Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

It was at this session that the State capital was changed from
Vandalia to Springfield. Lincoln, as the leader of the "Long
Nine," had charge of the bill and after a long and bitter
struggle succeeded in passing it.

At this early stage in his career Abraham Lincoln began his
opposition to slavery which eventually resulted in his giving
liberty to four million human beings. This Legislature passed the
following resolutions on slavery

"Resolved by the General Assembly, of the State of Illinois: That
we highly disapprove of the formation of Abolition societies and
of the doctrines promulgated by them,

"That the right of property in slaves is sacred to the
slave-holding States by the Federal Constitution, and that they
cannot be deprived of that right without their consent,

"That the General Government cannot abolish slavery in the
District of Columbia against the consent of the citizens of said
district without a manifest breach of good faith."

Against this resolution Lincoln entered a protest, but only
succeeded in getting one man in the Legislature to sign the
protest with him.

The protest was as follows:

"Resolutions upon the subject of domestic slavery having passed
both branches of the General Assembly at its present session, the
undersigned hereby protest against the passage of the same.

"They believe that the institution of slavery is founded on both
injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition
doctrines tends rather o increase than abate its evils.

"They believe that the Congress of the United States has no power
under the Constitution to interfere with the institution of
slavery in the different States.

"They believe that the Congress of the United States has the
power under the Constitution to abolish slavery in the District
of Columbia, but that the power ought not to be exercised unless
at the request of the people of the District.

"The difference between these opinions and those contained in the
above resolutions is their reason for entering this protest.

"Representatives from the county of Sangamon."

At the end of this session of the Legislature, Mr. Lincoln
decided to remove to Springfield and practice law. He entered the
office of John T. Stuart, a former comrade in the Blackhawk War,
and in March, 1837, was licensed to practice.

Stephen T. Logan was judge of the Circuit Court, and Stephen A.
Douglas, who was destined to become Lincoln's greatest political
opponent, was prosecuting attorney. When Lincoln was not in his
law office his headquarters were in the store of his friend
Joshua F. Speed, in which gathered all the youthful orators and
statesmen of that day, and where many exciting arguments and
discussions were held. Lincoln and Douglas both took part in the
discussion held in Speed's store. Douglas was the acknowledged
leader of the Democratic side and Lincoln was rapidly coming to
the front as a leader among the Whig debaters. One evening in the
midst of a heated argument Douglas, or "the Little Giant," as he
was called, exclaimed:

"This store is no place to talk politics."

Arrangements were at once made for a joint debate between the
leading Democrats and Whigs to take place in a local church. The
Democrats were represented by Douglas, Calhoun, Lamborn and
Thomas. The Whig speakers were Judge Logan, Colonel E. D. Baker,
Mr. Browning and Lincoln. This discussion was the forerunner of
the famous joint-debate between Lincoln and Douglas, which took
place some years later and attracted the attention of the people
throughout the United States. Although Mr. Lincoln was the last
speaker in the first discussion held, his speech attracted more
attention than any of the others and added much to his reputation
as a public debater.

Mr. Lincoln's last campaign for the Legislature was in 1840. In
the same year he was made an elector on the Harrison presidential
ticket, and in his canvass of the State frequently met the
Democratic champion, Douglas, in debate. After 1840 Mr. Lincoln
declined re-election to the Legislature, but he was a
presidential elector on the Whig tickets of 1844 and 1852, and
on the Republican ticket for the State at large in 1856.

Among the social belles of Springfield was Mary Todd, a handsome
and cultivated girl of the illustrious descent which could be
traced back to the sixth century, to whom Mr. Lincoln was married
in 1842. Stephen A. Douglas was his competitor in love as well as
in politics. He courted Mary Todd until it became evident that
she preferred Mr. Lincoln.

Previous to his marriage Mr. Lincoln had two love affairs, one of
them so serious that it left an impression upon his whole future
life. One of the objects of his affection was Miss Mary Owen, of
Green county, Kentucky, who decided that Mr. Lincoln "was
deficient in those little links which make up the chain of
woman's happiness." The affair ended without any damage to Mr.
Lincoln's heart or the heart of the lady.

