The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, v1
Abraham Lincoln

Part 1 out of 5

This etext was produced by David Widger





Immediately after Lincoln's re-election to the Presidency, in an
off-hand speech, delivered in response to a serenade by some of
his admirers on the evening of November 10, 1864, he spoke as

"It has long been a grave question whether any government not too
strong for the liberties of its people can be strong enough to
maintain its existence in great emergencies. On this point, the
present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test, and the
Presidential election, occurring in regular course during the
rebellion, added not a little to the strain.... The strife of
the election is but human nature practically applied to the facts
in the case. What has occurred in this case must ever occur in
similar cases. Human nature will not change. In any future
great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall
have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as
good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this as philosophy
to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged....
Now that the election is over, may not all having a common
interest reunite in a common fort to save our common country?
For my own part, I have striven and shall strive to avoid placing
any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here, I have not
willingly planted a thorn in any man's bosom. While I am deeply
sensible to the high compliment of a re-election and duly
grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my
countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think for their own good,
it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be
disappointed or pained by the result."

This speech has not attracted much general attention, yet it is
in a peculiar degree both illustrative and typical of the great
statesman who made it, alike in its strong common-sense and in
its lofty standard of morality. Lincoln's life, Lincoln's deeds
and words, are not only of consuming interest to the historian,
but should be intimately known to every man engaged in the hard
practical work of American political life. It is difficult to
overstate how much it means to a nation to have as the two
foremost figures in its history men like Washington and Lincoln.
It is good for every man in any way concerned in public life to
feel that the highest ambition any American can possibly have
will be gratified just in proportion as he raises himself toward
the standards set by these two men.

It is a very poor thing, whether for nations or individuals, to
advance the history of great deeds done in the past as an excuse
for doing poorly in the present; but it is an excellent thing to
study the history of the great deeds of the past, and of the
great men who did them, with an earnest desire to profit thereby
so as to render better service in the present. In their
essentials, the men of the present day are much like the men of
the past, and the live issues of the present can be faced to
better advantage by men who have in good faith studied how the
leaders of the nation faced the dead issues of the past. Such a
study of Lincoln's life will enable us to avoid the twin gulfs of
immorality and inefficiency--the gulfs which always lie one on
each side of the careers alike of man and of nation. It helps
nothing to have avoided one if shipwreck is encountered in the
other. The fanatic, the well-meaning moralist of unbalanced
mind, the parlor critic who condemns others but has no power
himself to do good and but little power to do ill--all these were
as alien to Lincoln as the vicious and unpatriotic themselves.
His life teaches our people that they must act with wisdom,
because otherwise adherence to right will be mere sound and fury
without substance; and that they must also act high-mindedly, or
else what seems to be wisdom will in the end turn out to be the
most destructive kind of folly.

Throughout his entire life, and especially after he rose to
leadership in his party, Lincoln was stirred to his depths by the
sense of fealty to a lofty ideal; but throughout his entire life,
he also accepted human nature as it is, and worked with keen,
practical good sense to achieve results with the instruments at
hand. It is impossible to conceive of a man farther removed from
baseness, farther removed from corruption, from mere self-
seeking; but it is also impossible to conceive of a man of more
sane and healthy mind--a man less under the influence of that
fantastic and diseased morality (so fantastic and diseased as to
be in reality profoundly immoral) which makes a man in this work-
a-day world refuse to do what is possible because he cannot
accomplish the impossible.

In the fifth volume of Lecky's History of England, the historian
draws an interesting distinction between the qualities needed for
a successful political career in modern society and those which
lead to eminence in the spheres of pure intellect or pure moral
effort. He says:

"....the moral qualities that are required in the higher spheres
of statesmanship [are not] those of a hero or a saint. Passionate
earnestness and self-devotion, complete concentration of every
faculty on an unselfish aim, uncalculating daring, a delicacy of
conscience and a loftiness of aim far exceeding those of the
average of men, are here likely to prove rather a hindrance than
an assistance. The politician deals very largely with the
superficial and the commonplace; his art is in a great measure
that of skilful compromise, and in the conditions of modern life,
the statesman is likely to succeed best who possesses secondary
qualities to an unusual degree, who is in the closest
intellectual and moral sympathy with the average of the
intelligent men of his time, and who pursues common ideals with.
mow than common ability.... Tact, business talent, knowledge of
men, resolution, promptitude and sagacity in dealing with
immediate emergencies, a character which lends itself easily to
conciliation, diminishes friction and inspires confidence, are
especially needed, and they are more likely to be found among
shrewd and enlightened men of the world than among men of great
original genius or of an heroic type of character."

The American people should feel profoundly grateful that the
greatest American statesman since Washington, the statesman who
in this absolutely democratic republic succeeded best, was the
very man who actually combined the two sets of qualities which
the historian thus puts in antithesis. Abraham Lincoln, the
rail-splitter, the Western country lawyer, was one of the
shrewdest and most enlightened men of the world, and he had all
the practical qualities which enable such a man to guide his
countrymen; and yet he was also a genius of the heroic type, a
leader who rose level to the greatest crisis through which this
nation or any other nation had to pass in the nineteenth century.


September 22, 1905.


"I have endured," wrote Lincoln not long before his death, "a
great deal of ridicule without much malice, and have received a
great deal of kindness not quite free from ridicule." On Easter
Day, 1865, the world knew how little this ridicule, how much this
kindness, had really signified. Thereafter, Lincoln the man
became Lincoln the hero, year by year more heroic, until to-day,
with the swift passing of those who knew him, his figure grows
ever dimmer, less real. This should not be. For Lincoln the
man, patient, wise, set in a high resolve, is worth far more than
Lincoln the hero, vaguely glorious. Invaluable is the example of
the man, intangible that of the hero.

And, though it is not for us, as for those who in awed stillness
listened at Gettysburg with inspired perception, to know Abraham
Lincoln, yet there is for us another way whereby we may attain
such knowledge--through his words--uttered in all sincerity to
those who loved or hated him. Cold, unsatisfying they may seem,
these printed words, while we can yet speak with those who knew
him, and look into eyes that once looked into his. But in truth
it is here that we find his simple greatness, his great
simplicity, and though no man tried less so to show his power, no
man has so shown it more clearly.

Thus these writings of Abraham Lincoln are associated with those
of Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, and of the other "Founders of
the Republic," not that Lincoln should become still more of the
past, but, rather, that he with them should become still more of
the present. However faint and mythical may grow the story of
that Great Struggle, the leader, Lincoln, at least should remain
a real, living American. No matter how clearly, how directly,
Lincoln has shown himself in his writings, we yet should not
forget those men whose minds, from their various view-points,
have illumined for us his character. As this nation owes a great
debt to Lincoln, so, also, Lincoln's memory owes a great debt to
a nation which, as no other nation could have done, has been able
to appreciate his full worth. Among the many who have brought
about this appreciation, those only whose estimates have been
placed in these volumes may be mentioned here. To President
Roosevelt, to Mr. Schurz and to Mr. Choate, the editor, for
himself, for the publishers, and on behalf of the readers, wishes
to offer his sincere acknowledgments.

Thanks are also due, for valuable and sympathetic assistance
rendered in the preparation of this work, to Mr. Gilbert A.
Tracy, of Putnam, Conn., Major William H. Lambert, of
Philadelphia, and Mr. C. F. Gunther, of Chicago, to the Chicago
Historical Association and personally to its capable Secretary,
Miss McIlvaine, to Major Henry S. Burrage, of Portland, Me., and
to General Thomas J. Henderson, of Illinois.

For various courtesies received, the editor is furthermore
indebted to the Librarian of the Library of Congress; to Messrs.
McClure, Phillips & Co., D. Appleton & Co., Macmillan & Co.,
Dodd, Mead & Co., and Harper Brothers, of New York; to Houghton,
Mifflin & Co., Dana, Estes & Co., and L. C. Page & Co., of
Boston; to A. C. McClurg & Co., of Chicago; to The Robert Clarke
Co., of Cincinnati, and to the J. B. Lippincott Co., of

It is hardly necessary to add that every effort has been made by
the editor to bring into these volumes whatever material may
there properly belong, material much of which is widely scattered
in public libraries and in private collections. He has been
fortunate in securing certain interesting correspondence and
papers which had not before come into print in book form.
Information concerning some of these papers had reached him too
late to enable the papers to find place in their proper
chronological order in the set. Rather, however, than not to
present these papers to the readers they have been included in
the seventh volume of the set, which concludes the "Writings."

[These later papers are, in this etext, re-arranged into
chronologic order. D.W.]

October, 1905,

A. B. L.



No American can study the character and career of Abraham Lincoln
without being carried away by sentimental emotions. We are
always inclined to idealize that which we love,--a state of mind
very unfavorable to the exercise of sober critical judgment. It
is therefore not surprising that most of those who have written
or spoken on that extraordinary man, even while conscientiously
endeavoring to draw a lifelike portraiture of his being, and to
form a just estimate of his public conduct, should have drifted
into more or less indiscriminating eulogy, painting his great
features in the most glowing colors, and covering with tender
shadings whatever might look like a blemish.

But his standing before posterity will not be exalted by mere
praise of his virtues and abilities, nor by any concealment of
his limitations and faults. The stature of the great man, one of
whose peculiar charms consisted in his being so unlike all other
great men, will rather lose than gain by the idealization which
so easily runs into the commonplace. For it was distinctly the
weird mixture of qualities and forces in him, of the lofty with
the common, the ideal with the uncouth, of that which he had
become with that which he had not ceased to be, that made him so
fascinating a character among his fellow-men, gave him his
singular power over their minds and hearts, and fitted him to be
the greatest leader in the greatest crisis of our national life.

His was indeed a marvellous growth. The statesman or the
military hero born and reared in a log cabin is a familiar figure
in American history; but we may search in vain among our
celebrities for one whose origin and early life equalled Abraham
Lincoln's in wretchedness. He first saw the light in a miserable
hovel in Kentucky, on a farm consisting of a few barren acres in
a dreary neighborhood; his father a typical "poor Southern
white," shiftless and without ambition for himself or his
children, constantly looking for a new piece of land on which he
might make a living without much work; his mother, in her youth
handsome and bright, grown prematurely coarse in feature and
soured in mind by daily toil and care; the whole household
squalid, cheerless, and utterly void of elevating inspirations...
Only when the family had "moved" into the malarious backwoods of
Indiana, the mother had died, and a stepmother, a woman of thrift
and energy, had taken charge of the children, the shaggy-headed,
ragged, barefooted, forlorn boy, then seven years old, "began to
feel like a human being." Hard work was his early lot. When a
mere boy he had to help in supporting the family, either on his
father's clearing, or hired out to other farmers to plough, or
dig ditches, or chop wood, or drive ox teams; occasionally also
to "tend the baby," when the farmer's wife was otherwise engaged.
He could regard it as an advancement to a higher sphere of
activity when he obtained work in a "crossroads store," where he
amused the customers by his talk over the counter; for he soon
distinguished himself among the backwoods folk as one who had
something to say worth listening to. To win that distinction, he
had to draw mainly upon his wits; for, while his thirst for
knowledge was great, his opportunities for satisfying that thirst
were wofully slender.

