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

The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln by Helen Nicolay

Part 2 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

friends all advised against asking the question. They felt sure
that Douglas would answer, "Yes," and that this would win him his
election. "If you ask it, you can never be senator," they told
Lincoln. "Gentlemen," he replied, "I am killing larger game. If
Douglas answers he can never be President, and the battle of 1860
is worth a hundred of this."

Both prophecies were fulfilled. Douglas answered as was expected;
and though, in actual numbers, the Republicans of Illinois cast
more votes than the Democrats, a legislature was chosen that
rejected him to the Senate. Two years later, Lincoln, who in 1858
had not the remotest dream of such a thing, found himself the
successful candidate of the Republican party for President of the
United States.

To see how little Lincoln expected such an outcome it is only
necessary to glance at the letters he wrote to friends at the end
of his campaign against Douglas. Referring to the election to be
held two years later, he said, "In that day I shall fight in the
ranks, but I shall be in no one's way for any of the places." To
another correspondent he expressed himself even more frankly: "Of
course I wished, but I did not much expect, a better result. . .
. I am glad I made the late race. It gave me a hearing on the
great and durable question of the age, which I could have had in
no other way; and though I now sink out of view and shall be
forgotten, I believe I have made some marks which will tell for
the cause of civil liberty long after I am gone."

But he was not to "sink out of view and be forgotten." Douglas
himself contributed not a little toward keeping his name before
the public; for shortly after their contest was ended the
reelected senator started on a trip through the South to set
himself right again with the Southern voters, and in every speech
that he made he referred to Lincoln as the champion of
"abolitionism." In this way the people were not allowed to forget
the stand Lincoln had taken, and during the year 1859 they came
to look upon him as the one man who could be relied on at all
times to answer Douglas and Douglas's arguments.

In the autumn of that year Lincoln was asked to speak in Ohio,
where Douglas was again referring to him by name. In December he
was invited to address meetings in various towns in Kansas, and
early in 1860 he made a speech in New York that raised him
suddenly and unquestionably to the position of a national leader.

It was delivered in the hall of Cooper Institute, on the evening
of February 27, 1860, before an audience of men and women
remarkable for their culture, wealth and influence.

Mr. Lincoln's name and words had filled so large a space in the
Eastern newspapers of late, that his listeners were very eager to
see. and hear this rising Western politician. The West, even at
that late day, was very imperfectly understood by the East. It
was looked upon as a land of bowie-knives and pistols, of
steamboat explosions, of mobs, of wild speculation and wilder
adventure. What, then, would be the type, the character, the
language of this speaker? How would he impress the great editor
Horace Greeley, who sat among the invited guests; David Dudley
Field, the great lawyer, who escorted him to the platform;
William Cullen Bryant, the great poet, who presided over the

The audience quickly forgot these questioning doubts. They had
but time to note Mr. Lincoln's unusual height, his rugged,
strongly marked features, the clear ring of his high-pitched
voice, the commanding earnestness of his manner. Then they became
completely absorbed in what he was saying. He began quietly,
soberly, almost as if he were arguing a case before a court. In
his entire address he uttered neither an anecdote nor a jest. If
any of his hearers came expecting the style or manner of the
Western stump-speaker, they met novelty of an unlooked-for kind;
for such was the apt choice of words, the simple strength of his
reasoning, the fairness of every point he made, the force of
every conclusion he drew, that his listeners followed him,
spellbound. He spoke on the subject that he had so thoroughly
mastered and that was now uppermost in men's minds--the right or
wrong of slavery. He laid bare the complaints and demands of the
Southern leaders, pointed out the injustice of their threat to
break up the Union if their claims were not granted, stated
forcibly the stand taken by the Republican party, and brought his
speech to a close with the short and telling appeal:

"Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let
us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."

The attention with which it was followed, the applause that
greeted its telling points, and the enthusiasm of the Republican
journals next morning showed that Lincoln's Cooper Institute
speech had taken New York by storm. It was printed in full in
four of the leading daily papers of the city, and immediately
reprinted in pamphlet form. From New York Mr. Lincoln made a tour
of speech-making through several of the New England States, where
he was given a hearty welcome, and listened to with an eagerness
that showed a marked result at the spring elections. The interest
of the working-men who heard these addresses was equaled, perhaps
excelled, by the pleased surprise of college professors and men
of letters when they found that the style and method of this
self-taught popular Western orator would stand the test of their
most searching professional criticism.

One other audience he had during this trip, if we may trust
report, which, while neither as learned as the college
professors, nor perhaps as critical as the factory-men, was quite
as hard to please, and the winning of whose approval shows
another side of this great and many-sided man. A teacher in a
Sunday-school in the Five Points district of New York, at that
time one of the worst parts of the city, has told how, one
morning, a tall, thin, unusual-looking man entered and sat
quietly listening to the exercises. His face showed such genuine
interest that he was asked if he would like to speak to the
children. Accepting the invitation with evident pleasure, he
stepped forward and began a simple address that quickly charmed
the roomful of youngsters into silence. His language was
singularly beautiful, his voice musical with deep feeling. The
faces of his little listeners drooped into sad earnestness at his
words of warning, and brightened again when he spoke of cheerful
promises. "Go on! Oh, do go on!" they begged when at last he
tried to stop. As he left the room somebody asked his name.
"Abraham Lincoln, from Illinois," was the courteous reply.


Lincoln's great skill and wisdom in his debate with Douglas
turned the eyes of the whole country upon him; and the force and
logic of his Cooper Institute speech convinced every one that in
him they had discovered a new national leader. He began to be
mentioned as a possible candidate for President in the election
which was to take place that fall to choose a successor to
President Buchanan. Indeed, quite a year earlier, an editor in
Illinois had written to him asking permission to announce him as
a candidate in his newspaper. At that time Lincoln had refused,
thanking him for the compliment, but adding modestly: "I must in
candor say that I do not think myself fit for the Presidency."
About Christmas time, 1859, however, a number of his stanchest
Illinois friends urged him to let them use his name, and he
consented, not so much in the hope of being chosen, as of perhaps
receiving the nomination for Vice-President, or at least of
making a show of strength that would aid him at some future time
to become senator. The man most talked about as the probable
Republican candidate for President was William H. Seward, who was
United States senator from New York, and had also been governor
of that State.

The political unrest continued. Slavery was still the most
absorbing topic, and it was upon their stand for or against
slavery that all the Presidential candidates were chosen. The
pretensions and demands of the Southern leaders had by this time
passed into threats. They declared roundly that they would take
their States out of the Union if slavery were not quickly made
lawful all over the country, or in case a "Black Republican"
President should be elected. The Democrats, unable to agree among
themselves, split into two sections, the Northerners nominating
Stephen A. Douglas for President, while delegates who had come to
their National Convention from what were called the Cotton States
chose John C. Breckinridge. A few men who had belonged to the old
Whig party, but felt themselves unable to join the Republicans or
either faction of the Democrats, met elsewhere and nominated John

This breaking up of their political enemies into three distinct
camps greatly cheered the Republicans, and when their National
Convention came together in Chicago on May 16, 1860, its members
were filled with the most eager enthusiasm. Its meetings were
held in a huge temporary wooden building called the Wigwam, so
large that 10,000 people could easily assemble in it to watch the
proceedings. Few conventions have shown such depth of feeling.
Not only the delegates on the central platform, but even the
spectators seemed impressed with the fact that they were taking
part in a great historical event. The first two days were taken
up in seating delegates, adopting a "platform" or statement of
party principles, and in other necessary routine matters. On the
third day, however, it was certain that balloting would begin,
and crowds hurried to the Wigwam in a fever of curiosity. The New
York men, sure that Seward would be the choice of the convention,
marched there in a body, with music and banners. The friends of
Lincoln arrived before them, and while not making so much noise
or show, were doing good work for their favorite. The long
nominating speeches of later years had not then come into
fashion. "I take the liberty," simply said Mr. Evarts of New
York, "to name as a candidate to be nominated by this convention
for the office of President of the United States, William H.
Seward," and at Mr. Seward's name a burst of applause broke
forth, so long and loud that it seemed fairly to shake the great
building. Mr. Judd, of Illinois, performed the same office of
friendship for Mr. Lincoln, and the tremendous cheering that rose
from the throats of his friends echoed and dashed itself against
the sides of the Wigwam, died down, and began anew, until the
noise that had been made by Seward's admirers dwindled to
comparative feebleness. Again and again these contests of lungs
and enthusiasm were repeated as other names were presented to the

At last the voting began. Two names stood out beyond all the rest
on the very first ballot--Seward's and Lincoln's. The second
ballot showed that Seward had lost votes while Lincoln had gained
them. The third ballot was begun in almost painful suspense,
delegates and spectators keeping count upon their tally-sheets
with nervous fingers. It was found that Lincoln had gained still
more, and now only needed one and a half votes to receive the
nomination. Suddenly the Wigwam became as still as a church.
Everybody leaned forward to see who would break the spell. A man
sprang upon a chair and reported a change of four votes to
Lincoln. Then a teller shouted a name toward the skylight, and
the boom of a cannon from the roof announced the nomination and
started the cheering down the long Chicago streets; while inside
delegation after delegation changed its votes to the victor in a
whirlwind of hurrahs. That same afternoon the convention finished
its labors by nominating Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for
Vice-President, and adjourned--the delegates, speeding homeward
on the night trains, realizing by the bonfires and cheering
crowds at every little station that a memorable Presidential
campaign was already begun.

During this campaign there were, then, four Presidential
candidates in the field. In the order of strength shown at the
election they were:

1. The Republican party, whose "platform," or statement of party
principles, declared that slavery was wrong, and that its further
spread should be prevented. Its candidates were Abraham Lincoln
of Illinois for President, and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for

2. The Douglas wing of the Democratic party, which declared that
it did not pretend to decide whether slavery was right or wrong,
and proposed to allow the people of each State and Territory to
choose for themselves whether they would or would not have it.
Its candidates were Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois for President,
and Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia for Vice-President.

3. The Buchanan wing of the Democratic party, which declared that
slavery was right, and whose policy was to extend it, and to make
new slave States. Its candidates were John C. Breckinridge of
Kentucky for President, and Joseph Lane of Oregon for

4. The Constitutional Union party, which ignored slavery in its
platform, declaring that it recognized no political principles
other than "the Constitution of the country, the Union of the
States, and the enforcement of the laws." Its candidates were
John Bell of Tennessee for President, and Edward Everett of
Massachusetts for Vice-President.

