IN the spring of 1830 a young man named Abraham Lin|coln, with father, mother and other relatives, came from southern Indiana to settle on the Sangamon River in Macon County, Illinois. A year later the young man, now alone, established himself in the village of New Salem in Sangamon County. Six years later he removed to Spring|field, the new capital of the state. There he remained until February 11, 1861, when he left for Washington to become the sixteenth President of the United States.
That there are certain relationships between a man's en|vironment and what he ultimately becomes is obvious. If a community refuses to support a portrait painter, and the portrait painter refuses to find another home, he either chooses a different occupation or he starves. And so, in this most fundamental of all human endeavors, Lincoln owed a debt to Springfield and the area which centers in it, for it afforded him a living in the profession of his choice.
Moreover, the community responded only less generously to his other ambition—political advancement. He made only one unsuccessful attempt at office-holding, and then his neigh|bors gave him four terms in the state legislature and, after a short interval, two years in Congress. Not until the slavery question shattered all loyalties did old friends turn away from him, and even then the city of his home remained faithful, though by the narrowest of margins.
Page xivBut these are hardly more than the conditions or existence, and need no demonstration. More interesting are the in|fluences which defy proof, and can only be suggested. Could Lincoln, for instance, have attained high standing at the bar if he had not resided at the one city in the state where the high courts sat? Could he have become a power in Illinois politics if the legislature and the courts had not drawn the political leaders to his home at regular and frequent inter|vals? Could he have learned to gauge the temper of the people as surely as he did learn to gauge it had he not been forced for years to evaluate the conflicting sentiments which these men were constantly reporting? Could he have attained to the mastery of political manoeuvre that was his had he not had years of association with venturesome and skillful politicians, both as friends and opponents? Could he have held to his faith in political democracy if he had not lived in a city where economic opportunity was a fact? Could he have understood, and solved, the problem of the Border States without a quarter-century's association with neighbors whose backgrounds and prejudices were closely akin to those of the people of Kentucky and Missouri? How much of his own cautious sureness resulted from the conservatism of these same neighbors? What part of his insistence upon main|tenance of the Union could be traced to the necessity of keep|ing open the Mississippi in order that the produce of the farms of central Illinois might find its natural market at New Orleans? To what extent were the Southerners of his home city responsible for his refusal to adopt a policy of vengeance towards the conquered section?
When Lincoln said farewell to the people of Springfield he gave his own answer to these questions. "To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything." Spoken out of deep emotion, the words can hardly be expected to con|vey exact, cold-blooded truth. Yet one shrinks from an anal|ysis. To attempt to formulate a detailed statement of the Page xv debt seems not only foolhardy, but also, for a resident of the city which owes so much to him, ungracious. Rather than that, the picture of the community itself is presented, and readers may draw from it such inferences as they choose. If some phases of a personality not yet completely understood are illuminated, its major purpose will have been realized; if it fails in this respect, perhaps it will still have value as a footnote to the history of fifty years of American life.