The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln
by Helen Nicolay
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

His gift for jest and story-telling has become traditional. Indeed, almost every good story that has been invented within a hundred years has been laid at his door. As a matter of fact, though he was fond of telling them, and told them well, he told comparatively few of the number that have been credited to him. He had a wonderful memory, and a fine power of making his hearers see the scene he wished to depict; but the final charm of his stories lay in their aptness, and in the kindly humor that left no sting behind it.

During his term in Congress the Presidential campaign of 1848 came on. Lincoln took an active part in the nomination and election of General Zachary Taylor—"Old Rough and Ready," as he was called—making speeches in Maryland and Massachusetts, as well as in his own home district of Illinois. Two letters that he wrote during this campaign have special interest for young readers, for they show the sympathetic encouragement he gave to young men anxious to make a place and a name for themselves in American politics.

"Now as to the young men," he wrote. "You must not wait to be brought forward by the older men. For instance, do you suppose that I should ever have got into notice if I had waited to be hunted up and pushed forward by older men? You young men get together and form a 'Rough and Ready' club, and have regular meetings and speeches.... Let every one play the part he can play best—some speak, some sing, and all 'holler.' Your meetings will be of evenings; the older men, and the women, will go to hear you; so that it will not only contribute to the election of 'Old Zach,' but will be an interesting pastime, and improving to the intellectual faculties of all engaged."

In another letter, answering a young friend who complained of being neglected, he said:

"Nothing could afford me more satisfaction than to learn that you and others of my young friends at home are doing battle in the contest and taking a stand far above any I have ever been able to reach.... I cannot conceive that other old men feel differently. Of course I cannot demonstrate what I say; but I was young once, and I am sure I was never ungenerously thrust back. I hardly know what to say. The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that anybody wishes to hinder him. Allow me to assure you that suspicion and jealousy never did help any man in any situation. There may sometimes be ungenerous attempts to keep a young man down; and they will succeed, too, if he allows his mind to be diverted from its true channel to brood over the attempted injury. Cast about and see if this feeling has not injured every person you have ever known to fall into it."

He was about forty years old when he wrote this letter. By some people that is not considered a very great age; but he doubtless felt himself immensely older, as he was infinitely wiser, than his petulant young correspondent.

General Taylor was triumphantly elected, and it then became Lincoln's duty, as Whig member of Congress from Illinois, to recommend certain persons to fill government offices in that State. He did this after he returned to Springfield, for his term in Congress ended on March 4, 1849, the day that General Taylor became President. The letters that he sent to Washington when forwarding the papers and applications of people who wished appointment were both characteristic and amusing; for in his desire not to mislead or to do injustice to any man, they were very apt to say more in favor of the men he did not wish to see appointed than in recommendation of his own particular candidates.

This absolute and impartial fairness to friend and foe alike was one of his strongest traits, governing every action of his life. If it had not been for this, he might possibly have enjoyed another term in Congress, for there had been talk of reelecting him. In spite of his confession to Speed that "being elected to Congress, though I am very grateful to our friends for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected," this must have been flattering. But there were many able young men in Springfield who coveted the honor, and they had entered into an agreement among themselves that each would be content with a single term. Lincoln of course remained faithful to this promise. His strict keeping of promises caused him also to lose an appointment from President Taylor as Commissioner of the General Land Office, which might easily have been his, but for which he had agreed to recommend some other Illinois man. A few weeks later the President offered to make him governor of the new Territory of Oregon. This attracted him much more than the other office had done, but he declined because his wife was unwilling to live in a place so far away.

His career in Congress, while adding little to his fame at the time, proved of great advantage to him in after life, for it gave him a close knowledge of the workings of the Federal Government, and brought him into contact with political leaders from all parts of the Union.


