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Lincoln and the Bluegrass

Lincoln and the Bluegrass

William H. Townsend
Copyright Date: 1989
Edition: 1
Pages: 468
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jft8
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  • Book Info
    Lincoln and the Bluegrass
    Book Description:

    The Bluegrass region of Kentucky was the only part of the slaveholding South Abraham Lincoln knew intimately. How the cultural environment of Lexington, the home of Lincoln's wife, with its pleasure-loving aristocracy, its distinguished political leaders, and its slave auctions shaped his opinions on slavery and secession is traced in these pages.

    In this city, early known as the "Athens of the West," Lincoln's alliance with the Todd family widened his circle of acquaintances to include such diverse personalities as the fiery Cassius M. Clay, who urged immediate emancipation; Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge, courageous Presbyterian minister, and the doctor's nephew, John C. Breckinridge, who took up arms against Lincoln after his election to the presidency.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4875-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the 1955 edition
    (pp. vii-xii)
    William H. Townsend
  4. ONE Athens of the West
    (pp. 1-15)

    LATE afternoon on an early June day, 1775, in that new, enchanted region called “Kaintuckee”¹: A small party of hunters—lean, bronzed, muscular, with rifles in hand and scalping knives dangling from the girdles of their buckskin shirts—emerged from a dense canebrake that skirted the waters of Elkhorn Creek. Hungry and tired, after a leisurely reconnoiter they pitched camp for the night beside a clear bubbling spring that gushed from a crevice in a huge slab of moss-covered limestone.²

    The frugal supper of parched corn and jerked venison over, the woodsmen sat around the blazing logs puffing their battered,...

  5. TWO The Lincolns of Fayette
    (pp. 16-24)

    IN 1782 Abraham Lincoln, eldest son of “Virginia” John Lincoln, left the old plantation in the Shenandoah Valley to find a new home in the Western Country. With his wife and children, household goods and flintlock rifle, he followed the blood-stained Wilderness Road over the rugged Cumberlands into the rolling, fertile lowlands of Kentucky. Four years later, wrapped in deerskins with a lead slug in his back, the pioneer was laid away in a rude grave on the slope of a little hill near Hughes’ Station in Jefferson County.¹

    On September 23, 1782, Abraham’s youngest brother Thomas married Elizabeth Casner...

  6. THREE The Early Todds
    (pp. 25-29)

    AMONG the party of woodsmen who founded Lexington was Levi Todd, a stalwart Pennsylvanian just recently arrived in Kentucky.¹ He and his two older brothers, John and Robert, were the sons of David Todd of Providence Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. They had been educated in Virginia at the school of their uncle, the Reverend John Todd, who later obtained from the state legislature the charter for Transylvania Seminary and gave it the first library brought to Kentucky.²

    Levi, John, and Robert had embarked upon the study of law, but dry parchment and musty tomes were not for them. Their ancestors...

  7. FOUR The Little Trader from Hickman Creek
    (pp. 30-45)

    ON AN early autumn day in 1801 Samuel Offutt of Frederick County, Maryland, drove his yoke of oxen, hitched to a sturdy wagon with solid wooden wheels, over the Wilderness Road into the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. With him were his wife Elizabeth, his sons, Tilghman, Otho, Resin, Samuel, and Denton, and his two daughters, Eleanor and Arah. Two more sons, Azra and Zedekiah, and a daughter, Sarah, would be born in the Western Country.¹

    The Offutts of Frederick and Prince George counties, Maryland, had been people of means and prominence since early colonial days. Samuel’s great-great-grandfather, William Offutt had...

  8. FIVE Mary Ann Todd
    (pp. 46-69)

    ON DECEMBER 6, 1817, two popular veterans of the War of 1812, Robert S. Todd of Captain Hart’s infantry and Sergeant Bird Smith of Captain Trotter’s cavalry, announced their partnership in an “Extensive Grocery Establishment” advantageously located on Cheapside. One of the firm, according to theGazette, would attend “Foreign markets by which they will be enabled to supply their customers with every article in their line, on better terms and of better quality—indeed with any articles, such as fruits,et ceterathat heretofore could not be procured.”¹ For the next several years the advertisements of Smith &Todd regularly...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. SIX Slavery in the Bluegrass
    (pp. 70-80)

    AT AN assembly ball which Mary Todd attended shortly after her arrival in Springfield she met the young lawyer about whom she had heard so much on her former visit. The often told story of the desultory courtship that followed this introduction need not be repeated again. It is sufficient to note that on Friday evening, November 4, 1842, at the home of her sister, Mrs. Ninian W. Edwards, while the rain beat against the windows of the front parlor, Mary Todd became the wife of Abraham Lincoln.