Lincoln's first love, however, had a sad termination. The object
of his affections at that time was Anne Rutledge, whose father
was one of the founders of New Salem. Like Miss Owen, Miss
Rutledge was also born in Kentucky, and was gifted with the
beauty and graces that distinguish many Southern women. At the
time that Mr. Lincoln and Anne Rutledge were engaged to be
married, he thought himself too poor to properly support a wife,
and they decided to wait until such time as he could better his
financial condition. A short time thereafter Miss Rutledge was
attacked with a fatal illness, and her death was such a blow to
her intended husband that for a long time his friends feared that
he would lose his mind.

Just previous to his marriage with Mary Todd, Mr. Lincoln was
challenged to fight a duel by James Shields, then Auditor of
State. The challenge grew out of some humorous letters concerning
Shields, published in a local paper. The first of these letters
was written by Mr. Lincoln. The others by Mary Todd and her
sister. Mr. Lincoln acknowledged the authorship of the letters
without naming the ladies, and agreed to meet Shields on the
field of honor. As he had the choice of weapons he named
broadswords, and actually went to the place selected for the

The duel was never fought. Mutual friends got together and
patched up an understanding between Mr. Lincoln and the
hot-headed Irishman.

Before this time Mr. Lincoln had dissolved partnership with
Stuart and entered into a law partnership with Judge Logan. In
1843 both Lincoln and Logan were candidates for nomination for
Congress and the personal ill-will caused by their rivalry
resulted in the dissolution of the firm and the formation of a
new law firm of Lincoln & Herndon, which continued, nominally at
least, until Mr. Lincoln's death.

The congressional nomination, however, went to Edward D. Baker,
who was elected. Two years later the principal candidates for the
Whig nomination for Congress were Mr. Lincoln and his former law
partner, Judge Logan. Party sentiment was so strongly in favor of
Lincoln that Judge Logan withdrew and Lincoln was nominated
unanimously. The campaign that followed was one of the most
memorable and interesting ever held in Illinois.

Mr. Lincoln's opponent on the Democratic ticket was no less a
person than old Peter Cartwright, the famous Methodist preacher
and circuit rider. Cartwright had preached to almost every
congregation in the district and had a strong following in all
the churches. Mr. Lincoln did not underestimate the strength of
his great rival. He abandoned his law business entirely and gave
his whole attention to the canvass. This time Mr. Lincoln was
victorious and was elected by a large majority.

When Lincoln took his seat in Congress, in 1847, he was the only
Whig member from Illinois. His great political rival, Douglas,
was in the Senate. The Mexican War had already broken out,
which, in common with his party, he had opposed. Later in life he
was charged with having opposed the voting of supplies to the
American troops in Mexico, but this was a falsehood which he
easily disproved. He was strongly opposed to the War, but after
it was once begun he urged its vigorous prosecution and voted
with the Democrats on all measures concerning the care and pay of
the soldiers. His opposition to the War, however, cost him a
re-election; it cost his party the congressional district, which
was carried by the Democrats in 1848. Lincoln's former law
partner, Judge Logan, secured the Whig nomination that year and
was defeated.

In the national convention at Philadelphia, in 1848, Mr. Lincoln
was a delegate and advocated the nomination of General Taylor.

After the nomination of General Taylor, or "Old Zach," or
"rough and Ready," as he was called, Mr. Lincoln made a tour of
New York and several New England States, making speeches for his

Mr. Lincoln went to New England in this campaign on account of
the great defection in the Whig party. General Taylor's
nomination was unsatisfactory to the free-soil element, and such
leaders as Henry Wilson, Charles Francis Adams, Charles Allen,
Charles Sumner, Stephen C. Phillips, Richard H. Dana, Jr., and
Anson Burlingame, were in open revolt. Mr. Lincoln's speeches
were confined largely to a defense of General Taylor, but at the
same time he denounced the free-soilers for helping to elect
Cass. Among other things he said that the free-soilers had but
one principle and that they reminded him of the Yankee peddler
going to sell a pair of pantaloons and describing them as "large
enough for any man, and small enough for any boy."

