Not widely known is that Abey Lincoln was a blogger in the time before Internet.
In 1842, in Springfield, Illinois, the 33-year-old was a low-level politician. William Herndon, in his biography, writes that Lincoln had “undisputed use” of newspaper columns in the Springfield Journal.
Early in the Summer, Illinois began refusing to accept their own banknotes for payment of taxes. State Auditor at the time was James Shields, a hot-tempered Irishman. The State officers had excused the outrage by claiming there was “danger of loss,” i.e., if Illinois accepted its notes.
Shields had signed onto this concept of “danger of loss” to the State. Ordinary people were furious about the decision to not accept the banknotes. Young Abe conspired with his fiancé Mary Todd and her friend Julia M. Jayne to ridicule Shields in the Springfield Journal.
On August 27, 1842, the Journal published an article supposedly written by a poor widow, “Aunt ‘Becca (Rebecca).” She had plenty of the State banknotes but could not pay her taxes with them.
“A Letter from the Lost Township” begins, “Dear Mr. Printer,” and goes on to relate how Aunt ‘Becca had stepped over to see her “neighbor S.” She encounters “Jeff” who is “mad as the devil” after reading about “a set of fellows, calling themselves officers of the State, [who] have forbidden the tax collectors and school commissioners to receive State paper at all…” So Jeff’s money is “dead on his hands.”
In the letter, the “danger of loss” concept is mercilessly satirized. “James Shields, Auditor” especially gets roasted, with Aunt ‘Becca calling him “a fool as well as a liar” and poking fun at his pretensions.
This letter caused a sensation. Shields was laughed at throughout Illinois. Enraged, Shields demanded to know, who is this “Aunt ‘Becca”?
In reply, another Aunt ‘Becca letter appeared in the Springfield Journal. Aunt ‘Becca is dismayed to find out that Shields has threatened “to take personal satisfaction.” She writes, “I was so skart [scared] that I tho’t [thought] I should quill-wheel right where I was.”
Aunt ‘Becca decides, “…if he wants personal satisfaction, let him only come here, and he may squeeze my hand as hard as I squeezed the butter…” If that is not “personal satisfaction” enough, Aunt ‘Becca shyly proposes Shields can marry her! “I must say I don’t care if we compromise the matter by — really, Mr. Printer, I can’t help blushin’ — but I — it must come out — I — but widowed modestly — well, if I must, I must — wouldn’t he — may be sorter let the old grudge drap if I was to consent to be-be-h-i-s w-i-f-e?”
Aunt ‘Becca notes she is “not over sixty, and am jist four feet three in my bare feet, and not much more around the girth…”
This was too much! Shields discovered Lincoln was one of the authors and, through an intermediary, let it be known that nothing but an “affair of honor” — a duel — would satisfy him.
Abey accepted the challenge. He was entitled to choice of weapons, and decided upon military broadswords. He did not relish the thought of physically harming Shields, but if necessary Abey would cleave him in two! “If necessary I could split him from the crown of his head to the end of his backbone.”
Friends of both parties managed to smooth ruffled feathers, and the duel finally did not take place.
(The above True Abey Lincoln Story was originally published at my old Conspiracy Nation web site.)