Lincoln; An Account of His Personal Life

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

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.










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.


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

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

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]

One might easily imagine this peculiar boy who chose to remain
at home while the men went out to slay, as the mere translation
into masculinity of his mother, and of her mothers, of all the
converging processions of forest women, who had passed from one
to another the secret of their mysticism, coloring it many ways
in the dark vessels of their suppressed lives, till it reached
at last their concluding child. But this would only in part
explain him. Their mysticism, as after-time was to show, he
had undoubtedly inherited. So, too, from them, it may be, came
another characteristic–that instinct to endure, to wait, to
abide the issue of circumstance, which in the days of his power
made him to the politicians as unintelligible as once he had
been to the forest huntsmen. Nevertheless, the most
distinctive part of those primitive women, the sealed
passionateness of their spirits, he never from childhood to the
end revealed. In the grown man appeared a quietude, a sort of
tranced calm, that was appalling. From what part of his
heredity did this derive? Was it the male gift of the forest?
Did progenitors worthier than Thomas somehow cast through him
to his alien son that peace they had found in the utter heart
of danger, that apparent selflessness which is born of being
ever unfailingly on guard?

It is plain that from the first he was a natural stoic, taking
his whippings, of which there appear to have been plenty, in
silence, without anger. It was all in the day’s round.
Whippings, like other things, came and went. What did it
matter? And the daily round, though monotonous, had even for
the child a complement of labor. Especially there was much
patient journeying back and forth with meal bags between his
father’s cabin and the local mill. There was a little
schooling, very little, partly from Nancy Lincoln, partly from
another good woman, the miller’s kind old mother, partly at the
crudest of wayside schools maintained very briefly by a
wandering teacher who soon wandered on; but out of this
schooling very little result beyond the mastery of the A B C.[8] And even at this age, a pathetic eagerness to learn, to invade
the wonder of the printed book! Also a marked keenness of
observation. He observed things which his elders overlooked.
He had a better sense of direction, as when he corrected his
father and others who were taking the wrong short-cut to a
burning house. Cool, unexcitable, he was capable of presence
of mind. Once at night when the door of the cabin was suddenly
thrown open and a monster appeared on the threshold, a spectral
thing in the darkness, furry, with the head of an ox, Thomas
Lincoln shrank back aghast; little Abraham, quicker-sighted and
quicker-witted, slipped behind the creature, pulled at its
furry mantle, and revealed a forest Diana, a bold girl who
amused herself playing demon among the shadows of the moon.

Seven years passed and his eighth birthday approached. All
this while Thomas Lincoln had somehow kept his family in food,
but never had he money in his pocket. His successive farms,
bought on credit, were never paid for. An incurable vagrant,
he came at last to the psychological moment when he could no
longer impose himself on his community. He must take to the
road in a hazard of new fortune. Indiana appeared to him the
land of promise. Most of his property–such as it was–except
his carpenter’s tools, he traded for whisky, four hundred
gallons. Somehow he obtained a rattletrap wagon and two

The family appear to have been loath to go. Nancy Lincoln had
long been ailing and in low spirits, thinking much of what
might happen to her children after her death. Abraham loved
the country-side, and he had good friends in the miller and his
kind old mother. But the vagrant Thomas would have his way.
In the brilliancy of the Western autumn, with the ruined woods
flaming scarlet and gold, these poor people took their last
look at the cabin that had been their wretched shelter, and set
forth into the world.[9]


Vagrants, or little better than vagrants, were Thomas Lincoln
and his family making their way to Indiana. For a year after
they arrived they were squatters, their home an “open-faced
camp,” that is, a shanty with one wall missing, and instead of
chimney, a fire built on the open side. In that mere pretense
of a house, Nancy Lincoln and her children spent the winter of
1816-1817. Then Thomas resorted to his familiar practice of
taking land on credit. The Lincolns were now part of a
“settlement” of seven or eight families strung along a little
stream known as Pigeon Creek. Here Thomas entered a quarter-
section of fair land, and in the course of the next eleven
years succeeded–wonderful to relate–in paying down sufficient
money to give him title to about half.

Meanwhile, poor fading Nancy went to her place. Pigeon Creek
was an out-of-the-way nook in the still unsettled West, and
Nancy during the two years she lived there could not have
enjoyed much of the consolation of her religion. Perhaps now
and then she had ghostly council of some stray circuit-rider.
But for her the days of the ecstasies had gone by; no great
revival broke the seals of the spirit, stirred its deep waters,
along Pigeon Creek. There was no religious service when she
was laid to rest in a coffin made of green lumber and fashioned
by her husband. Months passed, the snow lay deep, before a
passing circuit-rider held a burial service over her grave.
Tradition has it that the boy Abraham brought this about very
likely, at ten years old, he felt that her troubled spirit
could not have peace till this was done. Shadowy as she is,
ghostlike across the page of history, it is plain that she was
a reality to her son. He not only loved her but revered her.
He believed that from her he had inherited the better part of
his genius. Many years after her death he said, “God bless my
mother; all that I am or ever hope to be I owe to her.”

Nancy was not long without a successor. Thomas Lincoln, the
next year, journeyed back to Kentucky and returned in triumph
to Indiana, bringing as his wife, an old flame of his who had
married, had been widowed, and was of a mind for further
adventures. This Sarah Bush Lincoln, of less distinction than
Nancy, appears to have been steadier-minded and
stronger-willed. Even before this, Thomas had left the
half-faced camp and moved into a cabin. But such a cabin! It
had neither door, nor window, nor floor. Sally Lincoln
required her husband to make of it a proper house–by the
standards of Pigeon Creek. She had brought with her as her
dowry a wagonload of furniture. These comforts together with
her strong will began a new era of relative comfort in the
Lincoln cabin.[1]

Sally Lincoln was a kind stepmother to Abraham who became
strongly attached to her. In the rough and nondescript
community of Pigeon Creek, a world of weedy farms, of miserable
mud roads, of log farm-houses, the family life that was at
least tolerable. The sordid misery described during her regime
emerged from wretchedness to a state of by all the recorders of
Lincoln’s early days seems to have ended about his twelfth
year. At least, the vagrant suggestion disappeared. Though
the life that succeeded was void of luxury, though it was
rough, even brutal, dominated by a coarse, peasant-like view of
things, it was scarcely by peasant standards a life of
hardship. There was food sufficient, if not very good;
protection from wind and weather; fire in the winter time;
steady labor; and social acceptance by the community of the
creekside. That the labor was hard and long, went without
saying. But as to that–as of the whippings in Kentucky–what
else, from the peasant point of view, would you expect?
Abraham took it all with the same stoicism with which he had
once taken the whippings. By the unwritten law of the
creekside he was his father’s property, and so was his labor,
until he came of age. Thomas used him as a servant or hired
him out to other farmers. Stray recollections show us young
Abraham working as a farm-hand for twenty-five cents the day,
probably with “keep” in addition; we glimpse him slaughtering
hogs skilfully at thirty-one cents a day, for this was “rough
work.” He became noted as an axman.

In the crevices, so to speak, of his career as a farm-hand,
Abraham got a few months of schooling, less than a year in all.
A story that has been repeated a thousand times shows the raw
youth by the cabin fire at night doing sums on the back of a
wooden shovel, and shaving off its surface repeatedly to get a
fresh page. He devoured every book that came his way, only a
few to be sure, but generally great ones–the Bible, of course,
and Aesop, Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, and a few histories,
these last unfortunately of the poorer sort. He early
displayed a bent for composition, scribbling verses that were
very poor, and writing burlesque tales about his acquaintances
in what passed for a Biblical style.[2]

One great experience broke the monotony of the life on Pigeon
Creek. He made a trip to New Orleans as a “hand” on a
flatboat. Of this trip little is known though much may be
surmised. To his deeply poetic nature what an experience it
must have been: the majesty of the vast river; the pageant of
its immense travel; the steamers heavily laden; the fleets of
barges; the many towns; the nights of stars over wide sweeps of
water; the stately plantation houses along the banks; the old
French city with its crowds, its bells, the shipping, the
strange faces and the foreign speech; all the bewildering
evidence that there were other worlds besides Pigeon Creek!

What seed of new thinking was sown in his imagination by this
Odyssey we shall never know. The obvious effect in the ten
years of his life in Indiana was produced at Pigeon Creek. The
“settlement” was within fifteen miles of the Ohio. It lay in
that southerly fringe of Indiana which received early in the
century many families of much the same estate, character and
origin as the Lincolns,–poor whites of the edges of the great
forest working outward toward the prairies. Located on good
land not far from a great highway, the Ohio, it illustrated in
its rude prosperity a transformation that went on unobserved in
many such settlements, the transformation of the wandering
forester of the lower class into a peasant farmer. Its life
was of the earth, earthy; though it retained the religious
traditions of the forest, their significance was evaporating;
mysticism was fading into emotionalism; the camp-meeting was
degenerating into a picnic. The supreme social event, the
wedding, was attended by festivities that filled twenty-four
hours: a race of male guests in the forenoon with a bottle of
whisky for a prize; an Homeric dinner at midday; “an afternoon
of rough games and outrageous practical jokes; a supper and dance
at night interrupted by the successive withdrawals of the bride
and groom, attended by ceremonies and jests of more than
Rabelaisian crudeness; and a noisy dispersal next day.”[3] The
intensities of the forest survived in hard drinking, in the fury
of the fun-making, and in the hunt. The forest passion for
storytelling had in no way decreased.

In this atmosphere, about eighteen and nineteen, Abraham shot
up suddenly from a slender boy to a huge, raw-honed, ungainly
man, six feet four inches tall, of unusual muscular strength.
His strength was one of the fixed conditions of his
development. It delivered him from all fear of his fellows.
He had plenty of peculiarities. He was ugly, awkward; he
lacked the wanton appetites of the average sensual man. And
these peculiarities without his great strength as his warrant
might have brought him into ridicule. As it was, whatever his
peculiarities, in a society like that of Pigeon Creek, the man
who could beat all competitors, wrestling or boxing, was free
from molestation. But Lincoln instinctively had another aim in
life than mere freedom to be himself. Two characteristics that
were so significant in his childhood continued with growing
vitality in his young manhood: his placidity and his intense
sense of comradeship. The latter, however, had undergone a
change. It was no longer the comradeship of the wild
creatures. That spurt of physical expansion, the swift rank
growth to his tremendous stature, swept him apparently across a
dim dividing line, out of the world of birds and beasts and
into the world of men. He took the new world with the same
unfailing but also unexcitable curiosity with which he had
taken the other, the world of squirrels, flowers, fawns.

Here as there, the difference from his mother, deep though
their similarities may have been, was sharply evident. Had he
been wholly at one with her religiously, the gift of telling
speech which he now began to display might have led him into a
course that would have rejoiced her heart, might have made him
a boy preacher, and later, a great revivalist. His father and
elder sister while on Pigeon Creek joined the local Baptist
Church. But Abraham did not follow them. Nor is there a
single anecdote linking him in any way with the fervors of camp
meeting. On the contrary, what little is remembered, is of a
cool aloofness.[4] The inscrutability of the forest was his–what
it gave to the stealthy, cautious men who were too intent on
observing, too suspiciously watchful, to give vent to their
feelings. Therefore, in Lincoln there was always a double
life, outer and inner, the outer quietly companionable, the
inner, solitary, mysterious.

It was the outer life that assumed its first definite phase in
the years on Pigeon Creek. During those years, Lincoln
discovered his gift of story-telling. He also discovered
humor. In the employment of both talents, he accepted as a
matter of course the tone of the young ruffians among whom he
dwelt. Very soon this powerful fellow, who could throw any of
them in a wrestle, won the central position among them by a
surer title, by the power to delight. And any one who knows
how peasant schools of art arise–for that matter, all schools
of art that are vital–knows how he did it. In this connection,
his famous biographers, Nicolay and Hay, reveal a certain
externality by objecting that a story attributed to him is
ancient. All stories are ancient. Not the tale, but the
telling, as the proverb says, is the thing. In later years,
Lincoln wrote down every good story that he heard, and filed
it.[5] When it reappeared it had become his own. Who can doubt
that this deliberate assimilation, the typical artistic
process, began on Pigeon Creek? Lincoln never would have
captured as he did his plowboy audience, set them roaring with
laughter in the intervals of labor, had he not given them back
their own tales done over into new forms brilliantly beyond
their powers of conception. That these tales were gross, even
ribald, might have been taken for granted, even had we not
positive evidence of the fact. Otherwise none of that
uproarious laughter which we may be sure sounded often across
shimmering harvest fields while stalwart young pagans, ever
ready to pause, leaned, bellowing, on the handles of their
scythes, Abe Lincoln having just then finished a story.

Though the humor of these stories was Falstaffian, to say the
least, though Lincoln was cock of the walk among the plowboys
of Pigeon Creek, a significant fact with regard to him here
comes into view. Not an anecdote survives that in any way
suggests personal licentiousness. Scrupulous men who in
after-time were offended by his coarseness of speech–for more
or less of the artist of Pigeon Creek stuck to him almost to
the end; he talked in fables, often in gross fables–these men,
despite their annoyance, felt no impulse to attribute to him
personal habits in harmony with his tales. On the other hand,
they were puzzled by their own impression, never wavering, that
he was “pureminded.” The clue which they did not have lay in
the nature of his double life. That part of him which, in our
modern jargon, we call his “reactions” obeyed a curious law.
They dwelt in his outer life without penetrating to the inner;
but all his impulses of personal action were securely seated
deep within. Even at nineteen, for any one attuned to
spiritual meaning, he would have struck the note of mystery,
faintly, perhaps, but certainly. To be sure, no hint of this
reached the minds of his rollicking comrades of the harvest
field. It was not for such as they to perceive the problem of
his character, to suspect that he was a genius, or to guess
that a time would come when sincere men would form impressions
of him as dissimilar as black and white. And so far as it went
the observation of the plowboys was correct. The man they saw
was indeed a reflection of themselves. But it was a reflection
only. Their influence entered into the real man no more than
the image in a mirror has entered into the glass.


Though placid, this early Lincoln was not resigned. He
differed from the boors of Pigeon Creek in wanting some other
sort of life. What it was he wanted, he did not know. His
reading had not as yet given him definite ambitions. It may
well be that New Orleans was the clue to such stirring in him
as there was of that discontent which fanciful people have
called divine. Remembering New Orleans, could any imaginative
youth be content with Pigeon Creek?

In the spring of 1830, shortly after he came of age, he agreed
for once with his father whose chronic vagrancy had reasserted
itself. The whole family set out again on their wanderings and
made their way in an oxcart to a new halting place on the
Sangamon River in Illinois. There Abraham helped his father
clear another piece of land for another illusive “start” in
life. The following spring he parted with his family and
struck out for himself.[1] His next adventure was a second trip
as a boatman to New Orleans. Can one help suspecting there was
vague hope in his heart that he might be adventuring to the
land of hearts’ desire? If there was, the yokels who were his
fellow boatmen never suspected it. One of them long afterward
asserted that Lincoln returned from New Orleans fiercely
rebellious against its central institution, slavery, and
determined to “hit that thing” whenever he could.

The legend centers in his witnessing a slave auction and giving
voice to his horror in a style quite unlike any of his
authentic utterances. The authority for all this is doubtful.[2] Furthermore, the Lincoln of 1831 was not yet awakened. That
inner life in which such a reaction might take place was still
largely dormant. The outer life, the life of the harvest
clown, was still a thick insulation. Apparently, the waking of
the inner life, the termination of its dormant stage, was
reserved for an incident far more personal that fell upon him
in desolating force a few years later.

Following the New Orleans venture, came a period as storekeeper
for a man named Denton Offut, in perhaps the least desirable
town in Illinois–a dreary little huddle of houses gathered
around Rutledge’s Mill on the Sangamon River and called New
Salem.[3] Though a few of its people were of a better sort than
any Lincoln had yet known except, perhaps, the miller’s family
in the old days in Kentucky–and still a smaller few were of
fine quality, the community for the most part was hopeless. A
fatality for unpromising neighborhoods overhangs like a doom
the early part of this strange life. All accounts of New Salem
represent it as predominantly a congregation of the worthless,
flung together by unaccountable accident at a spot where there
was no genuine reason for a town’s existence. A casual town,
created by drifters, and void of settled purpose. Small wonder
that ere long it vanished from the map; that after a few years
its drifting congregation dispersed to every corner of the
horizon, and was no more. But during its brief existence it
staged an episode in the development of Lincoln’s character.
However, this did not take place at once. And before it
happened, came another turn of his soul’s highway scarcely less
important. He discovered, or thought he discovered, what he
wanted. His vague ambition took shape. He decided to try to
be a politician. At twenty-three, after living in New Salem
less than a year, this audacious, not to say impertinent, young
man offered himself to the voters of Sangamon County as a
candidate for the Legislature. At this time that humility
which was eventually his characteristic had not appeared. It
may be dated as subsequent to New Salem–a further evidence that
the deep spiritual experience which closed this chapter formed
a crisis. Before then, at New Salem as at Pigeon Creek, he was
but a variant, singularly decent, of the boisterous,
frolicking, impertinent type that instinctively sought the
laxer neighborhoods of the frontier. An echo of Pigeon Creek
informed the young storekeeper’s first state paper, the
announcement of his candidacy, in the year 1832. His first
political speech was in a curious vein, glib, intimate and
fantastic: “Fellow citizens, I presume you all know who I am.
I am humble Abraham Lincoln. I have been solicited by many
friends to become a candidate for the Legislature. My politics
are short and sweet like the old woman’s dance. I am in favor
of a national bank. I am in favor of the internal improvement
system and a high protective tariff. These are my sentiments
and political principles. If elected, I shall be thankful; if
not it will be all the same.”[4]

However, this bold throw of the dice of fortune was not quite
so impertinent as it seems. During the months when he was in
charge of Offut’s grocery store he had made a conquest of New
Salem. The village grocery in those days was the village club.
It had its constant gathering of loafers all of whom were
endowed with votes. It was the one place through which passed
the whole population, in and out, one time or another. To a
clever storekeeper it gave a chance to establish a following.
Had he, as Lincoln had, the gift of story-telling, the gift of
humor, he was a made man. Pigeon Creek over again! Lincoln’s
wealth of funny stories gave Offut’s grocery somewhat the role
of a vaudeville theater and made the storekeeper as popular a
man as there was in New Salem.

In another way he repeated his conquest of Pigeon Creek. New
Salem had its local Alsatia known as Clary’s Grove whose
insolent young toughs led by their chief, Jack Armstrong, were
the terror of the neighborhood. The groceries paid them
tribute in free drinks. Any luckless storekeeper who incurred
their displeasure found his store some fine morning a total
wreck. Lincoln challenged Jack Armstrong to a duel with fists.
It was formally arranged. A ring was formed; the whole village
was audience; and Lincoln thrashed him to a finish. But this
was only a small part of his triumph. His physical prowess,
joined with his humor and his companionableness; entirely
captivated Clary’s Grove. Thereafter, it was storekeeper
Lincoln’s pocket borough; its ruffians were his body-guard.
Woe to any one who made trouble for their hero.

There were still other causes for his quick rise to the
position of village leader. His unfailing kindness was one;
his honesty was another. Tales were related of his scrupulous
dealings, such as walking a distance of miles in order to
correct a trifling error he had made, in selling a poor woman
less than the proper weight of tea. Then, too, by New Salem
standards, he was educated. Long practice on the shovel at
Pigeon Creek had given him a good handwriting, and one of the
first things he did at New Salem was to volunteer to be clerk
of elections. And there was a distinct moral superiority.
Little as this would have signified unbacked by his giant
strength since it had that authority behind it his morality set
him apart from his followers, different, imposing. He seldom,
if ever, drank whisky. Sobriety was already the rule of his
life, both outward and inward. At the same time he was not
censorious. He accepted the devotion of Clary’s Grove without
the slightest attempt to make over its bravoes in his own
image. He sympathized with its ideas of sport. For all his
kindliness to humans of every sort much of his sensitiveness
for animals had passed away. He was not averse to cock
fighting; he enjoyed a horse race.[5] Altogether, in his outer
life, before the catastrophe that revealed him to himself, he
was quite as much in the tone of New Salem as ever in that of
Pigeon Creek. When the election came he got every vote in New
Salem except three.[6]

But the village was a small part of Sangamon County. Though
Lincoln received a respectable number of votes elsewhere, his
total was well down in the running. He remained an
inconspicuous minority candidate.

Meanwhile Offut’s grocery had failed. In the midst of the
legislative campaign, Offut’s farmer storekeeper volunteered
for the Indian War with Black Hawk, but returned to New Salem
shortly before the election without having once smelled powder.
Since his peers were not of a mind to give him immediate
occupation in governing, he turned again to business. He
formed a partnership with a man named Berry. They bought on
credit the wreck of a grocery that had been sacked by Lincoln’s
friends of Clary’s Grove, and started business as “General
Merchants,” under the style of Berry & Lincoln. There followed
a year of complete unsuccess. Lincoln demonstrated that he was
far more inclined to read any chance book that came his way
than to attend to business, and that he had “no money sense.”
The new firm went the way of Offut’s grocery, leaving nothing
behind it but debt. The debts did not trouble Berry; Lincoln
assumed them all. They formed a dreadful load which he bore
with his usual patience and little by little discharged.
Fifteen years passed before again he was a free man

A new and powerful influence came into his life during the half
idleness of his unsuccessful storekeeping. It is worth
repeating in his own words, or what seems to be the fairly
accurate recollection of his words: “One day a man who was
migrating to the West, drove up in front of my store with a
wagon which contained his family and household plunder. He
asked me if I would buy an old barrel for which he had no room
in his wagon, and which he said contained nothing of special
value. I did not want it but to oblige him I bought it and
paid him, I think, a half a dollar for it. Without further
examination I put it away in the store and forgot all about it
Sometime after, in overhauling things, I came upon the barrel
and emptying it upon the floor to see what it contained, I
found at the bottom of the rubbish a complete edition of
Blackstone’s Commentaries. I began to read those famous works,
and I had plenty of time; for during the long summer days when
the farmers were busy with their crops, my customers were few
and far between. The more I read, the more intensely
interested I became. Never in my whole life was my mind so
thoroughly absorbed. I read until I devoured them.”[7]

The majesty of the law at the bottom of a barrel of trash
discovered at a venture and taking instant possession of the
discoverer’s mind! Like the genius issuing grandly in the
smoke cloud from the vase drawn up out of the sea by the fisher
in the Arabian tale! But this great book was not the only magic
casket discovered by the idle store-keeper, the broken seals
of which released mighty presences. Both Shakespeare and Burns
were revealed to him in this period. Never after did either
for a moment cease to be his companion. These literary
treasures were found at Springfield twenty miles from New
Salem, whither Lincoln went on foot many a time to borrow

His subsistence, after the failure of Berry & Lincoln, was
derived from the friendliness of the County Surveyor Calhoun,
who was a Democrat, while Lincoln called himself a Whig.
Calhoun offered him the post of assistant. In accepting,
Lincoln again displayed the honesty that was beginning to be
known as his characteristic. He stipulated that he should be
perfectly free to express his opinions, that the office should
not be in any respect, a bribe. This being conceded, he went
to work furiously on a treatise upon surveying, and
astonishingly soon, with the generous help of the schoolmaster
of New Salem, was able to take up his duties. His first fee
was “two buckskins which Hannah Armstrong ‘fixed’ on his pants
so the briers would not wear them out.”[8]

Thus time passed until 1834 when he staked his only wealth, his
popularity, in the gamble of an election. This time he was
successful. During the following winter he sat in the
Legislature of Illinois; a huge, uncouth, mainly silent member,
making apparently no impression whatever, very probably
striking the educated members as a nonentity in homespun.[9]

In the spring of 1835, he was back in New Salem, busy again
with his surveying. Kind friends had secured him the office of
local postmaster. The delivery of letters was now combined
with going to and fro as a surveyor. As the mail came but once
a week, and as whatever he had to deliver could generally be
carried in his hat, and as payment was in proportion to
business done, his revenues continued small. Nevertheless, in
the view of New Salem, he was getting on.

And then suddenly misfortune overtook him. His great
adventure, the first of those spiritual agonies of which he was
destined to endure so many, approached. Hitherto, since
childhood, women had played no part in his story. All the
recollections of his youth are vague in their references to the
feminine. As a boy at Pigeon Creek when old Thomas was hiring
him out, the women of the settlement liked to have him around,
apparently because he was kindly and ever ready to do odd jobs
in addition to his regular work. However, until 1835, his
story is that of a man’s man, possibly because there was so
much of the feminine in his own make-up. In 1835 came a
change. A girl of New Salem, a pretty village maiden, the best
the poor place could produce, revealed him to himself. Sweet
Ann Rutledge, the daughter of the tavern-keeper, was his first
love. But destiny was against them. A brief engagement was
terminated by her sudden death late in the summer of 1835. Of
this shadowy love-affair very little is known,–though much
romantic fancy has been woven about it. Its significance for
after-time is in Lincoln’s “reaction.” There had been much
sickness in New Salem the summer in which Ann died. Lincoln
had given himself freely as nurse–the depth of his
companionableness thus being proved–and was in an overwrought
condition when his sorrow struck him. A last interview with
the dying girl, at which no one was present, left him quite
unmanned. A period of violent agitation followed. For a time
he seemed completely transformed. The sunny Lincoln, the
delight of Clary’s Grove, had vanished. In his place was a
desolated soul–a brother to dragons, in the terrible imagery of
Job–a dweller in the dark places of affliction. It was his
mother reborn in him. It was all the shadowiness of his
mother’s world; all that frantic reveling in the mysteries of
woe to which, hitherto, her son had been an alien. To the
simple minds of the villagers with their hard-headed, practical
way of keeping all things, especially love and grief, in the
outer layer of consciousness, this revelation of an emotional
terror was past understanding. Some of them, true to their
type, pronounced him insane. He was watched with especial
vigilance during storms, fogs, damp gloomy weather, “for fear
of an accident.” Surely, it was only a crazy man, in New Salem
psychology, who was heard to say, “I can never be reconciled to
have the snow, rains and storms beat upon her grave.”[10]

In this crucial moment when the real base of his character had
been suddenly revealed–all the passionateness of the forest
shadow, the unfathomable gloom laid so deep at the bottom of
his soul–he was carried through his spiritual eclipse by the
loving comprehension of two fine friends. New Salem was not
all of the sort of Clary’s Grove. Near by on a farm, in a
lovely, restful landscape, lived two people who deserve to be
remembered, Bowlin Green and his wife. They drew Lincoln into
the seclusion of their home, and there in the gleaming days of
autumn, when everywhere in the near woods flickered downward,
slowly, idly, the falling leaves golden and scarlet, Lincoln
recovered his equanimity.[11] But the hero of Pigeon Creek, of
Clary’s Grove, did not quite come hack. In the outward life,
to be sure, a day came when the sunny story-teller, the victor
of Jack Armstrong, was once more what Jack would have called
his real self. In the inner life where alone was his reality,
the temper which affliction had revealed to him was
established. Ever after, at heart, he was to dwell alone,
facing, silent, those inscrutable things which to the primitive
mind are things of every day. Always, he was to have for his
portion in his real self, the dimness of twilight, or at best,
the night with its stars, “never glad, confident morning


From this time during many years almost all the men who saw
beyond the surface in Lincoln have indicated, in one way or
another, their vision of a constant quality. The observers of
the surface did not see it. That is to say, Lincoln did not at
once cast off any of his previous characteristics. It is
doubtful if he ever did. His experience was tenaciously
cumulative. Everything he once acquired, he retained, both in
the outer life and the inner; and therefore, to those who did
not have the clue to him, he appeared increasingly
contradictory, one thing on the surface, another within.
Clary’s Grove and the evolutions from Clary’s Grove, continued
to think of him as their leader. On the other hand, men who
had parted with the mere humanism of Clary’s Grove, who were a
bit analytical, who thought themselves still more analytical,
seeing somewhat beneath the surface, reached conclusions
similar to those of a shrewd Congressman who long afterward
said that Lincoln was not a leader of men but a manager of
men.[1] This astute distinction was not true of the Lincoln the
Congressman confronted; nevertheless, it betrays much both of
the observer and of the man he tried to observe. In the
Congressman’s day, what he thought he saw was in reality the
shadow of a Lincoln that had passed away, passed so slowly, so
imperceptibly that few people knew it had passed. During many
years following 1835, the distinction in the main applied. So
thought the men who, like Lincoln’s latest law partner, William
H. Herndon, were not derivatives of Clary’s Grove. The
Lincoln of these days was the only one Herndon knew. How
deeply he understood Lincoln is justly a matter of debate; but
this, at least, he understood–that Clary’s Grove, in
attributing to Lincoln its own idea of leadership, was
definitely wrong. He saw in Lincoln, in all the larger
matters, a tendency to wait on events, to take the lead
indicated by events, to do what shallow people would have
called mere drifting. To explain this, he labeled him a
fatalist.[2] The label was only approximate, as most labels are.
But Herndon’s effort to find one is significant. In these
years, Lincoln took the initiative–when he took it at all–in a
way that most people did not recognize. His spirit was ever
aloof. It was only the every-day, the external Lincoln that
came into practical contact with his fellows.

This is especially true of the growing politician. He served
four consecutive terms in the Legislature without doing
anything that had the stamp of true leadership. He was not
like either of the two types of politicians that generally made
up the legislatures of those days–the men who dealt in ideas
as political counters, and the men who were grafters without in
their naive way knowing that they were grafters. As a member
of the Legislature, Lincoln did not deal in ideas. He was
instinctively incapable of graft A curiously routine
politician, one who had none of the earmarks familiar in such a
person. Aloof, and yet, more than ever companionable, the
power he had in the Legislature–for he had acquired a measure
of power–was wholly personal. Though called a Whig, it was not
as a party man but as a personal friend that he was able to
carry through his legislative triumphs. His most signal
achievement was wholly a matter of personal politics. There
was a general demand for the removal of the capital from its
early seat at Vandalia, and rivalry among other towns was keen.
Sangamon County was bent on winning the prize for its own
Springfield. Lincoln was put in charge of the Springfield
strategy. How he played his cards may be judged from the
recollections of another member who seems to have anticipated
that noble political maxim, “What’s the Constitution between
friends?” “Lincoln,” he says, “made Webb and me vote for the
removal, though we belonged to the southern end of the state.
We defended our vote before our constituents by saying that
necessity would ultimately force the seat of government to a
central position; but in reality, we gave the vote to Lincoln
because we liked him, because we wanted to oblige our friend,
and because we recognized him as our leader.”[3]

And yet on the great issues of the day he could not lead them.
In 1837, the movement of the militant abolitionists, still but
a few years old, was beginning to set the Union by the ears.
The illegitimate child of Calvinism and the rights of man, it
damned with one anathema every holder of slaves and also every
opponent of slavery except its own uncompromising adherents.
Its animosity was trained particularly on every suggestion that
designed to uproot slavery without creating an economic crisis,
that would follow England’s example, and terminate the
“peculiar institution” by purchase. The religious side of
abolition came out in its fury against such ideas.
Slave-holders were Canaanites. The new cult were God’s own
people who were appointed to feel anew the joy of Israel hewing
Agag asunder. Fanatics, terrible, heroic, unashamed, they made
two sorts of enemies–not only the partisans of slavery, but
all those sane reformers who, while hating slavery, hated also
the blood-lust that would make the hewing of Agag a respectable
device of political science. Among the partisans of slavery
were the majority of the Illinois Legislature. Early in 1837,
they passed resolutions condemning abolitionism. Whereupon it
was revealed–not that anybody at the time cared to know the
fact, or took it to heart–that among the other sort of the
enemies of abolition was our good young friend, everybody’s
good friend, Abe Lincoln. He drew up a protest against the
Legislature’s action; but for all his personal influence in
other affairs, he could persuade only one member to sign with
him. Not his to command at will those who “recognized him as
their leader” in the orthodox political game–so discreet, in
that it left principles for some one else to be troubled about!
Lincoln’s protest was quite too far out of the ordinary for
personal politics to endure it. The signers were asked to
proclaim their belief “that the institution of slavery is
founded on both injustice and bad policy; but that the
promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to promote
than to abate its evils.”[4]

The singular originality of this position, sweeping aside as
vain both participants in the new political duel, was quite
lost on the little world in which Lincoln lived. For
after-time it has the interest of a bombshell that failed to
explode. It is the dawn of Lincoln’s intellect. In his lonely
inner life, this crude youth, this lover of books in a village
where books were curiosities, had begun to think. The stages
of his transition from mere story-telling yokel–intellectual
only as the artist is intellectual, in his methods of
handling–to the man of ideas, are wholly lost. And in this
fact we have a prophecy of all the years to come. Always we
shall seek in vain for the early stages of Lincoln’s ideas.
His mind will never reveal itself until the moment at which it
engages the world. No wonder, in later times, his close
associates pronounced him the most secretive of men; that one
of the keenest of his observers said that the more you knew of
Lincoln, the less you knew of him.[5]

Except for the handicap of his surroundings, his intellectual
start would seem belated; even allowing for his handicap, it
was certainly slow. He was now twenty-eight. Pretty well on
to reveal for the first time intellectual power! Another
characteristic here. His mind worked slowly. But it is worth
observing that the ideas of the protest were never abandoned.
Still a third characteristic, mental tenacity. To the end of
his days, he looked askance at the temper of abolitionism,
regarded it ever as one of the chief evils of political
science. And quite as significant was another idea of the
protest which also had developed from within, which also he
never abandoned.

On the question of the power of the national government with
regard to slavery, he took a position not in accord with either
of the political creeds of his day. The Democrats had already
formulated their doctrine that the national government was a
thing of extremely limited powers, the “glorified policeman” of
a certain school of publicists reduced almost to a minus
quantity. The Whigs, though amiably vague on most things
except money-making by state aid, were supposed to stand for a
“strong central government. Abolitionism had forced on both
parties a troublesome question, “What about slavery in the
District of Columbia, where the national government was
supreme?”The Democrats were prompt in their reply: Let the
glorified policeman keep the peace and leave private interests,
such as slave-holding, alone. The Whigs evaded, tried not to
apply their theory of “strong” government; they were fearful
lest they offend one part of their membership if they asserted
that the nation had no right to abolish slavery in the
District, fearful of offending others if they did not.
Lincoln’s protest asserted that “the Congress of the United
States has the power, under the Constitution, to abolish
slavery in the District of Columbia but the power ought not to
be exercised, unless at the request of the District.” In other
words, Lincoln, when suddenly out of the storm and stress that
followed Ann’s death his mentality flashes forth, has an
attitude toward political power that was not a consequence of
his environment, that sets him apart as a type of man rare in
the history of statesmanship. What other American politician
of his day–indeed, very few politicians of any day–would have
dared to assert at once the existence of a power and the moral
obligation not to use it? The instinctive American mode of
limiting power is to deny its existence. Our politicians so
deeply distrust our temperament that whatever they may say for
rhetorical effect, they will not, whenever there is any danger
of their being taken at their word, trust anything to moral
law. Their minds are normally mechanical. The specific,
statutory limitation is the only one that for them has reality.
The truth that temper in politics is as great a factor as law
was no more comprehensible to the politicians of 1837 than, say
Hamlet or The Last Judgment. But just this is what the crude
young Lincoln understood. Somehow he had found it in the
depths of his own nature. The explanation, if any, is to be
found in his heredity. Out of the shadowy parts of him, beyond
the limits of his or any man’s conscious vision, dim,
unexplored, but real and insistent as those forest recesses
from which his people came, arise the two ideas: the faith in a
mighty governing power; the equal faith that it should use its
might with infinite tenderness, that it should be slow to
compel results, even the result of righteousness, that it
should be tolerant of human errors, that it should transform
them slowly, gradually, as do the gradual forces of nature, as
do the sun and the rain.

And such was to be the real Lincoln whenever he spoke out, to
the end. His tonic was struck by his first significant
utterance at the age of twenty-eight. How inevitable that it
should have no significance to the congregation of good fellows
who thought of him merely as one of their own sort, who put up
with their friend’s vagary, and speedily forgot it.

The moment was a dreary one in Lincoln’s fortunes. By dint of
much reading of borrowed books, he had succeeded in obtaining
from the easy-going powers that were in those days, a license
to practise law. In the spring of 1837 he removed to
Springfield. He had scarcely a dollar in his pocket. Riding
into Springfield on a borrowed horse, with all the property he
owned, including his law books, in two saddlebags, he went to
the only cabinet-maker in the town and ordered a single
bedstead. He then went to the store of Joshua F. Speed. The
meeting, an immensely eventful one for Lincoln, as well as a
classic in the history of genius in poverty, is best told in
Speed’s words: “He came into my store, set his saddle-bags on
the counter and inquired what the furnishings for a single
bedstead would cost. I took slate and pencil, made a
calculation and found the sum for furnishings complete, would
amount to seventeen dollars in all. Said he: ‘It is probably
cheap enough, but I want to say that, cheap as it is, I have
not the money to pay; but if you will credit me until
Christmas, and my experiment here as a lawyer is a success, I
will pay you then. If I fail in that I will probably never pay
you at all.’ The tone of his voice was so melancholy that I
felt for him. I looked up at him and I thought then as I think
now that I never saw so gloomy and melancholy a face in my
life. I said to him: ‘So small a debt seems to affect you so
deeply, I think I can suggest a plan by which you will be able
to attain your end without incurring any debt. I have a very
large room and a very large double bed in it, which you are
perfectly welcome to share with me if you choose.’ ‘Where is
your room?’ he asked. ‘Up-stairs,’ said I, pointing to the
stairs leading from the store to my room. Without saying a
word, he took his saddle-bags on his arm, went upstairs, set
them down on the floor, came down again, and with a face
beaming with pleasure and smiles exclaimed, ‘Well, Speed, I’m

This was the beginning of a friendship which appears to have
been the only one of its kind Lincoln ever had. Late in life,
with his gifted private secretaries, with one or two brilliant
men whom he did not meet until middle age, he had something
like intimate comradeship. But even they did not break the
prevailing solitude of his inner life. His aloofness of soul
became a fixed condition. The one intruder in that lonely
inner world was Speed. In the great collection of Lincoln’s
letters none have the intimate note except the letters to
Speed. And even these are not truly intimate with the
exception of a single group inspired all by the same train of
events. The deep, instinctive reserve of Lincoln’s nature was
incurable. The exceptional group of letters involve his final
love-affair. Four years after his removal to Springfield,
Lincoln became engaged to Miss Mary Todd. By that time he had
got a start at the law and was no longer in grinding poverty.
If not yet prosperous, he had acquired “prospects”–the strong
likelihood of better things to come so dear to the buoyant
heart of the early West.

Hospitable Springfield, some of whose best men had known him in
the Legislature, opened its doors to him. His humble origin,
his poor condition, were forgiven. In true Western fashion, he
was frankly put on trial to show what was in him. If he could
“make good” no further questions would be asked. And in
every-day matters, his companionableness rose to the occasion.
Male Springfield was captivated almost as easily as New Salem.

But all this was of the outer life. If the ferment within was
constant between 1835 and 1840, the fact is lost in his
taciturnity. But there is some evidence of a restless
emotional life.

In the rebound after the woe following Ann’s death, he had gone
questing after happiness–such a real thing to him, now that he
had discovered the terror of unhappiness–in a foolish
half-hearted courtship of a bouncing, sensible girl named Mary
Owens, who saw that he was not really in earnest, decided that
he was deficient in those “little links that make up a woman’s
happiness,” and sent him about his business–rather, on the
whole, to his relief.[7] The affair with Miss Todd had a
different tone from the other. The lady was of another world
socially. The West in those days swarmed with younger sons, or
the equivalents of younger sons, seeking their fortunes, whom
sisters and cousins were frequently visiting. Mary Todd was
sister-in-law to a leading citizen of Springfield. Her origin
was of Kentucky and Virginia, with definite claims to
distinction. Though a family genealogy mounts as high as the
sixth century, sober history is content with a grandfather and
great grandfather who were military men of some repute, two
great uncles who were governors, and another who was a cabinet
minister. Rather imposing contrasted with the family tree of
the child of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks! Even more
significant was the lady’s education. She had been to a school
where young ladies of similar social pretensions were allowed
to speak only the French language. She was keenly aware of the
role marked out for her by destiny, and quite convinced that
she would always in every way live up to it.

The course of her affair with Lincoln did not run smooth.
There were wide differences of temperament; quarrels of some
sort–just what, gossip to this day has busied itself trying to
discover–and on January 1, 1841, the engagement was broken.
Before the end of the month he wrote to his law partner
apologizing for his inability to be coherent on business
matters. “For not giving you a general summary of news, you
must pardon me; it is not in my power to do so. I am now the
most miserable man living. If what I feel were distributed to
the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on
earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I can not tell. I
awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible.
I must die or be better, it appears to me . . . a change of
scene might help me.”

His friend Speed became his salvation. Speed closed out his
business and carried Lincoln off to visit his own relations in
Kentucky. It was the devotion of Bowlin Green and his wife
over again. But the psychology of the event was much more
singular. Lincoln, in the inner life, had progressed a long
way since the death of Ann, and the progress was mainly in the
way of introspection, of self-analysis. He had begun to brood.
As always, the change did not reveal itself until an event in
the outward life called it forth like a rising ghost from the
abyss of his silences. His friends had no suspicion that in
his real self, beneath the thick disguise of his external
sunniness, he was forever brooding, questioning, analyzing,
searching after the hearts of things both within and without..

“In the winter of 1840 and 1841,” writes Speed, “he was unhappy
about the engagement to his wife–not being entirely satisfied
that his heart was going with his hand. How much he suffered
then on that account, none knew so well as myself; he disclosed
his whole heart to me. In the summer of 1841 I became engaged
to my wife. He was here on a visit when I courted her; and
strange to say, something of the same feeling which I regarded
as so foolish in him took possession of me, and kept me very
unhappy from the time of my engagement until I was married.
This will explain the deep interest he manifested in his
letters on my account. . . One thing is plainly discernible;
if I had not been married and happy, far more happy than I ever
expected to be, he would not have married.”

Whether or not Speed was entirely right in his final
conclusion, it is plain that he and Lincoln were remarkably
alike in temperament; that whatever had caused the break in
Lincoln’s engagement was repeated in his friend’s experience
when the latter reached a certain degree of emotional tension;
that this paralleling of Lincoln’s own experience in the
experience of the friend so like himself, broke tip for once
the solitude of his inner life and delivered him from some dire
inward terror. Both men were deeply introspective. Each had
that overpowering sense of the emotional responsibilities of
marriage, which is bred in the bone of certain hyper-sensitive
types–at least in the Anglo-Saxon race. But neither realized
this trait in himself until, having blithely pursued his
impulse to the point of committal, his spiritual conscience
suddenly awakened and he asked of his heart, “Do I truly love
her? Am I perfectly sure the emotion is permanent?”

It is on this speculation that the unique group of the intimate
letters to Speed are developed. They were written after
Lincoln’s return to Springfield, while Speed was wrestling with
the demon of self-analysis. In the period which they cover,
Lincoln delivered himself from that same demon and recovered
Serenity. Before long he was writing: “I know what the painful
point with you is at all times when you are unhappy; it is an
apprehension that you do not love her as you should. What
nonsense! How came you to court her? Was it because you
thought she deserved it and that you had given her reason to
expect it? If it was for that, why did not the same reason make
you court Ann Todd, and at least twenty others of whom you can
think, to whom it would apply with greater force than to her?
Did you court her for her wealth? Why, you said she had none.
But you say you reasoned yourself into it. What do you mean by
that? Was it not that you found yourself unable to reason
yourself out of it?” And much more of the same shrewd sensible
sort,–a picture unintentionally of his own state of mind no
less than of his friend’s.

This strange episode reveals also that amid Lincoln’s silences,
while the outward man appeared engrossed in everyday matters,
the inward man had been seeking religion. His failure to
accept the forms of his mother’s creed did not rest on any lack
of the spiritual need. Though undefined, his religion glimmers
at intervals through the Speed letters. When Speed’s
fiancee fell ill and her tortured lover was in a paroxysm of
remorse and grief, Lincoln wrote: “I hope and believe that your
present anxiety and distress about her health and her life must
and will forever banish those horrid doubts which I know you
sometimes felt as to the truth of your affection for her. If
they can once and forever be removed (and I feel a presentment
that the Almighty has sent your present affliction expressly
for that object) surely nothing can come in their stead to fill
their immeasurable measure of misery. . . Should she, as you
fear, be destined to an early grave, it is indeed a great
consolation to know she is so well prepared to meet it.”

Again he wrote: “I was always superstitious. I believe God
made me one of the instruments of bringing you and your Fanny
together, which union I have no doubt lie had foreordained.
Whatever He designs He will do for me yet. ‘Stand still and
see the salvation of the Lord’ is my text now.”