In enthusiasm the Republicans quickly took the lead. "Wide Awake"
clubs of young men, wearing caps and capes of glazed oilcloth to
protect their clothing from the dripping oil of their torches,
gathered in torchlight processions miles in length. Fence rails,
supposed to have been made by Lincoln in his youth, were set up
in party headquarters and trimmed with flowers and lighted
tapers. Lincoln was called the "Rail-splitter Candidate," and
this telling name, added to the equally telling "Honest Old Abe,"
by which he had long been known in Illinois, furnished country
and city campaign orators with a powerful appeal to the sympathy
and trust of the working-people of the United States. Men and
women read in newspaper and pamphlet biographies the story of his
humble beginnings: how he had risen by simple, earnest work and
native genius, first to fame and leadership in his own State, and
then to fame and leadership in the nation; and these titles
quickly grew to be much more than mere party nicknames--to stand
for a faith and trust destined to play no small part in the
history of the next few years.

After the nominations were made Douglas went on a tour of
speech-making through the South. Lincoln, on the contrary, stayed
quietly at home in Springfield. His personal habits and
surroundings varied little during the whole of this campaign
summer. Naturally he gave up active law practice, leaving his
office in charge of his partner, William H. Herndon. He spent the
time during the usual business hours of each day in the
governor's room of the State-house at Springfield, attended only
by his private secretary, Mr. Nicolay. Friends and strangers
alike were able to visit him freely and without ceremony, and few
went away without being impressed by the sincere frankness of his
manner and conversation.

All sorts of people came to see him: those from far-away States,
East and West, as well as those from nearer home. Politicians
came to ask him for future favors, and many whose only motives
were friendliness or curiosity called to express their good
wishes and take the Republican candidate by the hand.

He wrote no public letters, and he made no speeches beyond a few
words of thanks and greeting to passing street parades. Even the
strictly private letters in which he gave his advice on points in
the campaign were not more than a dozen in number; but all
through the long summer, while welcoming his throngs of visitors,
listening to the tales of old settlers, making friends of
strangers, and binding old friends closer by his ready sympathy,
Mr. Lincoln watched political developments very closely, not
merely to note the progress of his own chances, but with an
anxious view to the future in case he should be elected. Beyond
the ever-changing circle of friendly faces near him he saw the
growing unrest and anger of the South, and doubtless felt the
uncertainty of many good people in the North, who questioned the
power of this untried Western man to guide the country through
the coming perils.

Never over-confident of his own powers, his mind must at times
have been full of misgivings; but it was only on the night of the
election, November 6, 1860, when, sitting alone with the
operators in the little telegraph-office at Springfield, he read
the messages of Republican victory that fell from the wires until
convinced of his election, that the overwhelming, almost crushing
"weight of his coming duties and responsibilities fell upon him.
In that hour, grappling resolutely and alone with the problem
before him, he completed what was really the first act of his
Presidency--the choice of his cabinet, of the men who were to aid
him. People who doubted the will or the wisdom of their
Rail-splitter Candidate need have had no fear. A weak man would
have chosen this little band of counselors--the Secretary of
State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the half-dozen others
who were to stand closest to him and to be at the head of the
great departments of the government--from among his personal
friends. A man uncertain of his own power would have taken care
that no other man of strong nature with a great following of his
own should be there to dispute his authority. Lincoln did the
very opposite. He had a sincere belief in public opinion, and a
deep respect for the popular will. In this case he felt that no
men represented that popular will so truly as those whose names
had been considered by the Republican National Convention in its
choice of a candidate for President. So, instead of gathering
about him his friends, he selected his most powerful rivals in
the Republican party. William H. Seward, of New York, was to be
his Secretary of State; Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, his Secretary
of the Treasury; Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania, his Secretary of
War; Edward Bates, of Missouri, his Attorney-General. The names
of all of these men had been before the Convention. Each one had
hoped to be President in his stead. For the other three members
of his Cabinet he had to look elsewhere. Gideon Welles, of
Connecticut, for Secretary of the Navy; Montgomery Blair, of
Maryland, for Postmaster-General; and Caleb B. Smith, of Indiana,
for Secretary of the Interior, were finally chosen. When people
complained, as they sometimes did, that by this arrangement the
cabinet consisted of four men who had been Democrats in the old
days, and only three who had been Whigs, Lincoln smiled his wise,
humorous smile and answered that he himself had been a Whig, and
would always be there to make matters even. It is not likely that
this exact list was in his mind on the night of the November
election; but the principal names in it most certainly were. To
some of these gentlemen he offered their appointments by letter.
Others he asked to visit him in Springfield to talk the matter
over. Much delay and some misunderstanding occurred before the
list was finally completed: but when he sent it to the Senate, on
the day after his inauguration, it was practically the one he had
in his mind from the beginning.

A President is elected by popular vote early in November, but he
is not inaugurated until the following fourth of March. Until the
day of his inauguration, when he takes the oath of office and
begins to discharge his duties, he is not only not President--he
has no more power in the affairs of the Government than the
humblest private citizen. It is easy to imagine the anxieties and
misgivings that beset Mr. Lincoln during the four long months
that lay between his election and his inauguration. True to their
threats never to endure the rule of a "Black Republican"
President, the Cotton States one after the other withdrew their
senators and representatives from Congress, passed what they
called "Ordinances of Secession," and declared themselves to be
no longer a part of the United States. One after another, too,
army and navy officers stationed in the Southern States gave up
to the Southern leaders in this movement the forts, navy-yards,
arsenals, mints, ships, and other government property under their
charge. President Buchanan, in whose hands alone rested the power
to punish these traitors and avenge their insults to the
government he had sworn to protect and defend, showed no
disposition to do so; and Lincoln, looking on with a heavy heart,
was unable to interfere in any way. No matter how anxiously he
might watch the developments at Washington or in the Cotton
States, no matter what appeals might be made to him, no action of
any kind was possible on his part.

The only bit of cheer that came to him and other Union men during
this anxious season of waiting, was in the conduct of Major
Robert Anderson at Charleston Harbor, who, instead of following
the example of other officers who were proving unfaithful, boldly
defied the Southern "secessionists," and moving his little
handful of soldiers into the harbor fort best fitted for defense,
prepared to hold out against them until help could reach him from

In February the leaders of the Southern people met at Montgomery,
Alabama, adopted a Constitution, and set up a government which
they called the Confederate States of America, electing Jefferson
Davis, of Mississippi, President, and Alexander H. Stephens, of
Georgia, Vice-President. Stephens was the "little, slim
pale-faced consumptive man" whose speech in Congress had won
Lincoln's admiration years before. Davis had been the child who
began his schooling so near to Lincoln in Kentucky. He had had a
far different career. Good fortune had carried him to West Point,
into the Mexican War, into the cabinet of President Franklin
Pierce, and twice into the Senate. He had had money, high office,
the best education his country could give him--everything, it
seemed, that had been denied to Lincoln. Now the two men were the
chosen heads of two great opposing factions, one bent on
destroying the government that had treated him so kindly; the
other, for whom it had done so little, willing to lay down his
life in its defense.

It must not be supposed that Lincoln remained idle during these
four months of waiting. Besides completing his cabinet, and
receiving his many visitors, he devoted himself to writing his
inaugural address, withdrawing himself for some hours each day to
a quiet room over the store of his brother-in-law, where he could
think and write undisturbed. The newspaper correspondents who had
gathered at Springfield, though alert for every item of news, and
especially anxious for a sight of his inaugural address, seeing
him every day as usual, got not the slightest hint of what he was

Mr. Lincoln started on his journey to Washington on February 11,
1861 two days after Jefferson Davis had been elected President of
the Confederate States of America. He went on a special train,
accompanied by Mrs. Lincoln and their three children, his two
private secretaries, and about a dozen personal friends. Mr.
Seward had suggested that because of the unsettled condition of
public affairs it would be better for the President-elect to come
a week earlier; but Mr. Lincoln allowed himself only time
comfortably to fill the engagements he had made to visit the
State capitals and principal cities that lay on his way, to which
he had been invited by State and town officials, regardless of
party. The morning on which he left Springfield was dismal and
stormy, but fully a thousand of his friends and neighbors
assembled to bid him farewell. The weather seemed to add to the
gloom and depression of their spirits, and the leave-taking was
one of subdued anxiety, almost of solemnity. Mr. Lincoln took his
stand in the waiting-room while his friends filed past him, often
merely pressing his hand in silent emotion. The arrival of the
rushing train broke in upon this ceremony, and the crowd closed
about the car into which the President-elect and his party made
their way. Just as they were starting, when the conductor had his
hand upon the bell-rope, Mr. Lincoln stepped out upon the front
platform and made the following brief and pathetic address. It
was the last time his voice was to be heard in the city which had
so long been his home:

"My Friends: No one not in my situation can appreciate my feeling
of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of
these people I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a
century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my
children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not
knowing when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me
greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the
assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot
succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who
can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good,
let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care
commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I
bid you an affectionate farewell."

The conductor gave the signal, the train rolled slowly out of the
station, and the journey to Washington was begun. It was a
remarkable progress. At almost every station, even the smallest,
crowds had gathered to catch a glimpse of the face of the
President-elect, or at least to see the flying train. At the
larger stopping-places these crowds swelled to thousands, and in
the great cities to almost unmanageable throngs. Everywhere there
were calls for Mr. Lincoln, and if he showed himself; for a
speech. Whenever there was time, he would go to the rear platform
of the car and bow as the train moved away, or utter a few words
of thanks and greeting. At the capitals of Indiana, Ohio, New
York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and in the cities of
Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia, halts
of one or two days were made, the time being filled with formal
visits and addresses to each house of the legislature, street
processions, large evening receptions, and other ceremonies.

Party foes as well as party friends made up these expectant
crowds. Every eye was eager, every ear strained, to get some hint
of the thoughts and purposes of the man who was to be the guide
and head of the nation in the crisis that every one now knew to
be upon the country, but the course and end of which the wisest
could not foresee. In spite of all the cheers and the enthusiasm,
there was also an under-current of anxiety for his personal
safety, for the South had openly boasted that Lincoln would never
live to be inaugurated President. He himself paid no heed to such
warnings; but the railroad officials, and others who were
responsible for his journey, had detectives on watch at different
points to report any suspicious happenings. Nothing occurred to
change the program already agreed upon until the party reached
Philadelphia; but there Mr. Lincoln was met by Frederick W.
Seward, the son of his future Secretary of State, with an
important message from his father. A plot had been discovered to
do violence to, and perhaps kill, the President-elect as he
passed through the city of Baltimore. Mr. Seward and General
Scott, the venerable hero of the Mexican War, who was now at the
head of the army, begged him to run no risk, but to alter his
plans so that a portion of his party might pass through Baltimore
by a night train without previous notice. The seriousness of the
warning was doubled by the fact that Mr. Lincoln had just been
told of a similar, if not exactly the same, danger, by a Chicago
detective employed in Baltimore by one of the great railroad
companies. Two such warnings, coming from entirely different
sources, could not be disregarded; for however much Mr. Lincoln
might dislike to change his plans for so shadowy a danger, his
duty to the people who had elected him forbade his running any
unnecessary risk. Accordingly, after fulfilling all his
engagements in Philadelphia and Harrisburg on February 22, he and
a single companion took a night train, passed quietly through
Baltimore, and arrived in Washington about daylight on the
morning of February 23. This action called forth much talk,
ranging from the highest praise to ridicule and blame. A reckless
newspaper reporter telegraphed all over the country the absurd
story that he had traveled disguised in a Scotch cap and a long
military cloak. There was, of course, not a word of truth in the
absurd tale. The rest of the party followed Mr. Lincoln at the
time originally planned. They saw great crowds in the streets of
Baltimore, but there was now no occasion for violence.

