« 上一頁繼續 »
THE YOUNG POLITICIAN.
Elected to the Legislature-Stump Speaker and Political Debater
Encounters on the Stump—The Lincoln-Stone Protest against
IN 1834 Lincoln again became a candidate for the
Legislature. This was to be expected. On the previous occasion he had made what was a very good run, although, as we have seen, he had a very few days in which to finish his canvass after returning from the wars. The election took place in August, and, after a sharp fight, Lincoln was elected. Many Democrats, we are told, voted for him from purely personal and friendly reasons, and he was sure of the united support of the Whigs. The four successful candidates, with their votes, were as follows: Lincoln, 1376; ,
Dawson, 1370; Carpenter, 1170; Stuart, 1164; Lincoln thus leading the poll. To say that Lincoln was elated would faintly express his satisfaction over this great but not unexpected triumph. He was now twenty-five years old, hardy, in perfect health, manly, tolerably self-possessed, and not ashamed to address himself to the discussion of any of the questions of the day, and fully competent to
hold his own with the general run of debaters on the stump, or in the Legislature. He had mastered the elementary law-books, was familiar with legal phrases and forms, knew every rod of the country roundabout the region from which he was a representative, and, above all, knew the people, their wants, their hopes, fears, aspirations, habits, and manner of life. With a few books he was on the most intimate terms. These were the Bible, Shakespeare, Burns, Æsop and The Pilgrim's Progress. He was honest, truthful, kind-hearted, patient, long-suffering, brave, and tender. Without forming his literary style on any model, indeed scarcely even thinking of style, he had insensibly acquired a method of expressing himself, both in reading and writing, which may well serve as an example for the youth of to-day. He used only words of one syllable, where that was practicable, and, instead of diluting his thoughts with many words, he went straight to the point, concisely and without any delay. He was awkward in appearance, diffident, and, while not unduly distrustful of himself, always preferred another before himself, and ever showed himself ready to give place to others. Above all, and to the latest day of his life, Lincoln was not ashamed to confess his ignorance of any subject; he never lost an opportunity to get instruction.
The capital of Illinois was then at Vandalia. The Legislature was made up of men who, like Lincoln, had been selected from their fellows by friends and neighbors, chiefly for personal reasons, and by the free suffrages of the voters. What are now known
as machine politics, in which corrupt and selfish party interests are concerned, were unknown in those primitive days. The members came together, passed the laws thought most needful for the people, and then went home. Clad in a suit of decent but not especially elegant blue jeans, Lincoln, with his commanding height, was a marked figure in the Legislature. But we do not learn that he was remarkable for anything else but his height, then six feet and four inches. If he created any impression otherwise, it was when, the day's session over, he tilted his chair back in some place where the budding statesmen chiefly congregated, and entertained them with stories of which the repute has lasted long. But the tall young backwoodsman, now passing into the era of statesmanship, was keenly alive to all that was going on. He held his place in the legislative debates, but he listened to others. He introduced few bills, but he narrowly observed what other men were doing in this direction; and, while he said little, he took in everything and thought a great deal. The session of that winter was not lost to him.
Next year he was again nominated for the Legislature and was again elected, this time receiving, as in 1834, the largest vote of any candidate voted for in the region. In his appeal to the voters, that year, Lincoln said: “I go for all sharing the privileges of the government who assist in bearing its burdens. Consequently, I go for admitting all whites to the right of suffrage who pay taxes or bear arms (by no means excluding females).” And again: “Whether elected or not, I go for distributing the proceeds of
the sales of the public lands to the several States, to enable our State, in common with other States, to dig canals and construct railroads without borrowing money and paying interest on it.” At that time there were two great questions before the people: one was the right to vote of persons not born in the United States; and the other was the policy of making public improvements, such as those named by Lincoln, at public expense. Henry Clay was Lincoln's model and example in politics. And, in taking a broad and liberal view on these two leading questions, Lincoln was not only most outspoken and resolute, but he was following in the footsteps of the great Whig chief. Nevertheless, many of Lincoln's friends were amazed at the audacity and seemingly needless courage of the young candidate for legislative honors.
During his canvass, Lincoln made additions to his reputation for ready wit and humor. On one occasion he was pitted against George Forquer, who, from being a leading Whig, had become a bitter “whole-hog Jackson man,” and had been rewarded for his apostasy with a good office. Forquer was not a candidate in this canvass, but was called in to “boom” the Democratic nominee against Lincoln. Riding into Springfield, where the meeting was to be held, Lincoln's attention was drawn to Forquer's fine house, on which was a lightning-rod, then a great novelty in those parts. Lincoln had been allotted to close the debate, and Forquer, who spoke next before him, devoted himself to “taking down” the young man from New Salem. He ridiculed his
dress, manners, and rough personal appearance, and, with much pomposity, derided him as an uncouth youngster. Lincoln, on rising to reply, stood for a moment with flashing eyes and pale cheeks, betraying his inward but unspoken wrath. He began by answering very briefly this ungenerous attack. He said:
“I am not so young in years as I am in the tricks and the trades of a politician; but, live long or die young, I would rather die now, than, like that gentleman, change my politics, and with the change receive an office worth three thousand dollars a year, and then feel obliged to erect a lightning-rod over my house to protect a guilty conscience from an offended God.”
The effect upon the simple audience, gathered there in the open air, was electrical. Here was a pompous and vain-glorious man, who, as the settlers thought, could not sleep in his fine house, compared with which their rude cabins were poor indeed, without setting up this unusual and heaven-defying instrument. When Forquer rose to speak, later on in the canvass, and in other years, people said: “That 's the man who dared not sleep in his own house without a lightning-rod to keep off the vengeance of the Almighty."
At another time, Lincoln met on the stump Colonel Richard Taylor, a self-conceited and dandified man, who wore a gold chain, ruffled shirt, and other adornments to which the men of southern Illinois were quite unaccustomed. It was the business of the Democrats to rate themselves as the hard-working