mother and a new brother and two new sisters."

The new mother greeted them very kindly, and, no doubt, looked with
gentle pity upon them. They were barefooted; their scant clothing was
little more than rags and tatters; they did not look much like her own
happy children, whom she had cared for so well.

And now it was not long until a great change was made in the Lincoln
home. A floor was laid, a door was hung, a window was made, the crevices
between the logs were daubed with clay.

The house was furnished in fine style, with the chairs and the bureau
and the feather bed. The kind, new mother brought sunshine and hope into
the place that had once been so cheerless.

With the young lad, Dennis Hanks, there were now six children in the
family. But all were treated with the same kindness; all had the same
motherly care. And so, in the midst of much hard work, there were many
pleasant days for them all.

* * * * *


Not very long after this, the people of the neighborhood made up their
minds that they must have a school-house. And so, one day after
harvest, the men met together and chopped down trees, and built a little
low-roofed log cabin to serve for that purpose.

If you could see that cabin you would think it a queer kind of
school-house. There was no floor. There was only one window, and in it
were strips of greased paper pasted across, instead of glass. There were
no desks, but only rough benches made of logs split in halves. In one
end of the room was a huge fireplace; at the other end was the low

The first teacher was a man whose name was Azel Dorsey. The term of
school was very short; for the settlers could not afford to pay him
much. It was in mid-winter, for then there was no work for the big boys
to do at home.

And the big boys, as well as the girls and the smaller boys, for miles
around, came in to learn what they could from Azel Dorsey. The most of
the children studied only spelling; but some of the larger ones learned
reading and writing and arithmetic.

There were not very many scholars, for the houses in that new
settlement were few and far apart. School began at an early hour in the
morning, and did not close until the sun was down.

Just how Abraham Lincoln stood in his classes I do not know; but I must
believe that he studied hard and did everything as well as he could. In
the arithmetic which he used, he wrote these lines:

"Abraham Lincoln,
His hand and pen,
He will be good,
But God knows when."

In a few weeks, Azel Dorsey's school came to a close; and Abraham
Lincoln was again as busy as ever about his father's farm. After that he
attended school only two or three short terms. If all his school-days
were put together they would not make a twelve-month.

But he kept on reading and studying at home. His step-mother said of
him: "He read everything he could lay his hands on. When he came across
a passage that struck him, he would write it down on boards, if he had
no paper, and keep it until he had got paper. Then he would copy it,
look at it, commit it to memory, and repeat it."

Among the books that he read were the Bible, the _Pilgrims Progress_,
and the poems of Robert Burns. One day he walked a long distance to
borrow a book of a farmer. This book was Weems's _Life of Washington_.
He read as much as he could while walking home.

By that time it was dark, and so he sat down by the chimney and read by
firelight until bedtime. Then he took the book to bed with him in the
loft, and read by the light of a tallow candle.

In an hour the candle burned out. He laid the book in a crevice between
two of the logs of the cabin, so that he might begin reading again as
soon as it was daylight.

But in the night a storm came up. The rain was blown in, and the book
was wet through and through.

In the morning, when Abraham awoke, he saw what had happened. He dried
the leaves as well as he could, and then finished reading the book.

As soon as he had eaten his breakfast, he hurried to carry the book to
its owner. He explained how the accident had happened.

"Mr. Crawford," he said, "I am willing to pay you for the book. I have
no money; but, if you will let me, I will work for you until I have made
its price."

Mr. Crawford thought that the book was worth seventy-five cents, and
that Abraham's work would be worth about twenty-five cents a day. And so
the lad helped the farmer gather corn for three days, and thus became
the owner of the delightful book.

He read the story of Washington many times over. He carried the book
with him to the field, and read it while he was following the plow.

From that time, Washington was the one great hero whom he admired. Why
could not he model his own life after that of Washington? Why could not
he also be a doer of great things for his country?

* * * * *


Abraham Lincoln now set to work with a will to educate himself. His
father thought that he did not need to learn anything more. He did not
see that there was any good in book-learning. If a man could read and
write and cipher, what more was needed?

But the good step-mother thought differently; and when another short
term of school began in the little log school-house, all six of the
children from the Lincoln cabin were among the scholars.

