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Lincoln's Personal Life

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it off correctly, that the crafty thing to do was to come out
for Abolition as a war policy. In a word, he decided to go
over to the Jacobins. He put into his annual report a
recommendation of Chandler's plan for organizing an army of
freed slaves and sending it against the Confederacy. Advanced
copies of this report had been sent to the press before Lincoln
knew of it. He peremptorily ordered their recall, and the
exclusion of this suggestion from the text of the report.[2]

On the heels of this refusal to concede to Chandler one of his
cherished schemes, the second message was sent to Congress.
The watchful and exasperated Jacobins found abundant offense in
its omissions. On the whole great subject of possible
emancipation it was blankly silent. The nearest it came to
this subject was one suggestion which applied only to those
captured slaves who had been forfeited by the disloyal owners
through being employed to assist the Confederate government
Lincoln advised that after receiving their freedom they be sent
out of the country and colonized "at some place, or places, in
a climate congenial to them." Beyond this there was nothing
bearing on the slavery question except the admonition--so
unsatisfactory to Chandler and all his sort--that while "the
Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must
be employed," Congress should "not be in haste to determine
that radical and extreme measures, which may reach the loyal as
well as the disloyal, are indispensable."

Lincoln was entirely clear in his own mind that there was but
one way to head off the passion of destruction that was rioting
in the Jacobin temper. "In considering the policy to be
adopted in suppressing the insurrection, I have been anxious
and careful that the inevitable conflict for this purpose shall
not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary
struggle. I have, therefore, in every case, thought it proper
to keep the integrity of the Union prominent as the primary
object of the contest on our part, leaving all questions which
are not of vital military importance to the more deliberate
action of the Legislature." He persisted in regarding the war
as an insurrection of the "disloyal portion of the American
people," not as an external struggle between the North and the

Finally, the culmination of the message was a long elaborate
argument upon the significance of the war to the working
classes. His aim was to show that the whole trend of the
Confederate movement was toward a conclusion which would "place
capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor, in the
structure of government." Thus, as so often before, he insisted
on his own view of the significance in American politics of all
issues involving slavery--their bearing on the condition of the
free laborer. In a very striking passage, often overlooked, he
ranked himself once more, as first of all, a statesman of "the
people," in the limited class sense of the term. "Labor is
prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit
of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first
existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much
the higher consideration." But so far is he from any
revolutionary purpose, that he adds immediately, "Capital has
its rights which are as worthy of protection as any other
rights." His crowning vision is not communism. His ideal world
is one of universal opportunity, with labor freed of every
hindrance, with all its deserving members acquiring more and
more of the benefits of property.

Such a message had no consolation for Chandler, Wade, or, as he
then was, for Trumbull. They looked about for a way to
retaliate. And now two things became plain. That "agitation
of the summer" to which Hay refers, had borne fruit, but not
enough fruit. Many members of Congress who had been swept
along by the President's policy in July had been won over in
the reaction against him and were ripe for manipulation; but it
was not yet certain that they held the balance of power in
Congress. To lock horns with the Administration, in December,
would have been so rash a move that even such bold men as
Chandler and Wade avoided it. Instead, they devised an astute
plan of campaign. Trumbull was Chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, and in that important position would bide
his time to bring pressure to bear on the President through
his influence upon legislation. Wade and Chandler would go in
for propaganda. But they would do so in disguise. What more
natural than that Congress should take an active interest in
the army, should wish to do all in its power to "assist" the
President in rendering the army -efficient. For that purpose
it was proposed to establish a joint committee of the two
Houses having no function but to look into military needs and
report to Congress. The proposal was at once accepted and its
crafty backers secured a committee dominated entirely by
themselves. Chandler was a member; Wade became Chairman.[3] This
Committee on the Conduct of the War became at once an
inquisition. Though armed with no weapon but publicity, its
close connection with congressional intrigue, its hostility to
the President, the dramatic effect of any revelations it chose
to make or any charges it chose to bring, clothed it indirectly
with immense power. Its inner purpose may be stated in the
words of one of its members, "A more vigorous prosecution of
the war and less tenderness toward slavery."[4] Its mode of
procedure was in constant interrogation of generals, in
frequent advice to the President, and on occasion in
threatening to rouse Congress against him.[5] A session of the
Committee was likely to be followed by a call on the President
of either Chandler or Wade.

The Committee began immediately summoning generals before it to
explain what the army was doing. And every general was made to
understand that what the Committee wanted, what Congress
wanted, what the country wanted, was an advance--"something
doing" as soon as possible.

And now appeared another characteristic of the mood of these
furious men. They had become suspicious, honestly suspicious.
This suspiciousness grew with their power and was rendered
frantic by being crossed. Whoever disagreed with them was
instantly an object of distrust; any plan that contradicted
their views was at once an evidence of treason.

The earliest display of this eagerness to see traitors in every
bush concerned a skirmish that took place at Ball's Bluff in
Virginia. It was badly managed and the Federal loss,
proportionately, was large. The officer held responsible was
General Stone. Unfortunately for him, he was particularly
obnoxious to the Abolitionists; he had returned fugitive
slaves; and when objection was made by such powerful
Abolitionists as Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, Stone gave
reign to a sharp tongue. In the early days of the session,
Roscoe Conkling told the story of Ball's Bluff for the benefit
of Congress in a brilliant, harrowing speech. In a flash the
rumor spread that the dead at Ball's Bluff were killed by
design, that Stone was a traitor, that--perhaps!--who could
say?--there were bigger traitors higher up. Stone was summoned
before the Inquisition.[6]

While Stone was on the rack, metaphorically, while the
Committee was showing him every brutality in its power,
refusing to acquaint him with the evidence against him,
intimating that they were able to convict him of treason,
between the fifth and the eleventh of January a crisis arose
in the War Office. Cameron had failed to ingratiate himself
with the rising powers. Old political enemies in Congress were
implacable. Scandals in his Department gave rise to sweeping
charges of peculation.

There is scarcely another moment when Lincoln's power was so
precarious. In one respect, in their impatience, the Committee
reflected faithfully the country at large. And by the irony of
fate McClellan at this crucial hour, had fallen ill. After
waiting for his recovery during several weeks, Lincoln ventured
with much hesitation to call a conference of generals.[7] They
were sitting during the Stone investigation, producing no
result except a distraction in councils, devising plans that
were thrown over the moment the Commanding General arose from
his bed. A vote in Congress a few days previous had amounted
to a censure of the Administration. It was taken upon the
Crittenden Resolution which had been introduced a second time.
Of those who had voted for it in July, so many now abandoned
the Administration that this resolution, the clear embodiment
of Lincoln's policy, was laid on the table, seventy-one to
sixty-five.[8] Lincoln's hope for an all-parties government was
receiving little encouragement The Democrats were breaking into
factions, while the control of their party organization was
falling into the hands of a group of inferior politicians who
were content to "play politics" in the most unscrupulous
fashion. Both the Secretary of War and the Secretary of State
had authorized arbitrary arrests. Men in New York and New
England had been thrown into prison. The privilege of the writ
of habeas corpus had been denied them on the mere belief of the
government that they were conspiring with its enemies. Because
of these arrests, sharp criticism was being aimed at the
Administration both within and without Congress.

For all these reasons, the government at Washington appeared to
be tottering. Desperate remedies seemed imperative. Lincoln
decided to make every concession he could make without letting
go his central purpose. First, he threw over Cameron; he
compelled him to resign though he saved his face by appointing
him minister to Russia. But who was to take his place? At
this critical moment, the choice of a new Secretary of War was
a political problem of exacting difficulty. Just why Lincoln
chose a sullen, dictatorial lawyer whose experience in no way
prepared him for the office, has never been disclosed. Two
facts appear to explain it. Edwin M. Stanton was
temperamentally just the man to become a good brother to
Chandler and Wade. Both of them urged him upon Lincoln as
successor to Cameron.[9] Furthermore, Stanton hitherto had been
a Democrat. His services in Buchanan's Cabinet as
Attorney-General had made him a national figure. Who else
linked the Democrats and the Jacobins?

However, for almost any one but Lincoln, there was an objection
that it would have been hard to overcome. No one has ever
charged Stanton with politeness. A gloomy excitable man, of
uncertain health, temperamentally an over-worker, chronically
apprehensive, utterly without the saving grace of humor, he was
capable of insufferable rudeness--one reason, perhaps, why
Chandler liked him. He and Lincoln had met but once. As
associate council in a case at Cincinnati, three years before,
Lincoln had been treated so contemptuously by Stanton that he
had returned home in pained humiliation. Since his
inauguration, Stanton had been one of his most vituperative
critics. Was this insolent scold to be invited into the
Cabinet? Had not Lincoln at this juncture been in the full
tide of selflessness, surely some compromise would have been
made with the Committee, a secretary found less offensive
personally to the President. Lincoln disregarded the personal
consideration. The candidate of Chandler and Wade became
secretary. It was the beginning of an intimate alliance
between the Committee and the War Office. Lincoln had laid up
for himself much trouble that he did not foresee.

The day the new Secretary took office, he received from the
Committee a report upon General Stone:[10] Subsequently, in the
Senate, Wade denied that the Committee had advised the arrest
of Stone.[11] Doubtless the statement was technically correct.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the inquisitors were
wholly in sympathy with the Secretary when, shortly afterward,
Stone was seized upon Stanton's order, conveyed to a fortress
and imprisoned without trial.

This was the Dreyfus case of the Civil War. Stone was never
tried and never vindicated. He was eventually released upon
parole and after many tantalizing disappointments permitted to
rejoin the army. What gives the event significance is its
evidence of the power, at that moment, of the Committee, and of
the relative weakness of the President. Lincoln's eagerness to
protect condemned soldiers survives in many anecdotes. Hay
confides to his diary that he was sometimes "amused at the
eagerness with which the President caught at any fact which
would justify" clemency. And yet, when Stanton informed him of
the arrest of Stone, he gloomily acquiesced. "I hope you have
good reasons for it," he said. Later he admitted that he knew
very little about the case. But he did not order Stone's

Lincoln had his own form of ruthlessness. The selfless man, by
dealing with others in the same extraordinary way in which he
deals with himself, may easily under the pressure of extreme
conditions become impersonal in his thinking upon duty. The
morality of such a state of mind is a question for the
philosopher. The historian must content himself with pointing
out the only condition that redeems it--if anything redeems it
The leader who thinks impersonally about others and personally
about himself-what need among civilized people to characterize
him? Borgia, Louis XIV, Napoleon. If we are ever to pardon
impersonal thinking it is only in the cases of men who begin by
effacing themselves. The Lincoln who accepted Stanton as a
Cabinet officer, who was always more or less overshadowed by
the belief that in saving the government he was himself to
perish, is explicable, at least, when individual men became for
him, as at times they did, impersonal factors in a terrible

There are other considerations in the attempt to give a moral
value to his failure to interfere in behalf of Stone. The
first four months of 1862 are not only his feeblest period as a
ruler, the period when he was barely able to hold his own, but
also the period when he was least definite as a personality,
when his courage and his vitality seemed ebbing tides. Again,
his spirit was in eclipse. Singularly enough, this was the
darkness before the dawn. June of 1862 saw the emergence, with
a suddenness difficult to explain, of the historic Lincoln.
But in January of that year he was facing downward into the
mystery of his last eclipse. All the dark places of his
heredity must be searched for clues to this strange experience.
There are moments, especially under strain of a personal
bereavement that fell upon him in February, when his will
seemed scarcely a reality; when, as a directing force he may be
said momentarily to have vanished; when he is hardly more than
a ghost among his advisers. The far-off existence of weak old
Thomas cast its parting shadow across his son's career.