The duality in self-torture of these spiritual brethren endured
in all about a year and a half, and closed with Speed’s
marriage. Lincoln was now entirely delivered from his demon.
He wrote Speed a charming letter, serene, affectionate, touched
with gentle banter, valiant though with a hint of disillusion
as to their common type. “I tell you, Speed, our forebodings
(for which you and I are peculiar) are all the worst sort of
nonsense. . You say you much fear that that elysium of which
you have dreamed so much is never to be realized. Well, if it
shall not, I dare swear it will not be the fault of her who is
now your wife. I have no doubt that it is the peculiar
misfortune of both you and me to dream dreams of elysium far
exceeding all that anything earthly can realize.”[8]


How Lincoln’s engagement was patched up is as delicious an
uncertainty, from gossip’s point of view, as how it had been
broken off. Possibly, as many people have asserted, it was
brought about by an event of which, in the irony of fate,
Lincoln ever after felt ashamed.[1] An impulsive, not overwise
politician, James Shields, a man of many peculiarities, was
saucily lampooned in a Springfield paper by some jaunty girls,
one of whom was Miss Todd.

Somehow,–the whole affair is very dim,–Lincoln acted as their
literary adviser. Shields demanded the name of his detractor;
Lincoln assumed the responsibility; a challenge followed.
Lincoln was in a ridiculous position. He extricated himself by
a device which he used more than once thereafter; he gravely
proposed the impossible. He demanded conditions which would
have made the duel a burlesque–a butcher’s match with cavalry
broadswords. But Shields, who was flawlessly literal,
insisted. The two met and only on the dueling ground was the
quarrel at last talked into oblivion by the seconds. Whether
this was the cause of the reconciliation with Miss Todd, or a
consequence, or had nothing to do with it, remains for the
lovers of the unimportant to decide. The only sure fact in
this connection is the marriage which took place November 4,

Mrs. Lincoln’s character has been much discussed. Gossip,
though with very little to go on, has built up a tradition that
the marriage was unhappy. If one were to believe the half of
what has been put in print, one would have to conclude that the
whole business was a wretched mistake; that Lincoln found
married life intolerable because of the fussily dictatorial
self-importance of his wife. But the authority for all these
tales is meager. Not one is traceable to the parties
themselves. Probably it will never be known till the end of
time what is false in them, what true. About all that can be
disengaged from this cloud of illusive witnesses is that
Springfield wondered why Mary Todd married Lincoln. He was
still poor; so poor that after marriage they lived at the Globe
Tavern on four dollars a week. And the lady had been sought by
prosperous men! The lowliness of Lincoln’s origin went ill
with her high notions of her family’s importance. She was
downright, high-tempered, dogmatic, but social; he was devious,
slow to wrath, tentative, solitary; his very appearance, then
as afterward, was against him. Though not the hideous man he
was later made out to be–the “gorilla” of enemy
caricaturists–he was rugged of feature, with a lower lip that
tended to protrude. His immense frame was thin and angular;
his arms were inordinately long; hands, feet and eyebrows were
large; skin swarthy; hair coarse, black and generally unkempt.
Only the amazing, dreamful eyes, and a fineness in the texture
of the skin, redeemed the face and gave it distinction.[3] Why
did precise, complacent Miss Todd pick out so strange a man for
her mate? The story that she married him for ambition, divining
what he was to be–like Jane Welsh in the conventional story of
Carlyle–argues too much of the gift of prophecy. Whatever her
motive, it is more than likely that she was what the
commercialism of to-day would call an “asset.” She had certain
qualities that her husband lacked. For one, she had that
intuition for the main chance which shallow people confound
with practical judgment. Her soul inhabited the obvious; but
within the horizon of the obvious she was shrewd, courageous
and stubborn. Not any danger that Mary Lincoln would go
wandering after dreams, visions, presences, such as were
drifting ever in a ghostly procession at the back of her
husband’s mind. There was a danger in him that was to grow
with the years, a danger that the outer life might be swamped
by the inner, that the ghosts within might carry him away with
them, away from fact–seeking-seeking. That this never
occurred may be fairly credited, or at least very plausibly
credited, to the firm-willed, the utterly matter-of-fact little
person he had married. How far he enjoyed the mode of his
safe-guarding is a fruitless speculation.

Another result that may, perhaps, be due to Mary Lincoln was
the improvement in his fortunes. However, this may have had no
other source than a distinguished lawyer whose keen eyes had
been observing him since his first appearance in politics.
Stephen T. Logan “had that old-fashioned, lawyer-like morality
which was keenly intolerant of any laxity or slovenliness of
mind or character.” He had, “as he deserved, the reputation of
being the best nisi prius lawyer in the state.”[4] After watching
the gifted but ill-prepared young attorney during several years,
observing the power he had of simplification and convincingness
in statement, taking the measure of his scrupulous
honesty–these were ever Lincoln’s strong cards as a
lawyer–Logan made him the surprising offer of a junior
partnership, which was instantly accepted. That was when his
inner horizon was brightening, shortly before his marriage. A
period of great mental energy followed, about the years 1842
and 1843. Lincoln threw himself into the task of becoming a
real lawyer under Logan’s direction. However, his zeal flagged
after a time, and when the partnership ended four years later
he had to some extent fallen back into earlier, less strenuous
habits. “He permitted his partner to do all the studying in
the preparation of cases, while he himself trusted to his
general knowledge of the law and the inspiration of the
surroundings to overcome the judge or the jury.”[5] Though
Lincoln was to undergo still another stimulation of the
scholarly conscience before finding himself as a lawyer, the
four years with Logan were his true student period. If the
enthusiasm of the first year did not hold out, none the less he
issued from that severe course of study a changed man, one who
knew the difference between the learned lawyer and the
unlearned. His own methods, to he sure, remained what they
always continued to be, unsystematic, not to say slipshod.
Even after he became president his lack of system was at times
the despair of his secretaries.[6] Herndon, who succeeded Logan
as his partner, and who admired both men, has a broad hint that
Logan and Lincoln were not always an harmonious firm. A clash
of political ambitions is part explanation; business methods
another. “Logan was scrupulously exact and used extraordinary
care in the preparation of papers. His words were well chosen,
and his style of composition was stately and formal.”[7] He was
industrious and very thrifty, while Lincoln had “no money
sense.” It must have annoyed, if it did not exasperate his
learned and formal partner, when Lincoln signed the firm name
to such letters as this: “As to real estate, we can not attend
to it. We are not real estate agents, we are lawyers. We
recommend that you give the charge of it to Mr. Isaac S.
Britton, a trust-worthy man and one whom the Lord made on
purpose for such business.”[8]

Superficial observers, then and afterward, drew the conclusion
that Lincoln was an idler. Long before, as a farm-hand, he had
been called “bone idle.”[9] And of the outer Lincoln, except
under stress of need, or in spurts of enthusiasm, as in the
earlier years with Logan, this reckless comment had its base of
fact. The mighty energy that was in Lincoln, a tireless,
inexhaustible energy, was inward, of the spirit; it did not
always ramify into the sensibilities and inform his outer life.
The connecting link of the two, his mere intelligence, though
constantly obedient to demands of the outer life, was not
susceptible of great strain except on demand of the spiritual
vision. Hence his attitude toward the study of the law. It
thrilled and entranced him, called into play all his
powers–observation, reflection, intelligence–just so long as
it appeared in his imagination a vast creative effort of the
spiritual powers, of humanity struggling perilously to see
justice done upon earth, to let reason and the will of God
prevail. It lost its hold upon him the instant it became a
thing of technicalities, of mere learning, of statutory

The restless, inward Lincoln, dwelling deep among spiritual
shadows, found other outlets for his energy during these years
when he was establishing himself at the bar. He continued to
be a voracious reader. And his reading had taken a skeptical
turn. Volney and Paine were now his intimates. The wave of
ultra-rationalism that went over America in the ‘forties did
not spare many corners of the land. In Springfield, as in so
many small towns, it had two effects: those who were not
touched by it hardened into jealous watchfulness, and their
religion naturally enough became fiercely combative; those who
responded to the new influence became a little affected
philosophically, a bit effervescent. The young men, when of
serious mind, and all those who were reformers by temperament,
tended to exalt the new, to patronize, if not to ridicule the
old. At Springfield, as at many another frontier town wracked
by its growing pains, a Young Men’s Lyceum confessed the world
to be out of joint, and went to work glibly to set it right.
Lincoln had contributed to its achievements. An oration of his
on “Perpetuation of Our Free Institutions,”[10] a mere rhetorical
“stunt” in his worst vein now deservedly forgotten, so
delighted the young men that they asked to have it
printed–quite as the same sort of young men to-day print essays
on cubism, or examples of free verse read to poetry societies.
Just what views he expressed on things in general among the
young men and others; how far he aired his acquaintance with
the skeptics, is imperfectly known.[11] However, a rumor got
abroad that he was an “unbeliever,” which was the easy label
for any one who disagreed in religion with the person who
applied it. The rumor was based in part on a passage in an
address on temperance. In 1842, Lincoln, who had always been
abstemious, joined that Washington Society which aimed at a
reformation in the use of alcohol. His address was delivered
at the request of the society. It contained this passage, very
illuminating in its light upon the generosity, the real
humility of the speaker, but scarcely tactful, considering the
religious susceptibility of the hour: “If they [the Christians] believe as they profess, that Omnipotence condescended to take
on himself the form of sinful man, and as such die an
ignominious death, surely they will not refuse submission to
the infinitely lesser condescension for the temporal and
perhaps eternal salvation of a large, erring and unfortunate
class of their fellow creatures! Nor is the condescension very
great. In my judgment such of us as have never fallen victims
have been spared more from the absence of appetite than from
any mental or moral superiority over those who have. Indeed, I
believe, if we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads
and their hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with
those of any other class.”[12] How like that remark attributed to
another great genius, one whom Lincoln in some respects
resembled, the founder of Methodism, when he said of a passing
drunkard: “There goes John Wesley, except for the Grace of
God.” But the frontier zealots of the ‘forties were not of the
Wesley type. The stories of Lincoln’s skeptical interests, the
insinuations which were promptly read into this temperance
address, the fact that he was not a church-member, all these
were seized upon by a good but very narrow man, a devoted,
illiterate evangelist, Peter Cartwright.

In 1846, this religious issue became a political issue. The
Whigs nominated Lincoln for Congress. It was another instance
of personal politics. The local Whig leaders had made some
sort of private agreement, the details of which appear to be
lost, but according to which Lincoln now became the inevitable
candidate.[13] He was nominated without opposition. The Democrats
nominated Cartwright.

Two charges were brought against Lincoln: that he was an
infidel, and that he was–of all things in the world!–an
aristocrat. On these charges the campaign was fought. The
small matter of what he would do at Washington, or would not
do, was brushed aside. Personal politics with a vengeance! The
second charge Lincoln humorously and abundantly disproved; the
first, he met with silence.

Remembering Lincoln’s unfailing truthfulness, remembering also
his restless ambition, only one conclusion can be drawn from
this silence. He could not categorically deny Cartwright’s
accusation and at the same time satisfy his own unsparing
conception of honesty. That there was no real truth in the
charge of irreligion, the allusions in the Speed letters
abundantly prove. The tone is too sincere to be doubted;
nevertheless, they give no clue to his theology. And for men
like Cartwright, religion was tied up hand and foot in
theology. Here was where Lincoln had parted company from his
mother’s world, and from its derivatives. Though he held
tenaciously to all that was mystical in her bequest to him, he
rejected early its formulations. The evidence of later years
reaffirms this double fact. The sense of a spiritual world
behind, beyond the world of phenomena, grew on him with the
years; the power to explain, to formulate that world was denied
him. He had no bent for dogma. Ethically, mystically, he was
always a Christian; dogmatically he knew not what he was.
Therefore, to the challenge to prove himself a Christian on
purely dogmatic grounds, he had no reply. To attempt to
explain what separated him from his accusers, to show how from
his point of view they were all Christian–although, remembering
their point of view, he hesitated to say so–to draw the line
between mysticism and emotionalism, would have resulted only in
a worse confusion. Lincoln, the tentative mystic, the child of
the starlit forest, was as inexplicable to Cartwright with his
perfectly downright religion, his creed of heaven or hell–take
your choice and be quick about it!–as was Lincoln the spiritual
sufferer to New Salem, or Lincoln the political scientist to
his friends in the Legislature.

But he was not injured by his silence. The faith in him held
by too many people was too well established. Then, as always
thereafter, whatever he said or left unsaid, most thoughtful
persons who came close to him sensed him as a religious man.
That was enough for healthy, generous young Springfield. He
and Cartwright might fight out their religious issues when they
pleased, Abe should have his term in Congress. He was elected
by a good majority.[14]


Lincoln’s career as a Congressman, 1847-1849, was just what
might have been expected–his career in the Illinois Legislature
on a larger scale. It was a pleasant, companionable,
unfruitful episode, with no political significance. The
leaders of the party did not take him seriously as a possible
initiate to their ranks. His course was that of a loyal member
of the Whig mass. In the party strategy, during the debates
over the Mexican War and the Wilmot Proviso, he did his full
party duty, voting just as the others did. Only once did he
attempt anything original–a bill to emancipate the slaves of
the District, which was little more than a restatement of his
protest of ten years before–and on this point Congress was as
indifferent as the Legislature had been. The bill was denied a
hearing and never came to a vote before the House.[1]

And yet Lincoln did not fail entirely to make an impression at
Washington. And again it was the Springfield experience
repeated. His companionableness was recognized, his modesty,
his good nature; above all, his story-telling. Men liked him.
Plainly it was his humor, his droll ways, that won them;
together with instant recognition of his sterling integrity.

“During the Christmas holidays,” says Ben Perley Poore, “Mr.
Lincoln found his way into the small room used as the Post
Office of the House, where a few genial reconteurs used to meet
almost every morning after the mail had been distributed into
the members’ boxes, to exchange such new stories as any of them
might have acquired since they had last met. After modestly
standing at the door for several days, Mr. Lincoln was reminded
of a story, and by New Year’s he was recognized as the champion
story-teller of the Capital. His favorite seat was at the left
of the open fireplace, tilted back in his chair with his long
legs reaching over to the chimney jamb.”[2]

In the words of another contemporary, “Congressman Lincoln was
very fond of howling and would frequently. . . meet other
members in a match game at the alley of James Casparus. . .
. He was an awkward bowler, but played the game with great
zest and spirit solely for exercise and amusement, and greatly
to the enjoyment and entertainment of the other players, and by
reason of his criticisms and funny illustrations. . . .
When it was known that he was in the alley, there would
assemble numbers of people to witness the fun which was
anticipated by those who knew of his fund of anecdotes and
jokes. When in the alley, surrounded by a crowd of eager
listeners, he indulged with great freedom in the sport of
narrative, some of which were very broad.”[3]

Once, at least, he entertained Congress with an exhibition of
his humor, and this, oddly enough, is almost the only display
of it that has come down to us, first hand. Lincoln’s humor
has become a tradition. Like everything else in his outward
life, it changed gradually with his slow devious evolution from
the story-teller of Pigeon Creek to the author of the
Gettysburg Oration. It is known chiefly through translation.
The “Lincoln Stories” are stories someone else has told who may
or may not have heard them told by Lincoln. They are like all
translations, they express the translator not the
original–final evidence that Lincoln’s appeal as a humorist was
in his manner, his method, not in his substance. “His laugh
was striking. Such awkward gestures belonged to no other man.
They attracted universal attention from the old sedate down to
the schoolboy.”[4] He was a famous mimic.

Lincoln is himself the authority that he did not invent his
stories. He picked them up wherever he found them, and clothed
them with the peculiar drollery of his telling. He was a wag
rather than a wit. All that lives in the second-hand
repetitions of his stories is the mere core, the original
appropriated thing from which the inimitable decoration has
fallen off. That is why the collections of his stories are
such dreary reading,–like Carey’s Dante, or Bryant’s Homer.
And strange to say, there is no humor in his letters. This man
who was famous as a wag writes to his friends almost always in
perfect seriousness, often sadly. The bit of humor that has
been preserved in his one comic speech in Congress,–a burlesque
of the Democratic candidate of 1848, Lewis Cass,–shorn as it is
of his manner, his tricks of speech and gesture, is hardly
worth repeating.[5]

Lincoln was deeply humiliated by his failure to make a serious
impression at Washington.[6] His eyes opened in a startled
realization that there were worlds he could not conquer. The
Washington of the ‘forties was far indeed from a great capital;
it was as friendly to conventional types of politician as was
Springfield or Vandalia. The man who could deal in ideas as
political counters, the other man who knew the subtleties of
the art of graft, both these were national as well as local
figures. Personal politics were also as vicious at Washington
as anywhere; nevertheless, there was a difference, and in that
difference lay the secret of Lincoln’s failure. He was keen
enough to grasp the difference, to perceive the clue to his
failure. In a thousand ways, large and small, the difference
came home to him. It may all be symbolized by a closing detail
of his stay. An odd bit of incongruity was the inclusion of
his name in the list of managers of the Inaugural Ball of 1849.
Nothing of the sort had hitherto entered into his experience.
As Mrs. Lincoln was not with him he joined “a small party of
mutual friends” who attended the ball together. As one of them
relates, “he was greatly interested in all that was to be seen
and we did not take our departure until three or four o’clock
in the morning.”[7] What an ironic picture–this worthy
provincial, the last word for awkwardness, socially as strange
to such a scene as a little child, spending the whole night
gazing intently at everything he could see, at the barbaric
display of wealth, the sumptuous gowns, the brilliant uniforms,
the distinguished foreigners, and the leaders of America, men
like Webster and Clay, with their air of assured power, the men
he had failed to impress. This was his valedictory at
Washington. He went home and told Herndon that he had
committed political suicide.[8] He had met the world and the
world was too strong for him.

And yet, what was wrong? He had been popular at Washington, in
the same way in which he had been popular at Springfield. Why
had the same sort of success inspired him at Springfield and
humiliated him at Washington? The answer was in the difference
between the two worlds. Companionableness, story-telling, at
Springfield, led to influence; at Washington it led only to
applause. At Springfield it was a means; at Washington it was
an end. The narrow circle gave the good fellow an opportunity
to reveal at his leisure everything else that was in him; the
larger circle ruthlessly put him in his place as a good fellow
and nothing more. The truth was that in the Washington of the
‘forties, neither the inner nor the outer Lincoln could by
itself find lodgment. Neither the lonely mystical thinker nor
the captivating buffoon could do more than ripple its surface.
As superficial as Springfield, it lacked Springfield’s
impulsive generosity. To the long record of its obtuseness it
had added another item. The gods had sent it a great man and
it had no eyes to see. It was destined to repeat the

And so Lincoln came home, disappointed, disillusioned. He had
not succeeded in establishing the slightest claim, either upon
the country or his party. Without such claim he had no ground
for attempting reelection. The frivolity of the Whig machine
in the Sangamon region was evinced by their rotation agreement.
Out of such grossly personal politics Lincoln had gone to
Washington; into this essentially corrupt system he relapsed.
He faced, politically, a blank wall. And he had within him as
yet, no consciousness of any power that might cleave the wall
asunder. What was he to do next?

At this dangerous moment–so plainly the end of a chapter–he was
offered the governorship of the new Territory of Oregon. For
the first time he found himself at a definite parting of the
ways, where a sheer act of will was to decide things; where the
pressure of circumstance was of secondary importance.

In response to this crisis, an overlooked part of him appeared.
The inheritance from his mother, from the forest, had always
been obvious. But, after all, he was the son not only of Nancy
and of the lonely stars, but also of shifty, drifty Thomas the
unstable. If it was not his paternal inheritance that revived
in him at this moment of confessed failure, it was something of
the same sort. Just as Thomas had always by way of extricating
himself from a failure taken to the road, now Abraham, at a
psychological crisis, felt the same wanderlust, and he
threatened to go adrift. Some of his friends urged him to
accept. “You will capture the new community,” said they, “and
when Oregon becomes a State, you will go to Washington as its
first Senator.” What a glorified application of the true
Thomasian line of thought. Lincoln hesitated–hesitated–

And then the forcible little lady who had married him put her
foot down. Go out to that far-away backwoods, just when they
were beginning to get on in the world; when real prosperity at
Springfield was surely within their grasp; when they were at
last becoming people of importance, who should be able to keep
their own carriage? Not much!

Her husband declined the appointment and resumed the practice
of law in Springfield.[9]


Stung by his failure at Washington, Lincoln for a time put his
whole soul into the study of the law. He explained his failure
to himself as a lack of mental training.[1] There followed a
repetition of his early years with Logan, but with very much
more determination, and with more abiding result.

In those days in Illinois, as once in England, the judges held
court in a succession of towns which formed a circuit. Judge
and lawyers moved from town to town, “rode the circuit” in
company,–sometimes on horseback, sometimes in their own
vehicles, sometimes by stage. Among the reminiscences of
Lincoln on the circuit, are his “poky” old horse and his
“ramshackle” old buggy. Many and many a mile, round and round
the Eighth Judicial Circuit, he traveled in that humble style.
What thoughts he brooded on in his lonely drives, he seldom
told. During this period the cloud over his inner life is
especially dense. The outer life, in a multitude of
reminiscences, is well known. One of its salient details was
the large proportion of time he devoted to study.

“Frequently, I would go out on the circuit with him,” writes
Herndon. “We, usually, at the little country inn, occupied the
same bed. In most cases, the beds were too short for him and
his feet would hang over the footboard, thus exposing a limited
expanse of shin bone. Placing his candle at the head of his
bed he would read and study for hours. I have known him to
stay in this position until two o’clock in the morning.
Meanwhile, I and others who chanced to occupy the same room
would be safely and soundly asleep. On the circuit, in this
way, he studied Euclid until he could with ease demonstrate all
the propositions in the six books. How he could maintain his
equilibrium or concentrate his thoughts on an abstract
mathematical problem, while Davis, Logan, Swett, Edwards and I,
so industriously and volubly filled the air with our
interminable snoring, was a problem none of, us–could ever

A well-worn copy of Shakespeare was also his constant

He rose rapidly in the profession; and this in spite of his
incorrigible lack of system. The mechanical side of the
lawyer’s task, now, as in the days with Logan, annoyed him; he
left the preparation of papers to his junior partner, as
formerly he left it to his senior partner. But the situation
had changed in a very important way. In Herndon, Lincoln had
for a partner a talented young man who looked up to him, almost
adored him, who was quite willing to be his man Friday.
Fortunately, for all his adoration, Herndon had no desire to
idealize his hero. He was not disturbed by his grotesque or
absurd sides.

“He was proverbially careless as to his habits,” Herndon
writes. “In a letter to a fellow lawyer in another town,
apologizing for his failure to answer sooner, he explains:
‘First, I have been very busy in the United States Court;
second, when I received the letter, I put it in my old hat, and
buying a new one the next day, the old one was set aside, so
the letter was lost sight of for the time.’ This hat of
Lincoln’s–a silk plug–was an extraordinary receptacle. It was
his desk and his memorandum book. In it he carried his
bank-book and the bulk of his letters. Whenever in his reading
or researches, he wished to preserve an idea, he jotted it down
on an envelope or stray piece of paper and placed it inside the
lining; afterwards, when the memorandum was needed, there was
only one place to look for it.” Herndon makes no bones about
confessing that their office was very dirty. So neglected was
it that a young man of neat habits who entered the office as a
law student under Lincoln could not refrain from cleaning it
up, and the next visitor exclaimed in astonishment, “What’s
happened here!”[3]

“The office,” says that same law student, “was on the second
floor of a brick building on the public square opposite the
courthouse. You went up a flight of stairs and then passed
along a hallway to the rear office which was a medium sized
room. There was one long table in the center of the room, and
a shorter one running in the opposite direction forming a T and
both were covered with green baize. There were two windows
which looked into the back yard. In one corner was an
old-fashioned secretary with pigeonholes and a drawer; and
here Mr. Lincoln and his partner kept their law papers. There
was also a bookcase containing about two hundred volumes of law
and miscellaneous books.” The same authority adds, “There was
no order in the office at all.” Lincoln left all the money
matters to Herndon. “He never entered an item on the account
book. If a fee was paid to him and Herndon was not there, he
would divide the money, wrap up one part in paper and place it
in his partner’s desk with the inscription, “Case of Roe versus
Doe, Herndon’s half.” He had an odd habit of reading aloud much
to his partner’s annoyance. He talked incessantly; a whole
forenoon would sometimes go by while Lincoln occupied the whole
time telling stories.[4]

On the circuit, his story-telling was an institution. Two
other men, long since forgotten, vied with him as rival artists
in humorous narrative. These three used to hold veritable
tournaments. Herndon has seen “the little country tavern where
these three were wont to meet after an adjournment of court,
crowded almost to suffocation, with an audience of men who had
gathered to witness the contest among the members of the
strange triumvirate. The physicians of the town, all the
lawyers, and not infrequently a preacher, could be found in the
crowd that filled the doors and windows. The yarns they spun
and the stories they told would not bear repetition here, but
many of them had morals which, while exposing the weakness of
mankind, stung like a whiplash. Some were, no doubt, a
thousand years old, with just enough of verbal varnish and
alterations of names and date to make them new and crisp. By
virtue of the last named application, Lincoln was enabled to
draw from Balzac a ‘droll story’ and locating it ‘in Egypt’
[Southern Illinois] or in Indiana, pass it off for a purely
original conception. . . I have seen Judge Treat, who was
the very impersonation of gravity itself, sit up till the last
and laugh until, as he often expressed it, ‘he almost shook his
ribs loose.’ The next day he would ascend the bench and listen
to Lincoln in a murder trial with all the seeming severity of
an English judge in wig and gown.”[5]

Lincoln enjoyed the life on the circuit. It was not that he
was always in a gale of spirits; a great deal of the time he
brooded. His Homeric nonsense alternated with fits of gloom.
In spite of his late hours, whether of study or of
story-telling, he was an early riser. “He would sit by the
fire having uncovered the coals, and muse and ponder and
soliloquize.”[6] Besides his favorite Shakespeare, he had a
fondness for poetry of a very different sort–Byron, for
example. And he never tired of a set of stanzas in the minor
key beginning: “Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”[7]

The hilarity of the circuit was not by any means the whole of
its charm for him. Part of that charm must have been the
contrast with his recent failure at Washington. This world he
could master. Here his humor increased his influence; and his
influence grew rapidly. He was a favorite of judges, jury and
the bar. Then, too, it was a man’s world. Though Lincoln had
a profound respect for women, he seems generally to have been
ill at ease in their company. In what his friends would have
called “general society” he did not shine. He was too awkward,
too downright, too lacking in the niceties. At home, though he
now owned a house and was making what seemed to him plenty of
money, he was undoubtedly a trial to Mrs. Lincoln’s sense of
propriety. He could not rise with his wife, socially. He was
still what he had become so long before, the favorite of all
the men–good old Abe Lincoln that you could tie to though it
rained cats and dogs. But as to the ladies! Fashionable
people calling on Mrs. Lincoln, had been received by her
husband in his shirt-sleeves, and he totally unabashed, as
oblivious of discrepancy as if he were a nobleman and not a
nobody.[8] The dreadful tradition persists that he had been
known at table to put his own knife into the butter.

How safe to assume that many things were said commiserating
poor Mrs. Lincoln who had a bear for a husband. And some
people noticed that Lincoln did not come home at week-ends
during term-time as often as he might. Perhaps it meant
something; perhaps it did not. But there could be no doubt
that the jovial itinerant life of the circuit was the life for
him–at least in the early ‘fifties. That it was, and also that
he was becoming known as a lawyer, is evinced by his refusal of
a flattering invitation to enter a prosperous firm in Chicago.

Out of all this came a deepening of his power to reach and
impress men through words. The tournament of the story-tellers
was a lawyers’ tournament. The central figure was reading,
studying, thinking, as never in his life before. Though his
fables remained as broad as ever, the merely boisterous
character ceased to predominate. The ethical bent of his mind
came to the surface. His friends were agreed that what they
remembered chiefly of his stories was not the broad part of
them, but the moral that was in them.[9] And they had no
squeamishness as critics of the art of fable-making.

His ethical sense of things, his companionableness, the utterly
non- censorious cast of his mind, his power to evolve yarns
into parables–all these made him irresistible with a jury. It
was a saying of his: “If I can divest this case of
technicalities and swing it to the jury, I’ll win it.”[10]

But there was not a trace in him of that unscrupulousness
usually attributed to the “jury lawyer.” Few things show more
plainly the central unmovableness of his character than his
immunity to the lures of jury speaking. To use his power over
an audience for his own enjoyment, for an interested purpose,
for any purpose except to afford pleasure, or to see justice
done, was for him constitutionally impossible. Such a
performance was beyond the reach of his will. In a way, his
nature, mysterious as it was, was also the last word for
simplicity, a terrible simplicity. The exercise of his
singular powers was irrevocably conditioned on his own faith in
the moral justification of what he was doing. He had no
patience with any conception of the lawyer’s function that did
not make him the devoted instrument of justice. For the law as
a game, for legal strategy, he felt contempt. Never under any
conditions would he attempt to get for a client more than he
was convinced the client in justice ought to have. The first
step in securing his services was always to persuade him that
one’s cause was just He sometimes threw up a case in open court
because the course of it had revealed deception on the part of
the client. At times he expressed his disdain of the law’s
mere commercialism in a stinging irony.

“In a closely contested civil suit,” writes his associate, Ward
Hill Lamon, “Lincoln proved an account for his client, who was,
though he did not know it at the time, a very slippery fellow.
The opposing attorney then proved a receipt clearly covering
the entire cause of action. By the time he was through Lincoln
was missing. The court sent for him to the hotel. ‘Tell the
Judge,’ said he, ‘that I can’t come; my hands are dirty and I
came over to clean them.'”[11]

“Discourage litigation,” he wrote. “Persuade your neighbors to
compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal
winner is often a real loser, in fees, expenses, and waste of
time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a Superior Opportunity
of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”[12]

He held his moral and professional views with the same
inflexibility with which he held his political views. Once he
had settled upon a conviction or an opinion, nothing could move
him. He was singularly stubborn, and yet, in all the minor
matters of life, in all his merely personal concerns, in
everything except his basal ideas, he was pliable to a degree.
He could be talked into almost any concession of interest. He
once told Herndon he thanked God that he had not been born a
woman because he found it so hard to refuse any request made of
him. His outer easiness, his lack of self-assertion,–as most
people understand self-assertion,–persist in an amusing group
of anecdotes of the circuit. Though he was a favorite with the
company at every tavern, those little demagogues, the
tavern-keepers, quickly found out that he could be safely put
upon. In the minute but important favoritism of tavern life,
in the choice of rooms, in the assignment of seats at table, in
the distribution of delicacies, easy-going Lincoln was ever the
first one to be ignored. “He never complained of the food,
bed, or lodgings,” says a judge of the circuit, David Davis.
“If every other fellow grumbled at the bill of fare which
greeted us at many of the dingy taverns, Lincoln said

But his complacency was of the surface only. His ideas were
his own. He held to them with dogged tenacity. Herndon was
merely the first of several who discerned on close familiarity
Lincoln’s inward inflexibility. “I was never conscious,” he
writes, “of having made much of an impression on Mr. Lincoln,
nor do I believe I ever changed his views. I will go further
and say that from the profound nature of his conclusions and
the labored method by which he arrived at them, no man is
entitled to the credit of having either changed or greatly
modified them.”[14]

In these years of the early ‘fifties, Herndon had much occasion
to test his partner’s indifference to other men’s views, his
tenacious adherence to his own. Herndon had become an
Abolitionist. He labored to convert Lincoln; but it was a lost
labor. The Sphinx in a glimmer of sunshine was as unassailable
as the cheery, fable-loving, inflexible Lincoln. The younger
man would work himself up, and, flushed with ardor, warn
Lincoln against his apparent conservatism when the needs of the
hour were so great; but his only answer would be, “Billy, you
are too rampant and spontaneous.”[15]

Nothing could move him from his fixed conviction that the
temper of Abolitionism made it pernicious. He persisted in
classifying it with slavery,–both of equal danger to free
institutions. He took occasion to reassert this belief in the
one important utterance of a political nature that commemorates
this period. An oration on the death of Henry Clay, contains
the sentence: “Cast into life when slavery was already widely
spread and deeply sealed, he did not perceive, as I think no
wise man has perceived, how it could be at once eradicated
without producing a greater evil even to the cause of human
liberty itself.”[16]

It will be remembered that the Abolitionists were never
strongly national in sentiment. In certain respects they remind
one of the extreme “internationals” of to-day. Their
allegiance was not first of all to Society, nor to governments,
but to abstract ideas. For all such attitudes in political
science, Lincoln had an instinctive aversion. He was permeated
always, by his sense of the community, of the obligation to
work in terms of the community. Even the prejudices, the
shortsightedness of the community were things to be considered,
to be dealt with tenderly. Hence his unwillingness to force
reforms upon a community not ripe to receive them. In one of
his greatest speeches occurs the dictum: “A universal feeling
whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded.”[17] Anticipating such ideas, he made in his Clay oration, a
startling denunciation of both the extreme factions of

“Those (Abolitionists) who would shiver into fragments the
union of these States, tear to tatters its now ‘venerated
Constitution, and even burn the last copy of the Bible rather
than slavery should continue a single hour; together with all
their more halting sympathizers, have received and are
receiving their just execration; and the name and opinion and
influence of Mr. Clay are fully and, as I trust, effectually
and enduringly arrayed against them. But I would also if I
could, array his name, opinion and influence against the
opposite extreme, against a few, but increasing number of men
who, for the sake of perpetuating slavery, are beginning to
assail and ridicule the white man’s charter of freedom, the
declaration that ‘all men are created free and equal.'”[18]

In another passage he stated what he conceived to be the
central inspiration of Clay. Had he been thinking of himself,
he could not have foreshadowed more exactly the basal drift of
all his future as a statesman:

“He loved his country partly because it was his own country,
and mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a
zeal for its advancement, prosperity, and glory, because he saw
in such the advancement, prosperity and glory of human liberty,
human right and human nature.”[19]


Meanwhile, great things were coming forward at Washington.
They centered about a remarkable man with whom Lincoln had
hitherto formed a curious parallel, by whom hitherto he had
been completely overshadowed. Stephen Arnold Douglas was
prosecuting attorney at Springfield when Lincoln began the
practice of law. They were in the Legislature together. Both
courted Mary Todd. Soon afterward, Douglas had distanced his
rival. When Lincoln went to the House of Representatives as a
Whig, Douglas went to the Senate as a Democrat. While Lincoln
was failing at Washington, Douglas was building a national
reputation. In the hubbub that followed the Compromise of
1850, while Lincoln, abandoning politics, immersed himself in
the law, Douglas rendered a service to the country by defeating
a movement in Illinois to reject the Compromise. When the
Democratic National Convention assembled in 1852, he was
sufficiently prominent to obtain a considerable vote for the
presidential nomination.

The dramatic contrast of these two began with their physical
appearance. Douglas was so small that he had been known to sit
on a friend’s knee while arguing politics. But his energy of
mind, his indomitable force of character, made up for his tiny
proportions. “The Little Giant” was a term of endearment
applied to him by his followers. The mental contrast was
equally marked. Scarcely a quality in Lincoln that was not
reversed in Douglas–deliberation, gradualness, introspection,
tenacity, were the characteristics of Lincoln’s mind. The mind
of Douglas was first of all facile. He was extraordinarily
quick. In political Strategy he could sense a new situation,
wheel to meet it, throw overboard well-established plans,
devise new ones, all in the twinkle of an eye. People who
could not understand such rapidity of judgment pronounced him
insincere, or at least, an opportunist. That he did not have
the deep inflexibility of Lincoln may be assumed; that his
convictions, such as they were, did not have an ethical cast
may be safely asserted. Nevertheless, he was a great force, an
immense human power, that did not change its course without
good reason of its own sort. Far more than a mere opportunist.
Politically, he summed up a change that was coming over the
Democratic party. Janus-like, he had two faces, one for his
constituents, one for his colleagues. To the voter he was
still a Jeffersonian, with whom the old phraseology of the
party, liberty, equality, and fraternity, were still the
catch-words. To his associates in the Senate he was
essentially an aristocrat, laboring to advance interests that
were careless of the rights of man. A later age has accused
the Senate of the United States of being the citadel of Big
Business. Waiving the latter view, the historian may assert
that something suggestive of Big Business appeared in our
politics in the ‘fifties, and was promptly made at home in the
Senate. Perhaps its first definite manifestation was a new
activity on the part of the great slave-holders. To invoke
again the classifications of later points of view, certain of
our historians to-day think they can see in the ‘fifties a
virtual slavery trust, a combine of slave interests controlled
by the magnates of the institution, and having as real, though
informal, an existence as has the Steel Trust or the Beef Trust
in our own time. This powerful interest allied itself with the
capitalists of the Northeast. In modern phraseology, they
aimed to “finance” the slave interest from New York. And for a
time the alliance succeeded in doing this. The South went
entirely upon credit. It bought and borrowed heavily in the
East New York furnished the money.

Had there been nothing further to consider, the invasion of the
Senate by Big Business in the ‘fifties might not have taken
place. But there was something else. Slavery’s system of
agriculture was excessively wasteful. To be highly profitable
it required virgin soil, and the financial alliance demanded
high profits. Early in the ‘fifties, the problem of Big
Business was the acquisition of fresh soil for slavery. The
problem entered politics with the question how could this be
brought about without appearing to contradict democracy? The
West also had its incipient Big Business. It hinged upon
railways. Now that California had been acquired, with a steady
stream of migration westward, with all America dazzled more or
less by gold-mines and Pacific trade, a transcontinental
railway was a Western dream. But what course should it take,
what favored regions were to become its immediate
beneficiaries? Here was a chance for great jockeying among
business interests in Congress, for slave-holders,
money-lenders, railway promoters to manipulate deals to their
hearts’ content. They had been doing so amid a high
complication of squabbling, while Douglas was traveling in
Europe during 1853. When he returned late in the year, the
unity of the Democratic machine in Congress was endangered by
these disputes. Douglas at once attacked the problem of party
harmony. He threw himself into the task with all his
characteristic quickness, all his energy and resourcefulness.

By this time the problem contained five distinct factors: The
upper Northeast wanted a railroad starting at Chicago. The
Central West wanted a road from St. Louis. The Southwest
wanted a road from New Orleans, or at least, the frustration of
the two Northern schemes. Big Business wanted new soil for
slavery. The Compromise of 1850 stood in the way of the
extension of slave territory.

If Douglas had had any serious convictions opposed to slavery
the last of the five factors would have brought him to a
standstill. Fortunately for him as a party strategist, he was
indifferent. Then, too, he firmly believed that slavery could
never thrive in the West because of climatic conditions. “Man
might propose, but physical geography would dispose.”[1] On both
counts it seemed to him immaterial what concessions be made to
slavery extension northwestward. Therefore, he dismissed this
consideration and applied himself to the harmonization of the
four business factors involved. The result was a famous
compromise inside a party. His Kansas-Nebraska Bill created
two new territories, one lying westward from Chicago; one lying
westward from St. Louis. It also repealed the Missouri
Compromise and gave the inhabitants of each territory the right
to decide for themselves whether or not slavery should be
permitted in their midst. That is to say, both to the railway
promoter and the slavery financier, it extended equal
governmental protection, but it promised favors to none, and
left each faction to rise or fall in the free competition of
private enterprise. Why–was not this, remembering Douglas’s
assumptions, a master-stroke?

He had expected, of course, denunciation by the Abolitionists.
He considered it immaterial. But he was not in the least
prepared for what happened. A storm burst. It was fiercest in
his own State. “Traitor,” “Arnold,” “Judas,” were the pleasant
epithets fired at him in a bewildering fusillade. He could not
understand it. Something other than mere Abolitionism had been
aroused by his great stroke. But what was it? Why did men who
were not Abolitionists raise a hue and cry? Especially, why
did many Democrats do so? Amazed, puzzled, but as always
furiously valiant, Douglas hurried home to join battle with his
assailants. He entered on a campaign of speech-making. On
October 3, 1854, he spoke at Springfield. His enemies, looking
about for the strongest popular speaker they could find, chose
Lincoln. The next day he replied to Douglas.

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill had not affected any change in
Lincoln’s thinking. His steady, consistent development as a
political thinker had gone on chiefly in silence ever since his
Protest seventeen years before. He was still intolerant of
Abolitionism, still resolved to leave slavery to die a natural
death in the States where it was established. He defended the
measure which most offended the Abolitionists, the Fugitive
Slave Law. He had appeared as counsel for a man who claimed a
runaway slave as his property.[2] None the less, the
Kansas-Nebraska Bill had brought him to his feet, wheeled him
back from law into politics, begun a new chapter. The springs
of action in is case were the factor which Douglas had
overlooked, which in all his calculations he had failed to take
into account, which was destined to destroy him.

Lincoln, no less than Douglas, had sensed the fact that money
was becoming a power in American politics. He saw that money
and slavery tended to become allies with the inevitable result
of a shift of gravity in the American social system.
“Humanity” had once been the American shibboleth; it was giving
place to a new shibboleth- “prosperity.” And the people who
were to control and administer prosperity were the rich. The
rights of man were being superseded by the rights of wealth.
Because of its place in this new coalition of non-democratic
influences, slavery, to Lincoln’s mind, was assuming a new
role, “beginning,” as he had said, in the Clay oration, “to
assail and ridicule the white man’s charter of freedom, the
declaration that ‘all men are created free and equal.'”

That phrase, “the white man’s charter of freedom,” had become
Lincoln’s shibboleth. Various utterances and written fragments
of the summer of 1854, reveal the intensity of his

“Equality in society beats inequality, whether the latter be of
the British aristocratic sort or of the domestic slavery sort”[3]

“If A can prove, however conclusively, that he may of right
enslave B, why may not B snatch the same argument and prove
equally that he may enslave A? You say A is white and B is
black. It is color then; the lighter having the right to
enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule you are to be
slave to the first man you meet with a fairer skin than your
own. You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are
intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and therefore have
the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule you
are to be slave to the first man you meet with an intellect
superior to your own. But, you say, it is a question of
interest, and if you make it your interest, you have the right
to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his
interest, he has the right to enslave you.”[4]

Speaking of slavery to a fellow lawyer, he said: “It is the
most glittering, ostentatious, and displaying property in the
world; and now, if a young man goes courting, the only inquiry
is how many negroes he or his lady love owns. The love of
slave property is swallowing up every other mercenary
possession. Its ownership betokened not only the possession of
wealth, but indicated the gentleman of leisure who was above
and scorned labor.”[5]

It was because of these views, because he saw slavery allying
itself with the spread of plutocratic ideals, that Lincoln
entered the battle to prevent its extension. He did so in his
usual cool, determined way.

Though his first reply to Douglas was not recorded, his second,
made at Peoria twelve days later, still exists.[6] It is a
landmark in his career. It sums up all his long, slow
development in political science, lays the abiding foundation
of everything he thought thereafter. In this great speech, the
end of his novitiate, he rings the changes on the white man’s
charter of freedom. He argues that the extension of slavery
tends to discredit republican institutions, and to disappoint
“the Liberal party throughout the world.” The heart of his
argument is:

“Whether slavery shall go into Nebraska or other new
Territories is not a matter of exclusive concern to the people
who may go there. The whole nation is interested that the best
use shall be made of these Territories. We want them for homes
for free white people. This they can not be to any
considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted within them.
Slave States are places for poor white people to remove from,
not remove to. New Free States are the places for poor people
to go to and better their condition. For this use the nation
needs these Territories.”

The speech was a masterpiece of simplicity, of lucidity. It
showed the great jury; lawyer at his best. Its temper was as
admirable as its logic; not a touch of anger nor of

“I have no prejudice against the Southern people,” said he.
“They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery
did not exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it
did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up.
This I believe of the masses North and South.

“When Southern people tell us that they are no more responsible
for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact.
When it is said that the institution exists and that it is very
difficult to get rid of in any satisfactory way, I can
understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame
them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If
all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do
as to the existing institution.”

His instinctive aversion to fanaticism found expression in a
plea for the golden mean in politics.

“Some men, mostly Whigs, who condemn the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise, nevertheless hesitate to go for its restoration
lest they be thrown in company with the Abolitionists. Will
they allow me as an old Whig, to tell them good-humoredly that
I think this is very silly. Stand with anybody that stands right.
Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes
wrong. Stand with the Abolitionist in restoring the Missouri
Compromise, and stand against him when he attempts to repeal the
Fugitive Slave Law. In the latter case you stand with the
Southern dis-unionist. What of that? You are still right. In
both cases you are right. In both cases you expose the dangerous
extremes. In both you stand on middle ground and hold the ship
level and steady. In both you are national, and nothing less than
national. This is the good old Whig ground. To desert such
ground because of any company is to be less than a Whig-less
than a man-less than an American.”

These two speeches against Douglas made an immense impression
Byron- like, Lincoln waked up and found himself famous.
Thereupon, his ambition revived. A Senator was to be chosen
that autumn. Why might not this be the opportunity to retrieve
his failure in Congress? Shortly after the Peoria speech, he
was sending out notes like this to prominent politicians:

“Dear Sir: You used to express a good deal of partiality for
me, and if you are still so, now is the time. Some friends
here are really for me for the United States Senate, and I
should be very grateful if you could make a mark for me among
your members [of the Legislature].”[7]

When the Legislature assembled, it was found to comprise four
groups: the out-and-out Democrats who would stand by Douglas
through thick and thin, and vote only for his nominee; the
bolting Democrats who would not vote for a Douglas man, but
whose party rancor was so great that they would throw their
votes away rather than give them to a Whig; such enemies of
Douglas as were willing to vote for a Whig; the remainder.

