Friday, December 4, 2020

An In-depth Accounting of the Beginning of Lincoln's Financial Life.

"I was raised to farm work, which I continued till I was twenty-two."
                                                                                                                        Abraham Lincoln

On numerous occasions, after he had attained prominence, Lincoln referred to the limited advantages of his youth. But he never apologized for them, and never indicated that they had seriously handicapped him. The fact of the matter is that Abe had little reason to make excuses for his early surroundings, and no occasion for any feeling of inferiority because of them. He lived in an average frontier house. Whatever Thomas Lincoln, his father, may have become in later life, all existing records indicate that while he lived in Kentucky he was a sober, honest, industrious carpenter, farmer, and landowner—a man in some respects above the average in his community.
The Lincoln family lived on 30 acres of the 228-acre Knob Creek Farm in Kentucky from the time Abraham was 2½ until he was almost 8 years old.


When Thomas Lincoln married in 1806, he owned a 238-acre tract near Mill Creek, seven miles north of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, the county seat of Hardin County. Soon after their marriage, the Lincolns moved to Elizabethtown, where Thomas Lincoln purchased two lots, erected a log cabin, and continued to work as a carpenter.

In the summer of 1808, Nancy Hanks was pregnant again. In December, Thomas Lincoln bought a second farm. Thomas and Nancy Hanks with their infant daughter, Sarah, settled about 2½ miles south of Hodgen's Mill, 18 miles southeast of Elizabethtown, along the South Fork of the Nolin River on a 348½ acres farm with a large spring. He paid Isaac Bush $200 ($3,250 today) and assumed a small obligation due to a former titleholder. That spring, known as the Sinking Spring (aka Cave Spring), gave the farm its historic name. According to most later accounts, the little log cabin stood on the top of one rolling ridge, overlooking the spring.

Abraham Lincoln was born on the Sinking Spring Farm on February 12, 1809, (today, the "Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park," at 2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville, Kentucky)His father then owned two farms totaling 586½ acres, two lots in Elizabethtown, and some livestock.

In the spring of 1811, the Lincolns moved to a third farm on Knob Creek, ten miles northeast of the Nolin River farm. There they lived until they moved to Indiana five years later.

Thomas Lincoln appears always to have owned one or more horses after he reached the age of twenty-one. He had good credit, and no unpaid accounts of his have been discovered. A tax book for 1814 ranks him fifteenth (out of ninety-eight listed) in the county in property values. In spite of his good standing in the community, Thomas Lincoln decided to move to Indiana. Difficulty over land titles was the chief reason for the decision. The title to the first farm he purchased, that on Mill Creek, turned out to be defective, for when surveyed it had but 200 acres instead of the 238 acres which he supposed it had. Title to his second purchase was declared defective by the Hardin County Circuit Court. The court ordered that Lincoln should recover the $200 which he had paid for it. The third and last title difficulty, a suit to deprive him of the Knob Creek farm, was pending in the Hardin County Circuit Court when he removed to Indiana in the fall of 1816. After several years of litigation, the suit was decided in his favor.

In Indiana, the land was described by the rectangular system of surveys provided for by the Ordinance of 1785, rather than by the ancient method of metes and bounds which prevailed in Kentucky. Besides, most land could be bought directly from the federal government. Once a settler had paid for his tract, he needed to have no concern about the validity of his title. Nevertheless, Thomas Lincoln "squatted" for nearly a year after moving to Indiana. Not until October 15, 1817, did he make a move to buy the farm on which he had been living. He then entered a 160-acre tract of government land at $2 an acre, making the preliminary payment of $16. In December 1817, he paid $64 more, thus completing the first installment. But ten years were to elapse before the transaction was completed, and then the elder Lincoln succeeded only in obtaining title to half of the tract that he had originally entered. In April 1827, for a consideration which is unknown, James McCrery assigned to Thomas Lincoln an eighty-dollar interest in an eighty-acre tract in Posey County, Indiana. This interest Lincoln relinquished to the government. This amount was then added to his two previous payments in 1817 to complete the $160 necessary to give him title to the west eighty acres of the original 160-acre tract. At the same time, he relinquished to James Gentry the east eighty acres. Gentry paid the government and took title to the land. Lincoln also acquired a twenty-acre tract adjoining his farm on the west, but the date of this purchase is not known. 

