Lincoln's New Salem, by Benjamin P. Thomas; drawings by Romaine Proctor from photographs by the Herbert Georg studio, Springfield.
Thomas, Benjamin Platt, 1902-1956.
Page  [unnumbered]Page  vii


FOR many years the surroundings in which Lincoln spent his boyhood, youth and early manhood were looked upon as drab, sordid, uninspiring; as an ob|stacle that he in some mysterious manner succeeded in sur|mounting. In recent years, however, American history has come to be interpreted largely in terms of the influence of the frontier as a factor in moulding our institutions and national character. With this interpretation comes a new conception of Lincoln as in a measure a product of his fron|tier environment.

Lincoln had less than a year of formal schooling. For the rest, he was self-made. He learned; he was not taught. What he read, he mastered; but he did not read widely. He learned principally by mingling with people and discussing things with them, by observation of their ways and their re|actions—in short, from his environment.

This growing appreciation of the part that Lincoln's en|vironment played in shaping him is the reason for the State of Illinois' reproduction of the village of New Salem, and is our reason for describing its people, their occupations, in|terests, customs, religion, manner of life and thought.

Some of New Salem's residents had important and easily recognized influence on Lincoln. Denton Offut brought him to New Salem. Mentor Graham taught him grammar and mathematics, both of which were essential to his further de|velopment. Jack Kelso introduced him to Shakespeare and Burns. Jack Armstrong and his followers became his per|sonal friends and political supporters. Others of the inhabit|ants touched his life at different points and even the hum|blest and most inconspicuous of them had some part in the making of the later, greater Lincoln. Lincoln's success as a politician and president, for example, was due in no Page  viii small measure to the fact that he knew how the common man would think. This he learned in large part at New Salem, where he worked on common terms with the hum|blest of the villagers. He learned how and what Joshua Miller, the blacksmith, thought, how Bill Clary, the saloon-keeper, Martin Waddell, the hatter, and Alexander Fer|guson, the cobbler, viewed things. He knew the common people because he had been one of them.

No other portion of Lincoln's life lends itself so readily to intensive study of his environment as do his six years at New Salem. His physical surroundings have been re-created. The names and occupations of practically all of his asso|ciates and something of the character of many of them are known. The village was small enough to make practicable a reasonably complete description of its people and its life.

Aside from its connection with Lincoln, New Salem is important as an example of a typical American pioneer vil|lage. There were hundreds like it. Some of them survived; others died, as it did. It is one of the few—perhaps the only one—whose founding, growth and decline can be minutely traced.

Part One of this book is devoted to the history of New Sa|lem. It tells who the inhabitants were, how they lived, how they looked on life. Since many of those most active in the village lived in outlying settlements the account is not limited to the village, but provides a picture of the whole community. Part One sets the stage, so to speak, for Part Two, in which Lincoln's activities are discussed, and the meaning of the New Salem years in his development is ap|praised. Part Three explains the growth of the Lincoln legend around the site of the lost town, and the changing conception of the significance of the frontier as a factor in Lincoln's life. It explains how New Salem came to be re|stored, the manner in which the facts about the old cabins were secured, how the furnishings were acquired, and the problems that had to be solved in the restoration.

Page  ixThe New Salem period of Lincoln's life has been difficult to treat with certainty, because the evidence is largely tradi|tional in character. To exclude this type of evidence would make the story bare and incomplete. But by use of addi|tional sources hitherto overlooked or unknown we have been able to use it with more discrimination, and to treat not only the Lincoln story but also the history of the village with more completeness and authenticity than was possible heretofore.

The files of the Sangamo Journal have yielded new facts. The letters of Charles James Fox Clarke, who lived in, and later near New Salem, published in the Journal of the Illi|nois State Historical Society for January 1930, but never used before in any book on New Salem, give a vivid picture of New Salem life. T. G. Onstot's Pioneers of Menard and Mason Counties and Peter Cartwright's Autobiography give the color of the pioneer days. County histories, reminis|cences of old settlers, accounts of travelers, books and ar|ticles on pioneer life have been read. The records of land entries in Menard County, land transfers in New Salem and the records of the Sangamon County Commissioners Court have been examined.

