Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Lincoln's Personal Life

Part 2 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

The opposing attorney then proved a receipt clearly covering
the entire cause of action. By the time he was through Lincoln
was missing. The court sent for him to the hotel. 'Tell the
Judge,' said he, 'that I can't come; my hands are dirty and I
came over to clean them.'"[11]

"Discourage litigation," he wrote. "Persuade your neighbors to
compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal
winner is often a real loser, in fees, expenses, and waste of
time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a Superior Opportunity
of being a good man. There will still be business enough."[12]

He held his moral and professional views with the same
inflexibility with which he held his political views. Once he
had settled upon a conviction or an opinion, nothing could move
him. He was singularly stubborn, and yet, in all the minor
matters of life, in all his merely personal concerns, in
everything except his basal ideas, he was pliable to a degree.
He could be talked into almost any concession of interest. He
once told Herndon he thanked God that he had not been born a
woman because he found it so hard to refuse any request made of
him. His outer easiness, his lack of self-assertion,--as most
people understand self-assertion,--persist in an amusing group
of anecdotes of the circuit. Though he was a favorite with the
company at every tavern, those little demagogues, the
tavern-keepers, quickly found out that he could be safely put
upon. In the minute but important favoritism of tavern life,
in the choice of rooms, in the assignment of seats at table, in
the distribution of delicacies, easy-going Lincoln was ever the
first one to be ignored. "He never complained of the food,
bed, or lodgings," says a judge of the circuit, David Davis.
"If every other fellow grumbled at the bill of fare which
greeted us at many of the dingy taverns, Lincoln said

But his complacency was of the surface only. His ideas were
his own. He held to them with dogged tenacity. Herndon was
merely the first of several who discerned on close familiarity
Lincoln's inward inflexibility. "I was never conscious," he
writes, "of having made much of an impression on Mr. Lincoln,
nor do I believe I ever changed his views. I will go further
and say that from the profound nature of his conclusions and
the labored method by which he arrived at them, no man is
entitled to the credit of having either changed or greatly
modified them."[14]

In these years of the early 'fifties, Herndon had much occasion
to test his partner's indifference to other men's views, his
tenacious adherence to his own. Herndon had become an
Abolitionist. He labored to convert Lincoln; but it was a lost
labor. The Sphinx in a glimmer of sunshine was as unassailable
as the cheery, fable-loving, inflexible Lincoln. The younger
man would work himself up, and, flushed with ardor, warn
Lincoln against his apparent conservatism when the needs of the
hour were so great; but his only answer would be, "Billy, you
are too rampant and spontaneous."[15]

Nothing could move him from his fixed conviction that the
temper of Abolitionism made it pernicious. He persisted in
classifying it with slavery,--both of equal danger to free
institutions. He took occasion to reassert this belief in the
one important utterance of a political nature that commemorates
this period. An oration on the death of Henry Clay, contains
the sentence: "Cast into life when slavery was already widely
spread and deeply sealed, he did not perceive, as I think no
wise man has perceived, how it could be at once eradicated
without producing a greater evil even to the cause of human
liberty itself."[16]

It will be remembered that the Abolitionists were never
strongly national in sentiment. In certain respects they remind
one of the extreme "internationals" of to-day. Their
allegiance was not first of all to Society, nor to governments,
but to abstract ideas. For all such attitudes in political
science, Lincoln had an instinctive aversion. He was permeated
always, by his sense of the community, of the obligation to
work in terms of the community. Even the prejudices, the
shortsightedness of the community were things to be considered,
to be dealt with tenderly. Hence his unwillingness to force
reforms upon a community not ripe to receive them. In one of
his greatest speeches occurs the dictum: "A universal feeling
whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded."[17]
Anticipating such ideas, he made in his Clay oration, a
startling denunciation of both the extreme factions of

"Those (Abolitionists) who would shiver into fragments the
union of these States, tear to tatters its now 'venerated
Constitution, and even burn the last copy of the Bible rather
than slavery should continue a single hour; together with all
their more halting sympathizers, have received and are
receiving their just execration; and the name and opinion and
influence of Mr. Clay are fully and, as I trust, effectually
and enduringly arrayed against them. But I would also if I
could, array his name, opinion and influence against the
opposite extreme, against a few, but increasing number of men
who, for the sake of perpetuating slavery, are beginning to
assail and ridicule the white man's charter of freedom, the
declaration that 'all men are created free and equal.'"[18]

In another passage he stated what he conceived to be the
central inspiration of Clay. Had he been thinking of himself,
he could not have foreshadowed more exactly the basal drift of
all his future as a statesman:

"He loved his country partly because it was his own country,
and mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a
zeal for its advancement, prosperity, and glory, because he saw
in such the advancement, prosperity and glory of human liberty,
human right and human nature."[19]


Meanwhile, great things were coming forward at Washington.
They centered about a remarkable man with whom Lincoln had
hitherto formed a curious parallel, by whom hitherto he had
been completely overshadowed. Stephen Arnold Douglas was
prosecuting attorney at Springfield when Lincoln began the
practice of law. They were in the Legislature together. Both
courted Mary Todd. Soon afterward, Douglas had distanced his
rival. When Lincoln went to the House of Representatives as a
Whig, Douglas went to the Senate as a Democrat. While Lincoln
was failing at Washington, Douglas was building a national
reputation. In the hubbub that followed the Compromise of
1850, while Lincoln, abandoning politics, immersed himself in
the law, Douglas rendered a service to the country by defeating
a movement in Illinois to reject the Compromise. When the
Democratic National Convention assembled in 1852, he was
sufficiently prominent to obtain a considerable vote for the
presidential nomination.

The dramatic contrast of these two began with their physical
appearance. Douglas was so small that he had been known to sit
on a friend's knee while arguing politics. But his energy of
mind, his indomitable force of character, made up for his tiny
proportions. "The Little Giant" was a term of endearment
applied to him by his followers. The mental contrast was
equally marked. Scarcely a quality in Lincoln that was not
reversed in Douglas--deliberation, gradualness, introspection,
tenacity, were the characteristics of Lincoln's mind. The mind
of Douglas was first of all facile. He was extraordinarily
quick. In political Strategy he could sense a new situation,
wheel to meet it, throw overboard well-established plans,
devise new ones, all in the twinkle of an eye. People who
could not understand such rapidity of judgment pronounced him
insincere, or at least, an opportunist. That he did not have
the deep inflexibility of Lincoln may be assumed; that his
convictions, such as they were, did not have an ethical cast
may be safely asserted. Nevertheless, he was a great force, an
immense human power, that did not change its course without
good reason of its own sort. Far more than a mere opportunist.
Politically, he summed up a change that was coming over the
Democratic party. Janus-like, he had two faces, one for his
constituents, one for his colleagues. To the voter he was
still a Jeffersonian, with whom the old phraseology of the
party, liberty, equality, and fraternity, were still the
catch-words. To his associates in the Senate he was
essentially an aristocrat, laboring to advance interests that
were careless of the rights of man. A later age has accused
the Senate of the United States of being the citadel of Big
Business. Waiving the latter view, the historian may assert
that something suggestive of Big Business appeared in our
politics in the 'fifties, and was promptly made at home in the
Senate. Perhaps its first definite manifestation was a new
activity on the part of the great slave-holders. To invoke
again the classifications of later points of view, certain of
our historians to-day think they can see in the 'fifties a
virtual slavery trust, a combine of slave interests controlled
by the magnates of the institution, and having as real, though
informal, an existence as has the Steel Trust or the Beef Trust
in our own time. This powerful interest allied itself with the
capitalists of the Northeast. In modern phraseology, they
aimed to "finance" the slave interest from New York. And for a
time the alliance succeeded in doing this. The South went
entirely upon credit. It bought and borrowed heavily in the
East New York furnished the money.

Had there been nothing further to consider, the invasion of the
Senate by Big Business in the 'fifties might not have taken
place. But there was something else. Slavery's system of
agriculture was excessively wasteful. To be highly profitable
it required virgin soil, and the financial alliance demanded
high profits. Early in the 'fifties, the problem of Big
Business was the acquisition of fresh soil for slavery. The
problem entered politics with the question how could this be
brought about without appearing to contradict democracy? The
West also had its incipient Big Business. It hinged upon
railways. Now that California had been acquired, with a steady
stream of migration westward, with all America dazzled more or
less by gold-mines and Pacific trade, a transcontinental
railway was a Western dream. But what course should it take,
what favored regions were to become its immediate
beneficiaries? Here was a chance for great jockeying among
business interests in Congress, for slave-holders,
money-lenders, railway promoters to manipulate deals to their
hearts' content. They had been doing so amid a high
complication of squabbling, while Douglas was traveling in
Europe during 1853. When he returned late in the year, the
unity of the Democratic machine in Congress was endangered by
these disputes. Douglas at once attacked the problem of party
harmony. He threw himself into the task with all his
characteristic quickness, all his energy and resourcefulness.

By this time the problem contained five distinct factors: The
upper Northeast wanted a railroad starting at Chicago. The
Central West wanted a road from St. Louis. The Southwest
wanted a road from New Orleans, or at least, the frustration of
the two Northern schemes. Big Business wanted new soil for
slavery. The Compromise of 1850 stood in the way of the
extension of slave territory.

If Douglas had had any serious convictions opposed to slavery
the last of the five factors would have brought him to a
standstill. Fortunately for him as a party strategist, he was
indifferent. Then, too, he firmly believed that slavery could
never thrive in the West because of climatic conditions. "Man
might propose, but physical geography would dispose."[1] On both
counts it seemed to him immaterial what concessions be made to
slavery extension northwestward. Therefore, he dismissed this
consideration and applied himself to the harmonization of the
four business factors involved. The result was a famous
compromise inside a party. His Kansas-Nebraska Bill created
two new territories, one lying westward from Chicago; one lying
westward from St. Louis. It also repealed the Missouri
Compromise and gave the inhabitants of each territory the right
to decide for themselves whether or not slavery should be
permitted in their midst. That is to say, both to the railway
promoter and the slavery financier, it extended equal
governmental protection, but it promised favors to none, and
left each faction to rise or fall in the free competition of
private enterprise. Why--was not this, remembering Douglas's
assumptions, a master-stroke?

He had expected, of course, denunciation by the Abolitionists.
He considered it immaterial. But he was not in the least
prepared for what happened. A storm burst. It was fiercest in
his own State. "Traitor," "Arnold," "Judas," were the pleasant
epithets fired at him in a bewildering fusillade. He could not
understand it. Something other than mere Abolitionism had been
aroused by his great stroke. But what was it? Why did men who
were not Abolitionists raise a hue and cry? Especially, why
did many Democrats do so? Amazed, puzzled, but as always
furiously valiant, Douglas hurried home to join battle with his
assailants. He entered on a campaign of speech-making. On
October 3, 1854, he spoke at Springfield. His enemies, looking
about for the strongest popular speaker they could find, chose
Lincoln. The next day he replied to Douglas.

