WORK AT THE BAR AND ENTRANCE INTO POLITICS
In 1834, when he was twenty-five years old, Lincoln made his first entrance into politics, presenting himself as candidate for the Assembly. His defeat was not without compensations; he secured in his own village or township, New Salem, no less than 208 out of the 211 votes cast. This prophet had honour with those who knew him. Two years later, he tried again and this time with success. His journeys as a surveyor had brought him into touch with, and into the confidence of, enough voters throughout the county to secure the needed majority.
Lincoln’s active work as a lawyer lasted from 1834 to 1860, or for about twenty-six years. He secured in the cases undertaken by him a very large proportion of successful decisions. Such a result is not entirely to be credited to his effectiveness as an advocate. The first reason was that in his individual work, that is to say, in the matters that were taken up by himself rather than by his partner, he accepted no case in the justice of which he did not himself have full confidence. As his fame as an advocate increased, he was approached by an increasing number of clients who wanted the advantage of the effective service of the young lawyer and also of his assured reputation for honesty of statement and of management. Unless, however, he believed in the case, he put such suggestions to one side even at the time when the income was meagre and when every dollar was of importance.
Lincoln’s record at the Bar has been somewhat obscured by the value of his public service, but as it comes to be studied, it is shown to have been both distinctive and important. His law-books were, like those of his original library, few, but whatever volumes he had of his own and whatever he was able to place his hands upon from the shelves of his friends, he mastered thoroughly. His work at the Bar gave evidence of his exceptional powers of reasoning while it was itself also a large influence in the development of such powers. The counsel who practised with and against him, the judges before whom his arguments were presented, and the members of the juries, the hard-headed working citizens of the State, seem to have all been equally impressed with the exceptional fairness with which the young lawyer presented not only his own case but that of his opponent. He had great tact in holding his friends, in convincing those who did not agree with him, and in winning over opponents; but he gave no futile effort to tasks which his judgment convinced him would prove impossible. He never, says Horace Porter, citing Lincoln’s words, “wasted any time in trying to massage the back of a political porcupine.” “A man might as well,” says Lincoln, “undertake to throw fleas across the barnyard with a shovel.”