However, even our Dreyfus case drew from Lincoln another
display of that settled conviction of his that part of his
function was to be scapegoat. "I serve," which in a way might
be taken as his motto always, was peculiarly his motto, and
likewise his redemption, in this period of his weakness. The
enemies of the Committee in Congress took the matter up and
denounced Stanton. Thereupon, Wade flamed forth, criticizing
Lincoln for his leniency, venting his fury on all those who
were tender of their enemies, storming that "mercy to traitors
is cruelty to loyal men."[12] Lincoln replied neither to Wade nor
to his antagonists; but, without explaining the case, without a
word upon the relation to it of the Secretary and the
Committee, he informed the Senate that the President was alone
responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of General Stone.[13]


The period of Lincoln's last eclipse is a period of relative
silence. But his mind was not inactive. He did not cease
thinking upon the deep theoretical distinctions that were
separating him by a steadily widening chasm from the most
powerful faction in Congress. In fact, his mental powers were,
if anything, more keen than ever before. Probably, it was the
very clearness of the mental vision that enfeebled him when it
came to action. He saw his difficulties with such crushing
certainty. During this trying period there is in him something
of Hamlet.

The reaction to his ideas, to what is either expressed or
implied, in the first and second messages, was prompt to
appear. The Jacobins did not confine their activities within
the scope of the terrible Committee. Wade and Chandler worked
assiduously undermining his strength in Congress. Trumbull,
though always less extreme than they, was still the victim of
his delusion that Lincoln was a poor creature, that the only
way to save the country was to go along with those grim men of
strength who dominated the Committee. In January, a
formidable addition appeared in the ranks of Lincoln's
opponents. Thaddeus Stevens made a speech in the House that
marks a chapter. It brought to a head a cloud of floating
opposition and dearly defined an issue involving the central
proposition in Lincoln's theory of the government. The
Constitution of the United States, in its detailed provisions,
is designed chiefly to meet the exigencies of peace. With
regard to the abnormal conditions of war, it is relatively
silent. Certain "war powers" are recognized but not clearly
defined; nor is it made perfectly plain what branch of the
government possesses them. The machinery for their execution
is assumed but not described--as when the Constitution provides
that the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus are to be
suspended only in time of war, but does not specify by whom, or
in what way, the suspension is to be effected. Are those
undefined "war powers," which are the most sovereign functions
of our government, vested in Congress or in the President?
Lincoln, from the moment he defined his policy, held
tenaciously to the theory that all these extraordinary powers
are vested in the President. By implication, at least, this
idea is in the first message. Throughout the latter part of
1861, he put the theory into practice. Whatever seemed to him
necessary in a state of war, he did, even to the arresting of
suspected persons, refusing them the privilege -of the habeas
corpus, and retaining them in prison without trial. During
1861, he left the exercise of this sovereign authority to the
discretion of the two Secretaries of War and of State.

Naturally, the Abolitionists, the Jacobins, the Democratic
machine, conscientious believers in the congressional theory of
the government, every one who for any reason, wanted to hit the
Administration, united in a chorus of wrath over arbitrary
arrests. The greatest orator of the time, Wendell Phillips,
the final voice of Abolition, flayed the government in public
speeches for reducing America to an absolute despotism.
Trumbull introduced into the Senate a resolution calling upon
the President for a statement of the facts as to what he had
actually done.[1]

But the subject of arrests was but the prelude to the play.
The real issue was the theory of the government. Where in last
analysis does the Constitution place the ultimate powers of
sovereignty, the war powers? In Congress or in the President?
Therefore, in concrete terms, is Congress the President's
master, or is it only one branch of the government with a
definite but united activity of its own, without that sweeping
sovereign authority which in course of time has been acquired
by its parent body, the Parliament of Great Britain?

On this point Lincoln never wavered. From first to last, he
was determined not to admit that Congress had the powers of
Parliament. No sooner had the politicians made out this
attitude than their attack on it began. It did not cease until
Lincoln's death. It added a second constitutional question to
the issues of the war. Not only the issue whether a State had
a right to secede, but also the issue of the President's
possession of the war powers of the Constitution. Time and
again the leaders of disaffection in his own party, to say
nothing of the violent Democrats, exhausted their rhetoric
denouncing Lincoln's position. They did not deny themselves
the delights of the sneer. Senator Grimes spoke of a call on
the President as an attempt "to approach the footstool of power
enthroned at the other end of the Avenue."[2] Wade expanded the
idea: "We ought to have a committee to wait on him whenever we
send him a bill, to know what his royal pleasure is with regard
to it. . . . We are told that some gentlemen . . . have
been to see the President. Some gentlemen are very fortunate
in that respect.

Nobody can see him, it seems, except some privileged gentlemen
who are charged with his constitutional conscience."[3] As
Lincoln kept his doors open to all the world, as no one came
and went with greater freedom than the Chairman of the
Committee, the sneer was-what one might expect of the
Committee. Sumner said: "I claim for Congress all that belongs
to any government in the exercise of the rights of war."
Disagreement with him, he treated with unspeakable disdain:
"Born in ignorance and pernicious in consequence, it ought to
be received with hissings of contempt, and just in proportion
as it obtains acceptance, with execration."[4] Henry Wilson
declared that, come what might, the policy of the
Administration would be shaped by the two Houses. "I had
rather give a policy to the President of the United States than
take a policy from the President of the United States."[5]
Trumbull thundered against the President's theory as the last
word in despotism.[6]

Such is the mental perspective in which to regard the speech of
Stevens of January 22, 1862. With masterly clearness, he put
his finger on the heart of the matter: the exceptional problems
of a time of war, problems that can not be foreseen and
prepared for by anticipatory legislation, may be solved in but
one way, by the temporary creation of the dictator; this is as
true of modern America as of ancient Rome; so far, most people
are agreed; but this extraordinary function must not be vested
in the Executive; on the contrary, it must be, it is, vested in
the Legislature. Stevens did not hesitate to push his theory
to its limit. He was not afraid of making the Legislature in
time of war the irresponsible judge of its own acts. Congress,
said he. has all possible powers of government, even the
dictator's power; it could declare itself a dictator; under
certain circumstances he was willing that it should do so.[7]

The intellectual boldness of Lincoln was matched by an equal
boldness. Between them, he and Stevens had perfectly defined
their issue. Granted that a dictator was needed, which should
it be--the President or Congress?

In the hesitancy at the White House during the last eclipse, in
the public distress and the personal grief, Lincoln withheld
himself from this debate. No great utterances break the gloom
of this period. Nevertheless, what may be considered his reply
to Stevens is to be found. Buried in the forgotten portions of
the Congressional Globe is a speech that surely was
inspired-or, if not directly inspired, so close a reflection of
the President's thinking that it comes to the same thing at the

Its author, or apparent author, was one of the few serene
figures in that Thirty-Seventh Congress which was swept so
pitilessly by epidemics of passion. When Douglas, after
coming out valiantly for the Union and holding up Lincoln's
hands at the hour of crisis, suddenly died, the Illinois
Legislature named as his successor in the Senate, Orville Henry
Browning. The new Senator was Lincoln's intimate friend.
Their points of view, their temperaments were similar.
Browning shared Lincoln's magnanimity, his hatred of extremes,
his eagerness not to allow the war to degenerate into
revolution. In the early part of 1862 he was Lincoln's
spokesman in the Senate. Now that the temper of Wade and
Chandler, the ruthlessness that dominated the Committee, had
drawn unto itself such a cohort of allies; now that all their
thinking had been organized by a fearless mind; there was
urgent need for a masterly reply. Did Lincoln feel unequal, at
the moment, to this great task? Very probably he did. Anyhow,
it was Browning who made the reply,[8] a reply so exactly in his
friend's vein, that--there you are!

His aim was to explain the nature of those war powers of the
government "which lie dormant during time of peace," and
therefore he frankly put the question, "Is Congress the
government?" Senator Fessenden, echoing Stevens had said,
"There is no limit on the powers of Congress; everything must
yield to the force of martial law as resolved by Congress."
"There, sir," said Browning, "is as broad and deep a foundation
for absolute despotism as was ever laid." He rang the changes
on the need to "protect minorities from the oppression and
tyranny of excited majorities."

He went on to lay the basis of all Lincoln's subsequent defense
of the presidential theory as opposed to the congressional
theory, by formulating two propositions which reappear in some
of Lincoln's most famous papers. Congress is not a safe vessel
for extraordinary powers, because in our system we have
difficulty in bringing it definitely to an account under any
sort of plebiscite. On the other hand the President, if he
abuses the war powers "when peace returns, is answerable to the
civil power for that abuse."

But Browning was not content to reason on generalities.
Asserting that Congress could no more command the army than it
could adjudicate a case, he further asserted that the Supreme
Court had settled the matter and had lodged the war powers in
the President. He cited a decision called forth by the legal
question, "Can a Circuit Court of the United States inquire
whether a President had acted rightly in calling out the
militia of a State to suppress an insurrection?" "The elevated
office of the President," said the Court, "chosen as be is by
the People of the United States, and the high responsibility he
could not fail to feel when acting in a case of such moment,
appear to furnish as strong safeguards against the wilful abuse
of power as human prudence and foresight could well devise. At
all events, it is conferred upon him by the Constitution and
the laws of the United States, and therefore, must be respected
and enforced in its judicial tribunals."[9]

Whether or not constitutional lawyers would agree with Browning
in the conclusion he drew from this decision, it was plainly
the bed rock of his thought. He believed that the
President--whatever your mere historian might have to say--was in
point of fact the exponent of the people as a whole, and
therefore the proper vessel for the ultimate rights of a
sovereign, rights that only the people possess, that only the
people can delegate. And this was Lincoln's theory. Roughly
speaking, he-conceived of the presidential office about as if
it were the office of Tribune of the People.