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill had not affected any change in
Lincoln's thinking. His steady, consistent development as a
political thinker had gone on chiefly in silence ever since his
Protest seventeen years before. He was still intolerant of
Abolitionism, still resolved to leave slavery to die a natural
death in the States where it was established. He defended the
measure which most offended the Abolitionists, the Fugitive
Slave Law. He had appeared as counsel for a man who claimed a
runaway slave as his property.[2] None the less, the
Kansas-Nebraska Bill had brought him to his feet, wheeled him
back from law into politics, begun a new chapter. The springs
of action in is case were the factor which Douglas had
overlooked, which in all his calculations he had failed to take
into account, which was destined to destroy him.

Lincoln, no less than Douglas, had sensed the fact that money
was becoming a power in American politics. He saw that money
and slavery tended to become allies with the inevitable result
of a shift of gravity in the American social system.
"Humanity" had once been the American shibboleth; it was giving
place to a new shibboleth- "prosperity." And the people who
were to control and administer prosperity were the rich. The
rights of man were being superseded by the rights of wealth.
Because of its place in this new coalition of non-democratic
influences, slavery, to Lincoln's mind, was assuming a new
role, "beginning," as he had said, in the Clay oration, "to
assail and ridicule the white man's charter of freedom, the
declaration that 'all men are created free and equal.'"

That phrase, "the white man's charter of freedom," had become
Lincoln's shibboleth. Various utterances and written fragments
of the summer of 1854, reveal the intensity of his

"Equality in society beats inequality, whether the latter be of
the British aristocratic sort or of the domestic slavery sort"[3]

"If A can prove, however conclusively, that he may of right
enslave B, why may not B snatch the same argument and prove
equally that he may enslave A? You say A is white and B is
black. It is color then; the lighter having the right to
enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule you are to be
slave to the first man you meet with a fairer skin than your
own. You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are
intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and therefore have
the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule you
are to be slave to the first man you meet with an intellect
superior to your own. But, you say, it is a question of
interest, and if you make it your interest, you have the right
to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his
interest, he has the right to enslave you."[4]

Speaking of slavery to a fellow lawyer, he said: "It is the
most glittering, ostentatious, and displaying property in the
world; and now, if a young man goes courting, the only inquiry
is how many negroes he or his lady love owns. The love of
slave property is swallowing up every other mercenary
possession. Its ownership betokened not only the possession of
wealth, but indicated the gentleman of leisure who was above
and scorned labor."[5]

It was because of these views, because he saw slavery allying
itself with the spread of plutocratic ideals, that Lincoln
entered the battle to prevent its extension. He did so in his
usual cool, determined way.

Though his first reply to Douglas was not recorded, his second,
made at Peoria twelve days later, still exists.[6] It is a
landmark in his career. It sums up all his long, slow
development in political science, lays the abiding foundation
of everything he thought thereafter. In this great speech, the
end of his novitiate, he rings the changes on the white man's
charter of freedom. He argues that the extension of slavery
tends to discredit republican institutions, and to disappoint
"the Liberal party throughout the world." The heart of his
argument is:

"Whether slavery shall go into Nebraska or other new
Territories is not a matter of exclusive concern to the people
who may go there. The whole nation is interested that the best
use shall be made of these Territories. We want them for homes
for free white people. This they can not be to any
considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted within them.
Slave States are places for poor white people to remove from,
not remove to. New Free States are the places for poor people
to go to and better their condition. For this use the nation
needs these Territories."

The speech was a masterpiece of simplicity, of lucidity. It
showed the great jury; lawyer at his best. Its temper was as
admirable as its logic; not a touch of anger nor of

"I have no prejudice against the Southern people," said he.
"They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery
did not exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it
did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up.
This I believe of the masses North and South.

"When Southern people tell us that they are no more responsible
for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact.
When it is said that the institution exists and that it is very
difficult to get rid of in any satisfactory way, I can
understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame
them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If
all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do
as to the existing institution."

His instinctive aversion to fanaticism found expression in a
plea for the golden mean in politics.

"Some men, mostly Whigs, who condemn the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise, nevertheless hesitate to go for its restoration
lest they be thrown in company with the Abolitionists. Will
they allow me as an old Whig, to tell them good-humoredly that
I think this is very silly. Stand with anybody that stands right.
Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes
wrong. Stand with the Abolitionist in restoring the Missouri
Compromise, and stand against him when he attempts to repeal the
Fugitive Slave Law. In the latter case you stand with the
Southern dis-unionist. What of that? You are still right. In
both cases you are right. In both cases you expose the dangerous
extremes. In both you stand on middle ground and hold the ship
level and steady. In both you are national, and nothing less than
national. This is the good old Whig ground. To desert such
ground because of any company is to be less than a Whig-less
than a man-less than an American."

These two speeches against Douglas made an immense impression
Byron- like, Lincoln waked up and found himself famous.
Thereupon, his ambition revived. A Senator was to be chosen
that autumn. Why might not this be the opportunity to retrieve
his failure in Congress? Shortly after the Peoria speech, he
was sending out notes like this to prominent politicians:

"Dear Sir: You used to express a good deal of partiality for
me, and if you are still so, now is the time. Some friends
here are really for me for the United States Senate, and I
should be very grateful if you could make a mark for me among
your members [of the Legislature]."[7]

When the Legislature assembled, it was found to comprise four
groups: the out-and-out Democrats who would stand by Douglas
through thick and thin, and vote only for his nominee; the
bolting Democrats who would not vote for a Douglas man, but
whose party rancor was so great that they would throw their
votes away rather than give them to a Whig; such enemies of
Douglas as were willing to vote for a Whig; the remainder.

The Democrats supported Governor Matteson; the candidate of the
second group was Lyman Trumbull; the Whigs supported Lincoln.
After nine exciting ballots, Matteson had forty-seven votes,
Trumbull thirty-five, Lincoln fifteen. As the bolting
Democrats were beyond compromise, Lincoln determined to
sacrifice himself in order to defeat Matteson. Though the
fifteen protested against deserting him, he required them to do
so. On the tenth ballot, they transferred their votes to
Trumbull and he was elected.[8]

Douglas had met his first important defeat. His policy had
been repudiated in his own State. And it was Lincoln who had
formulated the argument against him, who had held the balance
of power, and had turned the scale.


Lincoln had found at last a mode and an opportunity for
concentrating all his powers in a way that could have results.
He had discovered himself as a man of letters. The great
speeches of 1854 were not different in a way from the previous
speeches that were without results. And yet they were wholly
different. Just as Lincoln's version of an old tale made of
that tale a new thing, so Lincoln's version of an argument made
of it a different thing from other men's versions. The
oratory of 1854 was not state-craft in any ordinary sense. It
was art Lincoln the artist, who had slowly developed a great
literary faculty, had chanced after so many rebuffs on good
fortune. His cause stood in urgent need of just what he could
give. It was one of those moments when a new political force,
having not as yet any opening for action, finds salvation in
the phrase-maker, in the literary artist who can embody it in

During the next five years and more, Lincoln was the recognized
offset to Douglas. His fame spread from Illinois in both
directions. He was called to Iowa and to Ohio as the advocate
of all advocates who could undo the effect of Douglas. His
fame traveled eastward. The culmination of the period of
literary leadership was his famous speech at Cooper Union in
February, 1860.

It was inevitable that he should go along with the antislavery
coalition which adopted the name of the Republican party. But
his natural deliberation kept him from being one of its
founders. An attempt of its founders to appropriate him after
the triumph at Springfield, in October, 1854, met with a
rebuff.[1] Nearly a year and a half went by before he affiliated
himself with the new party. But once having made up his mind,
he went forward wholeheartedly. At the State Convention of
Illinois Republicans in 1856 he made a speech that has not been
recorded but which is a tradition for moving oratory. That
same year a considerable number of votes were cast for Lincoln
for Vice-President in the Republican National Convention.

But all these were mere details. The great event of the years
between 1854 and 1860 was his contest with Douglas. It was a
battle of wits, a great literary duel. Fortunately for
Lincoln, his part was played altogether on his own soil, under
conditions in which he was entirely at his ease, where nothing
conspired with his enemy to embarrass him.

Douglas had a far more difficult task. Unforeseen
complications rapidly forced him to change his policy, to meet
desertion and betrayal in his own ranks. These were terrible
years when fierce events followed one another in quick
succession--the rush of both slave-holders and abolitionists
into Kansas; the cruel war along the Wakarusa River; the sack
of Lawrence by the pro-slavery party; the massacre by John
Brown at Pottawatomie; the diatribes of Sumner in the Senate;
the assault on Sumner by Brooks. In the midst of this carnival
of ferocity came the Dred Scott decision, cutting under the
Kansas-Nebraska Bill, denying to the people of a Territory the
right to legislate on slavery, and giving to all slave-holders
the right to settle with their slaves anywhere they pleased
outside a Free State. This famous decision repudiated
Douglas's policy of leaving all such questions to local
autonomy and to private enterprise. For a time Douglas made no
move to save his policy. But when President Buchanan decided
to throw the influence of the Administration on the side of the
pro-slavery party in Kansas, Douglas was up in arms. When it
was proposed to admit Kansas with a constitution favoring
slavery, but which had not received the votes of a majority of
the inhabitants, Douglas voted with the Republicans to defeat
admission. Whereupon the Democratic party machine and the
Administration turned upon him without mercy. He stood alone
in a circle of enemies. At no other time did he show so many
of the qualities of a great leader. Battling with Lincoln in
the popular forum on the one hand, he was meeting daily on the
other assaults by a crowd of brilliant opponents in Congress.
At the same time he was playing a consummate game of political
strategy, struggling against immense odds to recover his hold
on Illinois. The crisis would come in 1858 when he would have
to go before the Legislature for reelection. He knew well
enough who his opponent would be. At every turn there fell
across his path the shadow of a cool sinister figure, his
relentless enemy. It was Lincoln. On the struggle with
Lincoln his whole battle turned.