In the week that passed between his arrival and the day of his
inauguration Mr. Lincoln exchanged the customary visits of
ceremony with President Buchanan, his cabinet, the Supreme Court,
the two houses of Congress, and other dignitaries.

Careful preparations for the inauguration had been made under the
personal direction of General Scott, who held the small military
force in the city ready instantly to suppress any attempt to
disturb the peace and quiet of the day.

On the morning of the fourth of March President Buchanan and
Citizen Lincoln, the outgoing and incoming heads of the
government, rode side by side in a carriage from the Executive
Mansion, or White House, as it is more commonly called, to the
Capitol, escorted by an imposing procession; and at noon a great
throng of people heard Mr. Lincoln read his inaugural address as
he stood on the east portico of the Capitol, surrounded by all
the high officials of the government. Senator Douglas, his
unsuccessful rival, standing not an arm's length away from him,
courteously held his hat during the ceremony. A cheer greeted him
as he finished his address. Then the Chief Justice arose, the
clerk opened his Bible, and Mr. Lincoln, laying his hand upon the
book, pronounced the oath:

"I, Abraham Lincoln, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully
execute the office of President of the United States, and will,
to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the
Constitution of the United States."

Amid the thundering of cannon and the applause of all the
spectators, President Lincoln and Citizen Buchanan again entered
their carriage and drove back from the Capitol to the Executive
Mansion, on the threshold of which Mr. Buchanan, warmly shaking
the hand of his successor, expressed his wishes for the personal
happiness of the new President, and for the national peace and


It is one thing to be elected President of the United States,--
that means triumph, honor, power: it is quite another thing to
perform the duties of President,--for that means labor,
disappointment, difficulty, even danger. Many a man envied
Abraham Lincoln when, in the stately pomp of inauguration and
with the plaudits of the spectators ringing about him, he took
the oath of office which for four years transforms an American
citizen into the ruler of these United States. Such envy would
have been changed to deepest sympathy if they could have known
what lay before him. After the music and cannon were dumb, after
the flags were all furled and the cheering crowds had vanished,
the shadows of war fell about the Executive Mansion, and its new
occupant remained face to face with his heavy task--a task which,
as he had truly said in his speech at Springfield, was greater
than that which rested upon Washington.

Then, as never before, he must have realized the peril of the
nation, with its credit gone, its laws defied, its flag insulted.
The South had carried out its threat, and seven million Americans
were in revolt against the idea that "all men are created equal,"
while twenty million other Americans were bent upon defending
that idea. For the moment both sides had paused to see how the
new President would treat this attempt at secession. It must be
constantly borne in mind that the rebellion in the Southern
States with which Mr. Lincoln had to deal was not a sudden
revolution, but a conspiracy of slow growth and long planning. As
one of its actors frankly admitted, it was "not an event of a
day. It is not anything produced by Mr. Lincoln's election. . . .
It is a matter which has been gathering head for thirty years."
Its main object, it must also be remembered, was the spread of
slavery. Alexander H. Stephens, in a speech made shortly after he
became the Confederate Vice-President, openly proclaimed slavery
to be the "corner-stone" of the new government. For years it had
been the dream of southern leaders to make the Ohio River the
northern boundary of a great slave empire, with everything lying
to the south of that, even the countries of South and Central
America, as parts of their system. Though this dream was never to
be realized, the Confederacy finally came to number eleven States
(Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina,
Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia), and
to cover a territory of more than 750,000 square miles--larger
than England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and
Switzerland put together, with a coast line 3,500 miles long, and
a land frontier of over 7,000 miles.

President Buchanan's timidity and want of spirit had alone made
this great rebellion possible, for although it had been
"gathering head for thirty years" it was only within the last few
months that it had come to acts of open treason and rebellion.
President Buchanan had opportunity and ample power to crush it
when the conspirators first began to show their hands. Instead he
wavered, and delayed, while they grew bold under his lack of
decision, imagining that they would have a bloodless victory, and
even boasting that they would take Washington for their capital;
or, if the new President should thwart them and make them fight,
that they would capture Philadelphia and dictate the peace they
wanted from Independence Hall.

By the time Mr. Lincoln came into office the conspiracy had grown
beyond control by any means then in the hands of a President,
though men on both sides still vainly hoped that the troubles of
the country might be settled without fighting. Mr. Lincoln
especially wished to make very sure that if it ever came to a
matter of war, the fault should not lie with the North.

In his inaugural address he had told the South that he would use
the power confided to him to hold and occupy the places belonging
to the Government, and to collect the taxes; but beyond what
might be necessary for these objects, he would not use force
among the people anywhere. His peaceful policy was already harder
to follow than he realized. Before he had been President
twenty-four hours word came from Major Anderson, still defying
the conspirators from Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, that his
little garrison was short of food, and must speedily surrender
unless help reached them. The rebels had for weeks been building
batteries to attack the fort, and with Anderson's report came the
written opinions of his officers that it would require an army of
20,000 men to relieve it. They might as well have asked for
twenty thousand archangels, for at that time the entire army of
the United States numbered but 17,113 men, and these were doing
duty, not only in the Southern and Eastern States, but were
protecting settlers from Indians on the great western frontier,
and guarding the long Canadian and Mexican boundaries as well.
Yet Anderson and his men could not be left to their fate without
even an attempt to help them, though some of the high military
and naval officers hastily called into council by the new
President advised this course. It was finally decided to notify
the Confederates that a ship carrying food, but no soldiers,
would be sent to his relief. If they chose to fire upon that it
would be plainly the South, and not the North, that began the

Days went on, and by the middle of April the Confederate
government found itself forced to a fatal choice. Either it must
begin war, or allow the rebellion to collapse. All its claims to
independence were denied; the commissioner it sent to Washington
on the pretense that they were agents of a foreign country were
politely refused a hearing, yet not one angry word, or provoking
threat, or a single harmful act had come from the "Black
Republican" President. In his inaugural he had promised the
people of the South peace and protection, and offered them the
benefit of the mails. Even now, all he proposed to do was to send
bread to Anderson and his hungry soldiers. His prudent policy
placed them where, as he had told them, they could have no war
unless they themselves chose to begin it.

They did choose to begin it. The rebellion was the work of
ambitious men, who had no mind to stop at that late day and see
their labor go for nothing. The officer in charge of their
batteries was ordered to open fire on Fort Sumter if Anderson
refused to surrender; and in the dim light of dawn on April 12,
1861, just as the outline of Fort Sumter began to show itself
against a brightening sky, the shot that opened the Civil War
rose from a rebel battery and made its slow and graceful curve
upon Sumter. Soon all the batteries were in action, and the fort
was replying with a will. Anderson held out for a day and a half,
until his cartridges were all used up, his flagstaff had been
shot away, and the wooden buildings inside the fort were on fire.
Then, as the ships with supplies had not yet arrived, and he had
neither food nor ammunition, he was forced to surrender.

The news of the firing upon Fort Sumter changed the mood of the
country as if by magic. By deliberate act of the Confederate
government its attempt at peaceable secession had been changed to
active war. The Confederates gained Fort Sumter, but in doing so
they roused the patriotism of the North to a firm resolve that
this insult to the flag should be redressed, and that the
unrighteous experiment of a rival government founded upon slavery
as its "cornerstone," should never succeed. In one of his
speeches on the journey to Washington Mr. Lincoln had said that
devoted as he was to peace, it might become necessary to "put the
foot down firmly." That time had now come. On April 15, the day
after the fall of Fort Sumter, all the newspapers of the country
printed the President's call to arms, ordering out 75,000 militia
for three months, and directing Congress to meet in special
session on July 4, 1861. The North rallied instantly to the
support of the Government, and offered him twice the number of
soldiers he asked for.

Nothing more clearly shows the difference between President
Lincoln and President Buchanan than the way in which the two men
met the acts of the Southern Rebellion. President Buchanan
temporized and delayed when he had plenty of power. President
Lincoln, without a moment's hesitation accepted the great and
unusual responsibility thrust upon him, and at once issued orders
for buying ships, moving troops, advancing money to Committees of
Safety, and for other military and naval measures for which at
the moment he had no express authority from Congress. As soon as
Congress came together on July 4, he sent a message explaining
his action, saying: "It became necessary for me to choose
whether, using only the existing means . . . . which Congress had
provided, I should let the Government fall at once into ruin, or
whether availing myself of the broader powers conferred by the
Constitution in cases of insurrection, I would make an effort to
save it with all its blessings for the present age and for
posterity." Congress, it is needless to say, not only approved
all that he had done, but gave him practically unlimited powers
for dealing with the rebellion in future.

It soon became evident that no matter how ready and willing to
fight for their country the 75,000 volunteers might be, they
could not hope to put down the rebellion, because the time for
which they had enlisted would be almost over before they could
receive the training necessary to change them from valiant
citizens into good soldiers. Another call was therefore issued,
this time for men to serve three years or during the war, and
also for a large number of sailors to man the new ships that the
Government was straining every nerve to buy, build and otherwise
make ready.

More important, however, than soldiers trained or untrained, was
the united will of the people of the North; and most important of
all the steadfast and courageous soul of the man called to direct
the struggle. Abraham Lincoln, the poor frontier boy, the
struggling young lawyer, the Illinois politician, whom many, even
among the Republicans who voted to elect him President, thought
scarcely fit to hold a much smaller office, proved beyond
question the man for the task gifted above all his associates
with wisdom and strength to meet the great emergencies as they
arose during the four years' war that had already begun.

