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In 1834 he was sent to the Legislature, and the political life commenced which his countrymen's votes have since shown they fully appreciated. When the session of the Legislature was over, he set himself to the study of law in good earnest. In 1836 he obtained a law license, and in April, 1837, he removed to Springfield and commenced the practice of the law in partner. ship with his friend and former colleague in the Legis. lature, Hon. John T. Stuart.
One incident of his law practice we cannot refrain from narrating. When Lincoln first went out into the world to earn a living for himself, he worked for a Mr. Armstrong, of Petersburg, Menard Co., who, with his wife, took a great interest in him, lent him books to read, and, after the season for work was over, encouraged him to remain with them until he should find something to “turn his hand to.” They also hoped much from his influence over their son, an overindulged and somewhat unruly boy. We cannot do better than to transcribe the remarks of the Cleveland Leader upon this interesting and touching incident.
“Some few years since, the eldest son of Mr. Lincoln's old friend, Armstrong, the chief supporter of his widowed mother—the good old man having some time previously passed from earth, was arrested on the charge of murder. A young man had been killed during a riotous mélée, in the night time at a camp-meeting, and one of his associates stated that the death-wound was inflicted by young Armstrong. A preliminary examination was gone into, at which the accuser testified so positively, that there seemed no doubt of the guilt of the prisoner, and therefore he was held for trial. As is too often the case, the bloody act caused an undue degree of excitement in the public mind. Every improper incident in the life of the prisoner—each act which bore the least semblance of rowdyism—each schoolboy quarrel-was suddenly remembered and magnified, until they pictured him as a fiend of the most horrible hue. As these rumors spread abroad they were received as gospel truth, and a feverish desire for vengeance seized upon the infatuated populace, whilst only prison bars prevented a horrible death at the hands of a mob. The events were heralded in the county papers, painted in highest colors, accompanied by rejoicing over the certainty of punishment being meted out to the guilty party. The prisoner, overwhelmed by the circumstances under which he found himself placed, fell into a melancholy condition bordering on despair, and the widowed mother, looking through her tears, saw no cause for hope from earthly aid. “At this juncture, the widow received a letter from Mr. Lincoln, volunteering his services in an effort to save the youth from the impending stroke. Gladly was his aid accepted, although it seemed impossible for even his sagacity to prevail in such a desperate case; but the heart of the attorney was in his work, and he set about it with a will that knew no such word as fail. Feeling that the poisoned condition of the public mind was such as to preclude the possibility of impanelling an impartial jury in the court having jurisdiction, he procured a change of venue and a postponement of the trial. He then went studiously to work unravelling the history of the case, and satisfied himself that his client was the victim of malice, and that the statements of the accuser were a tissue of falsehoods. “When the trial was called on, the prisoner, pale and emaciated, with hopelessness written on every feature, and accompanied by his halfhoping, half-despairing mother—whose only hope was in a mother's belief of her son's innocence, in the justice of the God she worshipped, and in the noble counsel, who, without hope of fee or reward upon earth, had undertaken the cause—took his seat in the prisoners' box, and with a ‘stony firmness' listened to the reading of the indictment. Lincoln sat quietly by, whilst the large auditory looked on him as though wondering what he could say in defence of one whose guilt they regarded as certain. The examination of the witnesses for the State was begun, and a well-arranged mass of evidence, circumstantial and positive, was introduced, which seemed to impale the prisoner beyond the possibility of extrication. The counsel for the defence propounded but few questions, and those of a character which excited no uneasiness on the part of the prosecutor—merely, in most cases, requiring the main witnesses to be definite as to the time and place. When the evidence of the prosecution was ended, Lincoln introduced a few witnesses to remove some erroneous impressions in regard to the previous character of his client, who, though somewhat rowdyish, had never been known to commit a vicious act; and to show that a greater degree of ill-feeling existed between the accuser and the accused, than the accused and the deceased. “The prosecutor felt that the case was a clear one, and his opening speech was brief and formal. Lincoln arose, while a deathly silence pervaded the vast audience, and in a clear and moderate tone began his argument. Slowly and carefully he reviewed the testimony, pointing out the hitherto unobserved discrepancies in the statements of the principal witness. That which had seemed plain and plausible he made to appear crooked as a serpent's path. The witness had stated that the affair took place at a certain hour in the evening, and that, by