Thursday, December 29, 2005

Excerpts from Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years

It being a slow news week, I thought I'd share some of the more interesting parts of a book I'm reading now. Here are a couple excerpts from Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln, The Prairie Years. This should be interesting reading for anyone that thinks that the good old days were days of clean and honest politics, and some of the parallels to today are stunning.

Here's how Springfield ended up becoming the Illinois State Capital:

Lincoln led the "Long Nine" in finding the votes in the legislature to pass a bill moving the capital of the state from Vandalia to Springfield. Other counties besides Sangamon were hustling for the location; it went to Springfield mainly because of the patient and skilled manipulation of Lincoln. A few members voted for the bill because they liked Lincoln, but most of the voters came through trades, deals, "log-rolling." "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."

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When a bill came up in the legislature to throw off to the territory of Wisconsin the fourteen northern counties of the State of Illinois, he fought to defeat it. He wanted Illinois to have Chicago, a port on one of the Great Lakes within its borders, connecting the West with the East. If the measure had won, it would have left Illinois depending on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for water transportation, with its main economic outlets toward the South, with its future tied closer to the South. The bill was beaten by a vote of 70 to 11.

What if this bill had passed? Can you imagine Chicago, Wisconsin? This is why Lincoln was a genius - even he knew that Packer and Bear fans could never live together.

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Here's one that should sound familiar:

Among Illinois Whigs there were regrets. They carried their national ticket, but lost the state to the Democrats. This put a new color on a case they were interested in. Months earlier they had charged the Democrats with fraud in voting; thousands of Irish workmen in the canal zone had started a test action before a circuit judge who ruled that foreign born inhabitants must be naturalized before they could vote. The Democrats took the case to the Supreme Court, knowing that if they lost thecase they would lose thousands of votes.

Then came the newly elected legislature into session, with a Democratic majority holding power through the ballots of the canal-zone workers. This was the hour Stephen Douglas, register of the land office, seized; he wrote a draft of a bill; he made a speech in the rotunda of the capitol asking the legislature to pass the bill; the bill passed and became law; it threw out of office four circuit-court judges, set up five new supreme court judgeships, and arranged for the legislature to appoint nine new judges, who would be the supreme court of the state besides doing the work of the circuit-court judges who were thrown out. The bill passed the senate by a vote of 22 to 17, and the house by a vote of 45 to 40. By this move the Democrats saved the canal-zone vote for their party, appointed Democrats as clerks in half the counties of the state as provided in the bill, and placed Stephen A. Douglas, who could no longer be register of the land office under a Whig national administration, on the bench as a supreme court judge.

During this session of the legislature there were bitter feelings between the Whigs and Democrats. The voting was often close. Once when the Democrats wanted a quorum and the Whigs didn't, the Democrats locked the door of the house so as to keep the quorum in. Lincoln, Joe Gillespie, and another Whig raised a window and jumped out and hid.

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And here's a lesson for all the sissies that run for office now:

Besides wit and personality, a man had to have bulldog courage and a “constitution like a horse" to stand up in the game. When Stuart was running against Steven A. Douglas for Congress in 1838 the two Shucks grappled, and "fought like wildcats" back and forth over the floor of Herndon's grocery till each was too tired to hit another blow. When Stuart came to, he ordered a barrel of whisky for the crowd.

Lincoln, a while later, sending news to Stuart in Washington, wrote "Yesterday Douglas, having chosen to consider himself insulted by something in the Journal, undertook to cane Francis [the editor] in the street. Francis caught him by the hair and jammed him back against a market cart, where the matter ended by Francis being pulled away from him. The whole affair was so ludicrous that Francis and everybody else, Douglas excepted, have been laughing about it ever since."

I am 100% for a policy where politicians can challenge newspaper editors to a fight in the middle of the street. This needs to become law in 2006.

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There's also a great story of how Lincoln agreed to marry the sister of a friend of his, if his friend could get her sister to move to Illinois. She did, and the sister turned out to be homely and obese. So Lincoln mulled over whether he should keep his word for a few months, then decided to ask her to marry him. When she said "no," he was shocked. It had never occurred to him that she may not want to marry him! So he was hurt by a woman he never wanted to marry in the first place. He wrote a letter to his friend, ending with:

"Others have been made fools of by the girls; but this can never with truth be said about me. I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself. I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason: I can never be satisfied with any one who would be blockheaded enough to have me."

Amen.