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Chapter 5.

  • Springfield society
  • -- Miss Mary Todd -- Lincoln's engagement -- his deep despondency -- visit to Kentucky -- letters to Speed- -- the Shields duel -- marriage -- law partnership with Logan -- Hardin nominated for Congress, 1843 -- Baker nominated for Congress, 1844 -- Lincoln nominated and elected, 1846.
    The deep impression which the Mary Owens affair made upon Lincoln is further shown by one of the concluding phrases of his letter to Mrs. Browning: “I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying.” But it was not long before a reaction set in from this pessimistic mood. The actual transfer of the seat of government from Vandalia to Springfield in 1839 gave the new capital fresh animation. Business revived, public improvements were begun, politics ran high. Already there was a spirit in the air that in the following year culminated in the extraordinary enthusiasm and fervor of the Harrison presidential campaign of 1840, that rollicking and uproarious party carnival of humor and satire, of song and jollification, of hard cider and log cabins. While the State of Illinois was strongly Democratic, Sangamon County was as distinctly Whig, and the local party disputes were hot and aggressive. The Whig delegation of Sangamon in the legislature, popularly called the “Long nine,” because the sum of the stature of its members was fifty-four feet, became noted for its influence in legislation in a body where the majority [62] was against them; and of these Mr. Lincoln was the “tallest” both in person and ability, as was recognized by his twice receiving the minority vote for Speaker of the House.

    Society also began organizing itself upon metropolitan rather than provincial assumptions. As yet, however, society was liberal. Men of either wealth or position were still too few to fill its ranks. Energy, ambition, talent, were necessarily the standard of admission; and Lincoln, though poor as a church mouse, was as welcome as those who could wear ruffled shirts and carry gold watches. The meetings of the legislature at Springfield then first brought together that splendid group of young men of genius whose phenomenal careers and distinguished services have given Illinois fame in the history of the nation. It is a marked peculiarity of the American character that the bitterest foes in party warfare generally meet each other on terms of perfect social courtesy in the drawing-rooms of society; and future presidential candidates, cabinet members, senators, congressmen, jurists, orators, and battle heroes lent the little social reunions of Springfield a zest and exaltation never found-perhaps impossible-amid the heavy, oppressive surroundings of conventional ceremony, gorgeous upholstery, and magnificent decorations.

    It was at this period also that Lincoln began to feel and exercise his expanding influence and powers as a writer and speaker. Already, two years earlier, he had written and delivered before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield an able address upon “The perpetuation of our political institutions,” strongly enforcing the doctrine of rigid obedience to law. In December, 1839, Douglas, in a heated conversation, challenged the young Whigs present to a political discussion. [63] The challenge was immediately taken up, and the public of Springfield listened with eager interest to several nights of sharp debate between Whig and Democratic champions, in which Lincoln bore a prominent and successful share. In the following summer, Lincoln's name was placed upon the Harrison electoral ticket for Illinois, and he lent all his zeal and eloquence to swell the general popular enthusiasm for “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.”

    In the midst of this political and social awakening of the new capital and the quickened interest and high hopes of leading citizens gathered there from all parts of the State, there came into the Springfield circles Miss Mary Todd of Kentucky, twenty-one years old, handsome, accomplished, vivacious, witty, a dashing and fascinating figure in dress and conversation, gracious and imperious by turns. She easily singled out and secured the admiration of such of the Springfield beaux as most pleased her somewhat capricious fancy. She was a sister of Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards, whose husband was one of the “Long nine.” This circumstance made Lincoln a frequent visitor at the Edwards house; and, being thus much thrown in her company, he found himself, almost before he knew it, entangled in a new love affair, and in the course of a twelvemonth engaged to marry her.

    Much to the surprise of Springfield society, however, the courtship took a sudden turn. Whether it was caprice or jealousy, a new attachment, or mature reflection will always remain a mystery. Every such case is a law unto itself, and neither science nor poetry is ever able to analyze and explain its causes and effects. The conflicting stories then current, and the varying traditions that yet exist, either fail to agree or to fit the sparse facts which came to light. There remains [64] no dispute, however, that the occurrence, whatever shape it took, threw Mr. Lincoln into a deeper despondency than any he had yet experienced, for on January 23, 1841, he wrote to his law partner, John T. Stuart:

    For not giving you a general summary of news you must pardon me; it is not in my power to do so. I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better.