The Democrats supported Governor Matteson; the candidate of the
second group was Lyman Trumbull; the Whigs supported Lincoln.
After nine exciting ballots, Matteson had forty-seven votes,
Trumbull thirty-five, Lincoln fifteen. As the bolting
Democrats were beyond compromise, Lincoln determined to
sacrifice himself in order to defeat Matteson. Though the
fifteen protested against deserting him, he required them to do
so. On the tenth ballot, they transferred their votes to
Trumbull and he was elected.[8]

Douglas had met his first important defeat. His policy had
been repudiated in his own State. And it was Lincoln who had
formulated the argument against him, who had held the balance
of power, and had turned the scale.


Lincoln had found at last a mode and an opportunity for
concentrating all his powers in a way that could have results.
He had discovered himself as a man of letters. The great
speeches of 1854 were not different in a way from the previous
speeches that were without results. And yet they were wholly
different. Just as Lincoln’s version of an old tale made of
that tale a new thing, so Lincoln’s version of an argument made
of it a different thing from other men’s versions. The
oratory of 1854 was not state-craft in any ordinary sense. It
was art Lincoln the artist, who had slowly developed a great
literary faculty, had chanced after so many rebuffs on good
fortune. His cause stood in urgent need of just what he could
give. It was one of those moments when a new political force,
having not as yet any opening for action, finds salvation in
the phrase-maker, in the literary artist who can embody it in

During the next five years and more, Lincoln was the recognized
offset to Douglas. His fame spread from Illinois in both
directions. He was called to Iowa and to Ohio as the advocate
of all advocates who could undo the effect of Douglas. His
fame traveled eastward. The culmination of the period of
literary leadership was his famous speech at Cooper Union in
February, 1860.

It was inevitable that he should go along with the antislavery
coalition which adopted the name of the Republican party. But
his natural deliberation kept him from being one of its
founders. An attempt of its founders to appropriate him after
the triumph at Springfield, in October, 1854, met with a
rebuff.[1] Nearly a year and a half went by before he affiliated
himself with the new party. But once having made up his mind,
he went forward wholeheartedly. At the State Convention of
Illinois Republicans in 1856 he made a speech that has not been
recorded but which is a tradition for moving oratory. That
same year a considerable number of votes were cast for Lincoln
for Vice-President in the Republican National Convention.

But all these were mere details. The great event of the years
between 1854 and 1860 was his contest with Douglas. It was a
battle of wits, a great literary duel. Fortunately for
Lincoln, his part was played altogether on his own soil, under
conditions in which he was entirely at his ease, where nothing
conspired with his enemy to embarrass him.

Douglas had a far more difficult task. Unforeseen
complications rapidly forced him to change his policy, to meet
desertion and betrayal in his own ranks. These were terrible
years when fierce events followed one another in quick
succession–the rush of both slave-holders and abolitionists
into Kansas; the cruel war along the Wakarusa River; the sack
of Lawrence by the pro-slavery party; the massacre by John
Brown at Pottawatomie; the diatribes of Sumner in the Senate;
the assault on Sumner by Brooks. In the midst of this carnival
of ferocity came the Dred Scott decision, cutting under the
Kansas-Nebraska Bill, denying to the people of a Territory the
right to legislate on slavery, and giving to all slave-holders
the right to settle with their slaves anywhere they pleased
outside a Free State. This famous decision repudiated
Douglas’s policy of leaving all such questions to local
autonomy and to private enterprise. For a time Douglas made no
move to save his policy. But when President Buchanan decided
to throw the influence of the Administration on the side of the
pro-slavery party in Kansas, Douglas was up in arms. When it
was proposed to admit Kansas with a constitution favoring
slavery, but which had not received the votes of a majority of
the inhabitants, Douglas voted with the Republicans to defeat
admission. Whereupon the Democratic party machine and the
Administration turned upon him without mercy. He stood alone
in a circle of enemies. At no other time did he show so many
of the qualities of a great leader. Battling with Lincoln in
the popular forum on the one hand, he was meeting daily on the
other assaults by a crowd of brilliant opponents in Congress.
At the same time he was playing a consummate game of political
strategy, struggling against immense odds to recover his hold
on Illinois. The crisis would come in 1858 when he would have
to go before the Legislature for reelection. He knew well
enough who his opponent would be. At every turn there fell
across his path the shadow of a cool sinister figure, his
relentless enemy. It was Lincoln. On the struggle with
Lincoln his whole battle turned.

Abandoned by his former allies, his one hope was the retention
of his constituency. To discredit Lincoln, to twist and
discredit all his arguments, was for Douglas a matter of life
and death. He struck frequently with great force, but
sometimes with more fury than wisdom. Many a time the
unruffled coolness of Lincoln brought to nothing what was meant
for a deadly thrust. Douglas took counsel of despair and tried
to show that Lincoln was preaching the amalgamation of the
white and black races. “I protest,” Lincoln replied, “against
the counterfeit logic which says that because I do not want a
black woman for a slave, I must necessarily want her for a
wife. I need not have her for either. I can just leave her
alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in
her natural right to eat the bread she earns with,her own hands
without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal and the
equal of all others.”[2] Any false move made by Douglas, any rash
assertion, was sure to be seized upon by that watchful enemy in
Illinois. In attempting to defend himself on two fronts at
once, defying both the Republicans and the Democratic machine,
Douglas made his reckless declaration that all he wanted was a
fair vote by the people of Kansas; that for himself he did not
care how they settled the matter, whether slavery was voted up
or voted down. With relentless skill, Lincoln developed the
implications of this admission, drawing forth from its
confessed indifference to the existence of slavery, a chain of
conclusions that extended link by link to a belief in reopening
the African slave trade. This was done in his speech accepting
the Republican nomination for the Senate. In the same speech
he restated his general position in half a dozen sentences that
became at once a classic statement for the whole Republican
party: “A house divided against itself can not stand. I
believe this government can not endure permanently half slave
and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I
do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease
to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread
of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the
belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its
advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike
lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as

The great duel was rapidly approaching its climax. What was in
reality no more than the last round has appropriated a label
that ought to have a wider meaning and is known as the
Lincoln-Douglas Debates. The two candidates made a joint tour
of the State, debating their policies in public at various
places during the summer and autumn of 1858.

Properly considered, these famous speeches closed Lincoln’s
life as an orator. The Cooper Union speech was an isolated
aftermath in alien conditions, a set performance not quite in
his true vein. His brief addresses of the later years were
incidental; they had no combative element. Never again was he
to attempt to sway an audience for an immediate stake through
the use of the spoken word. “A brief description of Mr.
Lincoln’s appearance on the stump and of his manner when
speaking,” as Herndon aptly remarks, “may not be without
interest. When standing erect, he was six feet four inches high.
He was lean in flesh and ungainly in figure. Aside from his
sad, pained look, due to habitual melancholy, his face had no
characteristic or fixed expression. He was thin through the
chest and hence slightly stoop-shouldered. . . . At first
he was very awkward and it seemed a real labor to adjust
himself to his surroundings. He struggled for a time under a
feeling of apparent diffidence and sensitiveness, and these
only added to his awkwardness. . . . When he began speaking
his voice was shrill, piping and unpleasant. His manner, his
attitude, his dark yellow face, wrinkled and dry, his oddity of
pose, his diffident movements; everything seemed to be against
him, but only for a short time. . . . As he proceeded, he
became somewhat more animated. . . . He did not gesticulate
as much with his hands as with his head. He used the latter
frequently, throwing it with him, this way and that. . . .
He never sawed the air nor rent space into tatters and rags, as
some orators do. He never acted for stage effect. He was
cool, considerate, reflective–in time, self-possessed and
self-reliant. . . . As he moved along in his speech he
became freer and less uneasy in his movements; to that extent
he was graceful. He had a perfect naturalness, a strong
individuality, and to that extent he was dignified. . . .
He spoke with effectiveness–and to move the judgment as well as
the emotion of men. There was a world of meaning and emphasis
in the long, bony finger of the right hand as he dotted the
ideas on the minds of his hearers. . . . He always stood
squarely on his feet. . . . He neither touched nor leaned
on anything for support. He never ranted, never walked
backward and forward on the platform. . . . As he proceeded
with his speech, the exercise of his vocal organs altered
somewhat the pitch of his voice. It lost in a measure its
former acute and shrilling pitch and mellowed into a more
harmonious and pleasant sound. His form expanded, and
notwithstanding the sunken breast, he rose up a splendid and
imposing figure. . . . His little gray eyes flashed in a
face aglow with the fire of his profound thoughts; and his
uneasy movements and diffident manner sunk themselves beneath
the wave of righteous indignation that came sweeping over

A wonderful dramatic contrast were these two men, each in his
way so masterful, as they appeared in the famous debates. By
good fortune we have a portrait of Douglas the orator, from the
pen of Mrs. Stowe, who had observed him with reluctant
admiration from the gallery of the Senate. “This Douglas is
the very ideal of vitality. Short, broad, thick-set, every
inch of him has its own alertness and motion. He has a good
head, thick black hair, heavy black brows, and a keen face.
His figure would be an unfortunate one were it not for the
animation that constantly pervades it. As it is it rather
gives poignancy to his peculiar appearance; he has a small
handsome hand, moreover, and a graceful as well as forcible
mode of using it. . . . He has two requisites of a debater,
a melodious voice and clear, sharply defined enunciation. His
forte in debating is his power of mystifying the point. With
the most offhand assured airs in the world, and a certain
appearance of honest superiority, like one who has a regard for
you and wishes to set you right on one or two little matters,
he proceeds to set up some point which is not that in
question, but only a family connection of it, and this point he
attacks with the very best of logic and language; he charges
upon it, horse and foot, runs it down, tramples it in the dust,
and then turns upon you with ‘See, there is your argument. Did
I not tell you so? You see it is all stuff.’ And if you have
allowed yourself to be so dazzled by his quickness as to forget
that the routed point is not, after all, the one in question,
you suppose all is over with it. Moreover, he contrives to
mingle up so many stinging allusions, so many piquant
personalities, that by the time he has done his mystification,
a dozen others are ready and burning to spring on their feet to
repel some direct or indirect attack all equally wide of the

The mode of travel of the two contestants heightened the
contrast. George B. McClellan, a young engineer officer who
had recently resigned from the army and was now general
superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad, gave Douglas
his private car and a special train. Lincoln traveled any way
he could-in ordinary passenger trains, or even in the caboose
of a freight train. A curious symbolization of Lincoln’s
belief that the real conflict was between the plain people and
organized money!

The debates did not develop new ideas. It was a literary duel,
each leader aiming to restate himself in the most telling,
popular way. For once that superficial definition of art
applied: “What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.”
Nevertheless the debates contained an incident that helped to
make history. Though Douglas was at war with the
Administration, it was not certain that the quarrel might not
be made up. There was no other leader who would be so
formidable at the head of a reunited Democratic party. Lincoln
pondered the question, how could the rift between Douglas and
the Democratic machine be made irrevocable? And now a new
phase of Lincoln appeared. It was the political strategist He
saw that if he would disregard his own chance of election-as he
had done from a simpler motive four years before–he could drive
Douglas into a dilemma from which there was no real escape. He
confided his purpose to his friends; they urged him not to do
it. But he had made up his mind as he generally did, without
consultation, in the silence of his own thoughts, and once
having made it up, he was inflexible.

At Freeport, Lincoln made the move which probably lost him the
Senatorship. He asked a question which if Douglas answered it
one way would enable him to recover the favor of Illinois but
would lose him forever the favor of the slave-holders; but
which, if he answered it another way might enable him to make
his peace at Washington but would certainly lose him Illinois.
The question was: “Can the people of a United States Territory
in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the
United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the
formation of a State Constitution?”[5] In other words, is the
Dred Scott decision good law? Is it true that a slave-holder
can take his slaves into Kansas if the people of Kansas want to
keep him out?

Douglas saw the trap. With his instantaneous facility he tried
to cloud the issue and extricate himself through evasion in the
very manner Mrs. Stowe has described. While dodging a denial
of the court’s authority, he insisted that his doctrine of
local autonomy was still secure because through police
regulation the local legislature could foster or strangle
slavery, just as they pleased, no matter “what way the Supreme
Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether
slavery may or may not go into a Territory under the

As Lincoln’s friends had foreseen, this matchless performance
of carrying water on both shoulders caught the popular fancy;
Douglas was reelected to the Senate. As Lincoln had foreseen,
it killed him as a Democratic leader; it prevented the reunion
of the Democratic party. The result appeared in 1860 when the
Republicans, though still a minority party, carried the day
because of the bitter divisions among the Democrats. That was
what Lincoln foresaw when he said to his fearful friends while
they argued in vain to prevent his asking the question at
Free-port. “I am killing larger game; the great battle of 1860
is worth a thousand of this senatorial race.”[6]


One of the most curious things in Lincoln is the way his
confidence in himself came and went. He had none of Douglas’s
unwavering self-reliance. Before the end, to be sure, he
attained a type of self-reliance, higher and more
imperturbable. But this was not the fruit of a steadfast
unfolding. Rather, he was like a tree with its alternating
periods of growth and pause, now richly in leaf, now dormant.
Equally applicable is the other familiar image of the
successive waves.

The clue seems to have been, in part at least, a matter of
vitality. Just as Douglas emanated vitality–so much so that
his aura filled the whole Senate chamber and forced an
unwilling response in the gifted but hostile woman who watched
him from the gallery–Lincoln, conversely, made no such
overpowering impression. His observers, however much they have
to say about his humor, his seasons of Shakespearian mirth,
never forget their impression that at heart he is sad. His
fondness for poetry in the minor key has become a byword,
especially the line “Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be

It is impossible to discover any law governing the succession
of his lapses in self-reliance. But they may be related very
plausibly to his sense of failure or at least to his sense of
futility. He was one of those intensely sensitive natures to
whom the futilities of this world are its most discouraging
feature. Whenever such ideas were brought home to him his
energy flagged; his vitality, never high, sank. He was prone
to turn away from the outward life to lose himself in the
inner. All this is part of the phenomena which Herndon
perceived more clearly than he comprehended it, which led him
to call Lincoln a fatalist.

A humbler but perhaps more accurate explanation is the reminder
that he was son to Thomas the unstable. What happened in
Lincoln’s mind when he returned defeated from Washington, that
ghost-like rising of the impulses of old Thomas, recurred more
than once thereafter. In fact there is a period well-defined,
a span of thirteen years terminating suddenly on a day in 1862,
during which the ghost of old Thomas is a thing to be reckoned
with in his son’s life. It came and went, most of the time
fortunately far on the horizon. But now and then it drew near.
Always it was lurking somewhere, waiting to seize upon him in
those moments when his vitality sank, when his energies were in
the ebb, when his thoughts were possessed by a sense of

The year 1859 was one of his ebb tides. In the previous year
the rising tide, which had mounted high during his success on
the circuit, reached its crest The memory of his failure at
Washington was effaced. At Freeport he was a more powerful
genius, a more dominant personality, than he had ever been.
Gradually, in the months following, the high wave subsided.
During 1859 he gave most of his attention to his practice.
Though political speech-making continued, and though he did not
impair his reputation, he did nothing of a remarkable sort.
The one literary fragment of any value is a letter to a Boston
committee that had invited him to attend a “festival” in Boston
on Jefferson’s birthday. He avowed himself a thoroughgoing
disciple of Jefferson and pronounced the principles of
Jefferson “the definitions and axioms of free society.” Without
conditions he identified his own cause with the cause of
Jefferson, “the man who in the concrete pressure of a struggle
for national independence by a single people, had the coolness,
forecast and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary
document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all
times, and so to embalm it there that today and in all coming
days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very
harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.”[1]

While the Boston committee were turning their eyes toward this
great new phrase-maker of the West, several politicians in
Illinois had formed a bold resolve. They would try to make him
President. The movement had two sources–the personal loyalty
of his devoted friends of the circuit, the shrewdness of the
political managers who saw that his duel with Douglas had made
him a national figure. As one of them said to him, “Douglas
being so widely known, you are getting a national reputation
through him.” Lincoln replied that he did not lack the ambition
but lacked altogether the confidence in the possibility of

This was his attitude during most of 1859. The glow, the
enthusiasm, of the previous year was gone. “I must in candor
say that I do not think myself fit for the Presidency,” he
wrote to a newspaper editor in April. He used the same words
to another correspondent in July. As late as November first,
he wrote, “For my single self, I have enlisted for the
permanent success of the Republican cause, and for this object
I shall labor faithfully in the ranks, unless, as I think not
probable, the judgment of the party shall assign me a different

Meanwhile, both groups of supporters had labored unceasingly,
regardless of his approval. In his personal following, the
companionableness of twenty years had deepened into an almost
romantic loyalty. The leaders of this enthusiastic attachment,
most of them lawyers, had no superiors for influence in
Illinois. The man who had such a following was a power in
politics whether he would or no. This the mere politicians
saw. They also saw that the next Republican nomination would
rest on a delicate calculation of probabilities. There were
other Republicans more conspicuous than Lincoln–Seward in New
York, Sumner in Massachusetts, Chase in Ohio–but all these had
inveterate enemies. Despite their importance would it be safe
to nominate them? Would not the party be compelled to take
some relatively minor figure, some essentially new man? In a
word, what we know as a “dark horse.” Believing that this would
happen, they built hopefully on their faith in Lincoln.

Toward the end of the year he was at last persuaded to take his
candidacy seriously. The local campaign for his nomination had
gone so far that a failure to go further would have the look of
being discarded as the local Republican leader. This argument
decided him. Before the year’s end he had agreed to become a
candidate before the convention. In his own words, “I am not
in a position where it would hurt much for me to not be
nominated on the national ticket; but I am where it would hurt
some for me to not get the Illinois delegates.”[4]

It was shortly after this momentous decision that he went to
New York by invitation and made his most celebrated, though not
in any respect his greatest, oration.[5] A large audience filled
Cooper Union, February 27, 1860. William Cullen Bryant
presided. David Dudley Field escorted Lincoln to the platform.
Horace Greeley was in the audience. Again, the performance was
purely literary. No formulation of new policies, no appeal for
any new departure. It was a masterly restatement of his
position; of the essence of the debates with Douglas. It
cleansed the Republican platform of all accidental accretions,
as if a ship’s hull were being scraped of barnacles preparatory
to a voyage; it gave the underlying issues such inflexible
definition that they could not be juggled with. Again he
showed a power of lucid statement not possessed by any of his
rivals. An incident of the speech was his unsparing
condemnation of John Brown whose raid and death were on every
tongue. “You charge that we stir up insurrections among your
slaves,” said he, apostrophizing the slave-holders. “We deny
it, and what is your proof? ‘Harper’s Ferry; John Brown!’ John
Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a
single Republican in this Harper’s Ferry enterprise. . .

“John Brown’s effort was peculiar. It was not a slave
insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a
revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to
participate. In fact, it was so absurd that the slaves with
all their ignorance saw plainly enough that it could not
succeed. That affair in its philosophy corresponds with the
many attempts related in history at the assassination of kings
and emperors. An enthusiast broods over the oppression of the
people until he fancies himself commissioned by heaven to
liberate them. He ventures the attempt which ends in little
else than his own execution. Orsini’s attempt on Louis
Napoleon, and John Brown’s attempt at Harper’s Ferry were, in
their philosophy, precisely the same. The eagerness to cast
blame on old England in the one case and on New England in the
other, does not disprove the sameness of the two things.”

The Cooper Union speech received extravagant praise from all
the Republican newspapers. Lincoln’s ardent partisans assert
that it took New York “by storm.” Rather too violent a way of
putting it! But there can be no doubt that the speech made a
deep impression. Thereafter, many of the Eastern managers were
willing to consider Lincoln as a candidate, should factional
jealousies prove uncompromising. Any port in a storm, you
know. Obviously, there could be ports far more dangerous than
this “favorite son” of Illinois.

Many national conventions in the United States have decided
upon a compromise candidate, “a dark horse,” through just such
reasoning. The most noted instance is the Republican
Convention of 1860. When it assembled at Chicago in June, the
most imposing candidate was the brilliant leader of the New
York Republicans, Seward. But no man in the country had more
bitter enemies. Horace Greeley whose paper The Tribune was by
far the most influential Republican organ, went to Chicago
obsessed by one purpose: because of irreconcilable personal
quarrels he would have revenge upon Seward. Others who did not
hate Seward were afraid of what Greeley symbolized. And all of
them knew that whatever else happened, the West must be

The Lincoln managers played upon the Eastern jealousies and the
Eastern fears with great skill. There was little sleep among
the delegates the night previous to the balloting. At just the
right moment, the Lincoln managers, though their chief had
forbidden them to do so, offered promises with regard to
Cabinet appointments.[6] And they succeeded in packing the
galleries of the Convention Hall with a perfectly organized
claque-“rooters,” the modern American would say.

The result on the third ballot was a rush to Lincoln of all the
enemies of Seward, and Lincoln’s nomination amid a roaring
frenzy of applause.


After twenty-three years of successive defeats, Lincoln, almost
fortuitously, was at the center of the political maelstrom.
The clue to what follows is in the way he had developed during
that long discouraging apprenticeship to greatness. Mentally,
he had always been in isolation. Socially, he had lived in a
near horizon. The real tragedy of his failure at Washington
was in the closing against him of the opportunity to know his
country as a whole. Had it been Lincoln instead of Douglas to
whom destiny had given a residence at Washington during the
‘fifties, it is conceivable that things might have been
different in the ‘sixties. On the other hand, America would
have lost its greatest example of the artist in politics.

And without that artist, without his extraordinary literary
gift, his party might not have consolidated in 1860. A very
curious party it was. It had sprung to life as a denial, as a
device for halting Douglas. Lincoln’s doctrine of the golden
mean, became for once a political power. Men of the most
diverse views on other issues accepted in their need the axiom:
“Stand with anybody so long as he stands right.” And standing
right, for that moment in the minds of them all, meant keeping
slavery and the money power from devouring the territories.

The artist of the movement expressed them all in his
declaration that the nation needed the Territories to give home
and opportunity to free white people. Even the Abolitionists,
who hitherto had refused to make common cause with any other
faction, entered the negative coalition of the new party. So
did Whigs, and anti-slavery Democrats, as well as other
factions then obscure which we should now label Socialists and

However, this coalition, which in origin was purely negative,
revealed, the moment it coalesced, two positive features. To
the man of the near horizon in 1860 neither of these features
seemed of first importance. To the man outside that horizon,
seeing them in perspective as related to the sum total of
American life, they had a significance he did not entirely

The first of these was the temper of the Abolitionists.
Lincoln ignored it. He was content with his ringing
assertion,of, the golden mean. But there spoke the man of
letters rather than the statesman. Of temper in politics as an
abstract idea, he had been keenly conscious from the first; but
his lack of familiarity with political organizations kept him
from assigning full value to the temper of any one factor as
affecting the joint temper of the whole group. It was
appointed for him to learn this in a supremely hard way and to
apply the lesson with wonderful audacity. But in 1860 that
stern experience still slept in the future. He had no
suspicion as yet that he might find it difficult to carry out
his own promise to stand with the Abolitionists in excluding
slavery from the Territories, and to stand against them in
enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law. He did not yet see why any
one should doubt the validity of this promise; why any one
should be afraid to go along with him, afraid that the temper
of one element would infect the whole coalition.

But this fear that Lincoln did not allow for, possessed already
a great many minds. Thousands of Southerners, of the sort whom
Lincoln credited with good intentions about slavery, feared the
Abolitionists Not because the Abolitionists wanted to destroy
slavery, but because they wanted to do so fiercely, cruelly.
Like Lincoln, these Southerners who were liberals in thought
and moderates in action, did not know what to do about slavery.
Like Lincoln, they had but one fixed idea with regard to
it,–slavery must not be terminated violently. Lincoln, despite
his near horizon, sensed them correctly as not being at one
with the great plutocrats who wished to exploit slavery. But
when the Abolitionist poured out the same fury of vituperation
on every sort of slave-holder; when he promised his soul that
it should yet have the joy of exulting in the ruin of all such,
the moderate Southerners became as flint. When the
Abolitionists proclaimed their affiliation with the new party,
the first step was taken toward a general Southern coalition to
stop the Republican advance.

There was another positive element blended into the negative
coalition. In 1857, the Republicans overruling the traditions
of those members who had once been Democrats, set their faces
toward protection. To most of the Northerners the fatefulness
of the step was not obvious. Twenty years had passed since a
serious tariff controversy had shaken the North. Financial
difficulties in the ‘fifties were more prevalent in the North
than in the South. Business was in a quandary. Labor was
demanding better opportunities. Protection as a solution, or
at least as a palliative, seemed to the mass of the Republican
coalition, even to the former Democrats for all their free
trade traditions, not outrageous. To the Southerners it was an
alarm bell. The Southern world was agricultural; its staple
was cotton; the bulk of its market was in England. Ever since
1828, the Southern mind had been constantly on guard with
regard to tariff, unceasingly fearful that protection would be
imposed on it by Northern and Western votes. To have to sell
its cotton in England at free trade values, but at the same
time to have to buy its commodities at protected values fixed
by Northern manufacturers–what did that mean but the despotism
of one section over another? When the Republicans took up
protection as part of their creed, a general Southern coalition
was rendered almost inevitable.

This, Lincoln {Missing text}. Again it is to be accounted for
in part by his near horizon. Had he lived at Washington, had
he met, frequently, Southern men; had he passed those crucial
years of the ‘fifties in debates with political leaders rather
than in story-telling tournaments on the circuit; perhaps all
this would have been otherwise. But one can not be quite sure.
Finance never appealed to him. A wide application may be given
to Herndon’s remark that “he had no money sense.” All the rest
of the Republican doctrine finds its best statement in Lincoln.
On the one subject of its economic policy he is silent.
Apparently it is to be classified with the routine side of the
law. To neither was he ever able to give more than a
perfunctory attention. As an artist in politics he had the
defect of his qualities.

What his qualities showed him were two things: the alliance of
the plutocratic slave power with the plutocratic money power,
and the essential rightness in impulse of the bulk of the
Southern people. Hence his conclusion which became his party’s
conclusion: that, in the South, a political-financial ring was
dominating a leaderless people, This was not the truth.
Lincoln’s defects in 1860 limited his vision. Nevertheless, to
the solitary distant thinker, shut in by the near horizon of
political Springfield, there was every excuse for the error.
The palpable evidence all confirmed it. What might have
contradicted it was a cloud of witnesses, floating, incidental,
casual, tacit. Just what a nature like Lincoln’s, if only he
could have met them, would have perceived and comprehended;
what a nature like Douglas’s, no matter how plainly they were
presented to him, could neither perceive nor comprehend. It
was the irony of fate that an opportunity to fathom his time
was squandered upon the unseeing Douglas, while to the seeing
Lincoln it was denied. In a word, the Southern reaction
against the Republicans, like the Republican movement itself,
had both a positive and a negative side. It was the positive
side that could be seen and judged at long range. And this was
what Lincoln saw, which appeared to him to have created the
dominant issue in 1860.

The negative side of the Southern movement he did not see. He
was too far away to make out the details of the picture.
Though he may have known from the census of 1850 that only
one-third of the Southern whites were members of slave-holding
families, he could scarcely have known that only a small
minority of the Southern families owned as many as five slaves;
that those who had fortunes in slaves were a mere handful–just
as today those who have fortunes in steel or beef are mere
handfuls. But still less did he know how entirely this vast
majority which had so little, if any, interest in slavery, had
grown to fear and distrust the North. They, like him, were
suffering from a near horizon. They, too, were applying the
principle “Stand with anybody so long as he stands right” But
for them, standing right meant preventing a violent revolution
in Southern life. Indifferent as they were to slavery, they
were willing to go along with the “slave-barons” in the attempt
to consolidate the South in a movement of denial–a denial of
the right of the North, either through Abolitionism or through
tariff, to dominate the South.

If only Lincoln with his subtle mind could have come into touch
with the negative side of the Southern agitation! It was the
other side, the positive side, that was vocal. With immense
shrewdness the profiteers of slavery saw and developed their
opportunity. They organized the South. They preached on all
occasions, in all connections, the need of all Southerners to
stand together, no matter how great their disagreements, in
order to prevent the impoverishment of the South by hostile
economic legislation. During the late ‘fifties their
propaganda for an all-Southern policy, made slow but constant
headway. But even in 1859 these ideas were still far from
controlling the South.

And then came John Brown. The dread of slave insurrection was
laid deep in Southern recollection. Thirty years before, the
Nat Turner Rebellion had filled a portion of Virginia with
burned plantation houses amid whose ruins lay the dead bodies
of white women. A little earlier, a negro conspiracy at
Charleston planned the murder of white men and the parceling
out of white women among the conspirators. And John Brown had
come into Virginia at the head of a band of strangers calling
upon the slaves to rise and arm.

Here was a supreme opportunity. The positive Southern force,
the slave profiteers, seized at once the attitude of champions
of the South. It was easy enough to enlist the negative force
in a shocked and outraged denunciation of everything Northern.
And the Northern extremists did all that was in their power to
add fuel to the flame. Emerson called Brown “this new saint
who had made the gallows glorious as the cross.” The
Southerners, hearing that, thought of the conspiracy to parcel
out the white women of Charleston. Early in 1860 it seemed as
if the whole South had but one idea-to part company with the

No wonder Lincoln threw all his influence into the scale to
discredit the memory of Brown. No wonder the Republicans in
their platform carefully repudiated him. They could not undo
the impression made on the Southern mind by two facts: the men
who lauded Brown as a new saint were voting the Republican
ticket; the Republicans had committed themselves to the
anti-Southern policy of protection.

And yet, in spite of all the labors of pro-slavery extremists,
the movement for a breach with the North lost ground during
1860. When the election came, the vote for President revealed
a singular and unforeseen situation. Four candidates were in
the field. The Democrats, split into two by the issue of
slavery expansion, formed two parties. The slave profiteers
secured the nomination by one faction of John C. Breckinridge.
The moderate Democrats who would neither fight nor favor
slavery, nominated Douglas. The most peculiar group was the
fourth. They included all those who would not join the
Republicans for fear of the temper of the Abolition-members,
but who were not promoters of slavery, and who distrusted
Douglas. They had no program but to restore the condition of
things that existed before the Nebraska Bill. About four
million five hundred thousand votes were cast. Lincoln had
less than two million, and all but about twenty-four thousand
of these were in the Free States. However, the disposition of
Lincoln’s vote gave him the electoral college. He was chosen
President by the votes of a minority of the nation. But there
was another minority vote which as events turned out, proved
equally significant. Breckinridge, the symbol of the slave
profiteers, and of all those whom they had persuaded to follow
them, had not been able to carry the popular vote of the South.
They were definitely in the minority in their own section. The
majority of the Southerners had so far reacted from the wild
alarms of the beginning of the year that they refused to go
along with the candidates of the extremists. They were for
giving the Union another trial. The South itself had
repudiated the slave profiteers.

This was the immensely significant fact of November, 1860. It
made a great impression on the whole country. For the moment
it made the fierce talk of the Southern extremists
inconsequential. Buoyant Northerners, such as Seward, felt
that the crisis was over; that the South had voted for a
reconciliation; that only tact was needed to make everybody
happy. When, a few weeks after the election, Seward said that
all would be merry again inside of ninety days, his illusion
had for its foundation the Southern rejection of the slave

Unfortunately, Seward did not understand the precise
significance of the thought of the moderate South. He did not
understand that while the South had voted to send Breckinridge
and his sort about their business, it was still deeply alarmed,
deeply fearful that after all it might at any minute be forced
to call them back, to make common cause with them against what
it regarded as an alien and destructive political power, the
Republicans. This was the Southern reservation, the unspoken
condition of the vote which Seward–and for that matter,
Lincoln, also,–failed to comprehend. Because of these
cross-purposes, because the Southern alarm was based on another
thing than the standing or falling of slavery, the situation
called for much more than tact, for profound psychological

And now emerges out of the complexities of the Southern
situation a powerful personality whose ideas and point of view
Lincoln did not understand. Robert Barnwell Rhett had once
been a man of might in politics. Twice he had very nearly rent
the Union asunder. In 1844, again in 1851, he had come to the
very edge of persuading South Carolina to secede. In each case
he sought to organize the general discontent of the South,–its
dread of a tariff, and of Northern domination. After his
second failure, his haughty nature took offense at fortune. He
resigned his seat in the Senate and withdrew to private life.
But he was too large and too bold a character to attain
obscurity. Nor would his restless genius permit him to rust in
ease. During the troubled ‘fifties, he watched from a
distance, but with ever increasing interest, that negative
Southern force which he, in the midst of it, comprehended,
while it drifted under the wing of the extremists. As he did
so, the old arguments, the old ambitions, the old hopes
revived. In 1851 his cry to the South was to assert itself as
a Separate nation–not for any one reason, but for many
reasons–and to lead its own life apart from the North. It was
an age of brilliant though ill-fated revolutionary movements in
Europe. Kossuth and the gallant Hungarian attempt at
independence had captivated the American imagination. Rhett
dreamed of seeing the South do what Hungary had failed to do.
He thought of the problem as a medieval knight would have
thought, in terms of individual prowess, with the modern
factors, economics and all their sort, left on one side.
“Smaller nations [than South Carolina],” he said in 1851,
“have striven for freedom against greater odds.”

In 1860 he had concluded that his third chance had come. He
would try once more to bring about secession. To split the
Union, he would play into the hands of the slave-barons. He
would aim to combine with their movement the negative Southern
movement and use the resulting coalition to crown with success
his third attempt. Issuing from his seclusion, he became at
once the overshadowing figure in South Carolina. Around him
all the elements of revolution crystallized. He was sixty
years old; seasoned and uncompromising in the pursuit of his
one ideal, the independence of the South. His arguments were
the same which he had used in 1844, in 1851: the North would
impoverish the South; it threatens to impose a crushing tribute
in the shape of protection; it seeks to destroy slavery; it
aims to bring about economic collapse; in the wreck thus
produced, everything that is beautiful, charming, distinctive
in Southern life will be lost; let us fight! With such a
leader, the forces of discontent were quickly, effectively,
organized. Even before the election of Lincoln, the
revolutionary leaders in South Carolina were corresponding with
men of like mind in other Southern States, especially Alabama,
where was another leader, Yancey, only second in intensity to

The word from these Alabama revolutionists to South Carolina
was to dare all, to risk seceding alone, confident that the
other States of the South would follow. Rhett and his new
associates took this perilous advice. The election was
followed by the call of a convention of delegates of the people
of South Carolina. This convention, on the twentieth of
December, 1860, repealed the laws which united South Carolina
with the other States and proclaimed their own independent.


Though Seward and other buoyant natures felt that the crisis
had passed with the election, less volatile people held the
opposite view. Men who had never before taken seriously the
Southern threats of disunion had waked suddenly to a terrified
consciousness that they were in for it. In their blindness to
realities earlier in the year, they were like that brilliant
host of camp followers which, as Thackeray puts it, led the
army of Wellington dancing and feasting to the very brink of
Waterloo. And now the day of reckoning had come. An emotional
reaction carried them from one extreme to the other; from
self-sufficient disregard of their adversaries to an almost
self-abasing regard.

The very type of these people and of their reaction was Horace
Greeley. He was destined many times to make plain that he
lived mainly in his sensibilities; that, in his kaleidoscopic
vision, the pattern of the world could be red and yellow and
green today, and orange and purple and blue tomorrow. To
descend from a pinnacle of self-complacency into a desolating
abyss of panic, was as easy for Greeley as it is–in the vulgar
but pointed American phrase–to roll off a log. A few days
after the election, Greeley had rolled off his log. He was
wallowing in panic. He began to scream editorially. The
Southern extremists were terribly in earnest; if they wanted to
go, go they would, and go they should. But foolish Northerners
would be sure to talk war and the retaining of the South in the
Union by force: it must not be; what was the Union compared
with bloodshed? There must be no war–no war. Such was
Greeley’s terrified–appeal to the North. A few weeks after
the election he printed his famous editorial denouncing the
idea of a Union pinned together by bayonets. He followed up
with another startling concession to his fears: the South had
as good cause for leaving the Union as the colonies had for
leaving the British Empire. A little later, he formulated his
ultimate conclusion,–which like many of his ultimates proved to
be transitory,–and declared that if any group of Southern
States “choose to form an independent nation, they have a clear
moral right to do so,” and pledging himself and his followers
to do “our best to forward their views.

Greeley wielded through The Tribune more influence, perhaps,
than was possessed by any other Republican with the single
exception of Lincoln. His newspaper constituency was enormous,
and the relation between the leader and the led was unusually
close. He was both oracle and barometer. As a symptom of the
Republican panic, as a cause increasing that panic, he was of
first importance.

Meanwhile Congress had met. And at once, the most
characteristic peculiarity of the moment was again made
emphatic. The popular majorities and the political machines
did not coincide. Both in the North and in the South a
minority held the situation in the hollow of its hand. The
Breckinridge Democrats, despite their repudiation in the
presidential vote, included so many of the Southern
politicians, they were so well organized, they had scored such
a menacing victory with the aid of Rhett in South Carolina,
they had played so skilfully on the fears of the South at
large, their leaders were such skilled managers, that they were
able to continue for the moment the recognized spokesmen of the
South at Washington. They lost no time defining their
position. If the Union were not to be sundered, the
Republicans must pledge themselves to a new and extensive
compromise; it must be far different from those historic
compromises that had preceded it. Three features must
characterize any new agreement: The South must be dealt with as
a unit; it must be given a “sphere of influence”–to use our
modern term–which would fully satisfy all its impulses of
expansion; and in that sphere, every question of slavery must
be left entirely, forever, to local action. In a word, they
demanded for the South what today would be described as a
“dominion” status. Therefore, they insisted that the party
which had captured the Northern political machine should
formulate its reply to these demands. They gave notice that
they would not discuss individual schemes, but only such as the
victorious Republicans might officially present. Thus the
national crisis became a party crisis. What could the
Republicans among themselves agree to propose?

The central figure of the crisis seemed at first to be the
brilliant Republican Senator from New York. Seward thought he
understood the South, and what was still more important, human
nature. Though he echoed Greeley’s cry for peace–translating
his passionate hysteria into the polished cynicism of a
diplomat who had been known to deny that he was ever entirely
serious-he scoffed at Greeley’s fears. If the South had not
voted lack of confidence in the Breckinridge crowd, what had it
voted? If the Breckinridge leaders weren’t maneuvering to save
their faces, what could they be accused of doing? If Seward,
the Republican man of genius, couldn’t see through all that,
couldn’t devise a way to help them save their faces, what was
the use in being a brilliant politician?

Jauntily self-complacent, as confident of himself as if Rome
were burning and he the garlanded fiddler, Seward braced
himself for the task of recreating the Union.

But there was an obstacle in his path. It was Lincoln. Of
course, it was folly to propose a scheme which the incoming
President would not sustain. Lincoln and Seward must come to
an understanding. To bring that about Seward despatched a
personal legate to Springfield. Thurlow Weed, editor, man of
the world, political wire-puller beyond compare, Seward’s
devoted henchman, was the legate. One of the great events of
American history was the conversation between Weed and Lincoln
in December, 1860. By a rare propriety of dramatic effect, it
occurred probably, on the very day South Carolina brought to an
end its campaign of menace and adopted its Ordinance of
Secession, December twentieth.[1]

Weed had brought to Springfield a definite proposal. The
Crittenden compromise was being hotly discussed in Congress and
throughout the country. All the Northern advocates of
conciliation were eager to put it through. There was some
ground to believe that the Southern machine at Washington would
accept it. If Lincoln would agree, Seward would make it the
basis of his policy.

This Compromise would have restored the old line of the
Missouri Compromise and would have placed it under the
protection of a constitutional amendment. This, together with
a guarantee against congressional interference with slavery in
the States where it existed, a guarantee the Republicans had
already offered, seemed to Seward, to Weed, to Greeley, to the
bulk of the party, a satisfactory means of preserving the
Union. What was it but a falling back on the original policy
of the party, the undoing of those measures of 1854 which had
called the party into being? Was it conceivable that Lincoln
would balk the wishes of the party by obstructing such a
natural mode of extrication? But that was what Lincoln did.
His views had advanced since 1854. Then, he was merely for
restoring the old duality of the country, the two “dominions,”
Northern and Southern, each with its own social order. He had
advanced to the belief that this duality could not permanently
continue. Just how far Lincoln realized what he was doing in
refusing to compromise will never be known. Three months
afterward, he took a course which seems to imply that his
vision during the interim had expanded, had opened before him a
new revelation of the nature of his problem. At the earlier
date Lincoln and the Southern people–not the Southern machine–
were looking at the one problem from opposite points of view,
and were locating the significance of the problem in different
features. To Lincoln, the heart of the matter was slavery. To
the Southerners, including the men who had voted lack of
confidence in Breckinridge, the heart of the matter was the
sphere of influence. What the Southern majority wanted was not
the policy of the slave profiteers but a secure future for
expansion, a guarantee that Southern life, social, economic,
cultural, would not be merged with the life of the opposite
section: in a word, preservation of “dominion” status. In
Lincoln’s mind, slavery being the main issue, this “dominion”
issue was incidental–a mere outgrowth of slavery that should
begin to pass away with slavery’s restriction. In the Southern
mind, a community consciousness, the determination to be a
people by themselves, nation within the nation, was the issue,
and slavery was the incident. To repeat, it is impossible to
say what Lincoln would have done had he comprehended the
Southern attitude. His near horizon which had kept him all
along from grasping the negative side of the Southern movement
prevented his perception of this tragic instance of

Lacking this perception, his thoughts had centered themselves
on a recent activity of the slave profiteers. They had
clamored for the annexation of new territory to the south of
us. Various attempts had been made to create an international
crisis looking toward the seizure of Cuba. Then, too, bold
adventurers had staked their heads, seeking to found
slave-holding communities in Central America. Why might not
such attempts succeed? Why might not new Slave States be
created outside the Union, eventually to be drawn in? Why not?
said the slave profiteer, and gave money and assistance to the
filibusters in Nicaragua. Why not? said Lincoln, also. What
protection against such an extension of boundaries? Was the
limitation of slave area to be on one side only, the Northern
side? And here at last, for Lincoln, was what appeared to be
the true issue of the moment. To dualize the Union, assuming
its boundaries to be fixed, was one thing. To dualize the
Union in the face of a movement for extension of boundaries was
another. Hence it was now vital, as Lincoln reasoned, to give
slavery a fixed boundary on all sides. Silently, while others
fulminated, or rhapsodized, or wailed, he had moved inexorably
to a new position which was nothing but a logical development
of the old. The old position was-no extension of slave
territory; the new position was–no more Slave States.[2] Because
Crittenden’s Compromise left it possible to have a new Slave
State in Cuba, a new Slave State in Nicaragua, perhaps a dozen
such new States, Lincoln refused to compromise.[3]

It was a terrible decision, carrying within it the possibility
of civil war. But Lincoln could not be moved. This was the
first acquaintance of the established political leaders with
his inflexible side. In the recesses of his own thoughts the
decision had been reached. It was useless to argue with him.
Weed carried bad: his ultimatum. Seward abandoned Crittenden’s
scheme. The only chance for compromise passed away. The
Southern leaders set about their plans for organizing a
Southern Confederacy.


Lincoln’s ultimatum of December twentieth contained three
proposals that might be made to the Southern leaders:

That the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law which hitherto
had been left to State authorities should be taken over by
Congress and supported by the Republicans.

That the Republicans to the extent of their power should work
for the repeal of all those “Personal Liberty Laws” which had
been established in certain Northern States to defeat the
operation of the Fugitive Slave Law.

That the Federal Union must be preserved.[1]

In presenting these proposals along with a refusal to consider
the Crittenden Compromise, Seward tampered with their clear-cut
form. Fearful of the effect on the extremists of the
Republican group, he withheld Lincoln’s unconditional promise
to maintain the Fugitive Slave Law and instead of pledging his
party to the repeal of Personal Liberty Laws he promised only
to have Congress request the States to repeal them. He
suppressed altogether the assertion that the Union must be
preserved.[2] About the same time, in a public speech, he said he
was not going to be “humbugged” by the bogy of secession, and
gave his fatuous promise that all the trouble would be ended
inside ninety days. For all his brilliancy of a sort, he was
spiritually obtuse. On him, as on Douglas, Fate had lavished
opportunities to see life as it is, to understand the motives
of men; but it could not make him use them. He was
incorrigibly cynical. He could not divest himself of the idea
that all this confusion was hubbub, was but an ordinary
political game, that his only cue was to assist his adversaries
in saving their faces. In spite of his rich experience,–in spite
of being an accomplished man of the world,–at least in his
own estimation–he was as blind to the real motives of
that Southern majority which had rejected Breckinridge as was
the inexperienced Lincoln. The coolness with which he modified
Lincoln’s proposals was evidence that he considered himself the
great Republican and Lincoln an accident. He was to do the
same again–to his own regret.