Here, in what he called a "poor neighborhood," young Abraham grew to manhood, working as a laborer in the field, in the forest, and on the Ohio River. Thomas Lincoln had built his cabin in the unbroken wilderness; clearing the land was the first task. Of that, the seven-year-old boy bore his share. Writing of himself many years afterward, he said: "Abraham, though very young, was large for his age, and had an ax put into his hands at once; and from that till within his twenty-third year he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument less, of course, in plowing and harvesting seasons." On another occasion, while talking with Leonard Swett as they traveled the eighth circuit together, Lincoln remarked: "It was pretty pinching times, at first in Indiana, getting the cabin built, and the clearing for the crops; but presently we got reasonably comfortable..." Money was scarce, and what little could be obtained generally went to the land office. "Hog and venison hams were a legal tender, and coon skins also," said Dennis Hanks, who lived with the Lincolns. "Cows and calves were only worth $6 to $8; corn 10¢, and wheat 25¢, a bushel."

Commerce, other than neighborhood barter, hardly existed. The people of the neighborhood were very nearly self-sustaining, growing their own food, and manufacturing clothes and farm tools. There was economic equality among Thomas Lincoln and his neighbors. None was rich and none was without food and shelter.

As a boy and young man, it is probable that Abraham Lincoln worked only on the family farm. When he was eighteen, however, he earned his first dollar independently—and the occasion made such an impression upon him that he described it almost forty years later to William H. Seward, his Secretary of State.
"After much persuasion, I got the consent of my mother to go, and construct a little flatboat. ... I was contemplating my new flatboat... when two men came down to the shore in carriages with trunks, and looking at the different boats singled out mine. ... "Will you," said one of them, "take us and our trunks out to the steamer?" "Certainly," said I. I was very glad to have the chance of earning something. I supposed that each of them would give me two or three bits. ... I sculled them out to the steamboat.

They got on board, and I lifted up their heavy trunks and put them on deck. The steamer was about to put on steam again when I called out that they had forgotten to pay me. Each of them took from his pocket a silver half-dollar and threw it on the floor of my boat. ...I could scarcely credit that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day."
At the age of nineteen, Lincoln had his first view of the world beyond the backward pocket in which he lived—and at the same time had his first real experience in working for wages. James Gentry, the leading farmer of the neighborhood, was sending a cargo of produce to New Orleans—the only market in which the backcountry farmer could be reasonably certain of profitable prices. Lincoln, hired as a bow hand, worked one of the foremost oars, getting $8 a month and expenses. This was apparently the same amount he received as a farmhand. The money he earned was turned over to his father according to the law and custom of the day.  

In Indiana, Thomas Lincoln never attained the economic status he had enjoyed in Kentucky, and the future seemed to hold little promise. When John Hanks, who had settled in central Illinois, wrote glamorously of prospects there, the elder Lincoln decided to follow him. He sold his eighty acres to James Gentry, disposed of his livestock, and bought two yokes of oxen and a sturdy wagon for the journey. 

Soon after Abraham reached his twenty-first birthday, the caravan, consisting of the Lincoln family and the families of Thomas Lincoln's two sons-in-law, set out for Illinois. There is a tradition that on the way Abraham peddled some thirty-odd dollars worth of notions, thereby doubling his money. The party arrived at its destination—a site on the Sangamon River ten miles southwest of Decatur—in the middle of March. The tasks of erecting the log buildings, clearing and breaking the ground, making the rails, and fencing his father's farm occupied most of Abraham's time. However, he found time to do similar work for the Hanks and William Warnick, sheriff of Macon County. With John Hanks, he split 3,000 rails for Warnick, and with George Close, about 1,000 rails for James Hanks and William Miller, receiving his pay in homespun clothing. In 1860, Close remembered Lincoln as a "farm laborer, working from day to day, for different people, chopping wood, mauling rails, or doing whatever was to be done." Lincoln himself said that he spent considerable time with Charles Hanks (an elder brother of John Hanks) helping him "at breaking prairie, with a joint team of his and ours, which in turn, broke some on the new place we were improving."

