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HE results of the canvass for the Legislature were precisely such as had been predicted, both by Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Rutledge: he had been defeated, as he expected himself; and it had done "him much good," in the politician's sense, as promised by Mr. Rutledge. He was now somewhat acquainted with the people outside of the New Salem district, and generally marked as a young man of good parts and popular manners. The vote given him at home demonstrated his local strength, and made his favor a thing of value to the politicians of all parties.
Soon after his return from the army, he had taken quarters at the house of J. R. Herndon, who loved him then, and always, with as much sincerity as one man can love another. Mr. Herndon's family likewise "became much attached to him." He "nearly always had one" of Herndon's children "around with him." Mr. Herndon says of him further, that he was "at home wherever he went;" making himself wonderfully agreeable to the people he lived with, or whom he happened to be visiting. Among other things, “he was very kind to the widow and orphan, and chopped their wood."
Lincoln, as we have seen already, was not enamored of the life of a common laborer, - mere hewing and drawing. He preferred to clerk, to go to war, to enter politics, — any thing but that dreary round of daily toil and poor pay. But he was now, as he would say, “in a fix: clerks were not wanted every day in New Salem, and he began to cast about
for some independent business of his own, by which he could earn enough to pay board and buy books. In every community where he had lived, "the merchant" had been the principal man. He felt that, in view of his apprenticeship under those great masters, Jones and Offutt, he was fully competent to "run a store," and was impatient to find an opening in that line.
Unfortunately for him, the circumstances of the business. men of New Salem were just then peculiarly favorable to his views. At least three of them were as anxious to sell out as Lincoln was to buy.
Lincoln, as already stated, was at this time living with "Row" Herndon. Row and his brother "Jim" had taken "a store down to New Salem early in that year." But Jim "didn't like the place," and sold out his interests to an idle, convivial fellow, named Berry. Six weeks later Row Herndon grew tired of his new partner, and sold his interest to Lincoln. The store was a mixed one, - dry goods and groceries.
About the same time Mr. Radford, who kept one of the New Salem groceries, fell into disfavor with the "Clary's Grove Boys," who generously determined that he should keep a grocery no longer. They accordingly selected a convenient night for breaking in his windows, and, in their own elegant phrase, "gutting his establishment." Convinced that these neighborly fellows were inclined to honor him with further attentions, and that his bones might share the fate of his windows, Radford determined to sell out with the earliest dawn of the coming day. The next day he was standing disconsolate in the midst of his wreck, when Bill Green rode Green thought he saw a speculation in Radford's distress, and offered him four hundred dollars for the whole concern. Radford eagerly closed with him; and in a few minutes Green owned the grocery, and Radford was ready for the road to a more congenial settlement. It is said that Green employed Lincoln to make an inventory of the stock. At al events, Lincoln was satisfied that Green's bargain was a very
good one, and proposed that he and Berry should take it off his hands at a premium of two hundred and fifty dollars. Radford had Green's note for four hundred dollars; but he now surrendered, it and took Lincoln & Berry's for the same amount, indorsed by Green; while Lincoln & Berry gave Green a note for two hundred and fifty dollars, the latter's profit in the trade.
Mr. Rutledge "also owned a small grocery in the village; and this was speedily absorbed by the enterprising firm of Lincoln & Berry, who now had the field to themselves, being sole proprietors "of the only store of the kind in New Salem."
Whether Mr. Lincoln sold liquor by the dram over the counter of this shop remains, and will forever remain, an undetermined question. Many of his friends aver that he did, and as many more aver that he did not. When Douglas, with that courtesy for which he distinguished himself in the debates with Lincoln, revived the story, Lincoln replied, that, even if it were true, there was but little difference between them; for, while he figured on one side of the counter, Douglas figured on the other. It is certain liquors were a part of the stock of all the purchases of Lincoln & Berry. Of course they sold them by the quantity, and probably by the drink. Some of it they gave away, for no man could keep store without setting out the customary dram to the patrons of the place.1
1 Here is the evidence of James Davis, a Democrat, "aged sixty," who is willing to "give the Devil his due:" —
"Came to Clary's Grove in 1829; knew Lincoln well; knew Jim and Row Herndon: they sold out to Berry,-one of them did; afterwards the other sold out to Lincoln. The store was a mixed one,- dry goods, a few groceries, such as sugar, salt, &c., and whiskey solely kept for their customers, or to sell by the gallon, quart, or pint, not otherwise. The Herndons probably had the Blankenship goods. Radford had a grocery-store, salt, pepper, and suchlike things, with whiskey. It is said Green bought this out, and instantly sold to Berry & Lincoln. Lincoln & Berry broke. Berry subsequently kept a doggery, a whiskey saloon, as I do now, or did. Am a Democrat; never agreed in politics with Abe. He was an honest man. Give the Devil his due; he never sold whiskey by the dram in New Salem ! I was in town every week for years; knew, I think, all about it. I always drank my dram, and drank at Berry's often; ought to know. Lincoln got involved, I think, in the first operation. Salem Hill was a barren.”
