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Reynolds, of Illinois, and a company was raised in Menard county and neighborhood. Among the volunteers was Lincoln. He, and a man by the name of Kirkpatrick, were candidates for the position of Captain. The mode of election was for each candidate to take his position by himself, and the men were directed to arrange themselves in line, with the one they preferred for their leader. Lincoln's line was three times as long as Kirkpatrick's, and he was triumphantly elected. Speaking of this incident, when President, he said that he was more elated over this, his first triumph, than any other election in his life. He was very popular among the volunteers, on account of his great physical strength, and his ability to tell more and better stories than any other man in the little army. He served during the campaign, but had no opportunity of testing his prowess against the Indians. After the war, he held, for a short time, the office of Postmaster at New Salem.
On his return from the campaign of the Black Hawk war, Lincoln being twenty-three years of age, his neighbors brought him out as a candidate for the Legislature. The vote given for him by the people of New Salem was unanimous. There were two candidates for Congress voted for, and their aggregate vote was 206, Mr. Lincoln received 207. This unanimous vote showed his personal popularity. The people of New Salem asked and obtained for him the appointment of Postmaster. He accepted it, because it gave him an opportunity to read all the newspapers taken in the town. It was in relation to the funds received by him as Postmaster, that an incident occurred that gave a striking illustration of his scrupulous integrity. He had left New Salem, and had removed to Springfield, and was struggling with poverty; indeed he was so poor that he had difficulty in supplying the necessaries of life. After his removal to Springfield, and some years after he had ceased to be Postmaster, a draft was sent out for collection for the balance, $1.60, of Post office money received by him. It was contrary to the regulations of the Post Office Department for him to pay this balance until it was drawn for. My informant, Dr. Henry, accompanied the agent with the draft, to Mr. Lincoln's office, where
HIS MODE OF KEEPING GOVERNMENT FUNDS.
it was presented for payment. Knowing Lincoln's poverty, and doubting whether he had the money on hand to meet the draft, the doctor had accompanied the officer, with the intention of loaning him the money to pay it.
Upon the drafts being presented, Lincoln asked the officer to be seated a moment, went to his boarding house, and directly returned with an old stocking with a quantity of silver, and copper coin, tied up in it. Untieing the stocking, he poured the contents upon the table and proceeded to count the coin. It was in the small silver and copper coin, sixpences, shillings, quarter dollars, and half dollars and cents, such as the country people were in the habit of using in those days, in paying postage. On counting the coin, it was found to be the exact amount of the draft, and the identical coin which had been received. Lincoln never used, even temporarily, any money that was not his. He said he felt that the money belonged to the Government, and that he had no right to exchange or use it for any purpose of his own. This evidence of strict integrity and fidelity to trust was the more striking, because he had frequently during the period he had held this money, been compelled to make large discounts upon notes he had received for fees, and sometimes to borrow money to pay his small bills.
At this period of his life Lincoln became like Washington, an accurate, practical surveyor. He commenced reading law while living at New Salem. Major John T. Stuart encouraged him, loaned him books, which he carried in his arms to his home, and there read law part of the time, and practiced surveying to pay for his board and clothing. In 1834, he was elected to the Legislature of Illinois and walked to Vandalia, more than one hundred miles, to take his seat. He was reelected in 1836. At the session of 1836, he met, as a fellow member, S. A. Douglas, and these two men, taking opposite sides, soon became prominent leaders, Lincoln of the whig, and Douglas of the democratic party of Illinois. In 1838, Mr. Lincoln was again elected to the Legislature, and he received the vote of his party for Speaker, lacking but one vote of being elected. In 1840, he was again elected and again
received the vote of the whig members of the Legislature, for Speaker.
The popularity of Mr. Lincoln and his position as a leader, is established by the fact, that he received, again and again, the votes of his party friends, for Speaker. The legislation at this period of the history of Illinois, consisted mainly, in passing acts for the opening of roads, the passage of local bills, and for the construction of a canal, to connect Lake Michigan and the Mississippi, by the Illinois river; known as the Illinois and Michigan Canal; the adoption of a general system of internal improvements by railroads, and the promotion of education. In regard to all these measures Lincoln was an active and influential member. In March, 1837, resolutions of an extremely pro-slavery character, were introduced into the Legislature and carried through by large majorities. Illinois, at that time, was made up largely, of emigrants from the slave States, filled with the prejudices of that section, and the feeling against anti-slavery men was violent and almost universal. Lincoln was one of the two men, who had the moral courage to put on record, at that period, a protest against these pro-slavery resolutions. In this protest, he and his associate, Dan Stone, declared their belief, that slavery was founded in both injustice and bad policy.
