LINCOLN IN CONGRESS AND IN RETIREMENT
1. The Mexican War and Lincoln’s Work in Congress.
Lincoln had ceased before his marriage to sit in the Illinois Legislature. He had won sufficient standing for his ambition to aim higher; a former law partner of his was now in Congress, and he wished to follow. But he had to submit to a few years’ delay of which the story is curious and honourable. His rivals for the representation of his own constituency were two fellow Whigs, Baker and Hardin, both of whom afterwards bore distinguished parts in the Mexican war and with both of whom he was friendly. Somewhat to his disgust at a party gathering in his own county in 1843, Baker was preferred to him. A letter of his gives a shrewd account of the manoeuvres among members of various Churches which brought this about; it is curiously careful not to overstate the effect of these influences and characteristically denies that Baker had part in them. To make the thing harder, he was sent from this meeting to a convention, for the whole constituency, with which the nomination lay, and his duty, of course, was to work for Baker. Here it became obvious that Hardin would be chosen; nothing could be done for Baker at that time, but Lincoln, being against his will there in Baker’s interests, took an opportunity in the bargaining that took place to advance Baker’s claim, to the detriment of his own, to be Hardin’s successor two years later.
By some perverse accident notes about details of party management fill a disproportionate space among those letters of Lincoln’s which have been preserved, but these reveal that, with all his business-like attention to the affairs of his very proper ambition, he was able throughout to illuminate dull matters of this order with action of singular disinterestedness. After being a second time postponed, no doubt to the advantage of his law business, he took his seat in the House of Representatives at Washington for two years in the spring of 1847. Two short sessions can hardly suffice for mastering the very complicated business of that body. He made hardly any mark. He probably learned much and was able to study at leisure the characters of his brother politicians. He earned the valuable esteem of some, and seems to have passed as a very pleasant, honest, plain specimen of the rough West. Like others of the younger Congressmen, he had the privilege of breakfasting with Webster. His brief career in the House seems to have disappointed him, and it certainly dissatisfied his constituents. The part that he played may impress us more favourably than it did them, but, slight as it was, it requires a historical explanation.