Lincoln, twenty-two years old, and one year beyond the age when his father could claim his work, was now ready to strike out on his own. The opportunity came in the winter of 1830-31, when Denton Offut hired Lincoln, his stepbrother John D. Johnston, and John Hanks to pilot a flatboat of produce from Beardstown, Illinois, to New Orleans. They were to join Offut at Springfield as soon as the snow should go off. Lincoln, writing in the third person, gave the details as follows: 
When it did go off, which was about the first of March, 1831, the country was so flooded as to make traveling by land impracticable; to obviate which difficulty they purchased a large canoe, and came down the Sangamon River in it. This was the time and manner of Abraham's first entrance into Sangamon County. They found Offut at Springfield but learned from him that he had failed in getting a boat at Beardstown. This led to their hiring themselves to him for $12 per month each, and getting the timber out of the trees and building a boat at Old Sangamontown on the Sangamon River, seven miles northwest of Springfield, which boat they took to New Orleans, substantially upon the old contract. 
On the trip itself, the pay was $10 a month, if Lincoln's recollection twelve years later is to be relied upon.

Flatboating to New Orleans was not only an exciting adventure for Lincoln; it also led him to take one of the decisive steps of his life. Here is his own account of what happened: "During this boat-enterprise acquaintance with Offut, who was previously an entire stranger, he conceived a liking for Abraham, and believing he could turn him to account, he contracted with him to act as clerk for him, on his return from New Orleans, in charge of a store and mill at New Salem." Prosaic enough in wording, yet it meant that henceforth Lincoln was not to be dependent upon the Lincoln and Hanks families, nor to have any responsibility for them. His own career had begun. 

Late in July 1831, Lincoln arrived at New Salem. Offut, characteristically, did not make his appearance with his stock of goods for several weeks, but before fall the store opened for business in a little cabin on the bluff above the Sangamon River. As clerk and mill hand, Lincoln was to receive $15 a month and to have the privilege of sleeping in the store. Board in the village could be had for a dollar a week. This was his first job in which there was freedom from the hard physical labor which had characterized life to his twenty-second year, and leisure time that could be used for self-education. 

Offut paid little attention to the store, devoting his time to the importation of Tennessee seed corn. In the early spring of 1832, after the store had been in operation for a little more than seven months, the business failed. Lincoln was out of a job. However, to earn enough money to live on was no great problem. A settler, Dr. David P. Nelson, who was moving to Texas, employed him to pilot a flatboat forty miles down the Sangamon River to Beardstown. Then in March came the Talisman Steamship[1], which not only provided temporary employment but was also the occasion for the first of the financial involvements that marked Lincoln's early years at New Salem. 
 Talisman Steamship Working Replica.








To the settlers of central Illinois, improved transportation was the key to prosperity. They could raise produce in abundance, but the markets in which it could be sold for a profit—Alton, St. Louis, and best of all, New Orleans—were far away, and the cost of hauling equaled the value of their corn and hogs. Similarly, the price of the manufactured goods they imported mounted with distance from river ports. Consequently, when Vincent A. Bogue, who owned a mill and store on the Sangamon River near Springfield, announced that he intended to open navigation on the river as soon as the ice broke in the spring of 1832, and promised that he would deliver freight from St. Louis at less than half the usual rate, the settlers were jubilant. 

The Talisman, the little steamer that Bogue had chartered at Cincinnati, reached St. Louis on February 22. When word of her progress reached Springfield, the citizens made plans to expedite her passage up the river. Three men were sent to meet the boat at the river's mouth; others, among them Lincoln, were employed to clear the channel of snags and debris. Although more than a month was required for the passage from St. Louis to Portland Landing—the closest point to Springfield—the Talisman made the trip without an accident. She remained a week and then started on a hazardous return trip. As far as Beardstown, Lincoln acted as assistant pilot, receiving the sum of $40 for his services.

The shallow, winding Sangamon offered difficulties aplenty to navigation, but the financial difficulties of opening the river to commerce were even more formidable than bars and snags. The Talisman navigated the river; Bogue, who chartered her, went under in a flood of unpaid notes, and eventually disappeared from sight. 

Among Bogue's assets was a note made by Nelson Alley, proprietor of a tavern at New Salem. When the Talisman had stopped at New Salem on its trip up the river, Alley had made purchases from Bogue and had given his note in payment. Bogue had assigned it to James D. Henry, the sheriff of Sangamon County. On October 30, 1832, Alley took up the old note and made a new one to Henry, for the benefit of Bogue's creditors, in the amount of $104.87½. This note bore Lincoln's endorsement. Alley failed to pay the note and judgment was entered against him and Lincoln in the Sangamon Circuit Court on September 13, 1833. The sheriff's return shows the judgment to have been paid in installments by several persons, but Lincoln made no payment. 