In the log schoolhouse, which he could visit but little, he was
taught only reading, writing, and elementary arithmetic. Among
the people of the settlement, bush farmers and small tradesmen,
he found none of uncommon intelligence or education; but some of
them had a few books, which he borrowed eagerly. Thus he read
and reread, AEsop's Fables, learning to tell stories with a point
and to argue by parables; he read Robinson Crusoe, The Pilgrim's
Progress, a short history of the United States, and Weems's Life
of Washington. To the town constable's he went to read the
Revised Statutes of Indiana. Every printed page that fell into
his hands he would greedily devour, and his family and friends
watched him with wonder, as the uncouth boy, after his daily
work, crouched in a corner of the log cabin or outside under a
tree, absorbed in a book while munching his supper of corn bread.
In this manner he began to gather some knowledge, and sometimes
he would astonish the girls with such startling remarks as that
the earth was moving around the sun, and not the sun around the
earth, and they marvelled where "Abe" could have got such queer
notions. Soon he also felt the impulse to write; not only making
extracts from books he wished to remember, but also composing
little essays of his own. First he sketched these with charcoal
on a wooden shovel scraped white with a drawing-knife, or on
basswood shingles. Then he transferred them to paper, which was
a scarce commodity in the Lincoln household; taking care to cut
his expressions close, so that they might not cover too much
space,--a style-forming method greatly to be commended. Seeing
boys put a burning coal on the back of a wood turtle, he was
moved to write on cruelty to animals. Seeing men intoxicated
with whiskey, he wrote on temperance. In verse-making, too, he
tried himself, and in satire on persons offensive to him or
others,--satire the rustic wit of which was not always fit for
ears polite. Also political thoughts he put upon paper, and some
of his pieces were even deemed good enough for publication in the
county weekly.

Thus he won a neighborhood reputation as a clever young man,
which he increased by his performances as a speaker, not seldom
drawing upon himself the dissatisfaction of his employers by
mounting a stump in the field, and keeping the farm hands from
their work by little speeches in a jocose and sometimes also a
serious vein. At the rude social frolics of the settlement he
became an important person, telling funny, stories, mimicking the
itinerant preachers who had happened to pass by, and making his
mark at wrestling matches, too; for at the age of seventeen he
had attained his full height, six feet four inches in his
stockings, if he had any, and a terribly muscular clodhopper he
was. But he was known never to use his extraordinary strength to
the injury or humiliation of others; rather to do them a kindly
turn, or to enforce justice and fair dealing between them. All
this made him a favorite in backwoods society, although in some
things he appeared a little odd, to his friends. Far more than
any of them, he was given not only to reading, but to fits of
abstraction, to quiet musing with himself, and also to strange
spells of melancholy, from which he often would pass in a moment
to rollicking outbursts of droll humor. But on the whole he was
one of the people among whom he lived; in appearance perhaps even
a little more uncouth than most of them,--a very tall, rawboned
youth, with large features, dark, shrivelled skin, and rebellious
hair; his arms and legs long, out of proportion; clad in deerskin
trousers, which from frequent exposure to the rain had shrunk so
as to sit tightly on his limbs, leaving several inches of bluish
shin exposed between their lower end and the heavy tan-colored
shoes; the nether garment held usually by only one suspender,
that was strung over a coarse homemade shirt; the head covered in
winter with a coonskin cap, in summer with a rough straw hat of
uncertain shape, without a band.

It is doubtful whether he felt himself much superior to his
surroundings, although he confessed to a yearning for some
knowledge of the world outside of the circle in which he lived.
This wish was gratified; but how? At the age of nineteen he went
down the Mississippi to New Orleans as a flatboat hand,
temporarily joining a trade many members of which at that time
still took pride in being called "half horse and half alligator."
After his return he worked and lived in the old way until the
spring of 1830, when his father "moved again," this time to
Illinois; and on the journey of fifteen days "Abe" had to drive
the ox wagon which carried the household goods. Another log
cabin was built, and then, fencing a field, Abraham Lincoln split
those historic rails which were destined to play so picturesque a
part in the Presidential campaign twenty-eight years later.

Having come of age, Lincoln left the family, and "struck out for
himself." He had to "take jobs whenever he could get them." The
first of these carried him again as a flatboat hand to New
Orleans. There something happened that made a lasting impression
upon his soul: he witnessed a slave auction. "His heart bled,"
wrote one of his companions; "said nothing much; was silent;
looked bad. I can say, knowing it, that it was on this trip that
he formed his opinion on slavery. It run its iron in him then
and there, May, 1831. I have heard him say so often." Then he
lived several years at New Salem, in Illinois, a small mushroom
village, with a mill, some "stores" and whiskey shops, that rose
quickly, and soon disappeared again. It was a desolate,
disjointed, half-working and half-loitering life, without any
other aim than to gain food and shelter from day to day. He
served as pilot on a steamboat trip, then as clerk in a store and
a mill; business failing, he was adrift for some time. Being
compelled to measure his strength with the chief bully of the
neighborhood, and overcoming him, he became a noted person in
that muscular community, and won the esteem and friendship of the
ruling gang of ruffians to such a degree that, when the Black
Hawk war broke out, they elected him, a young man of twenty-
three, captain of a volunteer company, composed mainly of roughs
of their kind. He took the field, and his most noteworthy deed
of valor consisted, not in killing an Indian, but in protecting
against his own men, at the peril of his own life, the life of an
old savage who had strayed into his camp.

The Black Hawk war over, he turned to politics. The step from
the captaincy of a volunteer company to a candidacy for a seat in
the Legislature seemed a natural one. But his popularity,
although great in New Salem, had not spread far enough over the
district, and he was defeated. Then the wretched hand-to-mouth
struggle began again. He "set up in store-business" with a
dissolute partner, who drank whiskey while Lincoln was reading
books. The result was a disastrous failure and a load of debt.
Thereupon he became a deputy surveyor, and was appointed
postmaster of New Salem, the business of the post-office being so
small that he could carry the incoming and outgoing mail in his
hat. All this could not lift him from poverty, and his surveying
instruments and horse and saddle were sold by the sheriff for

But while all this misery was upon him his ambition rose to
higher aims. He walked many miles to borrow from a schoolmaster
a grammar with which to improve his language. A lawyer lent him
a copy of Blackstone, and he began to study law.

People would look wonderingly at the grotesque figure lying in
the grass, "with his feet up a tree," or sitting on a fence, as,
absorbed in a book, he learned to construct correct sentences and
made himself a jurist. At once he gained a little practice,
pettifogging before a justice of the peace for friends, without
expecting a fee. Judicial functions, too, were thrust upon him,
but only at horse-races or wrestling matches, where his
acknowledged honesty and fairness gave his verdicts undisputed
authority. His popularity grew apace, and soon he could be a
candidate for the Legislature again. Although he called himself
a Whig, an ardent admirer of Henry Clay, his clever stump
speeches won him the election in the strongly Democratic
district. Then for the first time, perhaps, he thought seriously
of his outward appearance. So far he had been content with a
garb of "Kentucky jeans," not seldom ragged, usually patched, and
always shabby. Now, he borrowed some money from a friend to buy
a new suit of clothes--"store clothes" fit for a Sangamon County
statesman; and thus adorned he set out for the state capital,
Vandalia, to take his seat among the lawmakers.

His legislative career, which stretched over several sessions--
for he was thrice re-elected, in 1836, 1838, and 1840--was not
remarkably brilliant. He did, indeed, not lack ambition. He
dreamed even of making himself "the De Witt Clinton of Illinois,"
and he actually distinguished himself by zealous and effective
work in those "log-rolling" operations by which the young State
received "a general system of internal improvements" in the shape
of railroads, canals, and banks,--a reckless policy, burdening
the State with debt, and producing the usual crop of political
demoralization, but a policy characteristic of the time and the
impatiently enterprising spirit of the Western people. Lincoln,
no doubt with the best intentions, but with little knowledge of
the subject, simply followed the popular current. The
achievement in which, perhaps, he gloried most was the removal of
the State government from Vandalia to Springfield; one of those
triumphs of political management which are apt to be the pride of
the small politician's statesmanship. One thing, however, he did
in which his true nature asserted itself, and which gave distinct
promise of the future pursuit of high aims. Against an
overwhelming preponderance of sentiment in the Legislature,
followed by only one other member, he recorded his protest
against a proslavery resolution,--that protest declaring "the
institution of slavery to be founded on both injustice and bad
policy." This was not only the irrepressible voice of his
conscience; it was true moral valor, too; for at that time, in
many parts of the West, an abolitionist was regarded as little
better than a horse-thief, and even "Abe Lincoln" would hardly
have been forgiven his antislavery principles, had he not been
known as such an "uncommon good fellow." But here, in obedience
to the great conviction of his life, he manifested his courage to
stand alone, that courage which is the first requisite of
leadership in a great cause.

Together with his reputation and influence as a politician grew
his law practice, especially after he had removed from New Salem
to Springfield, and associated himself with a practitioner of
good standing. He had now at last won a fixed position in
society. He became a successful lawyer, less, indeed, by his
learning as a jurist than by his effectiveness as an advocate and
by the striking uprightness of his character; and it may truly be
said that his vivid sense of truth and justice had much to do
with his effectiveness as an advocate. He would refuse to act as
the attorney even of personal friends when he saw the right on
the other side. He would abandon cases, even during trial, when
the testimony convinced him that his client was in the wrong. He
would dissuade those who sought his service from pursuing an
obtainable advantage when their claims seemed to him unfair.
Presenting his very first case in the United States Circuit
Court, the only question being one of authority, he declared
that, upon careful examination, he found all the authorities on
the other side, and none on his. Persons accused of crime, when
he thought them guilty, he would not defend at all, or,
attempting their defence, he was unable to put forth his powers.
One notable exception is on record, when his personal sympathies
had been strongly aroused. But when he felt himself to be the
protector of innocence, the defender of justice, or the
prosecutor of wrong, he frequently disclosed such unexpected
resources of reasoning, such depth of feeling, and rose to such
fervor of appeal as to astonish and overwhelm his hearers, and
make him fairly irresistible. Even an ordinary law argument,
coming from him, seldom failed to produce the impression that he
was profoundly convinced of the soundness of his position. It is
not surprising that the mere appearance of so conscientious an
attorney in any case should have carried, not only to juries, but
even to judges, almost a presumption of right on his side, and
that the people began to call him, sincerely meaning it, "honest
Abe Lincoln."

In the meantime he had private sorrows and trials of a painfully
afflicting nature. He had loved and been loved by a fair and
estimable girl, Ann Rutledge, who died in the flower of her youth
and beauty, and he mourned her loss with such intensity of grief
that his friends feared for his reason. Recovering from his
morbid depression, he bestowed what he thought a new affection
upon another lady, who refused him. And finally, moderately
prosperous in his worldly affairs, and having prospects of
political distinction before him, he paid his addresses to Mary
Todd, of Kentucky, and was accepted. But then tormenting doubts
of the genuineness of his own affection for her, of the
compatibility of their characters, and of their future happiness
came upon him. His distress was so great that he felt himself in
danger of suicide, and feared to carry a pocket-knife with him;
and he gave mortal offence to his bride by not appearing on the
appointed wedding day. Now the torturing consciousness of the
wrong he had done her grew unendurable. He won back her
affection, ended the agony by marrying her, and became a faithful
and patient husband and a good father. But it was no secret to
those who knew the family well that his domestic life was full of
trials. The erratic temper of his wife not seldom put the
gentleness of his nature to the severest tests; and these
troubles and struggles, which accompanied him through all the
vicissitudes of his life from the modest home in Springfield to
the White House at Washington, adding untold private heart-
burnings to his public cares, and sometimes precipitating upon
him incredible embarrassments in the discharge of his public
duties, form one of the most pathetic features of his career.

