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No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of man than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.
The labor of the country constitutes its strength and its wealth, and the better that labor is conditioned the higher its rewards, the wider its opportunities, and the greater its comforts and refinements, the more sacred will be our homes, the more capable will be our children and the nobler will be the destiny that awaits us.
The first duty of a nation is to enact those laws which will give to its citizens the widest opportunity for labor and the best rewards for work done. You cannot have the best citizenship without these encouragements, and with us the best citizenship is required to secure the best government, the best laws and their wise administration.
An open schoolhouse, free to all, evidences the highest type of advanced civilization. It is the gateway to progress, prosperity and honor and the best security for the liberties and independence of the people. It is the strongest rock of the foundation, the most enduring stone of the temple of liberty—ay, the very citadel of our influence and power. It is better than garrison and guns, than forts and fleets.
Peace, order and good-will among the people, with patriotism in their hearts, truth, honor and justice in the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the government, municipal, state and national; all yielding respect and obedience to law, all equal before the law and all alike amenable to law—such are the conditions that will make our government too strong even to be broken by internal dissensions and too powerful even to be overturned by any enemy from without.
Mr. President, Gentlemen of the Marquette Club and My Fellow-Citizens :
It requires the most gracious pages in the world's history to record what one American achieved. The story of this simple life is the story of a plain, honest, manly citizen, true patriot, and profound statesmen, who, believing with all the strength of his mighty soul in the institutions of his country, won because of them the highest place in its governmentthen fell a precious sacrifice to the union he held so dear, which Providence had spared his life long enough to save.
We meet tonight to do honor to this immortal hero, Abraham Lincoln, whose achievements have heightened human aspirations and broadened the field of opportunity to the races of men. While the party with which we stand, and for which he stood, can justly claim him, and without dispute can boast the distinction of being the first to honor and trust him, his fame has leaped the bounds of party and country, and now belongs to mankind and the ages.
What were the traits of character which made Abraham Lincoln prophet and master, without a rival, in the greatest crisis in our history? What gave him such mighty power? To me the answer is simple: Lincoln had sublime faith in the people. He walked with and among them. He recognized the importance and power of an enlightened public sentiment and was guided by it. Even amid the vicissitudes of war he concealed little from public review and inspection. In all he did he invited, rather than evaded, examination and criticism. He submitted his plans and purposes, as far as practicable, to public consideration with perfect frankness and sincerity. There was such homely simplicity in his character that it could not be hedged in by the pomp of place nor the ceremonies of high official station. He was so accessible to the public that he seemed to take the whole people into his confidence. Here, perhaps, was one secret of his power. The people never lost their confidence in him, however much they unconsciously added to his personal discomfort and trials. His patience was almost superhuman, and who will say that he was mistaken in his treatment of the thousands who thronged continually
HE DISDAINED NO HUMAN BEING
about him? More than once when reproached for permitting visitors to crowd upon him he asked, in pained surprise: “Why, what harm does this confidence in men do me? I get only good and inspiration from it.“
HE DISDAINED NO HUMAN BEING. Horace Greeley once said: “I doubt whether man, woman or child, white or black, bond or free, virtuous or vicious, ever accosted or reached forth a hand to Abraham Lincoln and detected in his countenance or manner any repugnance or shrinking from the proffered contact, any assumption of superiority or betrayal of disdain.”
Frederick Douglass, the orator and patriot, is credited with saying: "Mr. Lincoln is the only white man with whom I have ever talked, or in whose presence I have ever been, who did not, consciously or unconsciously, betray to me that he recognized my color.”
George Bancroft, the historian, alluding to this characteristic, which was never so conspicuously manifested as during the darker hours of the war, beautifully illustrated it in these memorable words: “As a child, in a dark night, on a rugged way, catches hold of the hand of its father for guidance and support, Lincoln clung fast to the hand of the people and moved calmly through the gloom."
His earliest public utterances were marked by this confidence. On March 9, 1832, when announcing himself as a candidate for representative in the Illinois legislature, he said that he felt it his duty to make known to the people his sentiments upon the questions of the day:
"Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition, and, whether it be true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed by my fellow-men by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition is yet to be developed. I am young and unknown to many of you. I was born and have ever remained in the humblest walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular relatives or friends to recommend me. My case is thrown exclusively upon the independent voters of the county. * * * But if the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.”