Abandoned by his former allies, his one hope was the retention
of his constituency. To discredit Lincoln, to twist and
discredit all his arguments, was for Douglas a matter of life
and death. He struck frequently with great force, but
sometimes with more fury than wisdom. Many a time the
unruffled coolness of Lincoln brought to nothing what was meant
for a deadly thrust. Douglas took counsel of despair and tried
to show that Lincoln was preaching the amalgamation of the
white and black races. "I protest," Lincoln replied, "against
the counterfeit logic which says that because I do not want a
black woman for a slave, I must necessarily want her for a
wife. I need not have her for either. I can just leave her
alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in
her natural right to eat the bread she earns with,her own hands
without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal and the
equal of all others."[2] Any false move made by Douglas, any rash
assertion, was sure to be seized upon by that watchful enemy in
Illinois. In attempting to defend himself on two fronts at
once, defying both the Republicans and the Democratic machine,
Douglas made his reckless declaration that all he wanted was a
fair vote by the people of Kansas; that for himself he did not
care how they settled the matter, whether slavery was voted up
or voted down. With relentless skill, Lincoln developed the
implications of this admission, drawing forth from its
confessed indifference to the existence of slavery, a chain of
conclusions that extended link by link to a belief in reopening
the African slave trade. This was done in his speech accepting
the Republican nomination for the Senate. In the same speech
he restated his general position in half a dozen sentences that
became at once a classic statement for the whole Republican
party: "A house divided against itself can not stand. I
believe this government can not 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 do 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

The great duel was rapidly approaching its climax. What was in
reality no more than the last round has appropriated a label
that ought to have a wider meaning and is known as the
Lincoln-Douglas Debates. The two candidates made a joint tour
of the State, debating their policies in public at various
places during the summer and autumn of 1858.

Properly considered, these famous speeches closed Lincoln's
life as an orator. The Cooper Union speech was an isolated
aftermath in alien conditions, a set performance not quite in
his true vein. His brief addresses of the later years were
incidental; they had no combative element. Never again was he
to attempt to sway an audience for an immediate stake through
the use of the spoken word. "A brief description of Mr.
Lincoln's appearance on the stump and of his manner when
speaking," as Herndon aptly remarks, "may not be without
interest. When standing erect, he was six feet four inches high.
He was lean in flesh and ungainly in figure. Aside from his
sad, pained look, due to habitual melancholy, his face had no
characteristic or fixed expression. He was thin through the
chest and hence slightly stoop-shouldered. . . . At first
he was very awkward and it seemed a real labor to adjust
himself to his surroundings. He struggled for a time under a
feeling of apparent diffidence and sensitiveness, and these
only added to his awkwardness. . . . When he began speaking
his voice was shrill, piping and unpleasant. His manner, his
attitude, his dark yellow face, wrinkled and dry, his oddity of
pose, his diffident movements; everything seemed to be against
him, but only for a short time. . . . As he proceeded, he
became somewhat more animated. . . . He did not gesticulate
as much with his hands as with his head. He used the latter
frequently, throwing it with him, this way and that. . . .
He never sawed the air nor rent space into tatters and rags, as
some orators do. He never acted for stage effect. He was
cool, considerate, reflective--in time, self-possessed and
self-reliant. . . . As he moved along in his speech he
became freer and less uneasy in his movements; to that extent
he was graceful. He had a perfect naturalness, a strong
individuality, and to that extent he was dignified. . . .
He spoke with effectiveness--and to move the judgment as well as
the emotion of men. There was a world of meaning and emphasis
in the long, bony finger of the right hand as he dotted the
ideas on the minds of his hearers. . . . He always stood
squarely on his feet. . . . He neither touched nor leaned
on anything for support. He never ranted, never walked
backward and forward on the platform. . . . As he proceeded
with his speech, the exercise of his vocal organs altered
somewhat the pitch of his voice. It lost in a measure its
former acute and shrilling pitch and mellowed into a more
harmonious and pleasant sound. His form expanded, and
notwithstanding the sunken breast, he rose up a splendid and
imposing figure. . . . His little gray eyes flashed in a
face aglow with the fire of his profound thoughts; and his
uneasy movements and diffident manner sunk themselves beneath
the wave of righteous indignation that came sweeping over

A wonderful dramatic contrast were these two men, each in his
way so masterful, as they appeared in the famous debates. By
good fortune we have a portrait of Douglas the orator, from the
pen of Mrs. Stowe, who had observed him with reluctant
admiration from the gallery of the Senate. "This Douglas is
the very ideal of vitality. Short, broad, thick-set, every
inch of him has its own alertness and motion. He has a good
head, thick black hair, heavy black brows, and a keen face.
His figure would be an unfortunate one were it not for the
animation that constantly pervades it. As it is it rather
gives poignancy to his peculiar appearance; he has a small
handsome hand, moreover, and a graceful as well as forcible
mode of using it. . . . He has two requisites of a debater,
a melodious voice and clear, sharply defined enunciation. His
forte in debating is his power of mystifying the point. With
the most offhand assured airs in the world, and a certain
appearance of honest superiority, like one who has a regard for
you and wishes to set you right on one or two little matters,
he proceeds to set up some point which is not that in
question, but only a family connection of it, and this point he
attacks with the very best of logic and language; he charges
upon it, horse and foot, runs it down, tramples it in the dust,
and then turns upon you with 'See, there is your argument. Did
I not tell you so? You see it is all stuff.' And if you have
allowed yourself to be so dazzled by his quickness as to forget
that the routed point is not, after all, the one in question,
you suppose all is over with it. Moreover, he contrives to
mingle up so many stinging allusions, so many piquant
personalities, that by the time he has done his mystification,
a dozen others are ready and burning to spring on their feet to
repel some direct or indirect attack all equally wide of the

The mode of travel of the two contestants heightened the
contrast. George B. McClellan, a young engineer officer who
had recently resigned from the army and was now general
superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad, gave Douglas
his private car and a special train. Lincoln traveled any way
he could-in ordinary passenger trains, or even in the caboose
of a freight train. A curious symbolization of Lincoln's
belief that the real conflict was between the plain people and
organized money!

The debates did not develop new ideas. It was a literary duel,
each leader aiming to restate himself in the most telling,
popular way. For once that superficial definition of art
applied: "What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed."
Nevertheless the debates contained an incident that helped to
make history. Though Douglas was at war with the
Administration, it was not certain that the quarrel might not
be made up. There was no other leader who would be so
formidable at the head of a reunited Democratic party. Lincoln
pondered the question, how could the rift between Douglas and
the Democratic machine be made irrevocable? And now a new
phase of Lincoln appeared. It was the political strategist He
saw that if he would disregard his own chance of election-as he
had done from a simpler motive four years before--he could drive
Douglas into a dilemma from which there was no real escape. He
confided his purpose to his friends; they urged him not to do
it. But he had made up his mind as he generally did, without
consultation, in the silence of his own thoughts, and once
having made it up, he was inflexible.

At Freeport, Lincoln made the move which probably lost him the
Senatorship. He asked a question which if Douglas answered it
one way would enable him to recover the favor of Illinois but
would lose him forever the favor of the slave-holders; but
which, if he answered it another way might enable him to make
his peace at Washington but would certainly lose him Illinois.
The question was: "Can the people of a United States Territory
in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the
United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the
formation of a State Constitution?"[5] In other words, is the
Dred Scott decision good law? Is it true that a slave-holder
can take his slaves into Kansas if the people of Kansas want to
keep him out?

Douglas saw the trap. With his instantaneous facility he tried
to cloud the issue and extricate himself through evasion in the
very manner Mrs. Stowe has described. While dodging a denial
of the court's authority, he insisted that his doctrine of
local autonomy was still secure because through police
regulation the local legislature could foster or strangle
slavery, just as they pleased, no matter "what way the Supreme
Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether
slavery may or may not go into a Territory under the

As Lincoln's friends had foreseen, this matchless performance
of carrying water on both shoulders caught the popular fancy;
Douglas was reelected to the Senate. As Lincoln had foreseen,
it killed him as a Democratic leader; it prevented the reunion
of the Democratic party. The result appeared in 1860 when the
Republicans, though still a minority party, carried the day
because of the bitter divisions among the Democrats. That was
what Lincoln foresaw when he said to his fearful friends while
they argued in vain to prevent his asking the question at
Free-port. "I am killing larger game; the great battle of 1860
is worth a thousand of this senatorial race."[6]


One of the most curious things in Lincoln is the way his
confidence in himself came and went. He had none of Douglas's
unwavering self-reliance. Before the end, to be sure, he
attained a type of self-reliance, higher and more
imperturbable. But this was not the fruit of a steadfast
unfolding. Rather, he was like a tree with its alternating
periods of growth and pause, now richly in leaf, now dormant.
Equally applicable is the other familiar image of the
successive waves.

The clue seems to have been, in part at least, a matter of
vitality. Just as Douglas emanated vitality--so much so that
his aura filled the whole Senate chamber and forced an
unwilling response in the gifted but hostile woman who watched
him from the gallery--Lincoln, conversely, made no such
overpowering impression. His observers, however much they have
to say about his humor, his seasons of Shakespearian mirth,
never forget their impression that at heart he is sad. His
fondness for poetry in the minor key has become a byword,
especially the line "Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be

It is impossible to discover any law governing the succession
of his lapses in self-reliance. But they may be related very
plausibly to his sense of failure or at least to his sense of
futility. He was one of those intensely sensitive natures to
whom the futilities of this world are its most discouraging
feature. Whenever such ideas were brought home to him his
energy flagged; his vitality, never high, sank. He was prone
to turn away from the outward life to lose himself in the
inner. All this is part of the phenomena which Herndon
perceived more clearly than he comprehended it, which led him
to call Lincoln a fatalist.

