By 1830 Lincoln was increasingly
restless and ready to be on his own. Leaving home, he worked on flatboats
carrying goods downriver to New Orleans. By 1831 Lincoln had removed
to New Salem, Illinois, some thirty miles northwest of Springfield.
Lincoln found odd jobs in New Salem, and found that his physical strength
and gift for storytelling made him both a useful worker and a popular
figure around town.
In 1832 Lincoln put his popularity in
his adopted hometown to the test, running for the Illinois General Assembly.
He declared his candidacy in a March 1832 statement in which he pledged
to support internal improvements and education. The effort proved premature,
as Lincoln failed to win election.
Later that year Lincoln was elected
captain of the New Salem militia company, which had just been called
up to take part in the Black Hawk War. In this conflict Illinois and
federal troops put a small band of Sac and Fox Indians who sought to
return to their ancestral lands to rout, but Lincoln saw no action.
In 1834 he again declared for the state
legislature. He had made a deep enough impression on his district to
win this time around.
The twenty-five year old freshman representative
proved himself a solid Whig, voting for a state bank and in favor of
the massive Illinois and Michigan Canal project. He was a consistent
supporter of such internal improvements, a Whig article of faith, and
was elected to a second term in 1836.
In the legislature Lincoln weighed the idea of studying law. Life on
the farm held no attraction for Lincoln, and the law offered a chance
at a professional career. At first hesitant about his studies and fearing
that his poor education would betray him, Lincoln came to see that the
law held promise for him, and moved to learn its intricacies through
another program of self-study.