Page images
PDF
EPUB

at a very critical time, Mr. Lincoln forgot wholly when he was in Congress, and Butler wanted to be Register of the Land Office, as well as when he was President of the United States, and opportunities of repayment were multitudinous. It is doubtless all true ; but the inference of personal ingratitude on the part of Mr. Lincoln will not bear examination. It will be shown at another place that Mr. Lincoln regarded all public offices within his gift as a sacred trust, to be administered solely for the people, and as in no sense a fund upon which he could draw for the payment of private accounts. He never preferred his friends to his enemies, but rather the reverse, as if fearful that he might by bare possibility be influenced by some unworthy motive. He was singularly cautious to avoid the imputation of fidelity to his friends at the expense of his opponents.

In Coke's and Blackstone's time the law was supposed to be “a jealous mistress ;” but in Lincoln's time, and at Springfield, she was any thing but exacting. Politicians courted her only to make her favor the stepping-stone to success in other employments. Various members of that bar have left great reputations to posterity, but none of them were earned solely by the legitimate practice of the law. Douglas is remembered as a statesman, Baker as a political orator, Hardin as a soldier, and some now living, like Logan and Stuart, although eminent in the law, will be no less known to the history of the times as politicians than as lawyers. Among those who went to the law for a living, and to the people for fame and power, was Mr. Lincoln. He was still a member of the Legislature when he settled at Springfield, and would probably have continued to run for a seat in that body as often as his time expired, but for the unfortunate results of the “internalimprovement system,” the hopeless condition of the State finances, and a certain gloominess of mind, which arose from private misfortunes that befell him about the time of his retirement. We do not say positively that these were the reasons why Mr. Lincoln made no effort to be re-elected to the Legislature of 1840 ; but a careful study of all the circum

were.

stances will lead any reasonable man to believe that they

He was intensely ambitious, longed ardently for place and distinction, and never gave up a prospect which seemed to him good when he was in a condition to pursue it with honor to himself and fairness to others. Moreover State politics were then rapidly ceasing to be the high-road to fame and fortune. Although the State of Illinois was insolvent, unable to pay the interest on her public debt, and many were talking about repudiating the principal, the great campaign of 1840 went off upon national issues, and little or nothing was said about questions of State policy. Mr. Lincoln felt and obeyed this tendency of the public mind, and from 1837 onward his speeches -- those that were printed and those that were not — were devoted chiefly, if not exclusively, to Federal affairs.

In January, 1837, he delivered a lecture before the Springfield Lyceum on the subject of the “ Perpetuation of our Free Institutions.” As a mere declamation, it is unsurpassed in the annals of the West. Although delivered in mid-winter, it is instinct with the peculiar eloquence of the most fervid Fourth of July.

“In the great journal of things,” began the orator, “happening under the sun, we, the American People, find our account running under date of the nineteenth century of the Christian era. We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquisition or establishment of them : they are a legacy bequeathed us by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and, through themselves, us, of this goodly land, and to uprear

us.

upon its hills and valleys a political edifice of liberty and equal rights : 'tis ours only to transmit these — the former unprofaned by the foot of an invader, the latter undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation -- to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task, gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

“ How, then, shall we perform it? At what point shall we expect the approach of danger ? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow ? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years !

“At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst

It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

“I hope I am not over-wary ; but, if I am not, there is even now something of ill-omen amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country, the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of courts, and the worse than savage mobs for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community, and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit it, it would be a violation of truth and an insult to our intelligence to deny. Accounts of outrages committed by mobs form the every-day news of the times. They have pervaded the country from New England to Louisiana ; they are neither peculiar to the eternal snows of the former, nor the burning sun of the latter. They are not the creature of climate ; neither are they confined to the slaveholding or non-slaveholding States. Alike they spring up among the pleasure-hunting masters of Southern slaves and the order-loving citizens of the land of steady habits. Whatever, then, their cause may be, it is common to the whole country.”

The orator then adverts to the doings of recent mobs in various parts of the country, and insists, that, if the spirit that produced them continues to increase, the laws and the government itself must fall before it: bad citizens will be encouraged, and good ones, having no protection against the lawless, will be glad to receive an individual master who will be able to give them the peace and order they desire. That will be the time when the usurper will put down his heel on the neck of the people, and batter down the “ fair fabric” of free institutions. Many great and good men,” he says, “ sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion or the tribe of the eagle. What! Think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Cæsar, or a Napoleon ? Never! Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story upon the monuments of fame erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or enslaving freemen. ... Another reason which once was, but which, to the same extent, is now no more, has done much in maintaining our institutions thus far. I mean the powerful influence which the interesting scenes of the Revolution had upon the passions of the people as distinguished from their judgment.” This influence, the lecturer maintains, was kept alive by the presence of the surviving soldiers of the Revolution, who were in some sort "living histories," and concludes with this striking peroration :

“ But those histories are gone. They can be read no more forever. They were a fortress of strength; but what invading

1 The italics are the orator's.

reason.

foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done,

the levelling of its walls. They are gone. They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only here and there a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage, unshading and unshaded, to murmur in a few more gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs a few more rude storms, then to sink and be no more. They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, the descendants, supply their places with other pillars hewn from the same solid quarry of sober

Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason - cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason - must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence. Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and, in particular, a reverence for the Constitution and the laws; and that we improved to the last, that we revered his name to the last, that during his long sleep we permitted no hostile foot to pass or desecrate his resting-place, shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON. Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest as the rock of its basis, and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, · The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'”

These extracts from a lecture carefully composed by Mr. Lincoln at the mature age of twenty-eight, and after considerable experience in the public service, are worthy of attentive perusal. To those familiar with his sober and pure style at a later age, these sophomoric passages will seem incredible. But they were thought “able and eloquent” by the

Young Men's Lyceum” of Springfield: he was “solicited to furnish a copy for publication,” and they were duly printed in “The Sangamon Journal.” In the mere matter of rhetoric, they compare favorably with some of his other productions of nearly the same date. This was what he would have called his “growing time;” and it is intensely interesting to witness the processes of such mental growth as his. In tiine,

ול

« PreviousContinue »