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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Duncan, Jason. 'Jason Duncan to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon539.html


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428. Jason Duncan to William H. Herndon.

[late 1866 — early 1867 [1]]

I first went to reside in New Salem in August AD 1831 to practice my profession, procuring an office room in the public house of James Rutlege. I became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln late president of the United States shortly after my arrival in that place, his external apperance was not prepossessing, but on cultivating an acquaintance with him found some thing about the young man verry attractive evincing intellegence far beyond the generality of youth of his age and opportunities. he had the approachable air common to young men who like him grew up on the western frontiers entirely destitute of those conventional trammels, which are thrown around young men in the older States. the open frank manner of Mr Lincoln in his youthful days coupled with a flow of good humor and great witticism, always made him a welcome member of any group or Society of intellegent men. he was not obtrusive in his manners, but his genial nature seemed to invite any one to form his acquaintance. he was a verry obscure young man when I first became acquainted with him at New Salem. he had no influential friends to bring him into public notice or money to aid him in procuring an education: in fine I have thought that in all the range of my acquaintance never did I Know an individual who had the difficulties to Surmount to reach the pinicle of fame and usefulness that seemed to lie in the pathway of A. Lincoln, his disposition was of a concilliatory Stamp always seeking to avoid personal difficulties, hence he became popular with all classes. many men sought and made his acquaintance who were not of the most refined and quiet dispositions, yet he so managed with that pugilistic class as to obtain complete control over them. for there was a clan in that vicinity who prided themselves on their manhood and ready to measure steel with any one who could be induced to enter the Contest or trial of manhood.

his employment when I first became acquainted with him was rough clerk for a man by the name of Offit, [2] who had a lease on the Salem mill. he used to unload Sacks of wheat from farmers wagons, measure out and settle with them for the same, this I believe he followed as long as Offit continued proprietor of the Mill; the winter following Abraham requested me to assist him in the study of English Grammar, which I consented to do to the extent of my limited ability. his application through the winter was assiduous, and untiring, his intuitive faculties were Surprising. he seemed to master the construction of the english language and apply the rules for the same in a most astonishing manner, The first time I ever heard him attempt to Speak in public, was at a polemic Society meeting in an underground room of a rude log cabin which Stood on the South hillside to the right of main street looking toward the river from the west. that ancient cabin I believe has long since gone to ruins. I often bring up in my mind, the old log cabin in connection with the verry earnest and able manner in which the afterward

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great and pure statesman argued his side of the question. I am inclined to the belief that in that cabin he uttered his maiden Speech. [3] As there were no Attorneys nearer than Springfield his services were sometimes sought in suits, at law. and he frequently consented to appear before Esq Bowling Greens' court, to argue cases. but never charged his clients any fees so far as I Knew, the only lawbook which Mr Lincoln had in his possession was the first Old revised code of Illinois. from this he drew all his legal knowledge, the manner in which he used to force his law arguments upon Esqr Bowling Green was both amuseing and instructive, so laconic often as to produce a spasmatic shaking of the verry fat sides of the old law functionary of New Salem — Bowling Green permitted him to speak at first more for amusement than any thing else. but in a short time was led to pay great respect to his powers of mind in a forensic point of view. The first law books which Lincoln owned were purchased by him at a sheriffs sale at Springfield consisting of a copy of Blackstones Commentaries. after he purchased those books he determined to make the profession of law his pursuit. at this time he was greatly embarrassed in financial matters at times seemed rather dispondent at one time he engaged in a Small way in dry goods and grocery business in company with a man by the name of Berry — but was unsucessful and in a short time closed out with some loss, commiserating his Condition I put forth an effort to procure the appointment of Mr Lincoln to the office of Postmaster. he objected to the move on the ground that he did not want the then incumbant Supplanted. but considerations connected with the public good, prompted me with others to prefer charges at the department against Hill, who on receiving notice from the department to acquit himself of the charges prefered, or Steps would be taken to turn him out as Post Mast. Shortly after receiving this notice he resigned the office in Mr Lincolns favor, which post he held until the office was discontinued at that place. While Mr Lincoln was in the Black Hawk war his friends in the vicinity of Salem brought his name before the public as a candidate for the State legislature the contest was a Spirited one though he was beaten by a verry Small majority, it served to bring his name prominently before the people and pave the way to a brilliant career in the history of his native country. So Singular is it, and sometimes to my mind so marvelous, that a man at the age of twenty one with so few advantages for preferment, should at last reach the goal and posterity place his name high up with those of Washington Adams Webster and Clay upon the same page of history. Mr Lincoln was in favor of Henry Clay in 1832 voted for him during that memorable campaign, though the New Salem precinct was largely for Jackson such was his personal popularity that he obtained a majority, verry many Jackson men of the most violent party feelings voting for him, on the grounds they believed him an honest and worthy young man after Mr Cameron with whom he boarded moved away Mr Lincoln took up his residence with the family of Mr James Rutlege, though Mr Lincoln did not seem so ardent in his attachments to his friends as some persons are yet he alwas evinced great respect for their opinions in all matters, his

