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Lincoln's Early Environment-Its Effect on his Charac-
CHILD born to an inheritance of want; a boy growing into a narrow world of ignorance; a youth taking up the burden of coarse manual labor; a man entering on the doubtful struggle of a local backwoods career-these were the beginnings of Abraham Lincoln, if we analyze them under the hard practical cynical philosophy which takes for its motto that "nothing succeeds but success." If, however, we adopt a broader philosophy, and apply the more generous and more universal principle that "everything succeeds which attacks favorable opportunity with fitting endeavor," then we see that it was the strong vitality, the active intelligence, and the indefinable psychological law of moral growth that assimilates the good and rejects the bad, which Nature gave this obscure child, that carried him to the service of mankind and to the admiration of the centuries with the same certainty with which the acorn grows to be the oak.
We see how even the limitations of his environment helped the end. Self-reliance, that most vital characteristic of the pioneer, was his by blood and birth and training; and developed through the privations of his lot and the genius that was in him to the mighty
strength needed to guide our great country through the titanic struggle of the Civil War.
The sense of equality was his, also by virtue of his pioneer training-a consciousness fostered by life from childhood to manhood in a state of society where there were neither rich to envy nor poor to despise, where the gifts and hardships of the forest were distributed impartially to each, and where men stood indeed equal before the forces of unsubdued nature.
The same great forces taught liberality, modesty, charity, sympathy-in a word, neighborliness. In that hard life, far removed from the artificial aids and comforts of civilization, where all the wealth of Croesus, had a man possessed it, would not have sufficed to purchase relief from danger, or help in time of need, neighborliness became of prime importance. A good neighbor doubled his safety and his resources, a group of good neighbors increased his comfort and his prospects in a ratio that grew like the cube root. Here was opportunity to practise that virtue that Christ declared to be next to the love of God-the fruitful injunction to "love thy neighbor as thyself."
Here, too, in communities far from the customary restraints of organized law, the common native intelligence of the pioneer was brought face to face with primary and practical questions of natural right. These men not only understood but appreciated the American doctrine of self-government. It was this understanding, this feeling, which taught Lincoln to write: "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"; and its philosophic corollary: "He who would be no slave must consent to have no slave."
Abraham Lincoln sprang from exceptional conditions was in truth, in the language of Lowell, a "new birth of our new soil." But this distinction was not due alone to mere environment. The ordinary man, with ordinary natural gifts, found in Western pioneer communities a development essentially the same as he would have found under colonial Virginia or Puritan New England: a commonplace life, varying only with the changing ideas and customs of time and locality. But for the man with extraordinary powers of body and mind; for the individual gifted by nature with the genius which Abraham Lincoln possessed; the pioneer condition, with its severe training in selfdenial, patience, and industry, was favorable to a development of character that helped in a preeminent degree to qualify him for the duties and responsibilities of leadership and government. He escaped the formal conventionalities which beget insincerity and dissimulation. He grew up without being warped by erroneous ideas or false principles; without being dwarfed by vanity, or tempted by self-interest.
Some pioneer communities carried with them the institution of slavery; and in the slave State of Kentucky Lincoln was born. He remained there only a short time, and we have every reason to suppose that wherever he might have grown to maturity his very mental and moral fiber would have spurned the doctrine and practice of human slavery. And yet so subtle is the influence of birth and custom, that we can trace one lasting effect of this early and brief environment. Though he ever hated slavery, he never hated the slaveholder. This ineradicable feeling of pardon and sympathy for Kentucky and the South played no insignificant part in his dealings with grave problems of statesmanship. He struck slavery its death-blow with
the hand of war, but he tendered the slaveholder a golden equivalent with the hand of friendship and peace.
His advancement in the astonishing career which carried him from obscurity to world-wide fame; from postmaster of New Salem village to President of the United States; from captain of a backwoods volunteer company to commander-in-chief of the army and navy, was neither sudden, nor accidental, nor easy. He was both ambitious and successful, but his ambition was moderate and his success was slow. And because his success was slow, his ambition never outgrew either his judgment or his powers. From the day when he left the paternal roof and launched his canoe on the head waters of the Sangamon River to begin life on his own account, to the day of his first inauguration, there intervened full thirty years of toil, of study, selfdenial, patience; often of effort baffled, of hope deferred; sometimes of bitter disappointment. Given the natural gift of great genius, given the condition of favorable environment, it yet required an average lifetime and faithful unrelaxing effort to transform the raw country stripling into a competent ruler for this great nation.
Almost every success was balanced-sometimes overbalanced by a seeming failure. Reversing the usual promotion, he went into the Black Hawk War a captain, and, through no fault of his own, came out a private. He rode to the hostile frontier on horseback, and trudged home on foot. His store "winked out." His surveyor's compass and chain, with which he was earning a scanty living, were sold for debt. He was defeated in his first campaign for the legislature; defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for Congress; defeated in his application to be appointed commissioner
HIS REAL SUCCESSES
of the General Land Office; defeated for the Senate in the Illinois legislature of 1854, when he had fortyfive votes to begin with, by Trumbull, who had only five votes to begin with; defeated in the legislature of 1858, by an antiquated apportionment, when his joint debates with Douglas had won him a popular plurality of nearly four thousand in a Democratic State; defeated in the nomination for Vice-President on the Frémont ticket in 1856, when a favorable nod from half a dozen wire-workers would have brought him
Failures? Not so. Every seeming defeat was a slow success. His was the growth of the oak, and not of Jonah's gourd. Every scaffolding of temporary elevation he pulled down, every ladder of transient expectation which broke under his feet accumulated his strength, and piled up a solid mound which raised him to wider usefulness and clearer vision. He could not become a master workman until he had served a tedious apprenticeship. It was the quarter of a century of reading, thinking, speech-making and legislating which qualified him for selection as the chosen champion of the Illinois Republicans in the great Lincoln-Douglas joint debates of 1858. It was the great intellectual victory won in these debates, plus the title "Honest old Abe," won by truth and manhood among his neighbors during a whole generation, that led the people of the United States to confide to his hands the duties and powers of President.
And when, after thirty years of endeavor, success had beaten down defeat; when Lincoln had been nominated, elected, and inaugurated, came the crowning trial of his faith and constancy. When the people, by free and lawful choice, had placed honor and power in his hands; when his signature could convene Congress,