Page images
PDF
EPUB

himself more worthy of trust and confidence. Nothing could daunt him. He might have but a single tow-linen shirt, or only one pair of jean pantaloons; he often did not know where his next dollar was to come from, but he mastered English grammar and composition, arithmetic, geometry, surveying, logic and law.

How well he mastered the art of expression is shown by the incident of the Yale professor who heard his Cooper Institute speech and called on him at his hotel to inquire where he had learned his matchless power as a public speaker. The modest country lawyer was in turn surprised to be suspected of possessing unusual talents as an orator, and could only answer that his sole training had been in the school of experience.

GREAT ORATOR AND POPULAR LEADER. Eight years' service in the Illinois legislature, two in congress, and nearly thirty years' political campaigning, in the most exciting period of American politics, gave scope for the development of his powers, and that tact, readiness, and self-reliance which were invaluable to a modest, backward man, such as Lincoln naturally was. Added to these qualities he had the genius which communizes, which puts a man on a level, not only with the highest but with the lowest of his kind. By dint of patient industry, and by using wisely his limited opportunities, he became the most popular orator, the best political manager, and the ablest leader of his party in Illinois.

But the best training he had for the presidency, after all, was his twenty-three years' arduous experience as a lawyer traveling the circuit of the courts of his district and state. Here he met in forensic contests, and frequently defeated some of the most powerful legal minds of the West. In the higher courts he won still greater distinction in the important cases committed to his charge.

With this preparation it is not surprising that Lincoln entered upon the presidency peculiarly well equipped for its vast responsibilities. His contemporaries, however, did not realize this. The leading statesmen of the country were not prepossessed in his favor. They appear to have had no conception of the remarkable powers latent beneath that uncouth and rugged exterior. It seemed to them strangely out of place that the people should at this, the greatest crisis of their history, intrust the supreme executive power of the nation to one whom they presumptuously called "this ignorant rail-splitter from the prairies of Illinois.” Many predicted failure from the beginning.

Lincoln was essentially a man of peace. He inherited from his Quaker forefathers an intense opposition to war. During his brief service in congress he found occasion more than once to express it.

He opposed the Mexican war from principle, but voted men and supplies after hotilities actually began. In one of his few speeches in the house he characterized military glory as “that rainbow that rises in showers of blood—that serpent that charms but to destroy.” When he became responsible for the welfare of the country he was none the less earnest for peace. He felt that even in the most righteous cause war is a fearful thing, and he was actuated by the feeling that it ought not to be begun except as a last resort, and then only after it had been precipitated by the enemies of the country. He said in Philadelphia, on Feb. 22, 1861:

"There is no need of bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course; and I may say in advance that there will be no bloodshed unless it is forced upon the government. The government will not use the force unless force is used against it.”

HIS RIVALS BECOME HIS MINISTERS. In the selection of his cabinet he at once showed his greatness and magnanimity. His principal rivals for the presidential nomination were invited to seats in his council chamber. No one but a great man, conscious of his own strength, would have done this. It was soon perceived that his greatness was in no sense obscured by the presence of the distinguished men who sat about him. The most gifted statesmen of the country, Seward, Chase, Cameron, Stanton, Blair, Bates, Welles, Fessenden, and Dennison, some of whom had been leaders in the senate of the United States, composed that historic cabinet, and the man who had been sneered at as “the rail-splitter” suffered nothing by such association and comparison. He was a leader in fact as well as in name.

Magnanimity was one of Linicoln's most striking traits. Patriotism moved him at every step. At the beginning of the war he placed at the head of three most important military departments three of his political opponents, Patterson, Butler and McClellan. He did not propose to make it a partisan war. He sought by every means in his power to enlist all who were patriots.

In his message of July 4, 1861, he stated his purpose in these words:

“I desire to preserve the government that it may be administered for all, as it was administered by the men who made it. On the side of the union it is a struggle to maintain in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men, lift artificial burdens from all shoulders and clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life. This is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.”

[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Many people were impatient at Lincoln's conservatism. He gave the south every chance possible. He pleaded with them with an earnestness that was pathetic. He recognized that the south was not alone to blame for the existence of slavery, but that the sin was a national one. He sought to impress upon the south that he would not use his office as president to take away from them any constitutional right, great or small.

HE PLEADED FIRST FOR PEACE.

In his inaugural he addressed the men of the south, as well as the north, as his “countrymen," one and all, and with an outburst of indescribable tenderness exclaimed: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” And then in those wondrously sweet and touching words which even yet thrill the heart, he said:

“Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

But his words were unheeded. The mighty war came with its dreadful train. Knowing no wrong, he dreaded no evil for himself. He had done all he could to save the country by peaceful means. He had entreated and expostulated, now he would do and dare. He had in words of solemn import warned the men of the south. He had appealed to their patriotism by the sacred memories of the battlefields of the revolution, on which the patriot blood of their ancestors had been so bravely shed, not to break up the union. Yet all in vain. “Both parties deprecated war; but one would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

Lincoln did all he could to avert it, but there was no hesitation on his part when the sword of rebellion flashed from its scabbard. He was from that moment until the close of his life unceasingly devoted and consecrated to the great purpose of saving the union. All other matters he regarded as trivial, and every movement, of whatever character, whether important or unimportant of itself, was bent to that end.

The world now regards with wonder the infinite patience, gentleness and kindness with which he bore the terrible burdens of that four years' struggle. Humane, forgiving and long suffering himself, he was always especially tender and considerate of the poor, and in his treatment of them was full of those "kind little acts which are of the same blood as great and holy deeds.” As Charles Sumner so well said: "With him as President, the idea of republican institutions, where no

« PreviousContinue »