There was still another reason why both Lincoln and Browning
feared to yield anything to the theory of congressional
supremacy. It was, in their minds, not only the general
question of all Congresses but immediately of this particular
Congress. An assembly in which the temper of Wade and
Chandler, of Stevens and Sumner, was entering the ascendent,
was an assembly to be feared; its supremacy was to be denied,
its power was to be fought.

Browning did not close without a startling passage flung square
in the teeth of the apostles of fury. He summed up the
opposite temper, Lincoln's temper, in his description of "Our
brethren of the South--for I am willing to call them brethren;
my heart yet yearns toward them with a fervency of love which
even their treason has not all extinguished, which tempts me
constantly to say in their behalf, 'Father, forgive them, for
they know not what they do.'" He pleaded with the Senate not to
consider them "as public enemies but as insurgent citizens
only," and advocated an Act of Amnesty restoring all political
and property rights "instantly upon their return to allegiance
and submission to the authority of the government."

Had this narrowly constitutional issue arisen in quiet times,
who can say how slight might have been its significance? But
Fate had decreed that it should arise in the stormiest moment
of our history. Millions of men and women who cared nothing
for constitutional theories, who were governed by that passion
to see immediate results which the thoughtless ever confuse
with achievement, these were becoming hysterical over delay.
Why did not the government do something? Everywhere voices were
raised accusing the President of cowardice. The mania of
suspicion was not confined to the Committee. The thoughts of a
multitude were expressed by Congressman Hickman in his foolish
words, "These are days of irresponsibility and imbecility, and
we are required to perform two offices--the office of legislator
and the office of President." The better part of a year had
passed since the day of Sumter, and still the government had no
military success to its credit. An impetuous people that
lacked experience of war, that had been accustomed in unusual
measure to have its wishes speedily gratified, must somehow be
marshalled behind the government, unless the alternative was
the capture of power by the Congressional Cabal that was
forming against the President.

Entering upon the dark days of the first half of 1862, Lincoln
had no delusions about the task immediately before him. He
must win battles; otherwise, he saw no way of building up that
popular support which alone would enable him to keep the
direction of policy in the hands of the Executive, to keep it
out of the hands of Congress. In a word, the standing or
falling of his power appeared to have been committed to the
keeping of the army. What the army would do with it, save his
policy or wreck his policy, was to no small degree a question
of the character and the abilities of the Commanding General.


George Brinton McClellan, when at the age of thirty-four he was
raised suddenly to a dizzying height of fame and power, was
generally looked upon as a prodigy. Though he was not that, he
had a real claim to distinction. Had destiny been considerate,
permitting him to rise gradually and to mature as he rose, he
might have earned a stable reputation high among those who are
not quite great. He had done well at West Point, and as a very
young officer in the Mexican War; he had represented his
country as a military observer with the allies in the Crimea;
he was a good engineer, and a capable man of business. His
winning personality, until he went wrong in the terrible days
of 1862, inspired "a remarkable affection and regard in every
one from the President to the humblest orderly that waited at
his door."[1] He was at home among books; he could write to his
wife that Prince Napoleon "speaks English very much as the
Frenchmen do in the old English comedies";[2] he was able to
converse in "French, Spanish, Italian, German, in two Indian
dialects and he knew a little Russian and Turkish." Men like
Wade and Chandler probably thought of him as a "highbrow," and
doubtless he irritated them by invariably addressing the
President as "Your Excellency." He had the impulses as well as
the traditions of an elder day. But he had three insidious
defects. At the back of his mind there was a vein of
theatricality, hitherto unrevealed, that might, under
sufficient stimulus, transform him into a poseur. Though
physically brave, he had in his heart, unsuspected by himself
or others, the dread of responsibility. He was void of humor.
These damaging qualities, brought out and exaggerated by too
swift a rise to apparent greatness, eventually worked his ruin.
As an organizer he was unquestionably efficient. His great
achievement which secures him a creditable place in American
history was the conversion in the autumn of 1861 of a defeated
rabble and a multitude of raw militia into a splendid fighting
machine. The very excellence of this achievement was part of
his undoing. It was so near to magical that it imposed on
himself, gave him a false estimate of himself, hid from him his
own limitation. It imposed also on his enemies. Crude, fierce
men like the Vindictive leaders of Congress, seeing this
miracle take place so astoundingly soon, leaped at once to the
conclusion that he could, if he would, follow it by another
miracle. Having forged the thunderbolt, why could he not, if
he chose, instantly smite and destroy? All these hasty
inexperienced zealots labored that winter under the delusion
that one great battle might end the war. When McClellan,
instead of rushing to the front, entered his second phase--the
one which he did not understand himself, which his enemies
never understood--when he entered upon his long course of
procrastination, the Jacobins, startled, dumfounded, casting
about for reasons, could find in their unanalytical vision, but
one. When Jove did not strike, it must be because Jove did not
wish to strike. McClellan was delaying for a purpose. Almost
instantaneous was the whisper, followed quickly by the outcry
among the Jacobins, "Treachery! We are betrayed. He is in
league with the enemy."

Their distrust was not allayed by the manner in which he
conducted himself. His views of life and of the office of
commanding general were not those of frontier America. He
believed in pomp, in display, in an ordered routine. The fine
weather of the autumn of 1861 was utilized at Washington for
frequent reviews. The flutter of flags, the glint of marching
bayonets, the perfectly ordered rhythm of marching feet, the
blare of trumpets, the silvery notes of the bugles, the
stormily rolling drums, all these filled with martial splendor
the golden autumn air when the woods were falling brown. And
everywhere, it seemed, look where one might, a sumptuously
uniformed Commanding General, and a numerous and sumptuous
staff, were galloping past, mounted on beautiful horses.
Plain, blunt men like the Jacobins, caring nothing for this
ritual of command, sneered. They exchanged stories of the
elaborate dinners he was said to give daily, the several
courses, the abundance of wine, the numerous guests; and after
these dinners, he and his gorgeous staff, "clattering up and
down the public streets" merely to show themselves off. All
this sneering was wildly exaggerated. The mania of
exaggeration, the mania of suspicion, saturated the mental air
breathed by every politician at Washington, that desperate
winter, except the great and lonely President and the cynical
Secretary of State.

McClellan made no concessions to the temper of the hour. With
Lincoln, his relations at first were cordial. Always he was
punctiliously respectful to "His Excellency." It is plain that
at first Lincoln liked him and that his liking was worn away
slowly. It is equally plain that Lincoln did not know how to
deal with him. The tendency to pose was so far from anything
in Lincoln's make-up that it remained for him, whether in
McClellan or another, unintelligible. That humility which was
so conspicuous in this first period of his rule, led him to
assume with his General a modest, even an appealing tone. The
younger man began to ring false by failing to appreciate it.
He even complained of it in a letter to his wife. The military
ritualist would have liked a more Olympian superior. And there
is no denying that his head was getting turned. Perhaps he had
excuse. The newspapers printed nonsensical editorials praising
"the young Napoleon." His mail was filled with letters urging
him to carry things with a high hand; disregard, if necessary,
the pusillanimous civil government, and boldly "save the
country." He had so little humor that he could take this stuff
seriously. Among all the foolish letters which the executors
of famous men have permitted to see the light of publicity, few
outdo a letter of McClellan's in which he confided to his wife
that he was willing to become dictator, should that be the only
way out, and then, after saving his country, to perish.[3]

In this lordly mood of the melodramatic, he gradually--probably
without knowing it--became inattentive to the President.
Lincoln used to go to his house to consult him, generally on
foot, clad in very ordinary clothes. He was known to sit in
McClellan's library "rather unnoticed" awaiting the General's

At last the growing coolness of McClellan went so far that an
event occurred which Hay indignantly set down in his diary: "I
wish here to record what I consider a portent of evil to come.
The President, Governor Seward and I went over to McClellan's
house tonight. The servant at the door said the General was at
the wedding of Colonel Wheaton at General Buell's and would
soon return. We went in and after we had waited about an hour,
McClellan came in, and without paying particular attention to
the porter who told him the President was waiting to see him,
went up-stairs, passing the door of the room where the
President and the Secretary of State were seated. They waited
about half an hour, and sent once more a servant to tell the
General they were there; and the answer came that the General
had gone to bed.

"I merely record this unparalleled insolence of epaulettes
without comment It is the first indication I have yet seen of
the threatened supremacy of the military authorities. Coming
home, I spoke to the President about the matter, but he seemed
not to have noticed it specially, saying it were better at this
time not to be making points of etiquette and personal

Did ever a subordinate, even a general, administer to a
superior a more astounding snub? To Lincoln in his selfless
temper, it was Only a detail in his problem of getting the army
into action. What room for personal affronts however gross in
a mood like his? To be sure he ceased going to McClellan's
house, and thereafter summoned McClellan to come to him, but no
change appeared in the tone of his intercourse with the
General. "I will hold McClellan's horse," said he, "if he will
win me victories."[6]

All this while, the two were debating plans of campaign and
McClellan was revealing-as we now see, though no one saw it at
the time-the deep dread of responsibility that was destined to
paralyze him as an active general. He was never ready.
Always, there must be more preparation, more men, more this,
more that.

In January, 1862, Lincoln, grown desperate because of hope
deferred, made the first move of a sort that was to be
lamentably frequent the next six months. He went over the head
of the Commanding General, and, in order to force a result,
evoked a power not recognized in the military scheme of things.
By this time the popular adulation of McClellan was giving
place to a general imitation of the growling of the Jacobins,
now well organized in the terrible Committee and growing each
day more and more hostile to the Administration. Lincoln had
besought McClellan to take into account the seriousness of this
rising tide of opposition.[7] His arguments made no impression.
McClellan would not recognize the political side of war. At
last, partly to allay the popular clamor, partly to force
McClellan into a corner, Lincoln published to the country a
military program. He publicly instructed the Commanding
General to put all his forces in movement on all fronts, on
Washington's birthday.[8]

From this moment the debate between the President and the
General with regard to plans of campaign approached the nature
of a dispute. McClellan repeated his demand for more time in
which to prepare. He objected to the course of advance which
the President wished him to pursue. Lincoln, seeing the
situation first of all as a political problem, grounded his
thought upon two ideas neither of which was shared by
McClellan: the idea that the supreme consideration was the
safety of Washington; the resultant idea that McClellan should
move directly south, keeping his whole army constantly between
Washington and the enemy. McClellan wished to treat Washington
as but one important detail in his strategy; he had a grandiose
scheme for a wide flanking movement, for taking the bulk of his
army by sea to the coast of Virginia, and thus to draw the
Confederate army homeward for a duel to the death under the
walls of Richmond. Lincoln, neither then nor afterward more
than an amateur in strategy, was deeply alarmed by this bold
mode of procedure. His political instinct told him that if
there was any slip and Washington was taken, even briefly, by
the Confederates, the game was up. He was still further
alarmed when he found that some of the eider generals held
views resembling his own.[9] To his modest, still groping mind,
this was a trying situation. In the President lay the ultimate
responsibility for every move the army should make. And whose
advice should he accept as authoritative? The first time he
asked himself that question, such peace of mind as had survived
the harassing year 1861 left him, not to return for many a day.