A humbler but perhaps more accurate explanation is the reminder
that he was son to Thomas the unstable. What happened in
Lincoln's mind when he returned defeated from Washington, that
ghost-like rising of the impulses of old Thomas, recurred more
than once thereafter. In fact there is a period well-defined,
a span of thirteen years terminating suddenly on a day in 1862,
during which the ghost of old Thomas is a thing to be reckoned
with in his son's life. It came and went, most of the time
fortunately far on the horizon. But now and then it drew near.
Always it was lurking somewhere, waiting to seize upon him in
those moments when his vitality sank, when his energies were in
the ebb, when his thoughts were possessed by a sense of

The year 1859 was one of his ebb tides. In the previous year
the rising tide, which had mounted high during his success on
the circuit, reached its crest The memory of his failure at
Washington was effaced. At Freeport he was a more powerful
genius, a more dominant personality, than he had ever been.
Gradually, in the months following, the high wave subsided.
During 1859 he gave most of his attention to his practice.
Though political speech-making continued, and though he did not
impair his reputation, he did nothing of a remarkable sort.
The one literary fragment of any value is a letter to a Boston
committee that had invited him to attend a "festival" in Boston
on Jefferson's birthday. He avowed himself a thoroughgoing
disciple of Jefferson and pronounced the principles of
Jefferson "the definitions and axioms of free society." Without
conditions he identified his own cause with the cause of
Jefferson, "the man who in the concrete pressure of a struggle
for national independence by a single people, had the coolness,
forecast and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary
document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all
times, and so to embalm it there that today and in all coming
days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very
harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression."[1]

While the Boston committee were turning their eyes toward this
great new phrase-maker of the West, several politicians in
Illinois had formed a bold resolve. They would try to make him
President. The movement had two sources--the personal loyalty
of his devoted friends of the circuit, the shrewdness of the
political managers who saw that his duel with Douglas had made
him a national figure. As one of them said to him, "Douglas
being so widely known, you are getting a national reputation
through him." Lincoln replied that he did not lack the ambition
but lacked altogether the confidence in the possibility of

This was his attitude during most of 1859. The glow, the
enthusiasm, of the previous year was gone. "I must in candor
say that I do not think myself fit for the Presidency," he
wrote to a newspaper editor in April. He used the same words
to another correspondent in July. As late as November first,
he wrote, "For my single self, I have enlisted for the
permanent success of the Republican cause, and for this object
I shall labor faithfully in the ranks, unless, as I think not
probable, the judgment of the party shall assign me a different

Meanwhile, both groups of supporters had labored unceasingly,
regardless of his approval. In his personal following, the
companionableness of twenty years had deepened into an almost
romantic loyalty. The leaders of this enthusiastic attachment,
most of them lawyers, had no superiors for influence in
Illinois. The man who had such a following was a power in
politics whether he would or no. This the mere politicians
saw. They also saw that the next Republican nomination would
rest on a delicate calculation of probabilities. There were
other Republicans more conspicuous than Lincoln--Seward in New
York, Sumner in Massachusetts, Chase in Ohio--but all these had
inveterate enemies. Despite their importance would it be safe
to nominate them? Would not the party be compelled to take
some relatively minor figure, some essentially new man? In a
word, what we know as a "dark horse." Believing that this would
happen, they built hopefully on their faith in Lincoln.

Toward the end of the year he was at last persuaded to take his
candidacy seriously. The local campaign for his nomination had
gone so far that a failure to go further would have the look of
being discarded as the local Republican leader. This argument
decided him. Before the year's end he had agreed to become a
candidate before the convention. In his own words, "I am not
in a position where it would hurt much for me to not be
nominated on the national ticket; but I am where it would hurt
some for me to not get the Illinois delegates."[4]

It was shortly after this momentous decision that he went to
New York by invitation and made his most celebrated, though not
in any respect his greatest, oration.[5] A large audience filled
Cooper Union, February 27, 1860. William Cullen Bryant
presided. David Dudley Field escorted Lincoln to the platform.
Horace Greeley was in the audience. Again, the performance was
purely literary. No formulation of new policies, no appeal for
any new departure. It was a masterly restatement of his
position; of the essence of the debates with Douglas. It
cleansed the Republican platform of all accidental accretions,
as if a ship's hull were being scraped of barnacles preparatory
to a voyage; it gave the underlying issues such inflexible
definition that they could not be juggled with. Again he
showed a power of lucid statement not possessed by any of his
rivals. An incident of the speech was his unsparing
condemnation of John Brown whose raid and death were on every
tongue. "You charge that we stir up insurrections among your
slaves," said he, apostrophizing the slave-holders. "We deny
it, and what is your proof? 'Harper's Ferry; John Brown!' John
Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a
single Republican in this Harper's Ferry enterprise. . .

"John Brown's effort was peculiar. It was not a slave
insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a
revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to
participate. In fact, it was so absurd that the slaves with
all their ignorance saw plainly enough that it could not
succeed. That affair in its philosophy corresponds with the
many attempts related in history at the assassination of kings
and emperors. An enthusiast broods over the oppression of the
people until he fancies himself commissioned by heaven to
liberate them. He ventures the attempt which ends in little
else than his own execution. Orsini's attempt on Louis
Napoleon, and John Brown's attempt at Harper's Ferry were, in
their philosophy, precisely the same. The eagerness to cast
blame on old England in the one case and on New England in the
other, does not disprove the sameness of the two things."

The Cooper Union speech received extravagant praise from all
the Republican newspapers. Lincoln's ardent partisans assert
that it took New York "by storm." Rather too violent a way of
putting it! But there can be no doubt that the speech made a
deep impression. Thereafter, many of the Eastern managers were
willing to consider Lincoln as a candidate, should factional
jealousies prove uncompromising. Any port in a storm, you
know. Obviously, there could be ports far more dangerous than
this "favorite son" of Illinois.

Many national conventions in the United States have decided
upon a compromise candidate, "a dark horse," through just such
reasoning. The most noted instance is the Republican
Convention of 1860. When it assembled at Chicago in June, the
most imposing candidate was the brilliant leader of the New
York Republicans, Seward. But no man in the country had more
bitter enemies. Horace Greeley whose paper The Tribune was by
far the most influential Republican organ, went to Chicago
obsessed by one purpose: because of irreconcilable personal
quarrels he would have revenge upon Seward. Others who did not
hate Seward were afraid of what Greeley symbolized. And all of
them knew that whatever else happened, the West must be

The Lincoln managers played upon the Eastern jealousies and the
Eastern fears with great skill. There was little sleep among
the delegates the night previous to the balloting. At just the
right moment, the Lincoln managers, though their chief had
forbidden them to do so, offered promises with regard to
Cabinet appointments.[6] And they succeeded in packing the
galleries of the Convention Hall with a perfectly organized
claque-"rooters," the modern American would say.

The result on the third ballot was a rush to Lincoln of all the
enemies of Seward, and Lincoln's nomination amid a roaring
frenzy of applause.


After twenty-three years of successive defeats, Lincoln, almost
fortuitously, was at the center of the political maelstrom.
The clue to what follows is in the way he had developed during
that long discouraging apprenticeship to greatness. Mentally,
he had always been in isolation. Socially, he had lived in a
near horizon. The real tragedy of his failure at Washington
was in the closing against him of the opportunity to know his
country as a whole. Had it been Lincoln instead of Douglas to
whom destiny had given a residence at Washington during the
'fifties, it is conceivable that things might have been
different in the 'sixties. On the other hand, America would
have lost its greatest example of the artist in politics.

And without that artist, without his extraordinary literary
gift, his party might not have consolidated in 1860. A very
curious party it was. It had sprung to life as a denial, as a
device for halting Douglas. Lincoln's doctrine of the golden
mean, became for once a political power. Men of the most
diverse views on other issues accepted in their need the axiom:
"Stand with anybody so long as he stands right." And standing
right, for that moment in the minds of them all, meant keeping
slavery and the money power from devouring the territories.

The artist of the movement expressed them all in his
declaration that the nation needed the Territories to give home
and opportunity to free white people. Even the Abolitionists,
who hitherto had refused to make common cause with any other
faction, entered the negative coalition of the new party. So
did Whigs, and anti-slavery Democrats, as well as other
factions then obscure which we should now label Socialists and

However, this coalition, which in origin was purely negative,
revealed, the moment it coalesced, two positive features. To
the man of the near horizon in 1860 neither of these features
seemed of first importance. To the man outside that horizon,
seeing them in perspective as related to the sum total of
American life, they had a significance he did not entirely

The first of these was the temper of the Abolitionists.
Lincoln ignored it. He was content with his ringing
assertion,of, the golden mean. But there spoke the man of
letters rather than the statesman. Of temper in politics as an
abstract idea, he had been keenly conscious from the first; but
his lack of familiarity with political organizations kept him
from assigning full value to the temper of any one factor as
affecting the joint temper of the whole group. It was
appointed for him to learn this in a supremely hard way and to
apply the lesson with wonderful audacity. But in 1860 that
stern experience still slept in the future. He had no
suspicion as yet that he might find it difficult to carry out
his own promise to stand with the Abolitionists in excluding
slavery from the Territories, and to stand against them in
enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law. He did not yet see why any
one should doubt the validity of this promise; why any one
should be afraid to go along with him, afraid that the temper
of one element would infect the whole coalition.

But this fear that Lincoln did not allow for, possessed already
a great many minds. Thousands of Southerners, of the sort whom
Lincoln credited with good intentions about slavery, feared the
Abolitionists Not because the Abolitionists wanted to destroy
slavery, but because they wanted to do so fiercely, cruelly.
Like Lincoln, these Southerners who were liberals in thought
and moderates in action, did not know what to do about slavery.
Like Lincoln, they had but one fixed idea with regard to
it,--slavery must not be terminated violently. Lincoln, despite
his near horizon, sensed them correctly as not being at one
with the great plutocrats who wished to exploit slavery. But
when the Abolitionist poured out the same fury of vituperation
on every sort of slave-holder; when he promised his soul that
it should yet have the joy of exulting in the ruin of all such,
the moderate Southerners became as flint. When the
Abolitionists proclaimed their affiliation with the new party,
the first step was taken toward a general Southern coalition to
stop the Republican advance.

There was another positive element blended into the negative
coalition. In 1857, the Republicans overruling the traditions
of those members who had once been Democrats, set their faces
toward protection. To most of the Northerners the fatefulness
of the step was not obvious. Twenty years had passed since a
serious tariff controversy had shaken the North. Financial
difficulties in the 'fifties were more prevalent in the North
than in the South. Business was in a quandary. Labor was
demanding better opportunities. Protection as a solution, or
at least as a palliative, seemed to the mass of the Republican
coalition, even to the former Democrats for all their free
trade traditions, not outrageous. To the Southerners it was an
alarm bell. The Southern world was agricultural; its staple
was cotton; the bulk of its market was in England. Ever since
1828, the Southern mind had been constantly on guard with
regard to tariff, unceasingly fearful that protection would be
imposed on it by Northern and Western votes. To have to sell
its cotton in England at free trade values, but at the same
time to have to buy its commodities at protected values fixed
by Northern manufacturers--what did that mean but the despotism
of one section over another? When the Republicans took up
protection as part of their creed, a general Southern coalition
was rendered almost inevitable.

This, Lincoln {Missing text}. Again it is to be accounted for
in part by his near horizon. Had he lived at Washington, had
he met, frequently, Southern men; had he passed those crucial
years of the 'fifties in debates with political leaders rather
than in story-telling tournaments on the circuit; perhaps all
this would have been otherwise. But one can not be quite sure.
Finance never appealed to him. A wide application may be given
to Herndon's remark that "he had no money sense." All the rest
of the Republican doctrine finds its best statement in Lincoln.
On the one subject of its economic policy he is silent.
Apparently it is to be classified with the routine side of the
law. To neither was he ever able to give more than a
perfunctory attention. As an artist in politics he had the
defect of his qualities.

