• astonishing abe •
Okay, so I’ve tried to tell an amusing anecdote about a ‘young’ Abraham Lincoln — he is 26 at the time (and, I’m sorry, but that is, to me, young, bordering on zygotic -anyway, a young Abe Lincoln), who has successfully gotten himself elected to public office as a member of the Illinois General Assembly in August of 1834 (the same year that he — hello! — took up the study of Law — talk about your proverbial ‘full plate’) and is up for a second bid for re-election in 1836 (I want to get to end of this tale without getting all ‘sappy’, because he freed the slaves, but, fact is, I can suddenly burst into unmanly tears from sheer astonishment and appreciation! For some reason, anytime somebody does something selfless to the point of self-sacrifice, it always gets to me, because it’s so unexpected, and, well, Nice!! — so having said all this, let’s get back to the funny anecdote, while the sappy crybaby goes back to the basement to get a new box of Kleenex — man, I hate that guy. Anyway, back to the story.)
On August 1, 1836 Abraham Lincoln was re-elected in his second term to the Illinois General Assembly. In the weeks leading up to the election, he was informed that (Democrat) Colonel Robert Allen was in possession of certain facts which, if revealed to the public, would ‘entirely destroy’ the prospects of (Whig) N.W. Edwards** and Mr. Lincoln (the Whig Party leader since 1835) at the ensuing election, and that these politically damaging allegations might be forestalled, that he, Mr. Allen, might be persuaded — as a favor — to ‘forbear to divulge’ said (unnamed offenses) to the public, and what did Mr. Lincoln think about that?
In a letter to Mr. Allen, dated June 21, 1836 this is what Lincoln had to say about it.
“No one has needed favours more than I, and, generally, few have been less willing to accept them; but in this case favour to me would be injustice to the public, and therefore I must beg your pardon for declining it. That I once had the confidence of the people of Sangamon (County, in Illinois), is sufficiently evident; and if I have since done anything, either by design or misadventure, which if known would subject me to a forfeiture of that confidence, he that knows of that thing, and conceals it, is a traitor to his country’s interest.”
He goes on to say that he “cannot form any conjecture of what fact or facts, real or supposed” which might be damaging to his chances for re-election to the General Assembly, but that it was his hope that, “on more mature reflection, you will view the public interest as a paramount consideration, and therefore determine to let the worst come.”
“I here assure you,” he continues, “that the candid statement of facts on your part, however low it may sink me, shall never break the tie of personal friendship between us. I wish an answer to this, and you are at liberty to publish both, if you choose.”
That’s it. Good story, no? Uh-oh, here comes Mr. Sentimental with his two cents worth…you can skip to the end, now, unless you like this kind of thing:
This young Lincoln, as yet did not have a Law Degree, and yet, his love of the Law as a guiding precept, and his devotion to the Law as a thing to be lived up to, and to the fullest extent, to my mind defines this Mr. Abraham Lincoln as a singular man, established in justice and honesty to the fullest extent.
That, as a representative of the People, full disclosure to the public of any wrongdoing, by himself or his Party, was an absolute must, is frankly, in this day and age, to my thinking, so shocking to me that I never would have expected such forthrightness from a political figure or Party, for that matter, at any time in history. Perhaps I’ve become jaded. I’ve got to say it, I wouldn’t have thought young Abe Lincoln would have stood a chance in politics with such morals. But, happily, he not only survived, but eventually became President, and was blessed with sufficient time to complete his life’s work: to free the slaves. Could any man with less conviction and honor and singlemindedness have accomplished that? It still makes me cry, when I think of it from sheer joy–and astonishment.
**(With Lincoln, Ninian W. Edwards had constituted one of Whig “Long Nine” from Sangamon County who served in State Legislature in mid 1830s, eventually becoming the husband of Mary Todd Lincoln’s sister.)
~ Tim Burchfield