When Lincoln issued his ultimatum, he was approaching the
summit, if not at the very summit, of another of his successive
waves of vitality, of self-confidence. That depression which
came upon him about the end of 1858, which kept him undecided,
in a mood of excessive caution during most of 1859, had passed
away. The presidential campaign with its thrilling tension,
its excitement, had charged him anew with confidence. Although
one more eclipse was in store for him–the darkest eclipse of
all–he was very nearly the definitive Lincoln of history. At
least, he had the courage which that Lincoln was to show.

He was now the target for a besieging army of politicians
clamoring for “spoils” in the shape of promises of preferment.
It was a miserable and disgraceful assault which profoundly
offended him.[3] To his mind this was not the same thing as the
simple-hearted personal politics of his younger days–friends
standing together and helping one another along–but a gross and
monstrous rapacity. It was the first chill shadow that
followed the election day.

There were difficult intrigues over the Cabinet. Promises made
by his managers at Chicago were presented for redemption.
Rival candidates bidding for his favor, tried to cut each
other’s throats. For example, there was the intrigue of the
War Department. The Lincoln managers had promised a Cabinet
appointment to Pennsylvania; the followers of Simon Cameron
were a power; it had been necessary to win them over in order
to nominate Lincoln; they insisted that their leader was now
entitled to the Pennsylvania seat in the Cabinet; but there was
an anti-Cameron faction almost as potent in Pennsylvania as the
Cameron faction. Both sent their agents to Springfield to lay
siege to Lincoln. In this duel, the Cameron forces won the
first round. Lincoln offered him the Secretaryship.
Subsequently, his enemies made so good a case that Lincoln was
convinced of the unwisdom of his decision and withdrew the
offer. But Cameron had not kept the offer confidential. The
withdrawal would discredit him politically and put a trump card
into the hands of his enemies. A long dispute followed. Not
until Lincoln had reached Washington, immediately before the
inauguration, was the dispute ended, the withdrawal withdrawn,
and Cameron appointed.[4]

It was a dreary winter for the President-elect. It was also a
brand- new experience. For the first time he was a dispenser
of favor on a grand scale. Innumerable men showed their
meanest side, either to advance themselves or to injure others.
As the weeks passed and the spectacle grew in shamelessness,
his friends became more and more conscious of his peculiar
melancholy. The elation of the campaign subsided into a deep
unhappiness over the vanity of this world. Other phases of the
shadowy side of his character also asserted themselves.
Conspicuous was a certain trend in his thinking that was part
of Herndon’s warrant for calling him a fatalist. Lincoln’s
mysticism very early had taken a turn toward predestination,
coupled with a belief in dreams.[5] He did not in any way believe
in magic; he never had any faith in divinations, in the occult,
in any secret mode of alluring the unseen powers to take one’s
side. Nevertheless, he made no bones about being
superstitious. And he thought that coming events cast their
shadows before, that something, at least, of the future was
sometimes revealed through dreams. “Nature,” he would say, “is
the workshop of the Almighty, and we form but links in the
chain of intellectual and material life.”[6] Byron’s Dream was
one of his favorite poems. He pondered those ancient,
historical tales which make free use of portents. There was a
fascination for him in the story of Caracalla–how his murder of
Geta was foretold, how he was upbraided by the ghosts of his
father and brother. This dream-faith of his was as real as was
a similar faith held by the authors of the Old Testament. He
had his theory of the interpretation of dreams. Because they
were a universal experience–as he believed, the universal mode
of communication between the unseen and the seen–his beloved
“plain people,” the “children of Nature,” the most universal
types of humanity, were their best interpreters. He also
believed in presentiment. As faithfully as the simplest of the
brood of the forest–those recreated primitives who regulated
their farming by the brightness or the darkness of the moon,
who planted corn or slaughtered hogs as Artemis directed–he
trusted a presentiment if once it really took possession of
him. A presentiment which had been formed before this time, we
know not when, was clothed with authority by a dream, or rather
a vision, that came to him in the days of melancholy
disillusion during the last winter at Springfield. Looking
into a mirror, he saw two Lincolns,–one alive, the other dead.
It was this vision which clenched his pre-sentiment that he was
born to a great career and to a tragic end. He interpreted the
vision that his administration would be successful, but that it
would close with his death.[7]

The record of his inner life during the last winter at
Springfield is very dim. But there can be no doubt that a
desolating change attacked his spirit. As late as the day of
his ultimatum he was still in comparative sunshine, or, at
least his clouds were not close about him. His will was steel,
that day. Nevertheless, a friend who visited him in January,
to talk over their days together, found not only that “the
old-time zest” was lacking, but that it was replaced by “gloom
and despondency.”[8] The ghosts that hovered so frequently at the
back of his mind, the brooding tendencies which fed upon his
melancholy and made him at times irresolute, were issuing from
the shadows, trooping forward, to encompass him roundabout.

In the midst of this spiritual reaction, he was further
depressed by the stern news from the South and from Washington.
His refusal to compromise was beginning to bear fruit. The
Gulf States seceded. A Southern Confederacy was formed. There
is no evidence that he lost faith in his course, but abundant
evidence that he was terribly unhappy. He was preyed upon by
his sense of helplessness, while Buchanan through his weakness
and vacillation was “giving away the case.” “Secession is being
fostered,” said he, “rather than repressed, and if the doctrine
meets with general acceptance in the Border States, it will be
a great blow to the government.”[9] He did not deceive himself
upon the possible effect of his ultimatum, and sent word to
General Scott to be prepared to hold or to “retake” the forts
garrisoned by Federal troops in the Southern States.[10]

All the while his premonition of the approach of doom grew more
darkly oppressive. The trail of the artist is discernible
across his thoughts. In his troubled imagination he identified
his own situation with that of the protagonist in tragedies on
the theme of fate. He did not withhold his thoughts from the
supreme instance. That same friend who found him possessed of
gloom preserved these words of his: “I have read on my knees
the story of Gethsemane, when the Son of God prayed in vain
that the cup of bitterness might pass from him. I am in the
Garden of Gethsemane now and my cup of bitterness is full and
overflowing now.”[11]

“Like some strong seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance,
With a glassy countenance,”

he faced toward Washington, toward the glorious terror promised
him by his superstitions.

The last days before the departure were days of mingled gloom,
desperation, and the attempt to recover hope. He visited his
old stepmother and made a pilgrimage to his father’s grave.
His thoughts fondly renewed the details of his past life,
lingered upon this and that, as if fearful that it was all
slipping away from him forever. And then he roused himself as
if in sudden revolt against the Fates. The day before he left
Springfield forever Lincoln met his partner for the last time
at their law office to wind up the last of their unsettled
business. “After those things were all disposed of,” says
Herndon, “he crossed to the opposite side of the room and threw
himself down on the old office sofa. . . . He lay there for
some moments his face to the ceiling without either of us
speaking. Presently, he inquired: ‘Billy’–he always called me
by that name–‘how long have we been together?’ ‘Over sixteen
years,’ I answered. ‘We’ve never had a cross word during all
that time, have we?’ . . . He gathered a bundle of papers
and books he wished to take with him and started to go, but
before leaving, he made the strange request that the sign board
which swung on its rusty hinges at the foot of the stairway
would remain. ‘Let it hang there undisturbed,’ he said, with
a significant lowering of the voice. ‘Give our clients to
understand that the election of a President makes no change in
the firm of Lincoln & Herndon. If I live, I am coming back
some time, and then we’ll go right on practising law as if
nothing had happened.’ He lingered for a moment as if to take a
last look at the old quarters, and then passed through the door
into the narrow hallway.”[12]

On a dreary day with a cold rain falling, he set forth. The
railway station was packed with friends. He made his way
through the crowd slowly, shaking hands. “Having finally
reached the train, he ascended the rear platform, and, facing
about to the throng which had closed about him, drew himself up
to his full height, removed his hat and stood for several
seconds in profound silence. His eyes roved sadly over that
sea of upturned faces. . . There was an unusual quiver on
his lips and a still more unusual tear on his shriveled cheek.
His solemn manner, his long silence, were as full of melancholy
eloquence as any words he could have uttered.”[13] At length, he
spoke: “My friends, no one not in my situation can appreciate
my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the
kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived
a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old
man. Here my children have been born and one is buried. I now
leave, not knowing when or whether ever, I may return, with a
task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.
Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended
him, I can not succeed. With that assistance, I can not fail.
Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you, and be
everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet
be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers
you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”[14]


There is a period of sixteen months–from February, 1861, to a
day in June, 1862,–when Lincoln is the most singular, the most
problematic of statesmen. Out of this period he issues with
apparent abruptness, the final Lincoln, with a place among the
few consummate masters of state-craft. During the sixteen
months, his genius comes and goes. His confidence, whether in
himself or in others, is an uncertain quantity. At times he is
bold, even rash; at others, irresolute. The constant factor in
his mood all this while is his amazing humility. He seems to
have forgotten his own existence. As a person with likes and
dislikes, with personal hopes and fears, he has vanished. He
is but an afflicted and perplexed mind, struggling desperately
to save his country. A selfless man, he may be truly called
through months of torment which made him over from a
theoretical to a practical statesman. He entered this period a
literary man who had been elevated almost by accident to the
position of a leader in politics. After many blunders, after
doubt, hesitation and pain, he came forth from this stern
ordeal a powerful man of action.

The impression which he made on the country at the opening of
this period was unfortunate. The very power that had hitherto
been the making of him–the literary power, revealing to men in
wonderfully convincing form the ideas which they felt within
them but could not utter–this had deserted him. Explain the
psychology of it any way you will, there is the fact! The
speeches Lincoln made on the way to Washington during the
latter part of February were appallingly unlike himself. His
mind had suddenly fallen dumb. He had nothing to say. The
gloom, the desolation that had penetrated his soul, somehow,
for the moment, made him commonplace. When he talked–as
convention required him to do at all his stopping places–his
words were but faint echoes of the great political exponent he
once had been. His utterances were fatuous; mere exhortations
to the country not to worry. “There is no crisis but an
artificial one,” he said.[1] And the country stood aghast!
Amazement, bewilderment, indignation, was the course of the
reaction in many minds of his own party. Their verdict was
expressed in the angry language of Samuel Bowles, “Lincoln is a
Simple Susan.”[2]

In private talk, Lincoln admitted that he was “more troubled
about the outlook than he thought it discreet to show.” This
remark was made to a “Public Man,” whose diary has been
published but whose identity is still secret. Though keenly
alert for any touch of weakness or absurdity in the new
President, calling him “the most ill-favored son of Adam I
ever saw,” the Public Man found him “crafty and sensible.” In
conversation, the old Lincoln, the matchless phrase-maker,
could still express himself. At New York he was told of a wild
scheme that was on foot to separate the city from the North,
form a city state such as Hamburg then was, and set up a
commercial alliance with the Confederacy. “As to the free city
business,” said Lincoln, “well, I reckon it will be some time
before the front door sets up bookkeeping on its own account.”[3] The formal round of entertainment on his way to Washington
wearied Lincoln intensely. Harassed and preoccupied, he was
generally ill at ease. And he was totally unused to sumptuous
living. Failures in social usage were inevitable. New York
was convulsed with amusement because at the opera he wore a
pair of huge black kid gloves which attracted the attention of
the whole house, “hanging as they did over the red velvet box
front.” At an informal reception, between acts in the
director’s room, he looked terribly bored and sat on the sofa
at the end of the room with his hat pushed back on his head.
Caricatures filled the opposition papers. He was spoken of as
the “Illinois ape” and the “gorilla.” Every rash remark, every
“break” in social form, every gaucherie was seized upon and
ridiculed with-out mercy.

There is no denying that the oddities of Lincoln’s manner
though quickly dismissed from thought by men of genius,
seriously troubled even generous men who lacked the intuitions
of genius. And he never overcame these oddities. During the
period of his novitiate as a ruler, the critical sixteen
months, they were carried awkwardly, with embarrassment. Later
when he had found himself as a ruler, when his self-confidence
had reached its ultimate form and he knew what he really was,
he forgot their existence. None the less, they were always a
part of him, his indelible envelope. At the height of his
power, he received visitors with his feet in leather slippers.[4] He discussed great affairs of state with one of those slippered
feet flung up on to a corner of his desk. A favorite attitude,
even when debating vital matters with the great ones of the
nation, is described by his secretaries as “sitting on his
shoulders”–he would slide far down into his chair and stick up
both slippers so high above his head that they could rest with
ease upon his mantelpiece.[5] No wonder that his enemies made
unlimited fun. And they professed to believe that there was an
issue here. When the elegant McClellan was moving heaven and
earth, as he fancied, to get the army out of its shirt-sleeves,
the President’s manner was a cause of endless irritation.
Still more serious was the effect of his manner on many men who
agreed with him otherwise. Such a high-minded leader as
Governor Andrew of Massachusetts never got over the feeling
that Lincoln was a rowdy. How could a rowdy be the salvation
of the country? In the dark days of 1864, when a rebellion
against his leadership was attempted, this merely accidental
side of him was an element of danger. The barrier it had
created between himself and the more formal types, made it hard
for the men who finally saved him to overcome their prejudice
and nail his colors to the mast. Andrew’s biographer shows
himself a shrewd observer when he insists on the unexpressed
but inexorable scale by which Andrew and his following measured
Lincoln. They had grown up in the faith that you could tell a
statesman by certain external signs, chiefly by a grandiose and
commanding aspect such as made overpowering the presence of
Webster. And this idea was not confined to any one locality.
Everywhere, more or less, the conservative portion in every
party held this view. It was the view of Washington in 1848
when Washington had failed to see the real Lincoln through his
surface peculiarities. It was again the view of Washington
when Lincoln returned to it.

Furthermore, his free way of talking, the broad stories he
continued to tell, were made counts in his indictment. One of
the bequests of Puritanism in America is the ideal, at least,
of extreme scrupulousness in talk. To many sincere men
Lincoln’s choice of fables was often a deadly offense. Charles
Francis Adams never got over the shock of their first
interview. Lincoln clenched a point with a broad story. Many
professional politicians who had no objection to such talk in
itself, glared and sneered when the President used it–because
forsooth, it might estrange a vote.

Then, too, Lincoln had none of the social finesse that might
have adapted his manner to various classes. He was always
incorrigibly the democrat pure and simple. He would have
laughed uproariously over that undergraduate humor, the joy of
a famous American University, supposedly strong on Democracy:

“Where God speaks to Jones, in the very same tones,
That he uses to Hadley and Dwight.”

Though Lincoln’s queer aplomb, his good-humored familiarity on
first acquaintance, delighted most of his visitors, it offended
many. It was lacking in tact. Often it was a clumsy attempt
to be jovial too soon, as when he addressed Greeley by the name
of “Horace” almost on first sight. His devices for putting men
on the familiar footing lacked originality. The frequency with
which he called upon a tall visitor to measure up against him
reveals the poverty of his social invention. He applied this
device with equal thoughtlessness to the stately Sumner, who
protested, and to a nobody who grinned and was delighted.

It was this mere envelope of the genius that was deplorably
evident on the journey from Springfield to Washington. There
was one detail of the journey that gave his enemies a more
definite ground for sneering. By the irony of fate, the first
clear instance of Lincoln’s humility, his reluctance to set up
his own judgment against his advisers, was also his first
serious mistake. There is a distinction here that is vital.
Lincoln was entering on a new role, the role of the man of
action. Hitherto all the great decisions of his life had been
speculative; they had developed from within; they dealt with
ideas. The inflexible side of him was intellectual. Now,
without any adequate apprenticeship, he was called upon to make
practical decisions, to decide on courses of action, at one
step to pass from the dream of statecraft to its application.
Inevitably, for a considerable time, he was two people; he
passed back and forth from one to the other; only by degrees
did he bring the two together. Meanwhile, he appeared
contradictory. Inwardly, as a thinker, his development was
unbroken; he was still cool, inflexible, drawing all his
conclusions out of the depths of himself. Outwardly, in
action, he was learning the new task, hesitatingly, with
vacillation, with excessive regard to the advisers whom he
treated as experts in action. It was no slight matter for an
extraordinarily sensitive man to take up a new role at

This first official mistake of Lincoln’s was in giving way to
the fears of his retinue for his safety. The time had become
hysterical. The wildest sort of stories filled the air. Even
before he left Springfield there were rumors of plots to
assassinate him.[6] On his arrival at Philadelphia information
was submitted to his companions which convinced them that his
life was in danger–an attempt would be made to kill him as he
passed through Baltimore. Seward at Washington had heard the
same story and had sent his son to Philadelphia to advise
caution. Lincoln’s friends insisted that he leave his special
train and proceed to Washington with only one companion, on an
ordinary night train. Railway officials were called in.
Elaborate precautions were arranged. The telegraph lines were
all to be disconnected for a number of hours so that even if
the conspirators–assuming there were any–should discover his
change of plan, they would be unable to communicate with
Baltimore. The one soldier in the party, Colonel Sumner,
vehemently protested that these changes were all “a damned
piece of cowardice.” But Lincoln acquiesced in the views of the
majority of his advisers. He passed through Baltimore
virtually in disguise; nothing happened; no certain evidence of
a conspiracy was discovered. And all his enemies took up the
cry of cowardice and rang the changes upon it.[7]

Meanwhile, despite all this semblance of indecision, of
feebleness, there were signs that the real inner Lincoln,
however clouded, was still alive. By way of offset to his
fatuous utterances, there might have been set, had the Country
been in a mood to weigh with care, several strong and clear
pronouncements. And these were not merely telling phrases like
that characteristic one about the bookkeeping of the front
door. His mind was struggling out of its shadow. And the mode
of its reappearance was significant. His reasoning upon the
true meaning of the struggle he was about to enter, reached a
significant stage in the speech he made at Harrisburg.[8]

“I have often inquired of myself,” he said, “what great
principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy [the United
States] so long together. It was not the mere matter of the
separation of the colonies from the motherland, but that
sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty
not alone to the people of the country but hope to all the
world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that
in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of
all men and that all should have an equal chance. This is the
sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my
friends, can this country be saved on that basis? If it can, I
will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I
can help to save it. If it can not be saved upon that
principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country can not
be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I
would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.
Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there is no
need of bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it I am
not in favor of such a course, and I may say in advance that
there will be no bloodshed unless it is forced upon the
government. The government will not use force unless force is
used against it.”

The two ideas underlying this utterance had grown in his
thought steadily, consistently, ever since their first
appearance in the Protest twenty-four years previous. The
great issue to which all else–slavery, “dominion status,”
everything–was subservient, was the preservation of democratic
institutions; the means to that end was the preservation of the
Federal government. Now, as in 1852, his paramount object was
not to “disappoint the Liberal party throughout the world,” to
prove that Democracy, when applied on a great scale, had yet
sufficient coherence to remain intact, no matter how powerful,
nor how plausible, were the forces of disintegration.

Dominated by this purpose he came to Washington. There he met
Seward. It was the stroke of fate for both men. Seward,
indeed, did not know that it was. He was still firmly based in
the delusion that he, not Lincoln, was the genius of the hour.
And he had this excuse, that it was also the country’s
delusion. There was pretty general belief both among friends
and foes that Lincoln would be ruled by his Cabinet. In a
council that was certain to include leaders of accepted
influence–Seward, Chase, Cameron–what chance for this untried
newcomer, whose prestige had been reared not on managing men,
but on uttering words? In Seward’s thoughts the answer was as
inevitable as the table of addition. Equally mathematical was
the conclusion that only one unit gave value to the
combination. And, of course, the leader of the Republicans in
the Senate was the unit. A severe experience had to be lived
through before Seward made his peace with destiny. Lincoln was
the quicker to perceive when they came together that something
had happened. Almost from the minute of their meeting, he
began to lean upon Seward; but only in a certain way. This was
not the same thing as that yielding to the practical advisers
which began at Philadelphia, which was subsequently to be the
cause of so much confusion. His response to Seward was
intellectual. It was of the inner man and revealed itself in
his style of writing.

Hitherto, Lincoln’s progress in literature had been marked by
the development of two characteristics and by the lack of a
third. The two that he possessed were taste and rhythm. At
the start he was free from the prevalent vice of his time,
rhetoricality. His “Address to the Voters of Sangamon County”
which was his first state paper, was as direct, as free from
bombast, as the greatest of his later achievements. Almost any
other youth who had as much of the sense of language as was
there exhibited, would have been led astray by the standards of
the hour, would have mounted the spread-eagle and flapped its
wings in rhetorical clamor. But Lincoln was not precocious.
In art, as in everything else, he progressed slowly; the
literary part of him worked its way into the matter-of-fact
part of him with the gradualness of the daylight through a
shadowy wood. It was not constant in its development. For
many years it was little more than an irregular deepening of
his two original characteristics, taste and rhythm. His taste,
fed on Blackstone, Shakespeare, and the Bible, led him more and
more exactingly to say just what he meant, to eschew the wiles
of decoration, to be utterly non-rhetorical. His sense of
rhythm, beginning simply, no more at first than a good ear for
the sound of words, deepened into keen perception of the
character of the word-march, of that extra significance which
is added to an idea by the way it conducts itself, moving
grandly or feebly as the case may be, from the unknown into the
known, and thence across a perilous horizon, into memory. On
the basis of these two characteristics he had acquired a style
that was a rich blend of simplicity, directness, candor, joined
with a clearness beyond praise, with a delightful cadence,
having always a splendidly ordered march of ideas.

But there was the third thing in which the earlier style of
Lincoln’s was wanting. Marvelously apt for the purpose of the
moment, his writings previous to 1861 are vanishing from the
world’s memory. The more notable writings of his later years
have become classics. And the difference does not turn on
subject-matter. All the ideas of his late writings had been
formulated in the earlier. The difference is purely literary.
The earlier writings were keen, powerful, full of character,
melodious, impressive. The later writings have all these
qualities, and in addition, that constant power to awaken the
imagination, to carry an idea beyond its own horizon into a
boundless world of imperishable literary significance, which
power in argumentative prose is beauty. And how did Lincoln
attain this? That he had been maturing from within the power to
do this, one is compelled by the analogy of his other mental
experiences to believe. At the same time, there can be no
doubt who taught him the trick, who touched the secret spring
and opened the new door to his mind. It was Seward. Long
since it had been agreed between them that Seward was to be
Secretary of State.[9] Lincoln asked him to criticize his
inaugural. Seward did so, and Lincoln, in the main, accepted
his criticism. But Seward went further. He proposed a new
paragraph. He was not a great writer and yet he had something
of that third thing which Lincoln hitherto had not exhibited.
However, in pursuing beauty of statement, he often came
dangerously near to mere rhetoric; his taste was never sure;
his sense of rhythm was inferior; the defects of his qualities
were evident. None the less, Lincoln saw at a glance that if
he could infuse into Seward’s words his own more robust
qualities, the result–‘would be a richer product than had ever
issued from his own qualities as hitherto he had known them.
He effected this transmutation and in doing so raised his style
to a new range of effectiveness. The great Lincoln of
literature appeared in the first inaugural and particularly in
that noble passage which was the work of Lincoln and Seward
together. In a way it said only what Lincoln had already
said–especially in the speech at Harrisburg–but with what a

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in
mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will
not assail you. You can have no conflict without being
yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in
Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most
solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies but friends. Though
passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of
affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every
battle-field and patriot grave, to every living heart and
hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus
of the Union when again touched as surely they will be, by the
better angels of our nature.”*

*Lincoln VI, 184; N. & H., III, 343. Seward advised the
omission of part of the original draft of the first of these
two paragraphs. After “defend it,” Lincoln had written, “You
can forbear the assault upon it. I can not shrink from the
defense of it. With you and not with me is the solemn question
‘Shall it be peace or a sword?'” Having struck this out, he
accepted Seward’s advice to add “some words of affection–some
of calm and cheerful confidence.”

The original version of the concluding paragraph was prepared
by Seward and read as follows: “I close. We are not, we must
not he aliens or enemies, but fellow-countrymen and brethren.
Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too
hardly, they must not, I am sure, they will not, be broken.
The mystic chords which, proceeding from so many battlefields
and so many patriot graves, pass through all the hearts and all
hearths in this broad continent of ours, will yet again
harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the
guardian angel of the nation.”
These words, now so famous, were spoken in the east portico of
the Capitol on “one of our disagreeable, clear, windy,
Washington spring days.”[10] Most of the participants were
agitated; many were alarmed. Chief Justice Taney who
administered the oath could hardly speak, so near to
uncontrollable was his emotion. General Scott anxiously kept
his eye upon the crowd which was commanded by cannon. Cavalry
were in readiness to clear the streets in case of riot.
Lincoln’s carriage on the way to the Capitol had been closely
guarded. He made his way to the portico between files of
soldiers. So intent–overintent–were his guardians upon his
safety that they had been careless of the smaller matter of his
comfort. There was insufficient room for the large company
that had been invited to attend. The new President stood
beside a rickety little table and saw no place on which to put
his hat. Senator Douglas stepped forward and relieved him of
the burden. Lincoln was “pale and very nervous,” and toward
the close of his speech, visibly affected. Observers differ
point-blank as to the way the inaugural was received. The
“Public Man” says that there was little enthusiasm. The
opposite version makes the event an oratorical triumph, with
the crowd, at the close, completely under his spell.[11]

On the whole, the inauguration and the festivities that
followed appear to have formed a dismal event. While Lincoln
spoke, the topmost peak of the Capitol, far above his head, was
an idle derrick; the present dome was in process of
construction; work on it had been arrested, and who could say
when, if ever, the work would be resumed? The day closed with
an inaugural ball that was anything but brilliant. “The great
tawdry ballroom . . not half full-and such an assemblage of
strange costumes, male and female. Very few people of any
consideration were there. The President looked exhausted and
uncomfortable, and most ungainly in his dress; and Mrs. Lincoln
all in blue, with a feather in her hair and a highly flushed


The brilliant Secretary, who so promptly began to influence the
President had very sure foundations for that influence. He was
inured to the role of great man; he had a rich experience of
public life; while Lincoln, painfully conscious of his
inexperience, was perhaps the humblest-minded ruler that ever
took the helm of a ship of state in perilous times.
Furthermore, Seward had some priceless qualities which, for
Lincoln, were still to seek. First of all, he had
audacity–personally, artistically, politically. Seward’s
instantaneous gift to Lincoln was by way of throwing wide the
door of his gathering literary audacity. There is every reason
to think that Seward’s personal audacity went to Lincoln’s
heart at once. To be sure, he was not yet capable of going
along with it. The basal contrast of the first month of his
administration lies between the President’s caution and the
boldness of the Secretary. Nevertheless, to a sensitive mind,
seeking guidance, surrounded by less original types of
politicians, the splendid fearlessness of Seward, whether wise
or foolish, must have rung like a trumpet peal soaring over
the heads of a crowd whose teeth were chattering. While the
rest of the Cabinet pressed their ears to the ground, Seward
thought out a policy, made a forecast of the future, and
offered to stake his head on the correctness of his reasoning.
This may have been rashness; it may have been folly; but,
intellectually at least, it was valor. Among Lincoln’s other
advisers, valor at that moment was lacking. Contrast, however,
was not the sole, nor the surest basis of Seward’s appeal to
Lincoln. Their characters had a common factor. For all their
immeasurable difference in externals, both at bottom were void
of malice. It was this characteristic above all others that
gave them spiritually common ground. In Seward, this quality
had been under fire for a long while. The political furies of
“that iron time” had failed to rouse echoes in his serene and
smiling soul. Therefore, many men who accepted him as leader
because, indeed, they could not do without him–because none
other in their camp had his genius for management, for the
glorification of political intrigue–these same men followed him
doubtfully, with bad grace, willing to shift to some other
leader whenever he might arise. The clue to their distrust was
Seward’s amusement at the furious. Could a man who laughed
when you preached on the beauty of the hewing of Agag, could
such a man be sincere? And that Seward in some respects was not
sincere, history generally admits. He loved to poke fun at his
opponents by appearing to sneer at himself, by ridiculing the
idea that he was ever serious. His scale of political values
was different from that of most of his followers. Nineteen
times out of twenty, he would treat what they termed
“principles” as mere political counters, as legitimate subjects
of bargain. If by any deal he could trade off any or all of
these nineteen in order to secure the twentieth, which for him
was the only vital one, he never scrupled to do so. Against a
lurid background of political ferocity, this amused, ironic
figure came to be rated by the extremists, both in his own and
in the enemy camp as Mephistopheles.

No quality could have endeared him more certainly to Lincoln
than the very one which the bigots misunderstood. From his
earliest youth Lincoln had been governed by this same quality.
With his non-censorious mind, which accepted so much of life
as he found it, which was forever stripping principles of their
accretions, what could be more inevitable than his warming to
the one great man at Washington who like him held that such a
point of view was the only rational one. Seward’s ironic
peacefulness in the midst of the storm gained in luster because
all about him raged a tempest of ferocity, mitigated, at least
so far as the distracted President could see, only by self-
interest or pacifism.

As Lincoln came into office, he could see and hear many signs
of a rising fierceness of sectional hatred. His secretary
records with disgust a proposal to conquer the Gulf States,
expel their white population, and reduce the region to a
gigantic state preserve, where negroes should grow cotton under
national supervision.[1] “We of the North,” said Senator Baker of
Oregon, “are a majority of the Union, and we will govern our
Union in our own way.”[2] At the other extreme was the
hysterical pacifism of the Abolitionists. Part of Lincoln’s
abiding quarrel with the Abolitionists was their lack of
national feeling. Their peculiar form of introspection had
injected into politics the idea of personal sin. Their
personal responsibility for slavery–they being part of a
country that tolerated it–was their basal inspiration.
Consequently, the most distinctive Abolitionists welcomed this
opportunity to cast off their responsibility. If war had been
proposed as a crusade to abolish slavery, their attitude might
have been different But in March, 1860, no one but the few
ultra-extremists, whom scarcely anybody heeded, dreamed of such
a war. A war to restore the Union was the only sort that was
considered seriously. Such a war, the Abolitionists bitterly
condemned. They seized upon pacifism as their defense. Said
Whittier of the Seceding States:

They break the links of Union: shall we light
The fires of hell to weld anew the chain,
On that red anvil where each blow is pain?

The fury and the fear offended Lincoln in equal measure. After
long years opposing the political temper of the extremists, he
was not the man now to change front. To one who believed
himself marked out for a tragic end, the cowardice at the heart
of the pacifism of his time was revolting. It was fortunate
for his own peace of mind that he could here count on the
Secretary of State. No argument based on fear of pain would
meet in Seward with anything but derision. “They tell us,” he
had once said, and the words expressed his constant attitude,
“that we are to encounter opposition. Why, bless my soul, did
anybody ever expect to reach a fortune, or fame, or happiness
on earth or a crown in heaven, without encountering resistance
and opposition? What are we made men for but to encounter and
overcome opposition arrayed against us in the line of our

But if the ferocity and the cowardice were offensive and
disheartening, there was something else that was beneath
contempt. Never was self-interest more shockingly displayed.
It was revealed in many ways, but impinged upon the new
President in only one. A horde of office-seekers besieged him
in the White House. The parallel to this amazing picture can
hardly be found in history. It was taken for granted that the
new party would make a clean sweep of the whole civil list,
that every government employee down to the humblest messenger
boy too young to have political ideas was to bear the label of
the victorious party. Every Congressman who had made promises
to his constituents, every politician of every grade who
thought he had the party in his debt, every adventurer who on
any pretext could make a showing of party service rendered,
poured into Washington. It was a motley horde.

“Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
The beggars are coming to town.”

They converted the White House into a leaguer. They swarmed
into the corridors and even the private passages. So dense was
the swarm that it was difficult to make one’s way either in or
out. Lincoln described himself by the image of a man renting
rooms at one end of his house while the other end was on fire.[4] And all this while the existence of the Republic was at stake!
It did not occur to him that it was safe to defy the horde, to
send it about its business. Here again, the figure of Seward
stood out in brilliant light against the somber background.
One of Seward’s faculties was his power to form devoted
lieutenants. He had that sure and nimble judgment which
enables some men to inspire their lieutenants rather than
categorically to instruct them. All the sordid side of his
political games he managed in this way. He did not appear
himself as the bargainer. In the shameful eagerness of most of
the politicians to find offices for their retainers, Seward was
conspicuous by contrast. Even the Cabinet was not free from
this vice of catering to the thirsty horde.[5] Alone, at this
juncture, Seward detached himself from the petty affairs of the
hour and gave his whole attention to statecraft.

He had a definite policy. Another point of contact with
Lincoln was the attitude of both toward the Union,
supplemented as it was by their views of the place of slavery
in the problem they confronted. Both were nationalists ready
to make any sacrifices for the national idea. Both regarded
slavery as an issue of second importance. Both were prepared
for great concessions if convinced that, ultimately, their
concessions would strengthen the trend of American life toward
a general exaltation of nationality.

On the other hand, their differences–

Seward approached the problem in the same temper, with the same
assumptions, that were his in the previous December. He still
believed that his main purpose was to enable a group of
politicians to save their faces by effecting a strategic
retreat. Imputing to the Southern leaders an attitude of pure
self-interest, he believed that if allowed to play the game as
they desired, they would mark time until circumstances revealed
to them whether there was more profit for them in the Union or
out; he also believed that if sufficient time could be given,
and if no armed clash took place, it would be demonstrated
first, that they did not have so strong a hold on the South as
they had thought they had; and second, that on the whole, it
was to their interests to patch up the quarrel and come back
into the Union. But he also saw that they had a serious
problem of leadership, which, if rudely handled, might make it
impossible for them to stand still. They had inflamed the
sentiment of state-patriotism. In South Carolina,
particularly, the popular demand was for independence. With
this went the demand that Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor,
garrisoned by Federal troops, should be surrendered, or if not
surrendered, taken forcibly from the United States. A few
cannon shots at Sumter would mean war. An article in Seward’s
creed of statecraft asserted that the populace will always go
wild over a war. To prevent a war fever in the North was the
first condition of his policy at home. Therefore, in order to
prevent it, the first step in saving his enemies’ faces was to
safeguard them against the same danger in their own calm. He
must help them to prevent a war fever in the South. He saw but
one way to do this. The conclusion which became the bed rock
of his policy was inevitable. Sumter must be evacuated.

Even before the inauguration, he had broached this idea to
Lincoln. He had tried to keep Lincoln from inserting in the
inaugural the words, “The power confided to me will be used to
hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to
the government.” He had proposed instead, “The power
confided in me shall be used indeed with efficacy, but also
with discretion, in every case and exigency, according to the
circumstances actually existing, and with a view and a hope of
a peaceful solution of the national troubles, and the
restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections.”[6] With the
rejection of Seward’s proffered revision, a difference between
them in policy began to develop. Lincoln, says one of his
secretaries, accepted Seward’s main purpose but did not share
his “optimism.”[7] It would be truer to say that in this stage of
his development, he was lacking in audacity. In his eager
search for advice, he had to strike a balance between the
daring Seward who at this moment built entirely on his own
power of political devination, and the cautious remainder of
the Cabinet who had their ears to the ground trying their best
to catch the note of authority in the rumblings of vox populi.
For his own part, Lincoln began with two resolves: to go very
cautiously,–and not give something for nothing. Far from him,
as yet, was that plunging mood which in Seward pushed audacity
to the verge of a gamble. However, just previous to the
inauguration, he took a cautious step in Seward’s direction.
Virginia, like all the other States of the upper South, was
torn by the question which side to take. There was a “Union”
party in Virginia, and a “Secession” party. A committee of
leading Unionists conferred with Lincoln. They saw the
immediate problem very much as Seward did. They believed that
if time were allowed, the crisis could be tided over and the
Union restored; but the first breath of war would wreck their
hopes. The condition of bringing about an adjustment was the
evacuation of Sumter. Lincoln told them that if Virginia could
be kept in the Union by the evacuation of Sumter, he would not
hesitate to recall the garrison.[8] A few days later, despite
what he had said in the inaugural, he repeated this offer. A
convention was then sitting at Richmond in debate upon the
relations of Virginia to the Union. If it would drop the
matter and dissolve–so Lincoln told another committee–he would
evacuate Sumter and trust the recovery of the lower South to
negotiation.[9] No results, so far as is known, came of either of
those offers.

During the first half of March, the Washington government
marked time. The office-seekers continued to besiege the
President. South Carolina continued to clamor for possession
of Sumter. The Confederacy sent commissioners to Washington
whom Lincoln refused to recognize. The Virginia Convention
swayed this way and that.

Seward went serenely about his business, confident that
everything was certain to come his way soon or late. He went
so far as to advise an intermediary to tell the Confederate
Commissioners that all they had to do to get possession of
Sumter was to wait. The rest of the Cabinet pressed their ears
more tightly than ever to the ground. The rumblings of vox
populi were hard to interpret. The North appeared to be in two
minds. This was revealed the day following the inauguration,
when a Republican Club in New York held a high debate upon the
condition of the country. One faction wanted Lincoln to
declare for a war-policy; another wished the Club to content
itself with a vote of confidence in the Administration. Each
faction put its views into a resolution and as a happy device
for maintaining harmony, both resolutions were passed.[10] The
fragmentary, miscellaneous evidence of newspapers, political
meetings, the talk of leaders, local elections, formed a
confused clamor which each listener interpreted according to
his predisposition. The members of the Cabinet in their
relative isolation at Washington found it exceedingly difficult
to make up their minds what the people were really saying. Of
but one thing they were certain, and that was that they
represented a minority party. Before committing themselves any
way, it was life and death to know what portion of the North
would stand by them.[11]

At this point began a perplexity that was to torment the
President almost to the verge of distraction. How far could he
trust his military advisers? Old General Scott was at the head
of the army. He had once been a striking, if not a great
figure. Should his military advice be accepted as final?
Scott informed Lincoln that Sumter was short of food and that
any attempt to relieve it would call for a much larger force
than the government could muster. Scott urged him to withdraw
the garrison. Lincoln submitted the matter to the Cabinet. He
asked for their opinions in writing.[12] Five advised taking
Scott at his word and giving up all thought of relieving
Sumter. There were two dissenters. The Secretary of the
Treasury, Salmon Portland Chase, struck the key-note of his
later political career by an elaborate argument on expediency.
If relieving Sumter would lead to civil war, Chase was not in
favor of relief; but on the whole he did not think that civil
war would result, and therefore, on the whole, he favored a
relief expedition. One member of the Cabinet, Montgomery
Blair, the Postmaster General, an impetuous, fierce man, was
vehement for relief at all costs. Lincoln wanted to agree with
Chase and Blair. He reasoned that if the fort was given up,
the necessity under which it was done would not be fully
understood; that by many it would be construed as part of a
voluntary policy, that at home it would discourage the friends
of the Union, embolden its adversaries, and go far to insure to
the matter a recognition abroad.

Nevertheless, with the Cabinet five to two against him, with
his military adviser against him, Lincoln put aside his own
views. The government went on marking time and considering the
credentials of applicants for country post-offices.

By this time, Lincoln had thrown off the overpowering gloom
which possessed him in the latter days at Springfield. It is
possible he had reacted to a mood in which there was something
of levity. His oscillation of mood from a gloom that nothing
penetrated to a sort of desperate mirth, has been noted by
various observers. And in 1861 he had not reached his final
poise, that firm holding of the middle way,—which afterward
fused his moods and made of him, at least in action, a
sustained personality.

About the middle of the month he had a famous interview with
Colonel W. T. Sherman who had been President of the
University of Louisiana and had recently resigned. Senator
John Sherman called at the White House with regard to “some
minor appointments in Ohio.” The Colonel went with him. When
Colonel Sherman spoke of the seriousness of the Secession
movement, Lincoln replied, “Oh, we’ll manage to keep house.”
The Colonel was so offended by what seemed to him the flippancy
of the President that he abandoned his intention to resume the
military life and withdrew from Washington in disgust.[13]

Not yet had Lincoln attained a true appreciation of the real
difficulty before him. He had not got rid of the idea that a
dispute over slavery had widened accidentally into a needless
sectional quarrel, and that as soon as the South had time to
think things over, it would see that it did not really want the
quarrel. He had a queer idea that meanwhile he could hold a
few points on the margin of the Seceded States, open custom
houses on ships at the mouths of harbors, but leave vacant all
Federal appointments within the Seceded States and ignore the
absence of their representatives from Washington.[14] This
marginal policy did not seem to him a policy of coercion; and
though he was beginning to see that the situation from the
Southern point of view turned on the right of a State to resist
coercion, he was yet to learn that idealistic elements of
emotion and of political dogma were the larger part of his

Meanwhile, the upper South had been proclaiming its idealism.
Its attitude was creating a problem for the lower South as well
as for the North. The pro-slavery leaders had been startled
out of a dream. The belief in a Southern economic solidarity
so complete that the secession of any one Slave State would
compel the secession of all the others, that belief had been
proved fallacious. It had been made plain that on the economic
issue, even as on the issue of sectional distrust, the upper
South would not follow the lower South into secession. When
delegates from the Georgia Secessionists visited the
legislature of North Carolina, every courtesy was shown to
them; the Speaker of the House assured them of North Carolina’s
sympathy and of her enduring friendliness; but he was careful
not to suggest an intention to secede, unless (the condition
that was destiny!) an attempt should be made to violate the
sovereignty of the State by marching troops across her soil to
attack the Confederates. Then, on the one issue of State
sovereignty, North Carolina would leave the Union.[15] The
Unionists in Virginia took similar ground. They wished to stay
in the Union, and they were determined not to go out on the
issue of slavery. Therefore they laid their heads together to
get that issue out of the way. Their problem was to devise a
compromise that would do three things: lay the Southern dread
of an inundation of sectional Northern influence; silence the
slave profiteers; meet the objections that had induced Lincoln
to wreck the Crittenden Compromise. They felt that the first
and second objectives would be reached easily enough by
reviving the line of the Missouri Compromise. But something
more was needed, or again, Lincoln would refuse to negotiate.
They met their crucial difficulty by boldly appealing to the
South to be satisfied with the conservation of its present life
and renounce the dream of unlimited Southern expansion. Their
Compromise proposed a death blow to the filibuster and all he
stood for. It provided that no new territory other than naval
stations should be acquired by the United States on either side
the Missouri Line without consent of a majority of the Senators
from the States on the opposite side of that line.[16]

As a solution of the sectional quarrel, to the extent that it
had been definitely put into words, what could have been more
astute? Lincoln himself had said in the inaugural, “One
section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to
be extended; while the other believes it is wrong and ought not
to be extended. That is the only substantial dispute.” In the
same inaugural, he had pledged himself not to “interfere with
the institution of slavery in the States where it now exists;”
and also had urged a vigorous enforcement of the Fugitive Slave
Law. He never had approved of any sort of emancipation other
than purchase or the gradual operation of economic conditions.
It was well known that slavery could flourish only on fresh
land amid prodigal agricultural methods suited to the most
ignorant labor. The Virginia Compromise, by giving to slavery
a fixed area and abolishing its hopes of continual extensions
into fresh land, was the virtual fulfillment of Lincoln’s

The failure of the Virginia Compromise is one more proof that a
great deal of vital history never gets into words until after
it is over. During the second half of March, Unionists and
Secessionists in the Virginia Convention debated with deep
emotion this searching new proposal. The Unionists had a fatal
weakness in their position. This was the feature of the
situation that had not hitherto been put into words. Lincoln
had not been accurate when he said that the slavery question
was “the only substantial dispute.” He had taken for granted
that the Southern opposition to nationalism was not a real
thing,–a mere device of the politicians to work up excitement.
All the compromises he was ready to offer were addressed to
that part of the South which was seeking to make an issue on
slavery. They had little meaning for that other and more
numerous part in whose thinking slavery was an incident. For
this other South, the ideas which Lincoln as late as the middle
of March did not bring into play were the whole story.
Lincoln, willing to give all sorts of guarantees for the
noninterference with slavery, would not give a single guarantee
supporting the idea of State sovereignty against the idea of
the sovereign power of the national Union. The Virginians,
willing to go great lengths in making concessions with regard
to slavery, would not go one inch in the way of admitting that
their State was not a sovereign power included in the American
Union of its own free will, and not the legitimate subject of
any sort of coercion.

The Virginia Compromise was really a profound new complication.
The very care with which it divided the issue of nationality
from the issue of slavery was a storm signal. For a
thoroughgoing nationalist like Lincoln, deep perplexities lay
hidden in this full disclosure of the issue that was vital to
the moderate South. Lincoln’s shifting of his mental ground,
his perception that hitherto he had been oblivious of his most
formidable opponent, the one with whom compromise was
impossible, occurred in the second half of the month.

As always, Lincoln kept his own counsel upon the maturing of a
purpose in his own mind. He listened to every adviser–opening
his office doors without reserve to all sorts and
conditions–and silently, anxiously, struggled with himself for
a decision. He watched Virginia; he watched the North; he
listened–and waited. General Scott continued hopeless, though
minor military men gave encouragement. And whom should the
President trust-the tired old General who disagreed with him,
or the eager young men who held views he would like to hold?
Many a time he was to ask himself that question during the
years to come.

