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LINCOLN: WAR STATESMAN
LINCOLN was one of those men who require some mighty crisis to call their genius forth. Though more successful than Grant in ordinary life, he was never regarded as a national figure in law or politics till he had passed his fiftieth year. He had no advantages of birth; though he came of a sturdy old English stock that emigrated from Norfolk to Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, and though his mother seems to have been, both intellectually and otherwise, above the general run of the Kentuckians among whom he was born in 1809. His educational advantages were still less. Yet he soon found his true affinities in books, as afterwards in life, not among the clever, smart, or sentimental, but among the simple and the great. He read and reread Shakespeare and the Bible, not because they were the merely proper things to read but because his spirit was akin to theirs. This
meant that he never was a bookworm. Words were things of life to him; and, for that reason, his own words live.
He had no artificial graces to soften the uncouth appearance of his huge, gaunt six-foot-four of powerful bone and muscle. But he had the native dignity of straightforward manhood; and, though a champion competitor in feats of strength, his opinion was always sought as that of an impartial umpire, even in cases affecting himself. He "played the game” in his frontier home as he afterwards played the greater game of life-or-death at Washington. His rough-hewn, strong-featured face, shaped by his kindly humor to the finer ends of power, was lit by a steady gaze that saw yet looked beyond, till the immediate parts of the subject appeared in due relation to the whole. Like many another man who sees farther and feels more deeply than the rest, and who has the saving grace of humor, he knew what yearning melancholy was; yet kept the springs of action tense and strong. Firm as a rock on essentials he was extremely tolerant about all minor differences. His policy was to live and let live whenever that was possible. The preservation of the Union was his master-passion, and he was ready for any honorable compromise
that left the Union safe. Himself a teetotaller, he silenced a temperance delegation whose members were accusing Grant of drunkenness by saying he should like to send some of his other generals a keg of the same whisky if it would only make them fight.
When he took arms against the sea of troubles that awaited him at Washington he had dire need of all his calm tolerance and strength. To add to his burdens, he was beset by far more than the usual horde of office-seekers. These men were doubly ravenous because their party was so new to power. They were peculiarly hard to place with due regard for all the elements within the coalition. And each appointment needed most discriminating care, lest a traitor to the Union might creep in. While the guns were thundering against Fort Sumter, and afterwards, when the Union Government was marooned in Washington itself, the vestibules, stairways, ante-rooms, and offices were clogged with eager applicants for every kind of civil service job. And then, when this vast human flood subsided, the "interviewing” stream began to flow and went on swelling to the bitter end. These war-time interviewers claimed most of Lincoln's personal attention just when he had
the least to spare. But he would deny no one the chance of receiving presidential aid or comfort and he gladly suffered many fools for the chance of relieving the sad or serious others. Add to all this the ceaseless work of helping to form public opinion, of counteracting enemy propaganda, of shaping Union policy under ever-changing circumstances, of carrying it out by coalition means, and of exercising civil control over such vast armed forces as no American had hitherto imagined: add these extra burdens, and we can begin to realize what Lincoln had to do as the chief war statesman of the North.
A sound public opinion is the best embattlement of any home front. So Lincoln set out to help in forming it. War on a national scale was something entirely new to both sides, and especially unwelcome to many people in the North, though the really loyal North was up at Lincoln's call. Then came Bull Run; and Lincoln's renewed determination, so well expressed in Whitman's words: “The President, recovering himself, begins that very night — sternly, rapidly sets about the task of reorganizing his forces, and placing himself in positions for future and surer work. If there was nothing else of Abraham Lincoln for history to stamp him with, it is enough to send him with his wreath to the memory of all future time, that he endured that hour, that day, bitterer than gall — indeed a crucifixion day — that it did not conquer him that he unflinchingly stemmed it, and resolved to lift himself and the Union out of it."
Bull Run was only the beginning of troubles. There were many more rocks ahead in the stormy sea of public opinion. The peace party was always ready to lure the ship of state out of its true course by using false lights, even when certain to bring about a universal wreck in which the “pacifists would suffer with the rest. But dissensions within the war party were worse, especially when caused by action in the field. Fremont's dismissal in November, '61, caused great dissatisfaction among three kinds of people: those who thought him a great general because he knew how to pose as one and really had some streaks of great ability, those who were fattening on the army contracts he let out with such a lavish hand, and those who hailed him as the liberator of the slaves because he went unwarrantably far beyond what was then politically wise or even possible. He was the first Unionist commander to enter the Northern Cave of Adullam, already infested with Copperhead snakes.