For four or five years after his return from Congress, Lincoln remained in Springfield, working industriously at his profession. He was offered a law partnership in Chicago, but declined on the ground that his health would not stand the confinement of a great city. His business increased in volume and importance as the months went by; and it was during this time that he engaged in what is perhaps the most dramatic as well as the best known of all his law cases—his defense of Jack Armstrong's son on a charge of murder. A knot of young men had quarreled one night on the outskirts of a camp-meeting, one was killed, and suspicion pointed strongly toward young Armstrong as the murderer. Lincoln, for old friendship's sake, offered to defend him—an offer most gratefully accepted by his family. The principal witness swore that he had seen young Armstrong strike the fatal blow—had seen him distinctly by the light of a bright moon. Lincoln made him repeat the statement until it seemed as if he were sealing the death-warrant of the prisoner. Then Lincoln began his address to the jury. He was not there as a hired attorney, he told them, but because of friendship. He told of his old relations with Jack Armstrong, of the kindness the prisoner's mother had shown him in New Salem, how he had himself rocked the prisoner to sleep when the latter was a little child. Then he reviewed the testimony, pointing out how completely everything depended on the statements of this one witness; and ended by proving beyond question that his testimony was false, since, according to the almanac, which he produced in court and showed to judge and jury, THERE WAS NO MOON IN THE SKY THAT NIGHT at the hour the murder was committed. The jury brought in a verdict of "Not guilty," and the prisoner was discharged.

Lincoln was always strong with a jury. He knew how to handle men, and he had a direct way of going to the heart of things. He had, moreover, unusual powers of mental discipline. It was after his return from Congress, when he had long been acknowledged one of the foremost lawyers of the State, that he made up his mind he lacked the power of close and sustained reasoning, and set himself like a schoolboy to study works of logic and mathematics to remedy the defect. At this time he committed to memory six books of the propositions of Euclid; and, as always, he was an eager reader on many subjects, striving in this way to make up for the lack of education he had had as a boy. He was always interested in mechanical principles and their workings, and in May, 1849, patented a device for lifting vessels over shoals, which had evidently been dormant in his mind since the days of his early Mississippi River experiences. The little model of a boat, whittled out with his own hand, that he sent to the Patent Office when he filed his application, is still shown to visitors, though the invention itself failed to bring about any change in steamboat architecture.

In work and study time slipped away. He was the same cheery companion as of old, much sought after by his friends, but now more often to be found in his office surrounded by law-books and papers than had been the case before his term in Congress. His interest in politics seemed almost to have ceased when, in 1854, something happened to rouse that and his sense of right and justice as they had never been roused before. This was the repeal of the "Missouri Compromise," a law passed by Congress in the year 1820, allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slave State, but positively forbidding slavery in all other territory of the United States lying north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes, which was the southern boundary-line of Missouri.

Up to that time the Southern States, where slavery was lawful, had been as wealthy and quite as powerful in politics as the Northern or free States. The great unoccupied territory lying to the west, which, in years to come, was sure to be filled with people and made into new States, lay, however, mostly north of 36 degrees 30 minutes; and it was easy to see that as new free States came one after the other into the Union the importance of the South must grow less and less, because there was little or no territory left out of which slave States could be made to offset them. The South therefore had been anxious to have the Missouri Compromise repealed.

The people of the North, on the other hand, were not all wise or disinterested in their way of attacking slavery. As always happens, self-interest and moral purpose mingled on both sides; but, as a whole, it may be said that they wished to get rid of slavery because they felt it to be wrong, and totally out of place in a country devoted to freedom and liberty. The quarrel between them was as old as the nation, and it had been gaining steadily in intensity. At first only a few persons in each section had been really interested. By the year 1850 it had come to be a question of much greater moment, and during the ten years that followed was to increase in bitterness until it absorbed the thoughts of the entire people, and plunged the country into a terrible civil war.

Abraham Lincoln had grown to manhood while the question was gaining in importance. As a youth, during his flatboat voyages to New Orleans he had seen negroes chained and beaten, and the injustice of slavery had been stamped upon his soul. The uprightness of his mind abhorred a system that kept men in bondage merely because they happened to be black. The intensity of his feeling on the subject had made him a Whig when, as a friendless boy, he lived in a town where Whig ideas were much in disfavor. The same feeling, growing stronger as he grew older, had inspired the Lincoln-Stone protest and the bill to free the slaves in the District of Columbia, and had caused him to vote at least forty times against slavery in one form or another during his short term in Congress. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise, throwing open once more to slavery a vast amount of territory from which it had been shut out, could not fail to move him deeply. His sense of justice and his strong powers of reasoning were equally stirred, and from that time until slavery came to its end through his own act, he gave his time and all his energies to the cause of freedom.

