The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln HTML version
Unlucky as Lincoln's attempt at storekeeping had been, it served one good purpose.
Indeed, in a way it may be said to have determined his whole future career. He had had a
hard struggle to decide between becoming a blacksmith or a lawyer; and when chance
seemed to offer a middle course, and he tried to be a merchant, the wish to study law had
certainly not faded from his mind.
There is a story that while cleaning up the store, he came upon a barrel which contained,
among a lot of forgotten rubbish, some stray volumes of Blackstone's "Commentaries,"
and that this lucky find still further quickened his interest in the law. Whether this tale be
true or not it seems certain that during the time the store was running its downward
course from bad to worse, he devoted a large part of his too abundant leisure to reading
and study of various kinds. People who knew him then have told how he would lie for
hours under a great oak-tree that grew just outside the store door, poring over his book,
and "grinding around with the shade" as it shifted from north to east.
Lincoln's habit of reading was still further encouraged by his being appointed postmaster
of New Salem on May 7, 1833, an office he held for about three years--until New Salem
grew too small to have a post-office of its own, and the mail was sent to a neighboring
town. The office was so insignificant that according to popular fable it had no fixed
abiding-place, Lincoln being supposed to carry it about with him in his hat! It was,
however, large enough to bring him a certain amount of consideration, and, what pleased
him still better, plenty of newspapers to read-- newspapers that just then were full of the
exciting debates of Clay and Webster, and other great men in Congress.
The rate of postage on letters was still twenty-five cents, and small as the earnings of the
office undoubtedly were, a little change found its way now and then into his hands. In the
scarcity of money on the frontier, this had an importance hard for us to realize. A portion
of this money, of course, belonged to the government. That he used only what was
rightfully his own we could be very sure, even if a sequel to this post office experience
were not known which shows his scrupulous honesty where government funds were
concerned. Years later, after he had become a practising lawyer in Springfield, an agent
of the Post-office Department called upon him in his office one day to collect a balance
due from the New Salem post-office, amounting to about seventeen dollars. A shade of
perplexity passed over his face, and a friend, sitting by, offered to lend him the money if
he did not at the moment have it with him. Without answering, Lincoln rose, and going to
a little trunk that stood by the wall, opened it and took out the exact sum, carefully done
up in a small package. "I never use any man's money but my own, he quietly remarked,
after the agent had gone.
Soon after he was raised to the dignity of postmaster another piece of good fortune came
in his way. Sangamon County covered a territory some forty miles long by fifty wide,
and almost every citizen in it seemed intent on buying or selling land, laying out new
roads, or locating some future city. John Calhoun, the county surveyor, therefore, found