Lincoln had been admitted, in 1837, as an attorney and counsellor at law, by the Supreme Court of Illinois, but his duties as a member of the Legislature interfered, materially, with his practice. Upon his retirement, he devoted himself with great energy and zeal to his profession.
Illinois was, at this time, divided into several judicial circuits; each circuit consisting of several counties, and the Judges of these circuits, meeting together, at the Capital, constituted the Supreme Court; to which cases were taken, by appeal, and writ of error. The Judges and leading members of the bar, generally started together, to “ride the circuit." There were few, and frequently no lawyers in those counties, where there was no considerable village or town, and the members of the bar, traveled on horseback following the court, from county to county.
The country was new, sparsely settled, the people hardy, fearless, honest, but spirited and litigious. The court houses were generally built of logs, sometimes framed and boarded up. With a raised desk, behind which sat the Judge; a small table for the clerk, and another larger table, sometimes covered with coarse green cloth, around which sat the bar. Rude chairs, or ruder benches, constituted the seats for the lawyers and jury. The court room was always crowded. Here were rehearsed and acted the dramas, the tragedy, and the comedy of real life; and the court house was always very attractive to the people of the back-woods. It supplied the place of a theatre and concert room, and other places of amusement of older settlements and cities; hence crowds always attended the courts, to see the Judges, and hear the lawyers "plead." A court room in the West, was ever a popular institution; the advocates had their partizans, political and personal, and the merits of each were canvassed in every cabin and school house, at every house raising, and bee, and horse-race in the county. The lawyers were stimulated to the utmost exertion of their powers, not alone, by controversy and contention for success, but by the consciousness that every effort was watched with the greatest eagerness by friends, rivals, and partizans. At this time the Judges, who composed the bench of Illinois, were very able men. Justice McLean, of the Supreme Court of the United States, was the circuit Judge, holding, personally, two terms of the United States Circuit Court at the Capital in Springfield. Judge Nathaniel Pope, father of Major General John Pope, was the district Judge. He was a man of great vigor of mind and independence of character. Although he had read a much smaller number of books than Judge McLean, such was the strength of his reasoning powers, that when the district and circuit Judges differed, as was very often the case, on any question of law, Pope was quite able to hold his own with his superior in rank.
On the bench of the Supreme Court of the State, among the most prominent men were William Wilson, Chief Justice, Samuel D. Lockwood, Thomas Ford, afterwards Governor, Sidney Bruce, afterwards Senator of the United States,
Stephen A. Douglas, and at a later day Lyman Trumbull, John Dean Caten, and others. There gathered at an early day, around the plain pine tables of the frontier court houses of Illinois, a very remarkable combination of men. Among them, and immediately a leader, was Stephen A. Douglas, who had been admitted to the bar in 1834, O. H. Browning, late Senator, admitted in 1835, Abraham Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a distinguished member of the Senate, admitted in 1837, Richard Yates, Governor and Senator, admitted in 1838, David Davis, now Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Besides these, there were E. D. Baker, the eloquent Senator from Oregon, and the martyr at Ball's Bluff; General John J. Hardin, who fell upon the bloody field of Buena Vista, Governor William H. Bissell, whose eloquent vindication of the bravery of the Illinois Volunteers in the Mexican war, against the aspersions of the traitor Davis, is still remembered in the traditions of great speeches in Congress; General James Shields, Justin Butterfield, Logan, Richardson, Washburn, Judd, and many others, prominent in the civil and military history of the country. It was among such men that Lincoln contended, at the bar and on the stump, and was trained for the high and solemn duties, which were before him. From 1840 to 1860, his name will be found, as often as any, in the judicial Reports of Illinois.
The circuit practice, as conducted in Illinois, was admirably adapted to educate, develope and bring out, all that a man had, of intellect and character. Few books could be obtained upon the circuit, and no large libraries for consultation, were to be had anywhere. A case lawyer was helpless in the hands of the intellectual giants which were produced by these Circuit Court contests, where questions must be argued and settled upon principle and analogy. A few elementary books were carried about in the saddle bags, along with the very scanty wardrobe of the attorney; such as Blackstone, Kent's Commentaries, Chitty's Pleadings and Starkie's Evidence. These were read and re-read, until the text was as familiar as the alphabet. By such aids as these afforded, and the application of principles, all the complex.