14. Clipping from Menard Axis.
[Feb. 15, 1862]
About thirty years ago, on an inclement day of winter, there was seen a rough uncouth youth of twenty one years of age plodding with awkward step his way from Beardstown to this place. His appearance was far from prepossessing; and his dress was of the most ludicrous character. His long arms protruded through the sleeves of a coat which scarcely reached beyond the elbow in one direction, or below the waist in the other. He wore a pair of pants far better adapted for a man of much less height, and which left exposed a pair of socks which, although they had long been in use, had never received the attentions of any kind washerwoman. His large long foot partially enveloped in a well worn pair of shoes, presented a singular contrast with his very small head surmounted by a sealskin cap. Thus clad this youth reached the town of New Salem, situated two miles from this place. Without money or friends, he necessarily betook himself to manual labor that he might earn a livelihood. His frugality, and genial temper soon gained him friends. — His honest frankness and native shrewdness recommended him to the only merchant of the place, the father of the writer, who gave him employment as a clerk and bookkeeper in his dry goods store. — Soon the Black Hawk war broke out; and this youth, full of adventure and enthusiasm, left his situation to enlist as a soldier. This he did, but the war was over before he reached the field of action, so he returned home again.
Buying a second hand surveyor's compass, he announced that he would "do surveying." Under the pupilage of a present citizen of the county, he studied the elements of English grammar, and occasionally "read law." As a regular means of support during this time, he "stood" a stallion for a farmer living near to New Salem, and is said to have attended to the business pretty well.
Another season came, and the youth having accumulated a few dollars, resolved to go into business for himself. Selecting a partner, he struck up a trade for a grocery in town. In this business he with his partner continued for some time, but without success. An opposition liquor shop attracted the custom, while liabilities were accumulating to this firm. At length a constable entered the premises, and seized upon all of personal effects of the firm, as well as those of the individuals composing it. They were sold at constable's, sale under execution to the highest bidder. Our youth now found himself without money or credit. Every article which he owned in the world had been sold, save the clothes which he wore; and he was still in debt!
Again necessity forced him to manual labor. This he very much disliked to perform, but his honest pride would not allow him to eat the bread which he had not earned. Here, it is stated, he employed his intellectual faculties in writing a dissertation against the doctrine of the divinity of the scriptures. Of this he soon repented, and consigned his production to the flames. He had designed it for publication, but his senior friends, pointing him to Paine and Voltaire, wrought a change in his intentions, and perhaps his destiny.
At the constable's sale, a sympathizing friend had bought his surveyor's compass and given it back to him. A new town was to be surveyed two miles from New Salem, and he was employed to do the surveying. The present town of Petersburg is the first and last town in which he ever practiced this scientific profession.
He now became an actor in a new scene. He chanced to meet with a lady, who to him seemed lovely, angelic, and the height of perfection. Forgetful of all things else, he could think or dream of naught but her. His feelings he soon made her acquainted with, and was delighted with a reciprocation. This to him was perfect happiness and with uneasy anxiety he awaited the arrival of the day when the twain would be made one flesh. — But that day was doomed never to arrive. Disease came upon this lovely beauty, and she sickened and died. The youth had wrapped his heart with her's, and this was more than he could bear. He saw her to her grave, and as the cold clods fell upon the coffin, he sincerely wished that he too had been enclosed within it. Melancholy came upon him; he was changed and sad. His friends detected strange conduct and a flighty imagination. — They placed him under guard for fear of his committing suicide. — New circumstances changed his thoughts, and at length he partially forgot that which had for a time consumed his mind.
He now demanded active exercise, that both his mind and body might recuperate. A pork merchant gave him employment as a drover; and, in this business he continued for some months. At this time a local political question agitated the portion of the county in which he resided. A division of the county was anxiously desired by both political parties about New Salem; but was bitterly opposed by the people of another portion of the county. It was to be tested in the legislature the next winter. Those who wished for the division of the county, in looking around, could find no one more suitable for a representative of their interests than this youth. — He was nominated as their candidate, and elected without regard to party politics.
Who now would the reader suppose is this awkward youth — this dry goods clerk — this soldier — this keeper of a stallion — this grocery keeper — this bankrupt liquor merchant — this day laborer, infidel writer, surveyor, love-sick swain, hog drover and legislator? He is none other than ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the largest army which has ever been assembled in modern times. Engaged in the great work of preserving a distracted Union, the eyes of all mankind are now turned toward h — the most conspicious, and the man having the greatest responsibility resting upon him, of any man now living in the world. 1832 and 1862 what a contrast!
What an example of ambition is for the youths of the land who now toil in the modest walks of unobserved secluded life! It should arouse them all to a higher appreciation of their importance in the great drama of the world. Ambition should awaken them — they should learn to labor in patience, do right to all mankind, and await the occasions which shall rule their destinies.
Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2152 (letter), Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2153 (clipping); Huntington Library: LN2408, 1:513 — 14 (letter only)