Lincoln; An Account of His Personal Life, Especially of Its
Springs of Action as Revealed and Deepened by the Ordeal of War

BY NATHANIEL WRIGHT STEPHENSON
Authority for all important statements of facts in the
following pages may be found in the notes; the condensed
references are expanded in the bibliography. A few
controversial matters are discussed in the notes.

I am very grateful to Mr. William Roscoe Thayer for enabling me
to use the manuscript diary of John Hay. Miss Helen Nicolay
has graciously confirmed some of the implications of the
official biography. Lincoln’s only surviving secretary,
Colonel W. O. Stoddard, has given considerate aid. The
curious incident of Lincoln as counsel in an action to recover
slaves was mentioned to me by Professor Henry Johnson, through
whose good offices it was confirmed and amplified by Judge John
H. Marshall. Mr. Henry W. Raymond has been very tolerant of
a stranger’s inquiries with regard to his distinguished father.
A futile attempt to discover documentary remains of the
Republican National Committee of 1864 has made it possible,
through the courtesy of Mr. Clarence B. Miller, at least to
assert that there is nothing of importance in possession of the
present Committee. A search for new light on Chandler drew
forth generous assistance from Professor Ulrich B. Phillips,
Mr. Floyd B. Streeter and Mr. G. B. Krum. The latter caused
to be examined, for this particular purpose, the Blair
manuscripts in the Burton Historical Collection. Much
illumination arose out of a systematic resurvey of the
Congressional Globe, for the war period, in which I had the
stimulating companionship of Professor John L. Hill,
reinforced by many conversations with Professor Dixon Ryan Fox
and Professor David Saville Muzzey. At the heart of the matter
is the resolute criticism of Mrs. Stephenson and of a long
enduring friend, President Harrison Randolph. The temper of
the historical fraternity is such that any worker in any field
is always under a host of incidental obligations. There is
especial propriety in my acknowledging the kindness of
Professor Albert Bushnell Hart, Professor James A. Woodburn,
Professor Herman V. Ames, Professor St. George L. Sioussat and
Professor Allen Johnson.

CONTENTS

FOUNDATIONS
I THE CHILD OF THE FOREST
II THE MYSTERIOUS YOUTH
III A VILLAGE LEADER IV REVELATIONS
V PROSPERITY
VI UNSATISFYING RECOGNITION

PROMISES
VII THE SECOND START
VIII A RETURN TO POLITICS
IX THE LITERARY STATESMAN
X THE DARK HORSE
XI SECESSION
XII THE CRISIS
XIII ECLIPSE

CONFUSIONS
XIV THE STRANGE NEW MAN
XV PRESIDENT AND PREMIER
XVI “ON TO RICHMOND!”
XVII DEFINING THE ISSUE
XVIII THE JACOBIN CLUB
XIX THE JACOBINS BECOME INQUISITORS
XX IS CONGRESS THE PRESIDENT’S MASTER?
XXI THE STRUGGLE TO CONTROL THE ARMY
XXII LINCOLN EMERGES

AUDACITIES
XXIII THE MYSTICAL STATESMAN
XXIV GAMBLING IN GENERALS
XXV A WAR BEHIND THE SCENES
XXVI THE DICTATOR, THE MARPLOT, AND THE LITTLE MEN
XXVII THE TRIBUNE OF THE PEOPLE
XXVIII APPARENT ASCENDENCY
XXIX CATASTROPHE
XXX THE PRESIDENT VERSUS THE VINDICTIVES

VICTORY
XXXI A MENACING PAUSE
XXXII THE AUGUST CONSPIRACY
XXXIII THE RALLY TO THE PRESIDENT
XXXIV “FATHER ABRAHAM”
XXXV THE MASTER OF THE MOMENT
XXXVI PREPARING A DIFFERENT WAR
XXXVII FATE INTERPOSES

BIBLIOGRAPHY

NOTES

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The author and publisher make grateful acknowledgement to Ginn
and Company, Boston, for the photograph of St. Gaudens’ Statue;
to The Century Company of New York for the Earliest Portrait of
Lincoln, which is from an engraving by Johnson after a
daguerreotype in the possession of the Honorable Robert T.
Lincoln; and for Lincoln and Tad, which is from the famous
photograph by Brady; to The Macmillan Company of New York for
the portrait of Mrs. Lincoln and also for The Review of the
Army of the Potomac, both of which were originally reproduced
in Ida M. Tarbell’s Life of Abraham Lincoln. For the rare and
interesting portrait entitled The Last Phase of Lincoln
acknowledgment is made to Robert Bruce, Esquire, Clinton,
Oneida County, New York. This photograph was taken by
Alexander Gardner, April 9, 1865, the glass plate of which is
now in Mr. Bruce’s collection.