Since this is the story of Mr. Lincoln's life, and not of the
Civil War, we cannot attempt to follow the history of the long
contest as it unfolded itself day by day and month by month, or
even to stop to recount a list of the great battles that drenched
the land in blood. It was a mighty struggle, fought by men of the
same race and kindred, often by brother against brother. Each
fought for what he felt to be right; and their common inheritance
of courage and iron will, of endurance and splendid bravery and
stubborn pluck, made this battle of brothers the more bitter as
it was the more prolonged. It ranged over an immense extent of
country; but because Washington was the capital of the Union, and
Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, and the
desire of each side was to capture the chief city of the other,
the principal fighting ground, during the whole war, lay between
these two towns, with the Alleghany Mountains on the west, and
Chesapeake Bay on the east. Between the Alleghanies and the
Mississippi River another field of warfare developed itself, on
which some of the hardest battles were fought, and the greatest
victories won. Beyond the Mississippi again stretched another
great field, bounded only by the Rocky Mountains and the Rio
Grande. But the principal fighting in this field was near or even
on the Mississippi, in the efforts made by both Unionists and
Confederates to keep and hold the great highway of the river, so
necessary for trade in time of peace, and for moving armies in
time of war.

On this immense battle-ground was fought one of the most costly
wars of modern times, with soldiers numbering a million men on
each side; in which, counting battles and skirmishes small and
great, an average of two engagements a day were fought for four
long years, two millions of money were used up every twenty-four
hours, and during which the unholy prize of slavery, for which
the Confederate States did battle, was completely swept away.

Though the tide of battle ebbed and flowed, defeat and victory
may be said to have been nearly evenly divided. Generally
speaking, success was more often on the side of the South during
the first half of the war; with the North, during the latter
half. The armies were equally brave; the North had the greater
territory from which to draw supplies; and the end came, not when
one side had beaten the other, man for man, but when the South
had been drained of fighting men and food and guns, and slavery
had perished in the stress of war.

Fortunately for all, nobody at the beginning dreamed of the
length of the struggle. Even Lincoln's stout heart would have
been dismayed if he could have foreseen all that lay before him.
The task that he could see was hard and perplexing enough.
Everything in Washington was in confusion. No President ever had
such an increase of official work as Lincoln during the early
months of his administration. The halls and ante-rooms of the
Executive Mansion were literally crowded with people seeking
appointment to office; and the new appointments that were
absolutely necessary were not half finished when the firing on
Fort Sumter began active war. This added to the difficulty of
sifting the loyal from the disloyal, and the yet more pressing
labor of organizing an immense new army.

Hundreds of clerks employed in the Government Departments left
their desks and hurried South, crippling the service just at the
time when the sudden increase of work made their presence doubly
needed. A large proportion of the officers of the Army and Navy,
perhaps as many as one-third, gave their skill and services to
the Confederacy, feeling that their allegiance was due to their
State or section rather than to the general government. Prominent
among these was Robert E. Lee, who had been made a colonel by
Lincoln, and whom General Scott had recommended as the most
promising officer to command the new force of 75,000 men called
out by the President's proclamation. He chose instead to resign
and cast his fortunes with the South, where he became the head of
all the Confederate armies. The loss to the Union and gain to the
Confederate cause by his action is hard to measure, since in him
the Southern armies found a commander whose surpassing courage
and skill inspired its soldiers long after all hope of success
was gone. Cases such as this gave the President more anxiety than
all else. It seemed impossible to know whom to trust. An officer
might come to him in the morning protesting devotion to the
Union, and by night be gone to the South. Mr. Lincoln used to say
at this time that he felt like a man letting rooms at one end of
his house while the other end was on fire.

The situation grew steadily worse. Maryland refused to allow
United States soldiers to cross her territory, and the first
attempt to bring troops through Baltimore from the North ended in
a bloody riot, and the burning of railroad bridges to prevent
help from reaching Washington. For three days Washington was
entirely cut off from the North, either by telegraph or mail.
General Scott hastily prepared the city for a siege, taking
possession of all the large supplies of flour and provisions in
town, and causing the Capitol and other public buildings to be
barricaded. Though President Lincoln did not doubt the final
arrival of help, he, like everyone else, was very anxious, and
found it hard to understand the long delay. He knew that troops
had started from the North. Why did they not arrive? They might
not be able to go through Baltimore, but they could certainly go
around it. The distance was not great. What if twenty miles of
railroad had been destroyed, were the soldiers unable to march?
Always calm and self-controlled, he gave no sign in the presence
of others of the anxiety that weighed so heavily upon him. Very
likely the visitors who saw him during those days thought that he
hardly realized the plight of the city; yet an inmate of the
White House, passing through the President's office when the
day's work was done and he imagined himself alone, saw him pause
in his absorbed walk up and down the floor, and gaze long out of
the window in the direction from which the troops were expected
to appear. Then, unconscious of any hearer, and as if the words
were wrung from him by anguish, he exclaimed, "Why don't they
come, why don't they come

The New York Seventh Regiment was the first to "come." By a
roundabout route it reached Washington on the morning of April
25, and, weary and travel-worn, but with banners flying and music
playing, marched up Pennsylvania Avenue to the big white
Executive Mansion, bringing cheer to the President and renewed
courage to those timid citizens whose fright during this time had
almost paralyzed the life of the town. Taking renewed courage
they once more opened their houses and the shops that had been
closed since the beginning of the blockade, and business began

The greater part of the three months' regiments had been ordered
to Washington, and the outskirts of the capital soon became a
busy military camp. The great Departments of the Government,
especially of War and Navy, could not immediately handle the
details of all this sudden increase of work. Men were
volunteering rapidly enough, but there was sore need of rations
to feed them, money to pay them, tents to shelter them, uniforms
to clothe them, rifles to arm them, officers to drill them, and
of transportation to carry them to the camps of instruction where
they must receive their training and await further orders. In
this carnival of patriotism and hurly-burly of organization the
weaknesses as well as the virtues of human nature quickly showed
themselves; and, as if the new President had not already enough
to distress and harass his mind, almost every case of confusion
and delay was brought to him for complaint and correction. On him
also fell the delicate and serious task of deciding hundreds of
novel questions as to what he and his cabinet ministers had and
had not the right to do under the Constitution.

The month of May slipped away in all these preparatory vexations;
but the great machine of war, once started, moved on as it always
does, from arming to massing of troops, and from that to skirmish
and battle. In June small fights began to occur between the Union
and Confederate armies. The first large battle of the war took
place at Bull Run, about thirty-two miles southwest of
Washington, on July 21, 1861. It ended in a victory for the
Confederates, though their army was so badly crippled by. its
losses that it made no further forward movement during the whole
of the next autumn and winter.

The shock of this defeat was deep and painful to the people of
the North, not yet schooled to patience, or to the uncertainties
of war. For weeks the newspapers, confident of success, had been
clamoring for action, and the cry, "Forward to Richmond," had
been heard on every hand. At first the people would not believe
the story of a defeat; but it was only too true. By night the
beaten Union troops were pouring into the fortifications around
Washington, and the next day a horde of stragglers found their
way across the bridges of the Potomac into the city.

President Lincoln received the news quietly, as was his habit,
without any visible sign of distress or alarm, but he remained
awake and in his office all that Sunday night, listening to the
excited tales of congressmen and senators who, with undue
curiosity, had followed the army and witnessed some of the sights
and sounds of battle; and by dawn on Monday he had practically
made up his mind as to the probable result and what he must do in

The loss of the battle of Bull Run was a bitter disappointment to
him. He saw that the North was not to have the easy victory it
anticipated; and to him personally it brought a great and added
care that never left him during the war. Up to that time the
North had stood by him as one man in its eager resolve to put
down the rebellion. From this time on, though quite as
determined, there was division and disagreement among the people
as to how this could best be done. Parties formed themselves for
or against this or that general, or in favor of this or that
method and no other of carrying on the war. In other words, the
President and his "administration"--the cabinet and other
officers under him--became, from this time on, the target of
criticism for all the failures of the Union armies, and for all
the accidents and mistakes and unforeseen delays of war. The
self-control that Mr. Lincoln had learned in the hard school of
his boyhood, and practised during all the long struggle of his
young manhood, had been severe and bitter training, but nothing
else could have prepared him for the great disappointments and
trials of the crowning years of his life. He had learned to
endure patiently, to reason calmly, never to be unduly sure of
his own opinion; but, having taken counsel of the best advice at
his command, to continue in the path that he felt to be right,
regardless of criticism or unjust abuse. He had daily and hourly
to do all this. He was strong and courageous, with a steadfast
belief that the right would triumph in the end; but his nature
was at the same time sensitive and tender, and the sorrows and
pain of others hurt him more than did his own.


So far Mr. Lincoln's new duties as President had not placed him
at any disadvantage with the members of his cabinet. On the old
question of slavery he was as well informed and had clearer ideas
than they. On the new military questions that had come up since
the inauguration, they, like himself, had to rely on the advice
of experienced officers of the army and navy; and since these
differed greatly, Mr. Lincoln's powerful mind was as able to
reach true conclusions as were men who had been governors and
senators. Yet the idea lingered that because he had never before
held high office, and because a large part of his life had been
passed in the rude surroundings of the frontier, he must of
necessity be lacking in power to govern--be weaker in will,
without tact or culture--must in every way be less fitted to cope
with the difficult problems so rapidly coming upon the

At the beginning even Secretary Seward shared this view. Mr.
Lincoln must have been surprised indeed, when, on the first day
of April, exactly four weeks after his inauguration, his
Secretary of State, the man he justly looked upon as the chief
member of his cabinet, handed him a paper on which were written
"Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration." It was most
grave and dignified in language, but in substance bluntly told
Mr. Lincoln that after a month's trial the Administration was
without a policy, domestic or foreign, and that this must be
remedied at once. It advised shifting the issue at home from
slavery to the question of Union or disunion; and counseled the
adoption of an attitude toward Europe which could not have failed
to rouse the anger of the principal foreign nations. It added
that the President or some member of his cabinet must make it his
constant duty to pursue and direct whatever policy should be
adopted, and hinted very plainly that although he, Mr. Seward,
did not seek such responsibility, he was willing to assume it.
The interest of this remarkable paper for us lies in the way Mr.
Lincoln treated it, and the measure that treatment gives us of
his generosity and self-control. An envious or a resentful man
could not have wished a better opportunity to put a rival under
his feet; but though Mr. Lincoln doubtless thought the incident
very strange, it did not for a moment disturb his serenity or his
kindly judgment. He answered in a few quiet sentences that showed
no trace of passion or even of excitement; and on the central
suggestion that some one person must direct the affairs of the
government, replied with dignity "if this must be done, I must do
it," adding that on affairs of importance he desired and supposed
he had a right to have the advice of all the members of his
cabinet. This reply ended the matter, and as far as is known,
neither of them ever mentioned the subject again. Mr. Lincoln put
the papers away in an envelope, and no word of the affair came to
the public until years after both men were dead. In one mind at
least there was no longer a doubt that the cabinet had a master.
Mr. Seward recognized the President's kindly forbearance, and
repaid it by devotion and personal friendship until the day of
his tragic death.