On March twenty-ninth, he again consulted the Cabinet.[17] A
great deal of water had run under the mill since they gave
their opinions on March sixteenth. The voice of the people was
still a bewildering roar, but out of that roar most of the
Cabinet seemed to hear definite words. They were convinced
that the North was veering toward a warlike mood. The phrase
“masterly inactivity,” which had been applied to the
government’ s course admiringly a few weeks before, was now
being applied satirically. Republican extremists were
demanding action. A subtle barometer was the Secretary of the
Treasury. Now, as on the sixteenth, he craftily said something
without saying it. After juggling the word “if,” he assumed
his “if” to be a fact and concluded, “If war is to be the
result, I perceive no reason why it may not best be begun in
consequence of military resistance to the efforts of the
Administration to sustain troops of the Union, stationed under
authority of the government in a fort of the Union, in the
ordinary course of service.”

This elaborate equivocation, which had all the force of an
assertion, was Chase all over! Three other ministers agreed
with him except that they did not equivocate. One evaded. Of
all those who had stood with Seward on the sixteenth, only one
was still in favor of evacuation. Seward stood fast. This
reversal of the Cabinet’s position, jumping as it did with
Lincoln’s desires, encouraged him to prepare for action. But
just as he was about to act his diffidence asserted itself. He
authorized the preparation of a relief expedition but withheld
sailing orders until further notice.[18] Oh, for Seward’s
audacity; for the ability to do one thing or another and take
the consequences!

Seward had not foreseen this turn of events. He had little
respect for the rest of the Cabinet, and had still to discover
that the President, for all his semblance of vacillation, was a
great man. Seward was undeniably vain. That the President
with such a Secretary of State should judge the strength of a
Cabinet vote by counting noses–preposterous! But that was just
what this curiously simple-minded President had done. If he
went on in his weak, amiable way listening to the time-servers
who were listening to the bigots, what would become of the
country? And of the Secretary of State and his deep policies?
The President must be pulled up short–brought to his
senses–taught a lesson or two.

Seward saw that new difficulties had arisen in the course of
that fateful March which those colleagues of his in the
Cabinet–well-meaning, inferior men, to be sure–had not the
subtlety to comprehend. Of course the matter of evacuation
remained what it always had been, the plain open road to an
ultimate diplomatic triumph. Who but a president out of the
West, or a minor member of the Cabinet, would fail to see that!
But there were two other considerations which, also, his
well-meaning colleagues were failing to allow for. While all
this talk about the Virginia Unionists had been going on, while
Washington and Richmond had been trying to negotiate, neither
really had any control of its own game. They were card players
with all the trumps out of their hands. Montgomery, the
Confederate Congress, held the trumps. At any minute it could
terminate all this make-believe of diplomatic independence,
both at Washington and at Richmond. A few cannon shots aimed
at Sumter, the cry for revenge in the North, the inevitable
protest against coercion in Virginia, the convention blown into
the air, and there you are–War!

And after all that, who knows what next? And yet, Blair and
Chase and the rest would not consent to slip Montgomery’s
trumps out of her hands–the easiest thing in the world to do!-
-by throwing Sumter into her lap and thus destroying the
pretext for the cannon shots. More than ever before, Seward
would insist firmly on the evacuation of Sumter.

But there was the other consideration, the really new turn of
events. Suppose Sumter is evacuated; suppose Montgomery has
lost her chance to force Virginia into war by precipitating the
issue of coercion, what follows? All along Seward had
advocated a national convention to readjust all the matters “in
dispute between the sections.” But what would such a convention
discuss? In his inaugural, Lincoln had advised an amendment to
the Constitution “to the effect that the Federal government
shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the
State, including that of persons held to service.” Very good!
The convention might be expected to accept this, and after
this, of course, there would come up the Virginia Compromise.
Was it a practical scheme? Did it form a basis for drawing
back into the Union the lower South?

Seward’s whole thought upon this subject has never been
disclosed. It must be inferred from the conclusion which he
reached, which he put into a paper entitled, Thoughts for the
President’s Consideration, and submitted to Lincoln, April

The Thoughts outlined a scheme of policy, the most startling
feature of which was an instant, predatory, foreign war. There
are two clues to this astounding proposal. One was a political
maxim in which Seward had unwavering faith. “A fundamental
principle of politics,” he said, “is always to be on the side
of your country in a war. It kills any party to oppose a war.
When Mr. Buchanan got up his Mormon War, our people, Wade and
Fremont, and The Tribune, led off furiously against it. I
supported it to the immense disgust of enemies and friends. If
you want to sicken your opponents with their own war, go in for
it till they give it up.”[19] He was not alone among the
politicians of his time, and some other times, in these cynical
views. Lincoln has a story of a politician who was asked to
oppose the Mexican War, and who replied, “I opposed one war;
that was enough for me. I am now perpetually in favor of war,
pestilence and famine.”

The second clue to Seward’s new policy of international
brigandage was the need, as he conceived it, to propitiate
those Southern expansionists who in the lower South at least
formed so large a part of the political machine, who must
somehow be lured back into the Union; to whom the Virginia
Compromise, as well as every other scheme of readjustment yet
suggested, offered no allurement. Like Lincoln defeating the
Crittenden Compromise, like the Virginians planning the last
compromise, Seward remembered the filibusters and the dreams of
the expansionists, annexation of Cuba, annexation of Nicaragua
and all the rest, and he looked about for a way to reach them
along that line. Chance had played into his hands. Already
Napoleon III had begun his ill-fated interference with the
affairs of Mexico. A rebellion had just taken place in San
Domingo and Spain was supposed to have designs on the island.
Here, for any one who believed in predatory war as an
infallible last recourse to rouse the patriotism of a country,
were pretexts enough. Along with these would go a raging
assertion of the Monroe Doctrine and a bellicose attitude
toward other European powers on less substantial grounds. And
amid it all, between the lines of it all, could not any one
glimpse a scheme for the expansion of the United States
southward? War with Spain over San Domingo! And who, pray,
held the Island of Cuba! And what might not a defeated Spain
be willing to do with Cuba? And if France were driven out of
Mexico by our conquering arms, did not the shadows of the
future veil but dimly a grateful Mexico where American capital
should find great opportunities? And would not Southern
capital in the nature of things, have a large share in all that
was to come? Surely, granting Seward’s political creed,
remembering the problem he wished to solve, there is nothing to
be wondered at in his proposal to Lincoln: “I would demand
explanations from Spain and France, categorically, at once.” .
. . And if satisfactory explanations were not received from
Spain and France, “would convene Congress and declare war
against them.”

His purpose, he said, was to change the question before the
public, from one upon slavery, or about slavery, for a question
upon Union or Disunion. Sumter was to be evacuated “as a safe
means for changing the issue,” but at the same time,
preparations were to be made for a blockade of the Southern
coast.[20] This extraordinary document administered mild but
firm correction to the President. He was told that he had no
policy, although under the circumstances, this was “not
culpable”; that there must be a single head to the government;
that the President, if not equal to the task, should devolve it
upon some member of the Cabinet. The Thoughts closed with
these words, “I neither seek to evade nor assume

Like Seward’s previous move, when he sent Weed to Springfield,
this other brought Lincoln to a point of crisis. For the
second time he must render a decision that would turn the
scale, that would have for his country the force of destiny.
In one respect he did not hesitate. The most essential part of
the Thoughts was the predatory spirit. This clashed with
Lincoln’s character. Serene unscrupulousness met unwavering
integrity. Here was one of those subjects on which Lincoln was
not asking advice. As to ways and means, he was pliable to a
degree in the hands of richer and wider experience; as to
principles, he was a rock. Seward’s whole scheme of
aggrandizement, his magnificent piracy, was calmly waved aside
as a thing of no concern. The most striking characteristic of
Lincoln’s reply was its dignity. He did not, indeed, lay bare
his purposes. He was content to point out certain
inconsistencies in Seward’s argument; to protest that whatever
action might be taken with regard to the single fortress,
Sumter, the question before the public could not be changed by
that one event; and to say that while he expected advice from
all his Cabinet, he was none the less President, and in last
resort he would himself direct the policy of the government.[21]

Only a strong man could have put up with the patronizing
condescension of the Thoughts and betrayed no irritation. Not
a word in Lincoln’s reply gives the least hint that
condescension had been displayed. He is wholly unruffled,
distant, objective. There is also a quiet tone of finality,
almost the tone one might use in gently but firmly correcting a
child. The Olympian impertinence of the Thoughts had struck
out of Lincoln the first flash of that approaching
masterfulness by means of which he was to ride out
successfully such furious storms. Seward was too much the man
of the world not to see what had happened. He never touched
upon the Thoughts again. Nor did Lincoln. The incident was
secret until Lincoln’s secretaries twenty-five years afterward
published it to the world.

But Lincoln’s lofty dignity on the first of April was of a
moment only. When the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles,
that same day called on him in his offices, he was the
easy-going, jovial Lincoln who was always ready half-humorously
to take reproof from subordinates–as was evinced by his
greeting to the Secretary. Looking up from his writing, he
said cheerfully, “What have I done wrong?”[22] Gideon Welles was
a pugnacious man, and at that moment an angry man. There can
be little doubt that his lips were tightly shut, that a stern
frown darkened his brows. Grimly conscientious was Gideon
Welles, likewise prosaic; a masterpiece of literalness, the
very opposite in almost every respect of the Secretary of State
whom he cordially detested. That he had already found
occasion to protest against the President’s careless mode of
conducting business may be guessed–correctly–from the way he
was received. Doubtless the very cordiality, the whimsical
admission of loose methods, irritated the austere Secretary.
Welles had in his hand a communication dated that same day and
signed by the President, making radical changes in the program
of the Navy Department. He had come to protest.

“The President,” said Welles, “expressed as much surprise as I
felt, that he had sent me such a document. He said that Mr.
Seward with two or three young men had been there during the
day on a subject which he (Seward) had in hand and which he had
been some time maturing; that it was Seward’s specialty, to
which he, the President, had yielded, but as it involved
considerable details, he had left Mr. Seward to prepare the
necessary papers. These papers he had signed, many of them
without reading, for he had not time, and if he could not trust
the Secretary of State, he knew not whom he could trust. I
asked who were associated with Mr. Seward. ‘No one,’ said the
President, ‘but these young men who were here as clerks to
write down his plans and orders.’ Most of the work was done, he
said, in the other room.

“The President reiterated that they [the changes in the Navy] were not his instructions, though signed by him; that the paper
was an improper one; that he wished me to give it no more
consideration than I thought proper; to treat it as cancelled,
or as if it had never been written. I could get no satisfactory
explanation from the President of the origin of this strange
interference which mystified him and which he censured and
condemned more severely than myself. . . . Although very much
disturbed by the disclosure, he was anxious to avoid difficulty,
and to shield Mr. Seward, took to himself the whole blame.

Thus Lincoln began a role that he never afterward abandoned.
It was the role of scapegoat Whatever went wrong anywhere could
always be loaded upon the President. He appeared to consider
it a part of his duty to be the scapegoat for the whole
Administration. It was his way of maintaining trust, courage,
efficiency, among his subordinates.

Of those papers which he had signed without reading on April
first, Lincoln was to hear again in still more surprising
fashion six days thereafter.

He was now at the very edge of his second crucial decision.
Though the naval expedition was in preparation, he still
hesitated over issuing orders to sail. The reply to the
Thoughts had not committed him to any specific line of conduct.
What was it that kept him wavering at this eleventh hour?
Again, that impenetrable taciturnity which always shrouded his
progress toward a conclusion, forbids dogmatic assertion. But
two things are obvious: his position as a minority president,
of which he was perhaps unduly conscious, caused him to delay,
and to delay again and again, seeking definite evidence how
much support he could command in the North; the change in his
comprehension of the problem before him-his perception that it
was not an “artificial crisis” involving slavery alone, but an
irreconcilable clash of social-political idealism–this
disturbed his spirit, distressed, even appalled him. Having a
truer insight into human nature than Seward had, he saw that
here was an issue immeasurably less susceptible of compromise
than was slavery. Whether, the moment he perceived this, he at
once lost hope of any peaceable solution, we do not know. Just
what he thought about the Virginia Compromise is still to
seek. However, the nature of his mind, the way it went
straight to the human element in a problem once his eyes were
opened to the problem’s reality, forbid us to conclude that he
took hope from Virginia. He now saw what, had it not been for
his near horizon, he would have seen so long before, that, in
vulgar parlance, he had been “barking up the wrong tree.” Now
that he had located the right tree, had the knowledge come too

It is known that Seward, possibly at Lincoln’s request, made an
attempt to bring together the Virginia Unionists and the
Administration. He sent a special representative to Richmond
urging the despatch of a committee to confer with the

The strength of the party in the Convention was shown on April
fourth when a proposed Ordinance of Secession was voted down,
eighty-nine to forty-five. On the same day, the Convention by
a still larger majority formally denied the right of the
Federal government to coerce a State. Two days later, John B.
Baldwin, representing the Virginia Unionists, had a
confidential talk with Lincoln. Only fragments of their talk,
drawn forth out of memory long afterward–some of the reporting
being at second hand, the recollections of the recollections of
the participants–are known to exist. The one fact clearly
discernible is that Baldwin stated fully the Virginia position:
that her Unionists were not nationalists; that the coercion of
any State, by impugning the sovereignty of all, would
automatically drive Virginia out of the Union.[23]

Lincoln had now reached his decision. The fear that had dogged
him all along–the fear that in evacuating Sumter he would be
giving something for nothing, that “it would discourage the
friends of the Union, embolden its adversaries”–was in
possession of his will. One may hazard the guess that this
fear would have determined Lincoln sooner than it did, except
for the fact that the Secretary of State, despite his faults,
was so incomparably the strongest personality in the Cabinet.
We have Lincoln’s own word for the moment and the detail that
formed the very end of his period of vacillation. All along he
had intended to relieve and hold Fort Pickens, off the coast of
Florida. To this, Seward saw no objection. In fact, he urged
the relief of Pickens, hoping, as compensation, to get his way
about Sumter. Assuming as he did that the Southern leaders
were opportunists, he believed that they would not make an
issue over Pickens, merely because it had not in the public eye
become a political symbol. Orders had been sent to a squadron
in Southern waters to relieve Pickens. Early in April news was
received at Washington that the attempt had failed due to
misunderstandings among the Federal commanders. Fearful that
Pickens was about to fall, reasoning that whatever happened he
dared not lose both forts, Lincoln became peremptory on the
subject of the Sumter expedition. This was on April sixth. On
the night of April sixth, Lincoln’s signatures to the unread
despatches of the first of April, came home to roost. And at
last, Welles found out what Seward was doing on the day of All

While the Sumter expedition was being got ready, still without
sailing orders, a supplemental expedition was also preparing
for the relief of Pickens. This was the business that Seward
was contriving, that Lincoln would not explain, on April first.
The order interfering with the Navy Department was designed to
checkmate the titular head of the department. Furthermore,
Seward had had the amazing coolness to assume that Lincoln
would certainly accept his Thoughts and that the simple
President need not hereinafter be consulted about details. He
aimed to circumvent Welles and to make sure that the Sumter
expedition, whether sailing orders were issued or not, should
be rendered innocuous. The warship Powhatan, which was being
got ready for sea at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was intended by
Welles for the Sumter expedition. One of those unread
despatches signed by Lincoln, assigned it to the Pickens
expedition. When the sailing orders from Welles were received,
the commander of the Sumter fleet claimed the Powhatan. The
Pickens commander refused to give it up. The latter
telegraphed Seward that his expedition was “being retarded and
embarrassed” by “conflicting” orders from Welles. The result
was a stormy conference between Seward and Welles which was
adjourned to the White House and became a conference with
Lincoln. And then the whole story came out. Lincoln played
the scapegoat, “took the whole blame upon himself, said it was
carelessness, heedlessness on his part; he ought to have been
more careful and attentive.” But he insisted on immediate
correction of his error, on the restoration of the Powhatan to
the Sumter fleet. Seward struggled hard for his plan. Lincoln
was inflexible. As Seward had directed the preparation of the
Pickens expedition, Lincoln required him to telegraph to
Brooklyn the change in orders. Seward, beaten by his enemy
Welles, was deeply chagrined. In his agitation he forgot to be
formal, forgot that the previous order had gone out in the
President’s name, and wired curtly, “Give up the Powhatan.

This despatch was received just as the Pickens expedition was
sailing. The commander of the Powhatan had now before him,
three orders. Naturally, he held that the one signed by the
President took precedence over the others. He went on his way,
with his great warship, to Florida. The Sumter expedition
sailed without any powerful ship of war. In this strange
fashion, chance executed Seward’s design.

Lincoln had previously informed the Governor of South Carolina
that due notice would be given, should he decide to relieve
Sumter. Word was now sent that “an attempt will be made to
supply Fort Sumter with provisions only; and that if such
attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms or
ammunition will be made without further notice, or in case of
an attack upon the fort.”[25] Though the fleet was not intended
to offer battle, it was supposed to be strong enough to force
its way into the harbor, should the relief of Sumter be
opposed. But the power to do so was wholly conditioned on the
presence in its midst of the Powhatan. And the Powhatan was
far out to sea on its way to Florida.

And now it was the turn of the Confederate government to
confront a crisis. It, no less than Washington, had passed
through a period of disillusion. The assumption upon which its
chief politicians had built so confidently had collapsed. The
South was not really a unit. It was not true that the
secession of any one State, on any sort of issue, would compel
automatically the secession of all the Southern States. North
Carolina had exploded this illusion. Virginia had exploded it.
The South could not be united on the issue of slavery; it could
not be united on the issue of sectional dread. It could be
united on but one issue-State sovereignty, the denial of the
right of the Federal Government to coerce a State. The time
had come to decide whether the cannon at Charleston should
fire. As Seward had foreseen, Montgomery held the trumps; but
had Montgomery the courage to play them? There was a momentous
debate in the Confederate Cabinet. Robert Toombs, the
Secretary of State, whose rapid growth in comprehension since
December formed a parallel to Lincoln’s growth, threw his
influence on the side of further delay. He would not invoke
that “final argument of kings,” the shotted cannon. “Mr.
President,” he exclaimed, “at this time, it is suicide, murder,
and will lose us every friend at the North. You will instantly
strike a: hornet’s nest which extends from mountain to ocean,
and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It
is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal.” But
Toombs stood alone in the Cabinet. Orders were sent to
Charleston to reduce Fort Sumter. Before dawn, April twelfth,
the first shot was fired. The flag of the United States was
hauled down on the afternoon of the thirteenth. ‘Meanwhile the
relieving fleet had arrived–without the Powhatan. Bereft of
its great ship, it could not pass the harbor batteries and
assist the fort. Its only service was to take off the garrison
which by the terms of surrender was allowed to withdraw. On
the fourteenth, Sumter was evacuated and the inglorious fleet
sailed back to the northward.

Lincoln at once accepted the gage of battle. On the fifteenth
appeared his proclamation calling for an army of seventy-five
thousand volunteers. Automatically, the upper South fulfilled
its unhappy destiny. Challenged at last, on the irreconcilable
issue, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, seceded.
The final argument of kings was the only one remaining.


It has been truly said that the Americans are an unmilitary but
an intensely warlike nation. Seward’s belief that a war fury
would sweep the country at the first cannon shot was amply
justified. Both North and South appeared to rise as one man,
crying fiercely to be led to battle.

The immediate effect on Washington had not been foreseen. That
historic clash at Baltimore between the city’s mob and the
Sixth Massachusetts en route to the capital, was followed by an
outburst of secession feeling in Maryland; by an attempt to
isolate Washington from the North. Railway tracks were torn
up; telegraph wires were cut. During several days Lincoln was
entirely ignorant of what the North was doing. Was there an
efficient general response to his call for troops? Or was
precious time being squandered in preparation? Was it
conceivable that the war fury was only talk? Looking forth
from the White House, he was a prisoner of the horizon; an
impenetrable mystery, it shut the capital in a ring of silence
all but intolerable. Washington assumed the air of a
beleaguered city. General Scott hastily drew in the small
forces which the government had maintained in Maryland and
Virginia. Government employees and loyal Washingtonians were
armed and began to drill. The White House became a barracks.
“Jim Lane,” writes delightful John Hay in his diary, which is
always cool, rippling, sunny, no matter how acute the crisis,
“Jim Lane marshalled his Kansas warriors today at Williard’s;
tonight (they are in) the East Room.”[1] Hay’s humor brightens
the tragic hour. He felt it his duty to report to Lincoln a
“yarn” that had been told to him by some charming women who had
insisted on an interview; they had heard from “a dashing
Virginian” that inside forty-eight hours something would happen
which would ring through the world. The ladies thought this
meant the capture or assassination of the President. “Lincoln
quietly grinned.” But Hay who plainly enjoyed the episode,
charming women and all, had got himself into trouble. He had
to do “some very dexterous lying to calm the awakened fears of
Mrs. Lincoln in regard to the assassination suspicion.” Militia
were quartered in the Capitol, and Pennsylvania Avenue was a
drill ground. At the President’s reception, the distinguished
politician C. C. Clay, “wore with a sublimely unconscious air
three pistols and an ‘Arkansas toothpick,’ and looked like an
admirable vignette to twenty-five cents’ worth of yellow
covered romance.”

But Hay’s levity was all of the surface. Beneath it was
intense anxiety. General Scott reported that the Virginia
militia, concentrating about Washington, were a formidable
menace, though he thought he was strong enough to hold out
until relief should come. As the days passed and nothing
appeared upon that inscrutable horizon while the telegraph
remained silent, Lincoln became moodily distressed. One
afternoon, “the business of the day being over, the executive
office deserted, after walking the floor alone in silent
thought for nearly a half-hour, he stopped and gazed long and
wistfully out of the window down the Potomac in the direction
of the expected ships (bringing soldiers from New York); and
unconscious of other presence in the room, at length broke out
with irrepressible anguish in the repeated exclamation, ‘Why
don’t they come! Why don’t they come!'”[2]

His unhappiness flashed into words while he was visiting those
Massachusetts soldiers who had been wounded on their way to
Washington. “I don’t believe there is any North. . . ” he
exclaimed. “You are the only Northern realities.”[3] But even
then relief was at hand. The Seventh New York, which had
marched down Broadway amid such an ovation as never before was
given any regiment in America, had come by sea to Annapolis.
At noon on April twenty-fifth, it reached Washington bringing,
along with the welcome sight of its own bayonets, the news that
the North had risen, that thousands more were on the march.

Hay who met them at the depot went at once to report to
Lincoln. Already the President had reacted to a “pleasant,
hopeful mood.” He began outlining a tentative plan of action:
blockade, maintenance of the safety of Washington, holding
Fortress Monroe, and then to “go down to Charleston and pay her
the little debt we are owing there.”[4] But this was an
undigested plan. It had little resemblance to any of his
later plans. And immediately the chief difficulties that were
to embarrass all his plans appeared. He was a minority
President; and he was the Executive of a democracy. Many
things were to happen; many mistakes were to be made; many
times the piper was to be paid, ere Lincoln felt sufficiently
sure of his support to enforce a policy of his own, defiant of
opposition. Throughout the spring of 1861 his imperative need
was to secure the favor of the Northern mass, to shape his
policy with that end in view. At least, in his own mind, this
seemed to be his paramount obligation. And so it was in the
minds of his advisers. Lincoln was still in the pliable mood
which was his when he entered office, which continued to be in
evidence, except for sudden momentary disappearances when a
different Lincoln flashed an instant into view, until another
year and more had gone by. Still he felt himself the
apprentice hand painfully learning the trade of man of action.
Still he was deeply sensitive to advice.

And what advice did the country give him? There was one
roaring shout dinning into his ears all round the Northern
horizon-“On to Richmond!” Following Virginia’s secession,
Richmond had become the Confederate capital. It was expected
that a session of the Confederate Congress would open at
Richmond in July. “On to Richmond! Forward to Richmond!”
screamed The Tribune. “The Rebel Congress must not be allowed
to meet there on the 20th of July. By that date the place must
be held by the national army.” The Times advised the
resignation of the Cabinet; it warned the President that if he
did not give prompt satisfaction he would be superseded.
Though Lincoln laughed at the threat of The Times to “depose”
him, he took very seriously all the swiftly accumulating
evidence that the North was becoming rashly impatient Newspaper
correspondents at Washington talked to his secretaries
“impertinently.”[5] Members of Congress, either carried away by
the excitement of the hour or with slavish regard to the
hysteria of their constituents, thronged to Washington
clamoring for action. On purely political grounds, if on no
other, they demanded an immediate advance into Virginia.
Military men looked with irritation, if not with contempt, on
all this intemperate popular fury. That grim Sherman, who had
been offended by Lincoln’s tone the month previous, put their
feeling into words. Declining the offer of a position in the
War Department, he wrote that he wished “the Administration all
success in its almost impossible task of governing this
distracted and anarchial people.”[6]

In the President’s councils, General Scott urged delay, and the
gathering of the volunteers into camps of instruction, their
deliberate transformation into a genuine army. So inadequate
were the resources of the government; so loose and uncertain
were the militia organizations which were attempting to combine
into an army; such discrepancies appeared between the nominal
and actual strength of commands, between the places where men
were supposed to be and the places where they actually were;
that Lincoln in his droll way compared the process of
mobilization to shoveling a bushel of fleas across a barn
floor.[7] From the military point of view it was no time to
attempt an advance. Against the military argument, three
political arguments loomed dark in the minds of the Cabinet;
there was the clamor of the Northern majority; there were the
threats of the politicians who were to assemble in Congress,
July fourth; there was the term of service of the volunteers
which had been limited by the proclamation to three months.
Late in June, the Cabinet decided upon the political course,
overruled the military advisers, and gave its voice for an
immediate advance into Virginia. Lincoln accepted this rash
advice. Scott yielded. General Irwin McDowell was ordered to
strike a Confederate force that had assembled at Manassas.[8] On
the fourth of July, the day Congress met, the government made
use of a coup de theatre. It held a review of what was then
considered a “grand army” of twenty-five thousand men. A few
days later, the sensibilities of the Congressmen were further
exploited. Impressionable members were “deeply moved,” when
the same host in marching order passed again through the city
and wheeled southward toward Virginia. Confident of victory,
the Congressmen spent these days in high debate upon anything
that took their fancy. When, a fortnight later, it was known
that a battle was imminent, many of them treated the Occasion
as a picnic. They took horses, or hired vehicles, and away
they went southward for a jolly outing on the day the
Confederacy was to collapse. In the mind of the unfortunate
General who commanded the expedition a different mood
prevailed. In depression, he said to a friend, “This is not an
army. It will take a long time to make an army. But his duty
as a soldier forbade him to oppose his superiors; “the poor
fellow could not proclaim his distrust of his army in public.”[9] Thoughtful observers at Washington felt danger in the air, both
military and political.

Sunday, July twenty-first, dawned clear. It was the day of the
expected battle. A noted Englishman, setting out for the front
as war correspondent of the London Times, observed “the
calmness and silence of the streets of Washington, this early
morning.” After crossing the Potomac, he felt that “the promise
of a lovely day given by the early dawn was likely to be
realized to the fullest”; and “the placid beauty of the scenery
as we drove through the woods below Arlington” delighted him.
And then about nine o’clock his thoughts abandoned the scenery.
Through those beautiful Virginia woods came the distant roar of

At the White House that day there was little if any alarm.
Reports received at various times were construed by military
men as favorable. These, with the rooted preconception that
the army had to be successful, established confidence in a
victory before nightfall. Late in the afternoon, the President
relieved his tension by taking a drive. He had not returned
when, about six o’clock, Seward appeared and asked hoarsely
where he was. The secretaries told him. He begged them to
find the President as quickly as possible. “Tell no one,” said
he, “but the battle is lost. The army is in full retreat.”

The news of the rout at Bull Run did not spread through
Washington until close to midnight. It caused an instantaneous
panic. In the small hours, the space before the Treasury was
“a moving mass of humanity. Every man seemed to be asking
every man he met for the latest news, while all sorts of rumors
filled the air. A feeling of mingled horror and despair
appeared to possess everybody. . . . Our soldiers came
straggling into the city covered with dust and many of them
wounded, while the panic that led to the disaster spread like a
contagion through all classes.” The President did not share the
panic. He “received the news quietly and without any visible
sign of perturbation or excitement”‘[10] Now appeared in him the
quality which led Herndon to call him a fatalist. All night
long he sat unruffled in his office, while refugees from the
stricken field–especially those overconfident Senators and
Representatives who had gone out to watch the overthrow of the
Confederates–poured into his ears their various and conflicting
accounts of the catastrophe. During that long night Lincoln
said almost nothing. Meanwhile, fragments of the routed army
continued to stream into the city. At dawn the next day
Washington was possessed by a swarm of demoralized soldiers
while a dreary rain settled over it.

The silent man in the White House had forgotten for the moment
his dependence upon his advisers. While the runaway Senators
were talking themselves out, while the rain was sheeting up the
city, he had reached two conclusions. Early in the morning, he
formulated both. One conclusion was a general outline for the
conduct of a long war in which the first move should be a call
for volunteers to serve three years.[11] The other conclusion
was the choice of a conducting general. Scott was too old.
McDowell had failed. But there was a young officer, a West
Pointer, who had been put in command of the Ohio militia, who
had entered the Virginia mountains from the West, had engaged a
small force there, and had won several small but rather showy
victories. Young as he was, he had served in the Mexican War
and was supposed to be highly accomplished. On the day
following Bull Run, Lincoln ordered McClellan to Washington to
take command.[12]


While these startling events were taking place in the months
between Sumter and Bull Run, Lincoln passed through a searching
intellectual experience. The reconception of his problem,
which took place in March, necessitated a readjustment of his
political attitude. He had prepared his arsenal for the use of
a strategy now obviously beside the mark. The vital part of
the first inaugural was its attempt to cut the ground from
under the slave profiteers. Its assertion that nothing else
was important, the idea that the crisis was “artificial,” was
sincere. Two discoveries had revolutionized Lincoln’s thought.
The discovery that what the South was in earnest about was not
slavery but State sovereignty; the discovery that the North was
far from a unit upon nationalism. To meet the one, to organize
the other, was the double task precipitated by the fall of
Sumter. Not only as a line of attack, but also as a means of
defense, Lincoln had to raise to its highest power the argument
for the sovereign reality of the national government. The
effort to do this formed the silent inner experience behind the
surging external events in the stormy months between April and
July. It was governed by a firmness not paralleled in his
outward course. As always, Lincoln the thinker asked no
advice. It was Lincoln the administrator, painfully learning a
new trade, who was timid, wavering, pliable in council. Behind
the apprentice in statecraft, the lonely thinker stood apart,
inflexible as ever, impervious to fear. The thinking which he
formulated in the late spring and early summer of 1861 obeyed
his invariable law of mental gradualness. It arose out of the
deep places of his own past. He built up his new conclusion by
drawing together conclusions he had long held, by charging them
with his later experience, by giving to them a new turn, a new

Lincoln’s was one of those natures in which ideas have to
become latent before they can be precipitated by outward
circumstance into definite form. Always with him the idea that
was to become powerful at a crisis was one that he had long
held in solution, that had permeated him without his
formulating it, that had entwined itself with his heartstrings;
never was it merely a conscious act of the logical faculty.
His characteristics as a lawyer–preoccupation with basal ideas,
with ethical significance, with those emotions which form the
ultimates of life–these always determined his thought. His
idea of nationalism was a typical case. He had always believed
in the reality of the national government as a sovereign fact.
But he had thought little about it; rather he had taken it for
granted. It was so close to his desire that he could not
without an effort acknowledge the sincerity of disbelief in it.
That was why he was so slow in forming a true comprehension of
the real force opposing him. Disunion had appeared to him a
mere device of party strategy. That it was grounded upon a
genuine, a passionate conception of government, one
irreconcilable with his own, struck him, when at last he
grasped it, as a deep offense. The literary statesman sprang
again to life. He threw all the strength of his mind, the
peculiar strength that had made him president, into a statement
of the case for nationalism.

His vehicle for publishing his case was the first message to
Congress.[1] It forms an amazing contrast with the first
inaugural. The argument over slavery that underlies the whole
of the inaugural has vanished. The message does not mention
slavery. From the first word to the last, it is an argument
for the right of the central government to exercise sovereign
power, and for the duty of the American people–to give their
lives for the Union. No hint of compromise; nought of the
cautious and conciliatory tone of the inaugural. It is the
blast of a trumpet–a war trumpet. It is the voice of a stern
mind confronting an adversary that arouses in him no sympathy,
no tolerance even, much less any thought of concession.
Needless to insist that this adversary is an idea. Toward
every human adversary, Lincoln was always unbelievably tender.
Though little of a theologian, he appreciated intuitively some
metaphysical ideas; he projected into politics the
philosopher’s distinction between sin and the sinner. For all
his hatred of the ideas which he held to be treason, he never
had a vindictive impulse directed toward the men who accepted
those ideas. Destruction for the idea, infinite clemency for
the person–such was his attitude.

It was the idea of disunion, involving as he believed, a
misconception of the American government, and by implication, a
misconception of the true function of all governments
everywhere, against which he declared a war without recourse.

The basis of his argument reaches back to his oration on Clay,
to his assertion that Clay loved his country, partly because it
was his country, even more because it was a free country. This
idea ran through Lincoln’s thinking to the end. There was in
him a suggestion of internationalism. At the full height of
his power, in his complete maturity as a political thinker, he
said that the most sacred bond in life should be the
brotherhood of the workers of all nations. No words of his are
more significant than his remarks to passing soldiers in 1863,
such as, “There is more involved in this contest than is
realized by every one. There is involved in this struggle the
question whether your children and my children shall enjoy the
privileges we have enjoyed.” And again, “I happen temporarily
to occupy this White House. I am a living witness that any one
of your children may look to come here as my father’s child

This idea, the idea that the “plain people” are the chief
concern of government was the bed rock of all his political
thinking. The mature, historic Lincoln is first of all a
leader of the plain people–of the mass–as truly as was Cleon,
or Robespierre, or Andrew Jackson. His gentleness does not
remove him from that stern category. The latent fanaticism
that is in every man, or almost every man, was grounded in
Lincoln, on his faith–so whimsically expressed–that God must
have loved the plain people because he had made so many of
them.[3] The basal appeal of the first message was in the words:

“This is essentially a people’s contest. On the side of the
Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form
and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate
the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all
shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to
afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of
life.”[4] Not a war over slavery, not a war to preserve a
constitutional system, but a war to assert and maintain the
sovereignty of–“We, the People.”

But how was it to be proved that this was, in fact, the true
issue of the moment? Here, between the lines of the first
message, Lincoln’s deepest feelings are to be glimpsed. Out of
the discovery that Virginia honestly believed herself a
sovereign power, he had developed in himself a deep,
slow-burning fervor that probably did much toward fusing him
into the great Lincoln of history. But why? What was there in
that idea which should strike so deep? Why was it not merely
one view in a permissible disagreement over the interpretation
of the Constitution? Why did the cause of the people inspire
its champion to regard the doctrine of State sovereignty as
anti-christ? Lincoln has not revealed himself on these points
in so many words. But he has revealed himself plainly enough
by implication.

The clue is in that element of internationalism which lay at
the back of his mind. There must be no misunderstanding of
this element. It was not pointing along the way of the modern
“international.” Lincoln would have fought Bolshevism to the
death. Side by side with his assertion of the sanctity of the
international bond of labor, stands his assertion of a sacred
right in property and that capital is a necessity.[5] His
internationalism was ethical, not opportunistic. It grew, as
all his ideas grew, not out of a theorem, not from a
constitutional interpretation, but from his overpowering
commiseration for the mass of mankind. It was a practical
matter. Here were poor people to be assisted, to be enriched
in their estate, to be enlarged in spirit. The mode of
reaching the result was not the thing. Any mode, all sorts of
modes, might be used. What counted was the purpose to work
relief, and the willingness to throw overboard whatever it
might be that tended to defeat the purpose. His
internationalism was but a denial of “my country right or
wrong.” There can be little doubt that, in last resort, he
would have repudiated his country rather than go along with it
in opposition to what he regarded as the true purpose of
government. And that was, to advance the welfare of the mass
of mankind.

He thought upon this subject in the same manner in which he
thought as a lawyer, sweeping aside everything but what seemed
to him the ethical reality at the heart of the case. For him
the “right” of a State to do this or that was a constitutional
question only so long as it did not cross that other more
universal “right,” the paramount “charter of liberty,” by
which, in his view, all other rights were conditioned. He
would impose on all mankind, as their basic moral obligation,
the duty to sacrifice all personal likes, personal ambitions,
when these in their permanent tendencies ran contrary to the
tendency which he rated as paramount. Such had always been,
and was always to continue, his own attitude toward slavery.
No one ever loathed it more. But he never permitted it to take
the first place in his thoughts. If it could be eradicated
without in the process creating dangers for popular government
he would rejoice. But all the schemes of the Abolitionists,
hitherto, he had condemned as dangerous devices because they
would strain too severely the fabric of the popular state,
would violate agreements which alone made it possible.
Therefore, being always relentless toward himself, he required
of himself the renunciation of this personal hope whenever, in
whatever way, it threatened to make less effective the great
democratic state which appeared to him the central fact of the

The enlargement of his reasoning led him inevitably to an
unsparing condemnation of the Virginian theory. One of his
rare flashes of irritation was an exclamation that Virginia
loyalty always had an “if.”[6] At this point, to make him
entirely plain, there is needed another basic assumption which
he has never quite formulated. However, it is so obviously
latent in his thinking that the main lines are to be made out
clearly enough. Building ever on that paramount obligation of
all mankind to consider first the welfare of God’s plain
people, he assumed that whenever by any course of action any
congregation of men were thrown together and led to form any
political unit, they were never thereafter free to disregard in
their attitude toward that unit its value in supporting and
advancing the general cause of the welfare of the plain people.
A sweeping, and in some contingencies, a terrible doctrine!
Certainly, as to individuals, classes, communities even, a
doctrine that might easily become destructive. But it formed
the basis of all Lincoln’s thought about the “majority” in
America. Upon it would have rested his reply, had he ever made
a reply, to the Virginia contention that while his theory might
apply to each individual State, it could not apply to the group
of States. He would have treated such a reply, whether fairly
or unfairly, as a legal technicality. He would have said in
substance: here is a congregation to be benefited, this great
mass of all the inhabitants of all the States of the Union;
accident, or destiny, or what you will, has brought them
together, but here they are; they are moving forward,
haltingly, irregularly, but steadily, toward fuller and fuller
democracy; they are part of the universal democratic movement;
their vast experiment has an international significance; it is
the hope of the “Liberal party throughout the world”; to check
that experiment, to break it into Separate minor experiments;
to reduce the imposing promise of its example by making it seem
unsuccessful, would be treason to mankind. Therefore, both on
South and North, both on the Seceders he meant to fight and on
those Northerners of whom he was not entirely sure, he aimed to
impose the supreme immediate duty of proving to the world that
democracy on a great scale could have sufficient vitality to
maintain itself against any sort of attack. Anticipating
faintly the Gettysburg oration, the first message contained
these words: “And this issue embraces more than the fate of
these United States. It presents to the whole family of man
the question whether a constitutional republic, or democracy–a
government of the people by the same people–can or can not
maintain its integrity against its own domestic foes. . . .
Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties
of its people or too weak to maintain its own existence?”[7] He
told Hay that “the crucial idea pervading this struggle is the
necessity that is upon us to prove that popular government is
not an absurdity”; “that the basal issue was whether or no the
people could govern themselves.”[8]

But all this elaborate reasoning, if it went no further, lacked
authority. It was political speculation. To clothe itself
with authority it had to discover a foundation in historic
fact. The real difficulty was not what ought to have been
established in America in the past, but what actually had been.
Where was the warrant for those bold proposition–who “we, the
people,” really were; in what their sovereign power really
consisted; what was history’s voice in the matter? To state an
historic foundation was the final aim of the message. To hit
its mark it had to silence those Northerners who denied the
obligation to fight for the Union; it had to oppose their “free
love” ideas of political unity with the conception of an
established historic government, one which could not be
overthrown except through the nihilistic process of revolution.
So much has been written upon the exact location of sovereignty
in the American federal State that it is difficult to escape
the legalistic attitude, and to treat the matter purely as
history. So various, so conflicting, and at times so tenuous,
are the theories, that a flippant person might be forgiven did
he turn from the whole discussion saying impatiently it was
blind man’s buff. But on one thing, at least, we must all
agree. Once there was a king over this country, and now there
is no king. Once the British Crown was the sovereign, and now
the Crown has receded into the distance beyond the deep blue
sea. When the Crown renounced its sovereignty in America, what
became of it? Did it break into fragments and pass peacemeal
to the various revolted colonies? Was it transferred somehow to
the group collectively? These are the obvious theories; but
there are others. And the others give rise to subtler
speculations. Who was it that did the actual revolting against
the Crown–colonies, parties, individuals, the whole American
people, who?

Troublesome questions these, with which Lincoln and the men of
his time did not deal in the spirit of historical science.
Their wishes fathered their thoughts. Southerners, practically
without exception, held the theory of the disintegration of the
Crown’s prerogative, its distribution among the States. The
great leaders of Northern thought repudiated the idea.
Webster and Clay would have none of it. But their own theories
were not always consistent; and they differed among themselves.
Lincoln did the natural thing. He fastened upon the tendencies
in Northern thought that supported his own faith. Chief among
these was the idea that sovereignty passed to the general
congregation of the inhabitants of the colonies–“we, the
people”–because we, the people, were the real power that
supported the revolt. He had accepted the idea that the
American Revolution was an uprising of the people, that its
victory was in a transfer of sovereign rights from an English
Crown to an American nation; that a new collective state, the
Union, was created by this nation as the first act of the
struggle, and that it was to the Union that the Crown
succumbed, to the Union that its prerogative passed. To put
this idea in its boldest and its simplest terms was the
crowning effort of the message.

“The States have their status in the Union and they have no
other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do
so against law and by revolution. The Union, and not
themselves separately, procured their independence and their
liberty. By conquest or purchase, the Union gave each of them
whatever of independence and liberty it has. The Union is
older than any of the States, and in fact, it created them as
States. Originally some dependent colonies made the Union, and
in turn, the Union threw off this old dependence for them and
made them States, such as they are.”[9]

This first message completes the evolution of Lincoln as a
political thinker. It is his third, his last great landmark.
The Peoria speech, which drew to a focus all the implications
of his early life, laid the basis of his political
significance; the Cooper Union speech, summing up his conflict
with Douglas, applied his thinking to the new issue
precipitated by John Brown; but in both these he was still
predominantly a negative thinker, still the voice of an
opposition. With the first message, he became creative; he
drew together what was latent in his earlier thought; he
discarded the negative; he laid the foundation of all his
subsequent policy. The breadth and depth of his thinking is
revealed by the fulness with which the message develops the
implications of his theory. In so doing, he anticipated the
main issues that were to follow: his determination to keep
nationalism from being narrowed into mere “Northernism”; his
effort to create an all- parties government; his stubborn
insistence that he was suppressing an insurrection, not waging
external war; his doctrine that the Executive, having been
chosen by the entire people, was the one expression of the
sovereignty of the people, and therefore, the repository of all
these exceptional “war powers” that are dormant in time of
peace. Upon each of those issues he was destined to wage
fierce battles with the politicians who controlled Congress,
who sought to make Congress his master, who thwarted, tormented
and almost defeated him. In the light of subsequent history
the first message has another aspect besides its significance
as political science. In its clear understanding of the
implications of his attitude, it attains political second
sight. As Lincoln, immovable, gazes far into the future, his
power of vision makes him, yet again though in a widely
different sense, the “seer in a trance, Seeing all his own

His troubles with Congress began at once. The message was
received on July fourth, politely, but with scant response to
its ideas. During two weeks, while Congress in its fatuousness
thought that the battle impending in Virginia would settle
things, the majority in Congress would not give assent to
Lincoln’s view of what the war was about. And then came Bull
Run. In a flash the situation changed. Fatuousness was puffed
out like a candle in a wind. The rankest extremist saw that
Congress must cease from its debates and show its hand; must
say what the war was about; must inform the nation whether it
did or did not agree with the President.

On the day following Bull Run, Crittenden introduced this
resolution: “That the present, deplorable civil war has been
forced upon the country by the Disunionists of the Southern
States, now in arms against the constitutional government, and
in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency,
Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion and
resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country;
that this war is not waged on their part in any spirit of
oppression or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or
purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or
established institutions of these States, but to defend and
maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the
Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the
several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects
are accomplished, the war ought to cease.” This Crittenden
Resolution was passed instantly by both Houses, without debate
and almost without opposition. [10]

Paradoxically, Bull Run had saved the day for Lincoln, had
enabled him to win his first victory as a statesman.