He continued to "ride the circuit," read books while travelling
in his buggy, told funny stories to his fellow-lawyers in the
tavern, chatted familiarly with his neighbors around the stove in
the store and at the post-office, had his hours of melancholy
brooding as of old, and became more and more widely known and
trusted and beloved among the people of his State for his ability
as a lawyer and politician, for the uprightness of his character
and the overflowing spring of sympathetic kindness in his heart.
His main ambition was confessedly that of political distinction;
but hardly any one would at that time have seen in him the man
destined to lead the nation through the greatest crisis of the

His time had not yet come when, in 1846, he was elected to
Congress. In a clever speech in the House of Representatives he
denounced President Polk for having unjustly forced war upon
Mexico, and he amused the Committee of the Whole by a witty
attack upon General Cass. More important was the expression he
gave to his antislavery impulses by offering a bill looking to
the emancipation of the slaves in the District of Columbia, and
by his repeated votes for the famous Wilmot Proviso, intended to
exclude slavery from the Territories acquired from Mexico. But
when, at the expiration of his term, in March, 1849, he left his
seat, he gloomily despaired of ever seeing the day when the cause
nearest to his heart would be rightly grasped by the people, and
when he would be able to render any service to his country in
solving the great problem. Nor had his career as a member of
Congress in any sense been such as to gratify his ambition.
Indeed, if he ever had any belief in a great destiny for himself,
it must have been weak at that period; for he actually sought to
obtain from the new Whig President, General Taylor, the place of
Commissioner of the General Land Office; willing to bury himself
in one of the administrative bureaus of the government.
Fortunately for the country, he failed; and no less fortunately,
when, later, the territorial governorship of Oregon was offered
to him, Mrs. Lincoln's protest induced him to decline it.
Returning to Springfield, he gave himself with renewed zest to
his law practice, acquiesced in the Compromise of 1850 with
reluctance and a mental reservation, supported in the
Presidential campaign of 1852 the Whig candidate in some
spiritless speeches, and took but a languid interest in the
politics of the day. But just then his time was drawing near.

The peace promised, and apparently inaugurated, by the Compromise
of 1850 was rudely broken by the introduction of the Kansas-
Nebraska Bill in 1854. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise,
opening the Territories of the United States, the heritage of
coming generations, to the invasion of slavery, suddenly revealed
the whole significance of the slavery question to the people of
the free States, and thrust itself into the politics of the
country as the paramount issue. Something like an electric shock
flashed through the North. Men who but a short time before had
been absorbed by their business pursuits, and deprecated all
political agitation, were startled out of their security by a
sudden alarm, and excitedly took sides. That restless trouble of
conscience about slavery, which even in times of apparent repose
had secretly disturbed the souls of Northern people, broke forth
in an utterance louder than ever. The bonds of accustomed party
allegiance gave way. Antislavery Democrats and antislavery Whigs
felt themselves drawn together by a common overpowering
sentiment, and soon they began to rally in a new organization.
The Republican party sprang into being to meet the overruling
call of the hour. Then Abraham Lincoln's time was come. He
rapidly advanced to a position of conspicuous championship in the
struggle. This, however, was not owing to his virtues and
abilities alone. Indeed, the slavery question stirred his soul
in its profoundest depths; it was, as one of his intimate friends
said, "the only one on which he would become excited"; it called
forth all his faculties and energies. Yet there were many others
who, having long and arduously fought the antislavery battle in
the popular assembly, or in the press, or in the halls of
Congress, far surpassed him in prestige, and compared with whom
he was still an obscure and untried man. His reputation,
although highly honorable and well earned, had so far been
essentially local. As a stump-speaker in Whig canvasses outside
of his State he had attracted comparatively little attention; but
in Illinois he had been recognized as one of the foremost men of
the Whig party. Among the opponents of the Nebraska Bill he
occupied in his State so important a position, that in 1856 he
was the choice of a large majority of the "Anti-Nebraska men" in
the Legislature for a seat in the Senate of the United States
which then became vacant; and when he, an old Whig, could not
obtain the votes of the Anti-Nebraska Democrats necessary to make
a majority, he generously urged his friends to transfer their
votes to Lyman Trumbull, who was then elected. Two years later,
in the first national convention of the Republican party, the
delegation from Illinois brought him forward as a candidate for
the vice-presidency, and he received respectable support. Still,
the name of Abraham Lincoln was not widely known beyond the
boundaries of his own State. But now it was this local
prominence in Illinois that put him in a position of peculiar
advantage on the battlefield of national politics. In the
assault on the Missouri Compromise which broke down all legal
barriers to the spread of slavery Stephen Arnold Douglas was the
ostensible leader and central figure; and Douglas was a Senator
from Illinois, Lincoln's State. Douglas's national theatre of
action was the Senate, but in his constituency in Illinois were
the roots of his official position and power. What he did in the
Senate he had to justify before the people of Illinois, in order
to maintain himself in place; and in Illinois all eyes turned to
Lincoln as Douglas's natural antagonist.

As very young men they had come to Illinois, Lincoln from
Indiana, Douglas from Vermont, and had grown up together in
public life, Douglas as a Democrat, Lincoln as a Whig. They had
met first in Vandalia, in 1834, when Lincoln was in the
Legislature and Douglas in the lobby; and again in 1836, both as
members of the Legislature. Douglas, a very able politician, of
the agile, combative, audacious, "pushing" sort, rose in
political distinction with remarkable rapidity. In quick
succession he became a member of the Legislature, a State's
attorney, secretary of state, a judge on the supreme bench of
Illinois, three times a Representative in Congress, and a Senator
of the United States when only thirty-nine years old. In the
National Democratic convention of 1852 he appeared even as an
aspirant to the nomination for the Presidency, as the favorite of
"young America," and received a respectable vote. He had far
outstripped Lincoln in what is commonly called political success
and in reputation. But it had frequently happened that in
political campaigns Lincoln felt himself impelled, or was
selected by his Whig friends, to answer Douglas's speeches; and
thus the two were looked upon, in a large part of the State at
least, as the representative combatants of their respective
parties in the debates before popular meetings. As soon,
therefore, as, after the passage of his Kansas-Nebraska Bill,
Douglas returned to Illinois to defend his cause before his
constituents, Lincoln, obeying not only his own impulse, but also
general expectation, stepped forward as his principal opponent.
Thus the struggle about the principles involved in the Kansas-
Nebraska Bill, or, in a broader sense, the struggle between
freedom and slavery, assumed in Illinois the outward form of a
personal contest between Lincoln and Douglas; and, as it
continued and became more animated, that personal contest in
Illinois was watched with constantly increasing interest by the
whole country. When, in 1858, Douglas's senatorial term being
about to expire, Lincoln was formally designated by the
Republican convention of Illinois as their candidate for the
Senate, to take Douglas's place, and the two contestants agreed
to debate the questions at issue face to face in a series of
public meetings, the eyes of the whole American people were
turned eagerly to that one point: and the spectacle reminded one
of those lays of ancient times telling of two armies, in battle
array, standing still to see their two principal champions fight
out the contested cause between the lines in single combat.

Lincoln had then reached the full maturity of his powers. His
equipment as a statesman did not embrace a comprehensive
knowledge of public affairs. What he had studied he had indeed
made his own, with the eager craving and that zealous tenacity
characteristic of superior minds learning under difficulties.
But his narrow opportunities and the unsteady life he had led
during his younger years had not permitted the accumulation of
large stores in his mind. It is true, in political campaigns he
had occasionally spoken on the ostensible issues between the
Whigs and the Democrats, the tariff, internal improvements,
banks, and so on, but only in a perfunctory manner. Had he ever
given much serious thought and study to these subjects, it is
safe to assume that a mind so prolific of original conceits as
his would certainly have produced some utterance upon them worth
remembering. His soul had evidently never been deeply stirred by
such topics. But when his moral nature was aroused, his brain
developed an untiring activity until it had mastered all the
knowledge within reach. As soon as the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise had thrust the slavery question into politics as the
paramount issue, Lincoln plunged into an arduous study of all its
legal, historical, and moral aspects, and then his mind became a
complete arsenal of argument. His rich natural gifts, trained by
long and varied practice, had made him an orator of rare
persuasiveness. In his immature days, he had pleased himself for
a short period with that inflated, high-flown style which, among
the uncultivated, passes for "beautiful speaking." His inborn
truthfulness and his artistic instinct soon overcame that
aberration and revealed to him the noble beauty and strength of
simplicity. He possessed an uncommon power of clear and compact
statement, which might have reminded those who knew the story of
his early youth of the efforts of the poor boy, when he copied
his compositions from the scraped wooden shovel, carefully to
trim his expressions in order to save paper. His language had
the energy of honest directness and he was a master of logical
lucidity. He loved to point and enliven his reasoning by
humorous illustrations, usually anecdotes of Western life, of
which he had an inexhaustible store at his command. These
anecdotes had not seldom a flavor of rustic robustness about
them, but he used them with great effect, while amusing the
audience, to give life to an abstraction, to explode an
absurdity, to clinch an argument, to drive home an admonition.
The natural kindliness of his tone, softening prejudice and
disarming partisan rancor, would often open to his reasoning a
way into minds most unwilling to receive it.

Yet his greatest power consisted in the charm of his
individuality. That charm did not, in the ordinary way, appeal
to the ear or to the eye. His voice was not melodious; rather
shrill and piercing, especially when it rose to its high treble
in moments of great animation. His figure was unhandsome, and
the action of his unwieldy limbs awkward. He commanded none of
the outward graces of oratory as they are commonly understood.
His charm was of a different kind. It flowed from the rare depth
and genuineness of his convictions and his sympathetic feelings.
Sympathy was the strongest element in his nature. One of his
biographers, who knew him before he became President, says:
"Lincoln's compassion might be stirred deeply by an object
present, but never by an object absent and unseen. In the former
case he would most likely extend relief, with little inquiry into
the merits of the case, because, as he expressed it himself, it
`took a pain out of his own heart.'" Only half of this is
correct. It is certainly true that he could not witness any
individual distress or oppression, or any kind of suffering,
without feeling a pang of pain himself, and that by relieving as
much as he could the suffering of others he put an end to his
own. This compassionate impulse to help he felt not only for
human beings, but for every living creature. As in his boyhood
he angrily reproved the boys who tormented a wood turtle by
putting a burning coal on its back, so, we are told, he would,
when a mature man, on a journey, dismount from his buggy and wade
waist-deep in mire to rescue a pig struggling in a swamp.
Indeed, appeals to his compassion were so irresistible to him,
and he felt it so difficult to refuse anything when his refusal
could give pain, that he himself sometimes spoke of his inability
to say "no" as a positive weakness. But that certainly does not
prove that his compassionate feeling was confined to individual
cases of suffering witnessed with his own eyes. As the boy was
moved by the aspect of the tortured wood turtle to compose an
essay against cruelty to animals in general, so the aspect of
other cases of suffering and wrong wrought up his moral nature,
and set his mind to work against cruelty, injustice, and
oppression in general.