Two points served to make the repeal of the Missouri Compromise of special interest to Lincoln. The first was personal, in that the man who championed the measure, and whose influence in Congress alone made it possible, was Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who had been his neighbor in Illinois for many years.

The second was deeper. He realized that the struggle meant much more than the freedom or bondage of a few million black men: that it was in reality a struggle for the central idea of our American republic—the statement in our Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal." He made no public speeches until autumn, but in the meantime studied the question with great care, both as to its past history and present state. When he did speak it was with a force and power that startled Douglas and, it is said, brought him privately to Lincoln with the proposition that neither of them should address a public meeting again until after the next election.

Douglas was a man of great ambition as well as of unusual political skill. Until recently he had been heartily in favor of keeping slavery out of the Northwest Territory; but he had set his heart upon being President of the United States, and he thought that he saw a chance of this if he helped the South to repeal the Missouri Compromise, and thus gained its gratitude and its votes. Without hesitation he plunged into the work and labored successfully to overthrow this law of more than thirty years' standing.

Lincoln's speech against the repeal had made a deep impression in Illinois, where he was at once recognized as the people's spokesman in the cause of freedom. His statements were so clear, his language so eloquent, the stand he took so just, that all had to acknowledge his power. He did not then, nor for many years afterward, say that the slaves ought to be immediately set free. What he did insist upon was that slavery was wrong, and that it must not be allowed to spread into territory already free; but that, gradually, in ways lawful and just to masters and slaves alike, the country should strive to get rid of it in places where it already existed. He never let his hearers lose sight of the great underlying moral fact. "Slavery," he said, "is founded in the selfishness of man's nature; opposition to it in his love of justice." Even Senator Douglas was not prepared to admit that slavery was right. He knew that if he said that he could never be President, for the whole North would rise against him. He wished to please both sides, so he argued that it was not a question for him or for the Federal Government to decide, but one which each State and Territory must settle for itself. In answer to this plea of his that it was not a matter of morals, but of "State rights"—a mere matter of local self-government—Mr. Lincoln replied, "When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism."

It was on these opposing grounds that the two men took their stand for the battle of argument and principle that was to continue for years, to outgrow the bounds of the State, to focus the attention of the whole country upon them, and, in the end, to have far-reaching consequences of which neither at that time dreamed. At first the field appeared much narrower, though even then the reward was a large one. Lincoln had entered the contest with no thought of political gain; but it happened that a new United States senator from Illinois had to be chosen about that time. Senators are not voted for by the people, but by the legislatures of their respective States and as a first result of all this discussion about the right or wrong of slavery it was found that the Illinois legislature, instead of having its usual large Democratic majority, was almost evenly divided. Lincoln seemed the most likely candidate; and he would have undoubtedly been chosen senator, had not five men, whose votes were absolutely necessary, stoutly refused to vote for a Whig, no matter what his views upon slavery might be. Keeping stubbornly aloof, they cast their ballots time after time for Lyman Trumbull, who was a Democrat, although as strongly opposed to slavery as Lincoln himself.

A term of six years in the United States Senate must have seemed a large prize to Lincoln just then—possibly the largest he might ever hope to gain; and it must have been a hard trial to feel it so near and then see it slipping away from him. He did what few men would have had the courage or the unselfishness to do. Putting aside all personal considerations, and intent only on making sure of an added vote against slavery in the Senate, he begged his friends to cease voting for him and to unite with those five Democrats to elect Trumbull.

"I regret my defeat moderately," he wrote to a sympathizing friend, "but I am not nervous about it." Yet it must have been particularly trying to know that with forty-five votes in his favor, and only five men standing between him and success, he had been forced to give up his own chances and help elect the very man who had defeated him.