What his qualities showed him were two things: the alliance of
the plutocratic slave power with the plutocratic money power,
and the essential rightness in impulse of the bulk of the
Southern people. Hence his conclusion which became his party's
conclusion: that, in the South, a political-financial ring was
dominating a leaderless people, This was not the truth.
Lincoln's defects in 1860 limited his vision. Nevertheless, to
the solitary distant thinker, shut in by the near horizon of
political Springfield, there was every excuse for the error.
The palpable evidence all confirmed it. What might have
contradicted it was a cloud of witnesses, floating, incidental,
casual, tacit. Just what a nature like Lincoln's, if only he
could have met them, would have perceived and comprehended;
what a nature like Douglas's, no matter how plainly they were
presented to him, could neither perceive nor comprehend. It
was the irony of fate that an opportunity to fathom his time
was squandered upon the unseeing Douglas, while to the seeing
Lincoln it was denied. In a word, the Southern reaction
against the Republicans, like the Republican movement itself,
had both a positive and a negative side. It was the positive
side that could be seen and judged at long range. And this was
what Lincoln saw, which appeared to him to have created the
dominant issue in 1860.

The negative side of the Southern movement he did not see. He
was too far away to make out the details of the picture.
Though he may have known from the census of 1850 that only
one-third of the Southern whites were members of slave-holding
families, he could scarcely have known that only a small
minority of the Southern families owned as many as five slaves;
that those who had fortunes in slaves were a mere handful--just
as today those who have fortunes in steel or beef are mere
handfuls. But still less did he know how entirely this vast
majority which had so little, if any, interest in slavery, had
grown to fear and distrust the North. They, like him, were
suffering from a near horizon. They, too, were applying the
principle "Stand with anybody so long as he stands right" But
for them, standing right meant preventing a violent revolution
in Southern life. Indifferent as they were to slavery, they
were willing to go along with the "slave-barons" in the attempt
to consolidate the South in a movement of denial--a denial of
the right of the North, either through Abolitionism or through
tariff, to dominate the South.

If only Lincoln with his subtle mind could have come into touch
with the negative side of the Southern agitation! It was the
other side, the positive side, that was vocal. With immense
shrewdness the profiteers of slavery saw and developed their
opportunity. They organized the South. They preached on all
occasions, in all connections, the need of all Southerners to
stand together, no matter how great their disagreements, in
order to prevent the impoverishment of the South by hostile
economic legislation. During the late 'fifties their
propaganda for an all-Southern policy, made slow but constant
headway. But even in 1859 these ideas were still far from
controlling the South.

And then came John Brown. The dread of slave insurrection was
laid deep in Southern recollection. Thirty years before, the
Nat Turner Rebellion had filled a portion of Virginia with
burned plantation houses amid whose ruins lay the dead bodies
of white women. A little earlier, a negro conspiracy at
Charleston planned the murder of white men and the parceling
out of white women among the conspirators. And John Brown had
come into Virginia at the head of a band of strangers calling
upon the slaves to rise and arm.

Here was a supreme opportunity. The positive Southern force,
the slave profiteers, seized at once the attitude of champions
of the South. It was easy enough to enlist the negative force
in a shocked and outraged denunciation of everything Northern.
And the Northern extremists did all that was in their power to
add fuel to the flame. Emerson called Brown "this new saint
who had made the gallows glorious as the cross." The
Southerners, hearing that, thought of the conspiracy to parcel
out the white women of Charleston. Early in 1860 it seemed as
if the whole South had but one idea-to part company with the

No wonder Lincoln threw all his influence into the scale to
discredit the memory of Brown. No wonder the Republicans in
their platform carefully repudiated him. They could not undo
the impression made on the Southern mind by two facts: the men
who lauded Brown as a new saint were voting the Republican
ticket; the Republicans had committed themselves to the
anti-Southern policy of protection.

And yet, in spite of all the labors of pro-slavery extremists,
the movement for a breach with the North lost ground during
1860. When the election came, the vote for President revealed
a singular and unforeseen situation. Four candidates were in
the field. The Democrats, split into two by the issue of
slavery expansion, formed two parties. The slave profiteers
secured the nomination by one faction of John C. Breckinridge.
The moderate Democrats who would neither fight nor favor
slavery, nominated Douglas. The most peculiar group was the
fourth. They included all those who would not join the
Republicans for fear of the temper of the Abolition-members,
but who were not promoters of slavery, and who distrusted
Douglas. They had no program but to restore the condition of
things that existed before the Nebraska Bill. About four
million five hundred thousand votes were cast. Lincoln had
less than two million, and all but about twenty-four thousand
of these were in the Free States. However, the disposition of
Lincoln's vote gave him the electoral college. He was chosen
President by the votes of a minority of the nation. But there
was another minority vote which as events turned out, proved
equally significant. Breckinridge, the symbol of the slave
profiteers, and of all those whom they had persuaded to follow
them, had not been able to carry the popular vote of the South.
They were definitely in the minority in their own section. The
majority of the Southerners had so far reacted from the wild
alarms of the beginning of the year that they refused to go
along with the candidates of the extremists. They were for
giving the Union another trial. The South itself had
repudiated the slave profiteers.

This was the immensely significant fact of November, 1860. It
made a great impression on the whole country. For the moment
it made the fierce talk of the Southern extremists
inconsequential. Buoyant Northerners, such as Seward, felt
that the crisis was over; that the South had voted for a
reconciliation; that only tact was needed to make everybody
happy. When, a few weeks after the election, Seward said that
all would be merry again inside of ninety days, his illusion
had for its foundation the Southern rejection of the slave

Unfortunately, Seward did not understand the precise
significance of the thought of the moderate South. He did not
understand that while the South had voted to send Breckinridge
and his sort about their business, it was still deeply alarmed,
deeply fearful that after all it might at any minute be forced
to call them back, to make common cause with them against what
it regarded as an alien and destructive political power, the
Republicans. This was the Southern reservation, the unspoken
condition of the vote which Seward--and for that matter,
Lincoln, also,--failed to comprehend. Because of these
cross-purposes, because the Southern alarm was based on another
thing than the standing or falling of slavery, the situation
called for much more than tact, for profound psychological

And now emerges out of the complexities of the Southern
situation a powerful personality whose ideas and point of view
Lincoln did not understand. Robert Barnwell Rhett had once
been a man of might in politics. Twice he had very nearly rent
the Union asunder. In 1844, again in 1851, he had come to the
very edge of persuading South Carolina to secede. In each case
he sought to organize the general discontent of the South,--its
dread of a tariff, and of Northern domination. After his
second failure, his haughty nature took offense at fortune. He
resigned his seat in the Senate and withdrew to private life.
But he was too large and too bold a character to attain
obscurity. Nor would his restless genius permit him to rust in
ease. During the troubled 'fifties, he watched from a
distance, but with ever increasing interest, that negative
Southern force which he, in the midst of it, comprehended,
while it drifted under the wing of the extremists. As he did
so, the old arguments, the old ambitions, the old hopes
revived. In 1851 his cry to the South was to assert itself as
a Separate nation--not for any one reason, but for many
reasons--and to lead its own life apart from the North. It was
an age of brilliant though ill-fated revolutionary movements in
Europe. Kossuth and the gallant Hungarian attempt at
independence had captivated the American imagination. Rhett
dreamed of seeing the South do what Hungary had failed to do.
He thought of the problem as a medieval knight would have
thought, in terms of individual prowess, with the modern
factors, economics and all their sort, left on one side.
"Smaller nations [than South Carolina]," he said in 1851,
"have striven for freedom against greater odds."

In 1860 he had concluded that his third chance had come. He
would try once more to bring about secession. To split the
Union, he would play into the hands of the slave-barons. He
would aim to combine with their movement the negative Southern
movement and use the resulting coalition to crown with success
his third attempt. Issuing from his seclusion, he became at
once the overshadowing figure in South Carolina. Around him
all the elements of revolution crystallized. He was sixty
years old; seasoned and uncompromising in the pursuit of his
one ideal, the independence of the South. His arguments were
the same which he had used in 1844, in 1851: the North would
impoverish the South; it threatens to impose a crushing tribute
in the shape of protection; it seeks to destroy slavery; it
aims to bring about economic collapse; in the wreck thus
produced, everything that is beautiful, charming, distinctive
in Southern life will be lost; let us fight! With such a
leader, the forces of discontent were quickly, effectively,
organized. Even before the election of Lincoln, the
revolutionary leaders in South Carolina were corresponding with
men of like mind in other Southern States, especially Alabama,
where was another leader, Yancey, only second in intensity to

The word from these Alabama revolutionists to South Carolina
was to dare all, to risk seceding alone, confident that the
other States of the South would follow. Rhett and his new
associates took this perilous advice. The election was
followed by the call of a convention of delegates of the people
of South Carolina. This convention, on the twentieth of
December, 1860, repealed the laws which united South Carolina
with the other States and proclaimed their own independent.


Though Seward and other buoyant natures felt that the crisis
had passed with the election, less volatile people held the
opposite view. Men who had never before taken seriously the
Southern threats of disunion had waked suddenly to a terrified
consciousness that they were in for it. In their blindness to
realities earlier in the year, they were like that brilliant
host of camp followers which, as Thackeray puts it, led the
army of Wellington dancing and feasting to the very brink of
Waterloo. And now the day of reckoning had come. An emotional
reaction carried them from one extreme to the other; from
self-sufficient disregard of their adversaries to an almost
self-abasing regard.

The very type of these people and of their reaction was Horace
Greeley. He was destined many times to make plain that he
lived mainly in his sensibilities; that, in his kaleidoscopic
vision, the pattern of the world could be red and yellow and
green today, and orange and purple and blue tomorrow. To
descend from a pinnacle of self-complacency into a desolating
abyss of panic, was as easy for Greeley as it is--in the vulgar
but pointed American phrase--to roll off a log. A few days
after the election, Greeley had rolled off his log. He was
wallowing in panic. He began to scream editorially. The
Southern extremists were terribly in earnest; if they wanted to
go, go they would, and go they should. But foolish Northerners
would be sure to talk war and the retaining of the South in the
Union by force: it must not be; what was the Union compared
with bloodshed? There must be no war--no war. Such was
Greeley's terrified--appeal to the North. A few weeks after
the election he printed his famous editorial denouncing the
idea of a Union pinned together by bayonets. He followed up
with another startling concession to his fears: the South had
as good cause for leaving the Union as the colonies had for
leaving the British Empire. A little later, he formulated his
ultimate conclusion,--which like many of his ultimates proved to
be transitory,--and declared that if any group of Southern
States "choose to form an independent nation, they have a clear
moral right to do so," and pledging himself and his followers
to do "our best to forward their views.

