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It is not always in the power of governments to enlarge or restrict the scope of moral results which follow the politics which they may deem it necessary for the public safety from time to time to adopt.”
LINCOLN was an embodiment of
the general aversion of the American people to the taking away of human life. Blood is to be shed upon the battlefield, but with a continual assertion that war is in itself hateful. The death penalty may be inflicted, elsewhere, even in time of peace, but only under pressure of extreme circumstances and with ample justification. Much than this was also true, however, and a number of Lincoln's most notable successes as a lawyer were won in defending almost hopeless men who were standing under the shadow of the gallows. When afterwards, he became endowed with an oppres
sive abundance of pardoning power, it was not merely the exercise of it in many cases that so drew out to him the hearts of all merciful people it was the sympathetic eagerness with which he sought, from day to day, to rescue every man for whom he could conscientiously intervene. His personal resistance to the arguments for rigid discipline made by his military commanders ; his personal visits to the camps and tents and cells of the condemned; the touching scenes, in his office at the White House, between him and those whose petitions for the pardon of culprits whom they loved he was struggling to grant or dreading to refuse ; all became known to his fellow-citizens as so many photographs of the man. Not all who were condemned could be spared, even by Lincoln, but in every case it must be recorded that he did what he could. At the same time, he said but little, for the acts of mercy were enough, without explanation.
IN A MESSAGE TO CONGRESS, JULY 27,
“ The severest justice may not always be the best policy."
To an Illinois friend, asking pardon for a soldier condemned to be shot for a purely technical " desertion":
“ Well, I think the boy can do us more good above ground than under ground."
On pardoning twenty-four desertions at once, all of whom were sentenced to be shot, he said to a general who objected, “Mercy to the few is cruelty to the many."
" Mr. General, there are already
too many weeping widows in the United States. For God's sako don't ask me to add to the number, for I won't do it.”
To Gen. B. F. Butler, 1863, when the general asked for the pardon of a man whom he himself had sentenced to be shot :
“You ? Asking me to pardon some poor fellow ?-Give me that
After listening to a plea on behalf of a soldier condemned to death :
Well !—I don't believe shooting will do him any good.-Give me that pen."
To a friend, who had obtained from him a pardon for a deserter :
“Some of our generals complain that I impair discipline and subordination in the army by my pardons and respites, but it makes me rested,