The Talisman excitement had no more than died down when the Black Hawk War broke out. Lincoln, without employment and without family ties, promptly volunteered. Recruits from the New Salem neighborhood met at the farm of Dallas Scott on Richland Creek, where they formed a company and elected Lincoln captain. After a month as captain, he re-enlisted as a private, serving eighty days in all. When the army paymaster arrived in Springfield in January 1833, Lincoln received approximately $125 for his services. As captain, he was paid according to the regular army scale—$80 a month. Militia privates received 21¢ a day. The Sangamo Journal, May 17, 1832, in an editorial on the subject, said: "Call our farmers from their plows, our mechanics from their benches, our merchants from their stores, at the busiest and important season of the year, and give them 21¢ a day compensation." This while congressmen, who were in no danger, received $8 a day. 

Forty cents a day was allowed for the use of a horse and 25¢ a day for the animal's rations and forage. Lincoln's horse, borrowed for the campaign, was stolen on the day he was mustered out of service. If he filed a claim for compensation for the horse it has not been found. He probably turned over the amount received for use of the horse, $32, to the owner of the animal. This would leave him approximately $110, plus a $14 bounty for enlisting. 

Exact figures of Lincoln's pay for the Black Hawk War service have not been found. The following is an estimated account:
Captain                       April 22-May 27, 1832        @ $80 a month       $100.00
Private                        May 27-July 10, 1832         @ 21¢ a day               $9.45
Bounty for enlisting                                                                                    14.00
Rent for use of horse                                              @ 40¢ a day             $32.00
Forage for horse                                                     @ 25¢ a day             $20.00
                                                                                                              ========
TOTAL FOR 80 DAYS IN SERVICE                                                       $175.45
Before his enlistment for the Black Hawk War, Lincoln had announced that he was a candidate for election to the Illinois House of Representatives. At the election, which took place soon after his return from the campaign, he was defeated, and thus what would have been a source of livelihood for two years turned out to be a mirage. Twenty-eight years later, writing in the third person, he described his predicament and his escape from it: "He was now without means and out of business, but was anxious to remain with his friends who had treated him with so much generosity, especially as he had nothing elsewhere to go to... Before long, strangely enough, a man offered to sell and did sell, to Abraham and another as poor as himself, an old stock of goods, upon credit. ...Of course, they did nothing but get deeper and deeper in debt." In the end, in Lincoln's expressive phrase, the store "winked out." 

Court records furnish data for the amplification of Lincoln's pithy but bare summary. His career as a merchant began in August or September 1832, when he bought J. Rowan Herndon's interest in the Herndon-Berry store at New Salem and gave Herndon his note for the purchase price. Instead of applying his Black Hawk War pay on the note, Lincoln and William F. Berry, already his partner in the old Herndon store, plunged deeper than ever into debt by buying another store. 

Reuben Radford, the rival storekeeper at New Salem, had got in the bad graces of the Clary's Grove boys. One night they rode into New Salem and wrecked his place of business. In disgust, Radford sold the stock on the spot to the young owner of the building, William G. Greene. The price was $400, which Greene made up by paying Radford $23 in cash and giving two notes for $188.50 each, secured by a mortgage on a New Salem lot. Lincoln drew and witnessed the mortgage, and on the same day, he and Berry bought this stock from Greene, paying $265 cash, assuming Greene's notes to Radford, and throwing in a horse to boot. Thus Greene made a profit of $242 and one horse. Berry and Lincoln merged their old and new stocks and moved into the cabin formerly occupied by Radford.

Greene's notes to Radford, which Berry and Lincoln had assumed, matured on October 19, 1833. On that date Berry, Lincoln, and Greene signed a new note for $379.82, payable to Radford one day after the date. The same day, Radford credited them with a payment of $125, leaving a balance of $254.82. This eased Lincoln's financial burden for nearly six months. Meanwhile, Radford made a partial assignment of his notes to Peter Van Bergen, a Springfield money lender. On April 7, 1834, Van Bergen, with Radford's consent, brought suit against Lincoln, Berry, and Greene in the circuit court for $500 plus $50 damages. 

The sheriff was unable to serve Lincoln and Berry, but Greene was summoned, and on April 29th judgment for $254.82 plus $18.42 damages was entered against him. Of this amount, $154 was owed to Van Bergen under the assignment and the remainder to Radford. A writ of 'scire facias' was issued as to Lincoln and Berry requiring them to show cause why they should not be made parties to the judgment. Berry was served with process on August 15 and Lincoln on the 20th. 