    Apparently his engagement to Miss Todd was broken off, but whether that was the result or the cause of his period of gloom seems still a matter of conjecture. His mind was so perturbed that he felt unable to attend the sessions of the legislature of which he was a member; and after its close his intimate friend Joshua F. Speed carried him off for a visit to Kentucky. The change of scene and surroundings proved of great benefit. He returned home about midsummer very much improved, but not yet completely restored to a natural mental equipoise. While on their visit to Kentucky, Speed had likewise fallen in love, and in the following winter had become afflicted with doubts and perplexities akin to those from which Lincoln had suffered. It now became his turn to give sympathy and counsel to his friend, and he did this with a warmth and delicacy born of his own spiritual trials, not yet entirely overmastered. He wrote letter after letter to Speed to convince him that his doubts about not truly loving the woman of his choice were all nonsense.

    “Why, Speed, if you did not love her, although you might not wish her death, you would most certainly [65] be resigned to it. Perhaps this point is no longer a question with you, and my pertinacious dwelling upon it is a rude intrusion upon your feelings. If so, you must pardon me. You know the hell I have suffered on that point, and how tender I am upon it . . I am now fully convinced that you love her as ardently as you are capable of loving. . . . It is the peculiar misfortune of both you and me to dream dreams of Elysium far exceeding all that anything earthly can realize.”

    When Lincoln heard that Speed was finally married, he wrote him:

    It cannot be told how it now thrills me with joy to hear you say you are ‘far happier than you ever expected to be.’ That much, I know, is enough. I know you too well to suppose your expectations were not, at least, sometimes extravagant; and if the reality exceeds them all, I say, Enough, dear Lord. I am not going beyond the truth when I tell you that the short space it took me to read your last letter gave me more pleasure than the total sum of all I have enjoyed since the fatal first of January, 1841. Since then it seems to me I should have been entirely happy, but for the neverabsent idea that there is one still unhappy whom I have contributed to make so. That still kills my soul. I cannot but reproach myself for even wishing to be happy while she is otherwise.

    It is quite possible that a series of incidents that occurred during the summer in which the above was written had something to do with bringing such a frame of mind to a happier conclusion. James Shields, afterward a general in two wars and a senator from two States, was at that time auditor of Illinois, with his office at Springfield. Shields was an Irishman by birth, and, for an active politician of the Democratic [66] party, had the misfortune to be both sensitive and irascible in party warfare. Shields, together with the Democratic governor and treasurer, issued a circular order forbidding the payment of taxes in the depreciated paper of the Illinois State banks, and the Whigs were endeavoring to make capital by charging that the order was issued for the purpose of bringing enough silver into the treasury to pay the salaries of these officials. Using this as a basis of argument, a couple of clever Springfield society girls wrote and printed in the “Sangamo Journal” a series of humorous letters in country dialect, purporting to come from the “Lost Townships,” and signed by “Aunt Rebecca,” who called herself a farmer's widow. It is hardly necessary to say that Mary Todd was one of the culprits. The young ladies originated the scheme more to poke fun at the personal weaknesses of Shields than for the sake of party effect, and they embellished their simulated plaint about taxes with an embroidery of fictitious social happenings and personal allusions to the auditor that put the town on a grin and Shields into fury. The fair and mischievous writers found it necessary to consult Lincoln about how they should frame the political features of their attack, and he set them a pattern by writing the first letter of the series himself.

