It was of essential importance for the development of Lincoln as a political leader, first for his State, and later in the contest that became national, that he should have possessed an understanding, which was denied to many of the anti-slavery leaders, of the actual nature, character, and purpose of the men against whom he was contending. It became of larger importance when Lincoln was directing from Washington the policy of the national administration that he should have a sympathetic knowledge of the problems of the men of the Border States who with the outbreak of the War had been placed in a position of exceptional difficulty, and that he should have secured and retained the confidence of these men. It seems probable that if the War President had been a man of Northern birth and Northern prejudices, if he had been one to whom the wider, the more patient and sympathetic view of these problems had been impossible or difficult, the Border States could not have been saved to the Union. It is probable that the support given to the cause of the North by the sixty thousand or seventy thousand loyal recruits from Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, and Virginia, may even have proved the deciding factor in turning the tide of events. The nation’s leader for the struggle seems to have been secured through a process of natural selection as had been the case a century earlier with Washington. We may recall that Washington died but ten years before Lincoln was born; and from the fact that each leader was at hand when the demand came for his service, and when without such service the nation might have been pressed to destruction, we may grasp the hope that in time of need the nation will always be provided with the leader who can meet the requirement.
After Lincoln returned from New Orleans, he secured employment for a time in the grocery or general store of Gentry, and when he was twenty-two years of age, he went into business with a partner, some twenty years older than himself, in carrying on such a store. He had so impressed himself upon the confidence of his neighbours that, while he was absolutely without resources, there was no difficulty in his borrowing the money required for his share of the capital. The undertaking did not prove a success. Lincoln had no business experience and no particular business capacity, while his partner proved to be untrustworthy. The partner decamped, leaving Lincoln to close up the business and to take the responsibility for the joint indebtedness. It was seventeen years before Lincoln was able, from his modest earnings as a lawyer, to clear off this indebtedness. The debt became outlawed in six years’ time but this could not affect Lincoln’s sense of the obligation. After the failure of the business, Lincoln secured work as county surveyor. In this, he was following the example of his predecessor Washington, with whose career as a surveyor the youngster who knew Weems’s biography by heart, was of course familiar. His new occupation took him through the county and brought him into personal relations with a much wider circle than he had known in the village of New Salem, and in his case, the personal relation counted for much; the history shows that no one who knew Lincoln failed to be attracted by him or to be impressed with the fullest confidence in the man’s integrity of purpose and of action.