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Personal Incidents — Letter to J. C. Conkling — Gettysburg
The burdens under whicii the President had so long and so constantly bent — often in deepest gloom, but never in despair - were greatly lightened by the cardinal victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. From these heights of vantage he looked forward to an end neither uncertain nor distant. Those who met him after this “glorious Fourth.” whether at the White House or in his summer retreat on the hills, could not fail to take some note of the change which this relief had brought.
Among recollections furnished to the writer by Mr. D. R. Goodloe is one relating to a call which he, in company with another North Carolinian, made upon Lincoln this summer. “He was at the Soldiers' Home, all alone,” writes Mr. Goodloe, “and in the best imaginable humor. He had cut out of a newspaper a letter written by a North Carolina prisoner, who had been captured and taken to Philadelphia. It was addressed to Jefferson Davis, and written in a vein of humor, taking an affectionate leave of him and his Confederacy forever. It was growing dark, and the oil burned dimly in the chandelier, high overhead, so that the President
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found it impracticable to read by its light. But he was determined that we should enjoy the fun, and, instead of ringing a bell for a servant to bring him a lamp or a candle, he deliberately went upstairs and brought a candle down, which he held in his hand close to the paper while reading the latter, and laughed heartily as he read.” *
To J. H. Hackett, the comedian, Lincoln wrote a brief letter, on the 17th of August, which, intended to be private though it contained nothing he particularly cared to conceal, very soon got into the newspapers, accompanied by some comments of a playful or sarcastic character from his partisan opponents — indulging the
disposition before so often manifested toward its writer and his ways. A letter of explanation and apology thereupon came from Mr. Hackett, and a reply followed from the President. Both these letters of Lincoln have special personal interest, and were made the more memorable by after events. He speaks very modestly of his now well-known familiarity with Shakespeare's plays – the tragedies rather than the comedies being his favorites, contrary to what one might have guessed; and reveals how recent and how limited was his acquaintance with the stage:
* The piece was one of the best of its kind inspired by the war. An extract or two will show its quality:
* Excellency Davis: It is with feelings of undeveloped pleasure that an affectionate conscript intrusts this sheet of confiscated paper to the tender mercies of a Confederate State mail carrier. He writes on the stump of a shivered monarch of the forest, with the pine trees wailing round him' and 'Endymion's planet rising on the air'
The Etesian winds sweeping down the defiles of the Old Dominion and over the swamps of Suffolk come moaning through the pines of the Old State, laden with the music, and sigh themselves away into sweet sounds of silence to the far-off South. Your unhappy conscript would go to the far-away North, whence the sound comes, and leave you to reap the whirlwind with no one but your father the devil to reap and bind after you. And he's going."
The whole inay be found in Rebellion Record, VII., P., and p. 87.
[August 17th.] - Months ago I should have acknowledged the receipt of your book and accompanying kind note, and I now have to beg your pardon for not having done so.
For one of my age, I have seen very little of the drama. The first presentation of Falstaff I ever saw was yours here last winter or spring. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay is to say, as I truly can, I am very anxious to see it again. Some of Shakespeare's plays I have never read, while others I have gone over perhaps as frequently as any unprofessional reader. Among the latter are “Lear," “Richard III.," "Henry VIII.," " Hamlet,” and especially "Macbeth." I think nothing equals “Macbeth.” It is wonderful. Unlike you gentlemen of the profession, I think the soliloquy in “Hamlet,” commencing, “Oh, my offense is rank !" surpasses that commencing, “To be or not to be.'
” But pardon this small attempt at criticism. I should like to hear you pronounce the opening speech of “Richard the Third."
Will you not soon visit Washington again? If you do, please call and let me make your personal acquaintance.
[November 2d. Marked “Private."] - Yours of October 22d is received, as also was, in due course, that of October 3d. I look forward with pleasure to the fulfillment of the promise made in the former to visit Washington the following winter and to "call."
Give yourself no uneasiness on the subject mentioned in that of the 22d. My note to you I certainly did not expect to see in print, yet I have not been much shocked by the newspaper comments upon it. Those comments constitute a fair specimen of what has occurred to me through life. I have endured a great deal of ridicule, without much malice ; and have received a great deal of kindness not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it.
Illinois, which had gone astray in the last autumn, was to be restored to the fold, if possible, and to this end the partisans of the Administration in that State were exerting themselves with zeal; but nothing - aside from the military victories — contributed so much to the pleasing result at the polls as Lincoln's famous letter to Mr. J. C. Conkling (August 26th). Declining an invitation to be present at a mass convention to be held at Springfield on the 3d of September, the President further wrote:
The meeting is to be of all those who maintain unconditional devotion to the Union; and I am sure that my old political friends will thank me for tendering, as I do, the nation's gratitude to those other noble men whom no partisan malice or partisan hope can make false to the nation's life. There are those who are dissatisfied with me. To such I would say: You desire peace, and you blame me that we do not have it. But how can we attain it? There are but three conceivable ways: First, to suppress the rebellion by force of arms. This I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed. If you are not for it, a second way is to give up the Union. I am against this. Are you for it? If you are, you should say so, plainly. If you are not for force, nor yet for dissolution, there only remains some imaginable compromise.
I do not believe that any compromise embracing the maintenance of the Union is now possible. All that I learn leads to a directly opposite belief. The strength of the rebellion is its military — its army. That army dominates all the country and all the people within its range. Any offer of any terms made by any man or men within that range in opposition to that army is simply nothing for the present, because such man or men have no power whatever to enforce their side of a compromise, if one were made with them. To illustrate: Suppose refugees from the South and peace men of the North get together in convention, and frame and proclaim a compromise embracing the restoration of the Union. In what way can that compromise be
used to keep General Lee's army out of Pennsylvania ? General Meade's army can keep Lee's army out of Pennsylvania, and I think can ultimately drive it out of existence. But no paper compromise to which the controllers of General Lee's army are not agreed can at all affect that army. In an effort at such compromise we would waste time, which the enemy would improve to our disadvantage, and that would be all. A compromise, to be effective, must be made either with those who control the rebel army, or with the people, first liberated from the domination of that army by the success of our army. Now, allow me to assure you that no word or intimation from the rebel army, or any of the men controlling it, in relation to any peace compromise, has ever come to my knowledge or belief. All charges and intimations to the contrary are deceptive and groundless. And I promise you that if any such proposition shall hereafter come, it shall not be rejected and kept secret from you. I freely acknowledge myself to be the servant of the people, according to the bond of service, the United States Consti
ion; and that, as such, I am responsible to them.
But to be plain. You are dissatisfied with me about the negro. Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between you and myself upon that subject. I certainly wish that all men could be free, while you, I suppose, do not. Yet I have neither adopted nor proposed any measure which is not consistent with even your view, provided you are for the Union. I suggested compensated emancipation, to which you replied that you wished not to be taxed to buy negroes. But I have not asked you to be taxed to buy negroes, except in such way as to save you from greater taxation, to save the Union exclusively by other means.
You dislike the Emancipation Proclamation, and perhaps would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional. I think differently. I think the Constitution invests its Commander-in-chief with the law of war in the time of war. The most that can be said, if so much, is, that the slaves are property. Is there, has there ever been, any question that by the law of war, property, both of enemies and friends, may be taken when needed? And is it not needed whenever taking it helps us or hurts the enemy? Armies the world over destroy enemies' property when they cannot use