If, after this experience, the Secretary of State needed any
further proof of Mr. Lincoln's ability to rule, it soon came to
him, for during the first months of the war matters abroad
claimed the attention of the cabinet, and with these also the
untried western man showed himself better fitted to deal than his
more experienced advisers. Many of the countries of Europe,
especially France and England, wished the South to succeed.
France because of plans that Emperor Napoleon III had for
founding French colonies on American soil, and England because
such success would give her free cotton for her mills and
factories. England became so friendly toward the rebels that Mr.
Seward, much irritated, wrote a despatch on May 21, 1861, to
Charles Francis Adams, the American Minister at London, which, if
it had been sent as he wrote it, would almost certainly have
brought on war between the two countries. It set forth justly and
with courage what the United States government would and would
not endure from foreign powers during the war with the South, but
it had been penned in a heat of indignation, and was so blunt and
exasperating as to suggest intentional disrespect. When Mr.
Seward read it to the President the latter at once saw this, and
taking it from his Secretary of State kept it by him for further
consideration. A second reading showed him that his first
impression was correct. Thereupon the frontier lawyer, taking his
pen, went carefully over the whole dispatch, and by his
corrections so changed the work of the trained and experienced
statesman as entirely to remove its offensive tone, without in
the least altering its force or courage.

Once again during 1861 the country was in serious danger of war
with England, and the action of President Lincoln at this time
proved not only that he had the will to be just, even when his
own people were against him, but had the skill to gain real
advantage from what seemed very like defeat. One of the earliest
and most serious tasks of the Government had been to blockade the
southern ports, in order to prevent supplies from foreign
countries reaching the southern people, especially the southern
armies. Considering the great length of coast to be patrolled,
and the small size of the navy at the commencement of the
struggle, this was done with wonderful quickness, and proved in
the main effective, though occasionally a rebel boat managed to
slip in or out without being discovered and fired upon by the
ships on guard.

In November Captain Charles Wilkes learned that Ex-Senators J. M.
Mason and John Slidell, two prominent Confederates bound on an
important mission to Europe, had succeeded in reaching Cuba, and
from there had taken passage for England on the British mail
steamer Trent. He stopped the Trent and took Mason and Slidell
prisoners, afterward allowing the steamer to proceed on her way.
The affair caused intense excitement both in England and in the
United States, and England began instant preparations for war.
Lord Lyons, the British Minister at Washington, was instructed to
demand the release of the prisoners and a suitable apology within
one week, and if this were refused, to close his legation and
come home. It was fortunate that Lord Lyons and Mr. Seward were
close personal friends, and could, in spite of the excitement of
both countries, discuss the matter calmly and without anger.
Their conferences were brought to an end by Mr. Lincoln's
decision to give up the prisoners. In the North their capture had
been greeted with extravagant joy. Newspapers rang with praises
of Captain Wilkes; his act was officially approved by the
Secretary of the Navy, and the House of Representatives passed a
resolution thanking him for his "brave, adroit, and patriotic
conduct." In the face of all this it must have been hard indeed
for Mr. Lincoln to order that Mason and Slidell be given up; but
though he shared the first impulse of rejoicing, he soon became
convinced that this must be done. War with England must certainly
be avoided; and Captain Wilkes, by allowing the Trent to proceed
on her voyage, instead of bringing her into port with the
prisoners, had put it out of the power of his Government to
prove, under international law, that the capture was justified.
Besides all else, the President's quick mind saw, what others
failed to note, that by giving up the prisoners as England
demanded, the United States would really gain an important
diplomatic victory. For many years England had claimed the right
to stop and search vessels at sea when she had reason to believe
they carried men or goods hostile to her interests. The United
States denied the right, and yet this was exactly what Captain
Wilkes had done in stopping the Trent. By giving up the prisoners
the United States would thus force England to admit that her own
claim had been unjust, and bind her in future to respect the
rights of other ships at sea. Excited American feeling was
grievously disappointed, and harsh criticism of the
Administration for thus yielding to a foreign country was not
wanting; but American good sense soon saw the justice of the
point taken and the wisdom of Mr. Lincoln's course.

"He that is slow to anger," says the proverb, "is better than the
mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a
city." Great as was his self-control in other matters, nowhere
did Mr. Lincoln's slowness to anger and nobility of spirit show
itself more than in his dealings with the generals of the Civil
War. He had been elected President. Congress had given him power
far exceeding that which any President had ever exercised before.
As President he was also Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy
of the United States. By proclamation he could call forth great
armies and he could order those armies to go wherever he chose to
send them; but even he had no power to make generals with the
genius and the training necessary to lead them instantly to
success. He had to work with the materials at hand, and one by
one he tried the men who seemed best fitted for the task, giving
each his fullest trust and every aid in his power. They were as
eager for victory and as earnest of purpose as himself, but in
every case some misfortune or some fault marred the result, until
the country grew weary with waiting; discouragement overshadowed
hope, and misgiving almost engulfed his own strong soul. Then, at
last, the right men were found, the battles were all fought, and
the war was at an end.

His kindness and patience in dealing with the generals who did
not succeed is the wonder of all who study the history of the
Civil War. The letters he wrote to them show better than whole
volumes of description could do the helpful and forbearing spirit
in which he sought to aid them. First among these unsuccessful
generals was George B. McClellan, who had been called to
Washington after the battle of Bull Run and placed in charge of
the great new army of three years' volunteers that was pouring so
rapidly into the city. McClellan proved a wonderful organizer.
Under his skilful direction the raw recruits went to their camps
of instruction, fell without confusion or delay into brigades and
divisions, were supplied with equipments, horses and batteries,
and put through a routine of drill, tactics and reviews that soon
made this Army of the Potomac, as it was called, one of the best
prepared armies the world has ever seen--a perfect fighting
machine of over 150,000 men and more than 200 guns. General
McClellan excelled in getting soldiers ready to fight, but he did
not succeed in leading them to fruitful victory. At first the
administration had great hopes of him as a commander. He was
young, enthusiastic, winning, and on arriving in Washington
seemed amazed and deeply touched by the confidence reposed in
him. "I find myself," he wrote to his wife, "in a new and strange
position here, President, cabinet, General Scott, and all,
deferring to me. By some strange operation of magic I seem to
have become the power of the land." His rise in military rank had
equaled the inventions of fairy tales. He had been only a captain
during the Mexican war. Then he resigned. Two months after
volunteering for the Civil War he found himself a Major General
in the Regular Army. For a short time his zeal and activity
seemed to justify this amazing good fortune. In a fortnight
however he began to look upon himself as the principal savior of
his country. He entered upon a quarrel with General Scott which
soon drove that old hero into retirement and out of his pathway.
He looked upon the cabinet as a set of "geese," and seeing that
the President was kind and unassuming in discussing military
affairs, he formed the habit of expressing contempt for him in
letters to confidential friends. This feeling grew until it soon
reached a mark of open disrespect, but the President's conduct
toward him did not change. Mr. Lincoln's nature was too
forgiving, and the responsibility that lay upon him was too heavy
for personal resentment. For fifteen months he strove to make
McClellan succeed even in spite of himself. He gave him help,
encouragement, the most timely suggestions. He answered his
ever-increasing complaints with unfailing self-control. It was
not that he did not see McClellan's faults. He saw them, and felt
them keenly. "If Gen. McClellan does not want to use the army, I
would like to borrow it," he said one day, stung by the General's
inactivity into a sarcasm he seldom allowed himself to use. But
his patience was not exhausted. McClellan had always more
soldiers than the enemy, at Antietam nearly double his numbers,
yet his constant cry was for re-enforcements. Regiments were sent
him that could ill be spared from other points. Even when his
fault-finding reached the height of telegraphing to the Secretary
of War, "If I save this army now I tell you plainly that I owe no
thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have
done your best to sacrifice this army," the President answered
him kindly and gently, without a sign of resentment, anxious only
to do everything in his power to help on the cause of the war. It
was of no avail. Even the great luck of finding a copy of General
Lee's orders and knowing exactly what his enemy meant to do, at a
time when the Confederate general had only about half as many
troops as he had, and these were divided besides, did not help
him to success. All he could do even then was to fight the drawn
battle of Antietam, and allow Lee to get away safely across the
Potomac River into Virginia. After this the President's
long-suffering patience was at an end, but he did not remove
McClellan until he had visited the Army of the Potomac in person.
What he saw on that visit assured him that it could never succeed
under such a general. "Do you know what that is ?" he asked a
friend, waving his arm towards the white tents of the great army.
"It is the Army of the Potomac, I suppose," was the wondering
answer. "So it is called," replied the President, in a tone of
suppressed indignation. "But that is a mistake. It is only
McClellan's bodyguard." On November 5, 1862, McClellan was
relieved from command, and this ended his military career.

There were others almost equally trying. There was General
Fremont, who had been the Republican candidate for President in
1856. At the beginning of the war he was given a command at St.
Louis and charged with the important duty of organizing the
military strength of the northwest, holding the State of Missouri
true to the Union, and leading an expedition down the Mississippi
River. Instead of accomplishing all that had been hoped for, his
pride of opinion and unwillingness to accept help or take advice
from those about him, caused serious embarrassment and made
unending trouble. The President's kindness and gentleness in
dealing with his faults were as marked as they were useless.

There was the long line of commanders who one after the other
tried and failed in the tasks allotted to them, while the country
waited and lost courage, and even Mr. Lincoln's heart sank. His
care and wisdom and sorrow dominated the whole long persistent
struggle. That first sleepless night of his after the battle of
Bull Run was but the beginning of many nights and days through
which he kept unceasing watch. From the time in June, 1861, when
he had been called upon to preside over the council of war that
decided upon the Bull Run campaign, he devoted every spare moment
to the study of such books upon the art of war as would aid him
in solving the questions that he must face as Commander-in-Chief
of the armies. With his quick mind and unusual power of logic he
made rapid progress in learning the fixed and accepted rules on
which all military writers agree. His mastery of the difficult
science became so thorough, and his understanding of military
situations so clear, that he has been called, by persons well
fitted to judge, "the ablest strategist of the war." Yet he never
thrust his knowledge upon his generals. He recognized that it was
their duty, not his, to fight the battles, and since this was so,
they ought to be allowed to fight them in their own way. He
followed their movements with keenest interest and with a most
astonishing amount of knowledge, giving a hint here, and a
suggestion there, when he felt that he properly could, but he
rarely gave a positive order.

There is not space to quote the many letters in which he showed
his military wisdom, or his kindly interest in the welfare and
success of the different generals. One of the most remarkable
must however be quoted. It is the letter he wrote to General
Joseph Hooker on placing him in command of the Army of the
Potomac in January, 1863, after McClellan's many failures had
been followed by the crushing defeat of the army under General
McClellan's successor, General Burnside, at the battle of
Fredericksburg, on December 13, 1862.