In a few weeks, however, the school had closed; and the three boys were
again hard at work, chopping and grubbing in Mr. Lincoln's clearings.
They were good-natured, jolly young fellows, and they lightened their
labor with many a joke and playful prank.

Many were the droll stories with which Abraham amused his two
companions. Many were the puzzling questions that he asked. Sometimes in
the evening, with the other five children around him, he would declaim
some piece that he had learned; or he would deliver a speech of his own
on some subject of common interest.

If you could see him as he then appeared, you would hardly think that
such a boy would ever become one of the most famous men of history. On
his head he wore a cap made from the skin of a squirrel or a raccoon.
Instead of trousers of cloth, he wore buckskin breeches, the legs of
which were many inches too short. His shirt was of deerskin in the
winter, and of homespun tow in the summer. Stockings he had none. His
shoes were of heavy cowhide, and were worn only on Sundays or in very
cold weather.

The family lived in such a way as to need very little money. Their bread
was made of corn meal. Their meat was chiefly the flesh of wild game
found in the forest.

Pewter plates and wooden trenchers were used on the table. The tea and
coffee cups were of painted tin. There was no stove, and all the cooking
was done on the hearth of the big fireplace.

But poverty was no hindrance to Abraham Lincoln. He kept on with his
reading and his studies as best he could. Sometimes he would go to the
little village of Gentryville, near by, to spend an evening. He would
tell so many jokes and so many funny stories, that all the people would
gather round him to listen.

When he was sixteen years old he went one day to Booneville, fifteen
miles away, to attend a trial in court. He had never been in court
before. He listened with great attention to all that was said. When the
lawyer for the defense made his speech, the youth was so full of delight
that he could not contain himself.

He arose from his seat, walked across the courtroom, and shook hands
with the lawyer. "That was the best speech I ever heard," he said.

He was tall and very slim; he was dressed in a jeans coat and buckskin
trousers; his feet were bare. It must have been a strange sight to see
him thus complimenting an old and practiced lawyer.

From that time, one ambition seemed to fill his mind. He wanted to be a
lawyer and make great speeches in court. He walked twelve miles
barefooted, to borrow a copy of the laws of Indiana. Day and night he
read and studied.

"Some day I shall be President of the United States," he said to some of
his young friends. And this he said not as a joke, but in the firm
belief that it would prove to be true.

* * * * *


One of Thomas Lincoln's friends owned a ferry-boat on the Ohio River. It
was nothing but a small rowboat, and would carry only three or four
people at a time. This man wanted to employ some one to take care of his
boat and to ferry people across the river.

Thomas Lincoln was in need of money; and so he arranged with his friend
for Abraham to do this work. The wages of the young man were to be $2.50
a week. But all the money was to be his father's.

One day two strangers came to the landing. They wanted to take passage
on a steamboat that was coming down the river. The ferry-boy signalled
to the steamboat and it stopped in midstream. Then the boy rowed out
with the two passengers, and they were taken on board.

Just as he was turning towards the shore again, each of the strangers
tossed a half-dollar into his boat. He picked the silver up and looked
at it. Ah, how rich he felt! He had never had so much money at one time.
And he had gotten all for a few minutes' labor!

When winter came on, there were fewer people who wanted to cross the
river. So, at last, the ferry-boat was tied up, and Abraham Lincoln went
back to his father's home.

He was now nineteen years old. He was very tall--nearly six feet four
inches in height. He was as strong as a young giant. He could jump
higher and farther, and he could run faster, than any of his fellows;
and there was no one, far or near, who could lay him on his back.

Although he had always lived in a community of rude, rough people, he
had no bad habits. He used no tobacco; he did not drink strong liquor;
no profane word ever passed his lips.

He was good-natured at all times, and kind to every one.

During that winter, Mr. Gentry, the storekeeper in the village, had
bought a good deal of corn and pork. He intended, in the spring, to load
this on a flatboat and send it down the river to New Orleans.

In looking about for a captain to take charge of the boat, he happened
to think of Abraham Lincoln. He knew that he could trust the young man.
And so a bargain was soon made. Abraham agreed to pilot the boat to New
Orleans and to market the produce there; and Mr. Gentry was to pay his
father eight dollars and a half a month for his services.

As soon as the ice had well melted from the river, the voyage was begun.
Besides Captain Lincoln there was only one man in the crew, and that was
a son of Mr. Gentry's.