    Shields sent a friend to the. editor of the “Journal,” and demanded the name of the real “Rebecca.” The editor, as in duty bound, asked Lincoln what he should do, and was instructed to give Lincoln's name, and not to mention the ladies. Then followed a letter from Shields to Lincoln demanding retraction and apology, Lincoln's reply that he declined to answer under menace, and a challenge from Shields. Thereupon Lincoln instructed his “friend” as follows: If former offensive correspondence were withdrawn and a polite [67] and gentlemanly inquiry made, he was willing to explain that:

    I did write the Lost Townships letter which appeared in the Journal of the 2d instant, but had no participation in any form in any other article alluding to you. I wrote that wholly for political effect; I had no intention of injuring your personal or private character or standing as a man or a gentleman; and I did not then think, and do not now think, that that article could produce or has produced that effect against you, and had I anticipated such an effect I would have forborne to write it. And I will add that your conduct toward me, so far as I know, had always been gentlemanly, and that I had no personal pique against you and no cause for any. . . . If nothing like this is done, the preliminaries of the fight are to be:

    First. Weapons: Cavalry broadswords of the largest size, precisely equal in all respects, and such as now used by the cavalry company at Jacksonville.

    Second. Position: A plank ten feet long, and from nine to twelve inches broad, to be firmly fixed on edge, on the ground, as the line between us, which neither is to pass his foot over upon forfeit of his life. Next, a line drawn on the ground on either side of said plank and parallel with it, each at the distance of the whole length of the sword and three feet additional from the plank, and the passing of his own such line by either party during the fight shall be deemed a surrender of the contest.

    The two seconds met, and, with great unction, pledged “our honor to each other that we would endeavor to settle the matter amicably,” but persistently higgled over points till publicity and arrests seemed imminent. Procuring the necessary broadswords, all parties then hurried away to an island in the Mississippi River opposite [68] Alton, where, long before the planks were set on edge or the swords drawn, mutual friends took the case out of the hands of the seconds and declared an adjustment. The terms of the fight as written by Mr. Lincoln show plainly enough that in his judgment it was to be treated as a farce, and would never proceed beyond “preliminaries.” There, of course, ensued the usual very bellicose after-discussion in the newspapers, with additional challenges between the seconds about the proper etiquette of such farces, all resulting only in the shedding of much ink and furnishing Springfield with topics of lively conversation for a month. These occurrences, naturally enough, again drew Mr. Lincoln and Miss Todd together in friendly interviews, and Lincoln's letter to Speed detailing the news of the duels contains this significant paragraph:

    But I began this letter not for what I have been writing, but to say something on that subject which you know to be of such infinite solicitude to me. The immense sufferings you endured from the first days of September till the middle of February you never tried to conceal from me, and I well understood. You have now been the husband of a lovely woman nearly eight months. That you are happier now than the day you married her I well know, for without you could not be living. But I have your word for it too, and the returning elasticity of spirits which is manifested in your letters. But I want to ask a close question. “Are you now in feeling as well as judgment glad that you are married as you are?” From anybody but me this would be an impudent question not to be tolerated, but I know you will pardon it in me. Please answer it quickly, as I am impatient to know.

    The answer was evidently satisfactory, for on November 4, 1842, the Rev. Charles Dresser united Abraham [69] Lincoln and Mary Todd in the holy bonds of matrimony.1

    His marriage to Miss Todd ended all those mental perplexities and periods of despondency from which he had suffered more or less during his several love affairs, extending over nearly a decade. Out of the keen anguish he had endured, he finally gained that perfect mastery over his own spirit which Scripture declares to denote a greatness superior to that of him who takes a city. Few men have ever attained that complete domination of the will over the emotions, of reason over passion, by which he was able in the years to come to meet and solve the tremendous questions destiny had in store for him. His wedding once over, he took up with resolute patience the hard, practical routine of daily life, in which he had already been so severely schooled. Even his sentimental correspondence with his friend Speed lapsed into neglect. He was so poor that he and his bride could not make the contemplated visit to Kentucky they would both have so much enjoyed. His “national debt” of the old New Salem days was not yet fully paid off. “We are not keeping house, but boarding at the Globe tavern,” he writes. “Our room ... and boarding only cost us four dollars a week.”

