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much personal sorrow as this. Mr. Clay had the power of exciting an enthusiastic affection for his person that few political men have enjoyed. The women of the country were as much interested in his election as their brothers and husbands were, and wept at his defeat as if he had been their best and most intimate friend. Mr. Lincoln was among the heartiest of these mourners; but, while the event rendered his great political exemplar a hopeless man politically, the canvass itself had raised Mr. Lincoln to the proudest hight he had occupied. He had greatly strengthened the whig organization in the state, and had established his reputation as one of the most powerful political debaters in the country. His exposition of the protective system of duties, which was the principal issue of the canvass, was elaborate and powerful. He had thoroughly mastered his subject, and his arguments are still remembered for the copiousness of their facts, and the closeness and soundness of their logic.
Mr. Clay's defeat was the more a matter of sorrow with Mr. Lincoln because it was, in a measure, unexpected. No personal defeat could have been more dispiriting to him than this failure before the people of his political idol. He was not only disappointed but disgusted. With his strong convictions of the soundness of the principles of the whig party, and his belief in the almost immeasurable superiority of Mr. Clay over Mr. Polk, he doubtless had the same misgivings that have come to others, touching the capacity of the people for self-government, and realized the same distrust of the value of honors which could be so unworthily bestowed. It was to him a popular decision in the cause of political iniquity and bad government. It was not strange, therefore, in the first gush of his disappointment, that he made a new resolution to let politics alone, and attend more devotedly to the duties of his profession. But Mr. Lincoln's ambition, and Mr. Lincoln's friends, more powerful than his ambition, were not likely to permit this resolution to have a permanent influence upon his career.
Subsequently, Mr. Lincoln paid a personal visit to Mr.
Clay, and it is possible that he needed the influence of this visit to restore a healthy tone to his feelings, and to teach him that the person whom his imagination had transformed into a demigod was only a man, possessing the full measure of weaknesses common to men. In 1846, Mr. Lincoln learned that Mr. Clay had agreed to deliver a speech at Lexington, Kentucky, in favor of gradual emancipation. He had never seen the great Kentuckian, and this event seemed to give him an excuse for breaking away from his business, and satisfying his curiosity to look his demigod in the face, and hear the music of his eloquence. He accordingly went to Lexington, and arrived there in time to attend the meeting.
On returning to his home from this visit, he did not attempt to disguise his disappointment. The speech itself was written and read. It lacked entirely the spontaneity and fire which Mr. Lincoln had anticipated, and was not eloquent at all. At the close of the meeting Mr. Lincoln secured an introduction to the great orator, and as Mr. Clay knew what a friend to him Mr. Lincoln had been, he invited his admirer and partisan to Ashland. No invitation could have delighted Mr. Lincoln more, but the result of his private interview with Mr. Clay was no more satisfactory than that which followed the speech. Those who have known both men, will not wonder at this, for two men could hardly be more unlike in their motives and manners than the two thus brought together. One was a proud man; the other was a humble man. One was princely in his bearing; the other was lowly. One was distant and dignified; the other was as simple and teachable as a child. One received the deference of men as his due; the other received it with an uncomfortable sense of his unworthiness.
A friend of Mr. Lincoln, who had a long conversation with him after his return from Ashland, found that his old enthusiasm was gone. Mr. Lincoln said that though Mr. Clay was most polished in his manners, and very hospitable, he betrayed a consciousness of superiority that none could mistake. He felt that Mr. Clay did not regard him, or any other person in his presence, as, in any sense, on an equality with him. In
short, he thought that Mr. Clay was overbearing and domineering, and that, while he was apparently kind, it was in that magnificent and patronizing way which made a sensitive man uncomfortable.
It is quite possible that Mr. Lincoln needed to experience this disappointment, and to be taught this lesson. It was, perhaps, the only instance in his life in which he had given his whole heart to a man without knowing him, or been carried away by his imagination into an unbounded zeal on behalf of a personal stranger. It made him more cautious in the bestowal of his love. He was, certainly, from that time forward, more careful to look on all sides of a man, and on all sides of a subject, before yielding to either his devotion, than ever before. If he became slow in moving, it was because he saw more than his own side of every case and question, and recognized, in advance, such obstacles as would be certain to impede his progress.