The voyage was a long and weary one, but at last the two boatmen reached
the great southern city. Here they saw many strange things of which they
had never heard before. But they soon sold their cargo and boat, and
then returned home on a steamboat.

To Abraham Lincoln the world was now very different from what it had
seemed before. He longed to be away from the narrow life in the woods of
Spencer county. He longed to be doing something for himself--to be
making for himself a fortune and a name.

But then he remembered his mother's teachings when he sat on her knee in
the old Kentucky home, "Always do right." He remembered her last words,
"I know you will be kind to your father."

And so he resolved to stay with his father, to work for him, and to give
him all his earnings until he was twenty-one years old.

* * * * *


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 step-mother 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

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

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 anyone else in the
United States, and that he could outrun and outwrestle any man in the

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

* * * * *


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.

* * * * *


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

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

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 skilful as a surveyor. Although his chain was only a
grape-vine, 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

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 centre 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 saddle-bags,
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.

* * * * *


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

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

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.

[Illustration: Log cabin (No caption)]

[Illustration: Monument at Springfield.]

[Illustration: Residence at Springfield.]

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."

* * * * *


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
life-long rival, Stephen A. Douglas, was one of the senators from
Illinois. He had already served a term or two in the House of

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."

* * * * *


The great subject before the country at this time was skivery. It had
been the cause of trouble for many years.

In the early settlement of the American colonies, slavery had been
introduced through the influence of the English government. The first
slaves had been brought to Virginia nearly 240 years before the time of
which I am telling you.

Many people saw from the beginning that it was an evil which would at
some distant day bring disaster upon the country. In 1772, the people of
Virginia petitioned the king of England to put a stop to the bringing of
slaves from Africa into that colony. But the petition was rejected; and
the king forbade them to speak of the matter any more.

Washington, Jefferson, and other founders of our nation looked upon
slavery as an evil. They hoped that the time might come when it would
be done away with; for they knew that the country would prosper better
without it.

At the time of the Revolution, slavery was permitted in all the states.
But it was gradually abolished, first in Pennsylvania and then in the
New England states, and afterwards in New York.

In 1787, a law was passed by Congress declaring that there should be no
slavery in the territory northwest of the river Ohio. This was the
territory from which the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan,
and Wisconsin were formed; and so, of course, these states were free
states from the beginning.

The great industry of the South was cotton-raising. The people of the
Southern states claimed that slavery was necessary, because only negro
slaves could do the work required on the big cotton plantations.
Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana were admitted,
one by one, into the Union; and all were slave states.

In 1821, Missouri applied for admission into the Union. The South
wanted slavery in this state also, but the North objected. There were
many hot debate's in Congress over this question. At last, through the
influence of Henry Clay, the dispute was settled by what has since been
known as the Missouri Compromise.

The Missouri Compromise provided that Missouri should be a slave state;
this was to satisfy the South. On the other hand, it declared that all
the western territory north of the line which formed the southern
boundary of Missouri, should forever be free; this was to appease the

But the cotton planters of the South grew more wealthy by the labor of
their slaves. More territory was needed for the extension of slavery.
Texas joined the United States and became a slave state.

Then followed a war with Mexico; and California, New Mexico and Utah
were taken from that country. Should slavery be allowed in these new
territories also?

At this time a new political party was formed. It was called the "Free
Soil Party," and the principle for which it contended was this: "_No
more slave states and no slave territory_."

This party was not very strong at first, but soon large numbers of Whigs
and many northern Democrats, who did not believe in the extension of
slavery, began to join it.

Although the Whig party refused to take any position against the
extension of slavery, there were many anti-slavery Whigs who still
remained with it and voted the Whig ticket--and one of these men was
Abraham Lincoln.

The contest between freedom and slavery became more fierce every day. At
last another compromise was proposed by Henry Clay.

This compromise provided that California should be admitted as a free
state; that slavery should not be prohibited in New Mexico and Utah;
that there should be no more markets for slaves in the District of
Columbia; and that a new and very strict fugitive-slave law should be

This compromise is called the "Compromise of 1850." It was in support
of these measures that Daniel Webster made his last great speech.

