Page images
PDF
EPUB

light anything connected with the president's youth and young manhood. Lincoln himself kept some record of his speeches, for side by side with his unselfish patriotism there dwelt no inconsiderable personal ambition. The political speeches in those days of the beginnings of the country lawyer's greatness had frequently a wide circulation in pamphlet form. Country newspapers were eager to adorn their pages with the rhetoric of the rising politician. A few manuscripts also are preserved. Mr. Nicolay carefully went over every step of the ground, searching old files of the Sangamo Journal and making his labor of love herculean.

The first published volume of Lincoln's speeches contained the great debates. Follett, Foster and Co. of Columbus brought out an octavo volume of 268 pages in 1860. Publishers in Boston, New York, Chicago and Detroit followed suit and the debates ran through two or three editions. A Springfield printer who had been asked by Lincoln to bring them out had considered their interest too ephemeral to warrant the venture. The Cooper institute speech in pamphlet form also received the widest publicity in 1860 and was translated in several languages including—of all tongues-Welsh.

During Lincoln's presidency his letter to Conkling, to Greeley, some to McClellan, that which dealt with the Vallandigham case, extracts giving his opinions on slavery and so forth were sent out in pamphlet form by many printers. After his death these, with the farewell to Springfield, the emancipation proclamation, the inaugurals, the Gettyburg address, the "favorite poem" and so on, were scattered broadcast. The first appearance of the Gettysburg address in book form was apparently when Little, Brown and Co. of Boston gave it a place in their edition of Edward Everett's oration at the same time and place. In New York Baker and Godwin rather patronizingly included it in their

issue of Everett's speech, without giving to the page of immortal words the dignity of mention on the title page.

Campaign lives of more or less hackneyed sort contained copious extracts from the speeches. Of the whole collection two only need be mentioned, and only one of these for its intrinsic value. William Dean Howells wrote a slight life of Lincoln in 1860 and Follett, Foster and Co. of Columbus published it. In 1864 Henry Jarvis Raymond of the New York Times published a study of the administration of Lincoln which is the first work of literary and critical value to deal with the subject. Most men stood too near the man and the mighty issues of the day to judge him properly as an orator. Mr. Raymond first strikes the note of appreciation. He remarks as the most evident characteristic of Lincoln's state papers a singular faculty for "putting things." "He has no pride of intellect," continues Mr. Raymond, "not slightest desire for display, no thought or purpose but that of making everybody understand precisely what he means to say. It gives to his public papers a weight and influence. with the mass of the people which no man of this country has ever before attained. And this is heightened by the atmosphere of humor which seems to pervade his mind and which is just as natural to it and as attractive and softening a part of it as the smoky hues of Indian summer are of the charming season to which they belong."

To-day Lincoln's position as a master of the English tongue in its strength and simplicity is unquestioned. The French Academy, Emerson, Lowell, Everett, Beecher, Ingersoll, great orators and critics of England and America are united on that point. No man of his century could state a proposition with more exactness and compactness. His clarity of expression, the consistent building up of his argument, his brilliantly apt comparisons, his illuminating wit, his merciless pursuit of illogic in his opponents, his reserve

and his dignity would be remarkable in a mind highly trained and in this untaught son of the wilderness become phenomenal. The Peoria address, the debates, the letters to Greeley, to McClellan, to Conkling, are models in their way. Equally noticeable is his instinct for words, his choice of the simple, the descriptive, the musical. The inaugurals, the Gettysburg address (ranked by Emerson as the peer of any of the utterances of man), the Springfield farewell, illustrate this side of his genius.

But no criticism, no analysis, can give life to these addresses as can the vision of the man who uttered them—of the towering, gaunt figure, ill-dressed, uncouth, yet glorified with the dignity of earnestness. Those who heard him say that he was often nervously awkward on rising to speak but soon forgot himself in his subject. He would toss back his head and show his figure, seemingly expanded beyond its lank proportions, at the extent of its gigantic height. He used his hands little but would sweep his arm through the air with an occasional splendid gesture. His rough dark face would shine and his grey eyes flash with eloquence or twinkle with humor. Competent judges rank him with Clay and Webster for force and magnetism. Such was Lincoln the orator.

NOTES ON THE TEXT

5 First public address. In this contest Lincoln was not elected, but considering his youth (he was but twenty-three) and his brief residence at New Salem he made a good showing. This was the only occasion on which Lincoln was beaten by a direct vote of the people. Biographers comment on the simple, direct and rhythmic wording of this address which shows the chief characteristics of his later style. 5 Letter to Sangamo Journal. In this election Lincoln stood second among the four successful candidates. He was now postmaster of New Salem and deputy surveyor of Sangamon county, had travelled more than most of his neighbors and was far better read. Two toasts of the year's political dinners were: "Abraham Lincoln: He has fulfilled the expectations of his friends and disappointed the hopes of his enemies" and "A. Lincoln: One of nature's noblemen."

7 Address before young men's lyceum. Lincoln had been one of the organizers of this lyceum for mutual improvement.

18 Protest against slavery resolutions. The resolutions against which Lincoln and Stone protested avoided condemnation of slavery as a system and were framed to placate pro-slavery sentiment. Abolitionist societies were "highly disapproved" and the right of congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia against the consent of the citizens was denied. It is worthy of note that in a time of intense excitement when changes of opinion were constant among the ablest men Lincoln never altered his views on slavery as here expressed, always opposing the system but regarding slave holders as its victims and respecting their rights. W. E.

Curtis, in The True Abraham Lincoln, writes: This, I am confident, is the first formal declaration against the system of slavery that was made in any legislative body in the United States, at least west of the Hudson River."

66

21 Letter to Mrs. Browning. Miss Owens said to W. H. Herndon that she refused Lincoln because he was deficient in those little links which go to make up the chain of a woman's happiness." Mrs. Browning had no idea that the letter was anything but one of Lincoln's grotesque inventions until many years after when she was about to give it for publication and Lincoln warned her that there was

66

too much truth for print" in his confession.

[ocr errors]

7 27 Party politics in 1840. The seat of government in Illinois was removed in 1839 from Vandalia to Springfield largely through the efforts of Lincoln, and in the new capital there gathered a group of unusual men, Lincoln, Douglas, Baker, Calhoun, Stuart, Shields, Logan, Trumbull, McClernand, Browning, Treat, McDougall, Hardin and others destined to play prominent parts in the struggle that was drawing near. The Stuart to whom this letter is addressed was Lincoln's law partner. The two men ran together for the legislature in 1834, fought together in the Black Hawk war and formed a friendship that lasted through life. Stuart advised Lincoln to study law, helped him with books and made him his partner, an agreement which continued until 1841.

28 Letter to W. G. Anderson. Lincoln always avoided quarrels and in later years he sent the following advice to a young officer condemned to be court-martialed for quarreling: "No man resolved to make most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right and yield lesser

« PreviousContinue »