At this moment of crises, occurred one of his keenest personal
afflictions. His little son Willie sickened and died.
Lincoln's relation to his children was very close, very tender.
Many anecdotes show this boy frolicking about the White House,
a licensed intruder everywhere. Another flood of anecdotes
preserve the stupefying grief of his father after the child's
death. Of these latter, the most extreme which portray Lincoln
toward the close of February so unnerved as to be incapable of
public duty, may be dismissed as apocryphal. But there can be
no doubt that his unhappiness was too great for the vain
measurement of descriptive words; that it intensified the
nervous mood which had already possessed him; that anxiety,
deepening at times into terrible alarm, became his constant

In his dread and sorrow, his dilemma grew daily more
intolerable. McClellan had opposed so stoutly the Washington
birthday order that Lincoln had permitted him to ignore it. He
was still wavering which advice to take, McClellan's or the
elder generals'. To remove McClellan, to try at this critical
moment some other general, did not occur to him as a rational
possibility. But somehow he felt he must justify himself to
himself for yielding to McClellan' s views. In his zeal to
secure some judgment more authoritative than his own, he took a
further step along the dangerous road of going over the
Commander's head, of bringing to bear upon him influences not
strictly included in the military system. He required
McClellan to submit his plan to a council of his general
officers. Lincoln attended this council and told the generals
"he was not a military man and therefore would be governed by
the opinion of a majority."[10] The council decided in
McClellan's favor by a vote of eight to four. This was a
disappointment to Lincoln. So firm was his addiction to the
overland route that he could not rest content with the
council's decision. Stanton urged him to disregard it,
sneering that the eight who voted against him were McClellan's
creatures, his "pets." But Lincoln would not risk going against
the majority of the council. "We are civilians," said he, "we
should justly be held responsible for any disaster if we set up
our opinions against those of experienced military men in the
practical management of a campaign."[11]

Nevertheless, from this quandary, in which his reason forced
him to do one thing while all his sensibilities protested, he
extricated himself in a curious way. Throughout the late
winter he had been the object of a concerted attack from
Stanton and the Committee. The Committee had tacitly annexed
Stanton. He conferred with them confidentially. At each
important turn of events, he and they always got together in a
secret powwow. As early as February twentieth, when Lincoln
seemed to be breaking down with grief and anxiety, one of those
secret conferences of the high conspirators ended in a
determination to employ all their forces, direct and indirect,
to bring about McClellan's retirement. They were all victims
of that mania of suspicion which was the order of the day. "A
majority of the Committee," wrote its best member, long
afterward when he had come to see things in a different light,
"strongly suspected that General McClellan was a traitor." Wade
vented his spleen in furious words about "King McClellan."
Unrestrained by Lincoln's anguish, the Committee demanded a
conference a few days after his son's death and threatened an
appeal from President to Congress if he did not quickly force
McClellan to advance.[12]

All this while the Committee was airing another grievance.
They clamored to have the twelve divisions of the army of the
Potomac grouped into corps. They gave as their motive,
military efficiency. And perhaps they thought they meant it.
But there was a cat in the bag which they carefully tried to
conceal. The generals of divisions formed two distinct groups,
the elder ones who did not owe their elevation to McClellan and
the younger ones who did. The elder generals, it happened,
sympathized generally with the Committee in politics, or at
least did not sympathize with McClellan. The younger generals
reflected the politics of their patron. And McClellan was a
Democrat, a hater of the Vindictives, unsympathetic with
Abolition. Therefore, the mania of suspicion being in full
flood, the Committee would believe no good of McClellan when he
opposed advancing the elder generals to the rank of corps
commanders. His explanation that he "wished to test them in
the field," was poohpoohed. Could not any good Jacobin see
through that! Of course, it was but an excuse to hold back the
plums until he could drop them into the itching palms of those
wicked Democrats, his "pets." Why should not the good men and
true, elder and therefore better soldiers, whose righteousness
was so well attested by their political leanings, why should
not they have the places of power to which their rank entitled

Hitherto, however, Lincoln had held out against the Committee's
demand and bad refused to compel McClellan to reorganize his
army against his will. He now observed that in the council
which cast the die against the overland route, the division
between the two groups of generals, what we may call the
Lincoln generals and the McClellan generals, was sharply
evident. The next day he issued a general order which
organized the army of the Potomac into corps, and promoted to
the rank of corps commanders, those elder generals whose point
of view was similar to his own.[13] Thereafter, any reference of
crucial matters to a council of general officers, would mean
submitting it, not to a dozen commanders of divisions with
McClellan men in the majority, but to four or five commanders
of corps none of whom was definitely of the McClellan faction.
Thus McClellan was virtually put under surveillance of an
informal war council scrutinizing his course from the
President's point of view. It was this reduced council of the
subordinates, as will presently appear, that made the crucial
decision of the campaign.

On the same day Lincoln issued another general order accepting
McClellan's plan for a flanking movement to the Virginia
coast.[14] The Confederate lines at this time ran through
Manassas--the point Lincoln wished McClellan to strike. It was
to be known later that the Confederate General gave to
Lincoln's views the high endorsement of assuming that they were
the inevitable views that the Northern Commander, if he knew
his business, would act upon. Therefore, he had been quietly
preparing to withdraw his army to more defensible positions
farther South. By a curious coincidence, his "strategic
retreat" occurred immediately after McClellan had been given
authority to do what he liked. On the ninth of March it was
known at Washington that Manassas had been evacuated.
Whereupon, McClellan's fatal lack of humor permitted him to
make a great blunder. The man who had refused to go to Manassas
while the Confederates were there, marched an army to Manassas
the moment he heard that they were gone--and then marched back
again. This performance was instantly fixed upon for ridicule
as McClellan's "promenade to Manassas."

To Lincoln the news of the promenade seemed both a vindication
of his own plan and crushing evidence that if he had insisted
on his plan, the Confederate army would have been annihilated,
the war in one cataclysm brought to an end. He was ridden, as
most men were, by the delusion of one terrific battle that was
to end all. In a bitterness of disappointment, his slowly
tortured spirit burst into rage. The Committee was delighted.
For once, they approved of him. The next act of this man,
ordinarily so gentle, seems hardly credible. By a stroke of
his pen, he stripped McClellan of the office of Commanding
General, reduced him to the rank of mere head of a local army,
the army of the Potomac; furthermore, he permitted him to hear
of his degradation through the heartless medium of the daily
papers.[15] The functions of Commanding General were added to the
duties of the Secretary of War. Stanton, now utterly merciless
toward McClellan, instantly took possession of his office and
seized his papers, for all the world as if he were pouncing
upon the effects of a malefactor. That McClellan was not yet
wholly spoiled was shown by the way he received this blow. It
was the McClellan of the old days, the gallant gentleman of the
year 1860, not the poseur of 1861, who wrote at once to Lincoln
making no complaint, saying that his services belonged to his
country in whatever capacity they might be required.

Again a council of subordinates was invoked to determine the
next move. McClellan called together the newly made corps
commanders and obtained their approval of a variation of his
former plan. He now proposed to use Fortress Monroe as a base,
and thence conduct an attack upon Richmond. Again, though with
a touch of sullenness very rare in Lincoln, the President
acquiesced. But he added a condition to McClellan's plan by
issuing positive orders, March thirteenth, that it should not
be carried out unless sufficient force was left at Washington
to render the city impregnable.

During the next few days the Committee must have been quite
satisfied with the President. For him, he was savage. The
normal Lincoln, the man of immeasurable mercy, had temporarily
vanished. McClellan's blunder had touched the one spring that
roused the tiger in Lincoln. By letting slip a chance to
terminate the war--as it seemed to that deluded Washington of
March, 1862--McClellan had converted Lincoln from a brooding
gentleness to an incarnation of the last judgment. He told Hay
he thought that in permitting McClellan to retain any command,
he had shown him "very great kindness."[16] Apparently, he had no
consciousness that he had been harsh in the mode of McClellan's
abatement, no thought of the fine manliness of McClellan's

During this period of Lincoln's brief vengefulness, Stanton
thought that his time for clearing scores with McClellan had
come. He even picked out the man who was to be rushed over
other men's heads to the command of the army of the Potomac.
General Hitchcock, an accomplished soldier of the regular army,
a grandson of Ethan Allen, who had grown old in honorable
service, was summoned to Washington, and was "amazed" by having
plumped at him the question, would he consent to succeed
McClellan? Though General Hitchcock was not without faults--and
there is an episode in his later relations with McClellan which
his biographer discreetly omits--he was a modest man. He
refused to consider Stanton's offer. But he consented to
become the confidential adviser of the War Office. This was
done after an interview with Lincoln who impressed on Hitchcock
his sense of a great responsibility and of the fact that he
"had no military knowledge" and that he must have advice.[17] Out
of this congested sense of helplessness in Lincoln, joined with
the new labors of the Secretary of War as executive head of all
the armies, grew quickly another of those ill-omened,
extra-constitutional war councils, one more wheel within the
wheels, that were all doing their part to make the whole
machine unworkable; distributing instead of concentrating
power. This new council which came to be known as the Army
Board, was made up of the heads of the Bureaus of the War
Department with the addition of Hitchcock as "Advising
General." Of the temper of the Army Board, composed as it was
entirely of the satellites of Stanton, a confession in
Hitchcock's diary speaks volumes. On the evening of the first
day of their new relation, Stanton poured out to him such a
quantity of oral evidence of McClellan's "incompetency" as to
make this new recruit for anti-McClellanism "feel positively

By permitting this added source of confusion among his
advisers, Lincoln treated himself much as he had already
treated McClellan. By going over McClellan's head to take
advice from his subordinates he had put the General on a leash;
now, by setting Hitchcock and the experts in the seat of
judgment, he virtually, for a short while, put himself on a
leash. Thus had come into tacit but real power three military
councils none of which was recognized as such by law--the
Council of the Subordinates behind McClellan; the Council of
the Experts behind Lincoln; the Council of the Jacobins, called
The Committee, behind them all.