It was hoped by Webster and Clay that the Compromise of 1850 would put
an end to the agitation about slavery. "Now we shall have peace," they
said. But the agitation became stronger and stronger, and peace seemed
farther away than ever before.

In 1854, a bill was passed by Congress to organize the territories of
Kansas and Nebraska. This bill provided that the Missouri Compromise
should be repealed, and that the question of slavery in these
territories should be decided by the people living in them.

The bill was passed through the influence of Stephen A. Douglas of
Illinois. There was now no bar to the extension of slavery into any of
the territories save that of public opinion.

The excitement all over the North was very great. In Kansas there was
actual war between those who favored slavery and those who opposed it.
Thinking men in all parts of the country saw that a great crisis was at

* * * * *


It was then that Abraham Lincoln came forward as the champion of

Stephen A. Douglas was a candidate for reelection to the Senate, and he
found it necessary to defend himself before the people of his state for
the part he had taken in repealing the Missouri Compromise. He went from
one city to another, making speeches; and at each place Abraham Lincoln
met him in joint debate.

"I do not care whether slavery is voted into or out of the territories,"
said Mr. Douglas. "The question of slavery is one of climate. Wherever
it is to the interest of the inhabitants of a territory to have slave
property, there a slave law will be enacted."

But Mr. Lincoln replied, "The men who signed the Declaration of
Independence said that all men are created equal, and are endowed by
their Creator with certain inalienable rights--life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness.... I beseech you, do not destroy that immortal
emblem of humanity, the Declaration of Independence."

At last, Mr. Douglas felt that he was beaten. He proposed that both
should go home, and that there should be no more joint discussions. Mr.
Lincoln agreed to this; but the words which he had spoken sank deep into
the hearts of those who heard them.

The speeches of Lincoln and Douglas were printed in a book. People in
all parts of the country read them. They had heard much about Stephen A.
Douglas. He was called "The Little Giant." He had long been famous among
the politicians of the country. It was believed that he would be the
next President of the United States.

But who was this man Lincoln, who had so bravely vanquished the Little
Giant? He was called "Honest Abe." There were few people outside of his
state who had ever heard of him before.

Mr. Douglas returned to his seat in the United States Senate. Mr.
Lincoln became the acknowledged edged leader of the forces opposed to
the extension of slavery.

In May, 1856, a convention of the people of Illinois was held in
Bloomington, Illinois. It met for the purpose of forming a new political
party, the chief object and aim of which should be to oppose the
extension of slavery into the territories.

Mr. Lincoln made a speech to the members of this convention. It was one
of the greatest speeches ever heard in this country. "Again and again,
during the delivery, the audience sprang to their feet, and, by
long-continued cheers, expressed how deeply the speaker had roused

And so the new party was organized. It was composed of the men who had
formed the old Free Soil Party, together with such Whigs and Democrats
as were opposed to the further growth of the slave power. But the
greater number of its members were Whigs. This new party was called The
Republican Party.

In June, the Republican Party held a national convention at
Philadelphia, and nominated John C. Fremont for President. But the party
was not strong enough to carry the election that year.

In that same month the Democrats held a convention at Cincinnati. Every
effort was made to nominate Stephen A. Douglas for President. But he was
beaten in his own party, on account of the action which he had taken in
the repeal of the Missouri Compromise.

James Buchanan was nominated in his stead, and, in November, was

And so the conflict went on.

In the year 1858 there was another series of joint debates between
Lincoln and Douglas. Both were candidates for the United States Senate.
Their speeches were among the most remarkable ever delivered in any

Lincoln spoke for liberty and justice. Douglas's speeches were full of
fire and patriotism. He hoped to be elected President in 1860. In the
end, it was generally acknowledged that Lincoln had made the best
arguments. But Douglas was re-elected to the Senate.

* * * * *


In 1860 there were four candidates for the presidency.

The great Democratic Party was divided into two branches. One branch
nominated Stephen A. Douglas. The other branch, which included the
larger number of the slave-owners of the South, nominated John C.
Breckinridge, of Kentucky.

The remnant of the old Whig Party, now called the "Union Party,"
nominated John Bell, of Tennessee.

The Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln.

In November came the election, and a majority of all the electors chosen
were for Lincoln.

The people of the cotton-growing states believed that, by this election,
the Northern people intended to deprive them of their rights. They
believed that the anti-slavery people intended to do much more than
prevent the extension of slavery. They believed that the abolitionists
were bent upon passing laws to deprive them of their slaves.