The difficulty of gathering authentic evidence on this subject is well illustrated in the following extract from Mr. George Spears of Petersburg:
"I took my horse this morning, and went over to New Salem, among the P―s and
All that winter (1832-3) Lincoln struggled along with a bad partner, and a business which began wrong, and grew worse every day. Berry had no qualities which atoned for his evil habits. He preferred to consume the liquors on hand rather than to sell them, and exerted himself so successfully, that in a few months he had ruined the credit of the firm, squandered its assets, and destroyed his own health. The "store" was a dead failure; and the partners were weighed down with a parcel of debts, against which Lincoln could scarcely have borne up, even with a better man to help him. At last they sold out to two brothers named Trent. The Trents continued the business for a few months, when they broke up and ran away. Then Berry, encouraged by the example of the Trents, "cleared out" also, and, dying soon after, left poor Lincoln the melancholy task of settling up the affairs of their ill-starred partnership.
In all the preceding transactions, the absence of any cash consideration is the one thing very striking. It is a fair illustration of the speculative spirit pervading the whole people. Green bought from Radford on credit; Lincoln & Berry bought from Green on credit; they bought from the Herndons on credit; they bought from Rutledge on credit; and they sold to the Trents on credit. Those that did not die or run away had a sad time enough in managing the debts resulting from their connection with this unlucky grocery. Radford assigned Lincoln & Berry's note to a Mr. Van Bergen, who got judgment on it, and swept away all Lincoln's little personal property, including his surveying instruments, his very means of livelihood, as we shall see at another place. The Herndons owed E. C. Blankenship for the goods they sold, and assigned Lincoln & Berry's note in payment. Mr. Lincoln struggled to pay, by slow degrees, this harassing debt to Blankenship, through many long and weary years. It
A-s, and made all the inquiries I could, but could learn nothing. The old ladies would begin to count up what had happened in New Salem when such a one of their children was born, and such a one had a bastard; but it all amounted to nothing. I could arrive at no dates, only when those children were born. Old Mrs. Potter affirms that Lincoln did sell liquors in a grocery. I can't tell whether he did or not.”
was not until his return from Congress, in 1849, that he got the last dollar of it discharged. He paid Green his note of two hundred and fifty dollars, in small instalments, beginning in 1839, and ending in 1840. The history of his debt to Rutledge is not so well known. It was probably insignificant as compared with the others; and Mr. Rutledge proved a generous creditor, as he had always been a kind and considerate friend.
Certain that he had no abilities for trade, Mr. Lincoln took the best resolution he could have formed under the circumstances. He sat down to his books just where he was, believing that knowledge would be power, and power profit. He had no reason to shun his creditors, for these were the men of all others who most applauded the honesty of his conduct at the period of his greatest pecuniary misfortune. He talked to them constantly of the "old debt," "the national debt," as he sometimes called it, promised to pay when he could, and they devoutly relied upon every word he said.
Row Herndon moved to the country, and Lincoln was compelled to change his boarding-place. He now began to live at a tavern for the first time in his life. It was kept by various persons during his stay,— first, it seems, by Mr. Rutledge, then by Henry Onstatt, and last by Nelson Alley. It was a small log-house, covered with clapboards, and contained four
Lincoln began to read law while he lived with Herndon. Some of his acquaintances insist that he began even earlier than this, and assert, by way of proof, that he was known to borrow a well-worn copy of Blackstone from A. V. Bogue, a pork-dealer at Beardstown. At all events, he now went to work in earnest, and studied law as faithfully as if he had never dreamed of any other business in life. As a matter of course, his slender purse was unequal to the purchase of the needful books: but this circumstance gave him little trouble; for, although he was short of funds, he was long in the legs, and had nothing to do but to walk off to Springfield, where his friend, John T. Stuart, cheerfully supplied his wants. Mr.