Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER XX.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

The early period of great patriots seemed long to have passed away, but another period is rising ; Hampden is to visit the world again; the spirit of Washington is to reappear; America is to have her own Wilberforce, her William the Silent.

We write from the standpoint of moral principle, from which all historic views backward or forward must be taken. Yet put yourself in the place of one of the Southern people of 1860, and another view, a mistaken one it may be, will appear. England left the South an inheritance of slaves ; Northern people for a half-century had upheld the right to continue that inheritance, and the Southern people had been born, bred, and educated in a state of society that to them was as natural as life. They had come to regard their plantations and slaves much as a feudal lord regarded his estates and retainers. For those who grew cruel, and sought to oppress their slaves, who tried to extend and strengthen a wrong, no apology can be offered. But England and the North were as greatly to blame as the South in the establishment and growth of slavery. Northern men and Southern men fell side by side when the prayers of the slave at last had entered into the ear of Heaven, and the great day of wrath came, with fire and blood and anguish.

Mr. Lincoln was the son of a poor and not very prosperous farmer. He was born in 1809 in the State of Kentucky; but

[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small]

1825.

Abraham Lincoln.

395

his youth was passed mainly in Indiana. His father had chosen to settle on the furthest verge of civilization. Around him was a dense illimitable forest, still wandered over by the Indians. Here and there in the wilderness occurred a rude wooden hut like his own, - the abode of some rough settler, regardless of comfort and greedy of the excitements of pioneering. The next neighbor was two miles away. There were no roads, no bridges, no inns. The traveller swam the rivers he had to cross, and trusted, not in vain, to the hospitality of the settlers for food and shelter. Now and then a clergyman passed that way, and from a hasty platform beneath a tree the gospel was preached to an eagerly listening audience of rugged woodsmen. Many years after, when he had grown wise and famous, Mr. Lincoln spoke, with tears in his eyes,

of a well-remembered sermon which he had heard from a wayfaring preacher in the great Indiana wilderness. Justice was administered under the shade of forest trees. The jury sat upon a log. The same tree which sheltered the court occasionally served as a gibbet for the criminal.

In this society — rugged, but honest and kindly — the youth of the future President was passed. He had little schooling. Indeed, there was scarcely a school within reach, and if all the days of his school-time were added together they would scarcely make up one year. His father was poor, and Abraham was needed on the farm. There was timber to fell, there were fences to build, fields to plough, sowing and reaping to be done. Abraham led a busy life, and knew well, while yet a boy, what hard work meant. Like all boys who come to any thing great, he had a devouring thirst for knowledge. He borrowed all the books in his neighborhood, and read them by the blaze of the logs which his own axe had split.

This was his early training. When he entered life for himself it was as clerk in a small store. He served nearly a year there, conducting faithfully and cheerfully the lowly commerce by which the wants of the settlers were supplied. Then he comes before us as a soldier, fighting a not very bloody campaign against the Indians, who had undertaken, rather imprudently, to drive the white men out of that region. Having settled in Illinois, he commenced the study of law, supporting himself by land surveying during the unprofitable stages of that pursuit. Finally he applied himself to politics, and in 1834 was elected a member of the Legislature of Illinois.

He was now in his twenty-fifth year; of vast stature, somewhat awkwardly fashioned, slender for his height, but uncommonly muscular and enduring. He was of pleasant humor, ready and true insight. After such a boyhood as his, difficulty had no terrors for him, and he was incapable of defeat. His manners were very homely. His lank, ungainly figure, dressed in the native manufacture of the backwoods, would have spread dismay in a European drawing-room. He was smiled at even in the uncourtly Legislature of Illinois. But here, as elsewhere, whoever came into contact with Abraham Lincoln felt that he was a man destined to lead other men. Sagacious, penetrating, full of resource, and withal honest, kindly, conciliatory, his hands might be roughened by toil, his dress and ways might be those of the wilderness, yet was he quickly recognized as a born king of men.

During the next twenty-six years Mr. Lincoln applied himself to the profession of the law. He was much in public life. He had part in all the political controversies of his time. Chief among these were the troubles arising out of slavery. From his boyhood Mr. Lincoln was a steady enemy to slavery, as at once foolish and wrong. He would not interfere with it in the old States, for there the Constitution gave him no power; but he would in no wise allow its establishment in the Territories. He desired a policy which “looked forward hopefully to the time when slavery, as a wrong, might come to an end." He gained in a very unusual degree the confi

« ÎnapoiContinuați »