As his sympathy went forth to others, it attracted others to him.
Especially those whom he called the "plain people" felt
themselves drawn to him by the instinctive feeling that he
understood, esteemed, and appreciated them. He had grown up
among the poor, the lowly, the ignorant. He never ceased to
remember the good souls he had met among them, and the many
kindnesses they had done him. Although in his mental development
he had risen far above them, he never looked down upon them. How
they felt and how they reasoned he knew, for so he had once felt
and reasoned himself. How they could be moved he knew, for so he
had once been moved himself and practised moving others. His
mind was much larger than theirs, but it thoroughly comprehended
theirs; and while he thought much farther than they, their
thoughts were ever present to him. Nor had the visible distance
between them grown as wide as his rise in the world would seem to
have warranted. Much of his backwoods speech and manners still
clung to him. Although he had become "Mr. Lincoln" to his later
acquaintances, he was still "Abe" to the "Nats" and "Billys" and
"Daves" of his youth; and their familiarity neither appeared
unnatural to them, nor was it in the least awkward to him. He
still told and enjoyed stories similar to those he had told and
enjoyed in the Indiana settlement and at New Salem. His wants
remained as modest as they had ever been; his domestic habits had
by no means completely accommodated themselves to those of his
more highborn wife; and though the "Kentucky jeans" apparel had
long been dropped, his clothes of better material and better make
would sit ill sorted on his gigantic limbs. His cotton umbrella,
without a handle, and tied together with a coarse string to keep
it from flapping, which he carried on his circuit rides, is said
to be remembered still by some of his surviving neighbors. This
rusticity of habit was utterly free from that affected contempt
of refinement and comfort which self-made men sometimes carry
into their more affluent circumstances. To Abraham Lincoln it
was entirely natural, and all those who came into contact with
him knew it to be so. In his ways of thinking and feeling he had
become a gentleman in the highest sense, but the refining process
had polished but little the outward form. The plain people,
therefore, still considered "honest Abe Lincoln" one of
themselves; and when they felt, which they no doubt frequently
did, that his thoughts and aspirations moved in a sphere above
their own, they were all the more proud of him, without any
diminution of fellow-feeling. It was this relation of mutual
sympathy and understanding between Lincoln and the plain people
that gave him his peculiar power as a public man, and singularly
fitted him, as we shall see, for that leadership which was
preeminently required in the great crisis then coming on,--the
leadership which indeed thinks and moves ahead of the masses, but
always remains within sight and sympathetic touch of them.

He entered upon the campaign of 1858 better equipped than he had
ever been before. He not only instinctively felt, but he had
convinced himself by arduous study, that in this struggle against
the spread of slavery he had right, justice, philosophy, the
enlightened opinion of mankind, history, the Constitution, and
good policy on his side. It was observed that after he began to
discuss the slavery question his speeches were pitched in a much
loftier key than his former oratorical efforts. While he
remained fond of telling funny stories in private conversation,
they disappeared more and more from his public discourse. He
would still now and then point his argument with expressions of
inimitable quaintness, and flash out rays of kindly humor and
witty irony; but his general tone was serious, and rose sometimes
to genuine solemnity. His masterly skill in dialectical thrust
and parry, his wealth of knowledge, his power of reasoning and
elevation of sentiment, disclosed in language of rare precision,
strength, and beauty, not seldom astonished his old friends.

Neither of the two champions could have found a more formidable
antagonist than each now met in the other. Douglas was by far
the most conspicuous member of his party. His admirers had dubbed
him "the Little Giant," contrasting in that nickname the
greatness of his mind with the smallness of his body. But though
of low stature, his broad-shouldered figure appeared uncommonly
sturdy, and there was something lion-like in the squareness of
his brow and jaw, and in the defiant shake of his long hair. His
loud and persistent advocacy of territorial expansion, in the
name of patriotism and "manifest destiny," had given him an
enthusiastic following among the young and ardent. Great natural
parts, a highly combative temperament, and long training had made
him a debater unsurpassed in a Senate filled with able men. He
could be as forceful in his appeals to patriotic feelings as he
was fierce in denunciation and thoroughly skilled in all the
baser tricks of parliamentary pugilism. While genial and
rollicking in his social intercourse--the idol of the "boys" he
felt himself one of the most renowned statesmen of his time, and
would frequently meet his opponents with an overbearing
haughtiness, as persons more to be pitied than to be feared. In
his speech opening the campaign of 1858, he spoke of Lincoln,
whom the Republicans had dared to advance as their candidate for
"his" place in the Senate, with an air of patronizing if not
contemptuous condescension, as "a kind, amiable, and intelligent
gentleman and a good citizen." The Little Giant would have been
pleased to pass off his antagonist as a tall dwarf. He knew
Lincoln too well, however, to indulge himself seriously in such a
delusion. But the political situation was at that moment in a
curious tangle, and Douglas could expect to derive from the
confusion great advantage over his opponent.

By the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, opening the Territories
to the ingress of slavery, Douglas had pleased the South, but
greatly alarmed the North. He had sought to conciliate Northern
sentiment by appending to his Kansas-Nebraska Bill the
declaration that its intent was "not to legislate slavery into
any State or Territory, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave
the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their
institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution
of the United States." This he called "the great principle of
popular sovereignty." When asked whether, under this act, the
people of a Territory, before its admission as a State, would
have the right to exclude slavery, he answered, "That is a
question for the courts to decide." Then came the famous "Dred
Scott decision," in which the Supreme Court held substantially
that the right to hold slaves as property existed in the
Territories by virtue of the Federal Constitution, and that this
right could not be denied by any act of a territorial government.
This, of course, denied the right of the people of any Territory
to exclude slavery while they were in a territorial condition,
and it alarmed the Northern people still more. Douglas
recognized the binding force of the decision of the Supreme
Court, at the same time maintaining, most illogically, that his
great principle of popular sovereignty remained in force
nevertheless. Meanwhile, the proslavery people of western
Missouri, the so-called "border ruffians," had invaded Kansas,
set up a constitutional convention, made a constitution of an
extreme pro-slavery type, the "Lecompton Constitution," refused
to submit it fairly to a vote of the people of Kansas, and then
referred it to Congress for acceptance,--seeking thus to
accomplish the admission of Kansas as a slave State. Had Douglas
supported such a scheme, he would have lost all foothold in the
North. In the name of popular sovereignty he loudly declared his
opposition to the acceptance of any constitution not sanctioned
by a formal popular vote. He "did not care," he said, "whether
slavery be voted up or down," but there must be a fair vote of
the people. Thus he drew upon himself the hostility of the
Buchanan administration, which was controlled by the proslavery
interest, but he saved his Northern following. More than this,
not only did his Democratic admirers now call him "the true
champion of freedom," but even some Republicans of large
influence, prominent among them Horace Greeley, sympathizing with
Douglas in his fight against the Lecompton Constitution, and
hoping to detach him permanently from the proslavery interest and
to force a lasting breach in the Democratic party, seriously
advised the Republicans of Illinois to give up their opposition
to Douglas, and to help re-elect him to the Senate. Lincoln was
not of that opinion. He believed that great popular movements
can succeed only when guided by their faithful friends, and that
the antislavery cause could not safely be entrusted to the
keeping of one who "did not care whether slavery be voted up or
down." This opinion prevailed in Illinois; but the influences
within the Republican party over which it prevailed yielded only
a reluctant acquiescence, if they acquiesced at all, after having
materially strengthened Douglas's position. Such was the
situation of things when the campaign of 1858 between Lincoln and
Douglas began.

Lincoln opened the campaign on his side at the convention which
nominated him as the Republican candidate for the senatorship,
with a memorable saying which sounded like a shout from the
watchtower of history: "A house divided against itself cannot
stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half
slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved.
I do not expect the house to fall, but I expect it will cease to
be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of
it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief
that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates
will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all
the States,--old as well as new, North as well as South." Then
he proceeded to point out that the Nebraska doctrine combined
with the Dred Scott decision worked in the direction of making
the nation "all slave." Here was the "irrepressible conflict"
spoken of by Seward a short time later, in a speech made famous
mainly by that phrase. If there was any new discovery in it, the
right of priority was Lincoln's. This utterance proved not only
his statesmanlike conception of the issue, but also, in his
situation as a candidate, the firmness of his moral courage. The
friends to whom he had read the draught of this speech before he
delivered it warned him anxiously that its delivery might be
fatal to his success in the election. This was shrewd advice, in
the ordinary sense. While a slaveholder could threaten disunion
with impunity, the mere suggestion that the existence of slavery
was incompatible with freedom in the Union would hazard the
political chances of any public man in the North. But Lincoln
was inflexible. "It is true," said he, "and I will deliver it as
written.... I would rather be defeated with these expressions in
my speech held up and discussed before the people than be
victorious without them." The statesman was right in his far-
seeing judgment and his conscientious statement of the truth, but
the practical politicians were also right in their prediction of
the immediate effect. Douglas instantly seized upon the
declaration that a house divided against itself cannot stand as
the main objective point of his attack, interpreting it as an
incitement to a "relentless sectional war," and there is no doubt
that the persistent reiteration of this charge served to frighten
not a few timid souls.

Lincoln constantly endeavored to bring the moral and
philosophical side of the subject to the foreground. "Slavery is
wrong" was the keynote of all his speeches. To Douglas's
glittering sophism that the right of the people of a Territory to
have slavery or not, as they might desire, was in accordance with
the principle of true popular sovereignty, he made the pointed
answer: "Then true popular sovereignty, according to Senator
Douglas, means that, when one man makes another man his slave, no
third man shall be allowed to object." To Douglas's argument
that the principle which demanded that the people of a Territory
should be permitted to choose whether they would have slavery or
not "originated when God made man, and placed good and evil
before him, allowing him to choose upon his own responsibility,"
Lincoln solemnly replied: "No; God--did not place good and evil
before man, telling him to make his choice. On the contrary, God
did tell him there was one tree of the fruit of which he should
not eat, upon pain of death." He did not, however, place himself
on the most advanced ground taken by the radical anti-slavery
men. He admitted that, under the Constitution, "the Southern
people were entitled to a Congressional fugitive slave law,"
although he did not approve the fugitive slave law then existing.
He declared also that, if slavery were kept out of the
Territories during their territorial existence, as it should be,
and if then the people of any Territory, having a fair chance and
a clear field, should do such an extraordinary thing as to adopt
a slave constitution, uninfluenced by the actual presence of the
institution among them, he saw no alternative but to admit such a
Territory into the Union. He declared further that, while he
should be exceedingly glad to see slavery abolished in the
District of Columbia, he would, as a member of Congress, with his
present views, not endeavor to bring on that abolition except on
condition that emancipation be gradual, that it be approved by
the decision of a majority of voters in the District, and that
compensation be made to unwilling owners. On every available
occasion, he pronounced himself in favor of the deportation and
colonization of the blacks, of course with their consent. He
repeatedly disavowed any wish on his part to have social and
political equality established between whites and blacks. On
this point he summed up his views in a reply to Douglas's
assertion that the Declaration of Independence, in speaking of
all men as being created equal, did not include the negroes,
saying: "I do not understand the Declaration of Independence to
mean that all men were created equal in all respects. They are
not equal in color. But I believe that it does mean to declare
that all men are equal in some respects; they are equal in their
right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

With regard to some of these subjects Lincoln modified his
position at a later period, and it has been suggested that he
would have professed more advanced principles in his debates with
Douglas, had he not feared thereby to lose votes. This view can
hardly be sustained. Lincoln had the courage of his opinions,
but he was not a radical. The man who risked his election by
delivering, against the urgent protest of his friends, the speech
about "the house divided against itself" would not have shrunk
from the expression of more extreme views, had he really
entertained them. It is only fair to assume that he said what at
the time he really thought, and that if, subsequently, his
opinions changed, it was owing to new conceptions of good policy
and of duty brought forth by an entirely new set of circumstances
and exigencies. It is characteristic that he continued to adhere
to the impracticable colonization plan even after the
Emancipation Proclamation had already been issued.