The political pressure on Lincoln now changed its tack. Its
unfailing zeal to discredit McClellan assumed the form of
insisting that he had a secret purpose in waiting to get his
army away from Washington, that he was scheming to leave the
city open to the Confederates, to "uncover" it, as the soldiers
said. By way of focussing the matter on a definite issue, his
enemies demanded that he detach from his army and assign to the
defense of Washington, a division which was supposed to be
peculiarly efficient General Blenker had recruited a sort of
"foreign legion," in which were many daring adventurers who had
seen service in European armies. Blenker's was the division
demanded. So determined was the pressure that Lincoln yielded.
However, his brief anger had blown itself out. To continue
vengeful any length of time was for Lincoln impossible. He was
again the normal Lincoln, passionless, tender, fearful of
doing an injustice, weighed down by the sense of
responsibility. He broke the news about Blenker in a personal
note to McClellan that was almost apologetic. "I write this to
assure you that I did so with great pain, understanding that
you would wish it otherwise. If you could know the full
pressure of the case, I am confident you would justify it."[19]
In conversation, he assured McClellan that no other portion of
his army should be taken from him.[20]

The change in Lincoln's mood exasperated Stanton. He called on
his pals in the Committee for another of those secret
confabulations in which both he and they delighted. Speaking
with scorn of Lincoln's return to magnanimity, he told them
that the President had "gone back to his first love," the
traitor McClellan. Probably all those men who wagged their
chins in that conference really believed that McClellan was
aiming to betray them. One indeed, Julian, long afterward had
the largeness of mind to confess his fault and recant. The
rest died in their absurd delusion, maniacs of suspicion to the
very end. At the time all of them laid their heads
together--for what purpose? Was it to catch McClellan in a

Meanwhile, in obedience to Lincoln's orders of March
thirteenth, McClellan drew up a plan for the defense of
Washington. As Hitchcock was now in such high feather,
McClellan sent his plan to the new favorite of the War Office,
for criticism. Hitchcock refused to criticize, and when
McClellan's chief of staff pressed for "his opinion, as an old
and experienced officer," Hitchcock replied that McClellan had
had ample opportunity to know what was needed, and persisted in
his refusal.[21] McClellan asked no further advice and made his
arrangements to suit himself. On April first he took boat at
Alexandria for the front. Part of his army had preceded him.
The remainder-except the force he had assigned to the defense
of Washington-was speedily to follow.

With McClellan's departure still another devotee of suspicion
moves to the front of the stage. This was General Wadsworth.
Early in March, Stanton had told McClellan that he wanted
Wadsworth as commander of the defenses of Washington.
McClellan had protested. Wadsworth was not a military man. He
was a politician turned soldier who had tried to be senator
from New York and failed; tried to be governor and failed; and
was destined to try again to be governor, and again to fail.
Why should such a person be singled out to become responsible
for the safety of the capital? Stanton's only argument was
that the appointment of Wadsworth was desirable for political
reasons. He added that it would be made whether McClellan
liked it or not. And made it was.[22] Furthermore, Wadsworth,
who had previously professed friendship for McClellan, promptly
joined the ranks of his enemies. Can any one doubt, Stanton
being Stanton, mad with distrust of McClellan, that Wadsworth
was fully informed of McClellan's opposition to his

On the second of April Wadsworth threw a bomb after the
vanishing McClellan, then aboard his steamer somewhere between
Washington and Fortress Monroe. Wadsworth informed Stanton
that McClellan had not carried out the orders of March
thirteenth, that the force he had left at Washington was
inadequate to its safety, that the capital was "uncovered."
Here was a chance for Stanton to bring to bear on Lincoln both
those unofficial councils that were meddling so deeply in the
control of the army. He threw this firebrand of a report among
his satellites of the Army Board and into the midst of the

It is needless here to go into the furious disputes that
ensued-the accusations, the recriminations, the innuendoes!
McClellan stoutly insisted that he had obeyed both the spirit
and the letter of March thirteenth; that Washington was amply
protected. His enemies shrieked that his statements were based
on juggled figures; that even if the number of soldiers was
adequate, the quality and equipment were wretched; in a word
that he lied. It is a shame-less controversy inconceivable
were there not many men in whom politics and prejudice far
outweighed patriotism. In all this, Hitchcock was Stanton's
trump card. He who had refused to advise McClellan, did not
hesitate to denounce him. In response to a request from
Stanton, he made a report sustaining Wadsworth. The Committee
summoned Wadsworth before it; he read them his report to
Stanton; reiterated its charges, and treated them to some
innuendoes after their own hearts, plainly hinting that
McClellan could have crushed the Confederates at Manassas if he
had wished to.[24]

A wave of hysteria swept the Committee and the War Office and
beat fiercely upon Lincoln. The Board charged him to save the
day by mulcting the army of the Potomac of an entire corps,
retaining it at Washington. Lincoln met the Board in a long
and troubled conference. His anxious desire to do all he could
for McClellan was palpable.[25] But what, under the
circumstances, could he do? Here was this new device for the
steadying of his judgment, this Council of Experts, singing the
same old tune, assuring him that McClellan was not to be
trusted. Although in the reaction from his momentary
vengefulness he had undoubtedly swung far back toward
recovering confidence in McClellan, did he dare--painfully
conscious as he was that he "had no military knowledge"--did he
dare go against the Board, disregard its warning that
McClellan's arrangements made of Washington a dangling plum for
Confederate raiders to snatch whenever they pleased. His
bewilderment as to what McClellan was really driving at came
back upon him in full force. He reached at last the dreary
conclusion that there was nothing for it but to let the new
wheel within the wheels take its turn at running the machine.
Accepting the view that McClellan had not kept faith on the
basis of the orders of March thirteenth, Lincoln "after much
consideration" set aside his own promise to McClellan and
authorized the Secretary of War to detain a full corps.[26]

McClellan never forgave this mutilation of his army and in time
fixed upon it as the prime cause of his eventual failure on the
Peninsula. It is doubtful whether relations between him and
Lincoln were ever again really cordial.

In their rather full correspondence during the tense days of
April, May and June, the steady deterioration of McClellan's
judgment bore him down into amazing depths of fatuousness. In
his own way he was as much appalled by the growth of his
responsibility as ever Lincoln had been. He moved with
incredible caution.*

*Commenting on one of his moments of hesitation, J.S.
Johnston wrote to Lee: "No one but McClellan could have
hesitated to attack." 14 O. R., 416.

His despatches were a continual wailing for more men. Whatever
went wrong was at once blamed on Washington. His ill-usage had
made him bitter. And he could not escape the fact that his actual
performance did not come up to expectation; that he was
constantly out-generaled. His prevailing temper during these
days is shown in a letter to his wife. "I have raised an awful
row about McDowell's corps. The President very coolly
telegraphed me yesterday that he thought I ought to break the
enemy's lines at once. I was much tempted to reply that he had
better come and do it himself." A despatch to Stanton, in a
moment of disaster, has become notorious: "If I save this army
now, I tell you plainly I owe no thanks to you or to any other
persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice
this army."[27]

Throughout this preposterous correspondence, Lincoln maintained
the even tenor of his usual patient stoicism, "his sad lucidity
of soul." He explained; he reasoned; he promised, over and
over, assistance to the limit of his power; he never scolded;
when complaint became too absurd to be reasoned with, he passed
it over in silence. Again, he was the selfless man, his
sensibilities lost in the purpose he sought to establish.

Once during this period, he acted suddenly, on the spur of the
moment, in a swift upflaring of his unconquerable fear for the
safety of Washington. Previously, he had consented to push the
detained corps, McDowell's, southward by land to cooperate with
McClellan, who adapted his plans to this arrangement. Scarcely
had he done so, than Lincoln threw his plans into confusion by
ordering McDowell back to Washington.[28] Jackson, who had begun
his famous campaign of menace, was sweeping like a whirlwind
down the Shenandoah Valley, and in the eyes of panic-struck
Washington appeared to be a reincarnation of Southey's

"And the great Few-Faw-Fum, would presently come,
With a hop, skip and jump"

into Pennsylvania Avenue. As Jackson's object was to bring
McDowell back to Washington and enable Johnston to deal with
McClellan unreinforced, Lincoln had fallen into a trap. But he
had much company. Stanton was well-nigh out of his head.
Though Jackson's army was less than fifteen thousand and the
Union forces in front of him upward of sixty thousand, Stanton
telegraphed to Northern governors imploring them to hasten
forward militia because "the enemy in great force are marching
on Washington."[29]

The moment Jackson had accomplished his purpose, having drawn a
great army northwestward away from McClellan, most of which
should have been marching southeastward to join McClellan, he
slipped away, rushed his own army across the whole width of
Virginia, and joined Lee in the terrible fighting of the Seven
Days before Richmond.

In the midst of this furious confusion, the men surrounding
Lincoln may be excused for not observing a change in him. They
have recorded his appearance of indecision, his solicitude over
McClellan, his worn and haggard look. The changing light in
those smoldering fires of his deeply sunken eyes escaped their
notice. Gradually, through profound unhappiness, and as always
in silence, Lincoln was working out of his last eclipse. No
certain record of his inner life during this transition, the
most important of his life, has survived. We can judge of it
only by the results. The outstanding fact with regard to it is
a certain change of attitude, an access of determination, late
in June. What desperate wrestling with the angel had taken
place in the months of agony since his son's death, even his
private secretaries have not felt able to say. Neither,
apparently, did they perceive, until it flashed upon them
full-blown, the change that was coming over his resolution.
Nor did the Cabinet have any warning that the President was
turning a corner, developing a new phase of himself, something
sterner, more powerful than anything they had suspected. This
was ever his way. His instinctive reticence stood firm until
the moment of the new birth. Not only the Cabinet but the
country was amazed and startled, when, late in June, the
President suddenly left Washington. He made a flying trip to
West Point where Scott was living in virtual retirement.[30] What
passed between the two, those few hours they spent together,
that twenty-fourth of June, 1862, has never been divulged. Did
they have any eyes, that day, for the wonderful prospect from
the high terrace of the parade ground; for the river so far
below, flooring the valley with silver; for the mountains pearl
and blue? Did they talk of Stanton, of his waywardness, his
furies? Of the terrible Committee? Of the way Lincoln had
tied his own hands, brought his will to stalemate, through his
recognition of the unofficial councils? Who knows?

