Abraham Lincoln: A story and a Play/Lincoln The Lawyer
Lincoln the Lawyer
Mr. Lincoln was now twenty-five years old. He had been farm hand, rail-splitter, carpenter, clerk, ferryman, soldier, storekeeper, surveyor and postmaster. Still, down deep in his heart was the longing to be a lawyer, which had been there ever since he was a boy.
He was very poor, and his debt must be paid; yet he would not give up the idea of becoming a lawyer, and a great one, too. And now something happened which was of great help in carrying out his wish. He gained the place in the legislature he had failed to win two years before. It was because not only the people of New Salem, but of all that part of the country, now had faith in "Honest old Abe."
This was the beginning of a new life to the backwoods man. As he took his place in the state house with other law-makers, no one noticed him particularly. He was homely and awkward, with a sad face and a quiet manner. But his mind was full of fire and his heart beat with a steady love of the right. In a little while people would discover that this was no common man, and that a hero was moving among them.
Mr. Lincoln staid in the legislature for eight years. During that time he finished his study of the law and started out in business for himself. He was still very poor, and as people were often slow in seeking help from a new lawyer, he wondered how he should manage to pay his way for the first few months.
With a brave heart, however, he decided to try his fortune in Springfield. He travelled there on horseback, carrying his few clothes in two saddle bags. As soon as he reached the city he went to the store of Mr. Speed, one of his friends, and asked him the cost of a bedstead and its furnishings.
"Seventeen dollars," was the answer.
Lincoln replied that though the price might be cheap, he did not have money enough to buy one.
"If you will trust me till Christmas time," he said, "I will pay you then." "That is," he added, "if I succeed as a lawyer."
"But suppose you do not succeed?" Mr. Speed answered.
Lincoln's face became very sad. "If I fail, I don't know when I can pay you." As he spoke his voice was as sorrowful as his face.
"But there is a way out of having any debt at all, "his friend now suggested. "I have a large room up stairs with two beds in it. You arc welcome to share the room with me."
A moment afterwards Lincoln, armed with his saddle bags, was on his way up the stairs, as joyful as he had been sad before. Leaving them in the middle of the floor, he ran down again, crying out:
"Well, Speed, I'm moved."
Another friend offered to give him his board free, so he managed to get along till he could earn his own living. It was not long before the people began to praise the wise and clever speeches of the new lawyer. Besides, they honored him for his honesty and kindness. He was unlike many lawyers.
He was not willing to work for a man if he thought him in the wrong. But if he believed that man had been treated unjustly, he did not count the time and thought spent in winning the case. Moreover, he worked just as willingly for a person who was too poor to pay him, as he did for the rich man who could give him a large sum of money. Always and everywhere it was the right that interested Abraham Lincoln.
In those days lawyers went about the country to attend court in different places. They usually travelled on horseback, for there were few railroads. On one of these trips Lincoln went with a party of other lawyers. As they entered a narrow lane they were obliged to go two by two. Lincoln and his friend, Mr. Hardin, happened to be the last ones. Suddenly Lincoln stopped. He had spied two baby birds beside the road. The wind had blown the helpless little creatures out of their nest in some tree top.
In another moment Lincoln had sprung from his horse and was busy hunting about for the nest. Mr. Hardin went on, and catching up with the rest of the party, he told them what his friend was doing. When Lincoln afterwards joined them, they laughed at him, but this did not trouble him in the least.
He only said, "I could not have slept if I had not restored those little birds to their mother."
Though his mind was now busy with hard law problems, his heart was as tender as ever for all helpless creatures, no matter how unimportant they might seem to others.
Children were always very dear to Mr. Lincoln. No matter how busy he might be, he could always take time to help a child who was in trouble. One day he was on the way to his office, when he noticed a little girl standing on the sidewalk in front of her home. She was crying bitterly. He stopped to ask what was the matter.
"I shall miss the train," she sobbed. "The expressman hasn't come for my trunk."
"That is too bad," Lincoln answered, at the same time gently patting her head. "Tell me, my child, where you were going."
"To visit my aunt. And a little frind of mine was to go with me, and I have never been on the cars in my life,—and O dear! my friend is probably at the station waiting for me now."
At this thought she began to cry afresh. Mr. Lincoln's tender heart was touched.
"How big is the trunk?" he asked. "If it isn't too big, there is time enough."
As he spoke he made his way up to the door of the house, where the child's mother was standing. She led the way inside and pointed out the trunk. It was a small one. Lincoln lifted it easily to his strong shoulders, at the same time bidding the little girl to wipe her eyes.
"Come, quick, and I guess we can catch the train," he said cheerily.
With the child by his side, he strode down the street. They were still some distance from the station when they heard the train coming.
"Take my hand, little one, we'll get there yet," Lincoln told the child. With the trunk still on his shoulder, and the girl's tiny hand clasped tightly in his own big, strong one, the station was reached before the train pulled out.
As the young lawyer put his little charge on board, he kissed her good-bye, saying, "Now have a real good time."
Lincoln had not practiced law very long before the best people of Springfield began to invite him to their homes. He was still "poor as a church mouse," but he was so bright and clever, and such a good story teller, that no gathering seemed a success without him.
And so Honest Abe, the backwoods rail-splitter, was now often the manager of a dance, or the chief speaker at a dinner party.
At this time he became acquainted with a Miss Mary Todd, a handsome and witty young girl, who had come from Kentucky to visit her married sister. She chose Mr. Lincoln out of the many young men in Springfield who admired her, and the two were married when Lincoln was thirty-three years old.
He was still so poor that he could not afford to set up house-keeping, so he and his young wife went to board for a while at a cheap tavern, where their food and room together cost only four dollarsa week.
The fame of the young lawyer was now growing fast, and more people sought his services every year. The time came when a man was willing to pay five thousand dollars for his help in a single case. How different this was from those first days in Springfield, when Lincoln was satisfied to receive a fee of five dollars.
No matter how large a sum was offered, however, he was never willing to help anyone who seemed to be in the wrong. Nor was he ever too busy to aid those who had been his friends in his early days of sadness and struggle.
In this time of success, he was able to repay the kindness of the Armstrong family who had been good to him when he was a poor clerk in New Salem. Many a time Mrs. Armstrong had been as tender as a mother when he was poor and homeless. And now her son Jack was accused of murder, and the trouble was breaking her heart, Lincoln used his bright mind to defend the fellow. When the trial came, he spoke with such feeling that the hearts of all who listened were deeply touched. More than this,—his wise words proved that young Armstrong was innocent and he was set free. During the years in which Mr. Lincoln was practicing law, he heard much about slavery. Some of the states believed it to be right, and others declared it was wrong. Lincoln still felt as he did when as a young man he had seen a slave auction in New Orleans. He thought often of the words in the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal."
And yet he would say to himself, "Americans hold slaves."
Whenever he spoke of slavery in public he gave such good reasons against it, that all who heard him were moved. Now there was a certain senator of the United States, whom Lincoln had known when he first started out in Springfield as a lawyer. This man, Stephen A. Douglas, had become famous throughout the country, and had won for himself the name of "The Little Giant."
Mr. Douglas believed so strongly that slavery was just, he succeeded in winning the right to own slaves for two states where they had not been held before. Just after he had done this he came back to his old home in Springfield, and made a great speech there defending slavery.
Lincoln answered this speech so well, that he won the greatest praise for himself. After this Mr. Douglas made other speeches, but every one was followed by a still greater one from Lincoln. It seemed almost laughable when people thought about it; here was this backwoodsman, a man of only a few months' schooling, holding his own against the polished gentleman of fine education. The railsplitter standing up against the "Little Giant!"
A more wonderful thing was yet to happen. The time soon came for Douglas to run again for the United States Senate. And Abraham Lincoln was chosen to run against him! Then it was that Lincoln's friends made plans for a debate between the two men. Seven meetings were taken up with this debate. So nobly did Lincoln speak, so grandly did he stand for right and justice, that the whole country now rang with his praise. He had suddenly become a leader and master of men.
As it happened, however, he was not made senator, but Douglas was again elected. If Lincoln had worked in a certain way, this would not have happened, but he had begun to look ahead. He wished to be chosen President of the United States! To do this, he thought it would be wisest to let Douglas win the election for senator.
He planned rightly, for two years afterwards, in the year 1860, his dream came true.
The rail-splitter, Abraham Lincoln, who had spent less than one year in a school-room, was chosen by the people of the United States to be their next President. The child, born in a rough log cabin, who had lived in his early days in a two-faced camp, had by his own will reached the highest place his country could give him.
Henceforth it was for him to guide, not one small body of men, not one state, but the whole United States. When the news came to Mr. Lincoln, he said quietly, "There's a little woman who would like to hear this. I will go and tell her."
With these words he left his friends and went home to let his wife hear what had happened. Many, many years ago,—when her husband was poor and little known, she had declared that some day he would be President. The people who heard her then must have smiled at the idea.