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memmory was remarkably tenacious. hardly ever forgetting any thing which he read possessing any interest to his mind, he was proverbial for his benevolence, always giving something of what he possessed to charitable objects — I often thought he was too confiding, thereby laying himself liable to impositions, his goodness of heart often led him to make great allowances for men's foibles, I have often thought of the conditions and Surroundings of Mr Lincoln at Washington Compared with those at New Salem. just as much unlike as Could possibly be, I often imagine him Standing Six feet and upward pointing his long bony finger at Old Bowling Green who was presiding in his Court Capacity with great dignity, with [illegible] shirt and breeches on the latter supported by one tow linnen suspender over his shoulder, an enormously fat man weighing I should think not far from 300 lbs given to mirth as generally fat men are

If there was a trait of Mr Lincolns Character which stood out more conspicuously than an other it was his regard for truth and veracity, he had less prevarication than almost any man with whom I was ever acquainted. he always had a fund of Anecdotes, but rarely ever said a foolish thing, his anecdotes were always amuseing, and the occasion of this rehearsal timely, his comparisons were inimitable, I boarded with Bowling Green Esqr for some length of time, at that time Mr Lincoln frequented his house. many were the laconic remarks made by these gentlemen to the amusement of any neighbor or friend who might happen to be present. Although Green was a determined democrat of the Jackson school and the leader of the party in the vicinity of New Salem, and Mr Lincoln a firm Clay man, they never to my Knowedge had any difficulty politically or otherwise, and I think they always voted for each other when candidates, on public days it was customary among young men to try their skill in athletic exercises Mr Lincoln would wait till all who were disposed to try their muscles had made their best jumps, then come forward with a heavy weight in each hand with his long muscular legs raise himself from the ground and light far beyond the most successful champion, indeed so far generally, that the man who would under take to over reach it, would become the laughing stock of the crowd. there was a goodeal of humor in his composition sometimes bordering on innocent mischief especially among his lady acquaintances, though only with those he was well acquainted. he would prove to them a complete hectorer. he was verry reserved toward the opposite sex. while I lived and boarded in the same place with him, do not recollect of his ever paying his addresses to any young lady though I Know he had great partialities for Miss Ann Rutlege, but at that time there was an insurmountable barrier in the way of his ambition. for her hand I have reasons to Know was promised to a man by the name of McNamar, or as he called himself at that time McNeil this man left that part of the country and remained away for the space of a year or two I think without any one Knowing where he was most of the inhabitants supposed he never would return and never did till after I left that part of the country which was in the Autumn of 1834. So little was Known of Mr Lincoln by the inhabitants of Sangamon at the time he first became a candidate for the legislature that when a few miles out of town in my rides would be asked who Abraham was they had never

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heard of such a man. then when I would tell them who he was some few responded and siad I believe that is the man who went to Orleans on a hog boat for Offett. I replyed in the affirmative, and would recommend him to their consideration not as a tried politician but a young man of extraordinary talents for one of his opportunities. Some years after I left that part of the state Mr Lincoln wrote me that he should be a candidate for U.S. Senator and wished me to see the Hon. Samuel Brown who at that time was the Representative elect for Knox County and procure his pledge if possible as a supporter of Mr Lincoln in his efforts for a seat in the Senate — that pledge I suceeded in obtaining, and which was honorably redeemed by Mr Brown

After Mr Lincoln was elected President he appointed Mr Brown collector of the port of Vancouver on the pacific coast. —

Mr Herndon

Sir, it would seem proper in view of the general disere expressed by the people for all the incidents in the life of Mr Lincoln that can be obtained should be given to the public at as early a period as practicable — It is a subject of congratulation to me that the work has been undertaken by yourself. as you certainly have had a better opportunity, than perhaps any living man to acquire all the statistics necessary to a full and complete history of the life of that great Statesman — What I have written to you is from the best of my recollection, and if you can draw any facts from the same which will aid you in your enterprise I shall be glad

Verry Respectfully Yours
Jason Duncan

P.S There may be some slieght errors in my statements but I think in the main are correct

J D

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3864 — 67

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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Duncan, Jason. 'Jason Duncan to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon539.html
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