Lincoln was back in Washington the next day. Another day, and
by a sweeping order he created a new army for the protection of
Washington, and placed in command of it, a western general who
was credited with a brilliant stroke on the Mississippi.[31] No
one will now defend the military genius of John Pope. But when
Lincoln sent for him, all the evidence to date appeared to be
in his favor. His follies were yet to appear. And it is more
than likely that in the development of Lincoln's character, his
appointment has a deep significance. It appears to mark the
moment when Lincoln broke out of the cocoon of advisement he
had spun unintentionally around his will. In the sorrows of
the grim year, new forces had been generated. New spiritual
powers were coming to his assistance. At last, relatively, he
had found peace. Worn and torn as he was, after his long
inward struggle, few bore so calmly as he did the distracting
news from the front in the closing days of June and the opening
days of July, when Lee was driving his whole strength like a
superhuman battering-ram, straight at the heart of the wavering
McClellan. A visitor at the White House, in the midst of the
terrible strain of the Seven Days, found Lincoln "thin and
haggard, but cheerful . . . quite as placid as usual . . .
his manner was so kindly and so free from the ordinary
cocksureness of the politician, and the vanity and self-
importance of official position that nothing but good will was
inspired by his presence."[32]

His serenity was all the more remarkable as his relations with
Congress and the Committee were fast approaching a crisis. If
McClellan failed-and by the showing of his own despatches,
there was every reason to expect him to fail, so besotted was
he upon the idea that no one could prevail with the force
allowed him--the Committee who were leaders of the congressional
party against the presidential party might be expected promptly
to measure strength with the Administration. And McClellan
failed. At that moment Chandler, with the consent of the
Committee, was making use of its records preparing a Philippic
against the government. Lincoln, acting on his own initiative,
without asking the Secretary of War to accompany him, went
immediately to the front. He passed two days questioning
McClellan and his generals.[33] But there was no council of war.
It was a different Lincoln from that other who, just four
months previous, had called together the general officers and
promised them to abide by their decisions. He returned to
Washington without telling them what he meant to do.

The next day closed a chapter and opened a chapter in the
history of the Federal army. Stanton's brief and inglorious
career as head of the national forces came to an end. He fell
back into his rightful position, the President's executive
officer in military affairs. Lincoln telegraphed another
Western general, Halleck, ordering him to Washington as
General-in-Chief.[34] He then, for a season, turned his whole
attention from the army to politics. Five days after the
telegram to Halleck, Chandler in the Senate, loosed his
insatiable temper in what ostensibly was a denunciation of
McClellan, what in point of fact was a sweeping arraignment of
the military efficiency of the government.[35]


While Lincoln was slowly struggling out of his last eclipse,
giving most of his attention to the army, the Congressional
Cabal was laboring assiduously to force the issue upon slavery.
The keen politicians who composed it saw with unerring vision
where, for the moment, lay their opportunity. They could not
beat the President on any one issue then before the country.
No one faction was strong enough to be their stand-by. Only by
a combination of issues and a coalition of factions could they
build up an anti-Lincoln party, check-mate the Administration,
and get control of the government. They were greatly assisted
by the fatuousness of the Democrats. That party was in a
peculiar situation. Its most positive characters, naturally,
had taken sides for or against the government. The powerful
Southerners who had been its chief leaders were mainly in the
Confederacy. Such Northerners as Douglas and Stanton, and many
more, had gone over to the Republicans. Suddenly the control
of the party organization had fallen into the hands of
second-rate men. As by the stroke of an enchanter's wand, men
of small caliber who, had the old conditions remained, would
have lived and died of little consequence saw opening before
them the role of leadership. It was too much for their mental
poise. Again the subjective element in politics! The
Democratic party for the duration of the war became the
organization of Little Men. Had they possessed any great
leaders, could they have refused to play politics and responded
to Lincoln's all-parties policy, history might have been
different. But they were not that sort. Neither did they have
the courage to go to the other extreme and become a resolute
opposition party, wholeheartedly and intelligently against the
war. They equivocated, they obstructed, they professed loyalty
and they practised-it would be hard to say what! So
short-sighted was their political game that its effect
continually was to play into the hands of their most relentless
enemies, the grim Jacobins.

Though, for a brief time while the enthusiasm after Sumter was
still at its height they appeared to go along with the
all-parties program, they soon revealed their true course. In
the autumn of 1861, Lincoln still had sufficient hold upon all
factions to make it seem likely that his all-parties. program
would be given a chance. The Republicans generally made
overtures to the Democratic managers, offering to combine in a
coalition party with no platform but the support of the war and
the restoration of the Union. Here was the test of the
organization of the Little Men. The insignificant new
managers, intoxicated by the suddenness of their opportunity,
rang false. They rejected the all-parties program and insisted
on maintaining their separate party formation.[1] This was a
turning point in Lincoln's career. Though nearly two years
were to pass before he admitted his defeat, the all-parties
program was doomed from that hour. Throughout the winter, the
Democrats in Congress, though steadily ambiguous in their
statements of principle, were as steadily hostile to Lincoln.
If they had any settled policy, it was no more than an attempt
to hold the balance of power among the warring factions of the
Republicans. By springtime the game they were playing was
obvious; also its results. They had prevented the President
from building up a strong Administration group wherewith he
might have counterbalanced the Jacobins. Thus they had
released the Jacobins from the one possible restraint that
might have kept them from pursuing their own devices.

The spring of 1862 saw a general realignment of factions. It
was then that the Congressional Cabal won its first significant
triumph. Hitherto, all the Republican platforms had been
programs of denial. A brilliant new member of the Senate, john
Sherman, bluntly told his colleagues that the Republican party
had always stood on the defensive. That was its weakness. "I
do not know any measure on which it has taken an aggressive
position."[2] The clue to the psychology of the moment was in the
raging demand of the masses for a program of assertion, for
aggressive measures. The President was trying to meet this
demand with his all-parties program, with his policy of
nationalism, exclusive of everything else. And recently he had
added that other assertion, his insistence that the executive
in certain respects was independent of the legislative. Of his
three assertions, one, the all-parties program, was already on
the way to defeat Another, nationalism, as the President
interpreted it, had alienated the Abolitionists. The third,
his argument for himself as tribune, was just what your crafty
politician might twist, pervert, load with false meanings to
his heart's content. Men less astute than Chandler and Wade
could not have failed to see where fortune pointed. Their
opportunity lay in a combination of the two issues. Abolition
and the resistance to executive "usurpation." Their problem was
to create an anti-Lincoln party that should also be a war
party. Their coalition of aggressive forces must accept the
Abolitionists as its backbone, but it must also include all
violent elements of whatever persuasion, and especially all
those that could be wrought into fury on the theme of the
President as a despot. Above all, their coalition must absorb
and then express the furious temper so dear to their own hearts
which they fondly believed-mistakenly, they were destined to
discover-was the temper of the country.

It can not be said that this was the Republican pro-gram. The
President's program, fully as positive as that of the Cabal,
had as good a right to appropriate the party label-as events
were to show, a better right. But the power of the Cabal was
very great, and the following it was able to command in the
country reached almost the proportions of the terrible. A
factional name is needed. For the Jacobins, their allies in
Congress, their followers in the country, from the time they
acquired a positive program, an accurate label is the

During the remainder of the session, Congress may be thought of
as having-what Congress seldom has-three definite groups,
Right, Left and Center. The Right was the Vindictives; the
Left, the irreconcilable Democrats; the Center was composed
chiefly of liberal Republicans but included a few Democrats,
those who rebelled against the political chicanery of the
Little Men.

The policy of the Vindictives was to force upon the
Administration the double issue of emancipation and the
supremacy of Congress. Therefore, their aim was to pass a bill
freeing the slaves on the sole authority of a congressional
act. Many resolutions, many bills, all having this end in
view, were introduced. Some were buried in committees; some
were remade in committees and subjected to long debate by the
Houses; now and then one was passed upon. But the spring wore
through and the summer came, and still the Vindictives were not
certainly in control of Congress. No bill to free slaves by
congressional action secured a majority vote. At the same time
it was plain that the strength of the Vindictives was slowly,
steadily, growing.

Outside Congress, the Abolitionists took new hope. They had
organized a systematic propaganda. At Washington, weekly
meetings were held in the Smithsonian Institute, where all
their most conspicuous leaders, Phillips, Emerson, Brownson,
Garret Smith, made addresses. Every Sunday a service was held
in the chamber of the House of Representatives and the sermon
was almost always a "terrific arrangement of slavery." Their
watch-word was "A Free Union or Disintegration." The treatment
of fugitive slaves by commanders in the field produced a
clamor. Lincoln insisted on strict obedience to the two laws,
the Fugitive Slave Act and the First Confiscation Act.
Abolitionists sneered at "all this gabble about the sacredness
of the Constitution."[3] But Lincoln was not to be moved. When
General Hunter, taking a leaf from the book of Fremont, tried
to force his hand, he did not hesitate. Hunter had issued a
proclamation by which the slaves in the region where he
commanded were "declared forever free."

This was in May when Lincoln's difficulties with McClellan were
at their height; when the Committee was zealously watching to
catch him in any sort of mistake; when the House was within
four votes of a majority for emancipation by act of Congress;[4]
when there was no certainty whether the country was with him or
with the Vindictives. Perhaps that new courage which
definitely revealed itself the next month, may be first
glimpsed in the proclamation overruling Hunter:

"I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as
Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the slaves
of any State or States free, and whether at any time, in any
case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the
maintenance of the government to exercise such supposed power,
are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to
myself, and which I can not feel justified in leaving to the
decision of commanders in the field."[5]

The revocation of Hunter's order infuriated the Abolitionists.
It deeply disappointed the growing number who, careless about
slavery, wanted emancipation as a war measure, as a blow at the
South. Few of either of these groups noticed the implied hint
that emancipation might come by executive action. Here was the
matter of the war powers in a surprising form. However, it was
not unknown to Congress. Attempts had been made to induce
Congress to concede the war powers to the President and to ask,
not command, him to use them for the liberation of slaves in
the Seceded States. Long before, in a strangely different
connection, such vehement Abolitionists as Giddings and J. Q.
Adams had pictured the freeing of slaves as a natural incident
of military occupation.

What induced Lincoln to throw out this hint of a possible
surrender on the subject of emancipation? Again, as so often,
the silence as to his motives is unbroken. However, there can
be no doubt that his thinking on the subject passed through
several successive stages. But all his thinking was ruled by
one idea. Any policy he might accept, or any refusal of
policy, would be judged in his own mind by the degree to which
it helped, or hindered, the national cause. Nothing was more
absurd than the sneer of the Abolitionists that he was "tender"
of slavery. Browning spoke for him faithfully, "If slavery can
survive the shock of war and secession, be it so. If in the
conflict for liberty, the Constitution and the Union, it must
necessarily perish, then let it perish." Browning refused to
predict which alternative would develop. His point was that
slaves must be treated like other property. But, if need be,
he would sacrifice slavery as he would sacrifice anything else,
to save the Union. He had no intention to "protect" slavery.[6]

In the first stage of Lincoln's thinking on this thorny
subject, his chief anxiety was to avoid scaring off from the
national cause those Southern Unionists who were not prepared
to abandon slavery. This was the motive behind his prompt
suppression of Fremont. It was this that inspired the
Abolitionist sneer about his relative attitude toward God and
Kentucky. As a compromise, to cut the ground from under the
Vindictives, he had urged the loyal Slave States to endorse a
program of compensated emancipation. But these States were as
unable to see the handwriting on the wall as were the Little
Men. In the same proclamation that overruled Hunter, while
hinting at what the Administration might feel driven to do,
Lincoln appealed again to the loyal Slave States to accept
compensated emancipation. "I do not argue," said he, "I
beseech you to make the argument for yourselves. You can not,
if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. . . .
This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting
no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change
it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not
rending or wrecking anything."[7]

Though Lincoln, at this moment, was anxiously watching the
movement in Congress to force his hand, he was not apparently
cast down. He was emerging from his eclipse. June was
approaching and with it the final dawn. Furthermore, when he
issued this proclamation on May nineteenth, he had not lost
faith in McClellan. He was still hoping for news of a crushing
victory; of McClellan's triumphal entry into Richmond. The
next two months embraced both those transformations which
together revolutionized his position. He emerged from his last
eclipse; and McClellan failed him.

