I know of no abler and more candid life of Calhoun than that of Von Holst. Although deficient in incidents, it is no small contribution to American literature, apparently drawn from a careful study of the speeches of the great Nullifier. If the author had had more material to work upon, he would probably have made a more popular work, such as Carl Schurz has written of Henry Clay, and Henry Cabot Lodge of Daniel Webster and Alexander Hamilton. In connection read the biographies of Clay, Webster, and Jackson; see Wilson’s History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power, also Benton’s Thirty Years of Congressional History, and Calhoun’s Speeches.
CIVIL WAR: PRESERVATION OF THE UNION.
In the year 1830, or thereabouts, a traveller on the frontier settlements of Illinois (if a traveller was ever known in those dreary regions) might have seen a tall, gaunt, awkward, homely, sad-looking young man of twenty-one, clothed in a suit of brown jean dyed with walnut-bark, hard at work near a log cabin on the banks of the river Sangamon,—a small stream emptying into the Illinois River. The man was splitting rails, which he furnished to a poor woman in exchange for some homespun cloth to make a pair of trousers, at the rate of four hundred rails per yard. His father, one of the most shiftless of the poor whites of Kentucky, a carpenter by trade, had migrated to Indiana, and, after a short residence, had sought another home on a bluff near the Sangamon River, where he had cleared, with the assistance of his son, about fifteen acres of land. From this he gained a miserable and precarious living.
The young rail-splitter had also a knack of slaughtering hogs, for which he received thirty cents a day. Physically he had extraordinary strength, and no one could beat him in wrestling and other athletic exercises. Mentally, he was bright, inquiring, and not wholly illiterate. He had learned, during his various peregrinations, to read, write, and cipher. He was reliable and honest, and had in 1828 been employed, when his father lived in Indiana, by a Mr. Gentry, to accompany his son to New Orleans, with a flat-boat of produce, which he sold successfully.
It is not my object to dwell on the early life of Abraham Lincoln. It has been made familiar by every historian who has written about him, in accordance with the natural curiosity to know the beginnings of illustrious men; and the more humble, the more interesting these are to most people. It is quite enough to say that no man in the United States ever reached eminence from a more obscure origin.