Returning to Springfield after his single
term in Congress, Lincoln found himself adrift. While the rest of the
country debated the Compromise of 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle
Tom's Cabin and personal liberty laws, Lincoln withdrew from politics.
Without politics, he channeled his energies into the practice of law.
Already melancholy by nature, Lincoln
endured the death of his son Edward at the age of three in 1850 and
the death of his father in 1851. These setbacks deepened Lincoln's gloom,
but they also set him upon a course that would eventually lead to religion.
On the judicial circuit Lincoln traveled
with Judge David Davis and a large group of lawyers contesting cases in
a series of county courthouuses. In this setting Lincoln tried a variety
of cases that revealed the inner workings of American society and politics,
and made political contacts that would eventually serve him well.
While Lincoln retreated to Illinois, the American political system
lurched toward crisis. The acquisition of new territories from Mexico
set both northern and southern partisans on edge, as each group worried
that the other would gain the upper hand in shaping the region's legal
and economic character. Paramount among these concerns was the status
of slavery. Moderate politicians north and south hoped that the Compromise
of 1850 could preserve the Union, but political events quickly proved
their hopes unfounded.