In this remarkable address—to me always pathetic-made when he was only 23, the main elements of Lincoln's character and the qualities which made his great career possible are revealed with startling distinctness. It expresses the experience of the noble young man of today equally as well as then. We see therein “that brave old wisdom of sincerity." that oneness in feeling with the common people, and that supreme confidence in them which formed the foundation of his political faith.
A DEMOCRAT, LIKE FRANKLIN. Among the statesmen of America, Lincoln is the true democrat; and, Franklin perhaps excepted, the first great one. He had no illustrious ancestry, no inherited place or wealth, and none of the prestige, power, training or culture which were assured to the gentry or landed classes, of our own colonial times. Nor did Lincoln believe that these classes respectable and patriotic however they might be, should, as a matter of abstract right, have the controlling influence in our government. Instead, he believed in the all-pervading power of public opinion.
Lincoln had little or no instruction in the common school; but, as the eminent Dr. Cuyler has said, he was graduated from "the grand college of free labor, whose works were the flat boat, the farm and the backwoods lawyer's office.” He had a broad comprehension of the central idea of popular government. The declaration of independence was his handbook; time and again he expressed his belief in freedom and equality. On July 1, 1854, he wrote:
"Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men. Ours began by affirming those rights. They said: 'Some men are too ignorant and vicious to share in government.' 'Probably so,' said we; ‘and by your system you would always keep them ignorant and vicious. We propose to give all a chance; and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant wiser, and all better and happier together.' We made the experiment, and the fruit is before us. Look at it! Think of it! Look at it in its aggregate grandeur, extent of country and numbers of population.”
Lincoln believed in the uplifting influences of free government, and that by giving all a chance we could get higher average results for the people than where governments are exclusive and opportunities are limited to the few. No American ever did so much as he to enlarge these opportunities, or tear down the barriers which excluded a free participation in them. In his first message to Congress, at the special session convening on July 4, 1861, he gave signal evidence of his faith in our institutions and their elevating influences in most impressive language. He said:
“It may be affirmed without extravagance that the free institutions we enjoy have developed the powers and improved the condition of our whole people beyond any example in the world. Of this we now have a striking and impressive illustration. So large an army as the government now has on foot was never before known without a soldier in it but who has taken his place there of his own free choice. [Then what followed in his message is, to me, the highest and most touching tribute ever spoken or written of our matchless volunteer army of 1861-65 by any American
statesman, soldier or citizen from that day to this.] : But more than this, there are many single regiments whose members, one and another, possess full practical knowledge of all the arts, sciences and professions, and whatever else, whether useful or elegant, is known to the world; and there is scarcely one from which there could not be selected a president, a cabinet, a congress, and perhaps a court, abundantly competent to administer the government itself.”
What a noble, self-sacrificing army of freemen he describes! The like of it mankind never saw before and will not look upon soon again. Their service and sacrifice were not in vain—the union is stronger, freer and better than ever before because they lived, and the peace, fraternity and harmony, which Lincoln prayed might come, and which he prophesied would come, are happily here. And now that the wounds of the war are healed, may we not tonight with grateful hearts resolve, in the words of Lincoln, that we will “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
GREW STEADILY TO MEET HIS TASK.
Lincoln's antecedent life seems to have been one of unconscious preparation for the great responsibilities which were committed to hini in 1860. As one of the masses himself, and living with them, sharing their feelings and sympathizing with their daily trials, their hopes and aspirations, he was better fitted to lead them than any other man of his age. He recognizes more clearly than anyone else that the plain people he met in his daily life and knew so familiarly were, according to the dictates of justice and our theory of government, its ultimate rulers and the arbiters of its destiny. He knew this not as a theory, but from his own personal experience.
Born in poverty, and surrounded by obstacles on every hand seemingly insurmountable but for the intervening hand of Providence, Lincoln grew every year into greater and grander intellectual power and vigor. His life, until he was twelve years old, was spent either in a "half-faced camp” or cabin. Yet amid such surroundings the boy learned to read, write and cipher, to think, declaim and speak, in a manner far beyond his years and time. All his days in the school house “added together would not make a single year.” But every day of his life from infancy to manhood was a constant drill in the school of nature and experience. His study of books and newspapers was beyond that of any other person in his town or neighborhood, and perhaps of his county or section. He did not read many books, but he learned more from them than any other reader. It was strength of body as well as of mind that made Lincoln's career possible. Ill success only spurred him into making