The keen Englishman who had observed the beauty of the
Virginian woods on “Bull Run Sunday,” said, after the battle
was lost, “I hope Senator Wilson is satisfied.” He was sneering
at the whole group of intemperate Senators none of whom had
ever smelled powder, but who knew it all when it came to war;
who had done their great share in driving the President and the
generals into a premature advance. Senator Wilson was one of
those who went out to Manassas to see the Confederacy
overthrown, that fateful Sunday. He was one of the most
precipitate among those who fled back to Washington. On the
way, driving furiously, amid a press of men and vehicles, he
passed a carriage containing four Congressmen who were taking
their time. Perhaps irritated by their coolness, he shouted
to them to make haste. “If we were in as big a hurry as you
are,” replied Congressman Riddle, scornfully, “we would.”

These four Congressmen played a curiously dramatic part before
they got back to Washington. So did a party of Senators with
whom they joined force& This other party, at the start, also
numbered four. They had planned a jolly picnic–this day that
was to prove them right in hurrying the government into battle!-
-and being wise men who knew how to take time by the forelock,
they had taken their luncheon with them. From what is known of
Washington and Senators, then as now, one may risk a good deal
that the luncheon was worth while. Part of the tragedy of that
day was the accidental break-up of this party with the result
amid the confusion of a road crowded by pleasure-seekers, that
two Senators went one way carrying off the luncheon, while the
other two, making the best of the disaster, continued southward
through those beautiful early hours when Russell was admiring
the scenery, their luncheon all to seek. The lucky men with
the luncheon were the Senators Benjamin Wade and Zachary
Chandler. Senator Trumbull and Senator Grimes, both on
horseback, were left to their own devices. However, fortune
was with them. Several hours later they had succeeded in
getting food by the wayside and were resting in a grove of
trees some distance beyond the village of Centerville.
Suddenly, they suffered an appalling surprise; happening to
look up, they beheld emerging out of the distance, a stampede
of men and horses which came thundering down the country road,
not a hundred yards from where they sat. “We immediately
mounted our horses,” as Trumbull wrote to his wife the next
day, “and galloped to the road, by which time it was crowded,
hundreds being in advance on the way to Centerville and two
guns of Sherman’s battery having already passed in full

We kept on with the crowd, not knowing what else to do. We fed
our horses at Centerville and left there at six o’clock. . .
. Came on to Fairfax Court House where we got supper and,
leaving there at ten o’clock reached home at half past two this
morning. . . . I am dreadfully disappointed and

Meanwhile, what of those other gay picnickers, Senator Wade and
Senator Chandler? They drove in a carriage. Viewing the
obligations of the hour much as did C. C. Clay at the
President’s reception, they were armed. Wade had “his famous
rifle” which he had brought with him to Congress, which at
times in the fury of debate he had threatened to use, which had
become a byword. These Senators seem to have ventured nearer
to the front than did Trumbull and Grimes, and were a little
later in the retreat At a “choke-up,” still on the far side of
Centerville, their carriage passed the carriage of the four
Congressmen–who, by the way, were also armed, having among them
“four of the largest navy revolvers.”

All these men, whatever their faults or absurdities, were
intrepid. The Congressmen, at least, were in no good humor,
for they had driven through a regiment of three months men
whose time expired that day and who despite the cannon in the
distance were hurrying home.

The race of the fugitives continued. At Centerville, the
Congressmen passed Wade. Soon afterward Wade passed them for
the second time. About a mile out of Fairfax Court House, “at
the foot of a long down grade, the pike on the northerly side
was fenced and ran along a farm. On the other side for a
considerable distance was a wood, utterly impenetrable for men
or animals, larger than cats or squirrels.” Here the Wade
carriage stopped. The congressional carriage drove up beside
it. The two blocked a narrow way where as in the case of
Horatius at the bridge, “a thousand might well be stopped by
three.” And then “bluff Ben Wade” showed the mettle that was in
him. The “old Senator, his hat well back on his head,” sprang
out of his carriage, his rifle in his hand, and called to the
others, “Boys, we’ll stop this damned runaway.” And they did
it. Only six of them, but they lined up across that narrow
road; presented their weapons and threatened to shoot; seized
the bridles of horses and flung the horses back on their
haunches; checked a panic-stricken army; held it at bay, until
just when it seemed they were about to be overwhelmed, military
reserves hurrying out from Fairfax Court House, took command of
the road. Cool, unpretentious Riddle calls the episode “Wade’s
exploit,” and adds “it was much talked of.” The newspapers
dealt with it extravagantly.[2]

Gallant as the incident was, it was all the military service
that “Ben” Wade and “Zach” Chandler–for thus they are known in
history-over saw. But one may believe that it had a lasting
effect upon their point of view and on that of their friend
Lyman Trumbull. Certain it is that none of the three
thereafter had any doubts about putting the military men in
their place. All the error of their own view previous to Bull
Run was forgotten. Wade and Chandler, especially, when
military questions were in dispute, felt that no one possibly
could know more of the subject than did the men who stopped the
rout in the narrow road beyond Fairfax.

Three of those picnickers who missed their guess on Bull Run
Sunday, Wade, Chandler and Trumbull, were destined to important
parts in the stern years that were to come. Before the close
of the year 1861 the three made a second visit to the army; and
this time they kept together. To that second visit momentous
happenings may be traced. How it came about must be fully

Two of the three, Wade and Chandler, were temperamentally
incapable of understanding Lincoln. Both were men of fierce
souls; each had but a very limited experience. Wade had been a
country lawyer in Ohio; Chandler, a prosperous manufacturer in
Michigan. They were party men by instinct, blind to the faults
of their own side, blind to the virtues of their enemies. They
were rabid for the control of the government by their own
organized machine.

Of Chandler, in Michigan, it was said that he “carried the
Republican organization in his breeches pocket”; partly through
control of the Federal patronage, which Lincoln frankly
conceded to him, partly through a “judicious use of money.”[3] Chandler’s first clash with Lincoln was upon the place that the
Republican machine was to hold in the conduct of the war.

From the beginning Lincoln was resolved that the war should not
be merely a party struggle. Even before he was inaugurated, he
said that he meant to hold the Democrats “close to the
Administration on the naked Union issue.”[4] He had added, “We
must make it easy for them” to support the government “because
we can’t live through the case without them.” This was the
foundation of his attempt–so obvious between the lines of the
first message–to create an all-parties government. This,
Chandler violently opposed. Violence was always Chandler’s
note, so much so that a scornful opponent once called him
“Xantippe in pants.”

Lincoln had given Chandler a cause of offense in McClellan’s
elevation to the head of the army.* McClellan was a Democrat.
There can be little doubt that Lincoln took the fact into
account in selecting him. Shortly before, Lincoln had aimed to
placate the Republicans by showing high honor to their popular
hero, Fremont.

* Strictly speaking he did not become head of the army until
the retirement of Scott in November. Practically, he was
supreme almost from the moment of his arrival in Washington.
When the catastrophe occurred at Bull Run, Fremont was a
major-general commanding the Western Department with
headquarters at St. Louis. He was one of the same violent
root-and-branch wing of the Republicans–the Radicals of a
latter day–of which Chandler was a leader. The temper of that
wing had already been revealed by Senator Baker in his
startling pronouncement: “We of the North control the Union,
and we are going to govern our own Union in our own way.
Chandler was soon to express it still more exactly, saying, “A
rebel has sacrificed all his rights. He has no right to life,
liberty or the pursuit of happiness.”[5] Here was that purpose to
narrowing nationalism into Northernism, even to radicalism, and
to make the war an outlet for a sectional ferocity, which
Lincoln was so firmly determined to prevent. All things
considered, the fact that on the day following Bull Run he did
not summon the Re publican hero to Washington, that he did
summon a Democrat, was significant. It opened his long duel
with the extremists.

The vindictive Spirit of the extremists had been rebuffed by
Lincoln in another way. Shortly after Bull Run, Wade and
Chandler appealed to Lincoln to call out negro soldiers.
Chandler said that he did not care whether or no this would
produce a servile insurrection in the South. Lincoln’s refusal
made another count in the score of the extremists against him.[6]

During the late summer of 1861, Chandler, Wade, Trumbull, were
all busily organizing their forces for an attack on the
Administration. Trumbull, indeed, seemed out of place in that
terrible company. In time, he found that he was out of place.
At a crucial moment he came over to Lincoln. But not until he
had done yeoman service with Lincoln’s bitterest enemies.
The clue to his earlier course was an honest conviction that
Lincoln, though well-intentioned, was weak.[7] Was this the
nemesis of Lincoln’s pliability in action during the first
stage of his Presidency? It may be. The firm inner Lincoln,
the unyielding thinker of the first message, was not
appreciated even by well-meaning men like Trumbull. The inner
and the outer Lincoln were still disconnected. And the outer,
in his caution, in his willingness to be instructed, in his
opposition to extreme measures, made the inevitable impression
that temperance makes upon fury, caution upon rashness.

Throughout the late summer, Lincoln was the target of many
attacks, chiefly from the Abolitionists. Somehow, in the
previous spring, they had got it into their heads that at heart
he was one of them, that he waited only for a victory to
declare the war a crusade of abolition.[8] When the crisis passed
and a Democrat was put at the head of the army, while Fremont
was left in the relative obscurity of St. Louis, Abolition
bitterness became voluble. The Crittenden Resolution was
scoffed at as an “ill-timed revival of the policy of
conciliation.” Threats against the Administration revived,
taking the old form of demands for a wholly new Cabinet The
keener-sighted Abolitionists had been alarmed by the first
message, by what seemed to them its ominous silence as to
slavery. Late in July, Emerson said in conversation, “If the
Union is incapable of securing universal freedom, its
disruption were as the breaking up of a frog-pond.”[9] An outcry
was raised because Federal generals did not declare free all
the slaves who in any way came into their hands. The
Abolitionists found no solace in the First Confiscation Act
which provided that an owner should lose his claim to a slave,
had the slave been used to assist the Confederate government.
They were enraged by an order, early in August, informing
generals that it was the President’s desire “that all existing
rights in all the States be fully respected and maintained; in
cases of fugitives from the loyal Slave States, the enforcement
of the Fugitive Slave Law by the ordinary forms of judicial
proceedings must be respected by the military authorities; in
the disloyal States the Confiscation Act of Congress must be
your guide.”[10] Especially, the Abolitionists were angered
because of Lincoln’s care for the forms of law in those Slave
States that had not seceded. They vented their bitterness in a
famous sneer–“The President would like to have God on his side,
but he must have Kentucky.”

A new temper was forming throughout the land. It was not
merely the old Abolitionism. It was a blend of all those
elements of violent feeling which war inevitably releases; it
was the concentration of all these elements on the issue of
Abolition as upon a terrible weapon; it was the resurrection of
that primitive blood-lust which lies dormant in every peaceful
nation like a sleeping beast. This dreadful power rose out of
its sleep and confronted, menacing, the statesman who of all
our statesmen was most keenly aware of its evil, most
determined to put it under or to perish in the attempt With its
appearance, the deepest of all the issues involved, according
to Lincoln’s way of thinking, was brought to a head. Was the
Republic to issue from the war a worthy or an unworthy nation?
That was pretty definitely a question of whether Abraham
Lincoln or, say, Zachary Chandler, was to control its policy.

A vain, weak man precipitated the inevitable struggle between
these two. Fremont had been flattered to the skies. He
conceived himself a genius. He was persuaded that the party of
the new temper, the men who may fairly be called the
Vindictives, were lords of the ascendent. He mistook their
volubility for the voice of the nation. He determined to defy
Lincoln. He issued a proclamation freeing the slaves of all
who had “taken an active part” with the enemies of the United
States in the field. He set up a “bureau of abolition.”

Lincoln first heard of Fremont’s proclamation through the
newspapers. His instant action was taken in his own
extraordinarily gentle way. “I think there is great danger,”
he wrote, “that the closing paragraph (of Fremont’s
proclamation) in relation to the confiscation of property and
the liberating of slaves of traitorous owners, will alarm our
Southern Union friends and turn them against us; perhaps ruin
our rather fair prospect for Kentucky. Allow me, therefore, to
ask that you will, as of your own motion, modify that paragraph
so as to conform” to the Confiscation Act. He added, “This
letter is written in the Spirit of caution, not of censure.”[11]

Fremont was not the man to understand instruction of this sort.
He would make no compromise with the President. If Lincoln
wished to go over his head and rescind his order let him do
so-and take the consequences. Lincoln quietly did so. His
battle with the Vindictives was on. For a moment it seemed as
if he had destroyed his cause. So loud was the outcry of the
voluble people, that any one might have been excused
momentarily for thinking that all the North had risen against
him. Great meetings of protest were held. Eminent men–even
such fine natures as Bryant–condemned his course. In the wake
of the incident, when it was impossible to say how significant
the outcry really was, Chandler, who was staunch for Fremont,
began his active interference with the management of the army.
McClellan had insisted on plenty of time in which to drill the
new three-year recruits who were pouring into Washington. He
did not propose to repeat the experience of General McDowell.
On the other hand, Chandler was bent on forcing him into
action. He, Wade and Trumbull combined, attempting to bring
things to pass in a way to suit themselves and their faction.
To these men and their followers, clever young Hay gave the apt
name of “The Jacobin Club.”

They began their campaign by their second visit to the army.
Wade was their chief spokesman. He urged McClellan to advance
at once; to risk an unsuccessful battle rather than continue to
stand still; the country wanted something done; a defeat could
easily be repaired by the swarming recruits.[12]

This callous attitude got no response from the Commanding
General. The three Senators turned upon Lincoln. “This
evening,” writes Hay in his diary on October twenty-sixth, “the
Jacobin Club represented by Trumbull, Chandler and Wade, came
out to worry the Administration into a battle. The agitation
of the summer is to be renewed. The President defended
McClellan’s deliberateness. The next night “we went over to
Seward’s and found Chandler and Wade there.” They repeated
their reckless talk; a battle must be fought; defeat would be
no worse than delay; “and a great deal more trash.”

But Lincoln was not to be moved. He and Hay called upon
McClellan. The President deprecated this new manifestation of
popular impatience, but said it was a reality and should be
taken into account. “At the same time, General,” said he, “you
must not fight until you are ready.”[13]

At this moment of extreme tension occurred the famous incident
of the seizure of the Confederate envoys, Mason and Slidell,
who were passengers on the British merchant ship, the Trent.
These men had run the blockade which had now drawn its
strangling line along the whole coast of the Confederacy; they
had boarded the Trent at Havana, and under the law of nations
were safe from capture. But Captain Wilkes of the United
States Navy, more zealous than discreet, overhauled the Trent
and took off the two Confederates. Every thoughtless
Northerner went wild with joy. At last the government had done
something. Even the Secretary of the Navy so far forgot
himself as to telegraph to Wilkes “Congratulate you on the
great public service you have rendered in the capture of the
rebel emissaries.”[14] Chandler promptly applauded the seizure
and when it was suggested that perhaps the envoys should be
released he at once arrayed himself in opposition.[15] With the
truculent Jacobins ready to close battle should the government
do its duty, with the country still echoing to cheers for
Fremont and hisses for the President, with nothing to his
credit in the way of military success, Lincoln faced a crisis.
He was carried through the crisis by two strong men. Sumner,
head and front of Abolitionism but also a great lawyer, came at
once to his assistance. And what could a thinking Abolitionist
say after that! Seward skilfully saved the face of the
government by his management of the negotiation. The envoys
were released and sent to England.

It was the only thing to do, but Chandler and all his sort had
opposed it. The Abolition fury against the government was at
fever heat. Wendell Phillips in a speech at New York denounced
the Administration as having no definite purpose in the war,
and was interrupted by frantic cheers for Fremont. McClellan,
patiently drilling his army, was, in the eyes of the Jacobins,
doing nothing. Congress had assembled. There was every sign
that troubled waters lay just ahead.


The temper animating Hay’s “Jacobins” formed a new and really
formidable danger which menaced Lincoln at the close of 1861.
But had he been anything of an opportunist, it would have
offered him an unrivaled opportunity. For a leader who sought
personal power, this raging savagery, with its triple alliance
of an organized political machine, a devoted fanaticism, and
the war fury, was a chance in ten thousand. It led to his door
the steed of militarism, shod and bridled, champing upon the
bit, and invited him to leap into the saddle. Ten words of
acquiescence in the program of the Jacobins, and the dreaded
role of the man on horseback was his to command.

The fallacy that politics are primarily intellectual decisions
upon stated issues, the going forth of the popular mind to
decide between programs presented to it by circumstances,
receives a brilliant refutation in the course of the powerful
minority that was concentrating around the three great
“Jacobins.” The subjective side of politics, also the
temperamental side, here found expression. Statecraft is an
art; creative statesmen are like other artists. Just as the
painter or the poet, seizing upon old subjects, uses them as
outlets for his particular temper, his particular emotion, and
as the temper, the emotion are what counts in his work, so with
statesmen, with Lincoln on the one hand, with Chandler at the
opposite extreme.

The Jacobins stood first of all for the sudden reaction of bold
fierce natures from a long political repression. They had
fought their way to leadership as captains of an opposition.
They were artists who had been denied an opportunity of
expression. By a sudden turn of fortune, it had seemed to come
within their grasp. Temperamentally they were fighters.
Battle for them was an end in itself. The thought of Conquest
sang to them like the morning stars. Had they been literary
men, their favorite poetry would have been the sacking of Troy
town. Furthermore, they were intensely provincial. Undoubted
as was their courage, they had also the valor of ignorance.
They had the provincial’s disdain for the other side of the
horizon, his unbounded confidence in his ability to whip all
creation. Chandler, scornfully brushing aside a possible
foreign war, typified their mood.

And in quiet veto of all their hopes rose against them the
apparently easy-going, the smiling, story-telling,
unrevengeful, new man at the White House. It is not to be
wondered that they spent the summer laboring to build up a
party against him, that they turned eagerly to the new session
of Congress, hoping to consolidate a faction opposed to

His second message [1], though without a word of obvious
defiance, set him squarely against them on all their vital
contentions. The winter of 1861-1862 is the strangest period of
Lincoln’s career. Although the two phases of him, the outer and
the inner, were, in point of fact, moving rapidly toward their
point of fusion, apparently they were further away than ever
before. Outwardly, his most conspicuous vacillations were in
this winter and in the following spring. Never before or after
did he allow himself to be overshadowed so darkly by his
advisers in all the concerns of action. In amazing contrast,
in all the concerns of thought, he was never more entirely
himself. The second message, prepared when the country rang
with what seemed to be a general frenzy against him, did not
give ground one inch. This was all the more notable because
his Secretary of War had tried to force his hand. Cameron had
the reputation of being about the most astute politician in
America. Few people attributed to him the embarrassment of
principles. And Cameron, in the late autumn, after closely
observing the drift of things, determined that Fremont had hit
it off correctly, that the crafty thing to do was to come out
for Abolition as a war policy. In a word, he decided to go
over to the Jacobins. He put into his annual report a
recommendation of Chandler’s plan for organizing an army of
freed slaves and sending it against the Confederacy. Advanced
copies of this report had been sent to the press before Lincoln
knew of it. He peremptorily ordered their recall, and the
exclusion of this suggestion from the text of the report.[2]

On the heels of this refusal to concede to Chandler one of his
cherished schemes, the second message was sent to Congress.
The watchful and exasperated Jacobins found abundant offense in
its omissions. On the whole great subject of possible
emancipation it was blankly silent. The nearest it came to
this subject was one suggestion which applied only to those
captured slaves who had been forfeited by the disloyal owners
through being employed to assist the Confederate government
Lincoln advised that after receiving their freedom they be sent
out of the country and colonized “at some place, or places, in
a climate congenial to them.” Beyond this there was nothing
bearing on the slavery question except the admonition–so
unsatisfactory to Chandler and all his sort–that while “the
Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must
be employed,” Congress should “not be in haste to determine
that radical and extreme measures, which may reach the loyal as
well as the disloyal, are indispensable.”

Lincoln was entirely clear in his own mind that there was but
one way to head off the passion of destruction that was rioting
in the Jacobin temper. “In considering the policy to be
adopted in suppressing the insurrection, I have been anxious
and careful that the inevitable conflict for this purpose shall
not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary
struggle. I have, therefore, in every case, thought it proper
to keep the integrity of the Union prominent as the primary
object of the contest on our part, leaving all questions which
are not of vital military importance to the more deliberate
action of the Legislature.” He persisted in regarding the war
as an insurrection of the “disloyal portion of the American
people,” not as an external struggle between the North and the

Finally, the culmination of the message was a long elaborate
argument upon the significance of the war to the working
classes. His aim was to show that the whole trend of the
Confederate movement was toward a conclusion which would “place
capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor, in the
structure of government.” Thus, as so often before, he insisted
on his own view of the significance in American politics of all
issues involving slavery–their bearing on the condition of the
free laborer. In a very striking passage, often overlooked, he
ranked himself once more, as first of all, a statesman of “the
people,” in the limited class sense of the term. “Labor is
prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit
of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first
existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much
the higher consideration.” But so far is he from any
revolutionary purpose, that he adds immediately, “Capital has
its rights which are as worthy of protection as any other
rights.” His crowning vision is not communism. His ideal world
is one of universal opportunity, with labor freed of every
hindrance, with all its deserving members acquiring more and
more of the benefits of property.

Such a message had no consolation for Chandler, Wade, or, as he
then was, for Trumbull. They looked about for a way to
retaliate. And now two things became plain. That “agitation
of the summer” to which Hay refers, had borne fruit, but not
enough fruit. Many members of Congress who had been swept
along by the President’s policy in July had been won over in
the reaction against him and were ripe for manipulation; but it
was not yet certain that they held the balance of power in
Congress. To lock horns with the Administration, in December,
would have been so rash a move that even such bold men as
Chandler and Wade avoided it. Instead, they devised an astute
plan of campaign. Trumbull was Chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, and in that important position would bide
his time to bring pressure to bear on the President through
his influence upon legislation. Wade and Chandler would go in
for propaganda. But they would do so in disguise. What more
natural than that Congress should take an active interest in
the army, should wish to do all in its power to “assist” the
President in rendering the army -efficient. For that purpose
it was proposed to establish a joint committee of the two
Houses having no function but to look into military needs and
report to Congress. The proposal was at once accepted and its
crafty backers secured a committee dominated entirely by
themselves. Chandler was a member; Wade became Chairman.[3] This
Committee on the Conduct of the War became at once an
inquisition. Though armed with no weapon but publicity, its
close connection with congressional intrigue, its hostility to
the President, the dramatic effect of any revelations it chose
to make or any charges it chose to bring, clothed it indirectly
with immense power. Its inner purpose may be stated in the
words of one of its members, “A more vigorous prosecution of
the war and less tenderness toward slavery.”[4] Its mode of
procedure was in constant interrogation of generals, in
frequent advice to the President, and on occasion in
threatening to rouse Congress against him.[5] A session of the
Committee was likely to be followed by a call on the President
of either Chandler or Wade.

The Committee began immediately summoning generals before it to
explain what the army was doing. And every general was made to
understand that what the Committee wanted, what Congress
wanted, what the country wanted, was an advance–“something
doing” as soon as possible.

And now appeared another characteristic of the mood of these
furious men. They had become suspicious, honestly suspicious.
This suspiciousness grew with their power and was rendered
frantic by being crossed. Whoever disagreed with them was
instantly an object of distrust; any plan that contradicted
their views was at once an evidence of treason.

The earliest display of this eagerness to see traitors in every
bush concerned a skirmish that took place at Ball’s Bluff in
Virginia. It was badly managed and the Federal loss,
proportionately, was large. The officer held responsible was
General Stone. Unfortunately for him, he was particularly
obnoxious to the Abolitionists; he had returned fugitive
slaves; and when objection was made by such powerful
Abolitionists as Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, Stone gave
reign to a sharp tongue. In the early days of the session,
Roscoe Conkling told the story of Ball’s Bluff for the benefit
of Congress in a brilliant, harrowing speech. In a flash the
rumor spread that the dead at Ball’s Bluff were killed by
design, that Stone was a traitor, that–perhaps!–who could
say?–there were bigger traitors higher up. Stone was summoned
before the Inquisition.[6]

While Stone was on the rack, metaphorically, while the
Committee was showing him every brutality in its power,
refusing to acquaint him with the evidence against him,
intimating that they were able to convict him of treason,
between the fifth and the eleventh of January a crisis arose
in the War Office. Cameron had failed to ingratiate himself
with the rising powers. Old political enemies in Congress were
implacable. Scandals in his Department gave rise to sweeping
charges of peculation.

There is scarcely another moment when Lincoln’s power was so
precarious. In one respect, in their impatience, the Committee
reflected faithfully the country at large. And by the irony of
fate McClellan at this crucial hour, had fallen ill. After
waiting for his recovery during several weeks, Lincoln ventured
with much hesitation to call a conference of generals.[7] They
were sitting during the Stone investigation, producing no
result except a distraction in councils, devising plans that
were thrown over the moment the Commanding General arose from
his bed. A vote in Congress a few days previous had amounted
to a censure of the Administration. It was taken upon the
Crittenden Resolution which had been introduced a second time.
Of those who had voted for it in July, so many now abandoned
the Administration that this resolution, the clear embodiment
of Lincoln’s policy, was laid on the table, seventy-one to
sixty-five.[8] Lincoln’s hope for an all-parties government was
receiving little encouragement The Democrats were breaking into
factions, while the control of their party organization was
falling into the hands of a group of inferior politicians who
were content to “play politics” in the most unscrupulous
fashion. Both the Secretary of War and the Secretary of State
had authorized arbitrary arrests. Men in New York and New
England had been thrown into prison. The privilege of the writ
of habeas corpus had been denied them on the mere belief of the
government that they were conspiring with its enemies. Because
of these arrests, sharp criticism was being aimed at the
Administration both within and without Congress.

For all these reasons, the government at Washington appeared to
be tottering. Desperate remedies seemed imperative. Lincoln
decided to make every concession he could make without letting
go his central purpose. First, he threw over Cameron; he
compelled him to resign though he saved his face by appointing
him minister to Russia. But who was to take his place? At
this critical moment, the choice of a new Secretary of War was
a political problem of exacting difficulty. Just why Lincoln
chose a sullen, dictatorial lawyer whose experience in no way
prepared him for the office, has never been disclosed. Two
facts appear to explain it. Edwin M. Stanton was
temperamentally just the man to become a good brother to
Chandler and Wade. Both of them urged him upon Lincoln as
successor to Cameron.[9] Furthermore, Stanton hitherto had been
a Democrat. His services in Buchanan’s Cabinet as
Attorney-General had made him a national figure. Who else
linked the Democrats and the Jacobins?

However, for almost any one but Lincoln, there was an objection
that it would have been hard to overcome. No one has ever
charged Stanton with politeness. A gloomy excitable man, of
uncertain health, temperamentally an over-worker, chronically
apprehensive, utterly without the saving grace of humor, he was
capable of insufferable rudeness–one reason, perhaps, why
Chandler liked him. He and Lincoln had met but once. As
associate council in a case at Cincinnati, three years before,
Lincoln had been treated so contemptuously by Stanton that he
had returned home in pained humiliation. Since his
inauguration, Stanton had been one of his most vituperative
critics. Was this insolent scold to be invited into the
Cabinet? Had not Lincoln at this juncture been in the full
tide of selflessness, surely some compromise would have been
made with the Committee, a secretary found less offensive
personally to the President. Lincoln disregarded the personal
consideration. The candidate of Chandler and Wade became
secretary. It was the beginning of an intimate alliance
between the Committee and the War Office. Lincoln had laid up
for himself much trouble that he did not foresee.

The day the new Secretary took office, he received from the
Committee a report upon General Stone:[10] Subsequently, in the
Senate, Wade denied that the Committee had advised the arrest
of Stone.[11] Doubtless the statement was technically correct.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the inquisitors were
wholly in sympathy with the Secretary when, shortly afterward,
Stone was seized upon Stanton’s order, conveyed to a fortress
and imprisoned without trial.

This was the Dreyfus case of the Civil War. Stone was never
tried and never vindicated. He was eventually released upon
parole and after many tantalizing disappointments permitted to
rejoin the army. What gives the event significance is its
evidence of the power, at that moment, of the Committee, and of
the relative weakness of the President. Lincoln’s eagerness to
protect condemned soldiers survives in many anecdotes. Hay
confides to his diary that he was sometimes “amused at the
eagerness with which the President caught at any fact which
would justify” clemency. And yet, when Stanton informed him of
the arrest of Stone, he gloomily acquiesced. “I hope you have
good reasons for it,” he said. Later he admitted that he knew
very little about the case. But he did not order Stone’s

Lincoln had his own form of ruthlessness. The selfless man, by
dealing with others in the same extraordinary way in which he
deals with himself, may easily under the pressure of extreme
conditions become impersonal in his thinking upon duty. The
morality of such a state of mind is a question for the
philosopher. The historian must content himself with pointing
out the only condition that redeems it–if anything redeems it
The leader who thinks impersonally about others and personally
about himself-what need among civilized people to characterize
him? Borgia, Louis XIV, Napoleon. If we are ever to pardon
impersonal thinking it is only in the cases of men who begin by
effacing themselves. The Lincoln who accepted Stanton as a
Cabinet officer, who was always more or less overshadowed by
the belief that in saving the government he was himself to
perish, is explicable, at least, when individual men became for
him, as at times they did, impersonal factors in a terrible

There are other considerations in the attempt to give a moral
value to his failure to interfere in behalf of Stone. The
first four months of 1862 are not only his feeblest period as a
ruler, the period when he was barely able to hold his own, but
also the period when he was least definite as a personality,
when his courage and his vitality seemed ebbing tides. Again,
his spirit was in eclipse. Singularly enough, this was the
darkness before the dawn. June of 1862 saw the emergence, with
a suddenness difficult to explain, of the historic Lincoln.
But in January of that year he was facing downward into the
mystery of his last eclipse. All the dark places of his
heredity must be searched for clues to this strange experience.
There are moments, especially under strain of a personal
bereavement that fell upon him in February, when his will
seemed scarcely a reality; when, as a directing force he may be
said momentarily to have vanished; when he is hardly more than
a ghost among his advisers. The far-off existence of weak old
Thomas cast its parting shadow across his son’s career.

However, even our Dreyfus case drew from Lincoln another
display of that settled conviction of his that part of his
function was to be scapegoat. “I serve,” which in a way might
be taken as his motto always, was peculiarly his motto, and
likewise his redemption, in this period of his weakness. The
enemies of the Committee in Congress took the matter up and
denounced Stanton. Thereupon, Wade flamed forth, criticizing
Lincoln for his leniency, venting his fury on all those who
were tender of their enemies, storming that “mercy to traitors
is cruelty to loyal men.”[12] Lincoln replied neither to Wade nor
to his antagonists; but, without explaining the case, without a
word upon the relation to it of the Secretary and the
Committee, he informed the Senate that the President was alone
responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of General Stone.[13]


The period of Lincoln’s last eclipse is a period of relative
silence. But his mind was not inactive. He did not cease
thinking upon the deep theoretical distinctions that were
separating him by a steadily widening chasm from the most
powerful faction in Congress. In fact, his mental powers were,
if anything, more keen than ever before. Probably, it was the
very clearness of the mental vision that enfeebled him when it
came to action. He saw his difficulties with such crushing
certainty. During this trying period there is in him something
of Hamlet.

The reaction to his ideas, to what is either expressed or
implied, in the first and second messages, was prompt to
appear. The Jacobins did not confine their activities within
the scope of the terrible Committee. Wade and Chandler worked
assiduously undermining his strength in Congress. Trumbull,
though always less extreme than they, was still the victim of
his delusion that Lincoln was a poor creature, that the only
way to save the country was to go along with those grim men of
strength who dominated the Committee. In January, a
formidable addition appeared in the ranks of Lincoln’s
opponents. Thaddeus Stevens made a speech in the House that
marks a chapter. It brought to a head a cloud of floating
opposition and dearly defined an issue involving the central
proposition in Lincoln’s theory of the government. The
Constitution of the United States, in its detailed provisions,
is designed chiefly to meet the exigencies of peace. With
regard to the abnormal conditions of war, it is relatively
silent. Certain “war powers” are recognized but not clearly
defined; nor is it made perfectly plain what branch of the
government possesses them. The machinery for their execution
is assumed but not described–as when the Constitution provides
that the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus are to be
suspended only in time of war, but does not specify by whom, or
in what way, the suspension is to be effected. Are those
undefined “war powers,” which are the most sovereign functions
of our government, vested in Congress or in the President?
Lincoln, from the moment he defined his policy, held
tenaciously to the theory that all these extraordinary powers
are vested in the President. By implication, at least, this
idea is in the first message. Throughout the latter part of
1861, he put the theory into practice. Whatever seemed to him
necessary in a state of war, he did, even to the arresting of
suspected persons, refusing them the privilege -of the habeas
corpus, and retaining them in prison without trial. During
1861, he left the exercise of this sovereign authority to the
discretion of the two Secretaries of War and of State.

Naturally, the Abolitionists, the Jacobins, the Democratic
machine, conscientious believers in the congressional theory of
the government, every one who for any reason, wanted to hit the
Administration, united in a chorus of wrath over arbitrary
arrests. The greatest orator of the time, Wendell Phillips,
the final voice of Abolition, flayed the government in public
speeches for reducing America to an absolute despotism.
Trumbull introduced into the Senate a resolution calling upon
the President for a statement of the facts as to what he had
actually done.[1]

But the subject of arrests was but the prelude to the play.
The real issue was the theory of the government. Where in last
analysis does the Constitution place the ultimate powers of
sovereignty, the war powers? In Congress or in the President?
Therefore, in concrete terms, is Congress the President’s
master, or is it only one branch of the government with a
definite but united activity of its own, without that sweeping
sovereign authority which in course of time has been acquired
by its parent body, the Parliament of Great Britain?

On this point Lincoln never wavered. From first to last, he
was determined not to admit that Congress had the powers of
Parliament. No sooner had the politicians made out this
attitude than their attack on it began. It did not cease until
Lincoln’s death. It added a second constitutional question to
the issues of the war. Not only the issue whether a State had
a right to secede, but also the issue of the President’s
possession of the war powers of the Constitution. Time and
again the leaders of disaffection in his own party, to say
nothing of the violent Democrats, exhausted their rhetoric
denouncing Lincoln’s position. They did not deny themselves
the delights of the sneer. Senator Grimes spoke of a call on
the President as an attempt “to approach the footstool of power
enthroned at the other end of the Avenue.”[2] Wade expanded the
idea: “We ought to have a committee to wait on him whenever we
send him a bill, to know what his royal pleasure is with regard
to it. . . . We are told that some gentlemen . . . have
been to see the President. Some gentlemen are very fortunate
in that respect.

Nobody can see him, it seems, except some privileged gentlemen
who are charged with his constitutional conscience.”[3] As
Lincoln kept his doors open to all the world, as no one came
and went with greater freedom than the Chairman of the
Committee, the sneer was-what one might expect of the
Committee. Sumner said: “I claim for Congress all that belongs
to any government in the exercise of the rights of war.”
Disagreement with him, he treated with unspeakable disdain:
“Born in ignorance and pernicious in consequence, it ought to
be received with hissings of contempt, and just in proportion
as it obtains acceptance, with execration.”[4] Henry Wilson
declared that, come what might, the policy of the
Administration would be shaped by the two Houses. “I had
rather give a policy to the President of the United States than
take a policy from the President of the United States.”[5] Trumbull thundered against the President’s theory as the last
word in despotism.[6]

Such is the mental perspective in which to regard the speech of
Stevens of January 22, 1862. With masterly clearness, he put
his finger on the heart of the matter: the exceptional problems
of a time of war, problems that can not be foreseen and
prepared for by anticipatory legislation, may be solved in but
one way, by the temporary creation of the dictator; this is as
true of modern America as of ancient Rome; so far, most people
are agreed; but this extraordinary function must not be vested
in the Executive; on the contrary, it must be, it is, vested in
the Legislature. Stevens did not hesitate to push his theory
to its limit. He was not afraid of making the Legislature in
time of war the irresponsible judge of its own acts. Congress,
said he. has all possible powers of government, even the
dictator’s power; it could declare itself a dictator; under
certain circumstances he was willing that it should do so.[7]

The intellectual boldness of Lincoln was matched by an equal
boldness. Between them, he and Stevens had perfectly defined
their issue. Granted that a dictator was needed, which should
it be–the President or Congress?

In the hesitancy at the White House during the last eclipse, in
the public distress and the personal grief, Lincoln withheld
himself from this debate. No great utterances break the gloom
of this period. Nevertheless, what may be considered his reply
to Stevens is to be found. Buried in the forgotten portions of
the Congressional Globe is a speech that surely was
inspired-or, if not directly inspired, so close a reflection of
the President’s thinking that it comes to the same thing at the

Its author, or apparent author, was one of the few serene
figures in that Thirty-Seventh Congress which was swept so
pitilessly by epidemics of passion. When Douglas, after
coming out valiantly for the Union and holding up Lincoln’s
hands at the hour of crisis, suddenly died, the Illinois
Legislature named as his successor in the Senate, Orville Henry
Browning. The new Senator was Lincoln’s intimate friend.
Their points of view, their temperaments were similar.
Browning shared Lincoln’s magnanimity, his hatred of extremes,
his eagerness not to allow the war to degenerate into
revolution. In the early part of 1862 he was Lincoln’s
spokesman in the Senate. Now that the temper of Wade and
Chandler, the ruthlessness that dominated the Committee, had
drawn unto itself such a cohort of allies; now that all their
thinking had been organized by a fearless mind; there was
urgent need for a masterly reply. Did Lincoln feel unequal, at
the moment, to this great task? Very probably he did. Anyhow,
it was Browning who made the reply,[8] a reply so exactly in his
friend’s vein, that–there you are!

His aim was to explain the nature of those war powers of the
government “which lie dormant during time of peace,” and
therefore he frankly put the question, “Is Congress the
government?” Senator Fessenden, echoing Stevens had said,
“There is no limit on the powers of Congress; everything must
yield to the force of martial law as resolved by Congress.”
“There, sir,” said Browning, “is as broad and deep a foundation
for absolute despotism as was ever laid.” He rang the changes
on the need to “protect minorities from the oppression and
tyranny of excited majorities.”

He went on to lay the basis of all Lincoln’s subsequent defense
of the presidential theory as opposed to the congressional
theory, by formulating two propositions which reappear in some
of Lincoln’s most famous papers. Congress is not a safe vessel
for extraordinary powers, because in our system we have
difficulty in bringing it definitely to an account under any
sort of plebiscite. On the other hand the President, if he
abuses the war powers “when peace returns, is answerable to the
civil power for that abuse.”

But Browning was not content to reason on generalities.
Asserting that Congress could no more command the army than it
could adjudicate a case, he further asserted that the Supreme
Court had settled the matter and had lodged the war powers in
the President. He cited a decision called forth by the legal
question, “Can a Circuit Court of the United States inquire
whether a President had acted rightly in calling out the
militia of a State to suppress an insurrection?” “The elevated
office of the President,” said the Court, “chosen as be is by
the People of the United States, and the high responsibility he
could not fail to feel when acting in a case of such moment,
appear to furnish as strong safeguards against the wilful abuse
of power as human prudence and foresight could well devise. At
all events, it is conferred upon him by the Constitution and
the laws of the United States, and therefore, must be respected
and enforced in its judicial tribunals.”[9]

Whether or not constitutional lawyers would agree with Browning
in the conclusion he drew from this decision, it was plainly
the bed rock of his thought. He believed that the
President–whatever your mere historian might have to say–was in
point of fact the exponent of the people as a whole, and
therefore the proper vessel for the ultimate rights of a
sovereign, rights that only the people possess, that only the
people can delegate. And this was Lincoln’s theory. Roughly
speaking, he-conceived of the presidential office about as if
it were the office of Tribune of the People.

There was still another reason why both Lincoln and Browning
feared to yield anything to the theory of congressional
supremacy. It was, in their minds, not only the general
question of all Congresses but immediately of this particular
Congress. An assembly in which the temper of Wade and
Chandler, of Stevens and Sumner, was entering the ascendent,
was an assembly to be feared; its supremacy was to be denied,
its power was to be fought.

Browning did not close without a startling passage flung square
in the teeth of the apostles of fury. He summed up the
opposite temper, Lincoln’s temper, in his description of “Our
brethren of the South–for I am willing to call them brethren;
my heart yet yearns toward them with a fervency of love which
even their treason has not all extinguished, which tempts me
constantly to say in their behalf, ‘Father, forgive them, for
they know not what they do.'” He pleaded with the Senate not to
consider them “as public enemies but as insurgent citizens
only,” and advocated an Act of Amnesty restoring all political
and property rights “instantly upon their return to allegiance
and submission to the authority of the government.”

Had this narrowly constitutional issue arisen in quiet times,
who can say how slight might have been its significance? But
Fate had decreed that it should arise in the stormiest moment
of our history. Millions of men and women who cared nothing
for constitutional theories, who were governed by that passion
to see immediate results which the thoughtless ever confuse
with achievement, these were becoming hysterical over delay.
Why did not the government do something? Everywhere voices were
raised accusing the President of cowardice. The mania of
suspicion was not confined to the Committee. The thoughts of a
multitude were expressed by Congressman Hickman in his foolish
words, “These are days of irresponsibility and imbecility, and
we are required to perform two offices–the office of legislator
and the office of President.” The better part of a year had
passed since the day of Sumter, and still the government had no
military success to its credit. An impetuous people that
lacked experience of war, that had been accustomed in unusual
measure to have its wishes speedily gratified, must somehow be
marshalled behind the government, unless the alternative was
the capture of power by the Congressional Cabal that was
forming against the President.

Entering upon the dark days of the first half of 1862, Lincoln
had no delusions about the task immediately before him. He
must win battles; otherwise, he saw no way of building up that
popular support which alone would enable him to keep the
direction of policy in the hands of the Executive, to keep it
out of the hands of Congress. In a word, the standing or
falling of his power appeared to have been committed to the
keeping of the army. What the army would do with it, save his
policy or wreck his policy, was to no small degree a question
of the character and the abilities of the Commanding General.

George Brinton McClellan, when at the age of thirty-four he was
raised suddenly to a dizzying height of fame and power, was
generally looked upon as a prodigy. Though he was not that, he
had a real claim to distinction. Had destiny been considerate,
permitting him to rise gradually and to mature as he rose, he
might have earned a stable reputation high among those who are
not quite great. He had done well at West Point, and as a very
young officer in the Mexican War; he had represented his
country as a military observer with the allies in the Crimea;
he was a good engineer, and a capable man of business. His
winning personality, until he went wrong in the terrible days
of 1862, inspired “a remarkable affection and regard in every
one from the President to the humblest orderly that waited at
his door.”[1] He was at home among books; he could write to his
wife that Prince Napoleon “speaks English very much as the
Frenchmen do in the old English comedies”;[2] he was able to
converse in “French, Spanish, Italian, German, in two Indian
dialects and he knew a little Russian and Turkish.” Men like
Wade and Chandler probably thought of him as a “highbrow,” and
doubtless he irritated them by invariably addressing the
President as “Your Excellency.” He had the impulses as well as
the traditions of an elder day. But he had three insidious
defects. At the back of his mind there was a vein of
theatricality, hitherto unrevealed, that might, under
sufficient stimulus, transform him into a poseur. Though
physically brave, he had in his heart, unsuspected by himself
or others, the dread of responsibility. He was void of humor.
These damaging qualities, brought out and exaggerated by too
swift a rise to apparent greatness, eventually worked his ruin.
As an organizer he was unquestionably efficient. His great
achievement which secures him a creditable place in American
history was the conversion in the autumn of 1861 of a defeated
rabble and a multitude of raw militia into a splendid fighting
machine. The very excellence of this achievement was part of
his undoing. It was so near to magical that it imposed on
himself, gave him a false estimate of himself, hid from him his
own limitation. It imposed also on his enemies. Crude, fierce
men like the Vindictive leaders of Congress, seeing this
miracle take place so astoundingly soon, leaped at once to the
conclusion that he could, if he would, follow it by another
miracle. Having forged the thunderbolt, why could he not, if
he chose, instantly smite and destroy? All these hasty
inexperienced zealots labored that winter under the delusion
that one great battle might end the war. When McClellan,
instead of rushing to the front, entered his second phase–the
one which he did not understand himself, which his enemies
never understood–when he entered upon his long course of
procrastination, the Jacobins, startled, dumfounded, casting
about for reasons, could find in their unanalytical vision, but
one. When Jove did not strike, it must be because Jove did not
wish to strike. McClellan was delaying for a purpose. Almost
instantaneous was the whisper, followed quickly by the outcry
among the Jacobins, “Treachery! We are betrayed. He is in
league with the enemy.”