It is an odd fact in history that the prominent Whigs of
Massachusetts at that time became the opponents of Mr. Lincoln's
election to the presidency and the policy of his administration,
while the free-soilers, whom he denounced, were among his
strongest supporters, advisers and followers.

At the second session of Congress Mr. Lincoln's one act of
consequence was the introduction of a bill providing for the
gradual emancipation of the slaves in the District of Columbia.
Joshua R. Giddings, the great antislavery agitator, and one or
two lesser lights supported it, but the bill was laid on the

After General Taylor's election Mr. Lincoln had the distribution
of Federal patronage in his own Congressional district, and this
added much to his political importance, although it was a
ceaseless source of worry to him.

Just before the close of his term in Congress Mr. Lincoln was an
applicant for the office of Commissioner of the General Land
Office, but was unsuccessful. He had been such a factor in
General Taylor's election that the administration thought
something was due him, and after his return to Illinois he was
called to Washington and offered the Governorship of the
Territory of Oregon. It is likely he would have accepted this had
not Mrs. Lincoln put her foot down with an emphatic no.

He declined a partnership with a well-known Chicago lawyer and
returning to his Springfield home resumed the practice of law.

>From this time until the repeal of the Missouri Compromise,
opened the way for the admission of slavery into the territories,
Mr. Lincoln devoted himself more industriously than ever to the
practice of law, and during those five years he was probably a
greater student than he had ever been before. His partner, W. H.
Herndon, has told of the changes that took place in the courts
and in the methods of practice while Mr. Lincoln was away.

When he returned to active practice he saw at once that the
courts had grown more learned and dignified and that the bar
relied more upon method and system and a knowledge of the statute
law than upon the stump speech method of early days.

Mr. Herndon tells us that Lincoln would lie in bed and read by
candle light, sometimes until two o'clock in the morning, while
his famous colleagues, Davis, Logan, Swett, Edwards and Herndon,
were soundly and sometimes loudly sleeping. He read and reread
the statutes and books of practice, devoured Shakespeare, who was
always a favorite of his, and studied Euclid so diligently that
he could easily demonstrate all the propositions contained in the
six books.

Mr. Lincoln detested office work. He left all that to his
partner. He disliked to draw up legal papers or to write letters.
The firm of which he was a member kept no books. When either
Lincoln or Herndon received a fee they divided the money then and
there. If his partner were not in the office at the time Mr.
Lincoln would wrap up half of the fee in a sheet of paper, on
which he would write, "Herndon's half," giving the name of the
case, and place it in his partner's desk.

But in court, arguing a case, pleading to the jury and laying
down the law, Lincoln was in his element. Even when he had a weak
case he was a strong antagonist, and when he had right and
justice on his side, as he nearly always had, no one could beat

He liked an outdoor life, hence he was fond of riding the
circuit. He enjoyed the company of other men, liked discussion
and argument, loved to tell stories and to hear them, laughing as
heartily at his own stories as he did at those that were told to

The court circuit in those days was the scene of many a
story-telling joust, in which Lincoln was always the chief.
Frequently he would sit up until after midnight reeling off story
after story, each one followed by roars of laughter that could be
heard all over the country tavern, in which the story-telling
group was gathered. Every type of character would be represented
in these groups, from the learned judge on the bench down to the
village loafer.

Lincoln's favorite attitude was to sit with his long legs propped
up on the rail of the stove, or with his feet against the wall,
and thus he would sit for hours entertaining a crowd, or being

One circuit judge was so fond of Lincoln's stories that he often
would sit up until midnight listening to them, and then declare
that he had laughed so much he believed his ribs were shaken

The great success of Abraham Lincoln as a trial lawyer was due to
a number of facts. He would not take a case if he believed that
the law and justice were on the other side. When he addressed a
jury he made them feel that he only wanted fair play and justice.
He did not talk over their heads, but got right down to a
friendly tone such as we use in ordinary conversation, and talked
at them, appealing to their honesty and common sense,

And making his argument plain by telling a story or two that
brought the matter clearly within their understanding.

When he did not know the law in a particular case he never
pretended to know it. If there were no precedents to cover a case
he would state his side plainly and fairly; he would tell the
jury what he believed was right for them to do, and then conclude
with his favorite expression, "it seems to me that this ought to
be the law."

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