Wild rumors were circulated concerning the designs which the "Black
Republicans," as they were called, had formed for their coercion and
oppression. They declared that they would never submit.

And so, in December, the people of South Carolina met in convention, and
declared that that state had seceded from the Union--that they would no
longer be citizens of the United States. One by one, six other states
followed; and they united to form a new government, called the
Confederate States of America.

It had long been held by the men of the South that a state had the right
to withdraw from the Union at any time. This was called the doctrine of
States' Rights.

The Confederate States at once chose Jefferson Davis for their
President, and declared themselves free and independent.

In February, Mr. Lincoln went to Washington to be inaugurated. His
enemies openly boasted that he should never reach that city alive; and
a plot was formed to kill him on his passage through Baltimore. But he
took an earlier train than the one appointed, and arrived at the capital
in safety.

On the 4th of March he was inaugurated. In his address at that time he
said: "In your hands, my dissatisfied countrymen, and not in mine, is
the momentous issue of civil war. Your government will not assail you.
You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You
have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government; while I
shall have the most solemn one to protect and defend it."

The Confederate States demanded that the government should give up all
the forts, arsenals, and public property within their limits. This,
President Lincoln refused to do. He said that he could not admit that
these states had withdrawn from the Union, or that they could withdraw
without the consent of the people of the United States, given in a
national convention.

And so, in April, the Confederate guns were turned upon Fort Sumter in
Charleston harbor, and the war was begun. President Lincoln issued a
call for 75,000 men to serve in the army for three months; and both
parties prepared for the great contest.

It is not my purpose to give a history of that terrible war of four
years. The question of slavery was now a secondary one. The men of one
party were determined, at whatever hazard, to preserve the Union. The
men of the other party fought to defend their doctrine of States'
Rights, and to set up an independent government of their own.

President Lincoln was urged to use his power and declare all the slaves
free. He answered:

"My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save or
destroy slavery.

"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. If
I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. If I could
save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

At last, however, when he saw that the success of the Union arms
depended upon his freeing the slaves, he decided to do so. On the 1st
of January, 1863, he issued a proclamation declaring that the slaves, in
all the states or parts of states then in rebellion, should be free.

By this proclamation, more than three millions of colored people were
given their freedom.

But the war still went on. It reached a turning point, however, at the
battle of Gettysburg, in July, that same year. From that time the cause
of the Confederate States was on the wane. Little by little the
patriots, who were struggling for the preservation of the Union,

* * * * *


At the close of Mr. Lincoln's first term, he was again elected President
of the United States. The war was still going on, but the Union arms
were now everywhere victorious.

His second inaugural address was very short. He did not boast of any of
his achievements; he did not rejoice over the defeat of his enemies. But
he said:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the
right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the
work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who
shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan--to do all
which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves
and with all nations."

Five weeks after that, on the 9th of April, 1865, the Confederate army
surrendered, and the war was at an end.

Abraham Lincoln's work was done.

The 14th of April was Good Friday. On the evening of that day, Mr.
Lincoln, with Mrs. Lincoln and two or three friends, visited Ford's
Theatre in Washington.

At a few minutes past 10 o'clock, an actor whose name was John Wilkes
Booth, came into the box where Mr. Lincoln sat. No one saw him enter. He
pointed a pistol at the President's head, and fired. He leaped down upon
the stage, shouting "_Sic semper tyrannis_! The South is avenged!" Then
he ran behind the scenes and out by the stage door.

The President fell forward. His eyes closed. He neither saw, nor heard,
nor felt anything that was taking place. Kind arms carried him to a
private house not far away.

At twenty minutes past seven o'clock the next morning, those who watched
beside him gave out the mournful news that Abraham Lincoln was dead.

He was fifty-six years old.

The whole nation wept for him. In the South as well as in the North, the
people bowed themselves in grief. Heartfelt tributes of sorrow came from
other lands in all parts of the world. Never, before nor since, has
there been such universal mourning.

Such is the story of Abraham Lincoln. In the history of the world, there
is no story more full of lessons of perseverance, of patience, of honor,
of true nobility of purpose. Among the great men of all time, there has
been no one more truly great than he.

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