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Constitutional issues, sometimes reminds one of Webster, sometimes even of Burke, though it does not equal the former in weight nor the latter in splendour of diction.
Among the letters, perhaps the most impressive is that written to Mrs. Bixley, the mother of five sons who had died fighting for the Union in the armies of the North. It is short, and it deals with a theme on which hundreds of letters are written daily. But I do not know where the nobility of self-sacrifice for a great cause, and of the consolation which the thought of a sacrifice so made should bring, is set forth with such simple and pathetic beauty. Deep must be the fountains from which there issues so pure a stream.
The career of Lincoln is often held up to ambitious young Americans as an example to show what a man may achieve by his native strength, with no advantages of birth or environment or education. In this there is nothing improper, nothing fanciful. The moral is one which may well be drawn, and in which those on whose early life Fortune has not smiled may find encouragement. But the example is, after all, no great encouragement to ordinary men, for Lincoln was an extraordinary man.
He triumphed over the adverse conditions of his early years because Nature had bestowed on him high and rare powers. Superficial observers who saw his homely aspect and plain manners, and noted that his fellow-townsmen, when asked why they so trusted him, answered that it was for his common-sense, failed to see that his commonsense was a part of his genius. What is common-sense but the power of seeing the fundamentals of any practical question, and of disengaging them from the accidental and transient features that may overlie these fundamentals the power, to
use a familiar expression, of getting down to bed rock? One part of this power is the faculty for perceiving what the average man will think and can be induced to do. This is what keeps the superior mind in touch with the ordinary mind, and this is perhaps why the name of "common-sense is used, because the superior mind seems in its power of com
prehending others to be itself a part of the general sense of the community. All men of high practical capacity have this power. It is the first condition of success. But in men who have received a philosophical or literary education there is a tendency to embellish, for purposes of persuasion, or perhaps for their own gratification, the language in which they recommend their conclusions, or to state those conclusions in the light of large general principles, a tendency which may, unless carefully watched, carry them too high above the heads of the crowd. Lincoln, never having had such an education, spoke to the people as one of themselves. He seemed to be saying not only what each felt, but expressing the feeling just as each would have expressed it. In reality, he was quite as much above his neighbours in insight as was the polished orator or writer, but the plain directness of his language seemed to keep him on their level. His strength lay less in the form and vesture of the thought than in the thought itself, in the large, simple, practical view which he took of the position. And thus, to repeat what has been said already, the sterling merit of these speeches of his, that which made them effective when they were delivered and makes them worth reading to-day, is to be found in the justness of his conclusions and their fitness to the circumstances of the time. When he rose into higher air, when his words were clothed with stateliness and solemnity, it was the force of his conviction and the emotion that thrilled through his utterance, that printed the words deep upon the minds and drove them home to the hearts of the people.
What is a great man? Common speech, which after all must be our guide to the sense of the terms which the world uses, gives this name to many sorts of men. How far greatness lies in the power and range of the intellect, how far in the strength of the will, how far in elevation of view and aim and purpose, — this is a question too large to be debated here. But of Abraham Lincoln it may be truly said that in his greatness all three elements were present. He had not the brilliance, either in thought or word or act, that dazzles,
nor the restless activity that occasionally pushes to the front even persons with gifts not of the first order. He was a patient, thoughtful, melancholy man, whose intelligence, working sometimes slowly but always steadily and surely, was capacious enough to embrace and vigorous enough to master the incomparably difficult facts and problems he was called to deal with. His executive talent showed itself not in sudden and startling strokes, but in the calm serenity with which he formed his judgments and laid his plans, in the undismayed firmness with which he adhered to them in the face of popular clamour, of conflicting counsels from his advisers, sometimes, even, of what others deemed all but hopeless failure. These were the qualities needed in one who had to pilot the Republic through the heaviest storm that had ever broken upon it. But the mainspring of his power, and the truest evidence of his greatness, lay in the nobility of his aims, in the fervour of his conviction, in the stainless rectitude which guided his action and won for him the confidence of the people. Without these things neither the vigour of his intellect nor the firmness of his will would have availed.
There is a vulgar saying that all great men are unscrupulous. Of him it may rather be said that the note of greatness we feel in his thinking and his speech and his conduct had its source in the loftiness and purity of his character. Lincoln's is one of the careers that refute this imputation on human nature.
The following is a list of Lincoln's published works :
SELECTIONS.-Letters on Questions of National Policy, etc., 1863; Dedicatory Speech of President Lincoln, etc., at the Consecration of Gettysburg Cemetery, Nov. 19th, 1863, 1864; The Last Address of President Lincoln to the American People, 1865; The Martyr's Monument, 1865; In Memoriam, 1865; Gems from A. Lincoln, 1865; The President's Words, 1866; Emancipation Proclamation -Second Inaugural Address-Gettysburg Speech, 1878; Two Inaugural Addresses and Gettysburg Speech, 1889; The Gettysburg Speech and other Papers, with an essay on Lincoln by J. R. Lowell (Riverside Literature Series, 32), 1888; The Table Talk
of Abraham Lincoln, ed. W. O. Stoddard, 1894; Political Debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in the celebrated campaign of 1858 in Illinois, etc. Also the two great speeches of Abraham Lincoln at Ohio in 1859, 1894; Political Speeches and Debates of Abraham Lincoln and S. A. Douglas, 1854-1861, edited by A. T. Jones, 1895; Lincoln, Passages from his Speeches and Letters, with Introduction by R. W. Gilder, 1901. COMPLETE EDITIONS OF WORKS, LETTERS, AND SPEECHES.H. J. Raymond, History of the Administration of Abraham Lincoln (Speeches, Letters, etc.), 1864; Abraham Lincoln, Pen and Voice, being a Complete Compilation of his Letters, Public Addresses, Messages to Congress, ed. G. M. Van Buren, etc., 1890; Complete Works, ed. J. Ğ. Nicolay and J. Hay, 2 vols., 1894; enlarged edition, with Introduction by R. W. Gilder, etc., 1905, etc.; A. Lincoln's Speeches, compiled by L. E. Chittenden, 1895; The Writings of A. Lincoln, ed. A. B. Lapsley, with an Introduction by Theodore Roosevelt, and a life by Noah Brooks, etc. (Federal Edition), 1905; etc.
LIFE.-H. J. Raymond; The Life and Public Services of A. L., etc., with Anecdotes and Personal Reminiscences, by F. B. Carpenter, 1865; J. H. Barrett, 1865; J. G. Holland, 1866; W. H. Lamon, 1872; W. O. Stoddard, 1884; I. N. Arnold, 1885; J. G. Nicolay and J. Hay, 1890; Condensed Edition, 1902; Recollections of President Lincoln and his Administration, 1891; C. C. Coffin, 1893; J. T. Morse, 1893; J. Hay (The Presidents of the United States), 1894; C. A. Dana, Lincoln and his Cabinet, etc., 1896; J. H. Choate, 1900; Address delivered before the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, Nov. 13, 1900; I. M. Tarbell, 1900; W. E. Curtis, The True Abraham Lincoln, 1903; J. H. Barrett, A. Lincoln and his Presidency, 1904; J. Baldwin, 1904. A. Rothschild, Lincoln, Master of Men, 1906; F. T. Hill, Lincoln the Lawyer, 1906.
Among those who have written short lives are: Mrs. H. Beecher Stowe, D. W. Bartlett, C. G. Leland, J. C. Power, etc.