I. THE CHILD OF THE FOREST

Of first importance in the making of the American people is
that great forest which once extended its mysterious labyrinth
from tide-water to the prairies when the earliest colonists
entered warily its sea-worn edges a portion of the European
race came again under a spell it had forgotten centuries
before, the spell of that untamed nature which created
primitive man. All the dim memories that lay deep in
subconsciousness; all the vague shadows hovering at the back of
the civilized mind; the sense of encompassing natural power,
the need to struggle single-handed against it; the danger
lurking in the darkness of the forest; the brilliant treachery
of the forest sunshine glinted through leafy secrecies; the
Strange voices in its illimitable murmur; the ghostly shimmer
of its glades at night; the lovely beauty of the great gold
moon; all the thousand wondering dreams that evolved the elder
gods, Pan, Cybele, Thor; all this waked again in the soul of
the Anglo-Saxon penetrating the great forest. And it was
intensified by the way he came,–singly, or with but wife and
child, or at best in very small company, a mere handful. And
the surrounding presences were not only of the spiritual world.
Human enemies who were soon as well armed as he, quicker of
foot and eye, more perfectly noiseless in their tread even than
the wild beasts of the shadowy coverts, the ruthless Indians
whom he came to expel, these invisible presences were watching
him, in a fierce silence he knew not whence. Like as not the
first signs of that menace which was everywhere would be the
hiss of the Indian arrow, or the crack of the Indian rifle, and
sharp and sudden death.

Under these conditions he learned much and forgot much. His
deadly need made him both more and less individual than he had
been, released him from the dictation of his fellows in daily
life while it enforced relentlessly a uniform method of
self-preservation. Though the unseen world became more and
more real, the understanding of it faded. It became chiefly a
matter of emotional perception, scarcely at all a matter of
philosophy. The morals of the forest Americans were those of
audacious, visionary beings loosely hound together by a
comradeship in peril. Courage, cautiousness, swiftness,
endurance, faithfulness, secrecy,–these were the forest
virtues. Dreaming, companionship, humor,–these were the forest
luxuries.

From the first, all sorts and conditions were ensnared by that
silent land, where the trails they followed, their rifles in
their hands, had been trodden hard generation after generation
by the feet of the Indian warriors. The best and the worst of
England went into that illimitable resolvent, lost themselves,
found themselves, and issued from its shadows, or their
children did, changed both for good and ill, Americans.
Meanwhile the great forest, during two hundred years, was
slowly vanishing. This parent of a new people gave its life to
its offspring and passed away. In the early nineteenth century
it had withered backward far from the coast; had lost its
identity all along the north end of the eastern mountains; had
frayed out toward the sunset into lingering tentacles, into
broken minor forests, into shreds and patches.

Curiously, by a queer sort of natural selection, its people had
congregated into life communities not all of one pattern.
There were places as early as the beginning of the century
where distinction had appeared. At other places life was as
rude and rough as could be imagined. There were innumerable
farms that were still mere “clearings,” walled by the forest.
But there were other regions where for many a mile the timber
had been hewn away, had given place to a ragged continuity of
farmland. In such regions especially if the poorer elements of
the forest, spiritually speaking, had drifted thither–the
straggling villages which had appeared were but groups of log
cabins huddled along a few neglected lanes. In central
Kentucky, a poor new village was Elizabethtown, unkempt,
chokingly dusty in the dry weather, with muddy streams instead
of streets during the rains, a stench of pig-sties at the back
of its cabins, but everywhere looking outward glimpses of a
lovely meadow land.

At Elizabethtown in 1806 lived Joseph Hanks, a carpenter, also
his niece Nancy Hanks. Poor people they were, of the sort that
had been sucked into the forest in their weakness, or had been
pushed into it by a social pressure they could not resist; not
the sort that had grimly adventured its perils or gaily courted
its lure. Their source was Virginia. They were of a
thriftless, unstable class; that vagrant peasantry which had
drifted westward to avoid competition with slave labor. The
niece, Nancy, has been reputed illegitimate. And though
tradition derives her from the predatory amour of an
aristocrat, there is nothing to sustain the tale except her own
appearance. She had a bearing, a cast of feature, a tone, that
seemed to hint at higher social origins than those of her Hanks
relatives. She had a little schooling; was of a pious and
emotional turn of mind; enjoyed those amazing “revivals” which
now and then gave an outlet to the pent-up religiosity of the
village; and she was almost handsome.[1]