"I have placed you," he wrote on giving General Hooker the
command, "at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I
have done this upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons,
and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some
things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I
believe you to be a brave and skilful soldier, which, of course,
I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your
profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in
yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality.
You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good
rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside's
command of the army you have taken council of your ambition and
thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong
to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother
officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your
recently saying that both the army and the Government needed a
dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that
I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain
successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military
success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will
support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more
nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much
fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the
army, of criticising their commander and withholding confidence
from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I
can, to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive
again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit
prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness,
but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us

Perhaps no other piece of his writing shows as this does how
completely the genius of the President rose to the full height of
his duties and responsibilities. From beginning to end it speaks
the language and breathes the spirit of the great ruler, secure
in popular confidence and in official authority.

Though so many of the great battles during the first half of the
war were won by the Confederates, military successes came to the
North of course from time to time. With such fine armies and such
earnest generals the tide of battle could not be all one way; and
even when the generals made mistakes, the heroic fighting and
endurance of the soldiers and under-officers gathered honor out
of defeat, and shed the luster of renown over results of barren
failure. But it was a weary time, and the outlook was very dark.
The President never despaired. On the most dismal day of the
whole dismal summer of 1862 he sent Secretary Seward to New York
with a confidential letter full of courage, to be shown such of
the governors of free States as could be hastily summoned to meet
him there. In it he said: "I expect to maintain this contest
until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term
expires, or Congress or the country forsake me," and he asked for
100,000 fresh volunteers with which to carry on the war. His
confidence was not misplaced. The governors of eighteen free
States offered him three times the number, and still other calls
for troops followed. Soon a popular song, "We are coming, Father
Abraham, three hundred thousand strong," showed the faith and
trust of the people in the man at the head of the Government, and
how cheerfully they met the great calls upon their patriotism.

So, week after week and month after month, he faced the future,
never betraying a fear that the Union would not triumph in the
end, but grieving sorely at the long delay. Many who were not so
sure came to him with their troubles. He was beset by night and
by day by people who had advice to give or complaints to make.
They besought him to dismiss this or that General, to order such
and such a military movement; to do a hundred things that he, in
his great wisdom, felt were not right, or for which the time had
not yet come. Above all, he was implored to take some decided and
far-reaching action upon slavery.


By no means the least of the evils of slavery was a dread which
had haunted every southern household from the beginning of the
government that the slaves might one day rise in revolt and take
sudden vengeance upon their masters. This vague terror was
greatly increased by the outbreak of the Civil War. It stands to
the lasting credit of the negro race that the wrongs of their
long bondage provoked them to no such crime, and that the war
seems not to have suggested, much less started any such attempt.
Indeed, even when urged to violence by white leaders, as the
slaves of Maryland had been in 1859 during John Browns s raid at
Harper's Ferry, they had refused to respond. Nevertheless it was
plain from the first that slavery was to play an important part
in the Civil War. Not only were the people of the South battling
for the principle of slavery; their slaves were a great source of
military strength. They were used by the Confederates in building
forts, hauling supplies, and in a hundred ways that added to the
effectiveness of their armies in the field. On the other hand the
very first result of the war was to give adventurous or
discontented slaves a chance to escape into Union camps, where,
even against orders to the contrary, they found protection for
the sake of the help they could give as cooks, servants, or
teamsters, the information they brought about the movements of
the enemy, or the great service they were able to render as
guides. Practically therefore, at the very start, the war created
a bond of mutual sympathy between the southern negro and the
Union volunteer; and as fast as Union troops advanced and
secession masters fled, a certain number found freedom in Union

At some points this became a positive embarrassment to Union
commanders. A few days after General Butler took command of the
Union troops at Fortress Monroe in May, 1861, the agent of a
rebel master came to insist on the return of three slaves,
demanding them under the fugitive-slave law. Butler replied that
since their master claimed Virginia to be a foreign country and
no longer a part of the United States, he could not at the same
time claim that the fugitive slave law was in force, and that his
slaves would not be given up unless he returned and took the oath
of allegiance to the United States. In reporting this, a
newspaper pointed out that as the breastworks and batteries which
had risen so rapidly for Confederate defense were built by slave
labor, negroes were undoubtedly "contraband of war," like powder
and shot, and other military supplies, and should no more be
given back to the rebels than so many cannon or guns. The idea
was so pertinent, and the justice of it so plain that the name
"contraband" sprang at once into use. But while this happy
explanation had more convincing effect on popular thought than a
volume of discussion, it did not solve the whole question. By the
end of July General Butler had on his hands 900 "contrabands,"
men, women and children of all ages, and he wrote to inquire what
was their real condition. Were they slaves or free? Could they be
considered fugitive slaves when their masters had run away and
left them? How should they be disposed of? It was a knotty
problem, and upon its solution might depend the loyalty or
secession of the border slave States of Maryland, West Virginia,
Kentucky and Missouri, which, up to that time, had not decided
whether to remain in the Union or to cast their fortunes with the

In dealing with this perplexing subject. Mr. Lincoln kept in mind
one of his favorite stories: the one on the Methodist Presiding
Elder who was riding about his circuit during the spring
freshets. A young and anxious companion asked how they should
ever be able to cross the swollen waters of Fox River, which they
were approaching, and the elder quieted him by saying that he
made it the rule of his life never to cross Fox River until he
came to it. The President, following this rule, did not
immediately decide the question, but left it to be treated at the
discretion of each commander. Under this theory some commanders
admitted black people to their camps, while others refused to
receive them. The curt formula of General Orders: "We are neither
negro stealers nor negro catchers," was easily read to justify
either course. Congress greatly advanced the problem, shortly
after the battle of Bull Run, by passing a law which took away a
master's right to his slave, when, with his consent, such slave
was employed in service or labor hostile to the United States.

On the general question of slavery, the President's mind was
fully made up. He felt that he had no right to interfere with
slavery where slavery was lawful, just because he himself did not
happen to like it; for he had sworn to do all in his power to
"preserve, protect and defend" the government and its laws, and
slavery was lawful in the southern States. When freeing the
slaves should become necessary in order to preserve the
Government, then it would be his duty to free them; until that
time came, it was equally his duty to let them alone.

Twice during the early part of the war military commanders issued
orders freeing slaves in the districts over which they had
control, and twice he refused to allow these orders to stand. "No
commanding general should do such a thing upon his
responsibility, without consulting him," he said; and he added
that whether he, as Commander-in-Chief, had the power to free
slaves, and whether at any time the use of such power should
become necessary, were questions which he reserved to himself. He
did not feel justified in leaving such decisions to commanders in
the field. He even refused at that time to allow Secretary
Cameron to make a public announcement that the government might
find it necessary to arm slaves and employ them as soldiers. He
would not cross Fox River until he came to it. He would not take
any measure until he felt it to be absolutely necessary.

Only a few months later he issued his first proclamation of
emancipation; but he did not do so until convinced that he must
do this in order to put down the rebellion. Long ago he had
considered and in his own mind adopted a plan of dealing with the
slavery question--the simple, easy plan which, while a member of
Congress, he had proposed for the District of Columbia--that on
condition of the slave-owners voluntarily giving up their slaves,
they should be paid a fair price for them by the Federal
government. Delaware was a slave State, and seemed an excellent
place in which to try this experiment of "compensated
emancipation," as it was called; for there were, all told, only
1798 slaves left in the State. Without any public announcement of
his purpose he offered to the citizens of Delaware, through their
representative in Congress, four hundred dollars for each of
these slaves, the payment to be made, not all at once, but
yearly, during a period of thirty-one years. He believed that if
Delaware could be induced to accept this offer, Maryland might
follow her example, and that afterward other States would allow
themselves to be led along the same easy way. The Delaware House
of Representatives voted in favor of the proposition, but five of
the nine members of the Delaware senate scornfully repelled the
"abolition bribe," as they chose to call it, and the project
withered in the bud.

Mr. Lincoln did not stop at this failure, but, on March 6, 1862,
sent a special message to the Senate and House of Representatives
recommending that Congress adopt a joint resolution favoring and
practically offering gradual compensated emancipation to any
State that saw fit to accept it; pointing out at the same time
that the Federal government claimed no right to interfere with
slavery within the States, and that if the offer were accepted it
must be done as a matter of free choice.

The Republican journals of the North devoted considerable space
to discussing the President's plan, which, in the main, was
favorably received; but it was thought that it must fail on the
score of expense. The President answered this objection in a
private letter to a Senator, proving that less than one-half
day's cost of war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware at
four hundred dollars each, and less than eighty-seven days' cost
of war would pay for all in Delaware, Maryland, the District of
Columbia, Kentucky and Missouri. "Do you doubt," he asked, that
taking such a step "on the part of those States and this District
would shorten the war more than eighty-seven days, and thus be an
actual saving of expense?"

Both houses of Congress favored the resolution, and also passed a
bill immediately freeing the slaves in the District of Columbia
on the payment to their loyal owners of three hundred dollars for
each slave. This last bill was signed by the President and became
a law on April 16, 1862. So, although he had been unable to bring
it about when a member of Congress thirteen years before, it was
he, after all, who finally swept away that scandal of the "negro
livery-stable" in the shadow of the dome of the Capitol.

Congress as well as the President was thus pledged to compensated
emancipation, and if any of the border slave States had shown a
willingness to accept the generosity of the government, their
people might have been spared the loss that overtook all
slave-owners on the first of January, 1863. The President twice
called the representatives and senators of these States to the
White House, and urged his plan most eloquently, but nothing came
of it. Meantime, the military situation continued most
discouraging. The advance of the Army of the Potomac upon
Richmond became a retreat; the commanders in the West could not
get control of the Mississippi River; and worst of all, in spite
of their cheering assurance that "We are coming, Father Abraham,
three hundred thousand strong," the people of the country were
saddened and filled with the most gloomy forebodings because of
the President's call for so many new troops.

"It had got to be midsummer, 1862," Mr. Lincoln said, in telling
an artist friend the history of his most famous official act.
"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, and without consultation with, or the
knowledge of the cabinet, I prepared the original draft of the
proclamation, and after much anxious thought, called a cabinet
meeting upon the subject. . . . I said to the cabinet that I had
resolved upon this step, and had not called them together to ask
their advice, but to lay the subject-matter of a proclamation
before them, suggestions as to which would be in order after they
had heard it read."

It was on July 22 that the President read to his cabinet the
draft of this first emancipation proclamation, which, after
announcing that at the next meeting of Congress he would again
offer compensated emancipation to such States as chose to accept
it, went on to order as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy
of the United States, that the slaves in all States which should
be in rebellion against the government on January 1, 1863, should
"then, thenceforward and forever be free."

