An elderly man relates a tale from his childhood in which he attended a meeting at the South Fork Schoolhouse in Sangamon County, Illinois.
About the time he finished his address, he took a paper out of his pocket. ‘This,’ said he, ‘is what is called the Washingtonian Pledge! It is the same pledge many thousands of people have signed … I have signed this pledge myself …
Lincoln at the South Fork Schoolhouse.
WHEN I was a boy, about ten years of age, in the summer of 1846 or 1847, I lived with my father upon the same farm which I now own in Cotton Hill township in this county. We were very poor. My father was above the average in intelligence, but he had a large family, and was in debt, so that while we had enough to eat, we lived very plainly. My mother had died a short time before I was ten years old, and my father in those days was doing the best he could to be father and mother both to us children. One day, in the summer of 1846 or 1847, my father came home, and told us that there would be a temperance meeting held at the new schoolhouse, and that we could all go to the meeting if we wished to do so. Most of the family attended the meeting, though I believe my older brother Alexander was away from home, and did not go. The schoolhouse had been recently built, and the boughs of the trees from which the logs had been cut to build the house were scattered about on the ground in front of the house, and there were also some logs which had not been used in the building, lying about upon the ground. Some trees had been left for a shade, and as the day was warm, the meeting was held under the trees instead of in the schoolhouse. The people sat about on the boughs of the trees, and upon the logs. The speaker on the occasion was a young lawyer from Springfield who already had gained a reputation as a public speaker, and the announcement of the fact that he was to speak, called out a large crowd, almost all the families in that part of the county being represented.
The speaker made a very earnest appeal for total abstinence from the use of all intoxicating drinks. He gave reasons why he was in favor of total abstinence, and why he thought others should become total abstainers. About the time he finished his address, he took a paper out of his pocket. ‘This,’ said he, ‘is what is called the Washingtonian Pledge! It is the same pledge many thousands of people have signed in connection with the work of the Washingtonian Society throughout the country. I have signed this pledge myself and would be glad to have as many of my neighbors who are willing to do so, sign the same pledge with me.’ The pledge was passed from one to another and was signed by a good many of those present. After a number had signed, the first thing I knew the speaker was standing in front of me. He said to me: ‘Sonny, don’t you want your name on this pledge?’ I said: ‘Yes, sir.’ He said: ‘You know what it means, that you are not to drink intoxicating liquor?’ I said: ‘Yes, sir.’ He asked me my name and I told him, Cleopas Breckenridge. He wrote my name upon the paper, then he transferred the pencil to his left hand, and holding the paper and pencil in his left hand, he leaned over and laid his right hand upon my head and said: ‘Now, Sonny, you keep that pledge, and it will be the best act of your life.’
The speaker who addressed that meeting and who wrote my name upon the pledge was Abraham Lincoln.
—Cleopas Breckenridge, The Lincoln Legion (1903).