History has preserved no clue why this girl who was rather the
best of her sort chose to marry an illiterate apprentice of her
uncle’s, Thomas Lincoln, whose name in the forest was spelled
“Linkhorn.” He was a shiftless fellow, never succeeding at
anything, who could neither read nor write. At the time of his
birth, twenty-eight years before, his parents–drifting, roaming
people, struggling with poverty–were dwellers in the Virginia
mountains. As a mere lad, he had shot an Indian–one of the few
positive acts attributed to him–and his father had been killed
by Indians. There was a “vague tradition” that his grandfather
had been a Pennsylvania Quaker who had wandered southward
through the forest mountains. The tradition angered him.
Though he appears to have had little enough–at least in later
years–of the fierce independence of the forest, he resented a
Quaker ancestry as an insult. He had no suspicion that in
after years the zeal of genealogists would track his descent
until they had linked him with a lost member of a distinguished
Puritan family, a certain Mordecai Lincoln who removed to New
Jersey, whose descendants became wanderers of the forest and
sank speedily to the bottom of the social scale, retaining not
the slightest memory of their New England origin.[2] Even in the
worst of the forest villages, few couples started married life
in less auspicious circumstances than did Nancy and Thomas.
Their home in one of the alleys of Elizabethtown was a shanty
fourteen feet square.[3] Very soon after marriage, shiftless
Thomas gave up carpentering and took to farming. Land could be
had almost anywhere for almost nothing those days, and Thomas
got a farm on credit near where now stands Hodgenville. Today,
it is a famous place, for there, February 12, 1809, Abraham
Lincoln, second child, but first son of Nancy and Thomas, was
born.[4]

During most of eight years, Abraham lived in Kentucky. His
father, always adrift in heart, tried two farms before
abandoning Kentucky altogether. A shadowy figure, this Thomas;
the few memories of him suggest a superstitious nature in a
superstitious community. He used to see visions in the forest.
Once, it is said, he came home, all excitement, to tell his
wife he had seen a giant riding on a lion, tearing up trees by
the roots; and thereupon, he took to his bed and kept it for
several days.

His son Abraham told this story of the giant on the lion to a
playmate of his, and the two boys gravely discussed the
existence of ghosts. Abraham thought his father “didn’t
exactly believe in them,” and seems to have been in about the
same state of mind himself. He was quite sure he was “not
much” afraid of the dark. This was due chiefly to the simple
wisdom of a good woman, a neighbor, who had taught him to think
of the night as a great room that God had darkened even as his
friend darkened a room in her house by hanging something over
the window.[5]

The eight years of his childhood in Kentucky had few incidents.
A hard, patient, uncomplaining life both for old and young.
The men found their one deep joy in the hunt. In lesser
degree, they enjoyed the revivals which gave to the women their
one escape out of themselves. A strange, almost terrible
recovery of the primitive, were those religious furies of the
days before the great forest had disappeared. What other
figures in our history are quite so remarkable as the itinerant
frontier priests, the circuit-riders as they are now called,
who lived as Elijah did, whose temper was very much the temper
of Elijah, in whose exalted narrowness of devotion, all that
was stern, dark, foreboding–the very brood of the forest’s
innermost heart–had found a voice. Their religion was ecstasy
in homespun, a glory of violent singing, the release of a
frantic emotion, formless but immeasurable, which at all other
times, in the severity of the forest routine, gave no sign of
its existence.

A visitor remembered long afterward a handsome young woman who
he thought was Nancy Hanks, singing wildly, whirling about as
may once have done the ecstatic women of the woods of Thrace,
making her way among equally passionate worshipers, to the foot
of the rude altar, and there casting herself into the arms of
the man she was to marry.[6] So did thousands of forest women in
those seasons when their communion with a mystic loneliness was
confessed, when they gave tongue as simply as wild creatures to
the nameless stirrings and promptings of that secret woodland
where Pan was still the lord. And the day following the
revival, they were again the silent, expressionless, much
enduring, long-suffering forest wives, mothers of many
children, toilers of the cabins, who cooked and swept and
carried fuel by sunlight, and by firelight sewed and spun.

It can easily be understood how these women, as a rule, exerted
little influence on their sons. Their imaginative side was too
deeply hidden, the nature of their pleasures too secret, too
mysterious. Male youth, following its obvious pleasure, went
with the men to the hunt The women remained outsiders. The boy
who chose to do likewise, was the incredible exception. In him
had come to a head the deepest things in the forest life: the
darkly feminine things, its silence, its mysticism, its
secretiveness, its tragic patience. Abraham was such a boy.
It is said that he astounded his father by refusing to own a
gun. He earned terrible whippings by releasing animals caught
in traps. Though he had in fullest measure the forest passion
for listening to stories, the ever-popular tales of Indian
warfare disgusted him. But let the tale take on any glint of
the mystery of the human soul–as of Robinson Crusoe alone on
his island, or of the lordliness of action, as in Columbus or
Washington–and he was quick with interest. The stories of
talking animals out of Aesop fascinated him.

In this thrilled curiosity about the animals was the side of
him least intelligible to men like his father. It lives in
many anecdotes: of his friendship with a poor dog he had which
he called “Honey”; of pursuing a snake through difficult
thickets to prevent its swallowing a frog; of loitering on
errands at the risk of whippings to watch the squirrels in the
tree-tops; of the crowning offense of his childhood, which
earned him a mighty beating, the saving of a fawn’s life by
scaring it off just as a hunter’s gun was leveled. And by way
of comment on all this, there is the remark preserved in the
memory of another boy to whom at the time it appeared most
singular, “God might think as much of that little fawn as of
some people.” Of him as of another gentle soul it might have
been said that all the animals were his brothers and sisters.[7]

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