Berry, on October 11, 1834, turned over a horse to Radford at an agreed value of $35, and on the 19th paid $50.83. The same day Lincoln and Berry were made parties to the judgment, which, by reason of Berry's payments to Radford, was reduced by order of the court to $154.00 all of which was due to Van Bergen.

Meanwhile, another of Lincoln's ventures into debt had ended in a judgment against him. In order to do surveying, he had purchased on credit from William Watkins, a horse, saddle, and bridle for $57.86. When he failed to pay for the horse, Watkins brought suit to collect. On April 26, 1834, he got judgment in the Sangamon County Circuit Court and levied on Lincoln's personal possessions. Thus Lincoln was confronted with the Van Bergen judgment for $154 and that of Watkins for $57.86, with the prospect of losing his horse, saddle, bridle, and surveying instruments—his means of livelihood. Greene turned in his horse on the Watkins judgment (probably the same horse he had received from Lincoln and Berry when they bought Radford's stock of him), and when Lincoln's things were sold on execution "Uncle Jimmy" Short, a farmer north of New Salem, bid them in without Lincoln's knowledge and returned them to him. 

Another transaction, the conclusion of which is not clear, took place in April 1833, when Lincoln gave his note for $250 to Eli C. Blankenship, a Springfield merchant. J. Rowan Herndon endorsed the note, and Berry executed a mortgage on the first Lincoln-Berry store (formerly the Herndon Brothers' store) to secure it. (This probably marked the dissolution of the Lincoln-Berry partnership.) There are two explanations for the purpose of this transaction. First, Lincoln may have borrowed $250 of Blankenship to pay Herndon for the half-interest in the Herndon Brothers' store, which he had purchased in the previous summer. Herndon, in order to get his money, endorsed Lincoln's note, and Berry, unable to pay cash for Lincoln's half-interest in the store helped out to the extent of securing the note. The second explanation, less likely than the first, is that Lincoln and Berry had obtained goods of Blankenship, and on the termination of their partnership, Lincoln was undertaking to secure Blankenship against loss.

In any event, Lincoln's venture into storekeeping left him indebted to Blankenship, Radford, and Short in the amount of at least $511.86. Had Berry, his former partner, lived and paid Lincoln what he owed him, the latter might have escaped with an obligation of no more than $250 or $300. Instead, Berry took to drinking more and more heavily and died on January 10, 1835. His estate inventoried only $60.87½, and half of this amount went to pay the three physicians who had attended him. Lincoln filed no claim. Instead, he assumed responsibility for the debts which Berry had incurred as his partner. Added to his own, these are said to have brought the total to $1,100—a sum so large in comparison with Lincoln's limited resources that he was accustomed to referring to it as the ''National Debt." 

Biographers, almost without exception, have asserted that Lincoln was unable to wipe out this obligation until he went to Congress in 1847, but there is a good reason for believing that it was discharged much earlier. By 1844, as will appear later, he had accumulated $1,200 in cash which he used as part payment on the house he purchased in that year. The mere fact of his possession of this money, when coupled with his cherished reputation for absolute honesty, is proof presumptive that the New Salem debts had been paid by that time. His salary and expenses as a legislator, and several years of law practice, would have given him ample funds with which to pay them. 

His storekeeping days over, Lincoln's only source of income, for the time being, was the postmastership of New Salem. To this office, which, in his own words, was "too insignificant to make his politics an objection," he had been appointed on May 7, 1833. Nelson Alley, whose note he had endorsed seven months earlier, and Alexander Trent signed the $500 bond which he was required to post. New Salem was on the mail route from Springfield to Warren Court House, now Monmouth. Mail arrived once a week from each place. Postage on a letter was determined by the number of pages and the distance it traveled. A single sheet cost 6¢ for the first 30 miles, 10¢ for 30 to 80 miles, 12½¢ for 80 to 150 miles, 18¾¢ for 150 to 400 miles, and 25¢ for more than 400 miles. Two sheets cost twice as much and three sheets three times as much, and so on. Neither stamps nor envelopes were used. Letters were simply folded and sealed, and the postage charge, written in the upper right-hand corner on the cover, was paid by the person receiving the letter.