Mr. Lincoln had given a hint of this intended step to Mr. Seward
and Mr. Welles, but to all the other members of the cabinet it
came as a complete surprise. One thought it would cost the
Republicans the fall elections. Another preferred that
emancipation should be proclaimed by military commanders in their
several military districts. Secretary Seward, while approving the
measure, suggested that it would better be postponed until it
could be given to the country after a victory, instead of issuing
it, as would be the case then, upon the greatest disasters of the
war. "The wisdom of the view of the Secretary of State struck me
with very great force," Mr. Lincoln's recital continues. "It was
an aspect of the case that, in all my thought upon the subject, I
had entirely overlooked. The result was that I put the draft of
the proclamation aside, as you do your sketch for a picture,
waiting for a victory."

The secrets of the administration were well kept, and no hint
came to the public that the President had proposed such a measure
to his cabinet. As there was at the moment little in the way of
war news to attract attention, newspapers and private individuals
turned a sharp fire of criticism upon Mr. Lincoln. For this they
seized upon the ever-useful text of the slavery question. Some of
them protested indignantly that the President was going too fast;
others clamored as loudly that he had been altogether too slow.
His decision, as we know, was unalterably taken, although he was
not yet ready to announce it. Therefore, while waiting for a
victory he had to perform the difficult task of restraining the
impatience of both sides. This he did in very positive language.
To a man in Louisiana, who complained that Union feeling was
being crushed out by the army in that State, he wrote:

"I am a patient man, always willing to forgive on the Christian
terms of repentance, and also to give ample time for repentance.
Still, I must save this government if possible. What I cannot do,
of course I will not do; but it may as well be understood, once
for all, that I shall not surrender this game leaving any
available card unplayed." Two days later he answered another
Louisiana critic. "What would you do in my position? Would you
drop the war where it is? Or would you prosecute it in future
with elder-stalk squirts charged with rosewater? Would you deal
lighter blows rather than heavier ones? Would you give up the
contest leaving any available means unapplied? I am in no
boastful mood. I shall not do more than I can, and I shall do all
I can, to save the government, which is my sworn duty, as well as
my personal inclination. I shall do nothing in malice. What I
deal with is too vast for malicious dealing."

The President could afford to overlook the abuse of hostile
newspapers, but he also had to meet the criticisms of
over-zealous Republicans. The prominent Republican editor, Horace
Greeley, printed in his paper, the "New York Tribune," a long
"Open Letter," ostentatiously addressed to Mr. Lincoln, full of
unjust accusations, his general charge being that the President
and many army officers were neglecting their duty through a
kindly feeling for slavery. The open letter which Mr. Lincoln
wrote in reply is remarkable not alone for the skill with which
he answered this attack, but also for its great dignity.

"As to the policy I 'seem to be pursuing,' as you say, I have not
meant to leave anyone in doubt. . . . My paramount object in this
struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to
destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any
slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the
slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and
leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about
slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to
save the Union, and what I forbear I forbear because I do not
believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever
I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do
more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I
shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors, and I shall
adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. I
have here stated my purpose according to my view of official
duty, and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal
wish that all men everywhere could be free."

He was waiting for victory, but victory was slow to come. Instead
the Union army suffered another defeat at the second battle of
Bull Run on August 30, 1862. After this the pressure upon him to
take some action upon slavery became stronger than ever. On
September 13 he was visited by a company of ministers from the
churches of Chicago, who came expressly to urge him to free the
slaves at once. In the actual condition of things he could of
course neither safely satisfy them nor deny them, and his reply,
while perfectly courteous, had in it a tone of rebuke that showed
the state of irritation and high sensitiveness under which he was

"I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and
that by religious men, who are equally certain that they
represent the Divine will. . . . I hope it will not be irreverent
for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal his
will to others on a point so connected with my duty, it might be
supposed he would reveal it directly to me. . . . What good would
a proclamation of emancipation from me do, especially as we are
now situated? I do not want to issue a document that the whole
world will see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's
bull against the comet." "Do not misunderstand me. . . . I have
not decided against a proclamation of liberty to the slaves; but
hold the matter under advisement. And I can assure you that the
subject is on my mind by day and night more than any other.
Whatever shall appear to be God's will, I will do."

Four days after this interview the battle of Antietam was fought,
and when, after a few days of uncertainty it was found that it
could be reasonably claimed as a Union victory, the President
resolved to carry out his long-matured purpose. Secretary Chase
in his diary recorded very fully what occurred on that
ever-memorable September 22, 1862. After some playful talk upon
other matters, Mr. Lincoln, taking a graver tone, said:

"Gentlemen: I have, as you are aware, thought a great deal about
the relation of this war to slavery, and you all remember that
several weeks ago I read to you an order I had prepared on this
subject, which, on account of objections made by some of you, was
not issued. Ever since then my mind has been much occupied with
this subject, and I have thought, all along, that the time for
acting on it might probably come. I think the time has come now.
I wish it was a better time. I wish that we were in a better
condition. The action of the army against the rebels has not been
quite what I should have best liked. But they have been driven
out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of
invasion. When the rebel army was at Frederick I determined, as
soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a
proclamation of emancipation, such as I thought most likely to be
useful. I said nothing to anyone, but I made the promise to
myself, and--[hesitating a little]--to my Maker. The rebel army
is now driven out, and I am going to fulfil that promise. I have
got you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish
your advice about the main matter, for that I have determined for
myself. This I say, without intending anything but respect for
any one of you. But I already know the views of each on this
question. . . . I have considered them as thoroughly and
carefully as I can. What I have written is that which my
reflections have determined me to say. If there is anything in
the expressions I use, or in any minor matter which any one of
you thinks had best be changed, I shall be glad to receive the
suggestions. One other observation I will make. I know very well
that many others might, in this matter as in others, do better
than I can; and if I was satisfied that the public confidence was
more fully possessed by any one of them than by me, and knew of
any constitutional way in which he could be put in my place, he
should have it. I would gladly yield it to him. But, though I
believe that I have not so much of the confidence of the people
as I had some time since, I do not know that, all things
considered, any other person has more; and however this may be,
there is no way in which I can have any other man put where I am.
I am here; I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility
of taking the course which I feel I ought to take."

It was in this humble spirit, and with this firm sense of duty
that the great proclamation was given to the world. One hundred
days later he completed the act by issuing the final proclamation
of emancipation.

It has been a long-established custom in Washington for the
officials of the government to go on the first day of January to
the Executive Mansion to pay their respects to the President and
his wife. The judges of the courts go at one hour, the foreign
diplomats at another, members of Congress and senators and
officers of the Army and Navy at still another. One by one these
various official bodies pass in rapid succession before the head
of the nation, wishing him success and prosperity in the New
Year. The occasion is made gay with music and flowers and bright
uniforms, and has a social as well as an official character. Even
in war times such customs were kept up, and in spite of his load
of care, the President was expected to find time and heart for
the greetings and questions and hand-shakings of this and other
state ceremonies. Ordinarily it was not hard for him. He liked to
meet people, and such occasions were a positive relief from the
mental strain of his official work. It is to be questioned,
however, whether, on this day, his mind did not leave the passing
stream of people before him, to dwell on the proclamation he was
so soon to sign.

At about three o'clock in the afternoon, after full three hours
of such greetings and handshakings, when his own hand was so
weary it could scarcely hold a pen, the President and perhaps a
dozen friends, went up to the Executive Office, and there,
without any pre-arranged ceremony, he signed his name to the
greatest state paper of the century, which banished the curse of
slavery from our land, and set almost four million people free.


The way Mr. Lincoln signed this most important state paper was
thoroughly in keeping with his nature. He hated all shams and
show and pretense, and being absolutely without affectation of
any kind, it would never have occurred to him to pose for effect
while signing the Emancipation Proclamation or any other paper.
He never thought of himself as a President to be set up before a
multitude and admired, but always as a President charged with
duties which he owed to every citizen. In fulfilling these he did
not stand upon ceremony, but took the most direct way to the end
he had in view.

It is not often that a President pleads a cause before Congress.
Mr. Lincoln did not find it beneath his dignity at one time to go
in person to the Capitol, and calling a number of the leading
senators and representatives around him, explain to them, with
the aid of a map, his reasons for believing that the final stand
of the Confederates would be made in that part of the South where
the seven States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia come together; and
strive in this way to interest them in the sad plight of the
loyal people of Tennessee who were being persecuted by the
Confederate government, but whose mountainous region might, with
a little help, be made a citadel of Union strength in the very
heart of this stronghold of rebellion.

In his private life he was entirely simple and unaffected. Yet he
had a deep sense of what was due his office, and took part with
becoming dignity in all official or public ceremonies. He
received the diplomats sent to Washington from the courts of
Europe with a formal and quiet reserve which made them realize at
once that although this son of the people had been born in a log
cabin, he was ruler of a great nation, and more than that, was a
prince by right of his own fine instincts and good breeding.

He was ever gentle and courteous, but with a few quiet words he
could silence a bore who had come meaning to talk to him for
hours. For his friends he had always a ready smile and a quaintly
turned phrase. His sense of humor was his salvation. Without it
he must have died of the strain and anxiety of the Civil War.
There was something almost pathetic in the way he would snatch a
moment from his pressing duties and gravest cares to listen to a
good story or indulge in a hearty laugh. Some people could not
understand this. To one member of his cabinet, at least, it
seemed strange and unfitting that he should read aloud to them a
chapter from a humorous book by Artemus Ward before taking up the
weighty matter of the Emancipation Proclamation. From their point
of view it showed lack of feeling and frivolity of character,
when, in truth, it was the very depth of his feeling, and the
intensity of his distress at the suffering of the war, that led
him to seek relief in laughter, to gather from the comedy of life
strength to go on and meet its sternest tragedy.

He was a social man. He could not fully enjoy even a jest alone.
He wanted somebody to share the pleasure with him. Often when
care kept him awake late at night he would wander through the
halls of the Executive Mansion, and coming to the room where his
secretaries were still at work, would stop to read to them some
poem, or a passage from Shakspere, or a bit from one of the
humorous books in which he found relief. No one knew better than
he what could be cured, and what must be patiently endured. To
every difficulty that he could remove he gave cheerful and
uncomplaining thought and labor. The burdens he could not shake
off he bore with silent courage, lightening them whenever
possible with the laughter that he once described as the
"universal joyous evergreen of life."