Their distrust was not allayed by the manner in which he
conducted himself. His views of life and of the office of
commanding general were not those of frontier America. He
believed in pomp, in display, in an ordered routine. The fine
weather of the autumn of 1861 was utilized at Washington for
frequent reviews. The flutter of flags, the glint of marching
bayonets, the perfectly ordered rhythm of marching feet, the
blare of trumpets, the silvery notes of the bugles, the
stormily rolling drums, all these filled with martial splendor
the golden autumn air when the woods were falling brown. And
everywhere, it seemed, look where one might, a sumptuously
uniformed Commanding General, and a numerous and sumptuous
staff, were galloping past, mounted on beautiful horses.
Plain, blunt men like the Jacobins, caring nothing for this
ritual of command, sneered. They exchanged stories of the
elaborate dinners he was said to give daily, the several
courses, the abundance of wine, the numerous guests; and after
these dinners, he and his gorgeous staff, “clattering up and
down the public streets” merely to show themselves off. All
this sneering was wildly exaggerated. The mania of
exaggeration, the mania of suspicion, saturated the mental air
breathed by every politician at Washington, that desperate
winter, except the great and lonely President and the cynical
Secretary of State.

McClellan made no concessions to the temper of the hour. With
Lincoln, his relations at first were cordial. Always he was
punctiliously respectful to “His Excellency.” It is plain that
at first Lincoln liked him and that his liking was worn away
slowly. It is equally plain that Lincoln did not know how to
deal with him. The tendency to pose was so far from anything
in Lincoln’s make-up that it remained for him, whether in
McClellan or another, unintelligible. That humility which was
so conspicuous in this first period of his rule, led him to
assume with his General a modest, even an appealing tone. The
younger man began to ring false by failing to appreciate it.
He even complained of it in a letter to his wife. The military
ritualist would have liked a more Olympian superior. And there
is no denying that his head was getting turned. Perhaps he had
excuse. The newspapers printed nonsensical editorials praising
“the young Napoleon.” His mail was filled with letters urging
him to carry things with a high hand; disregard, if necessary,
the pusillanimous civil government, and boldly “save the
country.” He had so little humor that he could take this stuff
seriously. Among all the foolish letters which the executors
of famous men have permitted to see the light of publicity, few
outdo a letter of McClellan’s in which he confided to his wife
that he was willing to become dictator, should that be the only
way out, and then, after saving his country, to perish.[3]

In this lordly mood of the melodramatic, he gradually–probably
without knowing it–became inattentive to the President.
Lincoln used to go to his house to consult him, generally on
foot, clad in very ordinary clothes. He was known to sit in
McClellan’s library “rather unnoticed” awaiting the General’s

At last the growing coolness of McClellan went so far that an
event occurred which Hay indignantly set down in his diary: “I
wish here to record what I consider a portent of evil to come.
The President, Governor Seward and I went over to McClellan’s
house tonight. The servant at the door said the General was at
the wedding of Colonel Wheaton at General Buell’s and would
soon return. We went in and after we had waited about an hour,
McClellan came in, and without paying particular attention to
the porter who told him the President was waiting to see him,
went up-stairs, passing the door of the room where the
President and the Secretary of State were seated. They waited
about half an hour, and sent once more a servant to tell the
General they were there; and the answer came that the General
had gone to bed.

“I merely record this unparalleled insolence of epaulettes
without comment It is the first indication I have yet seen of
the threatened supremacy of the military authorities. Coming
home, I spoke to the President about the matter, but he seemed
not to have noticed it specially, saying it were better at this
time not to be making points of etiquette and personal

Did ever a subordinate, even a general, administer to a
superior a more astounding snub? To Lincoln in his selfless
temper, it was Only a detail in his problem of getting the army
into action. What room for personal affronts however gross in
a mood like his? To be sure he ceased going to McClellan’s
house, and thereafter summoned McClellan to come to him, but no
change appeared in the tone of his intercourse with the
General. “I will hold McClellan’s horse,” said he, “if he will
win me victories.”[6]

All this while, the two were debating plans of campaign and
McClellan was revealing-as we now see, though no one saw it at
the time-the deep dread of responsibility that was destined to
paralyze him as an active general. He was never ready.
Always, there must be more preparation, more men, more this,
more that.

In January, 1862, Lincoln, grown desperate because of hope
deferred, made the first move of a sort that was to be
lamentably frequent the next six months. He went over the head
of the Commanding General, and, in order to force a result,
evoked a power not recognized in the military scheme of things.
By this time the popular adulation of McClellan was giving
place to a general imitation of the growling of the Jacobins,
now well organized in the terrible Committee and growing each
day more and more hostile to the Administration. Lincoln had
besought McClellan to take into account the seriousness of this
rising tide of opposition.[7] His arguments made no impression.
McClellan would not recognize the political side of war. At
last, partly to allay the popular clamor, partly to force
McClellan into a corner, Lincoln published to the country a
military program. He publicly instructed the Commanding
General to put all his forces in movement on all fronts, on
Washington’s birthday.[8]

From this moment the debate between the President and the
General with regard to plans of campaign approached the nature
of a dispute. McClellan repeated his demand for more time in
which to prepare. He objected to the course of advance which
the President wished him to pursue. Lincoln, seeing the
situation first of all as a political problem, grounded his
thought upon two ideas neither of which was shared by
McClellan: the idea that the supreme consideration was the
safety of Washington; the resultant idea that McClellan should
move directly south, keeping his whole army constantly between
Washington and the enemy. McClellan wished to treat Washington
as but one important detail in his strategy; he had a grandiose
scheme for a wide flanking movement, for taking the bulk of his
army by sea to the coast of Virginia, and thus to draw the
Confederate army homeward for a duel to the death under the
walls of Richmond. Lincoln, neither then nor afterward more
than an amateur in strategy, was deeply alarmed by this bold
mode of procedure. His political instinct told him that if
there was any slip and Washington was taken, even briefly, by
the Confederates, the game was up. He was still further
alarmed when he found that some of the eider generals held
views resembling his own.[9] To his modest, still groping mind,
this was a trying situation. In the President lay the ultimate
responsibility for every move the army should make. And whose
advice should he accept as authoritative? The first time he
asked himself that question, such peace of mind as had survived
the harassing year 1861 left him, not to return for many a day.

At this moment of crises, occurred one of his keenest personal
afflictions. His little son Willie sickened and died.
Lincoln’s relation to his children was very close, very tender.
Many anecdotes show this boy frolicking about the White House,
a licensed intruder everywhere. Another flood of anecdotes
preserve the stupefying grief of his father after the child’s
death. Of these latter, the most extreme which portray Lincoln
toward the close of February so unnerved as to be incapable of
public duty, may be dismissed as apocryphal. But there can be
no doubt that his unhappiness was too great for the vain
measurement of descriptive words; that it intensified the
nervous mood which had already possessed him; that anxiety,
deepening at times into terrible alarm, became his constant

In his dread and sorrow, his dilemma grew daily more
intolerable. McClellan had opposed so stoutly the Washington
birthday order that Lincoln had permitted him to ignore it. He
was still wavering which advice to take, McClellan’s or the
elder generals’. To remove McClellan, to try at this critical
moment some other general, did not occur to him as a rational
possibility. But somehow he felt he must justify himself to
himself for yielding to McClellan’ s views. In his zeal to
secure some judgment more authoritative than his own, he took a
further step along the dangerous road of going over the
Commander’s head, of bringing to bear upon him influences not
strictly included in the military system. He required
McClellan to submit his plan to a council of his general
officers. Lincoln attended this council and told the generals
“he was not a military man and therefore would be governed by
the opinion of a majority.”[10] The council decided in
McClellan’s favor by a vote of eight to four. This was a
disappointment to Lincoln. So firm was his addiction to the
overland route that he could not rest content with the
council’s decision. Stanton urged him to disregard it,
sneering that the eight who voted against him were McClellan’s
creatures, his “pets.” But Lincoln would not risk going against
the majority of the council. “We are civilians,” said he, “we
should justly be held responsible for any disaster if we set up
our opinions against those of experienced military men in the
practical management of a campaign.”[11]

Nevertheless, from this quandary, in which his reason forced
him to do one thing while all his sensibilities protested, he
extricated himself in a curious way. Throughout the late
winter he had been the object of a concerted attack from
Stanton and the Committee. The Committee had tacitly annexed
Stanton. He conferred with them confidentially. At each
important turn of events, he and they always got together in a
secret powwow. As early as February twentieth, when Lincoln
seemed to be breaking down with grief and anxiety, one of those
secret conferences of the high conspirators ended in a
determination to employ all their forces, direct and indirect,
to bring about McClellan’s retirement. They were all victims
of that mania of suspicion which was the order of the day. “A
majority of the Committee,” wrote its best member, long
afterward when he had come to see things in a different light,
“strongly suspected that General McClellan was a traitor.” Wade
vented his spleen in furious words about “King McClellan.”
Unrestrained by Lincoln’s anguish, the Committee demanded a
conference a few days after his son’s death and threatened an
appeal from President to Congress if he did not quickly force
McClellan to advance.[12]

All this while the Committee was airing another grievance.
They clamored to have the twelve divisions of the army of the
Potomac grouped into corps. They gave as their motive,
military efficiency. And perhaps they thought they meant it.
But there was a cat in the bag which they carefully tried to
conceal. The generals of divisions formed two distinct groups,
the elder ones who did not owe their elevation to McClellan and
the younger ones who did. The elder generals, it happened,
sympathized generally with the Committee in politics, or at
least did not sympathize with McClellan. The younger generals
reflected the politics of their patron. And McClellan was a
Democrat, a hater of the Vindictives, unsympathetic with
Abolition. Therefore, the mania of suspicion being in full
flood, the Committee would believe no good of McClellan when he
opposed advancing the elder generals to the rank of corps
commanders. His explanation that he “wished to test them in
the field,” was poohpoohed. Could not any good Jacobin see
through that! Of course, it was but an excuse to hold back the
plums until he could drop them into the itching palms of those
wicked Democrats, his “pets.” Why should not the good men and
true, elder and therefore better soldiers, whose righteousness
was so well attested by their political leanings, why should
not they have the places of power to which their rank entitled

Hitherto, however, Lincoln had held out against the Committee’s
demand and bad refused to compel McClellan to reorganize his
army against his will. He now observed that in the council
which cast the die against the overland route, the division
between the two groups of generals, what we may call the
Lincoln generals and the McClellan generals, was sharply
evident. The next day he issued a general order which
organized the army of the Potomac into corps, and promoted to
the rank of corps commanders, those elder generals whose point
of view was similar to his own.[13] Thereafter, any reference of
crucial matters to a council of general officers, would mean
submitting it, not to a dozen commanders of divisions with
McClellan men in the majority, but to four or five commanders
of corps none of whom was definitely of the McClellan faction.
Thus McClellan was virtually put under surveillance of an
informal war council scrutinizing his course from the
President’s point of view. It was this reduced council of the
subordinates, as will presently appear, that made the crucial
decision of the campaign.

On the same day Lincoln issued another general order accepting
McClellan’s plan for a flanking movement to the Virginia
coast.[14] The Confederate lines at this time ran through
Manassas–the point Lincoln wished McClellan to strike. It was
to be known later that the Confederate General gave to
Lincoln’s views the high endorsement of assuming that they were
the inevitable views that the Northern Commander, if he knew
his business, would act upon. Therefore, he had been quietly
preparing to withdraw his army to more defensible positions
farther South. By a curious coincidence, his “strategic
retreat” occurred immediately after McClellan had been given
authority to do what he liked. On the ninth of March it was
known at Washington that Manassas had been evacuated.
Whereupon, McClellan’s fatal lack of humor permitted him to
make a great blunder. The man who had refused to go to Manassas
while the Confederates were there, marched an army to Manassas
the moment he heard that they were gone–and then marched back
again. This performance was instantly fixed upon for ridicule
as McClellan’s “promenade to Manassas.”

To Lincoln the news of the promenade seemed both a vindication
of his own plan and crushing evidence that if he had insisted
on his plan, the Confederate army would have been annihilated,
the war in one cataclysm brought to an end. He was ridden, as
most men were, by the delusion of one terrific battle that was
to end all. In a bitterness of disappointment, his slowly
tortured spirit burst into rage. The Committee was delighted.
For once, they approved of him. The next act of this man,
ordinarily so gentle, seems hardly credible. By a stroke of
his pen, he stripped McClellan of the office of Commanding
General, reduced him to the rank of mere head of a local army,
the army of the Potomac; furthermore, he permitted him to hear
of his degradation through the heartless medium of the daily
papers.[15] The functions of Commanding General were added to the
duties of the Secretary of War. Stanton, now utterly merciless
toward McClellan, instantly took possession of his office and
seized his papers, for all the world as if he were pouncing
upon the effects of a malefactor. That McClellan was not yet
wholly spoiled was shown by the way he received this blow. It
was the McClellan of the old days, the gallant gentleman of the
year 1860, not the poseur of 1861, who wrote at once to Lincoln
making no complaint, saying that his services belonged to his
country in whatever capacity they might be required.

Again a council of subordinates was invoked to determine the
next move. McClellan called together the newly made corps
commanders and obtained their approval of a variation of his
former plan. He now proposed to use Fortress Monroe as a base,
and thence conduct an attack upon Richmond. Again, though with
a touch of sullenness very rare in Lincoln, the President
acquiesced. But he added a condition to McClellan’s plan by
issuing positive orders, March thirteenth, that it should not
be carried out unless sufficient force was left at Washington
to render the city impregnable.

During the next few days the Committee must have been quite
satisfied with the President. For him, he was savage. The
normal Lincoln, the man of immeasurable mercy, had temporarily
vanished. McClellan’s blunder had touched the one spring that
roused the tiger in Lincoln. By letting slip a chance to
terminate the war–as it seemed to that deluded Washington of
March, 1862–McClellan had converted Lincoln from a brooding
gentleness to an incarnation of the last judgment. He told Hay
he thought that in permitting McClellan to retain any command,
he had shown him “very great kindness.”[16] Apparently, he had no
consciousness that he had been harsh in the mode of McClellan’s
abatement, no thought of the fine manliness of McClellan’s

During this period of Lincoln’s brief vengefulness, Stanton
thought that his time for clearing scores with McClellan had
come. He even picked out the man who was to be rushed over
other men’s heads to the command of the army of the Potomac.
General Hitchcock, an accomplished soldier of the regular army,
a grandson of Ethan Allen, who had grown old in honorable
service, was summoned to Washington, and was “amazed” by having
plumped at him the question, would he consent to succeed
McClellan? Though General Hitchcock was not without faults–and
there is an episode in his later relations with McClellan which
his biographer discreetly omits–he was a modest man. He
refused to consider Stanton’s offer. But he consented to
become the confidential adviser of the War Office. This was
done after an interview with Lincoln who impressed on Hitchcock
his sense of a great responsibility and of the fact that he
“had no military knowledge” and that he must have advice.[17] Out
of this congested sense of helplessness in Lincoln, joined with
the new labors of the Secretary of War as executive head of all
the armies, grew quickly another of those ill-omened,
extra-constitutional war councils, one more wheel within the
wheels, that were all doing their part to make the whole
machine unworkable; distributing instead of concentrating
power. This new council which came to be known as the Army
Board, was made up of the heads of the Bureaus of the War
Department with the addition of Hitchcock as “Advising
General.” Of the temper of the Army Board, composed as it was
entirely of the satellites of Stanton, a confession in
Hitchcock’s diary speaks volumes. On the evening of the first
day of their new relation, Stanton poured out to him such a
quantity of oral evidence of McClellan’s “incompetency” as to
make this new recruit for anti-McClellanism “feel positively

By permitting this added source of confusion among his
advisers, Lincoln treated himself much as he had already
treated McClellan. By going over McClellan’s head to take
advice from his subordinates he had put the General on a leash;
now, by setting Hitchcock and the experts in the seat of
judgment, he virtually, for a short while, put himself on a
leash. Thus had come into tacit but real power three military
councils none of which was recognized as such by law–the
Council of the Subordinates behind McClellan; the Council of
the Experts behind Lincoln; the Council of the Jacobins, called
The Committee, behind them all.

The political pressure on Lincoln now changed its tack. Its
unfailing zeal to discredit McClellan assumed the form of
insisting that he had a secret purpose in waiting to get his
army away from Washington, that he was scheming to leave the
city open to the Confederates, to “uncover” it, as the soldiers
said. By way of focussing the matter on a definite issue, his
enemies demanded that he detach from his army and assign to the
defense of Washington, a division which was supposed to be
peculiarly efficient General Blenker had recruited a sort of
“foreign legion,” in which were many daring adventurers who had
seen service in European armies. Blenker’s was the division
demanded. So determined was the pressure that Lincoln yielded.
However, his brief anger had blown itself out. To continue
vengeful any length of time was for Lincoln impossible. He was
again the normal Lincoln, passionless, tender, fearful of
doing an injustice, weighed down by the sense of
responsibility. He broke the news about Blenker in a personal
note to McClellan that was almost apologetic. “I write this to
assure you that I did so with great pain, understanding that
you would wish it otherwise. If you could know the full
pressure of the case, I am confident you would justify it.”[19] In conversation, he assured McClellan that no other portion of
his army should be taken from him.[20]

The change in Lincoln’s mood exasperated Stanton. He called on
his pals in the Committee for another of those secret
confabulations in which both he and they delighted. Speaking
with scorn of Lincoln’s return to magnanimity, he told them
that the President had “gone back to his first love,” the
traitor McClellan. Probably all those men who wagged their
chins in that conference really believed that McClellan was
aiming to betray them. One indeed, Julian, long afterward had
the largeness of mind to confess his fault and recant. The
rest died in their absurd delusion, maniacs of suspicion to the
very end. At the time all of them laid their heads
together–for what purpose? Was it to catch McClellan in a

Meanwhile, in obedience to Lincoln’s orders of March
thirteenth, McClellan drew up a plan for the defense of
Washington. As Hitchcock was now in such high feather,
McClellan sent his plan to the new favorite of the War Office,
for criticism. Hitchcock refused to criticize, and when
McClellan’s chief of staff pressed for “his opinion, as an old
and experienced officer,” Hitchcock replied that McClellan had
had ample opportunity to know what was needed, and persisted in
his refusal.[21] McClellan asked no further advice and made his
arrangements to suit himself. On April first he took boat at
Alexandria for the front. Part of his army had preceded him.
The remainder-except the force he had assigned to the defense
of Washington-was speedily to follow.

With McClellan’s departure still another devotee of suspicion
moves to the front of the stage. This was General Wadsworth.
Early in March, Stanton had told McClellan that he wanted
Wadsworth as commander of the defenses of Washington.
McClellan had protested. Wadsworth was not a military man. He
was a politician turned soldier who had tried to be senator
from New York and failed; tried to be governor and failed; and
was destined to try again to be governor, and again to fail.
Why should such a person be singled out to become responsible
for the safety of the capital? Stanton’s only argument was
that the appointment of Wadsworth was desirable for political
reasons. He added that it would be made whether McClellan
liked it or not. And made it was.[22] Furthermore, Wadsworth,
who had previously professed friendship for McClellan, promptly
joined the ranks of his enemies. Can any one doubt, Stanton
being Stanton, mad with distrust of McClellan, that Wadsworth
was fully informed of McClellan’s opposition to his

On the second of April Wadsworth threw a bomb after the
vanishing McClellan, then aboard his steamer somewhere between
Washington and Fortress Monroe. Wadsworth informed Stanton
that McClellan had not carried out the orders of March
thirteenth, that the force he had left at Washington was
inadequate to its safety, that the capital was “uncovered.”
Here was a chance for Stanton to bring to bear on Lincoln both
those unofficial councils that were meddling so deeply in the
control of the army. He threw this firebrand of a report among
his satellites of the Army Board and into the midst of the

It is needless here to go into the furious disputes that
ensued-the accusations, the recriminations, the innuendoes!
McClellan stoutly insisted that he had obeyed both the spirit
and the letter of March thirteenth; that Washington was amply
protected. His enemies shrieked that his statements were based
on juggled figures; that even if the number of soldiers was
adequate, the quality and equipment were wretched; in a word
that he lied. It is a shame-less controversy inconceivable
were there not many men in whom politics and prejudice far
outweighed patriotism. In all this, Hitchcock was Stanton’s
trump card. He who had refused to advise McClellan, did not
hesitate to denounce him. In response to a request from
Stanton, he made a report sustaining Wadsworth. The Committee
summoned Wadsworth before it; he read them his report to
Stanton; reiterated its charges, and treated them to some
innuendoes after their own hearts, plainly hinting that
McClellan could have crushed the Confederates at Manassas if he
had wished to.[24]

A wave of hysteria swept the Committee and the War Office and
beat fiercely upon Lincoln. The Board charged him to save the
day by mulcting the army of the Potomac of an entire corps,
retaining it at Washington. Lincoln met the Board in a long
and troubled conference. His anxious desire to do all he could
for McClellan was palpable.[25] But what, under the
circumstances, could he do? Here was this new device for the
steadying of his judgment, this Council of Experts, singing the
same old tune, assuring him that McClellan was not to be
trusted. Although in the reaction from his momentary
vengefulness he had undoubtedly swung far back toward
recovering confidence in McClellan, did he dare–painfully
conscious as he was that he “had no military knowledge”–did he
dare go against the Board, disregard its warning that
McClellan’s arrangements made of Washington a dangling plum for
Confederate raiders to snatch whenever they pleased. His
bewilderment as to what McClellan was really driving at came
back upon him in full force. He reached at last the dreary
conclusion that there was nothing for it but to let the new
wheel within the wheels take its turn at running the machine.
Accepting the view that McClellan had not kept faith on the
basis of the orders of March thirteenth, Lincoln “after much
consideration” set aside his own promise to McClellan and
authorized the Secretary of War to detain a full corps.[26]

McClellan never forgave this mutilation of his army and in time
fixed upon it as the prime cause of his eventual failure on the
Peninsula. It is doubtful whether relations between him and
Lincoln were ever again really cordial.

In their rather full correspondence during the tense days of
April, May and June, the steady deterioration of McClellan’s
judgment bore him down into amazing depths of fatuousness. In
his own way he was as much appalled by the growth of his
responsibility as ever Lincoln had been. He moved with
incredible caution.*

*Commenting on one of his moments of hesitation, J.S.
Johnston wrote to Lee: “No one but McClellan could have
hesitated to attack.” 14 O. R., 416.
His despatches were a continual wailing for more men. Whatever
went wrong was at once blamed on Washington. His ill-usage had
made him bitter. And he could not escape the fact that his actual
performance did not come up to expectation; that he was
constantly out-generaled. His prevailing temper during these
days is shown in a letter to his wife. “I have raised an awful
row about McDowell’s corps. The President very coolly
telegraphed me yesterday that he thought I ought to break the
enemy’s lines at once. I was much tempted to reply that he had
better come and do it himself.” A despatch to Stanton, in a
moment of disaster, has become notorious: “If I save this army
now, I tell you plainly I owe no thanks to you or to any other
persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice
this army.”[27]

Throughout this preposterous correspondence, Lincoln maintained
the even tenor of his usual patient stoicism, “his sad lucidity
of soul.” He explained; he reasoned; he promised, over and
over, assistance to the limit of his power; he never scolded;
when complaint became too absurd to be reasoned with, he passed
it over in silence. Again, he was the selfless man, his
sensibilities lost in the purpose he sought to establish.

Once during this period, he acted suddenly, on the spur of the
moment, in a swift upflaring of his unconquerable fear for the
safety of Washington. Previously, he had consented to push the
detained corps, McDowell’s, southward by land to cooperate with
McClellan, who adapted his plans to this arrangement. Scarcely
had he done so, than Lincoln threw his plans into confusion by
ordering McDowell back to Washington.[28] Jackson, who had begun
his famous campaign of menace, was sweeping like a whirlwind
down the Shenandoah Valley, and in the eyes of panic-struck
Washington appeared to be a reincarnation of Southey’s

“And the great Few-Faw-Fum, would presently come,
With a hop, skip and jump”

into Pennsylvania Avenue. As Jackson’s object was to bring
McDowell back to Washington and enable Johnston to deal with
McClellan unreinforced, Lincoln had fallen into a trap. But he
had much company. Stanton was well-nigh out of his head.
Though Jackson’s army was less than fifteen thousand and the
Union forces in front of him upward of sixty thousand, Stanton
telegraphed to Northern governors imploring them to hasten
forward militia because “the enemy in great force are marching
on Washington.”[29]

The moment Jackson had accomplished his purpose, having drawn a
great army northwestward away from McClellan, most of which
should have been marching southeastward to join McClellan, he
slipped away, rushed his own army across the whole width of
Virginia, and joined Lee in the terrible fighting of the Seven
Days before Richmond.

In the midst of this furious confusion, the men surrounding
Lincoln may be excused for not observing a change in him. They
have recorded his appearance of indecision, his solicitude over
McClellan, his worn and haggard look. The changing light in
those smoldering fires of his deeply sunken eyes escaped their
notice. Gradually, through profound unhappiness, and as always
in silence, Lincoln was working out of his last eclipse. No
certain record of his inner life during this transition, the
most important of his life, has survived. We can judge of it
only by the results. The outstanding fact with regard to it is
a certain change of attitude, an access of determination, late
in June. What desperate wrestling with the angel had taken
place in the months of agony since his son’s death, even his
private secretaries have not felt able to say. Neither,
apparently, did they perceive, until it flashed upon them
full-blown, the change that was coming over his resolution.
Nor did the Cabinet have any warning that the President was
turning a corner, developing a new phase of himself, something
sterner, more powerful than anything they had suspected. This
was ever his way. His instinctive reticence stood firm until
the moment of the new birth. Not only the Cabinet but the
country was amazed and startled, when, late in June, the
President suddenly left Washington. He made a flying trip to
West Point where Scott was living in virtual retirement.[30] What
passed between the two, those few hours they spent together,
that twenty-fourth of June, 1862, has never been divulged. Did
they have any eyes, that day, for the wonderful prospect from
the high terrace of the parade ground; for the river so far
below, flooring the valley with silver; for the mountains pearl
and blue? Did they talk of Stanton, of his waywardness, his
furies? Of the terrible Committee? Of the way Lincoln had
tied his own hands, brought his will to stalemate, through his
recognition of the unofficial councils? Who knows?

Lincoln was back in Washington the next day. Another day, and
by a sweeping order he created a new army for the protection of
Washington, and placed in command of it, a western general who
was credited with a brilliant stroke on the Mississippi.[31] No
one will now defend the military genius of John Pope. But when
Lincoln sent for him, all the evidence to date appeared to be
in his favor. His follies were yet to appear. And it is more
than likely that in the development of Lincoln’s character, his
appointment has a deep significance. It appears to mark the
moment when Lincoln broke out of the cocoon of advisement he
had spun unintentionally around his will. In the sorrows of
the grim year, new forces had been generated. New spiritual
powers were coming to his assistance. At last, relatively, he
had found peace. Worn and torn as he was, after his long
inward struggle, few bore so calmly as he did the distracting
news from the front in the closing days of June and the opening
days of July, when Lee was driving his whole strength like a
superhuman battering-ram, straight at the heart of the wavering
McClellan. A visitor at the White House, in the midst of the
terrible strain of the Seven Days, found Lincoln “thin and
haggard, but cheerful . . . quite as placid as usual . . .
his manner was so kindly and so free from the ordinary
cocksureness of the politician, and the vanity and self-
importance of official position that nothing but good will was
inspired by his presence.”[32]

His serenity was all the more remarkable as his relations with
Congress and the Committee were fast approaching a crisis. If
McClellan failed-and by the showing of his own despatches,
there was every reason to expect him to fail, so besotted was
he upon the idea that no one could prevail with the force
allowed him–the Committee who were leaders of the congressional
party against the presidential party might be expected promptly
to measure strength with the Administration. And McClellan
failed. At that moment Chandler, with the consent of the
Committee, was making use of its records preparing a Philippic
against the government. Lincoln, acting on his own initiative,
without asking the Secretary of War to accompany him, went
immediately to the front. He passed two days questioning
McClellan and his generals.[33] But there was no council of war.
It was a different Lincoln from that other who, just four
months previous, had called together the general officers and
promised them to abide by their decisions. He returned to
Washington without telling them what he meant to do.

The next day closed a chapter and opened a chapter in the
history of the Federal army. Stanton’s brief and inglorious
career as head of the national forces came to an end. He fell
back into his rightful position, the President’s executive
officer in military affairs. Lincoln telegraphed another
Western general, Halleck, ordering him to Washington as
General-in-Chief.[34] He then, for a season, turned his whole
attention from the army to politics. Five days after the
telegram to Halleck, Chandler in the Senate, loosed his
insatiable temper in what ostensibly was a denunciation of
McClellan, what in point of fact was a sweeping arraignment of
the military efficiency of the government.[35]


While Lincoln was slowly struggling out of his last eclipse,
giving most of his attention to the army, the Congressional
Cabal was laboring assiduously to force the issue upon slavery.
The keen politicians who composed it saw with unerring vision
where, for the moment, lay their opportunity. They could not
beat the President on any one issue then before the country.
No one faction was strong enough to be their stand-by. Only by
a combination of issues and a coalition of factions could they
build up an anti-Lincoln party, check-mate the Administration,
and get control of the government. They were greatly assisted
by the fatuousness of the Democrats. That party was in a
peculiar situation. Its most positive characters, naturally,
had taken sides for or against the government. The powerful
Southerners who had been its chief leaders were mainly in the
Confederacy. Such Northerners as Douglas and Stanton, and many
more, had gone over to the Republicans. Suddenly the control
of the party organization had fallen into the hands of
second-rate men. As by the stroke of an enchanter’s wand, men
of small caliber who, had the old conditions remained, would
have lived and died of little consequence saw opening before
them the role of leadership. It was too much for their mental
poise. Again the subjective element in politics! The
Democratic party for the duration of the war became the
organization of Little Men. Had they possessed any great
leaders, could they have refused to play politics and responded
to Lincoln’s all-parties policy, history might have been
different. But they were not that sort. Neither did they have
the courage to go to the other extreme and become a resolute
opposition party, wholeheartedly and intelligently against the
war. They equivocated, they obstructed, they professed loyalty
and they practised-it would be hard to say what! So
short-sighted was their political game that its effect
continually was to play into the hands of their most relentless
enemies, the grim Jacobins.

Though, for a brief time while the enthusiasm after Sumter was
still at its height they appeared to go along with the
all-parties program, they soon revealed their true course. In
the autumn of 1861, Lincoln still had sufficient hold upon all
factions to make it seem likely that his all-parties. program
would be given a chance. The Republicans generally made
overtures to the Democratic managers, offering to combine in a
coalition party with no platform but the support of the war and
the restoration of the Union. Here was the test of the
organization of the Little Men. The insignificant new
managers, intoxicated by the suddenness of their opportunity,
rang false. They rejected the all-parties program and insisted
on maintaining their separate party formation.[1] This was a
turning point in Lincoln’s career. Though nearly two years
were to pass before he admitted his defeat, the all-parties
program was doomed from that hour. Throughout the winter, the
Democrats in Congress, though steadily ambiguous in their
statements of principle, were as steadily hostile to Lincoln.
If they had any settled policy, it was no more than an attempt
to hold the balance of power among the warring factions of the
Republicans. By springtime the game they were playing was
obvious; also its results. They had prevented the President
from building up a strong Administration group wherewith he
might have counterbalanced the Jacobins. Thus they had
released the Jacobins from the one possible restraint that
might have kept them from pursuing their own devices.

The spring of 1862 saw a general realignment of factions. It
was then that the Congressional Cabal won its first significant
triumph. Hitherto, all the Republican platforms had been
programs of denial. A brilliant new member of the Senate, john
Sherman, bluntly told his colleagues that the Republican party
had always stood on the defensive. That was its weakness. “I
do not know any measure on which it has taken an aggressive
position.”[2] The clue to the psychology of the moment was in the
raging demand of the masses for a program of assertion, for
aggressive measures. The President was trying to meet this
demand with his all-parties program, with his policy of
nationalism, exclusive of everything else. And recently he had
added that other assertion, his insistence that the executive
in certain respects was independent of the legislative. Of his
three assertions, one, the all-parties program, was already on
the way to defeat Another, nationalism, as the President
interpreted it, had alienated the Abolitionists. The third,
his argument for himself as tribune, was just what your crafty
politician might twist, pervert, load with false meanings to
his heart’s content. Men less astute than Chandler and Wade
could not have failed to see where fortune pointed. Their
opportunity lay in a combination of the two issues. Abolition
and the resistance to executive “usurpation.” Their problem was
to create an anti-Lincoln party that should also be a war
party. Their coalition of aggressive forces must accept the
Abolitionists as its backbone, but it must also include all
violent elements of whatever persuasion, and especially all
those that could be wrought into fury on the theme of the
President as a despot. Above all, their coalition must absorb
and then express the furious temper so dear to their own hearts
which they fondly believed-mistakenly, they were destined to
discover-was the temper of the country.

It can not be said that this was the Republican pro-gram. The
President’s program, fully as positive as that of the Cabal,
had as good a right to appropriate the party label-as events
were to show, a better right. But the power of the Cabal was
very great, and the following it was able to command in the
country reached almost the proportions of the terrible. A
factional name is needed. For the Jacobins, their allies in
Congress, their followers in the country, from the time they
acquired a positive program, an accurate label is the

During the remainder of the session, Congress may be thought of
as having-what Congress seldom has-three definite groups,
Right, Left and Center. The Right was the Vindictives; the
Left, the irreconcilable Democrats; the Center was composed
chiefly of liberal Republicans but included a few Democrats,
those who rebelled against the political chicanery of the
Little Men.

The policy of the Vindictives was to force upon the
Administration the double issue of emancipation and the
supremacy of Congress. Therefore, their aim was to pass a bill
freeing the slaves on the sole authority of a congressional
act. Many resolutions, many bills, all having this end in
view, were introduced. Some were buried in committees; some
were remade in committees and subjected to long debate by the
Houses; now and then one was passed upon. But the spring wore
through and the summer came, and still the Vindictives were not
certainly in control of Congress. No bill to free slaves by
congressional action secured a majority vote. At the same time
it was plain that the strength of the Vindictives was slowly,
steadily, growing.

Outside Congress, the Abolitionists took new hope. They had
organized a systematic propaganda. At Washington, weekly
meetings were held in the Smithsonian Institute, where all
their most conspicuous leaders, Phillips, Emerson, Brownson,
Garret Smith, made addresses. Every Sunday a service was held
in the chamber of the House of Representatives and the sermon
was almost always a “terrific arrangement of slavery.” Their
watch-word was “A Free Union or Disintegration.” The treatment
of fugitive slaves by commanders in the field produced a
clamor. Lincoln insisted on strict obedience to the two laws,
the Fugitive Slave Act and the First Confiscation Act.
Abolitionists sneered at “all this gabble about the sacredness
of the Constitution.”[3] But Lincoln was not to be moved. When
General Hunter, taking a leaf from the book of Fremont, tried
to force his hand, he did not hesitate. Hunter had issued a
proclamation by which the slaves in the region where he
commanded were “declared forever free.”

This was in May when Lincoln’s difficulties with McClellan were
at their height; when the Committee was zealously watching to
catch him in any sort of mistake; when the House was within
four votes of a majority for emancipation by act of Congress;[4] when there was no certainty whether the country was with him or
with the Vindictives. Perhaps that new courage which
definitely revealed itself the next month, may be first
glimpsed in the proclamation overruling Hunter:

“I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as
Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the slaves
of any State or States free, and whether at any time, in any
case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the
maintenance of the government to exercise such supposed power,
are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to
myself, and which I can not feel justified in leaving to the
decision of commanders in the field.”[5]

The revocation of Hunter’s order infuriated the Abolitionists.
It deeply disappointed the growing number who, careless about
slavery, wanted emancipation as a war measure, as a blow at the
South. Few of either of these groups noticed the implied hint
that emancipation might come by executive action. Here was the
matter of the war powers in a surprising form. However, it was
not unknown to Congress. Attempts had been made to induce
Congress to concede the war powers to the President and to ask,
not command, him to use them for the liberation of slaves in
the Seceded States. Long before, in a strangely different
connection, such vehement Abolitionists as Giddings and J. Q.
Adams had pictured the freeing of slaves as a natural incident
of military occupation.

What induced Lincoln to throw out this hint of a possible
surrender on the subject of emancipation? Again, as so often,
the silence as to his motives is unbroken. However, there can
be no doubt that his thinking on the subject passed through
several successive stages. But all his thinking was ruled by
one idea. Any policy he might accept, or any refusal of
policy, would be judged in his own mind by the degree to which
it helped, or hindered, the national cause. Nothing was more
absurd than the sneer of the Abolitionists that he was “tender”
of slavery. Browning spoke for him faithfully, “If slavery can
survive the shock of war and secession, be it so. If in the
conflict for liberty, the Constitution and the Union, it must
necessarily perish, then let it perish.” Browning refused to
predict which alternative would develop. His point was that
slaves must be treated like other property. But, if need be,
he would sacrifice slavery as he would sacrifice anything else,
to save the Union. He had no intention to “protect” slavery.[6]

In the first stage of Lincoln’s thinking on this thorny
subject, his chief anxiety was to avoid scaring off from the
national cause those Southern Unionists who were not prepared
to abandon slavery. This was the motive behind his prompt
suppression of Fremont. It was this that inspired the
Abolitionist sneer about his relative attitude toward God and
Kentucky. As a compromise, to cut the ground from under the
Vindictives, he had urged the loyal Slave States to endorse a
program of compensated emancipation. But these States were as
unable to see the handwriting on the wall as were the Little
Men. In the same proclamation that overruled Hunter, while
hinting at what the Administration might feel driven to do,
Lincoln appealed again to the loyal Slave States to accept
compensated emancipation. “I do not argue,” said he, “I
beseech you to make the argument for yourselves. You can not,
if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. . . .
This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting
no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change
it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not
rending or wrecking anything.”[7]

Though Lincoln, at this moment, was anxiously watching the
movement in Congress to force his hand, he was not apparently
cast down. He was emerging from his eclipse. June was
approaching and with it the final dawn. Furthermore, when he
issued this proclamation on May nineteenth, he had not lost
faith in McClellan. He was still hoping for news of a crushing
victory; of McClellan’s triumphal entry into Richmond. The
next two months embraced both those transformations which
together revolutionized his position. He emerged from his last
eclipse; and McClellan failed him.

When Lincoln returned to Washington after his two days at the
front, he knew that the fortunes of his Administration were at
a low ebb. Never had he been derided in Congress with more
brazen injustice. The Committee, waiting only for McClellan’s
failure, would now unmask their guns-as Chandler did, seven
days later. The line of Vindictive criticism could easily be
foreshadowed: the government had failed; it was responsible for
a colossal military catastrophe; but what could you expect of
an Administration that would not strike its enemies through
emancipation; what a shattering demonstration that the
Executive was not a safe repository of the war powers.

Was there any way to forestall or disarm the Vindictives? His
silence gives us no clue when or how the answer occurred to
him–by separating the two issues; by carrying out the hint in
the May proclamation; by yielding on emancipation while, in the
very act, pushing the war powers of the President to their
limit, declaring slaves free by an executive order.

The importance of preserving the war power of the President had
become a fixed condition of Lincoln’s thought. Already, he was
looking forward not only to victory but to the great task that
should come after victory. He was determined, if it were
humanly possible, to keep that task in the hands of the
President, and out of the hands of Congress. A first step had
already been taken. In portions of occupied territory,
military governors had been appointed. Simple as this seemed
to the careless observer, it focussed the whole issue. The
powerful, legal mind of Sumner at once perceived its
significance. He denied in the Senate the right of the
President to make such appointments; he besought the Senate to
demand the cancellation of such appointment. He reasserted the
absolute sovereignty of Congress.[8] It would be a far-reaching
stroke if Lincoln, in any way, could extort from Congress
acquiescence in his use of the war powers on a vast scale.
Freeing the slaves by executive order would be such a use.

Another train of thought also pointed to the same result.
Lincoln’s desire to further the cause of “the Liberal party
throughout the world,” that desire which dated back to his
early life as a politician, had suffered a disappointment.
European Liberals, whose political vision was less analytical
than his, had failed to understand his policy. The Confederate
authorities had been quick to publish in Europe his official
pronouncements that the war had been undertaken not to abolish
slavery but to preserve the Union. As far back as September,
1861, Carl Schurz wrote from Spain to Seward that the Liberals
abroad were disappointed, that “the impression gained ground
that the war as waged by the Federal government, far from being
a war of principle, was merely a war of policy,” and “that from
this point of view much might be said for the South.”[9] In fact,
these hasty Europeans had found a definite ground for
complaining that the American war was a reactionary influence.
The concentration of American cruisers in the Southern blockade
gave the African slave trade its last lease of life. With no
American war-ship among the West Indies, the American flag
became the safeguard of the slaver. Englishmen complained that
“the swift ships crammed with their human cargoes” had only to
“hoist the Stars and Stripes and pass under the bows of our
cruisers.”[10] Though Seward scored a point by his treaty giving
British cruisers the right to search any ships carrying the
American flag, the distrust of the foreign Liberals was not
removed. They inclined to stand aside and to allow the
commercial classes of France and England to dictate policy
toward the United States. The blockade, by shutting off the
European supply of raw cotton, on both sides the channel, was
the cause of measureless unemployment, of intolerable misery.
There was talk in both countries of intervention. Napoleon,
especially, loomed large on the horizon as a possible ally of
the Confederacy. And yet, all this while, Lincoln had it in
his power at any minute to lay the specter of foreign
intervention. A pledge to the “Liberal party throughout the
world” that the war would bring about the destruction of
slavery, and great political powers both in England and in
France would at once cross the paths of their governments
should they move toward intervention. Weighty as were all
these reasons for a change of policy–turning the flank of the
Vindictives on the war powers, committing the Abolitionists to
the Administration, winning over the European Liberals–there
was a fourth reason which, very probably, weighed upon Lincoln
most powerfully of them all. Profound gloom had settled upon
the country. There was no enthusiasm for military service.
And Stanton, who lacked entirely the psychologic vision of the
statesman, had recently committed an astounding blunder. After
a few months in power he had concluded that the government had
enough soldiers and had closed the recruiting offices.[11] Why
Lincoln permitted this singular proceeding has never been
satisfactorily explained.* Now he was reaping the fruits. A
defeated army, a hopeless country, and no prospect of swift
reinforcement! If a shift of ground on the question of
emancipation would arouse new enthusiasm, bring in a new stream
of recruits, Lincoln was prepared to shift.

*Stanton’s motive was probably economy. Congress was terrified
by the expense of the war. The Committee was deeply alarmed
over the political effect of war taxation. They and Stanton
were all convinced that McClellan was amply strong enough to
crush the Confederacy.
But even in this dire extremity, he would not give way without
a last attempt to save his earlier policy. On July twelfth, he
called together the Senators and Representatives of the Border
States. He read to them a written argument in favor of
compensated emancipation, the Federal government to assist the
States in providing funds for the purpose.

“Let the States that are in rebellion,” said he, “see
definitely and certainly that in no event will the States you
represent ever join their proposed Confederacy, and they
can not much longer maintain the contest. But you can not divest
them of their hope to ultimately have you with them so long as
you show a determination to perpetuate the institution within
your own States. . . . If the war continues long, as it must if
the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your States
will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion–by the mere
incidents of war. . . . Our common country is in great
peril, demanding the loftiest views and boldest action to bring
it speedy relief. Once relieved its form of government is
saved to the world, its beloved history and cherished memories
are vindicated, and its happy future fully assured and rendered
inconceivably grand.”[12]

He made no impression. They would commit themselves to
nothing. Lincoln abandoned his earlier policy.

Of what happened next, he said later, “It had got to be. . .
. Things had gone on from bad to worse until I felt that we
had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we
had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card and
must change our tactics or lose the game. I now determined
upon the adoption of the emancipation policy. . “[13]

The next day he confided his decision and his reasons to Seward
and Welles. Though “this was a new departure for the
President,” both these Ministers agreed with him that the
change of policy had become inevitable.[14]

Lincoln was now entirely himself, astute in action as well as
bold in thought. He would not disclose his change of policy
while Congress was in session. Should he do so, there was no
telling what attempt the Cabal would make to pervert his
intention, to twist his course into the semblance of an
acceptance of the congressional theory. He laid the matter
aside until Congress should be temporarily out of the way,
until the long recess between July and December should have
begun. In this closing moment of the second session of the
Thirty-Seventh Congress, which is also the opening moment of
the great period of Lincoln, the feeling against him in
Congress was extravagantly bitter. It caught at anything with
which to make a point. A disregard of technicalities of
procedure was magnified into a serious breach of constitutional
privilege. Reviving the question of compensated emancipation,
Lincoln had sent a special message to both Houses, submitting
the text of a compensation bill which he urged them to
consider. His enemies raised an uproar. The President had no
right to introduce a bill-into Congress! Dictator Lincoln was
trying in a new way to put Congress under his thumb.[15]

In the last week of the session, Lincoln’s new boldness brought
the old relation between himself and Congress to a dramatic
close. The Second Confiscation Bill had long been under
discussion. Lincoln believed that some of its provisions were
inconsistent with the spirit at least of our fundamental law.
Though its passage was certain, he prepared a veto message. He
then permitted the congressional leaders to know what he
intended to do when the bill should reach him. Gall and
wormwood are weak terms for the bitterness that may be tasted
in the speeches of the Vindictives. When, in order to save the
bill, a resolution was appended purging it of the
interpretation which Lincoln condemned, Trumbull passionately
declared that Congress was being “coerced” by the President.
“No one at a distance,” is the deliberate conclusion of Julian
who was present, “could have formed any adequate conception of
the hostility of the Republican members toward Lincoln at the
final adjournment, while it was the belief of many that our
last session of Congress had been held in Washington. Mr. Wade
said the country was going to hell, and that the scenes
witnessed in the French Revolution were nothing in comparison
with what we should see here.”[16]

Lincoln endured the rage of Congress in unwavering serenity.
On the last day of the session, Congress surrendered and sent
to him both the Confiscation Act and the explanatory
resolution. Thereupon, he indulged in what must have seemed to
those fierce hysterical enemies of his a wanton stroke of
irony. He sent them along with his approval of the bill the
text of the veto message he would have sent had they refused to
do what he wanted.[17] There could be no concealing the fact that
the President had matched his will against the will of
Congress, and that the President had had his way.