Much has been said of Mr. Lincoln's kindness, and many suppose that he was not brave-that his patient and universal love of men was inconsistent with those sterner qualities which are necessary to make, not only a true hero, but a true man. An incident occurred during the Clay campaign which shows how ill-founded this estimate of Mr. Lincoln is. On the occasion of a great mass convention at Springfield, U. F. Linder, Esq., now a resident of Chicago, and a man of rare eloquence, made a speech which seemed to rouse the enthusiasm of the assemblage to the highest pitch. The speech was very offensive to some of the democrats who were present-who, indeed, proposed to make a personal matter of it. Mr. Linder being called out again, in the course of the meeting, was considered in personal danger, if he should attempt to respond. At this juncture, Mr. Lincoln and Colonel Baker took their places by his side, and, when he finished, conducted him to his hotel. The ruffians knew both men, and prudently refrained from interfering with them. On a previous occasion, Mr. Lincoln had protected the person of Colonel Baker himself. Baker was speaking in a court-house, which had once been a store
house, and, on making some remarks that were offensive to certain political rowdies in the crowd, they cried: "take him off the stand." Immediate confusion ensued, and there was an attempt to carry the demand into execution. Directly over the speaker's head was an old scuttle, at which it appeared Mr. Lincoln had been listening to the speech. In an instant, Mr. Lincoln's feet came through the scuttle, followed by his tall and sinewy frame, and he was standing by Colonel Baker's side. He raised his hand, and the assembly subsided immediately into silence. "Gentlemen," said Mr. Lincoln, "let us not disgrace the age and country in which we live. This is a land where freedom of speech is guarantied. Mr. Baker has a right to speak, and ought to be permitted to do SO. I am here to protect him, and no man shall take him from this stand if I can prevent it." The suddenness of his appearance, his perfect calmness and fairness, and the knowledge that he would do what he had promised to do, quieted all disturbance, and the speaker concluded his remarks without difficulty.
Mr. Lincoln has already been spoken of as a strong party man, and his thorough devotion to his party, on some occasions, though very rarely, led him into hasty expressions and hasty actions, quite out of harmony with his usual self-poise and good nature. A scene occurred in the room occupied by Mr. Lincoln and his particular friend, Judge Davis, at Paris, on one occasion, which illustrates this. There was present, as a visitor, a young lawyer of the name of Constable, a gentleman of fine abilities, and at present a judge of the circuit court. Mr. Constable was a whig, but had probably been disappointed in some of his political aspirations, and did not feel that the party had treated him fairly. He was in the habit of speaking disparagingly of the policy of the party in the treatment of its own friends, and particularly of its young men, especially when he found whig leaders to listen to him. On this occasion he charged the party with being “old fogyish,” and indifferent to rising men, while the democratic party was lauded for the contrast which it presented in this partic
ular. Mr. Lincoln felt the charge as keenly as if it had been a personal one. Indeed, his own experience disproved the whole statement. Constable went on, and charged the whig party with ingratitude and neglect in his own case. Mr. Lincoln stood with his coat off, shaving himself before his glass. He had heard the charges without saying a word, but when Mr. Constable alluded to himself, as having been badly treated, he turned fiercely upon him, and said, "Mr. Constable, I understand you perfectly, and have noticed for some time back that you have been slowly and cautiously picking your way over to the democratic party." Both men were angry, and it required the efforts of all the others present to keep them from fighting. Mr. Lincoln seemed for a time, as one of the spectators of the scene remarks, to be "terribly willing." Such instances as this have been very rare in Mr. Lincoln's life, and the fact that he was susceptible to the influence of such motives renders his notorious equanimity of temper all the more creditable to him. The matter was adjusted between him and Mr. Constable, and, not long afterwards, the latter justified Mr. Lincoln's interpretation of his motives, and was numbered among the democrats.