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days were more interested in politics than many of the present age, she soon made the acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln, then regarded as a rising man. It will never be known just how a matrimonial engagement between Lincoln and Miss Todd became settled and then unsettled. It may be sufficient for us to know that after the engagement was fixed there was a misunderstanding betwixt the two, and that Lincoln released the young lady from the engagement, and that she declined to be released. Immediately after, he fell into a state of the most profound melancholy. He was tortured with the idea that he might have been bound by other obligations, or that he was not wholly a free man. Certain it is that he was so affected by what seems to have been a needless remorse, that his mind was in danger of being unsettled. In this pitiable plight, his friend Joshua F. Speed, who had closed out his business in Springfield, returned to Kentucky, taking Lincoln with him. There, in the restful quiet of the Speed mansion, Lincoln recovered his mental health and vigor, and then returned to Springfield.
At that time a well-known character in the city was James Shields, a brisk and hot-headed young man from the County Tyrone, Ireland. Shields was an active Democrat, ever dipping into all sorts of adventures, and he had lately been elected State Auditor, an office of some importance, with a good income attached to it. Lincoln anonymously printed in the Sangamon Journal a witty letter purporting to come from “The Lost Townships,” in which the writer, who pretended to be a widow with political
ideas in her head, bewailed the hard times and the evil results of Democratic rule. In that letter some satirical allusions were made to the heady young Democratic Auditor, who was a fair mark for ridicule, as he was most sensitive, as well as of a fiery disposition. Shields was frantic with rage. He vapored through the town, threatening death and destruction to the unknown author of the satire. The shot was followed by another, in which the widow of “The Lost Townships” offered to square matters by marrying Shields. These two letters, which were the talk of the town, so tickled the fancy of Miss Todd and another young lady that they concocted a series of lampoons, verses, and skits, all of which, like the little barbed weapons flung by a bullfighter, were designed to infuriate the rearing and plunging Shields. In a rage, he went to the editor of the journal, and demanded to know the name of the author of these attacks. The editor, in great distress of mind, applied to Lincoln for advice. Shields would fight. The editor would not fight. Lincoln told him to say that Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the whole business from first to last. Being so informed, Shields challenged Lincoln to mortal combat. Lincoln accepted.
In those days, and in those regions, duelling was not only common, but it was very highly thought of as a means of setting a man right when his honor had been assailed before the community. It seems strange, now, to think that Lincoln could have accepted a challenge to fight a duel. But it was the custom of the country, although contrary to the
laws. And perhaps Lincoln felt that there would be no duel. Shields was a famous boaster. He and his friends made great ado about the coming duel, so that the affair was very widely advertised. Lincoln, being the challenged party, had the choice of weapons and he chose “cavalry broadswords of the largest size.” If he had really desired to hew down Shields, he might have done so, for, in his stout hands and with his long arms, he could have mowed down any man of ordinary build before he could have got near Lincoln. But the fight did not come off. At the last moment, Shields was ready to accept from Lincoln the explanation that the letters from “The Lost Townships” were only intended for political effect and not to reflect on the personal character of Mr. Shields. Lincoln was no wrangler, and it is very likely that he was greatly disturbed by this unseemly quarrel, the first and the last of the sort that he ever had; and, if he could have escaped from the duel without degradation, he would have done so. It ended without humiliation to him except so far as he felt humbled by having been drawn into a silly fracas in which nobody could gain any credit to himself. Curiously enough, the seconds in this bloodless affair fell into a wordy quarrel, and a vigorous correspondence, which at one time threatened to result in a real duel, was kept up for several weeks after the famous “Lincoln and Shields duel” was declared "off.” But nothing serious came of this after-clap. Years after, when he was President of the republic, Lincoln had occasion to reprimand a young officer of the army who had been brought before a court
martial for a quarrel with a brother officer. Possibly, these words, addressed to the culprit, may have been suggested by his own unwelcome experience:
“The advice of a father to his son, 'Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, bear it that the opposed may beware of thee,' is good, but not the best. Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones though clearly your own.
Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite."
But out of the Shields affair, we may understand, issued the marriage of Lincoln and Miss Todd. The young lady was bright, vivacious, and roguish. Her knight had shown his readiness to fight for her, although, with genuine Kentucky spirit, she had declared her own willingness to cross weapons with the redoubtable young Irishman, if need be. The . paper duel took place late in September; the young couple were married November 4, 1840. The newly married pair took lodgings in the Globe Tavern, a well-known and modest boarding-place not far from the statehouse. In a letter written to a friend, about this time, Lincoln speaks of his happiness in the married state, of his comforts, and of the cheapness of their living, which, he says, “is only four dollars a week for board and lodging." On these
modest terms did the future President begin married life. Mrs. Lincoln was indeed a helpmate. Her good management and thoughtfulness admirably supplemented her husband's unworldly absent-mindedness. They were always what some people call “an oldfashioned couple,” content with each other, a devoted husband and wife, to the end of their life together.
To Lincoln's inexpressible satisfaction, Harrison was elected in 1840. The hard-cider and log-cabin campaign was not fought through, however, without many a hard struggle. The Democrats were overwhelmed at last. The Whigs, after their long exclusion from power, were correspondingly elated. It was during this canvass that the old term of derision “Locofoco was again applied to the Democrats. In 1834, so runs the tale, a party of Democratic agitators were assembled in Tammany Hall, New York, resolved on some very high-handed political
The more moderate, after vainly attempting to stem the tide, turned off the gas all at once. In those days, friction matches were a new invention and were called “Locofoco matches,” probably from the Latin loco foco, in lieu of fire. Those who were in favor of extreme measures drew their “Locofocos” from their pockets, relighted the gas, and the radicals carried their point. From this, the term Locofoco spread all over the country; and it is worthy of remark that Mr. Lincoln, clinging as he did to old-fashioned phrases, frequently, even during the Civil War, referred to Democrats by their old name of Locofocos.
The log-cabin campaign having terminated to