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Friday, October 11, 2013
THE OTHER SIDE OF ABE: A Timeless Tale For the Ages
I'm always on the lookout for subjects to write about. Something on a stupid television show...or a current event...or even a biography about Abe Lincoln I'm currently reading can give me an idea. And as you might guess, today's inspiration comes via the last. Now this book can be tedious reading for sure. And on a couple of occasions I considered not finishing it. But then on page 100, my perseverance was rewarded - and I had a little context for this morning's entry.
In April of 1837 (at age 28), Abe Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois. As an elected state legislator, he needed to live where the state congress convened. With almost no belongings and hardly any money to his name, Lincoln ventured into the general store to score a bed and tried to buy on credit citing that he was a fledgling lawyer and that by December he could probably cover the bill, but added that there was a significant chance he would never have the money to pay for the bed. (Remember...he was called "Honest Abe"). Lincoln didn't know if his law practice would ever take off...and with his job in Congress netting him only $90 per year, he couldn't be sure of much but abject poverty for the next few years even if his frugality was considerable and his material needs spartan.
The store's co-owner (named Joshua Speed) recognized Lincoln as a prominent Whig (political party of the time)...agreed with his political views...and (now it gets good) offered to lodge Abe in his very own bed - an offer Lincoln accepted on the spot! It's worth noting that this was commonplace at the time - and especially on the frontier. Some historians have read homosexuality into this historical tidbit while others have cited Lincoln's bawdy nature...possible hookups with prostitutes while a surveyor on the road...and Abe's early jokes and slurs about homosexuals as evidence that he wasn't gay.
Whatever...I don't care about Abe's sexual orientation. It's the next anecdote that really made the book worth reading. Reportedly, both Abe and Joshua had an eye for attractive women. And (get this), Joshua "had a 'pretty woman,' a prostitute with whom he had semi-exclusive or exclusive privileges." (This is a quote right out of the book! Are ya lovin' this or what?!?! Answer me one question: How do you have exclusive privileges with a prostitute? Exactly how does that work?)
Anyway...one day, Joshua sent his homey over to have a roll with his FWB (the modern day term for his relationship with the woman). Obviously, our hero was in need. Abe disrobed and gave the girl her $3 only to discover that the price was a fiver (or a "Lincoln" if you will)! But one of the greatest presidents in American history (25 years later) only had the three bucks.
To her credit, when the girl found out he was a little short (don't read anything into that), she said that Abe could pay the rest when he had the gelt. But not Honest Abe! He arose...put his clothes back on...and offered the girl the $3 he had in his pocket explaining "I'm poor and don't know where my next dollar will come from and cannot afford to cheat you." For her part, the girl refused the $3 and responded "You are the most conscientious man I ever saw." Wow! Great story! I come away with so many observations from this anecdote.
First, I hope our current congressmen read this blog and consider one Abe Lincoln, assuredly a man of temperance (even if he patronized a prostitute)...and one who didn't earn enough as a legislator to pay a hooker her five bucks! Boy, how times have changed!
Second...when was the last time an escort refunded money to an honest guy? I'm guessing 1837 in a town called Springfield, Illinois. (OK, girls Calm down! I couldn't resist.)
Next, how does a state legislator earn $90/year while a hooker makes $5 per hour?!?! Now right there is something that hasn't changed. Hookers not only make lots of money now...but maybe even more (relatively) back then. Can you imagine what a good prostitute earned in mining towns back during the Gold Rush?
And finally...despite the backward backwoods environment...it seems that folks were pretty liberal on the frontier (at least in one way) as they apparently accepted the reality that men - and even congressmen - needed the companionship of a lady every now and then. Springfield was certainly not a city anywhere near the size of New York is now...yet it appears that this woman operated with impunity - judging from the fact that the local store owner and congressman could visit her without fear of the long arm of the law!
Whatevv...all's I can say is "beam me up (or back), Scotty!" Sounds like high times! But I'm gonna want my own bed! And Abe? If you're out there somewhere and have handy access to a time machine? Pick one of the companionship for time girls from the sidebar. It's on me!