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L. D. Matheny. I was riding a sprightly animal belonging to John T. Stuart. At the time we came in sight of the scene, our two voluntary footmen were about three-fourths of a mile in advance of us, and we about half a mile behind most of our company, and three or four on foot still behind us, leading some sore-backed horses. But the owners of our horses came running back, and, meeting us all in full speed, rightfully ordered us to dismount. We obeyed: they mounted, and all pressed on toward the conflict, they on horseback, we on foot. In a few moments of hard walking and terribly close observation, Lincoln said to me, 'George, this can't be a very dangerous battle.' Reply: Much shooting, nothing falls.' It was at once decided to be a sham for the purpose of training cavalry, instead of Indians having attacked a few white soldiers, and a few of our own men, on their way home, for the purpose of killing them."
HE volunteers from Sangamon returned to their homes shortly before the State election, at which, among other officers, assembly-men were to be chosen. Lincoln's popularity had been greatly enhanced by his service in the war, and some of his friends urged him with warm solicitations to become a candidate at the coming election. He prudently resisted, and declined to consent, alleging in excuse his limited acquaintance in the county at large, until Mr. James Rutledge, the founder of New Salem, added the weight of his advice to the nearly unanimous desire of the neighborhood. It is quite likely that his recent military career was thought to furnish high promise of usefulness in civil affairs; but Mr. Rutledge was sure that he saw another proof of his great abilities in a speech which Abe was induced to make, just about this time, before the New-Salem Literary Society. The following is an account of this speech by R. B. Rutledge, the son of James:
"About the year 1832 or 1833, Mr. Lincoln made his first effort at public speaking. A debating club, of which James Rutledge was president, was organized, and held regular meetings. As he arose to speak, his tall form towered above the little assembly. Both hands were thrust down deep in the pockets of his pantaloons. A perceptible smile at once lit up the faces of the audience, for all anticipated the relation of some humorous story. But he opened up the discussion in splendid style, to the infinite astonishment of his friends. As he warmed with his subject, his hands would
forsake his pockets and would enforce his ideas by awkward gestures, but would very soon seek their easy resting-places. He pursued the question with reason and argument so pithy and forcible that all were amazed. The president at his fireside, after the meeting, remarked to his wife, that there was more in Abe's head than wit and fun; that he was already a fine speaker; that all he lacked was culture to enable him to reach the high destiny which he knew was in store for him. From that time Mr. Rutledge took a deeper interest in him.
"Soon after Mr. Rutledge urged him to announce himself as a candidate for the Legislature. This he at first declined to do, averring that it was impossible to be elected. It was suggested that a canvass of the county would bring him. prominently before the people, and in time would do him good. He reluctantly yielded to the solicitations of his friends, and made a partial canvass."
In those days political animosities were fierce enough; but, owing to the absence of nominating conventions, party lines were not, as yet, very distinctly drawn in Illinois. Candidates announced themselves; but, usually, it was done after full consultation with influential friends, or persons of considerable power in the neighborhood of the candidate's residence. We have already seen the process by which Mr. Lincoln was induced to come forward. There were often secret combinations among a number of candidates, securing a mutual support; but in the present case there is no trace of such an understanding.
This (1832) was the year of Gen. Jackson's election. The Democrats stigmatized their opponents as " Federalists," while the latter were steadily struggling to shuffle off the odious name. For the present they called themselves Democratic Republicans; and it was not until 1833 or 1834, that they formally took to themselves the designation of Whig. The Democrats were known better as Jackson men than as Democrats, and were inexpressibly proud of either name. Four or five years afterward their enemies invented for their benefit the meaningless and hideous word "Locofoco."
Since 1826 every general election in the State had resulted in a Democratic victory. The young men were mostly Democrats; and the most promising talents in the State were devoted to the cause, which seemed destined to achieve success wherever there was a contest. In a new country largely peopled by adventurers from older States, there were necessarily found great numbers who would attach themselves to the winning side merely because it was the winning side.
It is unnecessary to restate here the prevailing questions in national politics, Jackson's stupendous struggle with the bank, "hard money," "no monopoly," internal improvements, the tariff, and nullification, or the personal and political relations of the chieftains, Jackson, Clay, and Calhoun. Mr. Lincoln will shortly disclose in one of his speeches from the stump which of those questions were of special interest to the people of Illinois, and consequently which of them principally occupied his own attention.
The Democrats were divided into "whole-hog men" and "nominal Jackson men;" the former being thoroughly devoted to the fortunes and principles of their leader, while the latter were willing to trim a little for the sake of popular support. It is probable that Mr. Lincoln might be fairly classed as a "nominal Jackson man," although the precise character of some of the views he then held, or is supposed to have held, on national questions, is involved in considerable doubt. He had not wholly forgotten Jones, or Jones's teachings. He still remembered his high disputes with Offutt in the shanty at Spring Creek, when he effectually defended Jackson against the "abuse" of his employer. He was not Whig, but "Whiggish," as Dennis Hanks expresses it. It is not likely that a man who deferred so habitually to the popular sentiment around him would have selected the occasion of his settlement in a new place to go over bodily to a hopeless political minority. At all events, we have at least three undisputed facts, which make it plain that he then occupied an intermediate position between the extremes of all parties. First, he received the votes of all parties at New Salem; sec
ond, he was the next year appointed postmaster by Gen. Jackson; and, third, the Democrats ran him for the legis lature two years afterwards; and he was elected by a larger majority than any other candidate.
"Our old way of conducting elections," says Gov. Ford, "required each aspirant to announce himself as a candidate. The most prudent, however, always consulted a little caucus of select, influential friends. The candidates then travelled around the county, or State, in proper person, making speeches, conversing with the people, soliciting votes, whispering slanders against their opponents, and defending themselves against the attacks of their adversaries; but it was not always best to defend against such attacks. A candidate in a fair way to be elected should never deny any charge made against him; for, if he does, his adversaries will prove all that they have said, and much more. As a candidate did not offer himself as the champion of any party, he usually agreed with all opinions, and promised every thing demanded by the people, and most usually promised, either directly or indirectly, his support to all the other candidates at the same election. One of the arts was to raise a quarrel with unpopular men who were odious to the people, and then try to be elected upon the unpopularity of others, as well as upon his own popularity. These modes of electioneering were not true of all the candidates, nor perhaps of half of them, very many of them being gentlemen of first-class integrity."
That portion of the people whose influence lay in their fighting qualities, and who were prone to carry a huge knife in the belt of the hunting-shirt, were sometimes called the "butcher-knife boys," and sometimes "the half-horse and half-alligator men." This class, according to Gov. Ford, "made a kind of balance-of-power party." Their favorite was sure of success; and nearly all political contests were decided by "butcher-knife influence." "In all elections and in all enactments of the Legislature, great pains were taken by all candidates, and all men in office, to make their course and measures acceptable" to these knights of steel and muscle.