The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7


iSpeech

When Lincoln issued his proclamation he knew that all these ideas
were founded in error; that the national resources were
inexhaustible; that the government could and would win, and that
if slavery were once finally disposed of, the only cause of
difference being out of the way, the North and South would come
together again, and by and by be as good friends as ever. In
many quarters abroad the proclamation was welcomed with
enthusiasm by the friends of America; but I think the
demonstrations in its favor that brought more gladness to
Lincoln's heart than any other were the meetings held in the
manufacturing centres, by the very operatives upon whom the war
bore the hardest, expressing the most enthusiastic sympathy with
the proclamation, while they bore with heroic fortitude the
grievous privations which the war entailed upon them. Mr.
Lincoln's expectation when he announced to the world that all
slaves in all States then in rebellion were set free must have
been that the avowed position of his government, that the
continuance of the war now meant the annihilation of slavery,
would make intervention impossible for any foreign nation whose
people were lovers of liberty--and so the result proved.

The growth and development of Lincoln's mental power and moral
force, of his intense and magnetic personality, after the vast
responsibilities of government were thrown upon him at the age of
fifty-two, furnish a rare and striking illustration of the
marvellous capacity and adaptability of the human intellect--of
the sound mind in the sound body. He came to the discharge of
the great duties of the Presidency with absolutely no experience
in the administration of government, or of the vastly varied and
complicated questions of foreign and domestic policy which
immediately arose, and continued to press upon him during the
rest of his life; but he mastered each as it came, apparently
with the facility of a trained and experienced ruler. As
Clarendon said of Cromwell, "His parts seemed to be raised by the
demands of great station." His life through it all was one of
intense labor, anxiety, and distress, without one hour of
peaceful repose from first to last. But he rose to every
occasion. He led public opinion, but did not march so far in
advance of it as to fail of its effective support in every great
emergency. He knew the heart and thought of the people, as no
man not in constant and absolute sympathy with them could have
known it, and so holding their confidence, he triumphed through
and with them. Not only was there this steady growth of
intellect, but the infinite delicacy of his nature and its
capacity for refinement developed also, as exhibited in the
purity and perfection of his language and style of speech. The
rough backwoodsman, who had never seen the inside of a
university, became in the end, by self-training and the exercise
of his own powers of mind, heart, and soul, a master of style,
and some of his utterances will rank with the best, the most
perfectly adapted to the occasion which produced them.

Have you time to listen to his two-minutes speech at Gettysburg,
at the dedication of the Soldiers' Cemetery? His whole soul was
in it:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged
in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation
so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a
great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a
portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here
gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether
fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense
we cannot dedicate--we cannot consecrate--we cannot hallow this
ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have
consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The
world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here but
it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the
living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which
they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is
rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining
before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion
to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of
devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not
have died in vain--that this nation under God shall have a new
birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the
people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

He lived to see his work indorsed by an overwhelming majority of
his countrymen. In his second inaugural address, pronounced just
forty days before his death, there is a single passage which well
displays his indomitable will and at the same time his deep
religious feeling, his sublime charity to the enemies of his
country, and his broad and catholic humanity:

"If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those
offences which in the Providence of God must needs come, but
which, having continued through the appointed time, He now wills
to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this
terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came,
shall we discern therein any departure from those divine
attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to
Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty
scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it
continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsmen's two hundred
and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every
drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid with another
drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so
still it must be said, 'the judgments of the Lord are true and
righteous altogether.'

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in
the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to
finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds; to care
for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his
orphan to do all which may achieve, and cherish a just and
lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."

His prayer was answered. The forty days of life that remained to
him were crowned with great historic events. He lived to see his
Proclamation of Emancipation embodied in an amendment of the
Constitution, adopted by Congress, and submitted to the States
for ratification. The mighty scourge of war did speedily pass
away, for it was given him to witness the surrender of the Rebel
army and the fall of their capital, and the starry flag that he
loved waving in triumph over the national soil. When he died by
the madman's hand in the supreme hour of victory, the vanquished
lost their best friend, and the human race one of its noblest
examples; and all the friends of freedom and justice, in whose
cause he lived and died, joined hands as mourners at his grave.

THE WRITINGS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

1832-1843

1832

ADDRESS TO THE PEOPLE OF SANGAMON COUNTY.

March 9, 1832.

FELLOW CITIZENS:--Having become a candidate for the honorable
office of one of your Representatives in the next General
Assembly of this State, in according with an established custom
and the principles of true Republicanism it becomes my duty to
make known to you, the people whom I propose to represent, my
sentiments with regard to local affairs.

Time and experience have verified to a demonstration the public
utility of internal improvements. That the poorest and most
thinly populated countries would be greatly benefited by the
opening of good roads, and in the clearing of navigable streams
within their limits, is what no person will deny. Yet it is
folly to undertake works of this or any other without first
knowing that we are able to finish them--as half-finished work
generally proves to be labor lost. There cannot justly be any
objection to having railroads and canals, any more than to other
good things, provided they cost nothing. The only objection is
to paying for them; and the objection arises from the want of
ability to pay.

