He had as a youngster won repute as a teller of dramatic stories, and those who listened to his arguments in court were expecting to have his words to the jury brightened and rendered for the moment more effective by such stories. The hearers were often disappointed in such expectation. Neither at the Bar, nor, it may be said here, in his later work as a political leader, did Lincoln indulge himself in the telling a story for the sake of the story, nor for the sake of the laugh to be raised by the story, nor for the momentary pleasure or possible temporary advantage of the discomfiture of the opponent. The story was used, whether in law or in politics, only when it happened to be the shortest and most effective method of making clear an issue or of illustrating a statement. In later years, when he had upon him the terrible burdens of the great struggle, Lincoln used stories from time to time as a vent to his feelings. The impression given was that by an effort of will and in order to keep his mind from dwelling too continuously upon the tremendous problems upon which he was engaged, he would, by the use of some humorous reminiscence, set his thoughts in a direction as different as possible from that of his cares. A third and very valuable use of the story which grew up in his Washington days was to turn aside some persistent but impossible application; and to give to the applicant, with the least risk of unnecessary annoyance to his feelings, the “no” that was necessary. It is doubtless also the case that, as has happened to other men gifted with humour, Lincoln’s reputation as a story-teller caused to be ascribed to him a great series of anecdotes and incidents of one kind or another, some of which would have been entirely outside of, and inconsistent with, his own standard and his own method. There is the further and final word to be said about Lincoln’s stories, that they were entitled to the geometrical commendation of “being neither too long nor too broad.”
In 1846, Lincoln was elected to Congress as a Whig. The circle of acquaintances whom he had made in the county as surveyor had widened out with his work as a lawyer; he secured a unanimous nomination and was elected without difficulty in a constituency comprising six counties. I find in the record of the campaign the detail that Lincoln returned to certain of his friends who had undertaken to find the funds for election expenses, $199.90 out of the $200 subscribed.
In 1847, Lincoln was one of the group of Whigs in Congress who opposed the Mexican War. These men took the ground that the war was one of aggression and spoliation. Their views, which were quite prevalent throughout New England, are effectively presented in Lowell’s Biglow Papers. When the army was once in the field, Lincoln was, however, ready to give his Congressional vote for the fullest and most energetic support. A year or more later, he worked actively for the election of General Taylor. He took the ground that the responsibility for the war rested not with the soldiers who had fought it to a successful conclusion, but with the politicians who had devised the original land-grabbing scheme.