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Abraham Lincoln, Volume I by John T. Morse

But to Lincoln it seemed a metropolis


In

such hours as he could snatch from politics and bread-winning Lincoln had continued to study law, and in March, 1837, he was admitted to the bar. He decided to establish himself in Springfield, where certainly he deserved a kindly welcome in return for what he had done towards making it the capital. It was a little town of only between one and two thousand inhabitants; but to Lincoln it seemed a metropolis. "There is a great deal of flourishing about in carriages here," he wrote; there were also social distinctions, and real aristocrats, who wore ruffled shirts, and even adventured "fair top-boots" in the "unfathomable" mud of streets which knew neither sidewalks nor pavements.

Lincoln came into the place bringing all his worldly belongings in a pair of saddle-bags. He found there John T. Stuart, his comrade in the Black Hawk campaign, engaged in the practice of the law. The two promptly arranged a partnership. But Stuart was immersed in that too common mixture of law and politics in which the former jealous mistress is apt to take the traditional revenge upon her half-hearted suitor. Such happened in this case; and these two partners, both making the same blunder of yielding imperfect allegiance to their profession, paid the inevitable penalty; they got perhaps work enough in mere point of quantity, but it was neither interesting nor lucrative. Such business, during the four years which he passed with Stuart, did not wean Lincoln from his natural

fondness for matters political. At the same time he was a member of sundry literary gatherings and debating societies. Such of his work as has been preserved does not transcend the ordinary productions of a young man trying his wings in clumsy flights of oratory; but he had the excuse that the thunderous declamatory style was then regarded in the West as the only true eloquence. He learned better, in course of time, and so did the West; and it was really good fortune that he passed through the hobbledehoy period in the presence of audiences whose taste was no better than his own.

Occasionally amid the tedium of these high-flown commonplaces there opens a fissure through which the inner spirit of the man looks out for an instant. It is well known that Lincoln was politically ambitious; his friends knew it, his biographers have said it, he himself avowed it. Now and again, in these early days, when his horizon could hardly have ranged beyond the state legislature and the lower house of Congress, he uttered some sentences which betrayed longings of a high moral grade, and indicated that office and power were already regarded by him as the opportunities for great actions. Strenuous as ought to be the objection to that tone in speaking of Lincoln which seems to proceed from beneath the sounding-board of the pulpit, and which uses him as a Sunday-school figure to edify a piously admiring world, yet it certainly seems a plain fact that his day-dreams at this period foreshadowed the acts of his later years, and that what he pleased himself with imagining was not the acquirement of official position but the achievement of some great benefit for mankind. He did not, of course, expect to do this as a philanthropist; for he understood himself sufficiently to know that his road lay in the public service. Accordingly he talks not as Clarkson or Wilberforce, but as a public man, of "emancipating slaves," of eliminating slavery and drunkenness from the land; at the same time he speaks thus not as a politician shrewdly anticipating the coming popular impulse, but as one desiring to stir that impulse. When he said, in his manifesto in 1832, that he had "no other ambition so great as that of being truly esteemed by his fellow-men," he uttered words which in the mouths of most politicians have the irritating effect of the dreariest and cheapest of platitudes; but he obviously uttered them with the sincerity of a deep inward ambition, that kind of an ambition which is often kept sacred from one's nearest intimates. Many side glimpses show him in this light, and it seems to be the genuine and uncolored one.


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