« PreviousContinue »
The Prosident as a Man.
were it in any other country, be evidence of ability of the very highest order.
Here, however, so many from similar surroundings have achieved similar results that this fact of itself does not necessarily unfold the man clearly and fully to us. He might have been put forward for that high station as a skillful and accomplished politician, from whose elevation hosts of partisans counted upon their own personal advancement and profit. Or he might have been a successful general; or one possessing merely negative qualities, with no salient points, all objectionable angularities rounded off till that desirable availability, which has at times been laid hold of for the Presidency had been reached; or, yet again, one who had for a long time been in the front ranks of an old and triumphant party, and, therefore, as such matters have been managed with us, admitted to have strong claims upon such party; or, lastly, one who, having for many years schemed and plotted and labored, in season and out of season, for the nomination, at last achieved it.
For such Presidents have been furnished us. But he was neither. And yet the highest point to which an American may aspire he reached. Clearly, then, there must have been something of strength and of worth in the man.
He was reëlected, the first President since Jackson to whom that honor had been accorded. And thirty-two years had passed-eight Presidential terms-since Jackson's reëlection. He was, moreover, reëlected by a largely increased vote.
The years covered by his administration were the stormiest in American history, “piled high,” as he himself said, “with difficulties." No President was ever more severely attacked, more unsparingly denounced than he. None more belittled than he. And yet he was triumphantly reëlected. Why? For the same reason that first brought him before the country.
Primarily and mainly because the mass of the people had
Devotion to Principle.
As a Statesman.
Leaning ov the People.
unbounded confidence in his honesty and devotion to principle. Though these qualities, it is pleasant to say, have been by no means rare in our Presidents, yet Abraham Lincoln seemed so to speak, so steeped and saturated in them that a hold was thereby obtained upon the common mind, the like of which no other President since Washington had secured. The bitterest opponent of his policy was constrained, if candid, to admit, if not the existence of these qualities, at least the prevailing popular belief in their existence.
What shall be said of him as a statesman ?
That he found the fabric of our National Government rocking from turret to foundation stone-that he left it, after four years of strife such as, happily, the world rarely witnesses, firmly fixed, and sure; this should serve in some sort, as
But might not this be owing, or principally so, to the ability of the counsellors whom he gathered about him ? Beyond a doubt the meed of praise is to be shared. Yet we should remember that few Presidents have so uniformly acted of and for themselves in matters of state policy, as did Mr. Lincoln. Upon many questions the opinions of his Cabinet were sought-a Cabinet representing the various shades of thought, the various stages of progress, through which the people, of whom they were the exponents, were passing from year to year—after obtaining which, he would act. But, in most instances, perhaps, he struck out for himself, after careful, conscientious reflection, launching his policy upon unknown seas, quietly assured that truth was with him and that he could not be mistaken. Nor was he often.
Having to feel his way along, for the most part-groping in the dark—he could not push on so fast and far as to leave the people out of breath or staring far in his rear. Still, it must not be understood that he never acted against what was plainly the popular will. The man was not of that mould. Unquestionably in his dealings with the two leading Euro
Mr. Lincoln's Self-reliance.
Reliance on the People.
pean powers he often acted in direct opposition to the popular wish. Nothing would have been easier than for him to have brought a foreign war upon the country; and in such action, for a time at least, he would have been sustained by the mass of the people. So, too, as to vindictive measures towards the rebels. By adopting these he would, oftentimes, have been in harmony with the general wish for vengeance and retaliation. In both these instances to name no others he
che chose to act counter to the current sentiment. More politic, with a more piercing outlook than the mass, he saw the end from the beginning, and in the one case chose to overlook what was, to his mind, grossly wrong, and in the other, to stand up for the general interests of humanity through all time rather than to cater to the desire of the hour, natural and, perhaps, pardonable though it was.
What is meant is this—that, in the complications in which the country was involved, he invariably acted, where expediency simply and not principle was concerned, so as to feel sure that the body of the people were with him. If failure were to result, he would bave them feel that the responsibility for it rested as much upon them as upon him. He earnestly endeavored to point out what he judged the better way and to bring the people to his conviction; but, if they relucted, he waited till they should have advanced where, or nearly where, he was.
This was generally felt, and it added largely to the confidence reposed in tim. By means of it, a general acquiescence was procured in many measures earlier than could have been gained by any other course. We Americans are a peculiar people in some respects. We dislike to be led by any man. Nay, we stoutly deny that we are. We are not when we see the leading strings.
Mr. Lincoln's state papers in their structure and composition were not always what a critical scholar would have desired. Some would say they were presented quite too often in undress. The people are not profound critics. They
Mr. Lincoln's State Papers.
His Tenacity of Purpose.
could comprehend every word. They felt that they were addressed as fellow-citizens. The ordinarily formal and stilted official documents came from his plain pen a talk to them by the fireside. He said, moreover, exactly what he meant and as he meant, in his own clear cogent way, void of verbiage, homely often but always the outgrowth of a profound intelligent conviction. And, generally, he struck home. His were the words to which "the common pulse of man keeps time.” How studded are his papers with lucid illustration; how transparently honest and candid, like the man, their author !
His tenacity of purpose was marked. Signing that immortal proclamation, which made him the Liberator of America, on the afternoon of January 1st, 1863, after hours of New Year's hand-shaking, he said to friends that night“ The signature looks a little tremulous, for my hand was tired, but my resolution was firm. I told them in September, if they did not return to their allegiance and cease murdering our soldiers, I would strike at this pillar of their strength. And now the promise shall be kept; and not one word of it will I ever recall.” In all the varying scenes through which as our leader he passed, avoiding the extremes of sudden exultation or deep depression, calm and quiet, and resolute and determined, he kept on his course, with duty as his guiding star, an unwarped conscience his prompter. Feeling always that he bore his life in his hands, in the perilous position in wbich he was placed, as well as he who went forth to do duty in the battle-field, he faltered not, swerved not, compromised not, retracted not, apologized not, but pursued his way with an inflexibility as rare as it is grand and inspiring. Others might doubt-not he. He saw the end toward which the nation and himself must strive. That was ever present to him, and toward that he ever worked. His mission as President was, as be so often, and so pointedly stated, to save the Union.
And he saved it. There may be those who will contend that such a result might have been reached by
Father of his Country.
other means than those he was impelled to employ. That is theory. He reduced his to practice. For himself, he could work only in his own harness; and patiently, persistently, painfully he worked on till the goal was reached.
Well has Washington been styled the Father of his Country. Yet this arose from veneration rather than, from love; for the most felt such an impassable gulf between themselves and the patriot-hero, that to them he appeared of quite another order of beings than themselves.
Abraham Lincoln was both Saviour and Father; for he preserved whatever was most valuable in the old and created a new order of things possessing an inherent dignity and importance which the old never had. And such titles the people bestow upon him through love.
The characteristics of the man stood prominently out in the statesman. He had not one garb as an official and another as a citizen. No change marked his transit from the chat of the drawing-room to the consultation of cabinet. What he was in the one situation he was in the other. His peculiar humor was not, as those who least knew him judged, his habitual disposition. More of melancholy and sadness centred in him than most were aware.
His favorite poemgiven below for the sufficient reason that it was his favorite -attests the vein of pensiveness which was in him.
". There is one poem," he remarked in conversation, " that is almost continually present with me : it comes in my mind whenever I have relief from thought and care.”
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud ?
The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,