As postmaster, Lincoln's conduct could hardly be called exemplary. "The Post Master [Mr. Lincoln]," wrote Matthew A. Marsh, a New Salem settler, to his brother on September 17, 1835, "is very careless about leaving his office open and unlocked during the day—half the time I go in and get my papers, etc., without anyone being there as was the case yesterday. The letter was only marked twenty-five [cents] and even if he had been there and known it was double, he would not have charged me anymore." The postmaster who franked letters other than his own was liable to a ten dollar fine, but fear of the penalty seems not to have weighed heavily on Lincoln. "If he [Lincoln] is there when I carry this to the office—I will get him to 'Frank' it." This time Lincoln was on hand, for on the outside of the Marsh letter, which is still in existence, is written: "Free, A. Lincoln, P.M. New Salem, Illinois., Sept. 22." Another existing letter, written by Samuel D. Lockwood, before whom Lincoln was then appearing in his first case as a lawyer, was franked by him at Springfield to Ira I. Fenn, on October 6, 1836. This was more than four months after the post office at New Salem was closed. Lincoln probably had the privilege of franking until all the letters had been called for which were in the office when it was discontinued on May 30, 1836.

Lincoln's laxity is shown in a third existing letter. The postal law required the postmaster to collect postage in cash at the time of the delivery of each letter or newspaper, but on July 1, 1834, Lincoln wrote as follows to George Spears: "At your request, I send you a receipt for the postage on your paper. ...The law requires Newspaper postage to be paid in advance and now that I have waited a full year you choose to wound my feelings by insinuating that unless you get a receipt I will probably make you pay it again."  

Lincoln's compensation for three years of service as postmaster was between $150 and $175. A statement of postmasters' fees was published biennially in the "Register of all Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval in the service of the United States." These volumes show that New Salem postmasters received the following sums:
Samuel Hill..........April 1, 1830, to March 31, 1831..........$16.92
Samuel Hill..........April 1, 1832, to March 31, 1833..........$41.24
A. Lincoln.............April 1, 1834, to March 31, 1835..........$55.70
A. Lincoln.............April 1, 1836, to March 31, 1837..........$19.48 (1 quarter only)
From April 1, 1834, to March 31, 1835, Lincoln received $55.70. Total receipts of the office in this year were nearly $200. This was approximately the amount collected in Beardstown and in Pekin in the previous year. The postmaster was allowed 30% of the receipts up to $100, and 25% of the next $100. He also got 50¢ of the postage on newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets, and he was allowed 2¢ for every free letter delivered from his office, excepting those which were addressed to him. By virtue of the office, Lincoln had the right to send and receive personal letters free and to receive one newspaper daily without charge. 

During each of two winters—those of 1834-35 and 1835-36—Lincoln spent approximately three months at Vandalia. In his absence, Caleb Carman, the shoemaker, took care of the office. Details of their financial arrangement are unknown.

More important, as a source of livelihood, than the postmastership was Lincoln's surveying. Settlers were crowding into the country, and there was heavy demand for the establishment of boundary lines, for the location of roads, and for surveys of new towns. John Calhoun, the surveyor of Sangamon County, had more work than he could do. At the suggestion of Pollard Simmons, a farmer, and Democratic politician who lived near New Salem, Calhoun offered to appoint Lincoln his deputy and assign him the northwestern part of the county (now Menard County). After being assured that the appointment would carry no political obligation, Lincoln accepted, "procured a compass and chain, studied Flint and Gibson a little, and went at it." His first survey of record was made for Russell Godbey, on January 14, 1834. For this, according to Godbey, he received two buckskins, which Hannah Armstrong "foxed" on his pants to protect them from briers. Ordinarily, he was paid according to the following scale, established by the legislature on February 19, 1827:
For establishing each quarter section of land $2.50
For establishing each half-quarter section $2.00
For each town lot over ten, and not exceeding forty 37½¢
For each town lot over forty, and not exceeding one hundred 25¢
For laying off land under a writ of 'ad quod damnum' $2.50
For traveling expenses, the surveyor was permitted to charge $2 a day. This scale of fees had not been altered by 1857 when Lincoln gave Zimri Enos, Sangamon County surveyor, his opinion on moot points of the law, which Enos wished to present to a surveyors' convention meeting in Springfield. Lincoln said that it was his opinion that "where the law requires a Surveyor to perform services for a person applying and fixes no pay the Surveyor is entitled to a reasonable compensation proportioned to the fees allowed by law." 

