“I Believed He was Thoroughly Honest”

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My cousins, Rowan and James Herndon, were at that time operating a store, and tiring of their investment and the confinement it necessitated, James sold his interest to an idle, shiftless fellow named William Berry. Soon after Rowan disposed of his to Lincoln. That the latter, who was without means and in search of work, could succeed to the ownership of even a half interest in a concern where but a few days before he would in all probability gladly have exchanged his services for his board, doubtless seems strange to the average young business man of to-day. I once asked Rowan Herndon what induced him to make such liberal terms in dealing with Lincoln, whom he had known for so short a time.

 “I believed he was thoroughly honest,” was the reply, “and that impression was so strong in me I accepted his note in payment of the whole. He had no money, but I would have advanced him still more had he asked for it.”
Lincoln and Berry had been installed in business but a short time until one Reuben Radford, the proprietor of another New Salem grocery, who, happening to incur the displeasure of the Clary’s Grove boys, decided suddenly one morning, in the commercial language of later days, to “retire from business.” A visit by night of the Clary’s Grove contingent always hastened any man’s retirement from business. The windows were driven in, and possession taken of the stock without either ceremony or inventory. If, by break of day, the unfortunate proprietor found any portion of his establishment standing where he left it the night before, he might count himself lucky. In Radford’s case, fearing “his bones might share the fate of his windows,” he disposed of his stock and good-will to William Greene for a consideration of four hundred dollars. The latter employed Lincoln to make an inventory of the goods, and when completed, the new merchant, seeing in it something of a speculation, offered Greene an advance of two hundred and fifty dollars on his investment. The offer was accepted, and the stock and fixtures passed into the ownership and control of the now enterprising firm of Lincoln & Berry. They subsequently absorbed the remnant of a store belonging to one Rutledge, which last transaction cleared the field of all competitors and left them in possession of the only mercantile concern in New Salem.

To effect these sales not a cent of money was required-the buyer giving the seller his note and the latter assigning it to someone else in another trade. Berry gave his note to James Herndon, Lincoln his to Rowan Herndon, while Lincoln & Berry as a firm, executed their obligation to Greene, Radford, and Rutledge in succession. Surely Wall Street at no time in its history has furnished a brace of speculators who in so brief a period accomplished so much and with so little money. A few weeks only were sufficient to render apparent Lincoln’s ill adaptation to the requirements of a successful business career. Once installed behind the counter he gave himself up to reading and study, depending for the practical management of the business on his partner. A more unfortunate selection than Berry could not have been found; for, while Lincoln at one end of the store was dispensing political information, Berry at the other was disposing of the firm’s liquors, being the best customer for that article of merchandise himself. To put it more plainly, Lincoln’s application to Shakespeare and Bums was only equalled by Berry’s attention to spigot and barrel. That the latter in the end succeeded in squandering a good portion of their joint assets, besides wrecking his own health, is not to be wondered at. By the spring of 1833 they, like their predecessors, were ready to retire. Two brothers named Trent coming along, they sold to them on the liberal terms then prevalent the business and good-will; but before the latter’s notes fell due, they in turn had failed and fled. The death of Berry following soon after, released him from the payment of any notes or debts, and thus Lincoln was left to meet the unhonored obligations of the ill-fated partnership, or avoid their payment by dividing the responsibility and pleading the failure of the business. That he assumed all the liability and set resolutely to work to pay everything, was strictly in keeping with his fine sense of honor and justice. He was a long time meeting these claims, even as late as 1848 sending to me from Washington portions of his salary as Congressman to be applied on the unpaid remnant of the Berry & Lincoln indebtedness-but in time he extinguished it all, even to the last penny.

By William H. Herndon,Jesse W. Weik  “Herndon’s Lincoln: A True Story of a Great Life” 

2 thoughts on ““I Believed He was Thoroughly Honest”

    Labour « Abraham Lincoln said:
    December 8, 2015 at 12:01

    […] Rowan Disposed Of His To Lincoln […]

    Experiences « Abraham Lincoln said:
    May 4, 2018 at 21:14

    […] Rowan Disposed Of His To Lincoln […]

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