It would be a mistake to suppose that he cared only for humorous
reading. Occasionally he read a scientific book with great
interest, but his duties left him little time for such
indulgences. Few men knew the Bible more thoroughly than he did,
and his speeches are full of scriptural quotations. The poem
beginning "Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?" was one
of his favorites, and Dr. Holmes's "Last Leaf" was another.
Shakespere was his constant delight. A copy of Shakespere's works
was even to be found in the busy Executive Office, from which
most books were banished. The President not only liked to read
the great poet's plays, but to see them acted; and when the
gifted actor Hackett came to Washington, he was invited to the
White House, where the two discussed the character of Falstaff,
and the proper reading of many scenes and passages.

While he was President, Mr. Lincoln did not attempt to read the
newspapers. His days were long, beginning early and ending late,
but they were not long enough for that. One of his secretaries
brought him a daily memorandum of the important news they
contained. His mail was so enormous that he personally read only
about one in every hundred of the letters sent him.

His time was principally taken up with interviews with people on
matters of importance, with cabinet meetings, conferences with
his generals, and other affairs requiring his close and immediate
attention. If he had leisure he would take a drive in the late
afternoon, or perhaps steal away into the grounds south of the
Executive Mansion to test some new kind of gun, if its inventor
had been fortunate enough to bring it to his notice. He was very
quick to understand mechanical contrivances, and would often
suggest improvements that had not occurred to the inventor

For many years it has been the fashion to call Mr. Lincoln
homely. He was very tall, and very thin. His eyes were
deep-sunken, his skin of a sallow pallor, his hair coarse, black,
and unruly. Yet he was neither ungraceful, nor awkward, nor ugly.
His large features fitted his large frame, and his large hands
and feet were but right on a body that measured six feet four
inches. His was a sad and thoughtful face, and from boyhood he
had carried a load of care. It was small wonder that when alone,
or absorbed in thought, the face should take on deep lines, the
eyes appear as if seeing something beyond the vision of other
men, and the shoulders stoop, as though they too were bearing a
weight. But in a moment all would be changed. The deep eyes could
flash, or twinkle merrily with humor, or look out from under
overhanging brows as they did upon the Five Points children in
kindliest gentleness. In public speaking, his tall body rose to
its full height, his head was thrown back, his face seemed
transfigured with the fire and earnestuess of his thought, and
his voice took on a high clear tenor tone that carried his words
and ideas far out over the listening crowds. At such moments,
when answering Douglas in the heat of their joint-debate, or
later, during the years of war, when he pronounced with noble
gravity the words of his famous addresses, not one in the throngs
that heard him could say with truth that he was other than a
handsome man.

It has been the fashion, too, to say that he was slovenly, and
careless in his dress. This also is a mistake. His clothes could
not fit smoothly on his gaunt and bony frame. He was no tailor's
figure of a man; but from the first he clothed himself as well as
his means allowed, and in the fashion of the time and place. In
reading the grotesque stories of his boyhood, of the tall
stripling whose trousers left exposed a length of shin, it must
be remembered not only how poor he was, but that he lived on the
frontier, where other boys, less poor, were scarcely better clad.
In Vandalia, the blue jeans he wore was the dress of his
companions as well, and later, from Springfield days on, clear
through his presidency, his costume was the usual suit of black
broadcloth, carefully made, and scrupulously neat. He cared
nothing for style. It did not matter to him whether the man with
whom he talked wore a coat of the latest cut, or owned no coat at
all. It was the man inside the coat that interested him.

In the same way he cared little for the pleasures of the table.
He ate most sparingly. He was thankful that food was good and
wholesome and enough for daily needs, but he could no more enter
into the mood of the epicure for whose palate it is a matter of
importance whether he eats roast goose or golden pheasant, than
he could have counted the grains of sand under the sea.

In the summers, while he was President, he spent the nights at a
cottage at the Soldiers' Home, a short distance north of
Washington, riding or driving out through the gathering dusk, and
returning to the White House after a frugal breakfast in the
early morning. Ten o'clock was the hour at which he was supposed
to begin receiving visitors, but it was often necessary to see
them unpleasantly early. Occasionally they forced their way to
his bedroom before he had quite finished dressing. Throngs of
people daily filled his office, the ante-rooms, and even the
corridors of the public part of the Executive Mansion. He saw
them all, those he had summoned on important business, men of
high official position who came to demand as their right offices
and favors that he had no right to give; others who wished to
offer tiresome if well-meant advice; and the hundreds, both men
and women, who pressed forward to ask all sorts of help. His
friends besought him to save himself the weariness of seeing the
people at these public receptions, but he refused. "They do not
want much, and they get very little," he answered. "Each one
considers his business of great importance, and I must gratify
them. I know how I would feel if I were in their place." And at
noon on all days except Tuesday and Friday, when the time was
occupied by meetings of the cabinet, the doors were thrown open,
and all who wished might enter. That remark of his, "I know how I
would feel if I were in their place," explained it all. His early
experience of life had drilled him well for these ordeals. He had
read deeply in the book of human nature, and could see the hidden
signs of falsehood and deceit and trickery from which the faces
of some of his visitors were not free; but he knew, too, the
hard, practical side of life, the hunger, cold, storms, sickness
and misfortune that the average man must meet in his struggle
with the world. More than all, he knew and sympathized with that
hope deferred which makes the heart sick.

Not a few men and women came, sad-faced and broken-hearted, to
plead for soldier sons or husbands in prison, or under sentence
of death by court-martial. An inmate of the White House has
recorded the eagerness with which the President caught at any
fact that would justify him in saving the life of a condemned
soldier. He was only merciless when meanness or cruelty were
clearly proved. Cases of cowardice he disliked especially to
punish with death. "It would frighten the poor devils too
terribly to shoot them," he said. On the papers in the case of
one soldier who had deserted and then enlisted again, he wrote:
"Let him fight, instead of shooting him."

He used to call these cases of desertion his "leg cases," and
sometimes when considering them, would tell the story of the
Irish soldier, upbraided by his captain, who replied: "Captain, I
have a heart in me breast as brave as Julius Caesar, but when I
go into battle, Sor, these cowardly legs of mine will run away
with me."

As the war went on, Mr. Lincoln objected more and more to
approving sentences of death by court-martial, and either
pardoned them outright, or delayed the execution "until further
orders," which orders were never given by the great-hearted,
merciful man. Secretary Stanton and certain generals complained
bitterly that if the President went on pardoning soldiers he
would ruin the discipline of the army; but Secretary Stanton had
a warm heart, and it is doubtful if he ever willingly enforced
the justice that he criticized the President for tempering with
so much mercy.

Yet Mr. Lincoln could be sternly just when necessary. A law
declaring the slave trade to be piracy had stood on the statute
books of the United States for half a century. Lincoln's
administration was the first to convict a man under it, and
Lincoln himself decreed that the well-deserved sentence be
carried out.

Mr. Lincoln sympathized keenly with the hardships and trials of
the soldier boys, and found time, amid all his labors and cares,
to visit the hospitals in and around Washington where they lay
ill. His afternoon drive was usually to some camp in the
neighborhood of the city; and when he visited one at a greater
distance, the cheers that greeted him as he rode along the line
with the commanding general showed what a warm place he held in
their hearts.

He did not forget the unfortunate on these visits. A story is
told of his interview with William Scott, a boy from a Vermont
farm, who, after marching forty-eight hours without sleep,
volunteered to stand guard for a sick comrade. Weariness overcame
him, and he was found asleep at his post, within gunshot of the
enemy. He was tried, and sentenced to be shot. Mr. Lincoln heard
of the case, and went himself to the tent where young Scott was
kept under guard. He talked to him kindly, asking about his home,
his schoolmates, and particularly about his mother. The lad took
her picture from his pocket, and showed it to him without
speaking. Mr. Lincoln was much affected. As he rose to leave he
laid his hand on the prisoner s shoulder. "My boy," he said, "you
are not going to be shot to-morrow. I believe you when you tell
me that you could not keep awake. I am going to trust you, and
send you back to your regiment. Now, I want to know what you
intend to pay for all this?" The lad, overcome with gratitude,
could hardly say a word, but crowding down his emotions, managed
to answer that he did not know. He and his people were poor, they
would do what they could. There was his pay, and a little in the
savings bank. They could borrow something by a mortgage on the
farm. Perhaps his comrades would help. If Mr. Lincoln would wait
until pay day possibly they might get together five or six
hundred dollars. Would that be enough? The kindly President shook
his head. "My bill is a great deal more than that," he said. "It
is a very large one. Your friends cannot pay it, nor your family,
nor your farm. There is only one man in the world who can pay it,
and his name is William Scott. If from this day he does his duty
so that when he comes to die he can truly say "I have kept the
promise I gave the President. I have done my duty as a soldier,'
then the debt will be paid." Young Scott went back to his
regiment, and the debt was fully paid a few months later, for he
fell in battle.

Mr. Lincoln's own son became a soldier after leaving college. The
letter his father wrote to General Grant in his behalf shows how
careful he was that neither his official position nor his desire
to give his boy the experience he wanted, should work the least
injustice to others:

Executive Mansion,

Washington, January 19th, 1865.

Lieutenant-General Grant:

Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President,
but only a friend. My son, now in his twenty-second year, having
graduated at Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before
it ends. I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet to give
him a commission, to which those who have already served long are
better entitled, and better qualified to hold. Could he, without
embarrassment to you, or detriment to the service, go into your
military family with some nominal rank, I and not the public
furnishing the necessary means? If no, say so without the least
hesitation, because I am as anxious and as deeply interested that
you shall not be encumbered as you can be yourself.

Yours truly,

A. Lincoln.

His interest did not cease with the life of a young soldier.
Among his most beautiful letters are those he wrote to sorrowing
parents who had lost their sons in battle; and when his personal
friend, young Ellsworth, one of the first and most gallant to
fall, was killed at Alexandria, the President directed that his
body be brought to the White House, where his funeral was held in
the great East Room.

Though a member of no church, Mr. Lincoln was most sincerely
religious and devout. Not only was his daily life filled with
acts of forbearance and charity; every great state paper that he
wrote breathes his faith and reliance on a just and merciful God.
He rarely talked, even with intimate friends, about matters of
belief, but it is to be doubted whether any among the many people
who came to give him advice and sometimes to pray with him, had a
better right to be called a Christian. He always received such
visitors courteously, with a reverence for their good intention,
no matter how strangely it sometimes manifested itself. A little
address that he made to some Quakers who came to see him in
September, 1862, shows both his courtesy to them personally, and
his humble attitude toward God.

"I am glad of this interview, and glad to know that I have your
sympathy and prayers. We are indeed going through a great trial,
a fiery trial. In the very responsible position in which I happen
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
purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be
according to His will, and that it might be so I have sought His
aid; but if, after endeavoring to do my best in the light which
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 had
my way, this war would never have been commenced. If I had been
allowed my way, this war would have been ended before this; but

Book of the day: