FROM WHICH PRESIDENT-ELECT LINCOLN WENT TO WASHINGTON IN 1861
When Abraham Lincoln entered Springfield, in 1837, he did not own a house; in fact he did not own much
of anything. Joshua Speed is quoted by Ida Tarbell thus:
“He had ridden into town on a borrowed horse, with no earthly property save a pair of saddle-bags containing a few clothes. . . . Lincoln came into the store with his saddle-bags on his arm. He said he wanted to buy the furniture for a single bed. The mattress, blankets, sheets, coverlid, and pillow . . . would cost seventeen dollars. He said that perhaps was cheap enough; but small as the price was, he was unable to pay it. But if I would credit him till Christmas, and his experiment as a lawyer was a success, he would pay then, saying in the saddest tone, ` If I fail in this I do not know that I can ever pay you.’ ”
The storekeeper thereupon proposed that the young lawyer should share his own room above the store. Lincoln promptly accepted, went upstairs, and in a moment was down again. With dry humor he said : ” Well, Speed, I am moved.”
Lincoln longed for better quarters, however, because he wanted to be married. He watched with interest the new buildings that were going up, probably reflecting sadly that none of them were for him. In his discouragement he wrote to Miss Mary Owen of New Salem, to whom he had said something about coming to live with him in Springfield:
” You would have to be poor, without the means of hiding your poverty. Do you believe you could bear that patiently? Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented. And there is nothing I can imagine that would make me more unhappy than to fail in the effort. I know I should be much happier with you than the way I am, provided I saw no sign of discontent in you.”
Miss Owen declined to go to Springfield, because she felt that Lincoln was ” deficient in those little links which make up the chain of a woman’s happiness.”
Five years later, on November 4, 1842, Lincoln married Miss Mary Todd, a member of a prominent Kentucky family, who had come to Springfield in 1839 to live with her sister, Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards. The house in which she spent the three years before her marriage was one of the handsomest in the town, and was a centre of social gayety. Mr. and Mrs. Edwards op-posed the marriage to the poor and plebeian lawyer; they urged the folly of exchanging a cultured home for the surroundings to which Lincoln would take her. But she knew her own mind, and she went with Lincoln to the home he provided for her.
The character of the accommodations to which he took his bride is revealed by a letter written in May, 1843: ” We are not keeping house, but boarding at the Globe Tavern. Boarding only costs four dollars a week.”
But the day came when the young statesman was able to open for Mrs. Lincoln the door of their own modest one-story house. Later a second story was added under the direction of his wife, most of the work being done while he was away from home, riding the circuit.
J. G. Holland’s pleasing picture of life in the home during the years from 1850 to 1860 should be remembered:
“It was to him a time of rest, of reading, of social happiness, and of professional prosperity. He was al-ready a father, and took an almost unbounded delight in his children. The most that he could say to any rebel in his household was, ‘ You break my heart, when you act like this.’ A young man bred in Springfield speaks of a vision that has clung to his memory very vividly. . . . His way to school led by the lawyer’s door. On almost any fair summer morning he could find Mr. Lincoln on the sidewalk in front of his house, drawing a child backward and forward, in a child’s gig. Without hat or coat, and wearing a pair of rough shoes, his hands behind him holding on to the tongue .of the gig, and his tall form bent forward to accommodate himself to the service, he paced up and down the walk forgetful of everything around him. The young man says he remembers wondering how so rough and plain a man should live in so respectable a house.”
Once Lincoln was sitting on the porch when threeyear-old Willie escaped from the bathtub, ran out of the house and the gate, up the street, and into a field. There his father caught him, and carried him home on his shoulder.
The children liked to ride on his shoulder, and they clambered for the position. If they could not get there, they contented themselves with hanging to his coat tails. One day a neighbor heard the boys crying, and asked what was the matter. ” Just what’s the matter with the whole world,” was Lincoln’s reply. ” I’ve got three walnuts, and each wants two.”
During the last day of the Republican Convention of 1860, which was in session in Chicago, Lincoln was in the office of the Springfield Journal, receiving word of the progress of events. A messenger came in and said to him, ” The Convention has made a nomination, and Mr. Seward isthe second man on the list ! ” After reading the telegram, and receiving the congratulations of all in the office, Lincoln spoke of the little woman on Eighth Street who had some interest in the matter, and said he would go home and tell her the news.
When the news became generally known, the citizens followed him to the house on Eighth Street. In the evening, after a meeting in the State House, the Republicans present marched to the Lincoln home. The nominee made a speech, and invited as many .as could get in to enter the house. ” After the fourth of March we will give you a larger house,” came the laughing response.
Next day Lincoln was in a quandary. Some of his friends had sent him a present of wines and other liquors, that he might be able to give what they thought would be appropriate refreshment to the Committee sent from Chicago to notify the nominee. Before the formal notification, Lincoln asked the members what he should do with the wine. J. G. Holland says that ” the chairman at once advised him to return the gift, and to offer no stimulants to his guests.”
A few years later, when he had closed the house which he was never to enter again, he said to his friends, who had gathered at the train to say good-bye :
” My friends : no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every-thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
When the body of the martyred President was brought back to Springfield on May 3, 1865, it was not taken to the old home on Eighth Street, but to the State Capitol, and from there to Oak Ridge Cemetery.
The house is now the property of the State of Illinois, the gift of Robert T. Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son.