But in this contest Lincoln proved himself not only a debater,
but also a political strategist of the first order. The "kind,
amiable, and intelligent gentleman," as Douglas had been pleased
to call him, was by no means as harmless as a dove. He possessed
an uncommon share of that worldly shrewdness which not seldom
goes with genuine simplicity of character; and the political
experience gathered in the Legislature and in Congress, and in
many election campaigns, added to his keen intuitions, had made
him as far-sighted a judge of the probable effects of a public
man's sayings or doings upon the popular mind, and as accurate a
calculator in estimating political chances and forecasting
results, as could be found among the party managers in Illinois.
And now he perceived keenly the ugly dilemma in which Douglas
found himself, between the Dred Scott decision, which declared
the right to hold slaves to exist in the Territories by virtue of
the Federal Constitution, and his "great principle of popular
sovereignty," according to which the people of a Territory, if
they saw fit, were to have the right to exclude slavery
therefrom. Douglas was twisting and squirming to the best of his
ability to avoid the admission that the two were incompatible.
The question then presented itself if it would be good policy for
Lincoln to force Douglas to a clear expression of his opinion as
to whether, the Dred Scott decision notwithstanding, "the people
of a Territory could in any lawful way exclude slavery from its
limits prior to the formation of a State constitution." Lincoln
foresaw and predicted what Douglas would answer: that slavery
could not exist in a Territory unless the people desired it and
gave it protection by territorial legislation. In an improvised
caucus the policy of pressing the interrogatory on Douglas was
discussed. Lincoln's friends unanimously advised against it,
because the answer foreseen would sufficiently commend Douglas to
the people of Illinois to insure his re-election to the Senate.
But Lincoln persisted. "I am after larger game," said he. "If
Douglas so answers, he can never be President, and the battle of
1860 is worth a hundred of this." The interrogatory was pressed
upon Douglas, and Douglas did answer that, no matter what the
decision of the Supreme Court might be on the abstract question,
the people of a Territory had the lawful means to introduce or
exclude slavery by territorial legislation friendly or unfriendly
to the institution. Lincoln found it easy to show the absurdity
of the proposition that, if slavery were admitted to exist of
right in the Territories by virtue of the supreme law, the
Federal Constitution, it could be kept out or expelled by an
inferior law, one made by a territorial Legislature. Again the
judgment of the politicians, having only the nearest object in
view, proved correct: Douglas was reelected to the Senate. But
Lincoln's judgment proved correct also: Douglas, by resorting to
the expedient of his "unfriendly legislation doctrine," forfeited
his last chance of becoming President of the United States. He
might have hoped to win, by sufficient atonement, his pardon from
the South for his opposition to the Lecompton Constitution; but
that he taught the people of the Territories a trick by which
they could defeat what the proslavery men considered a
constitutional right, and that he called that trick lawful, this
the slave power would never forgive. The breach between the
Southern and the Northern Democracy was thenceforth irremediable
and fatal.

The Presidential election of 1860 approached. The struggle in
Kansas, and the debates in Congress which accompanied it, and
which not unfrequently provoked violent outbursts, continually
stirred the popular excitement. Within the Democratic party
raged the war of factions. The national Democratic convention
met at Charleston on the 23d of April, 1860. After a struggle of
ten days between the adherents and the opponents of Douglas,
during which the delegates from the cotton States had withdrawn,
the convention adjourned without having nominated any candidates,
to meet again in Baltimore on the 18th of June. There was no
prospect, however, of reconciling the hostile elements. It
appeared very probable that the Baltimore convention would
nominate Douglas, while the seceding Southern Democrats would set
up a candidate of their own, representing extreme proslavery

Meanwhile, the national Republican convention assembled at
Chicago on the 16th of May, full of enthusiasm and hope. The
situation was easily understood. The Democrats would have the
South. In order to succeed in the election, the Republicans had
to win, in addition to the States carried by Fremont in 1856,
those that were classed as "doubtful,"--New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
and Indiana, or Illinois in the place of either New Jersey or
Indiana. The most eminent Republican statesmen and leaders of
the time thought of for the Presidency were Seward and Chase,
both regarded as belonging to the more advanced order of
antislavery men. Of the two, Seward had the largest following,
mainly from New York, New England, and the Northwest. Cautious
politicians doubted seriously whether Seward, to whom some
phrases in his speeches had undeservedly given the reputation of
a reckless radical, would be able to command the whole Republican
vote in the doubtful States. Besides, during his long public
career he had made enemies. It was evident that those who
thought Seward's nomination too hazardous an experiment would
consider Chase unavailable for the same reason. They would then
look round for an "available" man; and among the "available" men
Abraham Lincoln was easily discovered to stand foremost. His
great debate with Douglas had given him a national reputation.
The people of the East being eager to see the hero of so dramatic
a contest, he had been induced to visit several Eastern cities,
and had astonished and delighted large and distinguished
audiences with speeches of singular power and originality. An
address delivered by him in the Cooper Institute in New York,
before an audience containing a large number of important
persons, was then, and has ever since been, especially praised as
one of the most logical and convincing political speeches ever
made in this country. The people of the West had grown proud of
him as a distinctively Western great man, and his popularity at
home had some peculiar features which could be expected to
exercise a potent charm. Nor was Lincoln's name as that of an
available candidate left to the chance of accidental discovery.
It is indeed not probable that he thought of himself as a
Presidential possibility, during his contest with Douglas for the
senatorship. As late as April, 1859, he had written to a friend
who had approached him on the subject that he did not think
himself fit for the Presidency. The Vice-Presidency was then the
limit of his ambition. But some of his friends in Illinois took
the matter seriously in hand, and Lincoln, after some hesitation,
then formally authorized "the use of his name." The matter was
managed with such energy and excellent judgment that, in the
convention, he had not only the whole vote of Illinois to start
with, but won votes on all sides without offending any rival. A
large majority of the opponents of Seward went over to Abraham
Lincoln, and gave him the nomination on the third ballot. As had
been foreseen, Douglas was nominated by one wing of the
Democratic party at Baltimore, while the extreme proslavery wing
put Breckinridge into the field as its candidate. After a
campaign conducted with the energy of genuine enthusiasm on the
antislavery side the united Republicans defeated the divided
Democrats, and Lincoln was elected President by a majority of
fifty-seven votes in the electoral colleges.

The result of the election had hardly been declared when the
disunion movement in the South, long threatened and carefully
planned and prepared, broke out in the shape of open revolt, and
nearly a month before Lincoln could be inaugurated as President
of the United States seven Southern States had adopted ordinances
of secession, formed an independent confederacy, framed a
constitution for it, and elected Jefferson Davis its president,
expecting the other slaveholding States soon to join them. On
the 11th of February, 1861, Lincoln left Springfield for
Washington; having, with characteristic simplicity, asked his law
partner not to change the sign of the firm "Lincoln and Herndon"
during the four years unavoidable absence of the senior partner,
and having taken an affectionate and touching leave of his

The situation which confronted the new President was appalling:
the larger part of the South in open rebellion, the rest of the
slaveholding States wavering preparing to follow; the revolt
guided by determined, daring, and skillful leaders; the Southern
people, apparently full of enthusiasm and military spirit,
rushing to arms, some of the forts and arsenals already in their
possession; the government of the Union, before the accession of
the new President, in the hands of men some of whom actively
sympathized with the revolt, while others were hampered by their
traditional doctrines in dealing with it, and really gave it aid
and comfort by their irresolute attitude; all the departments
full of "Southern sympathizers" and honeycombed with disloyalty;
the treasury empty, and the public credit at the lowest ebb; the
arsenals ill supplied with arms, if not emptied by treacherous
practices; the regular army of insignificant strength, dispersed
over an immense surface, and deprived of some of its best
officers by defection; the navy small and antiquated. But that
was not all. The threat of disunion had so often been resorted
to by the slave power in years gone by that most Northern people
had ceased to believe in its seriousness. But, when disunion
actually appeared as a stern reality, something like a chill
swept through the whole Northern country. A cry for union and
peace at any price rose on all sides. Democratic partisanship
reiterated this cry with vociferous vehemence, and even many
Republicans grew afraid of the victory they had just achieved at
the ballot-box, and spoke of compromise. The country fairly
resounded with the noise of "anticoercion meetings." Expressions
of firm resolution from determined antislavery men were indeed
not wanting, but they were for a while almost drowned by a
bewildering confusion of discordant voices. Even this was not
all. Potent influences in Europe, with an ill-concealed desire
for the permanent disruption of the American Union, eagerly
espoused the cause of the Southern seceders, and the two
principal maritime powers of the Old World seemed only to be
waiting for a favorable opportunity to lend them a helping hand.

This was the state of things to be mastered by "honest Abe
Lincoln" when he took his seat in the Presidential chair,--
"honest Abe Lincoln," who was so good-natured that he could not
say "no"; the greatest achievement in whose life had been a
debate on the slavery question; who had never been in any
position of power; who was without the slightest experience of
high executive duties, and who had only a speaking acquaintance
with the men upon whose counsel and cooperation he was to depend.
Nor was his accession to power under such circumstances greeted
with general confidence even by the members of his party. While
he had indeed won much popularity, many Republicans, especially
among those who had advocated Seward's nomination for the
Presidency, saw the simple "Illinois lawyer" take the reins of
government with a feeling little short of dismay. The orators
and journals of the opposition were ridiculing and lampooning him
without measure. Many people actually wondered how such a man
could dare to undertake a task which, as he himself had said to
his neighbors in his parting speech, was "more difficult than
that of Washington himself had been."

But Lincoln brought to that task, aside from other uncommon
qualities, the first requisite,--an intuitive comprehension of
its nature. While he did not indulge in the delusion that the
Union could be maintained or restored without a conflict of arms,
he could indeed not foresee all the problems he would have to
solve. He instinctively understood, however, by what means that
conflict would have to be conducted by the government of a
democracy. He knew that the impending war, whether great or
small, would not be like a foreign war, exciting a united
national enthusiasm, but a civil war, likely to fan to uncommon
heat the animosities of party even in the localities controlled
by the government; that this war would have to be carried on not
by means of a ready-made machinery, ruled by an undisputed,
absolute will, but by means to be furnished by the voluntary
action of the people:--armies to be formed by voluntary
enlistments; large sums of money to be raised by the people,
through representatives, voluntarily taxing themselves; trust of
extraordinary power to be voluntarily granted; and war measures,
not seldom restricting the rights and liberties to which the
citizen was accustomed, to be voluntarily accepted and submitted
to by the people, or at least a large majority of them; and that
this would have to be kept up not merely during a short period of
enthusiastic excitement; but possibly through weary years of
alternating success and disaster, hope and despondency. He knew
that in order to steer this government by public opinion
successfully through all the confusion created by the prejudices
and doubts and differences of sentiment distracting the popular
mind, and so to propitiate, inspire, mould, organize, unite, and
guide the popular will that it might give forth all the means
required for the performance of his great task, he would have to
take into account all the influences strongly affecting the
current of popular thought and feeling, and to direct while
appearing to obey.

