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Lincoln's Biography

Springfield, the Law, and the Whig Party, 1837-1843

By R.D. Monroe, Ph.D.

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This period, one of the most important in Lincoln's life, saw the young legislator earn a law license and thereby find a new profession, and take up residence in the rapidly growing town of Springfield.

Lincoln led the successful effort to move the Illinois State Capital from Vandalia to the more centrally located Springfield. Representing the new state capital, Lincoln found himself at the center of political life in Illinois.

Illinois counted among the states pledging their support to General Andrew Jackson in his two tempestuous presidential terms (1829-1837). The Old Hero decisively turned the powers of the federal government to securing the Union (facing down South Carolina's attempts to nullify federal laws not to its liking), disbanding the controversial Bank of the United States and dispossing Native Americans of their lands.

The Whig Party emerged as the major challenger to the followers of Jackson, who became the Democratic Party. Whigs resented Jackson's bold uses of executive authority. Despite their distrust of executive authority, Whigs advocated a far greater role for local, state and federal governments than did Jacksonian Democrats, especially in the encouragement of economic development.

Where Jacksonian Democrats sought to build an economy that gave the common man an opportunity to farm and practice a trade in an atmosphere free from the governmental "special privileges" that had so poisoned the British mercantile system, Whigs sought to use government policies, especially those establishing corporations (like national banks), and internal improvements (like canals and turnpikes) to give ambitious entrepreneurs a leg up. Whigs believed that such developments benefited all Americans by binding the nation together with commercial and trading relationships, but Democrats saw government subsidies to politically favored groups.

Lincoln cast his lot with the Whig Party. As an ambitious young man with no interest in farming, he saw banks, internal improvements and economic growth as a means to a new, more prosperous economy offering greater economic opportunities. In the 1830s, Illinois' rapid economic growth provided the young man with the means to realize some of his goals.

Lincoln emerged as a politician worthy of notice and married a politically connected belle from Lexington, Kentucky. Finding a profession and a wife marked the young Lincoln's transition to manhood, and he began building a reputation as a skilled attorney .

In short, the frontier youth of humble origins and scant education lifted himself from subsistence farming and day labor to lawyer and rising politician, and into a socially ambitious marriage.

 

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