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6. Mentor Graham to William H. Herndon (interview).

Petersburg Ills My 29th 1865

Dear Sir:

In answer to your various Enquiries let me say — I came to Illinois in the year AD 1829 and settled in Sangamon County — near the Sangamon River close to the Village of New Salem & was at that time 26 years of age. My business has been school teaching for forty-five years. In the month of August 1830 I first saw Mr Lincoln. He came down the Sangamon River from Decatur Macon County Illinois to New Salem in Old Sangamon — Menard now being part of Old Sangamon. The first time I saw him was on Election day — we were decient a clerk for the Polls. Mr Lincoln was about the street looking around, and was asked by some of us if could write he said "yes — a little." "Will you act as clerk of Elections to-day —" said one of the judges: "I will try and do the best I can, if you so


request." He was then sworn in & acted as clerk of the August Election. There were 49 Candidates, it being a general State election: He performed the duties with great facility — much fairness and honesty & impartially. This was the first public official act in his life. I clerked with him on that day and at the same polls. The Election books are now in the city of Springfield Ills, where they can be seen & inspected any day.

The next work he did was clerking in a store for Denton Offut, which was in the fall and winter of 1830 & 1831. He was among the best clerks I ever saw: he was attentive to his business — was kind and considerate to his customers & friends and always treated them with great tenderness — kindness & honesty. He in fact superintended & managed Offuts whole business. Offut was an unsteady — noisy — fussy — rattle brained man, wild & unprovidential. Offut rented the water mill at the foot of the Salem hill of Cameron & Rutledge. Mr Lincoln frequently had to attend to store & mill. Offut broke up in the Spring or Summer of 1831, leaving Lincoln out of business again. Just before Mr Lincoln came to New Salem he had gone down the River with Offut & got off at Beardstown in Cass County & walked afoot to New Salem. Then it was that he commenced clerking for Offut. After clerking for Offut & now being out of business he turned his attention to the law. He read Blackstone in the fall & winter of 1831 & 2. One word here: During the time he was working for Offut & hands being scarce Lincoln turned in and cut down trees and split enough rails for Offut to a pen sufficiently large to contain one thousand hogs; The pen was built under New Salem hill — close to the mill. Offut had purchased a great deal of Corn and had it at — in and about the mill. The hogs were purchased to Eat the corn — so that would become good — well fed & fatted hogs for Market. I know where those rails are now — are sound to-dy.

He went in 1832, about the month of May or June, to the Black Hawk war: He vlunteered as private and was without his knowledge Elected Captain of it. He went through the war and was spoken by all in his Company & Regiment — Especially his own Company as being a gentleman — a kind hearted & noble man who did his duty well without fear — gold, favor or Affection. He had a somewhat good Eye for Military affairs, as said by Competentt judges. I have no doubt of this. His heart & head were large & Comprehensive enough to Command a Company — regiment or other Core of men at any time or under any Circumstances.

When he returned from the Black Hawk war he became a candidate for the legislature and in his first or among his first political speeches in that Canvass which was in 1832, he addressed the People in Petersburg — the old town. From the


time of this speech & during that Canvass he read attentively the Louisville Journal — the Missouri Republican and other papers. His text book was the Louisville Journal. He was a regular subscribe to the Journal. Mr Lincoln was defeated in the Election of 1832. He was a whig. After the Canvass of 1832 Mr Lincoln turned his attention Exclusively to the law — surveying — History — Biography & general newspaper reading. Mr Lincoln drew up deeds, Contracts & other papers for the People, never charging them for it — not a cent. In the month of Feby AD 1833 Mr Lincoln Came & lived with me. and Continued with me about Six months. It was here that he Commenced to study the English grammer with me, I then was teaching School. I taught him the rules of surveying. I do not think that Mr Lincoln was any thing of arithmetic — Especially so of geometry & trigemonetry before he came to my house, and I think I may say he was my schollar & I was his teacher. His deputyship under Calhoun was long after this — say 1 or 2 years. Mr Lincoln spoke to me one day and Said "I had a notion of studing grammar." "I replied to him thus If you Ever Expect to go before the public in any Capacity I think it the best thing you can do." He said to me "If I had a grammar I would Commence now." There was none in the village & I said to him — "I know of a grammar at one Vances about 6 miles" which I thought he could get —. He was then at breakfast — ate — got up and went on foot to Vances & got the Book. He soon Came back & told me he had it. He then turned his immediate & almost undivided attention to English grammar. The book was Kirkham's grammar — an old volume, which I suppose — have so heard — is in the Rutledge family to-day. During this Spring — Summer & fall he read law — studied & practiced Surveying and the Grammar & would recite to me in the Evening. I have taught in my life four or six thousand people as School Master and no one ever surpassed him in rapidly — quickly & well acquiring the rudiments & rules of English grammar. This I repeat was in the Spring — Summer & fall of 1833 — As before stated he was writing deeds — Contracts & other papers for the People. His playful hours for these years was pitching quoits — jumping — hopping — Swimming — Shooting — telling Stories — anecdotes — and not unfrequently as we in the west say — "[Setting?] up to the fine girls of Illinois —".

In the Summer of 1834 he was again a Candidate for the legislature and was Elected. He went to Vandalia — the Capital of Illinois and there became a good legislature — became then & there as I am informed with the great men in Illinois — probably with Douglas & others — In 1836 he was again a candidate for the legislature and was Elected; and was one of what is called the long nine — 2 tall Senators and 7 tall representatives from Sangamon County who moved the Capital of the State of Illinois from Vandalia to Springfield. The members comprising the long nine were


Senators and


He then moved to the City of Springfield in 1836 or 1837 since which time I have only seen him occasionally. I wish to say one or two words about his Character. It was this — he was a very simple open souled man; he was a sincere man — a man of purpous — was frank — ingenuous; he was kind, humerous and deeply honest — never deviating from the Exact truth; he was studious — so much so that he somewhat injured his health and Constitution. The Continued thought & study of the man Caused — with the death of one whom he dearly & sincerely loved, a momentary — only partial & momentary derangement. Mr Lincoln's character at once seized observation and that only led to a respect — love & confidence in Abraham Lincoln.

Your Friend
Mentor Graham

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2119-23; Huntington Library: LN2408, 1:351-57



1. This is one of several early interviews written out by WHH in the form of a letter addressed to himself and signed by the interviewee.

2. Poll books show that AL voted in New Salem at the August 1, 1831, election and that the clerks were Mentor Graham and Abram Bergen.

3. Lincoln clerked for Offutt in the fall of 1831 and winter of 1832.

4. AL traveled to New Orleans for Offutt but, according to his own account, returned via St. Louis. For AL walking to New Salem from Beardstown, see §§9, 14, 15, 25, 56.

5. Petersburg was first laid out in 1832 or 1833 by its original promoters, Peter Lukins and George Warburton. The townsite was purchased by Hezekiah King and John Taylor and resurveyed by AL in 1836. See Miller, 293.

6. John Vance's name was mistakenly rendered "Vaner" in H&W (1889).

7. Samuel Kirkham, A Compendium of English Grammar, Accompanied by an Appendix of Familiar Lectures; Containing a New Systematic Mode of Parsing; Likewise Exercises in False Syntax and a Key to the Exercises: Designed for the Use of Private Learners and Schools (1823). The edition in the Rutledge family that Lincoln was said to have used, now in the Library of Congress, was published at Cincinnati in 1826.

8. Flattened rings of iron or circles of rope thrown at a pin, as in the game of horseshoes.