Early Sangamon County surveying records are most fragmentary, so it is impossible to compile a complete list of Lincoln's surveys. He is known, however, to have made surveys of three roads, three school sections, a dozen tracts of farmland ranging in size from 4 acres to 160 acres, and the towns of Petersburg, Bath, New Boston, Albany, and Huron. Doubtless, in the three years, he worked with compass and chain—he was re-appointed by Surveyor Thomas M. Neale in September 1835—he made many others. 

Odd jobs pieced out Lincoln's earnings from the postmastership and from surveying. He was not above splitting rails or working as a farmhand when he had nothing else to do, and for a short period, he worked in a still house near New Salem. Official errands and temporary jobs—political perquisites—yielded some income. Thus, for clerking at elections, which he did frequently, he received one dollar per day; carrying poll sheets to Springfield meant a payment of $2.50. Several times he appeared in court at Springfield as a witness, and on three occasions he served on juries. 

But all Lincoln's occupations at New Salem yielded less than the state warrants which came to him as the result of his legislative service. He was elected to the House of Representatives of the Illinois General Assembly in 1834 and served four successive, 2-year terms from 1834 to 1842. He declined to be a candidate in 1842. Twelve years later, in the heat of the Anti-Nebraska struggle, he was elected to the Nineteenth Illinois General Assembly but resigned before the session convened.

As a member of the Ninth Illinois General Assembly, which met at Vandalia on December 1, 1834, Lincoln was entitled to receive a salary of $3.00 a day and $3.00 for every twenty miles of travel to and from the capital and his place of residence. The per diem was the same as that which had been paid to members of the legislature since 1821, but the travel allowance was lower, members having then received mileage at the rate of $3.50 for every twenty miles. In comparison with other salaries, the remuneration of the legislators was certainly not generous. The secretary of the Senate and the principal clerk of the House were paid $5.00 a day; assistant clerks received $4.00. Only the doorkeeper received the same per diem as the lawmakers. 

Near the close of each session, the Illinois General Assembly passed an appropriation act which established salaries and compensation. During the Tenth Illinois General Assembly—Lincoln's second—legislators' salaries were raised to $4.00 a day; mileage was increased to $4.00 for every twenty miles. Salary and travel allowance were kept at the same figures for the remainder of Lincoln's legislative service. The allowance of 20¢ a mile might be considered generous in view of the fact that stage fare was then 6¼¢ a mile. However, forty to fifty miles a day in a stage was then considered a good average, and by the receipt of $8.00 for 40 miles of travel, the legislator was able to pay for his meals and his stage fare, and have left approximately $4.00 a day which he could consider as salary. In view of the fact that representatives from Jo Daviess County, in the northwestern corner of the state, sometimes had to spend two weeks traveling to and from Vandalia, the provision of something more than bare expenses was only fair.

Four dollars was a good salary compared with prices prevailing in 1836. Corn was 25¢ a bushel, chickens a dollar a dozen, pork and beef 3¢ a pound, butter 10¢ a pound, and eggs from 6¼¢ to 10¢ a dozen. Nor was it bad in comparison with the salaries of the state officers. The Governor received $1,000 yearly during Lincoln's legislative service. This was the same salary that was paid when the state was organized in 1818. That it was inadequate was admitted, but nothing was done about it until the 1838-39 session when a committee of the House recommended an increase. The report pointed out that the state had seventy counties and 500,000 persons as compared to fifteen counties and 40,000 persons in 1818; and that the duties of the Governor were correspondingly heavier. Moreover, the committee members asserted that a dollar in 1818 would purchase four times as much as in 1838. A table attached to the House report compared the salaries of the governors of other states to the disadvantage of Illinois. The Illinois General Assembly adopted the committee's recommendations and raised the salary to $2,000 annually. At the same time, salaries of judges of the Supreme Court were raised from $1,000 to $1,500.

Scattered among thousands of warrants paid for wolf scalps, bounties for silk production, and salaries of state officials, are the warrants of the members of the legislature, including sixteen warrants issued to Lincoln. All the payroll sheets are not available, but enough has been found to determine what part of Lincoln's total receipts as a legislator was for salary and traveling expense.

In his first session, the House met from December 1, 1834, to February 13, 1835, a total of sixty-four days. Lincoln received a $225 salary for seventy-five days, which included pay for ten Sundays and Christmas day when the House did not meet. 

The distance from New Salem to Vandalia was 110 miles, which entitled him to mileage for 220 miles at $3.00 for every twenty miles, a total of $33. It was the custom of the legislators to vote themselves a partial salary payment of $100 a few days before Christmas. On December 19, 1834, Lincoln received his first legislative pay in four warrants of $50, $20, $20, and $10. This was the only time during his four terms that he drew his salary in small warrants. Part of this money may have been sent to Coleman Smoot, a farmer living near New Salem who had lent him $200 to pay some debts, buy a new suit, and attend the legislature.