the aid of the brightly shining moon, he saw the prisoner inflict the death-blow with a slung-shot. Mr. Lincoln showed that at the hour referred to the moon had not yet appeared above the horizon, and consequently the whole tale was a fabrication. “An almost instantaneous change seemed to have been wrought in the minds of his auditors, and the verdict of ‘not guilty' was at the end of every tongue. But the advocate was not content with this intellectual achievement. His whole being had for months been bound up in this work of gratitude and mercy, and as the lava of the overcharged crater bursts from its imprisonment, so great thoughts and burning words leaped forth from the soul of the eloquent Lincoln. He drew a picture of the perjurer so horrid and ghastly, that the accuser could sit under it no longer, but reeled and staggered from the courtroom, whilst the audience fancied they could see the brand upon his brow. Then in words of thrilling pathos Lincoln appealed to the jurors as fathers of some who might become fatherless, and as husbands of wives who might be widowed, to yield to no previous impressions, no ill-founded prejudice, but to do his client justice; and as he alluded to the debt of gratitude which he owed the boy's sire, tears were seen to fall from many eyes unused to weep. “It was near night when he concluded, by saying that if justice was done—as he believed it would be—before the sun should set, it would shine upon his client a free man. The jury retired, and the court adjourned for the day. Half an hour had not elapsed, when, as the officers of the court and the volunteer attorney sat at the tea-table of their hotel, a messenger announced that the jury had returned to their seats. All repaired immediately to the court-house, and whilst the prisoner was being brought from the jail, the court-room was filled to overflowing with citizens from the town. When the prisoner and his mother entered, silence reigned as completely as though the house were empty. The foreman of the jury, in answer to the usual inquiry from the court, delivered the verdict of ‘Not Guilty!' The widow dropped into the arms of her son, who lifted her up and told her to look upon him as before, free and innocent. Then, with the words, “Where is Mr. Lincoln 7" he rushed across the room and grasped the hand of his deliverer, whilst his heart was too full for utterance. Lincoln turned his eyes towards the West, where the sun still lingered in view, and then, turning to the youth, said, ‘It is not yet sundown and you are free.' I confess that my cheeks were not wholly unwet by tears, and I turned from the affecting scene. As I cast a glance behind, I saw Abraham Lincoln obeying the Divine injunction by comforting the widowed and fatherless.”
Mr. Lincoln was three times elected to the Legislature; and here commenced his political acquaintance with Stephen A. Douglas. He then remained six years in private life, devoting himself to the practice of the law, displaying remarkable ability, and gaining an enviable reputation. His interest in politics never subsided, and in 1844 he stumped the entire State of Illinois during the Presidential campaign. We have before mentioned that one of his earliest books was the “Life of Henry Clay,” and his enthusiastic admiration for that Statesman, aroused in his boyhood, continued in full force during his life. In 1847 Mr. Lincoln took his seat in Congress, and was the only Whig representative from Illinois, which had then seven members in Congress.
The Congress of which Mr. Lincoln was a member, had before it questions of great importance and interest to the country. The Mexican War was then in progress, and Congress had to deal with grave questions arising out of it, besides the many which were to be passed upon as to the means by which it was to be carried on. The irrepressible Slavery Question was there, also, in many of its Protean forms, in questions on the right of petition, in questions as to the District of Columbia, in many questions as to the Territories. Mr. Lincoln was charged by his enemies in later years, when political enmity was hunting sharply for material out of which to make political capital against him, with lack of patriotism, in that he voted against the war. The charge was sharply and clearly made by Judge Douglas, at the first of their joint discussions in the Senatorial contest of 1858. In his speech at Ottawa, he says of Mr. Lincoln, that “while in Congress he distinguished himself by his opposition to the Mexican war, taking the side of the common enemy against his own country, and when he returned home he found that the indignation of the people followed him everywhere.” No better answer can be given to this slander than that which Mr. Lincoln himself made in his reply to this speech. He says: “I was an old Whig, and whenever the Democratic party tried to get me to vote that the war had been righteously begun by the President, I would not do it. But whenever they asked for any money or land-warrants or anything to pay the soldiers there, during all that time I gave the same vote that Judge Douglas did. You can think as you please as to whether that was consistent. Such is the truth, and the Judge has a right to make all he can out of it. But when he, by a general charge conveys the idea that I withheld supplies from the soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican war, or did any thing else to hinder the