This was the kind of leadership he intuitively conceived to be
needed when a free people were to be led forward en masse to
overcome a great common danger under circumstances of appalling
difficulty, the leadership which does not dash ahead with
brilliant daring, no matter who follows, but which is intent upon
rallying all the available forces, gathering in the stragglers,
closing up the column, so that the front may advance well
supported. For this leadership Abraham Lincoln was admirably
fitted, better than any other American statesman of his day; for
he understood the plain people, with all their loves and hates,
their prejudices and their noble impulses, their weaknesses and
their strength, as he understood himself, and his sympathetic
nature was apt to draw their sympathy to him.

His inaugural address foreshadowed his official course in
characteristic manner. Although yielding nothing in point of
principle, it was by no means a flaming antislavery manifesto,
such as would have pleased the more ardent Republicans. It was
rather the entreaty of a sorrowing father speaking to his wayward
children. In the kindliest language he pointed out to the
secessionists how ill advised their attempt at disunion was, and
why, for their own sakes, they should desist. Almost
plaintively, he told them that, while it was not their duty to
destroy the Union, it was his sworn duty to preserve it; that the
least he could do, under the obligations of his oath, was to
possess and hold the property of the United States; that he hoped
to do this peaceably; that he abhorred war for any purpose, and
that they would have none unless they themselves were the
aggressors. It was a masterpiece of persuasiveness, and while
Lincoln had accepted many valuable amendments suggested by
Seward, it was essentially his own. Probably Lincoln himself did
not expect his inaugural address to have any effect upon the
secessionists, for he must have known them to be resolved upon
disunion at any cost. But it was an appeal to the wavering minds
in the North, and upon them it made a profound impression. Every
candid man, however timid and halting, had to admit that the
President was bound by his oath to do his duty; that under that
oath he could do no less than he said he would do; that if the
secessionists resisted such an appeal as the President had made,
they were bent upon mischief, and that the government must be
supported against them. The partisan sympathy with the Southern
insurrection which still existed in the North did indeed not
disappear, but it diminished perceptibly under the influence of
such reasoning. Those who still resisted it did so at the risk
of appearing unpatriotic.

It must not be supposed, however, that Lincoln at once succeeded
in pleasing everybody, even among his friends,--even among those
nearest to him. In selecting his cabinet, which he did
substantially before he left Springfield for Washington, he
thought it wise to call to his assistance the strong men of his
party, especially those who had given evidence of the support
they commanded as his competitors in the Chicago convention. In
them he found at the same time representatives of the different
shades of opinion within the party, and of the different
elements--former Whigs and former Democrats--from which the party
had recruited itself. This was sound policy under the
circumstances. It might indeed have been foreseen that among the
members of a cabinet so composed, troublesome disagreements and
rivalries would break out. But it was better for the President
to have these strong and ambitious men near him as his co-
operators than to have them as his critics in Congress, where
their differences might have been composed in a common opposition
to him. As members of his cabinet he could hope to control them,
and to keep them busily employed in the service of a common
purpose, if he had the strength to do so. Whether he did possess
this strength was soon tested by a singularly rude trial.

There can be no doubt that the foremost members of his cabinet,
Seward and Chase, the most eminent Republican statesmen, had felt
themselves wronged by their party when in its national convention
it preferred to them for the Presidency a man whom, not
unnaturally, they thought greatly their inferior in ability and
experience as well as in service. The soreness of that
disappointment was intensified when they saw this Western man in
the White House, with so much of rustic manner and speech as
still clung to him, meeting his fellow-citizens, high and low, on
a footing of equality, with the simplicity of his good nature
unburdened by any conventional dignity of deportment, and dealing
with the great business of state in an easy-going, unmethodical,
and apparently somewhat irreverent way. They did not understand
such a man. Especially Seward, who, as Secretary of State,
considered himself next to the Chief Executive, and who quickly
accustomed himself to giving orders and making arrangements upon
his own motion, thought it necessary that he should rescue the
direction of public affairs from hands so unskilled, and take
full charge of them himself. At the end of the first month of
the administration he submitted a "memorandum" to President
Lincoln, which has been first brought to light by Nicolay and
Hay, and is one of their most valuable contributions to the
history of those days. In that paper Seward actually told the
President that at the end of a month's administration the
government was still without a policy, either domestic or
foreign; that the slavery question should be eliminated from the
struggle about the Union; that the matter of the maintenance of
the forts and other possessions in the South should be decided
with that view; that explanations should be demanded
categorically from the governments of Spain and France, which
were then preparing, one for the annexation of San Domingo, and
both for the invasion of Mexico; that if no satisfactory
explanations were received war should be declared against Spain
and France by the United States; that explanations should also be
sought from Russia and Great Britain, and a vigorous continental
spirit of independence against European intervention be aroused
all over the American continent; that this policy should be
incessantly pursued and directed by somebody; that either the
President should devote himself entirely to it, or devolve the
direction on some member of his cabinet, whereupon all debate on
this policy must end.

This could be understood only as a formal demand that the
President should acknowledge his own incompetency to perform his
duties, content himself with the amusement of distributing post-
offices, and resign his power as to all important affairs into
the hands of his Secretary of State. It seems to-day
incomprehensible how a statesman of Seward's calibre could at
that period conceive a plan of policy in which the slavery
question had no place; a policy which rested upon the utterly
delusive assumption that the secessionists, who had already
formed their Southern Confederacy and were with stern resolution
preparing to fight for its independence, could be hoodwinked back
into the Union by some sentimental demonstration against European
interference; a policy which, at that critical moment, would have
involved the Union in a foreign war, thus inviting foreign
intervention in favor of the Southern Confederacy, and increasing
tenfold its chances in the struggle for independence. But it is
equally incomprehensible how Seward could fail to see that this
demand of an unconditional surrender was a mortal insult to the
head of the government, and that by putting his proposition on
paper he delivered himself into the hands of the very man he had
insulted; for, had Lincoln, as most Presidents would have done,
instantly dismissed Seward, and published the true reason for
that dismissal, it would inevitably have been the end of Seward's
career. But Lincoln did what not many of the noblest and
greatest men in history would have been noble and great enough to
do. He considered that Seward was still capable of rendering
great service to his country in the place in which he was, if
rightly controlled. He ignored the insult, but firmly
established his superiority. In his reply, which he forthwith
despatched, he told Seward that the administration had a domestic
policy as laid down in the inaugural address with Seward's
approval; that it had a foreign policy as traced in Seward's
despatches with the President's approval; that if any policy was
to be maintained or changed, he, the President, was to direct
that on his responsibility; and that in performing that duty the
President had a right to the advice of his secretaries. Seward's
fantastic schemes of foreign war and continental policies Lincoln
brushed aside by passing them over in silence. Nothing more was
said. Seward must have felt that he was at the mercy of a
superior man; that his offensive proposition had been generously
pardoned as a temporary aberration of a great mind, and that he
could atone for it only by devoted personal loyalty. This he
did. He was thoroughly subdued, and thenceforth submitted to
Lincoln his despatches for revision and amendment without a
murmur. The war with European nations was no longer thought of;
the slavery question found in due time its proper place in the
struggle for the Union; and when, at a later period, the
dismissal of Seward was demanded by dissatisfied senators, who
attributed to him the shortcomings of the administration, Lincoln
stood stoutly by his faithful Secretary of State.

Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, a man of superb presence,
of eminent ability and ardent patriotism, of great natural
dignity and a certain outward coldness of manner, which made him
appear more difficult of approach than he really was, did not
permit his disappointment to burst out in such extravagant
demonstrations. But Lincoln's ways were so essentially different
from his that they never became quite intelligible, and certainly
not congenial to him. It might, perhaps, have been better had
there been, at the beginning of the administration, some decided
clash between Lincoln and Chase, as there was between Lincoln and
Seward, to bring on a full mutual explanation, and to make Chase
appreciate the real seriousness of Lincoln's nature. But, as it
was, their relations always remained somewhat formal, and Chase
never felt quite at ease under a chief whom he could not
understand, and whose character and powers he never learned to
esteem at their true value. At the same time, he devoted himself
zealously to the duties of his department, and did the country
arduous service under circumstances of extreme difficulty.
Nobody recognized this more heartily than Lincoln himself, and
they managed to work together until near the end of Lincoln's
first Presidential term, when Chase, after some disagreements
concerning appointments to office, resigned from the treasury;
and, after Taney's death, the President made him Chief Justice.

The rest of the cabinet consisted of men of less eminence, who
subordinated themselves more easily. In January, 1862, Lincoln
found it necessary to bow Cameron out of the war office, and to
put in his place Edwin M. Stanton, a man of intensely practical
mind, vehement impulses, fierce positiveness, ruthless energy,
immense working power, lofty patriotism, and severest devotion to
duty. He accepted the war office not as a partisan, for he had
never been a Republican, but only to do all he could in "helping
to save the country." The manner in which Lincoln succeeded in
taming this lion to his will, by frankly recognizing his great
qualities, by giving him the most generous confidence, by aiding
him in his work to the full of his power, by kindly concession or
affectionate persuasiveness in cases of differing opinions, or,
when it was necessary, by firm assertions of superior authority,
bears the highest testimony to his skill in the management of
men. Stanton, who had entered the service with rather a mean
opinion of Lincoln's character and capacity, became one of his
warmest, most devoted, and most admiring friends, and with none
of his secretaries was Lincoln's intercourse more intimate. To
take advice with candid readiness, and to weigh it without any
pride of his own opinion, was one of Lincoln's preeminent
virtues; but he had not long presided over his cabinet council
when his was felt by all its members to be the ruling mind.

The cautious policy foreshadowed in his inaugural address, and
pursued during the first period of the civil war, was far from
satisfying all his party friends. The ardent spirits among the
Union men thought that the whole North should at once be called
to arms, to crush the rebellion by one powerful blow. The ardent
spirits among the antislavery men insisted that, slavery having
brought forth the rebellion, this powerful blow should at once be
aimed at slavery. Both complained that the administration was
spiritless, undecided, and lamentably slow in its proceedings.
Lincoln reasoned otherwise. The ways of thinking and feeling of
the masses, of the plain people, were constantly present to his
mind. The masses, the plain people, had to furnish the men for
the fighting, if fighting was to be done. He believed that the
plain people would be ready to fight when it clearly appeared
necessary, and that they would feel that necessity when they felt
themselves attacked. He therefore waited until the enemies of
the Union struck the first blow. As soon as, on the 12th of
April, 1861, the first gun was fired in Charleston harbor on the
Union flag upon Fort Sumter, the call was sounded, and the
Northern people rushed to arms.