The voters of Illinois were quick to realize the sacrifice he had made. The five stubborn men became his most devoted personal followers; and his action at this time did much to bring about a great political change in the State. All over the country old party lines were beginning to break up and re-form themselves on this one question of slavery. Keeping its old name, the Democratic party became the party in favor of slavery, while the Northern Whigs and all those Democrats who objected to slavery joined in what became known as the Republican party. It was at a great mass convention held in Bloomington in May, 1856, that the Republican party of Illinois took final shape; and it was here that Lincoln made the wonderful address which has become famous in party history as his "lost speech." There had been much enthusiasm. Favorite speakers had already made stirring addresses that had been listened to with eagerness and heartily applauded; but hardly a man moved from his seat until Lincoln should be heard. It was he who had given up the chance of being senator to help on the cause of freedom. He alone had successfully answered Douglas. Every one felt the fitness of his making the closing speech—and right nobly did he honor the demand. The spell of the hour was visibly upon him. Standing upon the platform before the members of the convention, his tall figure drawn up to its full height, his head thrown back, and his voice ringing with earnestness, he denounced the evil they had to fight in a speech whose force and power carried his hearers by storm, ending with a brilliant appeal to all who loved liberty and justice to

Come as the winds come when forests are rended; Come as the waves come when navies are stranded;

and unite with the Republican party against this great wrong.

The audience rose and answered him with cheer upon cheer. Then, after the excitement had died down, it was found that neither a full report nor even trustworthy notes of his speech had been taken. The sweep and magnetism of his oratory had carried everything before it—even the reporters had forgotten their duty, and their pencils had fallen idle. So it happened that the speech as a whole was lost. Mr. Lincoln himself could never recall what he had said; but the hundreds who heard him never forgot the scene or the lifting inspiration of his words.

Three weeks later the first national convention of the Republican party was held. John C. Fremont was nominated for President, and Lincoln received over a hundred votes for Vice-President, but fortunately, as it proved, was not selected, the honor falling to William L. Dayton of New Jersey. The Democratic candidate for President that year was James Buchanan, "a Northern man with Southern principles," very strongly in favor of slavery. Lincoln took an active part in the campaign against him, making more than fifty speeches in Illinois and the adjoining States. The Democrats triumphed, and Buchanan was elected President; but Lincoln was not discouraged, for the new Republican party had shown unexpected strength throughout the North. Indeed, Lincoln was seldom discouraged. He had an abiding faith that the people would in the long run vote wisely; and the cheerful hope he was able to inspire in his followers was always a strong point in his leadership.

In 1858, two years after this, another election took place in Illinois, on which the choice of a United States senator depended. This time it was the term of Stephen A. Douglas that was drawing to a close. He greatly desired reelection. There was but one man in the State who could hope to rival him, and with a single voice the Republicans of Illinois called upon Lincoln to oppose him. Douglas was indeed an opponent not to be despised. His friends and followers called him the "Little Giant." He was plausible, popular, quick-witted, had winning manners, was most skilful in the use of words, both to convince his hearers and, at times, to hide his real meaning. He and Lincoln were old antagonists. They had first met in the far-away Vandalia days of the Illinois legislature. In Springfield, Douglas had been the leader of the young Democrats, while Lincoln had been leader of the younger Whigs. Their rivalry had not always been confined to politics, for gossip asserted that Douglas had been one of Miss Todd's more favored suitors. Douglas in those days had no great opinion of the tall young lawyer; while Lincoln is said to have described Douglas as "the least man I ever saw"—although that referred to his rival's small stature and boyish figure, not to his mental qualities. Douglas was not only ambitious to be President: he had staked everything on the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and his statement that this question of slavery was one that every State and Territory must settle for itself, but with which the Federal Government had nothing to do. Unfortunately, his own party no longer agreed with him. Since Buchanan had become President the Democrats had advanced their ground. They now claimed that while a State might properly say whether or not it would tolerate slavery, slavery ought to be lawful in all the Territories, no matter whether their people liked it or not.