When Lincoln returned to Washington after his two days at the
front, he knew that the fortunes of his Administration were at
a low ebb. Never had he been derided in Congress with more
brazen injustice. The Committee, waiting only for McClellan's
failure, would now unmask their guns-as Chandler did, seven
days later. The line of Vindictive criticism could easily be
foreshadowed: the government had failed; it was responsible for
a colossal military catastrophe; but what could you expect of
an Administration that would not strike its enemies through
emancipation; what a shattering demonstration that the
Executive was not a safe repository of the war powers.

Was there any way to forestall or disarm the Vindictives? His
silence gives us no clue when or how the answer occurred to
him--by separating the two issues; by carrying out the hint in
the May proclamation; by yielding on emancipation while, in the
very act, pushing the war powers of the President to their
limit, declaring slaves free by an executive order.

The importance of preserving the war power of the President had
become a fixed condition of Lincoln's thought. Already, he was
looking forward not only to victory but to the great task that
should come after victory. He was determined, if it were
humanly possible, to keep that task in the hands of the
President, and out of the hands of Congress. A first step had
already been taken. In portions of occupied territory,
military governors had been appointed. Simple as this seemed
to the careless observer, it focussed the whole issue. The
powerful, legal mind of Sumner at once perceived its
significance. He denied in the Senate the right of the
President to make such appointments; he besought the Senate to
demand the cancellation of such appointment. He reasserted the
absolute sovereignty of Congress.[8] It would be a far-reaching
stroke if Lincoln, in any way, could extort from Congress
acquiescence in his use of the war powers on a vast scale.
Freeing the slaves by executive order would be such a use.

Another train of thought also pointed to the same result.
Lincoln's desire to further the cause of "the Liberal party
throughout the world," that desire which dated back to his
early life as a politician, had suffered a disappointment.
European Liberals, whose political vision was less analytical
than his, had failed to understand his policy. The Confederate
authorities had been quick to publish in Europe his official
pronouncements that the war had been undertaken not to abolish
slavery but to preserve the Union. As far back as September,
1861, Carl Schurz wrote from Spain to Seward that the Liberals
abroad were disappointed, that "the impression gained ground
that the war as waged by the Federal government, far from being
a war of principle, was merely a war of policy," and "that from
this point of view much might be said for the South."[9] In fact,
these hasty Europeans had found a definite ground for
complaining that the American war was a reactionary influence.
The concentration of American cruisers in the Southern blockade
gave the African slave trade its last lease of life. With no
American war-ship among the West Indies, the American flag
became the safeguard of the slaver. Englishmen complained that
"the swift ships crammed with their human cargoes" had only to
"hoist the Stars and Stripes and pass under the bows of our
cruisers."[10] Though Seward scored a point by his treaty giving
British cruisers the right to search any ships carrying the
American flag, the distrust of the foreign Liberals was not
removed. They inclined to stand aside and to allow the
commercial classes of France and England to dictate policy
toward the United States. The blockade, by shutting off the
European supply of raw cotton, on both sides the channel, was
the cause of measureless unemployment, of intolerable misery.
There was talk in both countries of intervention. Napoleon,
especially, loomed large on the horizon as a possible ally of
the Confederacy. And yet, all this while, Lincoln had it in
his power at any minute to lay the specter of foreign
intervention. A pledge to the "Liberal party throughout the
world" that the war would bring about the destruction of
slavery, and great political powers both in England and in
France would at once cross the paths of their governments
should they move toward intervention. Weighty as were all
these reasons for a change of policy--turning the flank of the
Vindictives on the war powers, committing the Abolitionists to
the Administration, winning over the European Liberals--there
was a fourth reason which, very probably, weighed upon Lincoln
most powerfully of them all. Profound gloom had settled upon
the country. There was no enthusiasm for military service.
And Stanton, who lacked entirely the psychologic vision of the
statesman, had recently committed an astounding blunder. After
a few months in power he had concluded that the government had
enough soldiers and had closed the recruiting offices.[11] Why
Lincoln permitted this singular proceeding has never been
satisfactorily explained.* Now he was reaping the fruits. A
defeated army, a hopeless country, and no prospect of swift
reinforcement! If a shift of ground on the question of
emancipation would arouse new enthusiasm, bring in a new stream
of recruits, Lincoln was prepared to shift.

*Stanton's motive was probably economy. Congress was terrified
by the expense of the war. The Committee was deeply alarmed
over the political effect of war taxation. They and Stanton
were all convinced that McClellan was amply strong enough to
crush the Confederacy.

But even in this dire extremity, he would not give way without
a last attempt to save his earlier policy. On July twelfth, he
called together the Senators and Representatives of the Border
States. He read to them a written argument in favor of
compensated emancipation, the Federal government to assist the
States in providing funds for the purpose.

"Let the States that are in rebellion," said he, "see
definitely and certainly that in no event will the States you
represent ever join their proposed Confederacy, and they
can not much longer maintain the contest. But you can not divest
them of their hope to ultimately have you with them so long as
you show a determination to perpetuate the institution within
your own States. . . . If the war continues long, as it must if
the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your States
will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion--by the mere
incidents of war. . . . Our common country is in great
peril, demanding the loftiest views and boldest action to bring
it speedy relief. Once relieved its form of government is
saved to the world, its beloved history and cherished memories
are vindicated, and its happy future fully assured and rendered
inconceivably grand."[12]

He made no impression. They would commit themselves to
nothing. Lincoln abandoned his earlier policy.

Of what happened next, he said later, "It had got to be. . .
. Things had gone on from bad to worse until I felt that we
had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we
had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card and
must change our tactics or lose the game. I now determined
upon the adoption of the emancipation policy. . "[13]

The next day he confided his decision and his reasons to Seward
and Welles. Though "this was a new departure for the
President," both these Ministers agreed with him that the
change of policy had become inevitable.[14]

Lincoln was now entirely himself, astute in action as well as
bold in thought. He would not disclose his change of policy
while Congress was in session. Should he do so, there was no
telling what attempt the Cabal would make to pervert his
intention, to twist his course into the semblance of an
acceptance of the congressional theory. He laid the matter
aside until Congress should be temporarily out of the way,
until the long recess between July and December should have
begun. In this closing moment of the second session of the
Thirty-Seventh Congress, which is also the opening moment of
the great period of Lincoln, the feeling against him in
Congress was extravagantly bitter. It caught at anything with
which to make a point. A disregard of technicalities of
procedure was magnified into a serious breach of constitutional
privilege. Reviving the question of compensated emancipation,
Lincoln had sent a special message to both Houses, submitting
the text of a compensation bill which he urged them to
consider. His enemies raised an uproar. The President had no
right to introduce a bill-into Congress! Dictator Lincoln was
trying in a new way to put Congress under his thumb.[15]

In the last week of the session, Lincoln's new boldness brought
the old relation between himself and Congress to a dramatic
close. The Second Confiscation Bill had long been under
discussion. Lincoln believed that some of its provisions were
inconsistent with the spirit at least of our fundamental law.
Though its passage was certain, he prepared a veto message. He
then permitted the congressional leaders to know what he
intended to do when the bill should reach him. Gall and
wormwood are weak terms for the bitterness that may be tasted
in the speeches of the Vindictives. When, in order to save the
bill, a resolution was appended purging it of the
interpretation which Lincoln condemned, Trumbull passionately
declared that Congress was being "coerced" by the President.
"No one at a distance," is the deliberate conclusion of Julian
who was present, "could have formed any adequate conception of
the hostility of the Republican members toward Lincoln at the
final adjournment, while it was the belief of many that our
last session of Congress had been held in Washington. Mr. Wade
said the country was going to hell, and that the scenes
witnessed in the French Revolution were nothing in comparison
with what we should see here."[16]

Lincoln endured the rage of Congress in unwavering serenity.
On the last day of the session, Congress surrendered and sent
to him both the Confiscation Act and the explanatory
resolution. Thereupon, he indulged in what must have seemed to
those fierce hysterical enemies of his a wanton stroke of
irony. He sent them along with his approval of the bill the
text of the veto message he would have sent had they refused to
do what he wanted.[17] There could be no concealing the fact that
the President had matched his will against the will of
Congress, and that the President had had his way.

Out of this strange period of intolerable confusion, a gigantic
figure had at last emerged. The outer and the inner Lincoln
had fused. He was now a coherent personality, masterful in
spite of his gentleness, with his own peculiar fashion of
self-reliance, having a policy of his own devising, his colors
nailed upon the masthead.


Lincoln's final emergence was a deeper thing than merely the
consolidation of a character, the transformation of a dreamer
into a man of action. The fusion of the outer and the inner
person was the result of a profound interior change. Those
elements of mysticism which were in him from the first, which
had gleamed darkly through such deep overshadowing, were at
last established in their permanent form. The political
tension had been matched by a spiritual tension with personal
sorrow as the connecting link. In a word, he had found his

Lincoln's instinctive reticence was especially guarded, as any
one might expect, in the matter of his belief. Consequently,
the precise nature of it has been much discussed. As we have
seen, the earliest current report charged him with deism. The
devoted Herndon, himself an agnostic, eagerly claims his hero
as a member of the noble army of doubters. Elaborate arguments
have been devised in rebuttal. The fault on both sides is in
the attempt to base an impression on detached remarks and in
the further error of treating all these fragments as of one
time, or more truly, as of no time, as if his soul were a
philosopher of the absolute, speaking oracularly out of a void.
It is like the vicious reasoning that tortures systems of
theology out of disconnected texts.

Lincoln's religious life reveals the same general divisions
that are to be found in his active life: from the beginning to
about the time of his election; from the close of 1860 to the
middle of 1862; the remainder.