Greeley wielded through The Tribune more influence, perhaps,
than was possessed by any other Republican with the single
exception of Lincoln. His newspaper constituency was enormous,
and the relation between the leader and the led was unusually
close. He was both oracle and barometer. As a symptom of the
Republican panic, as a cause increasing that panic, he was of
first importance.

Meanwhile Congress had met. And at once, the most
characteristic peculiarity of the moment was again made
emphatic. The popular majorities and the political machines
did not coincide. Both in the North and in the South a
minority held the situation in the hollow of its hand. The
Breckinridge Democrats, despite their repudiation in the
presidential vote, included so many of the Southern
politicians, they were so well organized, they had scored such
a menacing victory with the aid of Rhett in South Carolina,
they had played so skilfully on the fears of the South at
large, their leaders were such skilled managers, that they were
able to continue for the moment the recognized spokesmen of the
South at Washington. They lost no time defining their
position. If the Union were not to be sundered, the
Republicans must pledge themselves to a new and extensive
compromise; it must be far different from those historic
compromises that had preceded it. Three features must
characterize any new agreement: The South must be dealt with as
a unit; it must be given a "sphere of influence"--to use our
modern term--which would fully satisfy all its impulses of
expansion; and in that sphere, every question of slavery must
be left entirely, forever, to local action. In a word, they
demanded for the South what today would be described as a
"dominion" status. Therefore, they insisted that the party
which had captured the Northern political machine should
formulate its reply to these demands. They gave notice that
they would not discuss individual schemes, but only such as the
victorious Republicans might officially present. Thus the
national crisis became a party crisis. What could the
Republicans among themselves agree to propose?

The central figure of the crisis seemed at first to be the
brilliant Republican Senator from New York. Seward thought he
understood the South, and what was still more important, human
nature. Though he echoed Greeley's cry for peace--translating
his passionate hysteria into the polished cynicism of a
diplomat who had been known to deny that he was ever entirely
serious-he scoffed at Greeley's fears. If the South had not
voted lack of confidence in the Breckinridge crowd, what had it
voted? If the Breckinridge leaders weren't maneuvering to save
their faces, what could they be accused of doing? If Seward,
the Republican man of genius, couldn't see through all that,
couldn't devise a way to help them save their faces, what was
the use in being a brilliant politician?

Jauntily self-complacent, as confident of himself as if Rome
were burning and he the garlanded fiddler, Seward braced
himself for the task of recreating the Union.

But there was an obstacle in his path. It was Lincoln. Of
course, it was folly to propose a scheme which the incoming
President would not sustain. Lincoln and Seward must come to
an understanding. To bring that about Seward despatched a
personal legate to Springfield. Thurlow Weed, editor, man of
the world, political wire-puller beyond compare, Seward's
devoted henchman, was the legate. One of the great events of
American history was the conversation between Weed and Lincoln
in December, 1860. By a rare propriety of dramatic effect, it
occurred probably, on the very day South Carolina brought to an
end its campaign of menace and adopted its Ordinance of
Secession, December twentieth.[1]

Weed had brought to Springfield a definite proposal. The
Crittenden compromise was being hotly discussed in Congress and
throughout the country. All the Northern advocates of
conciliation were eager to put it through. There was some
ground to believe that the Southern machine at Washington would
accept it. If Lincoln would agree, Seward would make it the
basis of his policy.

This Compromise would have restored the old line of the
Missouri Compromise and would have placed it under the
protection of a constitutional amendment. This, together with
a guarantee against congressional interference with slavery in
the States where it existed, a guarantee the Republicans had
already offered, seemed to Seward, to Weed, to Greeley, to the
bulk of the party, a satisfactory means of preserving the
Union. What was it but a falling back on the original policy
of the party, the undoing of those measures of 1854 which had
called the party into being? Was it conceivable that Lincoln
would balk the wishes of the party by obstructing such a
natural mode of extrication? But that was what Lincoln did.
His views had advanced since 1854. Then, he was merely for
restoring the old duality of the country, the two "dominions,"
Northern and Southern, each with its own social order. He had
advanced to the belief that this duality could not permanently
continue. Just how far Lincoln realized what he was doing in
refusing to compromise will never be known. Three months
afterward, he took a course which seems to imply that his
vision during the interim had expanded, had opened before him a
new revelation of the nature of his problem. At the earlier
date Lincoln and the Southern people--not the Southern machine--
were looking at the one problem from opposite points of view,
and were locating the significance of the problem in different
features. To Lincoln, the heart of the matter was slavery. To
the Southerners, including the men who had voted lack of
confidence in Breckinridge, the heart of the matter was the
sphere of influence. What the Southern majority wanted was not
the policy of the slave profiteers but a secure future for
expansion, a guarantee that Southern life, social, economic,
cultural, would not be merged with the life of the opposite
section: in a word, preservation of "dominion" status. In
Lincoln's mind, slavery being the main issue, this "dominion"
issue was incidental--a mere outgrowth of slavery that should
begin to pass away with slavery's restriction. In the Southern
mind, a community consciousness, the determination to be a
people by themselves, nation within the nation, was the issue,
and slavery was the incident. To repeat, it is impossible to
say what Lincoln would have done had he comprehended the
Southern attitude. His near horizon which had kept him all
along from grasping the negative side of the Southern movement
prevented his perception of this tragic instance of

Lacking this perception, his thoughts had centered themselves
on a recent activity of the slave profiteers. They had
clamored for the annexation of new territory to the south of
us. Various attempts had been made to create an international
crisis looking toward the seizure of Cuba. Then, too, bold
adventurers had staked their heads, seeking to found
slave-holding communities in Central America. Why might not
such attempts succeed? Why might not new Slave States be
created outside the Union, eventually to be drawn in? Why not?
said the slave profiteer, and gave money and assistance to the
filibusters in Nicaragua. Why not? said Lincoln, also. What
protection against such an extension of boundaries? Was the
limitation of slave area to be on one side only, the Northern
side? And here at last, for Lincoln, was what appeared to be
the true issue of the moment. To dualize the Union, assuming
its boundaries to be fixed, was one thing. To dualize the
Union in the face of a movement for extension of boundaries was
another. Hence it was now vital, as Lincoln reasoned, to give
slavery a fixed boundary on all sides. Silently, while others
fulminated, or rhapsodized, or wailed, he had moved inexorably
to a new position which was nothing but a logical development
of the old. The old position was-no extension of slave
territory; the new position was--no more Slave States.[2] Because
Crittenden's Compromise left it possible to have a new Slave
State in Cuba, a new Slave State in Nicaragua, perhaps a dozen
such new States, Lincoln refused to compromise.[3]

It was a terrible decision, carrying within it the possibility
of civil war. But Lincoln could not be moved. This was the
first acquaintance of the established political leaders with
his inflexible side. In the recesses of his own thoughts the
decision had been reached. It was useless to argue with him.
Weed carried bad: his ultimatum. Seward abandoned Crittenden's
scheme. The only chance for compromise passed away. The
Southern leaders set about their plans for organizing a
Southern Confederacy.


Lincoln's ultimatum of December twentieth contained three
proposals that might be made to the Southern leaders:

That the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law which hitherto
had been left to State authorities should be taken over by
Congress and supported by the Republicans.

That the Republicans to the extent of their power should work
for the repeal of all those "Personal Liberty Laws" which had
been established in certain Northern States to defeat the
operation of the Fugitive Slave Law.

That the Federal Union must be preserved.[1]

In presenting these proposals along with a refusal to consider
the Crittenden Compromise, Seward tampered with their clear-cut
form. Fearful of the effect on the extremists of the
Republican group, he withheld Lincoln's unconditional promise
to maintain the Fugitive Slave Law and instead of pledging his
party to the repeal of Personal Liberty Laws he promised only
to have Congress request the States to repeal them. He
suppressed altogether the assertion that the Union must be
preserved.[2] About the same time, in a public speech, he said he
was not going to be "humbugged" by the bogy of secession, and
gave his fatuous promise that all the trouble would be ended
inside ninety days. For all his brilliancy of a sort, he was
spiritually obtuse. On him, as on Douglas, Fate had lavished
opportunities to see life as it is, to understand the motives
of men; but it could not make him use them. He was
incorrigibly cynical. He could not divest himself of the idea
that all this confusion was hubbub, was but an ordinary
political game, that his only cue was to assist his adversaries
in saving their faces. In spite of his rich experience,--in spite
of being an accomplished man of the world,--at least in his
own estimation--he was as blind to the real motives of
that Southern majority which had rejected Breckinridge as was
the inexperienced Lincoln. The coolness with which he modified
Lincoln's proposals was evidence that he considered himself the
great Republican and Lincoln an accident. He was to do the
same again--to his own regret.

When Lincoln issued his ultimatum, he was approaching the
summit, if not at the very summit, of another of his successive
waves of vitality, of self-confidence. That depression which
came upon him about the end of 1858, which kept him undecided,
in a mood of excessive caution during most of 1859, had passed
away. The presidential campaign with its thrilling tension,
its excitement, had charged him anew with confidence. Although
one more eclipse was in store for him--the darkest eclipse of
all--he was very nearly the definitive Lincoln of history. At
least, he had the courage which that Lincoln was to show.

He was now the target for a besieging army of politicians
clamoring for "spoils" in the shape of promises of preferment.
It was a miserable and disgraceful assault which profoundly
offended him.[3] To his mind this was not the same thing as the
simple-hearted personal politics of his younger days--friends
standing together and helping one another along--but a gross and
monstrous rapacity. It was the first chill shadow that
followed the election day.