In the Tenth Illinois General Assembly, Lincoln was the longest of the "Long Nine"—Sangamon County's delegation of seven representatives and two senators whose combined height exceeded fifty-four feet. The first session, at which the ill-fated Internal Improvement System was adopted and the state capital removed from Vandalia to Springfield, extended from December 5, 1836, to March 6, 1837. On December 24, 1836, each member of the Long Nine drew $100. At the close of the session they received warrants as follows: Dan Stone and Archer G. Herndon, each for $300; Ninian Wirt Edwards[2] and Andrew McCormick, each for $302; Job Fletcher $304; John Dawson and William F. Elkin, each for $308; and Robert L. Wilson and Lincoln, each for $312. Stephen A. Douglas, representing Morgan County, received $308 for this session, the only one of which he was a member. 

Governor Duncan called the Tenth Illinois General Assembly to meet in special session on July 10, 1837, to legalize the suspension of specie payments by the State Bank, and thus prevent the forfeiture of its charter. The session lasted thirteen days and each of the members of the House received $4.00 a day salary, a total of $52. Lincoln had been a resident of Springfield since April, but he received mileage for 220 miles, the same amount which he had drawn at the three previous sessions while he was a resident of New Salem. He thus received $10.00 more than the other Springfield members, who turned in only 170 miles. His warrant for $96, dated July 22, 1837, is endorsed on the back. His first nine warrants were not indorsed, but the last seven were all signed "A. Lincoln."

Though the appropriation bills passed at each session of which Lincoln was a member specifically stated that members were to be paid only for days in attendance, all received pay for each and every day the House was in session, and also for every Sunday and every Christmas day. It is impossible to tell from the House Journal just how many days Lincoln was in attendance, because on several days in each session no roll call was taken, and there is no mention of his name in connection with other proceedings. In general, the roll calls show that he attended with great regularity. He is known to have been absent during January 13-16, 1841, because of illness following the "fatal 1st of January," when he broke his engagement with Mary Todd. Nevertheless, he drew his salary for those days.


At the opening of the Eleventh and Twelfth Assemblies, Lincoln was the Whig candidate for Speaker of the House. Had he been elected he would have received $7.00 a day salary and $6.00 for every twenty miles traveled. At the close of the first session of the Eleventh Illinois General Assembly, he drew his own warrant for $302, and that of Ninian W. Edwards and Archer G. Herndon. This was a common practice at the end of the session and indicates that many of the members did not wait for the closing day, which was generally on Monday. 

The second session of the Eleventh Illinois General Assembly, which opened on December 9, 1839, was the first to meet in Springfield. Lincoln received no money for traveling expenses at this session or for the two sessions of the Twelfth Illinois General Assembly. 
Lincoln's warrant for service in the second session of the Eleventh Illinois General Assembly, March 1, 1841, for $292.00 ($7,350.00 today) in salary.


As a member of the Illinois General Assembly Lincoln received sixteen warrants totaling $1,950. Of this amount, $1,762 represented salary; the remainder was mileage. There is no reason whatever for thinking that Lincoln sought election to the legislature because of the salary attached to the office, but for at least the first years of his service, that salary must have been a welcome addition to his slender means.


By Harry E. Pratt
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


[1] In 1832 the Talisman was a 150-ton upper cabin steamer 136 feet long with a 48-foot beam that came up the Sangamon River with much fanfare. Abraham Lincoln joined the men who cleared the channel ahead of it, cutting off overhanging tree limbs. After delivering goods to New Salem and docking near Springfield, it eventually descended the river, with J. Rowan Herndon and Lincoln piloting it to Beardstown.

[2] Ninian Wirt Edwards (1809-1899) was an American politician. Born in Sangamon County, Illinois, Edwards was the son of Ninian Edwards, territorial and state Governor of Illinois. He was married to Elizabeth Todd,  Mary Todd Lincoln's sister. In 1834–1835, Edwards served as Illinois Attorney General. Then during 1837–1841 and 1849–1853, he served in the Illinois House of Representatives. Edwards also served in the Illinois State Senate 1845–1849. He then served in the Illinois Constitutional Convention of 1847 and was Illinois Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1854–1857.

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