The Friend Who Made Lincoln President
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
FROM a group of the intimate friends of Mr. Lincoln, I learned many of the circumstances that led to his nomination for the Presidency the first time, and the important part Judge Davis had in bringing it about. Judge Davis was a huge man, weighing over three hundred pounds, he was also large mentally and morally ; his native ability, finished education, gentlemanly demeanor and unconquerable will, made him a superb manager of men. He instinctively assumed a mastery that was accorded to him. His first appearance in national politics was in the canvass for the nomination of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency, in which contest his magnificent generalship was so illustrated that he immediately took a conspicuous and permanent place among the wise politicians of the country. He was the leader of the Lincoln forces in the Chicago Convention, and more than any other was responsible for Lincoln's nomination. David Davis, Leonard Swett, of Chicago, Jesse D. Fell, of Normal, and others dominated the forces which placed Mr. Lincoln in nomination. But the chief credit is given to Judge Davis. Mr Swett said : " It is not generally known, but true, that Lincoln owed his nomination in 1860 to the friends he made among the circuit attorneys, and particularly to Judge Davis." Jesse D. Fell wrote to a United States Senator : " To Judge Davis more than any other man living or dead is the American people indebted for that extraordinary piece of good fortune, the nomination and consequent election of Abraham Lincoln." In 1836, the year after Mr. Davis went West, he was introduced to Mr. Lincoln at Vandalia, Ill., and the acquaintance formed ripened into the closest intimacy and intensest affection. Judge Davis rode the circuit, and Mr. Lincoln was one of the few attorneys who went all the way around with him. They stayed at the same tavern, often slept in the same bed, and became like brothers. And when the elements in the South and North were preparing for the conflict, and the times were calling for a giant, Judge Davis and the circle of able lawyers, who stood nearest to Mr. Lincoln and knew him best, felt that he was the man for the times, and they determined that, if possible, he should be the nation's chief ; and Mr. Lincoln, feeling within his breast the symptoms of a greatness that could not be suppressed, and hearing the voice of Destiny calling to him, encouraged his friends to present his claims. They captured the State Convention in Decatur in May with a shout, securing a unanimous recommendation of Mr. Lincoln for nomination to the Presidency. They set themselves to the more difficult task of taking possession of the National Convention, to be held in a few weeks at Chicago. They went to Chicago a week before the convention and opened their headquarters at the Tremont House. Judge Davis, who was a delegate-at-large from the Decatur Convention, appointed on purpose to lead in Lincoln's interest, instinctively and by common consent became the commander-in-chief of all the forces. He organized the State delegation into committees and assigned them work for almost every hour of the day and night, and by his good generalship the National Convention was secured for Mr. Lincoln. And when the decisive ballot was cast, and he saw what he had accomplished for his bosom friend, he broke down and wept like a child. Hearing that Thurlow Weed, who had managed the Seward forces, was sore at his defeat, he with Mr. Swett called on him, though they were both strangers to him. Among other things, Mr. Weed said: "You are a new hand in conventions and I am an old one; now it is all over, I want you to tell me how you did it." They persuaded Mr. Weed to go with them to Springfield to confer with Mr. Lincoln about the campaign ; which he did. Letters in the Life of Thurlow Weed show that Davis and Swett in the West, and Weed in the East, had the management of the Lincoln campaign. Mr. Lincoln recognized the service of his bosom friend in his behalf by appointing him to one of the highest judicial offices in the gift of man. At Lincoln's death, Judge Davis took charge of his affairs and settled his estate, keeping all the papers in his safe in Bloomington, carefully tied up with a piece of green braid. Having been so successful in making Lincoln President, he concluded he would like to be President himself, and he did reach an eminence during his Presidency of the Senate with only the frail life of Mr. Arthur between him and the Chief Magistracy.
How powerful is the will of one strong man who holds his mind to a purpose, and does not allow anything to swerve him from it! Judge Davis determined to make his friend Lincoln President, and did so. What an imperial will-force there was in a man who could make his friend President, and then come so near securing the prize for himself !
We may not occupy exalted positions among men ; people may not talk about us, or put our names in the newspapers ; but, by the exercise of the will, through the help of the Divine Spirit we may become children of the King; and then, if we shall conduct ourselves with the dignity and honor that becometh princes, we shall have a crown and a throne ; and by the employment of the will through grace divine, we may help our fellow men up to the position and glory of a royal estate. There is a " friend that sticketh closer than a brother " who can bring us to usefulness, to honor and immortality.