Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

A Village Leader
Though placid, this early Lincoln was not resigned. He differed from the boors of Pigeon
Creek in wanting some other sort of life. What it was he wanted, he did not know. His
reading had not as yet given him definite ambitions. It may well be that New Orleans was
the clue to such stirring in him as there was of that discontent which fanciful people have
called divine. Remembering New Orleans, could any imaginative youth be content with
Pigeon Creek?
In the spring of 1830, shortly after he came of age, he agreed for once with his father
whose chronic vagrancy had reasserted itself. The whole family set out again on their
wanderings and made their way in an oxcart to a new halting place on the Sangamon
River in Illinois. There Abraham helped his father clear another piece of land for another
illusive "start" in life. The following spring he parted with his family and struck out for
himself.[1] His next adventure was a second trip as a boatman to New Orleans. Can one
help suspecting there was vague hope in his heart that he might be adventuring to the land
of hearts' desire? If there was, the yokels who were his fellow boatmen never suspected
it. One of them long afterward asserted that Lincoln returned from New Orleans fiercely
rebellious against its central institution, slavery, and determined to "hit that thing"
whenever he could.
The legend centers in his witnessing a slave auction and giving voice to his horror in a
style quite unlike any of his authentic utterances. The authority for all this is doubtful.[2]
Furthermore, the Lincoln of 1831 was not yet awakened. That inner life in which such a
reaction might take place was still largely dormant. The outer life, the life of the harvest
clown, was still a thick insulation. Apparently, the waking of the inner life, the
termination of its dormant stage, was reserved for an incident far more personal that fell
upon him in desolating force a few years later.
Following the New Orleans venture, came a period as storekeeper for a man named
Denton Offut, in perhaps the least desirable town in Illinois--a dreary little huddle of
houses gathered around Rutledge's Mill on the Sangamon River and called New
Salem.[3] Though a few of its people were of a better sort than any Lincoln had yet
known except, perhaps, the miller's family in the old days in Kentucky--and still a
smaller few were of fine quality, the community for the most part was hopeless. A
fatality for unpromising neighborhoods overhangs like a doom the early part of this
strange life. All accounts of New Salem represent it as predominantly a congregation of
the worthless, flung together by unaccountable accident at a spot where there was no
genuine reason for a town's existence. A casual town, created by drifters, and void of
settled purpose. Small wonder that ere long it vanished from the map; that after a few
years its drifting congregation dispersed to every corner of the horizon, and was no more.
But during its brief existence it staged an episode in the development of Lincoln's
character. However, this did not take place at once. And before it happened, came another
turn of his soul's highway scarcely less important. He discovered, or thought he
discovered, what he wanted. His vague ambition took shape. He decided to try to be a
politician. At twenty-three, after living in New Salem less than a year, this audacious, not
to say impertinent, young man offered himself to the voters of Sangamon County as a
candidate for the Legislature. At this time that humility which was eventually his