    Lincoln was now the law partner of another of his wife’s cousins,...

  11. SEVEN Grist to the Mill
    (pp. 81-98)

    MANY persons who knew Abraham Lincoln intimately have borne testimony to his fondness for newspapers. One authority has gone so far as to say that they were the “most potent influence that ever came into Lincoln’s life in Illinois.”¹ Lincoln’s habit of reading newspapers had been acquired back in the early days when he kept the post office at New Salem. Patrons were often slow in calling for their mail, and the postmaster entertained himself with the LouisvilleJournaland other publications that came to the office. After Lincoln went to Springfield, local newspapers were available at his law office,...

  12. EIGHT The True American
    (pp. 99-119)

    CASSIUS Marcellus Clay was a unique and the most picturesque antislavery advocate in Kentucky. Born on a fine Bluegrass plantation in a magnificent old mansion of native granite, gray limestone, and red brick laid in Flemish bond, a son of the largest slaveholder in the state, he espoused the cause of emancipation at an early age, and by the time of his graduation at Yale College he was thoroughly steeped in the doctrines of William Lloyd Garrison.

    He was a man of striking appearance and enormous physical strength: tall, handsome, big-boned, broad-shouldered, virile, graceful, with dark flashing eyes, a heavy...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. NINE The Lincolns Visit Lexington
    (pp. 120-140)

    ON AUGUST 29, 1846, the LexingtonObserver & Reporterannounced that Abraham Lincoln, son-in-law of state senator Robert S. Todd, had been elected to Congress from Illinois. The result, however, of the recent election throughout the country was far from satisfactory to this stanch Whig organ. “We know that Locofocoism has swept the platter tolerably clean,” it observed gloomily; “with the exception of Mr. Lincoln in Illinois, there is not as much Whig virtue and honesty as was required to save Sodom and Gomorrah.”

    Lincoln had been opposed in his race for Congress by Peter Cartwright, who had defeated him in...

  15. TEN Widow Sprigg and Buena Vista
    (pp. 141-156)

    CONGRESSMAN Lincoln and his family arrived in Washington late Thursday evening, December 2, and obtained temporary lodging at Brown’s Hotel.¹ In a few days they moved over to the boardinghouse of Mrs. Ann G. Sprigg in Carroll Row on Capitol Hill. On Monday, December 6, the Thirtieth Congress convened with the “lone Whig” from Illinois in his seat.

    By the time the House had organized, the new congressman was in correspondence with his law partner back in Springfield, closing a letter to Herndon with the jocular remark: “As you are all so anxious for me to distinguish myself, I have...

  16. ELEVEN A House Divided
    (pp. 157-175)

    THE GIANT whistle on Bruen’s Foundry at Lexington ushered in with hoarse blasts the first day of January, 1849, and gay, midnight watch parties at the Phoenix Hotel and in private homes greeted the New Year with popping corks, sparkling tumblers, songs, and merry jest.

    Scarcely, however, had the shouts of welcome died away when the “smouldering volcano” of slavery belched again into flames which raged fiercely through spring and summer into late autumn, unchecked by pestilence and bloodshed, giving to Abraham Lincoln “his first real specific alarm about the institution of slavery.”¹

    After several weeks of sharp skirmishing the...

  17. TWELVE Milly and Alfred
    (pp. 176-191)

    THE CRISP sunny days of early autumn saw the final disappearance of the great scourge in Lexington and Fayette County. But mute witnesses on every hand bore evidence of the havoc it had wrought. Empty barrels, boxes, and wastepaper littered the back yards, alleys, and sidewalks, and grass was growing in the streets. Show windows of business houses, unwashed for months, were streaked with dust and grime. The doors of some stores were closed, with tattered, weather-stained pieces of crape on the knobs; appraisers were busy inside preparing stocks of merchandise for the auctioneer.¹

    The plague had laid a heavy...

