Special Friends

Young in Springfield, Lincoln enjoyed a deep relationship with Joshua Speed

In 1834, Joshua Speed, an ambitious young man from a well-to-do Kentucky family, set up a dry goods store in a two-story brick house on the corner of Fifth and Washington Streets in Springfield. Located on the town square in the commercial and governmental heart of what would become the state capital five years later, Speed’s store thrived financially. By 1839, it was also a gathering place for the male “lights” of the community, men who sought a congenial spot for coffee and cider, professional exchanges and gossip, political discourse (sometimes sharp-edged), and storytelling (often comic). Stephen Douglas, later an Illinois senator, often joined the group, as did several prominent judges, businessmen, lawyers and legislators. But Abraham Lincoln, who had only recently been admitted to the bar, was the magnet, the charismatic speaker who drew the intellectuals and politicians to the regular evening meetings.

Charles Strozier’s brisk, fluent examination of Lincoln’s profound and psychologically consequential friendship with Speed, Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln, begins with a brief account of the previous lives of the two men, but moves quickly to a lively snapshot of the rich web of relations among those attending the gab sessions around the pot-bellied stove tended by Speed’s clerk, William Herndon. Neither Speed nor Herndon (Lincoln’s first biographer) spoke much; they were grateful, Strozier says, to sit “at the feet of the brilliant and educated high-minded men speaking on ‘politics, religion and all other subjects.’ There in the room, Herndon says, ‘public sentiment was made.’ The same dry goods store in which Herndon measured and cut ribbon by daylight was a different and magical place by night.”

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