A famous law case, called the Dred Scott case, lately decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, went far toward making this really the law of the land. In its decision the court positively stated that neither Congress nor a territorial legislature had power to keep slavery out of any United States Territory. This decision placed Senator Douglas in a most curious position. It justified him in repealing the Missouri Compromise, but at the same time it absolutely denied his statement that the people of a Territory had a right to settle the slavery question to suit themselves. Being a clever juggler with words, he explained away the difference by saying that a master might have a perfect right to his slave in a Territory, and yet that right could do him no good unless it were protected by laws in force where his slave happened to be. Such laws depended entirely on the will of the people living in the Territory, and so, after all, they had the deciding voice. This reasoning brought upon him the displeasure of President Buchanan and all the Democrats who believed as he did, and Douglas found himself forced either to deny what he had already told the voters of Illinois, or to begin a quarrel with the President. He chose the latter, well knowing that to lose his reelection to the Senate at this time would end his political career. His fame as well as his quarrel with the President served to draw immense crowds to his meetings when he returned to Illinois and began speech-making, and his followers so inspired these meetings with their enthusiasm that for a time it seemed as though all real discussion would be swallowed up in noise and shouting.

Mr. Lincoln, acting on the advice of his leading friends, sent Douglas a challenge to joint debate. Douglas accepted, though not very willingly; and it was agreed that they should address the same meetings at seven towns in the State, on dates extending through August, September, and October. The terms were that one should speak an hour in opening, the other an hour and a half in reply, and the first again have half an hour to close. Douglas was to open the meeting at one place, Lincoln at the next.

It was indeed a memorable contest. Douglas, the most skilled and plausible speaker in the Democratic party, was battling for his political life. He used every art, every resource, at his command. Opposed to him was a veritable giant in stature—a man whose qualities of mind and of body were as different from those of the "Little Giant"—as could well be imagined. Lincoln was direct, forceful, logical, and filled with a purpose as lofty as his sense of right and justice was strong. He cared much for the senatorship, but he cared far more to right the wrong of slavery, and to warn people of the peril that menaced the land. Already in June he had made a speech that greatly impressed his hearers. "A house divided against itself cannot stand," he told them. "I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved, I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other"; and he went on to say that there was grave danger it might become all slave. He showed how, little by little, slavery had been gaining ground, until all it lacked now was another Supreme Court decision to make it alike lawful in all the States, North as well as South. The warning came home to the people of the North with startling force, and thereafter all eyes were fixed upon the senatorial campaign in Illinois.

The battle continued for nearly three months. Besides the seven great joint debates, each man spoke daily, sometimes two or three times a day, at meetings of his own. Once before their audiences, Douglas's dignity as a senator afforded him no advantage, Lincoln's popularity gave him little help. Face to face with the followers of each, gathered in immense numbers and alert with jealous watchfulness, there was no escaping the rigid test of skill in argument and truth in principle. The processions and banners, the music and fireworks, of both parties were stilled and forgotten while the people listened to the three hours' battle of mind against mind.

Northern Illinois had been peopled largely from the free States, and southern Illinois from the slave States; thus the feeling about slavery in the two parts was very different. To take advantage of this, Douglas, in the very first debate, which took place at Ottawa, in northern Illinois, asked Lincoln seven questions, hoping to make him answer in a way that would be unpopular farther south. In the second debate Lincoln replied to these very frankly, and in his turn asked Douglas four questions, the second of which was whether, in Douglas's opinion, the people of any Territory could, in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, bar out slavery before that Territory became a State. Mr. Lincoln had long and carefully studied the meaning and effect of this question. If Douglas said, "No," he would please Buchanan and the administration Democrats, but at the cost of denying his own words. If he said, "Yes," he would make enemies of every Democrat in the South. Lincoln's 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 meeting?

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 Bell.

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 convention.

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 Vice-President.

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 Vice-President.

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 Washington.

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 doing.

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 prosperity.


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 war.

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 anew.

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 consequence.

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 administration.

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.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse