Chapter Five: Entering Politics
In 1833, Lincoln became the postmaster at New Salem. To him, the best part of this job was the fact that it gave him the means to read the newspapers. The principal one of these was the Louisville Journal.
A year or two later, Lincoln met his first love, got engaged to a beautiful girl, Ann Rutledge, and then experienced great grief. Her untimely death upset his mind and broke his heart. A friend once begged him to try to forget his sorrow. “I cannot,” he said; “the thought of the rain and snow on her grave fills me with indescribable grief.”
This deep sadness took much from Lincoln. But it gave him something, too. Patience, earnestness, tenderness, sympathy – these are sometimes gifts. This sad event added these gifts to the character of this great man and would become even more useful in later years.
Lincoln’s duties at New Salem as clerk, storekeeper, and postmaster had resulted in many friendships with the people of that area. His later duties as surveyor took him into the outlying districts, where even more people got to know him. His social skills won him friends wherever he was known, while his shining character gave him an unusual amount of influence for a young man. He had always had an interest in public, even national, questions, and his fondness for debate and speechmaking increased this interest. Plus, he had lived month to month going from one job to another, and he had not yet found his permanent calling or career.
But it seemed that, given all the things he was good at, he would sooner or later enter politics. This he did at the age of twenty-three, in 1832.
According to the custom of the day, he announced in the spring his candidacy for state legislature and began his campaign. He was making a speech at a place called Cappsville when two men in the audience got into a fight. One was a friend of his.
Lincoln proceeded in his speech until it became clear that his friend was getting the worse of the scuffle, so Lincoln walked down from the platform, grabbed his friend’s opponent, and threw him ten or twelve feet away on the ground. Lincoln then remounted the platform and took up his speech right where he had left off.
“Wherever he saw a crowd of men, he joined them, and he never failed to adapt himself to their point of view in asking for votes. If the degree of physical strength was the test for a candidate, he was ready to lift a weight, or wrestle with the countryside champion.”
Because Lincoln had been serving in the army during much of the election season, he had only ten days to campaign. The ten days were not enough, and he lost. The vote against him was mostly in the regions where he was little known. It must have made him feel better to know that in his own area, where he was so well known, he received the almost unanimous vote of all parties. Of this election, Lincoln himself said: “This was the only time Abraham was ever defeated on the direct vote of the people.”
His next political experience was a run for the legislature in 1834. This time he was successful. Though Lincoln probably did not realize it, this election put an end to his drifting life. Up to this point, he was always looking for a job that he loved. From this time on, he was not passing from one thing to another. In this country, politics and law are closely tied. And it was these two that kept him busy for the rest of his life.
Lincoln was reelected to the legislature as often as he was willing to be a candidate, and he served continuously for eight years. In 1842, he decided to run for Congress. He was, however, defeated in the primary. In 1846, he tried again, this time with flattering success.
Based on the book by Henry Ketcham
Edited by Deborah Carroll
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