Abraham Lincoln: A story and a Play/After the War

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After the War

When the Black Hawk War came to an end, Lincoln went back to New Salem, reaching his home just ten days before the time to elect men for the state legislature.

He was, as we know, a great favorite in the town. "Why not let the people use my name for representative?" he thought. "I shall lose nothing if I fail to be elected."

His many frends were pleased, and when the election day came, all the men in New Salem except three voted for "Abe." The rest of the district, however, favored another man more strongly, and Lincoln lost the election. What should he do now? He had no money and no work. Mr. Offut, who had been a true friend, had failed and given up his business.

"Shall I become a blacksmith or a lawyer?" thought Lincoln. His long, strong arms were well fitted for a blacksmith's trade. But then there was the bright, quick mind which must be kept busy.

"I will be a lawyer," Lincoln finally decided.

Yet he did not know enough to practice law. He must study a great deal before he could carry out his wish, but after much thinking he planned how to bring it about.

"I will keep a store," he said to himself. "There I will have enough spare time to study law. When I have learned enough, I can be a lawyer."

He got another man named Berry for a partner, and they started out with great hopes. Lincoln had the time he wished for study, and every spare moment was spent poring over some law books he had found in the bottom of a barrel of rubbish, which another man who needed the money had sold him for a half-dollar.

He kept these books close at hand, so that the instant a customer left the store, he could go back to his studies, if only for five or ten minutes. To most people these books would seem very tiresome, but to Lincoln they were wonderfully interesting.

In the meantime the town of New Salem was growing smaller every day, and there were fewer and fewer people to trade at the store. Besides, Mr. Berry showed himself of little worth. In a short time the business failed, and Lincoln found himself with a large debt which it took years to pay. He afterwards laughingly called it his "National Debt."

When the store was given up, Lincoln did any kind of work he could get. Yet he still kept up his study of the law, carrying a book with him wherever he went, reading as he walked along the street, or whenever he could rest a moment from rail-splitting or farming.

At this time he took great pleasure in reading the plays of William Shakespeare, as well as his law books. One day he received some good news. He had been made a surveyor of lands. It was the very work that George Washington had done so well when a young man. Lincoln was delighted. He was to be paid three dollars a day, and this seemed a large sum.

But he knew little about surveying. What did that matter? He would set to work and learn the business at once. So he went to the schoolmaster, who gave him all the help he needed during the next few weeks to make him a good surveyor. A short time after this he was made postmaster, but the town was so small and there were so few letters, that Lincoln often carried them about in his hat.