The discovery of a copy of William Dean Howells' Life of Lincoln, published in 1860, and corrected by Lincoln himself, enables us to write with assurance on several hither|to uncertain points. This copy was owned by Samuel C. Parks of Lincoln, Illinois. Parks, a native of Vermont, was educated at Indiana University and read law with the firm of Stuart and Edwards in Springfield. In 1848, he moved to Logan County, where he had many contacts with Lincoln. They were sometimes associated in the trial of cases in the Logan Circuit Court. Like Lincoln, Parks became a Re|publican. He spoke at Republican meetings in Logan County, and on one or two occasions introduced Lincoln when the latter spoke there. He worked for Lincoln's nom|ination as the Republican candidate for President in 1860, Page  x and Lincoln later appointed him Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Idaho. In the summer of 1860, Lincoln, at his request, read his copy of Howells and made corrections in the margins. Through the courtesy of Mr. Parks' son, Samuel C. Parks, Jr., of Cody, Wyoming, the Abraham Lin|coln Association was permitted to examine this book and make photostatic copies of the pages on which Lincoln's corrections appear.

The research work done by the Division of Architecture and Engineering of the State of Illinois in connection with the restoration of New Salem has added to our knowledge of the village, especially with respect to the character and construction of the houses. This information, published in a mimeographed Record of the Restoration of New Salem, by Joseph F. Booton, Chief Draftsman, who had immediate charge of the research, has been of great help. The map of New Salem here reproduced was prepared by Mr. Booton for his book. He and Robert Kingery, Director of the State Department of Public Works and Buildings, have kindly permitted us to use it.

Anyone writing on New Salem must pay tribute to the Old Salem Lincoln League of Petersburg, Illinois, for col|lecting and preserving information about the town and its residents. Their material, published in Lincoln at New Salem by Thomas P. Reep, has been freely drawn upon. Mr. Reep has devoted years to the study of New Salem. But for his work and that of the League much of this informa|tion would now be lost beyond the possibility of recovery and a detailed history of the town could not be written. The League also initiated the movement for New Salem's restoration and cooperated with the state in every stage of the work.

I wish to express my gratitude to Logan Hay, President of the Abraham Lincoln Association, for constant encourage|ment and assistance. Mr. Hay has given freely of his time, and by his suggestions of sources and constructive criticism Page  xi of content and form has made this a better book than it would otherwise have been. Paul M. Angle, Librarian of the Illinois State Historical Society, has read the entire manu|script and has made many valuable suggestions with re|spect to material, manner of treatment and design. George W. Bunn, Jr., has also read the manuscript and has given helpful advice on design and format. Margaret C. Norton, Archivist of the State of Illinois, permitted me to use data collected by her on Lincoln's activities in the State Legis|lature. The Herbert Georg Studio of Springfield kindly furnished the photographs used by Romaine Proctor in drawing the illustrations. Margaret T. Davis drew the map for the endsheets. Many others have assisted me in one way or another, and to them go my sincere thanks. The loyal support of the members of the Abraham Lincoln Association has made possible the preparation and publication of the book.

Finally I wish to express my appreciation to the state of|ficials who were responsible for the restoration of New Salem. Governor Louis L. Emmerson and Governor Henry Horner gave the project enthusiastic support. The State Legislature appropriated the necessary funds. H. H. Cleave|land, former Director of the Department of Public Works and Buildings, and Robert Kingery, the present Director, had general charge of the work. C. Herrick Hammond, State Supervising Architect, supervised the research and the drawing of the plans for the restored cabins. They have given us a true reproduction of a pioneer town and a unique memorial to Lincoln.


Springfield, IllinoisMay 2, 1934.