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Demeter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Feb-12-11 04:38 AM
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21. Lincoln settles in


The New Salem that Lincoln returned to in late July 1831 had promise, but probably never had a population that went much above a hundred residents. The town was a commercial settlement serving several local communities rather than simply a frontier farm settlement and had the sawmill, a grist mill, a blacksmith, a coopers shop, a shop for carding wool, a hat maker, a general store, and a tavern spread out over more than a dozen buildings. Offutt did not open his store until September so in the interim Lincoln did whatever work he could find and quickly was accepted by the townspeople as a hardworking and cooperative young man.<16>

Once Lincoln took his place in the store, he began to meet a rougher crowd representing the settlers and workers from the surrounding communities who came to purchase supplies or have their corn ground. Lincolns often scatological humor and story telling and his physical strength fit in nicely with the young and raucous element that included the so-called Clarys Grove boys. His place with them was cemented when he engaged in a wrestling match with a local champion, Jack Armstrong. While Lincoln lost the match, he earned their respect.<17>

In his first winter in New Salem, Lincoln attended a meeting of the New Salem debating club. His performance here, his efficiency in managing the store, the sawmill, and the gristmill, along with his other efforts at self-improvement soon won him the respect of town leaders such as Dr. John Allen, Mentor Graham, and James Rutledge.<18> They encouraged Lincoln to enter politics, feeling that he was a man capable of supporting the interests of what they all felt was a growing community and in March 1832 he announced his candidacy in a written article that Lincoln carried to the publisher of the Sangamore Journal in Springfield. While Lincoln was an admirer of Henry Clay and his American System, the national political situation was undergoing a change and local Illinois issues were the primary political concerns of the election. Lincoln opposed the development of a local railroad project while supporting improvements in the Sangamon River that would increase its navigability. The Second Party System pitting Democrats against Whigs had not yet formed although Lincoln would in the next few years become one of the leading Whigs in the state legislature.<19>
Daguerreotype portrait of Henry Clay -- Clay was a major political influence on Lincoln throughout his career

By the spring of 1832 Offutts business had failed, and Lincoln was out of work. Around the same time, the Black Hawk War erupted; Black Hawk was leading a group of 450 warriors along with 1,500 women and children to reclaim traditional tribal lands in Illinois. Lincoln joined a group of volunteers from New Salem and, upon nomination by the Clarys Grove boys, was voted as captain of his unit. The unit never saw combat but in the late 1850s Lincoln commented that this selection by his peers was a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since. Lincoln returned from the militia after a few months and was able to campaign throughout the county before the August 6 legislative election. When the votes were counted, Lincoln finished eighth out of thirteen candidates (only the top four were elected), but he did manage to secure 277 out of the 300 votes cast in the New Salem precinct.<20>

Without a job, Lincoln and William F. Berry purchased one of the three general stores in New Salem. Both the business purchase and a later acquisition of the inventory of another store were made by signing personal notes for the balances due. By 1833 New Salem was no longer a growing community; the Sangamon River was proving to be inadequate for commercial transportation, and no roads or railroads allowed easy access to other markets. In January 1833 Berry applied for a liquor license, but this added revenue was not enough to save the business.<21>

Lincoln was again unemployed, but in May 1833, with the assistance of friends interested in keeping Lincoln in New Salem, he was appointed by President Andrew Jackson as the postmaster of New Salem. Lincoln would keep this position for three years, and during this time he earned, from commissions, between $150 and $175, hardly enough to be considered a full time source of income. With the assistance of another friend, Lincoln was appointed as an assistant to county surveyor John Calhoun, a Democratic political appointee. Lincoln had no experience at surveying, but relying on borrowed copies of two works was able to teach himself the practical application of surveying techniques as well as the trigonometric basis of the process. While this income was sufficient to meet his day to day expenses, the notes from his partnership with William Berry were coming due.<22>
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