Of his religious experience in the first period, very little is
definitely known. What glimpses we have of it both fulfill and
contradict the forest religion that was about him in his youth.
The superstition, the faith in dreams, the dim sense of another
world surrounding this, the belief in communion between the
two, these are the parts of him that are based unchangeably in
the forest shadows. But those other things, the spiritual
passions, the ecstacies, the vague sensing of the terribleness
of the creative powers,--to them always he made no response.
And the crude philosophizing of the forest theologians, their
fiercely simple dualism--God and Satan, thunder and lightning,
the eternal war in the heavens, the eternal lake of fire--it
meant nothing to him. Like all the furious things of life,
evil appeared to him as mere negation, a mysterious foolishness
he could not explain. His aim was to forget it. Goodness and
pity were the active elements that roused him to think of the
other world; especially pity. The burden of men's tears,
falling ever in the shadows at the backs of things--this was the
spiritual horizon from which he could not escape. Out of the
circle of that horizon he had to rise by spiritual apprehension
in order to be consoled. And there is no reason to doubt that
at times, if not invariably, in his early days, he did rise; he
found consolation. But it was all without form. It was a
sentiment, a mood,--philosophically bodiless. This indefinite
mysticism was the real heart of the forest world, closer than
hands or feet, but elusive, incapable of formulation, a
presence, not an idea. Before the task of expressing it, the
forest mystic stood helpless. Just what it was that he felt
impinging upon him from every side he did not know. He was
like a sensitive man, neither scientist nor poet, in the midst
of a night of stars. The reality of his experience gave him no
power either to explain or to state it.

There is little reason to suppose that Lincoln's religious
experience previous to 1860 was more than a recurrent visitor
in his daily life. He has said as much himself. He told his
friend Noah Brooks "he did not remember any precise time when
he passed through any special change of purpose, or of heart,
but he would say that his own election to office and the crisis
immediately following, influentially determined him in what he
called 'a process of crystallization' then going on in his

It was the terrible sense of need--the humility, the fear that
he might not be equal to the occasion--that searched his soul,
that bred in him the craving for a spiritual up-holding which
should be constant. And at this crucial moment came the death
of his favorite son. "In the lonely grave of the little one
lay buried Mr. Lincoln's fondest hopes, and strong as he was in
the matter of self-control, he gave way to an overmastering
grief which became at length a serious menace to his health."[2]
Though firsthand accounts differ as to just how he struggled
forth out of this darkness, all agree that the ordeal was very
severe. Tradition makes the crisis a visit from the Reverend
Francis Vinton, rector of Trinity Church, New York, and his
eloquent assertion of the faith in immortality, his appeal to
Lincoln to remember the sorrow of Jacob over the loss of
Joseph, and to rise by faith out of his own sorrow even as the
patriarch rose.[3]

Although Lincoln succeeded in putting his grief behind
him, he never forgot it. Long afterward, he called the
attention of Colonel Cannon to the lines in King John:

"And Father Cardinal, I have heard you say
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven;
If that be true, I shall see my boy again."

"Colonel," said he, "did you ever dream of a lost friend, and
feel that you were holding sweet communion with that friend,
and yet have a sad consciousness that it was not a reality?
Just so, I dream of my boy, Willie." And he bent his head and
burst into tears.[4]

As he rose in the sphere of statecraft with such apparent
suddenness out of the doubt, hesitation, self-distrust of the
spring of 1862 and in the summer found himself politically, so
at the same time he found himself religiously. During his
later life though the evidences are slight, they are
convincing. And again, as always, it is not a violent change
that takes place, but merely a better harmonization of the
outer and less significant part of him with the inner and more
significant. His religion continues to resist intellectual
formulation. He never accepted any definite creed. To the
problems of theology, he applied the same sort of reasoning
that he applied to the problems of the law. He made a
distinction, satisfactory to himself at least, between the
essential and the incidental, and rejected everything that did
not seem to him altogether essential.

In another negative way his basal part asserted itself. Just
as in all his official relations he was careless of ritual, so
in religion he was not drawn to its ritualistic forms. Again,
the forest temper surviving, changed, into such different
conditions! Real and subtle as is the ritualistic element,
not only in religion but in life generally, one may doubt
whether it counts for much among those who have been formed
mainly by the influences of nature. It implies more distance
between the emotion and its source, more need of stimulus to
arouse and organize emotion, than the children of the forest
are apt to be aware of. To invoke a philosophical distinction,
illumination rather than ritualism, the tense but variable
concentration on a result, not the ordered mode of an approach,
is what distinguishes such characters as Lincoln. It was this
that made him careless &f form in all the departments of life.
It was one reason why McClellan, born ritualist of the pomp of
war, could never overcome a certain dislike, or at least a
doubt, of him.

Putting together his habit of thinking only in essentials and
his predisposition to neglect form, it is not strange that he
said: "I have never united myself to any church because I have
found difficulty in giving my assent, without mental
reservation, to the long, complicated statements of Christian
doctrine which characterize their Articles of Belief and
Confessions of Faith. When any church will inscribe over its
altar, as its sole qualification for membership, the Savior's
condensed statement of the substance of both Law and Gospel,
'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as
thyself,' that church will I join with all my heart and with
all my soul."[5]

But it must not be supposed that his religion was mere ethics.
It had three cardinal possessions. The sense of God is through
all his later life. It appears incidentally in his state
papers, clothed with language which, in so deeply sincere a
man, must be taken literally. He believed in prayer, in the
reality of communion with the Divine. His third article was

At Washington, Lincoln was a regular attendant, though not a
communicant, of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. With
the Pastor, the Reverend P. D. Gurley, he formed a close
friendship. Many hours they passed in intimate talk upon
religious subjects, especially upon the question of
immortality.[6] To another pious visitor he said earnestly, "I
hope I am a Christian."[7] Could anything but the most secure
faith have written this "Meditation on the Divine Will" which
he set down in the autumn of 1862 for no eye but his own: "The
will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to
act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one
must be, wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing
at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite
possible that God's purpose is something different from the
purpose of either party; and yet the human instrumentalities,
working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect
His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably
true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not
end yet. By His mere great power on the minds of the now
contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union
without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having
begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day.
Yet the contest proceeds."[8]

His religion flowered in his later temper. It did not, to be
sure, overcome his melancholy. That was too deeply laid.
Furthermore, we fail to discover in the surviving evidences any
certainty that it was a glad phase of religion. Neither the
ecstatic joy of the wild women, which his mother had; nor the
placid joy of the ritualist, which he did not understand; nor
those other variants of the joy of faith, were included in his
portion. It was a lofty but grave religion that matured in his
final stage. Was it due to far-away Puritan ancestors? Had
austere, reticent Iron-sides, sure of the Lord, but taking no
liberties with their souls, at last found out their descendant?
It may be. Cromwell, in some ways, was undeniably his
spiritual kinsman. In both, the same aloofness of soul, the
same indifference to the judgments of the world, the same
courage, the same fatalism, the same encompassment by the
shadow of the Most High. Cromwell, in his best mood, had he
been gifted with Lincoln's literary power, could have written
the Fast Day Proclamation of 1863 which is Lincoln's most
distinctive religious fragment.

However, Lincoln's gloom had in it a correcting element which
the old Puritan gloom appears to have lacked. It placed no
veto upon mirth. Rather, it valued mirth as its only redeemer.
And Lincoln's growth in the religious sense was not the cause
of any diminution of his surface hilarity. He saved himself
from what otherwise would have been intolerable melancholy by
seizing, regardless of the connection, anything whatsoever that
savored of the comic.

His religious security did not destroy his superstition. He
continued to believe that he would die violently at the end of
his career as President. But he carried that belief almost
with gaiety. He refused to take precautions for his safety.
Long lonely rides in the dead of night; night walks with a
single companion, were constant anxieties to his intimates. To
the President, their fears were childish. Although in the
sensibilities he could suffer all he had ever suffered, and
more; in the mind he had attained that high serenity in which
there can be no flagging of effort because of the conviction
that God has decreed one's work; no failure of confidence
because of the twin conviction that somehow, somewhere, all
things work together for good. "I am glad of this interview,"
he said in reply to a deputation of visitors, in September,
1862, "and glad to know that I have your sympathy and your
prayers. . I happened to be placed, being a humble instrument
in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all
are, to work out His great purpose. . . . I have sought His
aid; but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light He
affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for
some purpose unknown to me He wills it otherwise. If I had my
way, this war would never have commenced. If I had been
allowed my way, this war would have been ended before this; but
it still continues and we must believe that He permits it for
some wise purpose of His own, mysterious and unknown to us; and
though with our limited understandings we may not be able to
comprehend it, yet we can not but believe that He who made the
world still governs it."[9]


On July 22, 1862, there was a meeting of the Cabinet. The
sessions of Lincoln's Council were the last word for
informality. The President and the Ministers interspersed
their great affairs with mere talk, story-telling, gossip.
With one exception they were all lovers of their own voices,
especially in the telling of tales. Stanton was the exception.
Gloomy, often in ill-health, innocent of humor, he glowered
when the others laughed. When the President, instead of
proceeding at once to business, would pull out of his pocket
the latest volume of Artemus Ward, the irate War Minister felt
that the overthrow of the nation was impending. But in this
respect, the President was incorrigible. He had been known to
stop the line of his guests at a public levee, while he talked
for some five minutes in a whisper to an important personage;
and though all the room thought that jupiter was imparting
state secrets, in point of fact, he was making sure of a good
story the great man had told him a few days previous.[1] His
Cabinet meetings were equally careless of social form. The
Reverend Robert Collyer was witness to this fact in a curious
way. Strolling through the White House grounds, "his attention
was suddenly arrested by the apparition of three pairs of feet
resting on the ledge of an open window in one of the apartments
of the second story and plainly visible from below." He asked a
gardener for an explanation. The brusk reply was: "Why, you
old fool, that's the Cabinet that is a-settin', and them thar
big feet are ole Abe's."[2]

When the Ministers assembled on July twenty-second they had no
intimation that this was to be a record session. Imagine the
astonishment when, in his usual casual way, though with none of
that hesitancy to which they had grown accustomed, Lincoln
announced his new policy, adding that he "wished it understood
that the question was settled in his own mind; that he had
decreed emancipation in a certain contingency and the
responsibility of the measure was his."[3] President and Cabinet
talked it over in their customary offhand way, and Seward made
a suggestion that instantly riveted Lincoln's attention.
Seward thought the moment was ill-chosen. "If the Proclamation
were issued now, it would be received and considered as a
despairing cry--a shriek from and for the Administration, rather
than for freedom."[4] He added the picturesque phrase, "The
government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of
Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the government." This
idea struck Lincoln with very great force. It was an aspect of
the case "which he had entirely overlooked."[5] He accepted
Seward's advice, laid aside the proclamation he had drafted and
turned again with all his energies to the organization of

The next day Halleck arrived at Washington. He was one of
Lincoln's mistakes. However, in his new mood, Lincoln was
resolved to act on his own opinion of the evidence before him,
especially in estimating men. It is just possible that this

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