Page images
PDF
EPUB

Meanwhile he steadily refrained from public utterance until he set forth from the home to which he was never to return alive. His touching farewell to his Springfield neighbors, and the series of addresses in reply to greetings from the several communities through which he passed on his journey to the national capital, plainly showed that he appreciated the weight of the burden he was about to assume, and so far encouraged the party that had elected him, but gave little evidence of special fitness for the work. In the light of after events, the assertion which he made in Independence Hall— that, rather than surrender the principles which had been declared there he would be assassinated on the spot-is preeminent as an indication of the source and the courage of his political convictions; while the fact that at the time of its utterance he had been warned of a conspiracy to kill him, removes from these words any suspicion that they were spoken for rhetorical effect, and invests them with the solemnity of prophecy. The Inaugural Address of the new President was awaited with painful solicitude. Apprehension that, in the hope of averting disaster, he might yield somewhat of the principles upon which he had been elected; fear that, in retaliation for threats of disunion, he might determine upon desperate assaults on the rights of the revolted and threatening States; mistrust that he might prove unequal to the nation's supreme exigency, combined to intensify anxiety.

The address failed to satisfy extremists, either North or South, but the great body of loyal people were delighted with the manifest determination of the President to preserve, protect, and defend the government he had sworn to uphold. But his solemn assurances that he would in no wise endanger the property, peace, and security of any section of the country; that it was his purpose to administer the government as it had come to him, and to transmit it unimpaired by any act of his to his successor; and his appeal to the memories of the past, and to the common interests of the present, were alike powerless to recall the revolted States to their allegiance or to restrain the action of other States, bent on following their example.

Anticipating the inauguration of President Lincoln, the Southern Confederacy had been proclaimed, and its troops were arrayed against the authority of the United States, while the absence of efforts of repression seemed to indicate that the dissolution of the Union, so arrogantly declared by the States in rebellion, was to be accomplished.

For weeks succeeding his inauguration, the President awaited the progress of events-the policy of laissez-faire seemed to have been adopted. Some tentative efforts were made to relieve the beleaguered forts within the limits of the insurgent territory, but apparently the nation was drifting to death.

But the shot on Sumter wrought instant and wondrous change. However uncertain Abraham Lincoln may have been as to the method of maintaining the Union, his purpose to maintain it had been positively declared; and from the moment the flag was fired upon, the method was no longer in doubt. The call of April 15, 1861, was the answer to the challenge of Charleston Harbor. We know now that the number of men called forth was utterly inadequate to the work to be done, but the value of the call was less in the number of men it evoked than in the assertion that armed rebellion was to be confronted and the power of the nation was to be put forth for its own preservation, and the enforcement of the laws.

Previous to his entrance upon the presidency, Lincoln had had no part in the administration of great affairs; he was destitute of experience in statecraft and he had no precedent, either in our own history or in that of other lands, to guide him. He had called to his Cabinet the chief of the leaders of the Republican Party, men whose great experience in public affairs and whose admitted ability and acquirements justified their selection, and might well indeed have induced him to submit to their direction; but he realized that as President he could not, even if he would, transfer the obligation of his office. Whatever doubts may have existed in the minds of his advisers as to his purpose and fitness to accept the responsibilities of his office were soon dispelled, and it is evident that

the President dominated his administration from the beginning -when, in reply to the Secretary of State, who had advised a radical and startling change in the governmental policy, and had expressed his willingness to undertake its direction, Lincoln declared, "If this must be done, I must do it"-to the close when he notified the Lieutenant-General, "You are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political questions. Such questions the President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to no military conferences or conventions."

In this connection, and as confirmatory of the President's control of affairs, the recently published letter of his private secretary, John Hay, is particularly interesting, as showing the impression made upon a qualified observer, and recorded at the time. Writing at Washington, under date August 7, 1863, to his fellow secretary, Nicolay, Hay said:

"The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene and busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet until now. The most important things he decided and there is no cavil."

The outbreak of hostilities presented to President Lincoln an opportunity not of his seeking, but of which he might well avail himself. However specious the plea of State rights, however disguised the chief motive which prompted the secession of the revolting States, he knew, as the people knew, that slavery was the real cause of the Rebellion. He had long foreseen that the country could not permanently endure partially slave, partially free; he knew that slavery had been the basis of the controversies and dangers of the past. If tradition may be believed, in his early manhood he had declared that if ever he should have a chance, he would hit slavery hard, and now the chance had come. In 1837, with one other member of the Illinois Legislature, he had placed himself on record declaring his belief "that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy," and protesting against the passage of resolutions favoring it.

Slavery was attempting the destruction of the Republic, and, by its own appeal to arms, was offering an opportunity for a counter-blow which might forever destroy an institution whose malign influence had long controlled national affairs, and endangered the perpetuity of the nation. He was President and Commander-in-chief; in the party that had elected him were many thousands anxious for the proclamation of freedom to the slave and insistent upon its issue. He had been the nominee of a party, but he was now the President of the United States, and neither hope of partisan gain nor personal gratification could swerve him from what he conceived to be the obligation of his oath. His conception of his duty was forcibly expressed in his letter to Horace Greeley, probably the most important of the many notable letters written by the President. Replying to the Editor's article accusing him of failure to meet the rightful expectations of twenty millions of the loyal people, Lincoln wrote from Washington, under date of August 22, 1862:

"I have just read yours of the 19th, addressed to myself through The New York Tribune. If there be in it any statements or assumptions of fact which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not, now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptible in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

"As to the policy I 'seem to be pursuing,' as you say, I have not meant to leave anyone in doubt.

"I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be 'the Union as it was.' If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear be

J

cause I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors, and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

"I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free."

Twenty months later, in a letter to a citizen of Kentucky, in answer to his request for a statement of what had been said to the Governor of that State, the President wrote:

"I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel, and yet I have never understood that the presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took, that I would to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery. And I aver that,

to this day, I have done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery."

With clear view, and steadfast purpose, President Lincoln devoted his life to the preservation of the Union. To accomplish this end, in the spirit of the great Apostle to the Gentiles, he made himself servant unto all, that he might gain the more. Subordinating self, personal prejudices and partisan feelings were not allowed to obtrude between him and his conception of the country's need. Ability to serve the cause. was the essential qualification for high office and honor, and, outweighing other consideration, atoned for past or present personal objection.

Early in 1862 he appointed as chief of the War Department a man of boundless zeal and energy, who had treated Lincoln with marked discourtesy, had denounced his conduct of the War, and had freely expressed his dislike for him and doubt of his fitness-an appointment as sagacious and fortu

« PreviousContinue »