With respect to the County of Sangamon, some....

Yet, however desirable an object the construction of a railroad
through our country may be, however high our imaginations may be
heated at thoughts of it,--there is always a heart-appalling
shock accompanying the amount of its cost, which forces us to
shrink from our pleasing anticipations. The probable cost of
this contemplated railroad is estimated at $290,000; the bare
statement of which, in my opinion, is sufficient to justify the
belief that the improvement of the Sangamon River is an object
much better suited to our infant resources.......

What the cost of this work would be, I am unable to say. It is
probable, however, that it would not be greater than is common to
streams of the same length. Finally, I believe the improvement
of the Sangamon River to be vastly important and highly desirable
to the people of the county; and, if elected, any measure in the
Legislature having this for its object, which may appear
judicious, will meet my approbation and receive my support.

It appears that the practice of loaning money at exorbitant rates
of interest has already been opened as a field for discussion; so
I suppose I may enter upon it without claiming the honor or
risking the danger which may await its first explorer. It seems
as though we are never to have an end to this baneful and
corroding system, acting almost as prejudicially to the general
interests of the community as a direct tax of several thousand
dollars annually laid on each county for the benefit of a few
individuals only, unless there be a law made fixing the limits of
usury. A law for this purpose, I am of opinion, may be made
without materially injuring any class of people. In cases of
extreme necessity, there could always be means found to cheat the
law; while in all other cases it would have its intended effect.
I would favor the passage of a law on this subject which might
not be very easily evaded. Let it be such that the labor and
difficulty of evading it could only be justified in cases of
greatest necessity.

Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan
or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the
most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.
That every man may receive at least a moderate education, and
thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other
countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free
institutions, appears to be an object
of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing
of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being
able to read the Scriptures, and other works both of a religious
and moral nature, for themselves.

For my part, I desire to see the time when education--and by its
means, morality, sobriety, enterprise, and industry--shall become
much more general than at present, and should be gratified to
have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of
any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate that happy
period.

With regard to existing laws, some alterations are thought to be
necessary. Many respectable men have suggested that our estray
laws, the law respecting the issuing of executions, the road law,
and some others, are deficient in their present form, and require
alterations. But, considering the great probability that the
framers of those laws were wiser than myself, I should prefer not
meddling with them, unless they were first attacked by others; in
which case I should feel it both a privilege and a duty to take
that stand which, in my view, might tend most to the advancement
of justice.

But, fellow-citizens, I shall conclude. Considering the great
degree of modesty which should always attend youth, it is
probable I have already been more presuming than becomes me.
However, upon the subjects of which I have treated, I have spoken
as I have thought. I may be wrong in regard to any or all of
them; but, holding it a sound maxim that it is better only
sometimes to be right than at all times to be wrong, so soon as I
discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to
renounce them.

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be
true or not, I can say, for one, that I have no other so great as
that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men, by rendering
myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in
gratifying this ambition is yet to be developed. I am young, and
unknown to many of you. I was born, and have ever remained, in
the most humble walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular
relations or friends to recommend me. My case is thrown
exclusively upon the independent voters of the county; and, if
elected, they will have conferred a favor upon me for which I
shall be unremitting in my labors to compensate. But, if the
good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the
background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be
very much chagrined.

Your friend and fellow-citizen,
A. LINCOLN.

New Salem, March 9, 1832.

1833

TO E. C. BLANKENSHIP.

NEW SALEM,
Aug. 10, 1833

E. C. BLANKENSHIP.

Dear Sir:--In regard to the time David Rankin served the enclosed
discharge shows correctly--as well as I can recollect--having no
writing to refer. The transfer of Rankin from my company
occurred as follows: Rankin having lost his horse at Dixon's
ferry and having acquaintance in one of the foot companies who
were going down the river was desirous to go with them, and one
Galishen being an acquaintance of mine and belonging to the
company in which Rankin wished to go wished to leave it and join
mine, this being the case it was agreed that they should exchange
places and answer to each other's names--as it was expected we
all would be discharged in very few days. As to a blanket--I
have no knowledge of Rankin ever getting any. The above embraces
all the facts now in my recollection which are pertinent to the
case.

I shall take pleasure in giving any further information in my
power should you call on me.

Your friend,
A. LINCOLN.

RESPONSE TO REQUEST FOR POSTAGE RECEIPT

TO Mr. SPEARS.

Mr. SPEARS:

At your request I send you a receipt for the postage on your
paper. I am somewhat surprised at your request. I will,
however, comply with it. The law requires newspaper postage to
be paid in advance, and now that I have waited a full year you
choose to wound my feelings by insinuating that unless you get a
receipt I will probably make you pay it again.

Respectfully,
A. LINCOLN.

1836

ANNOUNCEMENT OF POLITICAL VIEWS.

New Salem, June 13, 1836.

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