There were difficult intrigues over the Cabinet. Promises made
by his managers at Chicago were presented for redemption.
Rival candidates bidding for his favor, tried to cut each
other's throats. For example, there was the intrigue of the
War Department. The Lincoln managers had promised a Cabinet
appointment to Pennsylvania; the followers of Simon Cameron
were a power; it had been necessary to win them over in order
to nominate Lincoln; they insisted that their leader was now
entitled to the Pennsylvania seat in the Cabinet; but there was
an anti-Cameron faction almost as potent in Pennsylvania as the
Cameron faction. Both sent their agents to Springfield to lay
siege to Lincoln. In this duel, the Cameron forces won the
first round. Lincoln offered him the Secretaryship.
Subsequently, his enemies made so good a case that Lincoln was
convinced of the unwisdom of his decision and withdrew the
offer. But Cameron had not kept the offer confidential. The
withdrawal would discredit him politically and put a trump card
into the hands of his enemies. A long dispute followed. Not
until Lincoln had reached Washington, immediately before the
inauguration, was the dispute ended, the withdrawal withdrawn,
and Cameron appointed.[4]

It was a dreary winter for the President-elect. It was also a
brand- new experience. For the first time he was a dispenser
of favor on a grand scale. Innumerable men showed their
meanest side, either to advance themselves or to injure others.
As the weeks passed and the spectacle grew in shamelessness,
his friends became more and more conscious of his peculiar
melancholy. The elation of the campaign subsided into a deep
unhappiness over the vanity of this world. Other phases of the
shadowy side of his character also asserted themselves.
Conspicuous was a certain trend in his thinking that was part
of Herndon's warrant for calling him a fatalist. Lincoln's
mysticism very early had taken a turn toward predestination,
coupled with a belief in dreams.[5] He did not in any way believe
in magic; he never had any faith in divinations, in the occult,
in any secret mode of alluring the unseen powers to take one's
side. Nevertheless, he made no bones about being
superstitious. And he thought that coming events cast their
shadows before, that something, at least, of the future was
sometimes revealed through dreams. "Nature," he would say, "is
the workshop of the Almighty, and we form but links in the
chain of intellectual and material life."[6] Byron's Dream was
one of his favorite poems. He pondered those ancient,
historical tales which make free use of portents. There was a
fascination for him in the story of Caracalla--how his murder of
Geta was foretold, how he was upbraided by the ghosts of his
father and brother. This dream-faith of his was as real as was
a similar faith held by the authors of the Old Testament. He
had his theory of the interpretation of dreams. Because they
were a universal experience--as he believed, the universal mode
of communication between the unseen and the seen--his beloved
"plain people," the "children of Nature," the most universal
types of humanity, were their best interpreters. He also
believed in presentiment. As faithfully as the simplest of the
brood of the forest--those recreated primitives who regulated
their farming by the brightness or the darkness of the moon,
who planted corn or slaughtered hogs as Artemis directed--he
trusted a presentiment if once it really took possession of
him. A presentiment which had been formed before this time, we
know not when, was clothed with authority by a dream, or rather
a vision, that came to him in the days of melancholy
disillusion during the last winter at Springfield. Looking
into a mirror, he saw two Lincolns,--one alive, the other dead.
It was this vision which clenched his pre-sentiment that he was
born to a great career and to a tragic end. He interpreted the
vision that his administration would be successful, but that it
would close with his death.[7]

The record of his inner life during the last winter at
Springfield is very dim. But there can be no doubt that a
desolating change attacked his spirit. As late as the day of
his ultimatum he was still in comparative sunshine, or, at
least his clouds were not close about him. His will was steel,
that day. Nevertheless, a friend who visited him in January,
to talk over their days together, found not only that "the
old-time zest" was lacking, but that it was replaced by "gloom
and despondency."[8] The ghosts that hovered so frequently at the
back of his mind, the brooding tendencies which fed upon his
melancholy and made him at times irresolute, were issuing from
the shadows, trooping forward, to encompass him roundabout.

In the midst of this spiritual reaction, he was further
depressed by the stern news from the South and from Washington.
His refusal to compromise was beginning to bear fruit. The
Gulf States seceded. A Southern Confederacy was formed. There
is no evidence that he lost faith in his course, but abundant
evidence that he was terribly unhappy. He was preyed upon by
his sense of helplessness, while Buchanan through his weakness
and vacillation was "giving away the case." "Secession is being
fostered," said he, "rather than repressed, and if the doctrine
meets with general acceptance in the Border States, it will be
a great blow to the government."[9] He did not deceive himself
upon the possible effect of his ultimatum, and sent word to
General Scott to be prepared to hold or to "retake" the forts
garrisoned by Federal troops in the Southern States.[10]

All the while his premonition of the approach of doom grew more
darkly oppressive. The trail of the artist is discernible
across his thoughts. In his troubled imagination he identified
his own situation with that of the protagonist in tragedies on
the theme of fate. He did not withhold his thoughts from the
supreme instance. That same friend who found him possessed of
gloom preserved these words of his: "I have read on my knees
the story of Gethsemane, when the Son of God prayed in vain
that the cup of bitterness might pass from him. I am in the
Garden of Gethsemane now and my cup of bitterness is full and
overflowing now."[11]

"Like some strong seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance,
With a glassy countenance,"

he faced toward Washington, toward the glorious terror promised
him by his superstitions.

The last days before the departure were days of mingled gloom,
desperation, and the attempt to recover hope. He visited his
old stepmother and made a pilgrimage to his father's grave.
His thoughts fondly renewed the details of his past life,
lingered upon this and that, as if fearful that it was all
slipping away from him forever. And then he roused himself as
if in sudden revolt against the Fates. The day before he left
Springfield forever Lincoln met his partner for the last time
at their law office to wind up the last of their unsettled
business. "After those things were all disposed of," says
Herndon, "he crossed to the opposite side of the room and threw
himself down on the old office sofa. . . . He lay there for
some moments his face to the ceiling without either of us
speaking. Presently, he inquired: 'Billy'--he always called me
by that name--'how long have we been together?' 'Over sixteen
years,' I answered. 'We've never had a cross word during all
that time, have we?' . . . He gathered a bundle of papers
and books he wished to take with him and started to go, but
before leaving, he made the strange request that the sign board
which swung on its rusty hinges at the foot of the stairway
would remain. 'Let it hang there undisturbed,' he said, with
a significant lowering of the voice. 'Give our clients to
understand that the election of a President makes no change in
the firm of Lincoln & Herndon. If I live, I am coming back
some time, and then we'll go right on practising law as if
nothing had happened.' He lingered for a moment as if to take a
last look at the old quarters, and then passed through the door
into the narrow hallway."[12]

On a dreary day with a cold rain falling, he set forth. The
railway station was packed with friends. He made his way
through the crowd slowly, shaking hands. "Having finally
reached the train, he ascended the rear platform, and, facing
about to the throng which had closed about him, drew himself up
to his full height, removed his hat and stood for several
seconds in profound silence. His eyes roved sadly over that
sea of upturned faces. . . There was an unusual quiver on
his lips and a still more unusual tear on his shriveled cheek.
His solemn manner, his long silence, were as full of melancholy
eloquence as any words he could have uttered."[13] At length, he
spoke: "My friends, no one not in my situation can appreciate
my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the
kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived
a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old
man. Here my children have been born and one is buried. I now
leave, not knowing when or whether ever, I may return, with a
task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.
Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended
him, I can not succeed. With that assistance, I can not fail.
Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you, and be
everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet
be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers
you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."[14]


There is a period of sixteen months--from February, 1861, to a
day in June, 1862,--when Lincoln is the most singular, the most
problematic of statesmen. Out of this period he issues with
apparent abruptness, the final Lincoln, with a place among the
few consummate masters of state-craft. During the sixteen
months, his genius comes and goes. His confidence, whether in
himself or in others, is an uncertain quantity. At times he is
bold, even rash; at others, irresolute. The constant factor in
his mood all this while is his amazing humility. He seems to
have forgotten his own existence. As a person with likes and
dislikes, with personal hopes and fears, he has vanished. He
is but an afflicted and perplexed mind, struggling desperately
to save his country. A selfless man, he may be truly called
through months of torment which made him over from a
theoretical to a practical statesman. He entered this period a
literary man who had been elevated almost by accident to the
position of a leader in politics. After many blunders, after
doubt, hesitation and pain, he came forth from this stern
ordeal a powerful man of action.

The impression which he made on the country at the opening of
this period was unfortunate. The very power that had hitherto
been the making of him--the literary power, revealing to men in
wonderfully convincing form the ideas which they felt within
them but could not utter--this had deserted him. Explain the
psychology of it any way you will, there is the fact! The
speeches Lincoln made on the way to Washington during the
latter part of February were appallingly unlike himself. His
mind had suddenly fallen dumb. He had nothing to say. The
gloom, the desolation that had penetrated his soul, somehow,
for the moment, made him commonplace. When he talked--as
convention required him to do at all his stopping places--his
words were but faint echoes of the great political exponent he
once had been. His utterances were fatuous; mere exhortations
to the country not to worry. "There is no crisis but an
artificial one," he said.[1] And the country stood aghast!
Amazement, bewilderment, indignation, was the course of the
reaction in many minds of his own party. Their verdict was
expressed in the angry language of Samuel Bowles, "Lincoln is a
Simple Susan."[2]

In private talk, Lincoln admitted that he was "more troubled
about the outlook than he thought it discreet to show." This
remark was made to a "Public Man," whose diary has been
published but whose identity is still secret. Though keenly
alert for any touch of weakness or absurdity in the new
President, calling him "the most ill-favored son of Adam I
ever saw," the Public Man found him "crafty and sensible." In
conversation, the old Lincoln, the matchless phrase-maker,
could still express himself. At New York he was told of a wild
scheme that was on foot to separate the city from the North,
form a city state such as Hamburg then was, and set up a
commercial alliance with the Confederacy. "As to the free city
business," said Lincoln, "well, I reckon it will be some time
before the front door sets up bookkeeping on its own account."[3]
The formal round of entertainment on his way to Washington
wearied Lincoln intensely. Harassed and preoccupied, he was
generally ill at ease. And he was totally unused to sumptuous
living. Failures in social usage were inevitable. New York
was convulsed with amusement because at the opera he wore a
pair of huge black kid gloves which attracted the attention of
the whole house, "hanging as they did over the red velvet box
front." At an informal reception, between acts in the
director's room, he looked terribly bored and sat on the sofa
at the end of the room with his hat pushed back on his head.
Caricatures filled the opposition papers. He was spoken of as
the "Illinois ape" and the "gorilla." Every rash remark, every
"break" in social form, every gaucherie was seized upon and
ridiculed with-out mercy.

