In that same year, 1830, he reached his majority. It was time for him to be about his own business. He had worked patiently and cheerfully since he was able to hold an ax in his hands for his own and the family’s maintenance. They could now get along without him, and he felt that the time had come for him to develop himself for larger duties.
He left the log cabin, penniless, without even a good suit of clothes. The first work he did when he became his own master was to supply this latter deficiency. For a certain Mrs. Millet he “split four hundred rails for every yard of brown jeans, dyed with white walnut bark, necessary to make a pair of trousers.”
For nearly a year he continued to work as a rail splitter and farm “hand.” Then he was hired by a Mr. Denton Offut to take a flatboat loaded with goods from Sangamon town to New Orleans. So well pleased was Mr. Offut with the way in which Lincoln executed his commission that on his return he engaged him to take charge of a mill and store at New Salem.
There, as in every other place in which he had resided, he became the popular favorite. His kindness of heart, his good humor, his skill as a story teller, his strength, his courtesy, manliness, and honesty were such as to win all hearts. He would allow no man to use profane language before women. A boorish fellow who insisted on doing so in the store on one occasion, in spite of Lincoln’s protests, found this out to his cost. Lincoln had politely requested him not to use such language before ladies, but the man persisted in doing so. When the women left the store, he became violently angry and began to abuse Lincoln. He wanted to pick a quarrel with him. Seeing this Lincoln said, “Well, if you must be whipped, I suppose I may as well whip you as any other man,” and taking the man out of the store he gave him a well-merited chastisement. Strange to say, he became Lincoln’s friend after this, and remained so to the end of his life.
His scrupulous honesty won for him in the New Salem community the title of “Honest Abe,” a title which is still affectionately applied to him. On one occasion, having by mistake overcharged a customer six and a quarter cents, he walked three miles after the store was closed in order to restore the customer’s money. At another time, in weighing tea for a woman, he used a quarter-pound instead of a half-pound weight. When he went to use the scales again, he discovered his mistake, and promptly walked a long distance to deliver the remainder of the tea.
Lincoln’s determination to improve himself continued to be the leading object of his life. He said once to his fellow-clerk in the store, “I have talked with great men, and I do not see how they differ from others.” His observation had taught him that the great difference in men’s positions was not due so much to one having more talents or being more highly gifted than another, but rather to the way in which one cultivated his talent or talents and another neglected his.