  18. THIRTEEN The Buried Years
    (pp. 192-208)

    ON SATURDAY, January 26, 1850, theObserverannounced the death of Mary Lincoln’s grandmother: “At her residence in this city, on Monday night last,” said that newspaper, “Mrs. Elizabeth R. Parker died at an advanced age. Mrs. Parker was one of the oldest residents of our city, and was universally esteemed and beloved by all who knew her for her many excellent qualities. She was an exemplary member of the Presbyterian Church and died in the full hope of the Christian.”

    Mrs. Parker was in feeble health when the Lincolns were in Lexington, and the ordeal of testifying in the...

  19. FOURTEEN Storm Clouds
    (pp. 209-238)

    EARLY in January, 1854, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois reported to the Senate of the United States a bill for the organization of the Territory of Nebraska. Twelve days later Senator Archibald Dixon, the old Whig associate of Robert S. Todd in the Kentucky legislature, now filling out the unexpired term of Henry Clay, startled the country by offering an amendment to the Nebraska Bill which in effect repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened vast areas of the West to slavery.

    For four months the halls of Congress rocked in the throes of a bitter, violent debate, then unequaled in...

  20. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  21. FIFTEEN Rebellion
    (pp. 239-268)

    NOW THAT the election was over, Lincoln went back to his law practice, so long neglected for politics. The old calendar of the United States District Court shows him filing pleadings, arguing motions, taking judgments, and trying cases. Frequently he won and again he lost, but he was busy.

    He was still in touch with friends and relatives in the Bluegrass. Deferred payments on certain real estate which he had sold for Robert S. Todd’s sister, Maria Bullock, were coming in slowly, and early in January, Lincoln wrote her about them:

    Springfield, Ills.

    Jan. 3, 1859

    Dear Aunt

    I have...

  22. SIXTEEN Stirring Days in Kentucky
    (pp. 269-298)

    MARCH 4, 1861, dawned raw and gusty—an anxious, memorable day in the national capital. A President of the United States was to be inaugurated—possibly for the last time under the government established by the Fathers. Despite low mutterings of the approaching storm, streets and public buildings were profusely decorated, and the Stars and Stripes floated bravely from every flagstaff. The military had always borne a conspicuous part in inaugural ceremonies, but today the alertness of infantry and cavalry, with strategically planted batteries of field artillery and sharpshooters on top of the buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue, gave an atmosphere...

  23. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  24. SEVENTEEN Problems of State and In-Law Trouble
    (pp. 299-319)

    ON SEPTEMBER 22, 1862, President Lincoln had issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and in a few weeks runaway slaves began to flock in large numbers to the Union camps about Lexington. Several regiments refused to give them shelter, but others, particularly the Twenty-Second Wisconsin Volunteers, commanded by Colonel William L. Utley, a Wisconsin farmer in civil life, took them in. One of the refugees was a young mulatto girl “about 18 years old of fine appearance.” She had been sold by her master for $1,700 to a man who had arranged to put her in a house of ill fame...

  25. EIGHTEEN With Malice toward None
    (pp. 320-351)

    EARLY in January, 1864, the Union candidate for mayor of Lexington was defeated by Joseph Wingate. Z. Gibbons, candidate for city attorney, whose platform was “unfaltering devotion to the Union cause,” was overwhelmingly beaten by Richard H. Prewitt.¹

    On the same day the storm broke on the floor of the Senate, when Garret Davis of Kentucky, protesting absolute loyalty to the Union, introduced a vicious resolution against “Abraham Lincoln, his office holders, contractors and other followers,” and appealed to “all men who are for ejecting Lincoln and his party from office and power.”²

    The yoke of martial law was now...

  26. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  27. NINETEEN Lilac Time
    (pp. 352-358)

    THE APPALLING news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination spread with crushing swiftness over the country. Dazed and grief-stricken by the catastrophe that had fallen in the very midst of tumultuous rejoicing, the battle-worn republic sadly stripped off its holiday garments and donned the sackcloth of mourning again.¹

    “I have no words to express what I feel at the loss of our friend the late President,” wrote a Washingtonian to Dr. Breckinridge. “Yet I cannot doubt the wisdom and goodness & favor of Him who carried Abraham Lincoln successfully through his perilous task.”²

    “Oh! My Brother, I do not believe you can conceive...

  28. Bibliographical Notes
    (pp. 359-386)
  29. Index
    (pp. 387-392)