There is no denying that the oddities of Lincoln's manner
though quickly dismissed from thought by men of genius,
seriously troubled even generous men who lacked the intuitions
of genius. And he never overcame these oddities. During the
period of his novitiate as a ruler, the critical sixteen
months, they were carried awkwardly, with embarrassment. Later
when he had found himself as a ruler, when his self-confidence
had reached its ultimate form and he knew what he really was,
he forgot their existence. None the less, they were always a
part of him, his indelible envelope. At the height of his
power, he received visitors with his feet in leather slippers.[4]
He discussed great affairs of state with one of those slippered
feet flung up on to a corner of his desk. A favorite attitude,
even when debating vital matters with the great ones of the
nation, is described by his secretaries as "sitting on his
shoulders"--he would slide far down into his chair and stick up
both slippers so high above his head that they could rest with
ease upon his mantelpiece.[5] No wonder that his enemies made
unlimited fun. And they professed to believe that there was an
issue here. When the elegant McClellan was moving heaven and
earth, as he fancied, to get the army out of its shirt-sleeves,
the President's manner was a cause of endless irritation.
Still more serious was the effect of his manner on many men who
agreed with him otherwise. Such a high-minded leader as
Governor Andrew of Massachusetts never got over the feeling
that Lincoln was a rowdy. How could a rowdy be the salvation
of the country? In the dark days of 1864, when a rebellion
against his leadership was attempted, this merely accidental
side of him was an element of danger. The barrier it had
created between himself and the more formal types, made it hard
for the men who finally saved him to overcome their prejudice
and nail his colors to the mast. Andrew's biographer shows
himself a shrewd observer when he insists on the unexpressed
but inexorable scale by which Andrew and his following measured
Lincoln. They had grown up in the faith that you could tell a
statesman by certain external signs, chiefly by a grandiose and
commanding aspect such as made overpowering the presence of
Webster. And this idea was not confined to any one locality.
Everywhere, more or less, the conservative portion in every
party held this view. It was the view of Washington in 1848
when Washington had failed to see the real Lincoln through his
surface peculiarities. It was again the view of Washington
when Lincoln returned to it.

Furthermore, his free way of talking, the broad stories he
continued to tell, were made counts in his indictment. One of
the bequests of Puritanism in America is the ideal, at least,
of extreme scrupulousness in talk. To many sincere men
Lincoln's choice of fables was often a deadly offense. Charles
Francis Adams never got over the shock of their first
interview. Lincoln clenched a point with a broad story. Many
professional politicians who had no objection to such talk in
itself, glared and sneered when the President used it--because
forsooth, it might estrange a vote.

Then, too, Lincoln had none of the social finesse that might
have adapted his manner to various classes. He was always
incorrigibly the democrat pure and simple. He would have
laughed uproariously over that undergraduate humor, the joy of
a famous American University, supposedly strong on Democracy:

"Where God speaks to Jones, in the very same tones,
That he uses to Hadley and Dwight."

Though Lincoln's queer aplomb, his good-humored familiarity on
first acquaintance, delighted most of his visitors, it offended
many. It was lacking in tact. Often it was a clumsy attempt
to be jovial too soon, as when he addressed Greeley by the name
of "Horace" almost on first sight. His devices for putting men
on the familiar footing lacked originality. The frequency with
which he called upon a tall visitor to measure up against him
reveals the poverty of his social invention. He applied this
device with equal thoughtlessness to the stately Sumner, who
protested, and to a nobody who grinned and was delighted.

It was this mere envelope of the genius that was deplorably
evident on the journey from Springfield to Washington. There
was one detail of the journey that gave his enemies a more
definite ground for sneering. By the irony of fate, the first
clear instance of Lincoln's humility, his reluctance to set up
his own judgment against his advisers, was also his first
serious mistake. There is a distinction here that is vital.
Lincoln was entering on a new role, the role of the man of
action. Hitherto all the great decisions of his life had been
speculative; they had developed from within; they dealt with
ideas. The inflexible side of him was intellectual. Now,
without any adequate apprenticeship, he was called upon to make
practical decisions, to decide on courses of action, at one
step to pass from the dream of statecraft to its application.
Inevitably, for a considerable time, he was two people; he
passed back and forth from one to the other; only by degrees
did he bring the two together. Meanwhile, he appeared
contradictory. Inwardly, as a thinker, his development was
unbroken; he was still cool, inflexible, drawing all his
conclusions out of the depths of himself. Outwardly, in
action, he was learning the new task, hesitatingly, with
vacillation, with excessive regard to the advisers whom he
treated as experts in action. It was no slight matter for an
extraordinarily sensitive man to take up a new role at

This first official mistake of Lincoln's was in giving way to
the fears of his retinue for his safety. The time had become
hysterical. The wildest sort of stories filled the air. Even
before he left Springfield there were rumors of plots to
assassinate him.[6] On his arrival at Philadelphia information
was submitted to his companions which convinced them that his
life was in danger--an attempt would be made to kill him as he
passed through Baltimore. Seward at Washington had heard the
same story and had sent his son to Philadelphia to advise
caution. Lincoln's friends insisted that he leave his special
train and proceed to Washington with only one companion, on an
ordinary night train. Railway officials were called in.
Elaborate precautions were arranged. The telegraph lines were
all to be disconnected for a number of hours so that even if
the conspirators--assuming there were any--should discover his
change of plan, they would be unable to communicate with
Baltimore. The one soldier in the party, Colonel Sumner,
vehemently protested that these changes were all "a damned
piece of cowardice." But Lincoln acquiesced in the views of the
majority of his advisers. He passed through Baltimore
virtually in disguise; nothing happened; no certain evidence of
a conspiracy was discovered. And all his enemies took up the
cry of cowardice and rang the changes upon it.[7]

Meanwhile, despite all this semblance of indecision, of
feebleness, there were signs that the real inner Lincoln,
however clouded, was still alive. By way of offset to his
fatuous utterances, there might have been set, had the Country
been in a mood to weigh with care, several strong and clear
pronouncements. And these were not merely telling phrases like
that characteristic one about the bookkeeping of the front
door. His mind was struggling out of its shadow. And the mode
of its reappearance was significant. His reasoning upon the
true meaning of the struggle he was about to enter, reached a
significant stage in the speech he made at Harrisburg.[8]

"I have often inquired of myself," he said, "what great
principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy [the United
States] so long together. It was not the mere matter of the
separation of the colonies from the motherland, but that
sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty
not alone to the people of the country but hope to all the
world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that
in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of
all men and that all should have an equal chance. This is the
sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my
friends, can this country be saved on that basis? If it can, I
will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I
can help to save it. If it can not be saved upon that
principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country can not
be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I
would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.
Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, 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 force unless force is
used against it."

The two ideas underlying this utterance had grown in his
thought steadily, consistently, ever since their first
appearance in the Protest twenty-four years previous. The
great issue to which all else--slavery, "dominion status,"
everything--was subservient, was the preservation of democratic
institutions; the means to that end was the preservation of the
Federal government. Now, as in 1852, his paramount object was
not to "disappoint the Liberal party throughout the world," to
prove that Democracy, when applied on a great scale, had yet
sufficient coherence to remain intact, no matter how powerful,
nor how plausible, were the forces of disintegration.

Dominated by this purpose he came to Washington. There he met
Seward. It was the stroke of fate for both men. Seward,
indeed, did not know that it was. He was still firmly based in
the delusion that he, not Lincoln, was the genius of the hour.
And he had this excuse, that it was also the country's
delusion. There was pretty general belief both among friends
and foes that Lincoln would be ruled by his Cabinet. In a
council that was certain to include leaders of accepted
influence--Seward, Chase, Cameron--what chance for this untried
newcomer, whose prestige had been reared not on managing men,
but on uttering words? In Seward's thoughts the answer was as
inevitable as the table of addition. Equally mathematical was
the conclusion that only one unit gave value to the
combination. And, of course, the leader of the Republicans in
the Senate was the unit. A severe experience had to be lived
through before Seward made his peace with destiny. Lincoln was
the quicker to perceive when they came together that something
had happened. Almost from the minute of their meeting, he
began to lean upon Seward; but only in a certain way. This was
not the same thing as that yielding to the practical advisers
which began at Philadelphia, which was subsequently to be the
cause of so much confusion. His response to Seward was
intellectual. It was of the inner man and revealed itself in
his style of writing.

Hitherto, Lincoln's progress in literature had been marked by
the development of two characteristics and by the lack of a
third. The two that he possessed were taste and rhythm. At
the start he was free from the prevalent vice of his time,
rhetoricality. His "Address to the Voters of Sangamon County"
which was his first state paper, was as direct, as free from
bombast, as the greatest of his later achievements. Almost any
other youth who had as much of the sense of language as was
there exhibited, would have been led astray by the standards of
the hour, would have mounted the spread-eagle and flapped its
wings in rhetorical clamor. But Lincoln was not precocious.
In art, as in everything else, he progressed slowly; the
literary part of him worked its way into the matter-of-fact
part of him with the gradualness of the daylight through a
shadowy wood. It was not constant in its development. For
many years it was little more than an irregular deepening of
his two original characteristics, taste and rhythm. His taste,
fed on Blackstone, Shakespeare, and the Bible, led him more and
more exactingly to say just what he meant, to eschew the wiles
of decoration, to be utterly non-rhetorical. His sense of
rhythm, beginning simply, no more at first than a good ear for
the sound of words, deepened into keen perception of the
character of the word-march, of that extra significance which
is added to an idea by the way it conducts itself, moving
grandly or feebly as the case may be, from the unknown into the
known, and thence across a perilous horizon, into memory. On
the basis of these two characteristics he had acquired a style
that was a rich blend of simplicity, directness, candor, joined
with a clearness beyond praise, with a delightful cadence,
having always a splendidly ordered march of ideas.

But there was the third thing in which the earlier style of
Lincoln's was wanting. Marvelously apt for the purpose of the
moment, his writings previous to 1861 are vanishing from the
world's memory. The more notable writings of his later years
have become classics. And the difference does not turn on
subject-matter. All the ideas of his late writings had been
formulated in the earlier. The difference is purely literary.
The earlier writings were keen, powerful, full of character,
melodious, impressive. The later writings have all these
qualities, and in addition, that constant power to awaken the
imagination, to carry an idea beyond its own horizon into a
boundless world of imperishable literary significance, which
power in argumentative prose is beauty. And how did Lincoln
attain this? That he had been maturing from within the power to
do this, one is compelled by the analogy of his other mental
experiences to believe. At the same time, there can be no
doubt who taught him the trick, who touched the secret spring
and opened the new door to his mind. It was Seward. Long
since it had been agreed between them that Seward was to be
Secretary of State.[9] Lincoln asked him to criticize his
inaugural. Seward did so, and Lincoln, in the main, accepted
his criticism. But Seward went further. He proposed a new
paragraph. He was not a great writer and yet he had something
of that third thing which Lincoln hitherto had not exhibited.
However, in pursuing beauty of statement, he often came
dangerously near to mere rhetoric; his taste was never sure;
his sense of rhythm was inferior; the defects of his qualities
were evident. None the less, Lincoln saw at a glance that if
he could infuse into Seward's words his own more robust
qualities, the result--'would be a richer product than had ever
issued from his own qualities as hitherto he had known them.
He effected this transmutation and in doing so raised his style
to a new range of effectiveness. The great Lincoln of
literature appeared in the first inaugural and particularly in
that noble passage which was the work of Lincoln and Seward
together. In a way it said only what Lincoln had already

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest