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WILLIAM C. STODDARD,
One of his Private Secretaries 1861-4.
THE history of the world presents us with innumerable instances of men, holding positions of power over current affairs, whose verbal or written utterances were among the apparent forces of the time to which they belonged. With the passing away of the circumstances, the peculiar features of their field. of action, a winnowing process becomes at once observable, and much which was at first deemed worthy of preservation is seen to have lost its importance; it has no
enduring relation to history or to any probable action to be taken by other men, in later times and under other circumstances. It is not always well to say that the greatness of these
from whose utterances all life departs in this manner, was altogether attached to the greatness of the occasions in which they acted. It may be more nearly true to say that their personalities, however large, were absorbed by the greatness of their circumstances, so that nothing was left for human memory of them when their surroundings passed away.
The list is very short, of men whose words remain in the minds of men for any length of time after the tomb has closed upon their public services, but very prominent in this short list is the name of Abraham Lincoln. He not only
did things but said and wrote things which cannot be forgotten. It is entirely probable that, in future crises of the national life which owes so much to him, thoughtful patriots will find themselves going back to the record of his counsels, for wisdom and for strength, as to some well of unselfish patriotism, digged by a patriarch of the Republic in a time of unsurpassed trial and drouth.
In other times, not of trial at all, but of the ordinary life of each successive generation, moreover, there is a certain education, of no small value, to be gained by familiarity with the process of thought and feeling of the man who was enabled to endure so much and to act so well. All smaller and especially all younger patriotisms have much to learn or to acquire from his own, like watches which should be set to keep the true time-if they can.
One measure or indication of the greatness of his personality, separated from the circumstances in which he lived, is to be found in the fact that at this day all men regard him as belonging, now, to the entire nation. During a part of his lifetime, he was nominally the chief of a political party, the foremost figure in a prolonged conflict that was full of the utmost rancor of opposing factions. After that, he became the director of the military and other forces upon one side of a long and sanguinary civil war, and during the years of its continuance and even for a brief period afterwards, the animosities of that terrible struggle seemed to concentrate their bitterness upon him. Nevertheless, few as are the years since the termination of his public services, his name has risen above all that tumult, like a star rising above a subsiding sea, and any idea of partisanship, or even of sectionalism, has faded away from the popular perception of his character.
It is more and more clearly manifest that Lincoln is so readily understood because of the extreme simplicity of his nature and of his consequent action. For example, nobody would deny that he was ambitious, in the sense that ambition is common to all vigorous, aspiring men, but there is a settled and general belief, or rather perception, that anything in the nature of personal or selfish ambition was burned away in the furnace through which he passed and that its idea must now detach from his memory.
Many and important as were the matters and measures he dealt with