Lincoln knew that the plain people were now indeed ready to fight
in defence of the Union, but not yet ready to fight for the
destruction of slavery. He declared openly that he had a right
to summon the people to fight for the Union, but not to summon
them to fight for the abolition of slavery as a primary object;
and this declaration gave him numberless soldiers for the Union
who at that period would have hesitated to do battle against the
institution of slavery. For a time he succeeded in rendering
harmless the cry of the partisan opposition that the Republican
administration were perverting the war for the Union into an
"abolition war." But when he went so far as to countermand the
acts of some generals in the field, looking to the emancipation
of the slaves in the districts covered by their commands, loud
complaints arose from earnest antislavery men, who accused the
President of turning his back upon the antislavery cause. Many
of these antislavery men will now, after a calm retrospect, be
willing to admit that it would have been a hazardous policy to
endanger, by precipitating a demonstrative fight against slavery,
the success of the struggle for the Union.

Lincoln's views and feelings concerning slavery had not changed.
Those who conversed with him intimately upon the subject at that
period know that he did not expect slavery long to survive the
triumph of the Union, even if it were not immediately destroyed
by the war. In this he was right. Had the Union armies achieved
a decisive victory in an early period of the conflict, and had
the seceded States been received back with slavery, the "slave
power" would then have been a defeated power, defeated in an
attempt to carry out its most effective threat. It would have
lost its prestige. Its menaces would have been hollow sound, and
ceased to make any one afraid. It could no longer have hoped to
expand, to maintain an equilibrium in any branch of Congress, and
to control the government. The victorious free States would have
largely overbalanced it. It would no longer have been able to
withstand the onset of a hostile age. It could no longer have
ruled,--and slavery had to rule in order to live. It would have
lingered for a while, but it would surely have been "in the
course of ultimate extinction." A prolonged war precipitated the
destruction of slavery; a short war might only have prolonged its
death struggle. Lincoln saw this clearly; but he saw also that,
in a protracted death struggle, it might still have kept disloyal
sentiments alive, bred distracting commotions, and caused great
mischief to the country. He therefore hoped that slavery would
not survive the war.

But the question how he could rightfully employ his power to
bring on its speedy destruction was to him not a question of mere
sentiment. He himself set forth his reasoning upon it, at a
later period, in one of his inimitable letters. "I am naturally
antislavery," said he. "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is
wrong. I cannot remember the time when I did not so think and
feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency
conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act upon that judgment
and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best
of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of
the United States. I could not take the office without taking
the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get
power, and break the oath in using that power. I understood,
too, that, in ordinary civil administration, this oath even
forbade me practically to indulge my private abstract judgment on
the moral question of slavery. I did understand, however, also,
that my oath imposed upon me the duty of preserving, to the best
of my ability, by every indispensable means, that government,
that nation, of which the Constitution was the organic law. I
could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I had even tied
to preserve the Constitution--if, to save slavery, or any minor
matter, I should permit the wreck of government, country, and
Constitution all together." In other words, if the salvation of
the government, the Constitution, and the Union demanded the
destruction of slavery, he felt it to be not only his right, but
his sworn duty to destroy it. Its destruction became a necessity
of the war for the Union.

As the war dragged on and disaster followed disaster, the sense
of that necessity steadily grew upon him. Early in 1862, as some
of his friends well remember, he saw, what Seward seemed not to
see, that to give the war for the Union an antislavery character
was the surest means to prevent the recognition of the Southern
Confederacy as an independent nation by European powers; that,
slavery being abhorred by the moral sense of civilized mankind,
no European government would dare to offer so gross an insult to
the public opinion of its people as openly to favor the creation
of a state founded upon slavery to the prejudice of an existing
nation fighting against slavery. He saw also that slavery
untouched was to the rebellion an element of power, and that in
order to overcome that power it was necessary to turn it into an
element of weakness. Still, he felt no assurance that the plain
people were prepared for so radical a measure as the emancipation
of the slaves by act of the government, and he anxiously
considered that, if they were not, this great step might, by
exciting dissension at the North, injure the cause of the Union
in one quarter more than it would help it in another. He
heartily welcomed an effort made in New York to mould and
stimulate public sentiment on the slavery question by public
meetings boldly pronouncing for emancipation. At the same time
he himself cautiously advanced with a recommendation, expressed
in a special message to Congress, that the United States should
co-operate with any State which might adopt the gradual
abolishment of slavery, giving such State pecuniary aid to
compensate the former owners of emancipated slaves. The
discussion was started, and spread rapidly. Congress adopted the
resolution recommended, and soon went a step farther in passing a
bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. The plain
people began to look at emancipation on a larger scale as a thing
to be considered seriously by patriotic citizens; and soon
Lincoln thought that the time was ripe, and that the edict of
freedom could be ventured upon without danger of serious
confusion in the Union ranks.

The failure of McClellan's movement upon Richmond increased
immensely the prestige of the enemy. The need of some great act
to stimulate the vitality of the Union cause seemed to grow daily
more pressing. On July 21, 1862, Lincoln surprised his cabinet
with the draught of a proclamation declaring free the slaves in
all the States that should be still in rebellion against the
United States on the 1st of January,1863. As to the matter
itself he announced that he had fully made up his mind; he
invited advice only concerning the form and the time of
publication. Seward suggested that the proclamation, if then
brought out, amidst disaster and distress, would sound like the
last shriek of a perishing cause. Lincoln accepted the
suggestion, and the proclamation was postponed. Another defeat
followed, the second at Bull Run. But when, after that battle,
the Confederate army, under Lee, crossed the Potomac and invaded
Maryland, Lincoln vowed in his heart that, if the Union army were
now blessed with success, the decree of freedom should surely be
issued. The victory of Antietam was won on September 17, and the
preliminary Emancipation Proclamation came forth on the a 22d.
It was Lincoln's own resolution and act; but practically it bound
the nation, and permitted no step backward. In spite of its
limitations, it was the actual abolition of slavery. Thus he
wrote his name upon the books of history with the title dearest
to his heart, the liberator of the slave.

It is true, the great proclamation, which stamped the war as one
for "union and freedom," did not at once mark the turning of the
tide on the field of military operations. There were more
disasters, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. But with
Gettysburg and Vicksburg the whole aspect of the war changed.
Step by step, now more slowly, then more rapidly, but with
increasing steadiness, the flag of the Union advanced from field
to field toward the final consummation. The decree of
emancipation was naturally followed by the enlistment of
emancipated negroes in the Union armies. This measure had a
anther reaching effect than merely giving the Union armies an
increased supply of men. The laboring force of the rebellion was
hopelessly disorganized. The war became like a problem of
arithmetic. As the Union armies pushed forward, the area from
which the Southern Confederacy could draw recruits and supplies
constantly grew smaller, while the area from which the Union
recruited its strength constantly grew larger; and everywhere,
even within the Southern lines, the Union had its allies. The
fate of the rebellion was then virtually decided; but it still
required much bloody work to convince the brave warriors who
fought for it that they were really beaten.

Neither did the Emancipation Proclamation forthwith command
universal assent among the people who were loyal to the Union.
There were even signs of a reaction against the administration in
the fall elections of 1862, seemingly justifying the opinion,
entertained by many, that the President had really anticipated
the development of popular feeling. The cry that the war for the
Union had been turned into an "abolition war" was raised again by
the opposition, and more loudly than ever. But the good sense
and patriotic instincts of the plain people gradually marshalled
themselves on Lincoln's side, and he lost no opportunity to help
on this process by personal argument and admonition. There never
has been a President in such constant and active contact with the
public opinion of the country, as there never has been a
President who, while at the head of the government, remained so
near to the people. Beyond the circle of those who had long
known him the feeling steadily grew that the man in the White
House was "honest Abe Lincoln" still, and that every citizen
might approach him with complaint, expostulation, or advice,
without danger of meeting a rebuff from power-proud authority, or
humiliating condescension; and this privilege was used by so many
and with such unsparing freedom that only superhuman patience
could have endured it all. There are men now living who would
to-day read with amazement, if not regret, what they ventured to
say or write to him. But Lincoln repelled no one whom he
believed to speak to him in good faith and with patriotic
purpose. No good advice would go unheeded. No candid criticism
would offend him. No honest opposition, while it might pain him,
would produce a lasting alienation of feeling between him and the
opponent. It may truly be said that few men in power have ever
been exposed to more daring attempts to direct their course, to
severer censure of their acts, and to more cruel
misrepresentation of their motives: And all this he met with that
good-natured humor peculiarly his own, and with untiring effort
to see the right and to impress it upon those who differed from
him. The conversations he had and the correspondence he carried
on upon matters of public interest, not only with men in official
position, but with private citizens, were almost unceasing, and
in a large number of public letters, written ostensibly to
meetings, or committees, or persons of importance, he addressed
himself directly to the popular mind. Most of these letters
stand among the finest monuments of our political literature.
Thus he presented the singular spectacle of a President who, in
the midst of a great civil war, with unprecedented duties
weighing upon him, was constantly in person debating the great
features of his policy with the people.

While in this manner he exercised an ever-increasing influence
upon the popular understanding, his sympathetic nature endeared
him more and more to the popular heart. In vain did journals and
speakers of the opposition represent him as a lightminded
trifler, who amused himself with frivolous story-telling and
coarse jokes, while the blood of the people was flowing in
streams. The people knew that the man at the head of affairs, on
whose haggard face the twinkle of humor so frequently changed
into an expression of profoundest sadness, was more than any
other deeply distressed by the suffering he witnessed; that he
felt the pain of every wound that was inflicted on the
battlefield, and the anguish of every woman or child who had lost
husband or father; that whenever he could he was eager to
alleviate sorrow, and that his mercy was never implored in vain.
They looked to him as one who was with them and of them in all
their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, who laughed with
them and wept with them; and as his heart was theirs; so their
hearts turned to him. His popularity was far different from that
of Washington, who was revered with awe, or that of Jackson, the
unconquerable hero, for whom party enthusiasm never grew weary of
shouting. To Abraham Lincoln the people became bound by a
genuine sentimental attachment. It was not a matter of respect,
or confidence, or party pride, for this feeling spread far beyond
the boundary lines of his party; it was an affair of the heart,
independent of mere reasoning. When the soldiers in the field or
their folks at home spoke of "Father Abraham," there was no cant
in it. They felt that their President was really caring for them
as a father would, and that they could go to him, every one of
them, as they would go to a father, and talk to him of what
troubled them, sure to find a willing ear and tender sympathy.
Thus, their President, and his cause, and his endeavors, and his
success gradually became to them almost matters of family
concern. And this popularity carried him triumphantly through
the Presidential election of 1864, in spite of an opposition
within his own party which at first seemed very formidable.