    His law partnership with Stuart had lasted four years, but was dissolved by reason of Stuart's election [70] to Congress, and a new one was formed with Judge Stephen T. Logan, who had recently resigned from the circuit bench, where he had learned the quality and promise of Lincoln's talents. It was an opportune and important change. Stuart had devoted himself mainly to politics, while with Logan law was the primary object. Under Logan's guidance and encouragement, he took up both the study and practical work of the profession in a more serious spirit. Lincoln's interest in politics, however, was in no way diminished, and, in truth, his limited practice at that date easily afforded him the time necessary for both.

    Since 1840 he had declined a reelection to the legislature, and his ambition had doubtless contributed much to this decision. His late law partner, Stuart, had been three times a candidate for Congress. He was defeated in 1836, but successfully gained his election in 1838 and 1840, his service of two terms extending from December 2, 1839, to March 3, 1843. For some reason, the next election had been postponed from the year 1842 to 1843. It was but natural that Stuart's success should excite a similar desire in Lincoln, who had reached equal party prominence, and rendered even more conspicuous party service. Lincoln had profited greatly by the companionship and friendly emulation of the many talented young politicians of Springfield, but this same condition also increased competition and stimulated rivalry. Not only himself, but both Hardin and Baker desired the nomination, which, as the district then stood, was equivalent to an election.

    When the leading Whigs of Sangamon County met, Lincoln was under the impression that it was Baker and not.Hardin who was his most dangerous rival, as appears in a letter to Speed of March 24, 1843 [71]

    “We had a meeting of the Whigs of the county here on last Monday to appoint delegates to a district convention, and Baker beat me and got the delegation instructed to go for him. The meeting, in spite of my attempt to decline it, appointed me one of the delegates, so that in getting Baker the nomination I shall be fixed a good deal like a fellow who is made groomsman to a man that has cut him out and is marrying his own dear ‘gal.’”

    The causes that led to his disappointment are set forth more in detail in a letter, two days later, to a friend in the new county of Menard, which now included his old home, New Salem, whose powerful assistance was therefore lost from the party councils of Sangamon. The letter also dwells more particularly on the complicated influences which the practical politician has to reckon with, and shows that even his marriage had been used to turn popular opinion against him.

    “It is truly gratifying to me to learn that while the people of Sangamon have cast me off, my old friends of Menard, who have known me longest and best, stick to me. It would astonish, if not amuse, the older citizens to learn that I (a stranger, friendless, uneducated, penniless boy, working on a flatboat at ten dollars per month) have been put down here as the candidate of pride, wealth, and aristocratic family distinction. Yet so, chiefly, it was. There was, too, the strangest combination of church influence against me. Baker is a Campbellite, and therefore, as I suppose, with few exceptions, got all that church. My wife has some relations in the Presbyterian churches and some with the Episcopal churches; and therefore, wherever it would tell, I was set down as either the-one or the other, while it was everywhere contended that no Christian ought to go for me, because I belonged to no church, was [72] suspected of being a deist, and had talked about fighting a duel. With all these things, Baker of course had nothing to do. Nor do I complain of them. As to his own church going for him, I think that was right enough, and as to the influences I have spoken of in the other, though they were very strong, it would be grossly untrue and unjust to charge that they acted upon them in a body, or were very near so. I only mean that those influences levied a tax of a considerable per cent. upon my strength throughout the religious community.”

    In the same letter we have a striking illustration of Lincoln's intelligence and skill in the intricate details of political management, together with the high sense of honor and manliness which directed his action in such matters. Speaking of the influences of Menard County, he wrote:

    If she and Mason act circumspectly, they will in the convention be able so far to enforce their rights as to decide absolutely which one of the candidates shall be successful. Let me show the reason of this. Hardin, or some other Morgan candidate, will get Putnam, Marshall, Woodford, Tazewell, and Logan [counties], making sixteen. Then you and Mason, having three, can give the victory to either side. You say you shall instruct your delegates for me, unless I object. I certainly shall not object. That would be too pleasant a compliment for me to tread in the dust. And, besides, if anything should happen (which, however, is not probable) by which Baker should be thrown out of the fight, I would be at liberty to accept the nomination if I could get it. I do, however, feel myself bound not to hinder him in any way from getting the nomination. I should despise myself were I to attempt it. I think, then, it would be proper for your meeting to [73] appoint three delegates, and to instruct them to go for some one as a first choice, some one else as a second, and perhaps some one as a third; and if in those instructions I were named as the first choice it would gratify me very much. If you wish to hold the balance of power, it is important for you to attend to and secure the vote of Mason also.

    A few weeks again changed the situation, of which he informed Speed in a letter dated May 18:

    In relation to our Congress matter here, you were right in supposing I would support the nominee. Neither Baker nor I, however, is the man-but Hardin, so far as I can judge from present appearances. We shall have no split or trouble about the matter; all will be harmony.

    In the following year (1844) Lincoln was once more compelled to exercise his patience. The Campbellite friends of Baker must have again been very active in behalf of their church favorite; for their influence, added to his dashing politics and eloquent oratory, appears to have secured him the nomination without serious contention, while Lincoln found a partial recompense in being nominated a candidate for presidential elector, which furnished him opportunity for all his party energy and zeal during the spirited but unsuccessful presidential campaign for Henry Clay. He not only made an extensive canvass in Illinois, but also made a number of speeches in the adjoining State of Indiana.

    It was probably during that year that a tacit agreement was reached among the Whig leaders in Sangamon County, that each would be satisfied with one term in Congress and would not seek a second nomination. But Hardin was the aspirant from the neighboring county of Morgan, and apparently therefore not [74] included in this arrangement. Already, in the fall of 1845, Lincoln industriously began his appeals and instructions to his friends in the district to secure the succession. Thus he wrote on November 17:

    The paper at Pekin has nominated Hardin for governor, and, commenting on this, the Alton paper indirectly nominated him for Congress. It would give Hardin a great start, and perhaps use me up, if the Whig papers of the district should nominate him for Congress. If your feelings toward me are the same as when I saw you (which I have no reason to doubt), I wish you would let nothing appear in your paper which may operate against me. You understand. Matters stand just as they did when I saw you. Baker is certainly off the track, and I fear Hardin intends to be on it.

    But again, as before, the spirit of absolute fairness governed all his movements, and he took special pains to guard against it being “suspected that I was attempting to juggle Hardin out of a nomination for Congress by juggling him into one for governor.” “I should be pleased,” he wrote again in January, “if I could concur with you in the hope that my name would be the only one presented to the convention; but I cannot. Hardin is a man of desperate energy and perseverance, and one that never backs out; and, I fear, to think otherwise is to be deceived in the character of our adversary. I would rejoice to be spared the labor of a contest, but, ‘being in,’ I shall go it thoroughly and to the bottom.” He then goes on to recount in much detail the chances for and against him in the several counties of the district, and in later letters discusses the system of selecting candidates, where the convention ought to be held, how the delegates should be chosen, the instructions they should receive, and how [75] the places of absent delegates should be filled. He watched his field of operations, planned his strategy, and handled his forces almost with the vigilance of a military commander. As a result, he won both his nomination in May and his election to the Thirtieth Congress in August, 1846.

    In that same year the Mexican War broke out. Hardin became colonel of one of the three regiments of Illinois volunteers called for by President Polk, while Baker raised a fourth regiment, which was also accepted. Colonel Hardin was killed in the battle of Buena Vista, and Colonel Baker won great distinction in the fighting near the City of Mexico.

    Like Abraham Lincoln, Douglas was also elected to Congress in 1846, where he had already served the two preceding terms. But these redoubtable Illinois champions were not to have a personal tilt in the House of Representatives. Before Congress met, the Illinois legislature elected Douglas to the United States Senate for six years from March 4, 1847.

    1 The following children were born of this marriage:

    Robert Todd, August 1, 1843; Edward Baker, March 10, 1846; William Wallace, December 21, 1850; Thomas, April 4, 1853.

    Edward died in infancy; William in the White House, February 20, 1862; Thomas in Chicago, July 15, 1871; and the mother, Mary Lincoln, in Springfield, July 16, 1882.

    Robert, who filled the office of Secretary of War with distinction under the administrations of Presidents Garfield and Arthur, as well as that of minister to England under the administration of President Harrison, now resides in Chicago, Illinois.

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