Many of the radical antislavery men were never quite satisfied
with Lincoln's ways of meeting the problems of the time. They
were very earnest and mostly very able men, who had positive
ideas as to "how this rebellion should be put down." They would
not recognize the necessity of measuring the steps of the
government according to the progress of opinion among the plain
people. They criticised Lincoln's cautious management as
irresolute, halting, lacking in definite purpose and in energy;
he should not have delayed emancipation so long; he should not
have confided important commands to men of doubtful views as to
slavery; he should have authorized military commanders to set the
slaves free as they went on; he dealt too leniently with
unsuccessful generals; he should have put down all factious
opposition with a strong hand instead of trying to pacify it; he
should have given the people accomplished facts instead of
arguing with them, and so on. It is true, these criticisms were
not always entirely unfounded. Lincoln's policy had, with the
virtues of democratic government, some of its weaknesses, which
in the presence of pressing exigencies were apt to deprive
governmental action of the necessary vigor; and his kindness of
heart, his disposition always to respect the feelings of others,
frequently made him recoil from anything like severity, even when
severity was urgently called for. But many of his radical
critics have since then revised their judgment sufficiently to
admit that Lincoln's policy was, on the whole, the wisest and
safest; that a policy of heroic methods, while it has sometimes
accomplished great results, could in a democracy like ours be
maintained only by constant success; that it would have quickly
broken down under the weight of disaster; that it might have been
successful from the start, had the Union, at the beginning of the
conflict, had its Grants and Shermans and Sheridans, its
Farraguts and Porters, fully matured at the head of its forces;
but that, as the great commanders had to be evolved slowly from
the developments of the war, constant success could not be
counted upon, and it was best to follow a policy which was in
friendly contact with the popular force, and therefore more fit
to stand trial of misfortune on the battlefield. But at that
period they thought differently, and their dissatisfaction with
Lincoln's doings was greatly increased by the steps he took
toward the reconstruction of rebel States then partially in
possession of the Union forces.

In December, 1863, Lincoln issued an amnesty proclamation,
offering pardon to all implicated in the rebellion, with certain
specified exceptions, on condition of their taking and
maintaining an oath to support the Constitution and obey the laws
of the United States and the proclamations of the President with
regard to slaves; and also promising that when, in any of the
rebel States, a number of citizens equal to one tenth of the
voters in 1860 should re-establish a state government in
conformity with the oath above mentioned, such should be
recognized by the Executive as the true government of the State.
The proclamation seemed at first to be received with general
favor. But soon another scheme of reconstruction, much more
stringent in its provisions, was put forward in the House of
Representatives by Henry Winter Davis. Benjamin Wade championed
it in the Senate. It passed in the closing moments of the
session in July, 1864, and Lincoln, instead of making it a law by
his signature, embodied the text of it in a proclamation as a
plan of reconstruction worthy of being earnestly considered. The
differences of opinion concerning this subject had only
intensified the feeling against Lincoln which had long been
nursed among the radicals, and some of them openly declared their
purpose of resisting his re-election to the Presidency. Similar
sentiments were manifested by the advanced antislavery men of
Missouri, who, in their hot faction-fight with the
"conservatives" of that State, had not received from Lincoln the
active support they demanded. Still another class of Union men,
mainly in the East, gravely shook their heads when considering
the question whether Lincoln should be re-elected. They were
those who cherished in their minds an ideal of statesmanship and
of personal bearing in high office with which, in their opinion,
Lincoln's individuality was much out of accord. They were
shocked when they heard him cap an argument upon grave affairs of
state with a story about "a man out in Sangamon County,"--a
story, to be sure, strikingly clinching his point, but sadly
lacking in dignity. They could not understand the man who was
capable, in opening a cabinet meeting, of reading to his
secretaries a funny chapter from a recent book of Artemus Ward,
with which in an unoccupied moment he had relieved his care-
burdened mind, and who then solemnly informed the executive
council that he had vowed in his heart to issue a proclamation
emancipating the slaves as soon as God blessed the Union arms
with another victory. They were alarmed at the weakness of a
President who would indeed resist the urgent remonstrances of
statesmen against his policy, but could not resist the prayer of
an old woman for the pardon of a soldier who was sentenced to be
shot for desertion. Such men, mostly sincere and ardent
patriots, not only wished, but earnestly set to work, to prevent
Lincoln's renomination. Not a few of them actually believed, in
1863, that, if the national convention of the Union party were
held then, Lincoln would not be supported by the delegation of a
single State. But when the convention met at Baltimore, in June,
1864, the voice of the people was heard. On the first ballot
Lincoln received the votes of the delegations from all the States
except Missouri; and even the Missourians turned over their votes
to him before the result of the ballot was declared.

But even after his renomination the opposition to Lincoln within
the ranks of the Union party did not subside. A convention,
called by the dissatisfied radicals in Missouri, and favored by
men of a similar way of thinking in other States, had been held
already in May, and had nominated as its candidate for the
Presidency General Fremont. He, indeed, did not attract a strong
following, but opposition movements from different quarters
appeared more formidable. Henry Winter Davis and Benjamin Wade
assailed Lincoln in a flaming manifesto. Other Union men, of
undoubted patriotism and high standing, persuaded themselves, and
sought to persuade the people, that Lincoln's renomination was
ill advised and dangerous to the Union cause. As the Democrats
had put off their convention until the 29th of August, the Union
party had, during the larger part of the summer, no opposing
candidate and platform to attack, and the political campaign
languished. Neither were the tidings from the theatre of war of
a cheering character. The terrible losses suffered by Grant's
army in the battles of the Wilderness spread general gloom.
Sherman seemed for a while to be in a precarious position before
Atlanta. The opposition to Lincoln within the Union party grew
louder in its complaints and discouraging predictions. Earnest
demands were heard that his candidacy should be withdrawn.
Lincoln himself, not knowing how strongly the masses were
attached to him, was haunted by dark forebodings of defeat. Then
the scene suddenly changed as if by magic.

The Democrats, in their national convention, declared the war a
failure, demanded, substantially, peace at any price, and
nominated on such a platform General McClellan as their
candidate. Their convention had hardly adjourned when the
capture of Atlanta gave a new aspect to the military situation.
It was like a sun-ray bursting through a dark cloud. The rank
and file of the Union party rose with rapidly growing enthusiasm.
The song "We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand
strong," resounded all over the land. Long before the decisive
day arrived, the result was beyond doubt, and Lincoln was re-
elected President by overwhelming majorities. The election over
even his severest critics found themselves forced to admit that
Lincoln was the only possible candidate for the Union party in
1864, and that neither political combinations nor campaign
speeches, nor even victories in the field, were needed to insure
his success. The plain people had all the while been satisfied
with Abraham Lincoln: they confided in him; they loved him; they
felt themselves near to him; they saw personified in him the
cause of Union and freedom; and they went to the ballot-box for
him in their strength.

The hour of triumph called out the characteristic impulses of his
nature. The opposition within the Union party had stung him to
the quick. Now he had his opponents before him, baffled and
humiliated. Not a moment did he lose to stretch out the hand of
friendship to all. "Now that the election is over," he said, in
response to a serenade, "may not all, having a common interest,
reunite in a common effort to save our common country? For my own
part, I have striven, and will strive, to place no obstacle in
the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly
planted a thorn in any man's bosom. While I am deeply sensible
to the high compliment of a re-election, it adds nothing to my
satisfaction that any other man may be pained or disappointed by
the result. May I ask those who were with me to join with me in
the same spirit toward those who were against me?" This was
Abraham Lincoln's character as tested in the furnace of

The war was virtually decided, but not yet ended. Sherman was
irresistibly carrying the Union flag through the South. Grant
had his iron hand upon the ramparts of Richmond. The days of the
Confederacy were evidently numbered. Only the last blow remained
to be struck. Then Lincoln's second inauguration came, and with
it his second inaugural address. Lincoln's famous "Gettysburg
speech "has been much and justly admired. But far greater, as
well as far more characteristic, was that inaugural in which he
poured out the whole devotion and tenderness of his great soul.
It had all the solemnity of a father's last admonition and
blessing to his children before he lay down to die. These were
its closing words: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that
this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God
wills that it continue until all the wealth piled up by the
bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be
sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be
paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand
years ago, so still it must be said, `The judgments of the Lord
are true and righteous altogether.' With malice toward none,
with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us
to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to
bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne
the battle, and for his widow and his orphan; to do all which may
achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and
with all nations."

This was like a sacred poem. No American President had ever
spoken words like these to the American people. America never
had a President who found such words in the depth of his heart.

Now followed the closing scenes of the war. The Southern armies
fought bravely to the last, but all in vain. Richmond fell.
Lincoln himself entered the city on foot, accompanied only by a
few officers and a squad of sailors who had rowed him ashore from
the flotilla in the James River, a negro picked up on the way
serving as a guide. Never had the world seen a more modest
conqueror and a more characteristic triumphal procession, no army
with banners and drums, only a throng of those who had been
slaves, hastily run together, escorting the victorious chief into
the capital of the vanquished foe. We are told that they pressed
around him, kissed his hands and his garments, and shouted and
danced for joy, while tears ran down the President's care-
furrowed cheeks.

A few days more brought the surrender of Lee's army, and peace
was assured. The people of the North were wild with joy.
Everywhere festive guns were booming, bells pealing, the churches
ringing with thanksgivings, and jubilant multitudes thronging the
thoroughfares, when suddenly the news flashed over the land that
Abraham Lincoln had been murdered. The people were stunned by
the blow. Then a wail of sorrow went up such as America had
never heard before. Thousands of Northern households grieved as
if they had lost their dearest member. Many a Southern man cried
out in his heart that his people had been robbed of their best
friend in their humiliation and distress, when Abraham Lincoln
was struck down. It was as if the tender affection which his
countrymen bore him had inspired all nations with a common
sentiment. All civilized mankind stood mourning around the
coffin of the dead President. Many of those, here and abroad,
who not long before had ridiculed and reviled him were among the
first to hasten on with their flowers of eulogy, and in that
universal chorus of lamentation and praise there was not a voice
that did not tremble with genuine emotion. Never since
Washington's death had there been such unanimity of judgment as
to a man's virtues and greatness; and even Washington's death,
although his name was held in greater reverence, did not touch so
sympathetic a chord in the people's hearts.

Nor can it be said that this was owing to the tragic character of
Lincoln's end. It is true, the death of this gentlest and most
merciful of rulers by the hand of a mad fanatic was well apt to
exalt him beyond his merits in the estimation of those who loved
him, and to make his renown the object of peculiarly tender
solicitude. But it is also true that the verdict pronounced upon
him in those days has been affected little by time, and that
historical inquiry has served rather to increase than to lessen
the appreciation of his virtues, his abilities, his services.
Giving the fullest measure of credit to his great ministers,--to
Seward for his conduct of foreign affairs, to Chase for the
management of the finances under terrible difficulties, to
Stanton for the performance of his tremendous task as war
secretary,--and readily acknowledging that without the skill and
fortitude of the great commanders, and the heroism of the
soldiers and sailors under them, success could not have been
achieved, the historian still finds that Lincoln's judgment and
will were by no means governed by those around him; that the most
important steps were owing to his initiative; that his was the
deciding and directing mind; and that it was pre-eminently he
whose sagacity and whose character enlisted for the
administration in its struggles the countenance, the sympathy,
and the support of the people. It is found, even, that his
judgment on military matters was astonishingly acute, and that
the advice and instructions he gave to the generals commanding in
the field would not seldom have done honor to the ablest of them.
History, therefore, without overlooking, or palliating, or
excusing any of his shortcomings or mistakes, continues to place
him foremost among the saviours of the Union and the liberators
of the slave. More than that, it awards to him the merit of
having accomplished what but few political philosophers would
have recognized as possible,--of leading the republic through
four years of furious civil conflict without any serious
detriment to its free institutions.

He was, indeed, while President, violently denounced by the


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