Out of this strange period of intolerable confusion, a gigantic
figure had at last emerged. The outer and the inner Lincoln
had fused. He was now a coherent personality, masterful in
spite of his gentleness, with his own peculiar fashion of
self-reliance, having a policy of his own devising, his colors
nailed upon the masthead.


Lincoln’s final emergence was a deeper thing than merely the
consolidation of a character, the transformation of a dreamer
into a man of action. The fusion of the outer and the inner
person was the result of a profound interior change. Those
elements of mysticism which were in him from the first, which
had gleamed darkly through such deep overshadowing, were at
last established in their permanent form. The political
tension had been matched by a spiritual tension with personal
sorrow as the connecting link. In a word, he had found his

Lincoln’s instinctive reticence was especially guarded, as any
one might expect, in the matter of his belief. Consequently,
the precise nature of it has been much discussed. As we have
seen, the earliest current report charged him with deism. The
devoted Herndon, himself an agnostic, eagerly claims his hero
as a member of the noble army of doubters. Elaborate arguments
have been devised in rebuttal. The fault on both sides is in
the attempt to base an impression on detached remarks and in
the further error of treating all these fragments as of one
time, or more truly, as of no time, as if his soul were a
philosopher of the absolute, speaking oracularly out of a void.
It is like the vicious reasoning that tortures systems of
theology out of disconnected texts.

Lincoln’s religious life reveals the same general divisions
that are to be found in his active life: from the beginning to
about the time of his election; from the close of 1860 to the
middle of 1862; the remainder.

Of his religious experience in the first period, very little is
definitely known. What glimpses we have of it both fulfill and
contradict the forest religion that was about him in his youth.
The superstition, the faith in dreams, the dim sense of another
world surrounding this, the belief in communion between the
two, these are the parts of him that are based unchangeably in
the forest shadows. But those other things, the spiritual
passions, the ecstacies, the vague sensing of the terribleness
of the creative powers,–to them always he made no response.
And the crude philosophizing of the forest theologians, their
fiercely simple dualism–God and Satan, thunder and lightning,
the eternal war in the heavens, the eternal lake of fire–it
meant nothing to him. Like all the furious things of life,
evil appeared to him as mere negation, a mysterious foolishness
he could not explain. His aim was to forget it. Goodness and
pity were the active elements that roused him to think of the
other world; especially pity. The burden of men’s tears,
falling ever in the shadows at the backs of things–this was the
spiritual horizon from which he could not escape. Out of the
circle of that horizon he had to rise by spiritual apprehension
in order to be consoled. And there is no reason to doubt that
at times, if not invariably, in his early days, he did rise; he
found consolation. But it was all without form. It was a
sentiment, a mood,–philosophically bodiless. This indefinite
mysticism was the real heart of the forest world, closer than
hands or feet, but elusive, incapable of formulation, a
presence, not an idea. Before the task of expressing it, the
forest mystic stood helpless. Just what it was that he felt
impinging upon him from every side he did not know. He was
like a sensitive man, neither scientist nor poet, in the midst
of a night of stars. The reality of his experience gave him no
power either to explain or to state it.

There is little reason to suppose that Lincoln’s religious
experience previous to 1860 was more than a recurrent visitor
in his daily life. He has said as much himself. He told his
friend Noah Brooks “he did not remember any precise time when
he passed through any special change of purpose, or of heart,
but he would say that his own election to office and the crisis
immediately following, influentially determined him in what he
called ‘a process of crystallization’ then going on in his

It was the terrible sense of need–the humility, the fear that
he might not be equal to the occasion–that searched his soul,
that bred in him the craving for a spiritual up-holding which
should be constant. And at this crucial moment came the death
of his favorite son. “In the lonely grave of the little one
lay buried Mr. Lincoln’s fondest hopes, and strong as he was in
the matter of self-control, he gave way to an overmastering
grief which became at length a serious menace to his health.”[2] Though firsthand accounts differ as to just how he struggled
forth out of this darkness, all agree that the ordeal was very
severe. Tradition makes the crisis a visit from the Reverend
Francis Vinton, rector of Trinity Church, New York, and his
eloquent assertion of the faith in immortality, his appeal to
Lincoln to remember the sorrow of Jacob over the loss of
Joseph, and to rise by faith out of his own sorrow even as the
patriarch rose.[3]

Although Lincoln succeeded in putting his grief behind
him, he never forgot it. Long afterward, he called the
attention of Colonel Cannon to the lines in King John:

“And Father Cardinal, I have heard you say
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven;
If that be true, I shall see my boy again.”

“Colonel,” said he, “did you ever dream of a lost friend, and
feel that you were holding sweet communion with that friend,
and yet have a sad consciousness that it was not a reality?
Just so, I dream of my boy, Willie.” And he bent his head and
burst into tears.[4]

As he rose in the sphere of statecraft with such apparent
suddenness out of the doubt, hesitation, self-distrust of the
spring of 1862 and in the summer found himself politically, so
at the same time he found himself religiously. During his
later life though the evidences are slight, they are
convincing. And again, as always, it is not a violent change
that takes place, but merely a better harmonization of the
outer and less significant part of him with the inner and more
significant. His religion continues to resist intellectual
formulation. He never accepted any definite creed. To the
problems of theology, he applied the same sort of reasoning
that he applied to the problems of the law. He made a
distinction, satisfactory to himself at least, between the
essential and the incidental, and rejected everything that did
not seem to him altogether essential.

In another negative way his basal part asserted itself. Just
as in all his official relations he was careless of ritual, so
in religion he was not drawn to its ritualistic forms. Again,
the forest temper surviving, changed, into such different
conditions! Real and subtle as is the ritualistic element,
not only in religion but in life generally, one may doubt
whether it counts for much among those who have been formed
mainly by the influences of nature. It implies more distance
between the emotion and its source, more need of stimulus to
arouse and organize emotion, than the children of the forest
are apt to be aware of. To invoke a philosophical distinction,
illumination rather than ritualism, the tense but variable
concentration on a result, not the ordered mode of an approach,
is what distinguishes such characters as Lincoln. It was this
that made him careless &f form in all the departments of life.
It was one reason why McClellan, born ritualist of the pomp of
war, could never overcome a certain dislike, or at least a
doubt, of him.

Putting together his habit of thinking only in essentials and
his predisposition to neglect form, it is not strange that he
said: “I have never united myself to any church because I have
found difficulty in giving my assent, without mental
reservation, to the long, complicated statements of Christian
doctrine which characterize their Articles of Belief and
Confessions of Faith. When any church will inscribe over its
altar, as its sole qualification for membership, the Savior’s
condensed statement of the substance of both Law and Gospel,
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as
thyself,’ that church will I join with all my heart and with
all my soul.”[5]

But it must not be supposed that his religion was mere ethics.
It had three cardinal possessions. The sense of God is through
all his later life. It appears incidentally in his state
papers, clothed with language which, in so deeply sincere a
man, must be taken literally. He believed in prayer, in the
reality of communion with the Divine. His third article was

At Washington, Lincoln was a regular attendant, though not a
communicant, of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. With
the Pastor, the Reverend P. D. Gurley, he formed a close
friendship. Many hours they passed in intimate talk upon
religious subjects, especially upon the question of
immortality.[6] To another pious visitor he said earnestly, “I
hope I am a Christian.”[7] Could anything but the most secure
faith have written this “Meditation on the Divine Will” which
he set down in the autumn of 1862 for no eye but his own: “The
will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to
act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one
must be, wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing
at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite
possible that God’s purpose is something different from the
purpose of either party; and yet the human instrumentalities,
working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect
His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably
true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not
end yet. By His mere great power on the minds of the now
contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union
without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having
begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day.
Yet the contest proceeds.”[8]

His religion flowered in his later temper. It did not, to be
sure, overcome his melancholy. That was too deeply laid.
Furthermore, we fail to discover in the surviving evidences any
certainty that it was a glad phase of religion. Neither the
ecstatic joy of the wild women, which his mother had; nor the
placid joy of the ritualist, which he did not understand; nor
those other variants of the joy of faith, were included in his
portion. It was a lofty but grave religion that matured in his
final stage. Was it due to far-away Puritan ancestors? Had
austere, reticent Iron-sides, sure of the Lord, but taking no
liberties with their souls, at last found out their descendant?
It may be. Cromwell, in some ways, was undeniably his
spiritual kinsman. In both, the same aloofness of soul, the
same indifference to the judgments of the world, the same
courage, the same fatalism, the same encompassment by the
shadow of the Most High. Cromwell, in his best mood, had he
been gifted with Lincoln’s literary power, could have written
the Fast Day Proclamation of 1863 which is Lincoln’s most
distinctive religious fragment.

However, Lincoln’s gloom had in it a correcting element which
the old Puritan gloom appears to have lacked. It placed no
veto upon mirth. Rather, it valued mirth as its only redeemer.
And Lincoln’s growth in the religious sense was not the cause
of any diminution of his surface hilarity. He saved himself
from what otherwise would have been intolerable melancholy by
seizing, regardless of the connection, anything whatsoever that
savored of the comic.

His religious security did not destroy his superstition. He
continued to believe that he would die violently at the end of
his career as President. But he carried that belief almost
with gaiety. He refused to take precautions for his safety.
Long lonely rides in the dead of night; night walks with a
single companion, were constant anxieties to his intimates. To
the President, their fears were childish. Although in the
sensibilities he could suffer all he had ever suffered, and
more; in the mind he had attained that high serenity in which
there can be no flagging of effort because of the conviction
that God has decreed one’s work; no failure of confidence
because of the twin conviction that somehow, somewhere, all
things work together for good. “I am glad of this interview,”
he said in reply to a deputation of visitors, in September,
1862, “and glad to know that I have your sympathy and your
prayers. . I happened to be placed, being a humble instrument
in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all
are, to work out His great purpose. . . . I have sought His
aid; but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light He
affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for
some purpose unknown to me He wills it otherwise. If I had my
way, this war would never have commenced. If I had been
allowed my way, this war would have been ended before this; but
it still continues and we must believe that He permits it for
some wise purpose of His own, mysterious and unknown to us; and
though with our limited understandings we may not be able to
comprehend it, yet we can not but believe that He who made the
world still governs it.”[9]


On July 22, 1862, there was a meeting of the Cabinet. The
sessions of Lincoln’s Council were the last word for
informality. The President and the Ministers interspersed
their great affairs with mere talk, story-telling, gossip.
With one exception they were all lovers of their own voices,
especially in the telling of tales. Stanton was the exception.
Gloomy, often in ill-health, innocent of humor, he glowered
when the others laughed. When the President, instead of
proceeding at once to business, would pull out of his pocket
the latest volume of Artemus Ward, the irate War Minister felt
that the overthrow of the nation was impending. But in this
respect, the President was incorrigible. He had been known to
stop the line of his guests at a public levee, while he talked
for some five minutes in a whisper to an important personage;
and though all the room thought that jupiter was imparting
state secrets, in point of fact, he was making sure of a good
story the great man had told him a few days previous.[1] His
Cabinet meetings were equally careless of social form. The
Reverend Robert Collyer was witness to this fact in a curious
way. Strolling through the White House grounds, “his attention
was suddenly arrested by the apparition of three pairs of feet
resting on the ledge of an open window in one of the apartments
of the second story and plainly visible from below.” He asked a
gardener for an explanation. The brusk reply was: “Why, you
old fool, that’s the Cabinet that is a-settin’, and them thar
big feet are ole Abe’s.”[2]

When the Ministers assembled on July twenty-second they had no
intimation that this was to be a record session. Imagine the
astonishment when, in his usual casual way, though with none of
that hesitancy to which they had grown accustomed, Lincoln
announced his new policy, adding that he “wished it understood
that the question was settled in his own mind; that he had
decreed emancipation in a certain contingency and the
responsibility of the measure was his.”[3] President and Cabinet
talked it over in their customary offhand way, and Seward made
a suggestion that instantly riveted Lincoln’s attention.
Seward thought the moment was ill-chosen. “If the Proclamation
were issued now, it would be received and considered as a
despairing cry–a shriek from and for the Administration, rather
than for freedom.”[4] He added the picturesque phrase, “The
government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of
Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the government.” This
idea struck Lincoln with very great force. It was an aspect of
the case “which he had entirely overlooked.”[5] He accepted
Seward’s advice, laid aside the proclamation he had drafted and
turned again with all his energies to the organization of

The next day Halleck arrived at Washington. He was one of
Lincoln’s mistakes. However, in his new mood, Lincoln was
resolved to act on his own opinion of the evidence before him,
especially in estimating men. It is just possible that this
epoch of his audacities began in a reaction; that after too
much self-distrust, he went briefly to the other extreme,
indulging in too much self-confidence. Be that as it may, he
had formed exaggerated opinions of both these Western generals,
Halleck and Pope. Somehow, in the brilliant actions along the
Mississippi they had absorbed far more than their fair share of
credit. Particularly, Lincoln went astray with regard to Pope.
Doubtless a main reason why he accepted the plan of campaign
suggested by Halleck was the opportunity which it offered to
Pope. Perhaps, too, the fatality in McClellan’s character
turned the scale. He begged to be left where he was with his
base on James River, and to be allowed to renew the attack on
Richmond.1 But he did not take the initiative. The government
must swiftly hurry up reinforcements, and then–the old, old
story! Obviously, it was a question at Washington either of
superseding McClellan and leaving the army where it was, or of
shifting the army to some other commander without in so many
words disgracing McClellan. Halleck’s approval of the latter
course jumped with two of Lincoln’s impulses–his trust in Pope,
his reluctance to disgrace McClellan. Orders were issued
transferring the bulk of the army of the Potomac to the new
army of Virginia lying south of Washington under the command of
Pope. McClellan was instructed to withdraw his remaining
forces from the Peninsula and retrace his course up the

Lincoln had committed one of his worst blunders. Herndon has a
curious, rather subtle theory that while Lincoln’s judgments of
men in the aggregate were uncannily sure, his judgments of men
individually were unreliable. It suggests the famous remark of
Goethe that his views of women did not derive from experience;
that they antedated experience; and that he corrected
experience by them. Of the confessed artist this may be true.
The literary concept which the artist works with is often,
apparently, a more constant, more fundamental, more significant
thing, than is the broken, mixed, inconsequential impression
out of which it has been wrought. Which seems to explain why
some of the writers who understand human nature so well in
their books, do not always understand people similarly well in
life. And always it is to be remembered that Lincoln was made
an artist by nature, and made over into a man of action by
circumstance. If Herndon’s theory has any value it is in
asserting his occasional danger–by no means a constant
danger–of forming in his mind images of men that were more
significant than it was possible for the men themselves to be.
John Pope was perhaps his worst instance. An incompetent
general, he was capable of things still less excusable. Just
after McClellan had so tragically failed in the Seven Days,
when Lincoln was at the front, Pope was busy with the
Committee, assuring them virtually that the war had been won in
the West, and that only McClellan’s bungling had saved the
Confederacy from speedy death.[7] But somehow Lincoln trusted
him, and continued to trust him even after he had proved his
incompetency in the catastrophe at Manassas.

During August, Pope marched gaily southward issuing orders that
were shot through with bad rhetoric, mixing up army routine and
such irrelevant matters as “the first blush of dawn.”

Lincoln was confident of victory. And after victory would come
the new policy, the dissipation of the European storm-cloud,
the break-up of the vindictive coalition of Jacobins and
Abolitionists, the new enthusiasm for the war. But of all
this, the incensed Abolitionists received no hint. The country
rang with their denunciations of the President. At length,
Greeley printed in The Tribune an open letter called “The
Prayer of Twenty Millions.” It was an arraignment of what
Greeley chose to regard as the pro-slavery policy of the
Administration. This was on August twentieth. Lincoln, in
high hope that a victory was at hand, seized the opportunity
both to hint to the country that he was about to change his
policy, and to state unconditionally his reason for changing.
He replied to Greeley through the newspapers:

“As to the policy I ‘seem to be pursuing,’ as you say, I have
meant to leave no one in doubt.

“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way
under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can
be restored, the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was’
If there be those who would not save the Union unless they
could at the same time save Slavery, I do not agree with them.
If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they
could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with
them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the
Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. if I
could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it;
and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do
it; and if I could save it by freeing some of the slaves and
leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about
slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it will
help to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I
do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do
less whenever I shall believe that what I am doing hurts the
cause; and I shall do more whenever I believe that doing more
will help the cause.”[8] The effect of this on the Abolitionists
was only to increase their rage. The President was compared to
Douglas with his indifference whether slavery was voted “up or
down.”[9] Lincoln, now so firmly hopeful, turned a deaf ear to
these railing accusations. He was intent upon watching the
army. It was probably at this time that he reached an
unfortunate conclusion with regard to McClellan. The transfer
of forces from the James River to northern Virginia had
proceeded slowly. It gave rise to a new controversy, a new
crop of charges. McClellan was accused of being dilatory on
purpose, of aiming to cause the failure of Pope. Lincoln
accepted, at last, the worst view of him. He told Hay that “it
really seemed that McClellan wanted Pope defeated. . . .
The President seemed to think him a little crazy.”[10]

But still the confidence in Pope, marching so blithely through
“the blush of dawn,” stood fast. If ever an Administration was
in a fool’s paradise, it was Lincoln’s, in the last few days of
August, while Jackson was stealthily carrying out his great
flanking movement getting between Pope and Washington.
However, the Suspicious Stanton kept his eyes on McClellan. He
decided that troops were being held back from Pope; and he
appealed to other members of the Cabinet to join with him in a
formal demand upon the President for McClellan’s dismissal from
the army. While the plan was being discussed, came the
appalling news of Pope’s downfall.

The meeting of the Cabinet, September second, was another
revelation of the new independence of the President. Three
full days had passed since Pope had telegraphed that the battle
was lost and that he no longer had control of his army. The
Ministers, awaiting the arrival of the President, talked
excitedly, speculating what would happen next. “It was
stated,” says Welles in his diary, “that Pope was falling back,
intending to retreat within the Washington entrenchments, .
Blair, who has known him intimately, says he is a braggart and
a liar, with some courage, perhaps, but not much capacity. The
general conviction is that he is a failure here, and there is a
belief . . . that he has not been seconded and sustained as
he should have been by McClellan . . .” Stanton entered;
terribly agitated. He had news that fell upon the Cabinet like
a bombshell. He said “in a suppressed voice, trembling with
excitement, he was informed that McClellan had been ordered to
take command of the forces in Washington.”

Never was there a more tense moment in the Cabinet room than
when Lincoln entered that day. And all could see that he was
in deep distress. But he confirmed Stanton’s information.
That very morning he had gone himself to McClellan’s house and
had asked him to resume command. Lincoln discussed McClellan
with the Cabinet quite simply, admitting all his bad qualities,
but finding two points in his favor–his power of organization,
and his popularity with the men.[11]

He was still more frank with his Secretaries. “‘He has acted
badly in this matter,’ Lincoln said to Hay, ‘but we must use
what tools we have. There is no man in the army who can man
these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape
half as well as he.’ I spoke of the general feeling against
McClellan as evinced by the President’s mail. He rejoined:
‘Unquestionably, he has acted badly toward Pope; he wanted him
to fail. That is unpardonable, but he is too useful now to
sacrifice.'”[12] At another time, he said: ” ‘If he can’t fight
himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.'”[13]

McClellan justified Lincoln’s confidence. In this case,
Herndon’s theory of Lincoln’s powers of judgment does not
apply. Though probably unfair on the one point of McClellan’s
attitude to Pope, he knew his man otherwise. Lincoln had also
discovered that Halleck, the veriest martinet of a general, was
of little value at a crisis. During the next two months,
McClellan, under the direct oversight of the President, was the
organizer of victory.

Toward the middle of September, when Lee and McClellan were
gradually converging upon the fated line of Antietam Creek,
Lincoln’s new firmness was put to the test. The immediate
effect of Manassas was another, a still more vehement outcry
for an anti-slavery policy. A deputation of Chicago clergymen
went to Washington for the purpose of urging him to make an
anti-slavery pronouncement. The journey was a continuous
ovation. If at any time Lincoln was tempted to forget Seward’s
worldly wisdom, it was when these influential zealots demanded
of him to do the very thing he intended to do. But it was one
of the characteristics of this final Lincoln that when once he
had fully determined on a course of action, nothing could
deflect him. With consummate coolness he gave them no new
light on his purpose. Instead, he seized the opportunity to
“feel” the country. He played the role of advocate arguing the
case against an emancipation policy.[14] They met his argument
with great Spirit and resolution. Taking them as an index,
there could be little question that the country was ripe for
the new policy. At the close of the interview Lincoln allowed
himself to jest. One of the clergymen dramatically charged him
to give heed to their message as to a direct commission from
the Almighty. “Is it not odd,” said Lincoln, “that the only
channel he could send it was that roundabout route by the
awfully wicked city of Chicago?”*

* Reminiscences, 335. This retort is given by Schuyler Colfax.
There are various reports of what Lincoln said. In another
version, “I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that
if it is probable that God would reveal His will to others on a
point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed He would
reveal it directly to me.” Tarbell, II, l2.
Lincoln’s pertinacity, holding fast the program he had
accepted, came to its reward. On the seventeenth occurred that
furious carnage along the Antietam known as the bloodiest
single day of the whole war. Military men have disagreed,
calling it sometimes a victory, sometimes a drawn battle. In
Lincoln’s political strategy the dispute is immaterial.
Psychologically, it was a Northern victory. The retreat of Lee
was regarded by the North as the turn of the tide. Lincoln’s
opportunity had arrived.

Again, a unique event occurred in a Cabinet meeting. On the
twenty-second of September, with the cannon of Antietam still
ringing in their imagination, the Ministers were asked by the
President whether they had seen the new volume just published
by Artemus Ward. As they had not, he produced it and read
aloud with evident relish one of those bits of nonsense which,
in the age of Dickens, seemed funny enough. Most of the
Cabinet joined in the merriment–Stanton, of course, as always,
excepted. Lincoln closed the book, pulled himself together,
and became serious.

“Gentlemen,” said he, according to the diary of Secretary
Chase, “I have, as you are aware, thought a great deal about the
relation of this war to slavery; and you all remember that
several weeks ago I read you an order I had prepared on this
subject, which, on account of objections made by some of you,
was not issued. Ever since, my mind has been much occupied
with this subject, and I have thought all along that the time
for acting on it might probably come. I think the time has
come now. I wish it was a better time. I wish that we were in
a better condition. The action of the army against the Rebels
has not been quite what I should have best liked. But they
have been driven out of Maryland; and Pennsylvania is no longer
in danger of invasion. When the Rebel army was at Frederick, I
determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to
issue a proclamation of emancipation, such as I thought most
likely to be useful. I said nothing to any one, but I made the
promise to myself, and [hesitating a little] to my Maker. The
Rebel army is now driven out and I am going to fulfill that
promise. I have got you together to hear what I have written
down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter, for
that I have determined for myself. This, I say without
intending anything but respect for any one of you. But I
already know the views of each on this question. They have
been heretofore expressed, and I have considered them as
thoroughly and as carefully as I can. What I have written is
that which my reflections have determined me to say. . . .
I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking
the course which I feel I ought to take.”[15] The next day the
Proclamation was published.

This famous document [16] is as remarkable for the parts of it
that are now forgotten as for the rest. The remembered portion
is a warning that on the first of January, one hundred days
subsequent to the date of the Proclamation–“all persons held as
slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the
people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United
States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The
forgotten portions include four other declarations of executive
policy. Lincoln promised that “the Executive will in due time
recommend that all citizens of the United States who have
remained loyal thereto shall be compensated for all losses by
acts of the United States, including the loss of slaves.” He
announced that he would again urge upon Congress “the adoption
of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid” to all the
loyal Slave States that would “voluntarily adopt immediate or
gradual abolishment of slavery within their limits.” He would
continue to advise the colonization of free Africans abroad.
There is still to be mentioned a detail of the Proclamation
which, except for its historical setting in the general
perspective of Lincoln’s political strategy, would appear
inexplicable. One might expect in the opening statement, where
the author of the Proclamation boldly assumes dictatorial
power, an immediate linking of that assumption with the matter
in hand. But this does not happen. The Proclamation begins
with the following paragraph:

“I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America,
and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby
proclaim and declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the war
will be prosecuted for the object of practically restoring the
constitutional relation between the United States and each of
the States and the people thereof in which States that relation
is or may be suspended or disturbed.”


By the autumn of 1862, Lincoln had acquired the same political
method that Seward had displayed in the spring of 1861. What a
chasm separates the two Lincolns! The cautious, contradictory,
almost timid statesman of the Sumter episode; the confident,
unified, quietly masterful statesman of the Emancipation
Proclamation. Now, in action, he was capable of staking his
whole future on the soundness of his own thinking, on his own
ability to forecast the inevitable. Without waiting for the
results of the Proclamation to appear, but in full confidence
that he had driven a wedge between the Jacobins proper and the
mere Abolitionists, he threw down the gage of battle on the
issue of a constitutional dictatorship. Two days after
issuing the Proclamation he virtually proclaimed himself
dictator. He did so by means of a proclamation which divested
the whole American people of the privileges of the writ of
habeas corpus. The occasion was the effort of State
governments to establish conscription of their militia. The
Proclamation delivered any one impeding that attempt into the
hands of the military authorities without trial.

Here was Lincoln’s final answer to Stevens; here, his audacious
challenge to the Jacobins. And now appeared the wisdom of his
political strategy, holding back emancipation until Congress
was out of the way. Had Congress been in session what a hubbub
would have ensued! Chandler, Wade, Trumbull, Sumner, Stevens,
all hurrying to join issue on the dictatorship; to get it
before the country ahead of emancipation. Rather, one can not
imagine Lincoln daring to play this second card, so soon after
the first, except with abundant time for the two issues to
disentangle themselves in the public mind ere Congress met.
And that was what happened. When the Houses met in December,
the Jacobins found their position revolutionized. The men who,
in July at the head of the Vindictive coalition, dominated
Congress, were now a minority faction biting their nails at the
President amid the ruins of their coalition.

There were three reasons for this collapse. First of all, the
Abolitionists, for the moment, were a faction by themselves.
Six weeks had sufficed to intoxicate them with their
opportunity. The significance of the Proclamation had had time
to arise towering on their spiritual vision, one of the gates
of the New Jerusalem.

Limited as it was in application who could doubt that, with one
condition, it doomed slavery everywhere. The condition was a
successful prosecution of the war, the restoration of the
Union. Consequently, at that moment, nothing that made issue
with the President, that threatened any limitation of his
efficiency, had the slightest chance of Abolitionist support.
The one dread that alarmed the whole Abolitionist group was a
possible change in the President’s mood, a possible recantation
on January first. In order to hold him to his word, they were
ready to humor him as one might cajole, or try to cajole, a
monster that one was afraid of. No time, this, to talk to
Abolitionists about strictly constitutional issues, or about
questions of party leadership. Away with all your “gabble”
about such small things! The Jacobins saw the moving hand–at
least for this moment–in the crumbling wall of the palace of
their delusion.

Many men who were not Abolitionists perceived, before Congress
met, that Lincoln had made a great stroke internationally. The
“Liberal party throughout the world” gave a cry of delight, and
rose instantly to his support. John Bright declared that the
Emancipation Proclamation “made it impossible for England to
intervene for the South” and derided “the silly proposition of
the French Emperor looking toward intervention.”[1] Bright’s
closest friend in America was Sumner and Sumner was chairman of
the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He understood the
value of international sentiment, its working importance, as
good provincials like Chandler did not. Furthermore, he was
always an Abolitionist first and a Jacobin second–if at all.
From this time forward, the Jacobins were never able to count
on him, not even when they rebuilt the Vindictive Coalition a
year and a half later. In December, 1862, how did they
dare–true blue politicians that they were–how did they dare
raise a constitutional issue involving the right of the
President to capture, in the way he had, international

The crowning irony in the new situation of the Jacobins was the
revelation that they had played unwittingly into the hands of
the Democrats. Their short-sighted astuteness in tying up
emancipation with the war powers was matched by an equal
astuteness equally short-sighted. The organization of the
Little Men, when it refused to endorse Lincoln’s all-parties
program, had found itself in the absurd position of a party
without an issue. It contained, to be sure, a large proportion
of the Northerners who were opposed to emancipation. But how
could it make an issue upon emancipation, as long as the
President, the object of its antagonism, also refused to
support emancipation? The sole argument in the Cabinet against
Lincoln’s new policy was that it would give the Democrats an
issue. Shrewd Montgomery Blair prophesied that on this issue
they could carry the autumn elections for Congress. Lincoln
had replied that he would take the risk. He presented them
with the issue. They promptly accepted it But they did not
stop there. They aimed to take over the whole of the position
that had been vacated by the collapse of the Vindictive
Coalition. By an adroit bit of political legerdemain they
would steal their enemies’ thunder, reunite the emancipation
issue with the issue of the war powers, reverse the
significance of the conjunction, and, armed with this double
club, they would advance from a new and unexpected angle and
win the leadership of the country by overthrowing the dictator.
And this, they came very near doing. On their double issue
they rallied enough support to increase their number in
Congress by thirty-three. Had not the moment been so tragic,
nothing could have been more amusing than the helpless wrath of
the Jacobins caught in their own trap, compelled to gnaw their
tongues in silence, while the Democrats, paraphrasing their own
arguments, hurled defiant at Lincoln.

Men of intellectual courage might have broken their party
ranks, daringly applied Lincoln’s own maxim “stand with any one
who stands right,” and momentarily joined the Democrats in
their battle against the two proclamations. But in American
politics, with a few glorious exceptions, courage of this sort
has never been the order of the day. The Jacobins kept their
party line; bowed their heads to the storm; and bided their
time. In the Senate, an indiscreet resolution commending the
Emancipation Proclamation was ordered to be printed, and laid
on the table.[2] In the House, party exigencies were more
exacting. Despite the Democratic successes, the Republicans
still had a majority. When the Democrats made the repudiation
of the President a party issue, arguing on those very grounds
that had aroused the eloquence of Stevens and the rest–why,
what’s the Constitution between friends! Or between political
enemies? The Democrats forced all the Republicans into one boat
by introducing a resolution “That the policy of emancipation as
indicated in that Proclamation is an assumption of powers
dangerous to the rights of citizens and to the perpetuity of a
free people.” The resolution was rejected. Among those who
voted NO was Stevens.[3] Indeed, the star of the Jacobins was
far down on the horizon.

But the Jacobins were not the men to give up the game until
they were certainly in the last ditch. Though their issues had
been slipped out of their hands; though for the moment at
least, it was not good policy to fight the President on a
principle; it might still be possible to recover their prestige
on some other contention. The first of January was
approaching. The final proclamation of emancipation would
bring to an end the temporary alliance of the Administration
and the Abolitionists. Who could say what new pattern of
affairs the political kaleidoscope might not soon reveal?
Surely the Jacobin cue was to busy themselves, straightway,
making trouble for the President. Principles being
unavailable, practices might do. And who was satisfied with
the way the war was going? To rouse the party against the
Administration on the ground of inefficient practices, of
unsatisfactory military progress, might be the first step
toward regaining their former dominance.

There was a feather in the wind that gave them hope. The
ominous first paragraph of the Emancipation Proclamation was
evidence that the President was still stubbornly for his own
policy; that he had not surrendered to the opposite view. But
this was not their only strategic hope. Lincoln’s dealings
with the army between September and December might, especially
if anything in his course proved to be mistaken, deliver him
into their hands.

Following Antietam, Lincoln had urged upon McClellan swift
pursuit of Lee. His despatches were strikingly different from
those of the preceding spring. That half apologetic tone had
disappeared. Though they did not command, they gave advice
freely. The tone was at least that of an equal who, while not
an authority in this particular matter, is entitled to express
his views and to have them taken seriously.

“You remember my speaking to you of what I called your
overcautiousness? Are you not over-cautious when you assume
that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should
you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess and act upon
that claim . . . one of the standard maxims of war, as you
know, is to operate upon the enemy’s communications as much as
possible without exposing your own. You seem to act as if this
applies against you, but can not apply in your favor. Change
positions with the enemy and think you not he would break your
communications with Richmond within the next twenty-four
hours. . .

“If he should move northward, I would follow him closely,
holding his communications. if he should prevent your seizing
his communications and move toward Richmond; I would press
closely to him, fight him if a favorable opportunity should
present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside
track. I say ‘try’; if we never try we shall never succeed. .
. . We should not operate so as to merely drive him away. .
. . This letter is in no sense an order.”[4]

But once more the destiny that is in character intervened, and
McClellan’s tragedy reached its climax. His dread of failure
hypnotized his will. So cautious were his movements that Lee
regained Virginia with his army intact. Lincoln was angry.
Military amateur though he was, he had filled his spare time
reading books on strategy, Von Clausewitz and the rest, and he
had grasped the idea that war’s aim is not to win technical
victories, nor to take cities, but to destroy armies. He felt
that McClellan had thrown away an opportunity of first
magnitude. He removed him from command.[5]

This was six weeks after the two proclamations. The country
was ringing with Abolition plaudits. The election had given
the Democrats a new lease of life. The anti-Lincoln
Republicans were silent while their party enemies with their
stolen thunder rang the changes on the presidential abuse of
the war powers. It was a moment of crisis in party politics.
Where did the President stand? What was the outlook for those
men who in the words of Senator Wilson “would rather give a
policy to the President of the United States than take a policy
from the President of the United States.”

Lincoln’s situation was a close parallel to the situation of
July, 1861, when McDowell failed. Just as in choosing a
successor to McDowell, he revealed a political attitude, now,
he would again make a revelation choosing a successor to
McClellan. By passing over Fremont and by elevating a
Democrat, he had spoken to the furious politicians in the
language they understood. Whatever appointment he now made
would be interpreted by those same politicians in the same way.
In the atmosphere of that time, there was but one way for
Lincoln to rank himself as a strict party man, to recant his
earlier heresy of presidential independence, and say to the
Jacobins, “I am with you.” He must appoint a Republican to
succeed McClellan. Let him do that and the Congressional Cabal
would forgive him. But he did not do it. He swept political
considerations aside and made a purely military appointment
Burnside, on whom he fixed, was the friend and admirer of
McClellan and might fairly be considered next to him in
prestige. He was loved by his troops. In the eyes of the
army, his elevation represented “a legitimate succession rather
than the usurpation of a successful rival.”[6] He was modest. He
did not want promotion. Nevertheless, Lincoln forced him to
take McClellan’s place against his will, in spite of his
protest that he had not the ability to command so large an

When Congress assembled and the Committee resumed its
inquisition, Burnside was moving South on his fated march to
Fredericksburg. The Committee watched him like hungry wolves.
Woe to Burnside, woe to Lincoln, if the General failed! Had the
Little Men possessed any sort of vision they would have seized
their opportunity to become the President’s supporters. But
they, like the Jacobins, were partisans first and patriots
second. In the division among the Republicans they saw, not a
chance to turn the scale in the President’s favor, but a chance
to play politics on their own account. A picturesque Ohio
politician known as “Sunset” Cox opened the ball of their
fatuousness with an elaborate argument in Congress to the
effect that the President was in honor bound to regard the
recent elections as strictly analogous to an appeal to the
country in England; that it was his duty to remodel his policy
to suit the Democrats. Between the Democrats and the Jacobins
Lincoln was indeed between the devil and the deep blue sea with
no one certainly on his side except the volatile Abolitionists
whom he did not trust and who did not trust him. A great
victory might carry him over. But a great defeat–what might
not be the consequence!

On the thirteenth of December, through Burnside’s stubborn
incompetence, thousands of American soldiers flung away their
lives in a holocaust of useless valor at Fredericksburg.
Promptly the Jacobins acted. They set up a shriek: the
incompetent President, the all-parties dreamer, the man who
persists in coquetting with the Democrats, is blundering into
destruction! Burnside received the dreaded summons from the
Committee. So staggering was the shock of horror that even
moderate Republicans were swept away in a new whirlpool of

But even thus it was scarcely wise, the Abolitionists being
still fearful over the emancipation policy, to attack the
President direct. Nevertheless, the resourceful Jacobins found
a way to begin their new campaign. Seward, the symbol of
moderation, the unforgivable enemy of the Jacobins, had
recently earned anew the hatred of the Abolitionists. Letters
of his to Charles Francis Adams had appeared in print. Some
of their expressions had roused a storm. For example: “extreme
advocates of African slavery arid its most vehement exponents
are acting in concert together to precipitate a servile war.”[8] To be sure, the date of this letter was long since, before he
and Lincoln had changed ground on emancipation, but that did
not matter. He had spoken evil of the cause; he should suffer.
All along, the large number that were incapable of appreciating
his lack of malice had wished him out of the Cabinet. As
Lincoln put it: “While they seemed to believe in my honesty,
they also appeared to think that when I had in me any good
purpose or intention, Seward contrived to suck it out of me

The Jacobins were skilful politicians. A caucus of Republican
Senators was stampeded by the cry that Seward was the master of
the Administration, the chief explanation of failure. It was
Seward who had brought them to the verge of despair. A
committee was named to demand the reorganization of the Cabinet
Thereupon, Seward, informed of this action, resigned. The
Committee of the Senators called upon Lincoln. He listened;
did not commit himself; asked them to call again; and turned
into his own thoughts for a mode of saving the day.

During twenty months, since their clash in April, 1861, Seward
and Lincoln had become friends; not merely official associates,
but genuine comrades. Seward’s earlier condescension had
wholly disappeared. Perhaps his new respect for Lincoln grew
out of the President’s silence after Sumter. A few words
revealing the strange meddling of the Secretary of State would
have turned upon Seward the full fury of suspicion that
destroyed McClellan. But Lincoln never spoke those words.
Whatever blame there was for the failure of the Sumter
expedition, he quietly accepted as his own. Seward, whatever
his faults, was too large a nature, too genuinely a lover of
courage, of the nonvindictive temper, not to be struck with
admiration. Watching with keen eyes the unfolding of Lincoln,
Seward advanced from admiration to regard. After a while he
could write, “The President is the best of us.” He warmed to
him; he gave out the best of himself. Lincoln responded.
While the other secretaries were useful, Seward became
necessary. Lincoln, in these dark days, found comfort in his
society.[10] Lincoln was not going to allow Seward to he driven
out of the Cabinet. But how could he prevent it? He could not
say. He was in a quandary. For the moment, the Republican
leaders were so nearly of one mind in their antagonism to
Seward, that it demanded the greatest courage to oppose them.
But Lincoln does not appear to have given a thought to
surrender. What puzzled him was the mode of resistance.

Now that he was wholly himself, having confidence in whatever
mode of procedure his own thought approved, he had begun using
methods that the politicians found disconcerting. The second
conference with the Senators was an instance. Returning in the
same mood in which they had left him, with no suspicion of a
surprise in store, the Senators to their amazement were
confronted by the Cabinet–or most of it, Seward being
absent.[11] The Senators were put out. This simple maneuver by
the President was the beginning of their discomfiture. It changed
their role from the ambassadors of an ultimatum to the
participants in a conference. But even thus, they might have
succeeded in dominating the event, though it is hardly
conceivable that they could have carried their point; they
might have driven Lincoln into a corner; had it not been for
the make-up of one man. Again, the destiny that is in
character! Lincoln was delivered from a quandary by the course
which the Secretary of the Treasury could not keep himself from

Chase, previous to this hour, may truly be called an imposing
figure. As a leader of the extreme Republicans, he had earned
much fame. Lincoln had given him a free hand in the Treasury
and all the financial measures of the government were his.
Hitherto, Vindictives of all sorts had loved him. He was a
critic of the President’s mildness, and a severe critic of
Seward. But Chase was not candid. Though on the surface he
scrupulously avoided any hint of cynicism, any point of
resemblance to Seward, he was in fact far more devious, much
more capable of self-deception. He had little of Seward’s
courage, and none of his aplomb. His condemnation of Seward
had been confided privately to Vindictive brethren.

When the Cabinet and the Senators met, Chase was placed in a
situation of which he had an instinctive horror. His caution,
his secretiveness, his adroit confidences, his skilful
silences, had created in these two groups of men, two
impressions of his character. The Cabinet knew him as the
faithful, plausible Minister who found the money for the
President. The Senators, or some of them, knew him as the
discontented Minister who was their secret ally. For the two
groups to compare notes, to check up their impressions, meant
that Chase was going to be found out. And it was the central
characteristic of Chase that he had a horror of being found

The only definite result of the conference was Chase’s
realization when the Senators departed that mischance was his
portion. In the presence of the Cabinet he had not the face to
stick to his guns. He feebly defended Seward. The Senators
opened their eyes and stared. The ally they had counted on had
failed them. Chase bit his lips and was miserable.

The night that followed was one of deep anxiety for Lincoln.
He was still unable to see his way out. But all the while the
predestination in Chase’s character was preparing the way of
escape. Chase was desperately trying to discover how to save
his face. An element in him that approached the melodramatic
at last pointed the way. He would resign. What an admirable
mode of recapturing the confidence of his disappointed friends,
carrying out their aim to disrupt the Cabinet! But he could
not do a bold thing like this in Seward’s way–at a stroke,
without hesitation. When he called on Lincoln the next day
with the resignation in his hand, he wavered. It happened that
Welles was in the room.

“Chase said he had been painfully affected,” is Welles’
account, “by the meeting last evening, which was a surprise,
and after some not very explicit remarks as to how he was
affected, informed the President he had prepared his
resignation of the office of Secretary of the Treasury. ‘Where
is it,’ said the President, quickly, his eye lighting up in a
moment. ‘I brought it with me,’ said Chase, taking the paper
from his pocket. ‘I wrote it this morning.’ ‘Let me have it,’
said the President, reaching his long arm and fingers toward
Chase, who held on seemingly reluctant to part with the letter
which was sealed and which he apparently hesitated to
surrender. Something further he wished to say, but the
President was eager and did not perceive it, but took and
hastily opened the letter.

“‘This,’ said he, looking towards me with a triumphal laugh,
‘cuts the Gordian knot.’ An air of satisfaction spread over his
countenance such as I had not seen for some time. ‘I can
dispose of this subject now without difficulty,’ he added, as
he turned in his chair; ‘I see my way clear.'”[12] In Lincoln’s
distress during this episode, there was much besides his
anxiety for the fate of a trusted minister. He felt he must
not permit himself to be driven into the arms of the
Vindictives by disgracing Seward. Seward had a following which
Lincoln needed But to proclaim to the world his confidence in
Seward without at the same time offsetting it by some display
of confidence, equally significant in the enemies of Seward,
this would have amounted to committing himself to Seward’s
following alone. And that would not do. Should either faction
appear to dominate him, Lincoln felt that “the whole government
must cave in. It could not stand, could not hold water; the
bottom would be out.”[13]

The incredible stroke of luck, the sheer good fortune that
Chase was Chase and nobody else,–vain, devious, stagey and
hypersensitive,–was salvation. Lincoln promptly rejected both
resignations and called upon both Ministers to resume their
portfolios. They did so. The incident was closed. Neither
faction could say that Lincoln had favored the other. He had
saved himself, or rather, Chase’s character had saved him, by
the margin of a hair.

For the moment, a rebuilding of the Vindictive Coalition was
impossible. Nevertheless, the Jacobins, again balked of their
prey, had it in their power, through the terrible Committee, to
do immense mischief. The history of the war contains no other
instance of party malice quite so fruitless and therefore so
inexcusable as their next move. After severely interrogating
Burnside, they published an exoneration of his motives and
revealed the fact that Lincoln had forced him into command
against his will. The implication was plain.

January came in. The Emancipation Proclamation was confirmed.
The jubilation of the Abolitionists became, almost at once, a
propaganda for another issue upon slavery. New troubles were
gathering close about the President The overwhelming benefit
which had been anticipated from the new policy had not clearly
arrived. Even army enlistments were not satisfactory.
Conscription loomed on the horizon as an eventual necessity. A
bank of returning cloud was covering the political horizon,
enshrouding the White House in another depth of gloom.

However, out of all this gathering darkness, one clear light
solaced Lincoln’s gaze. One of his chief purposes had been
attained. In contrast to the doubtful and factional response
to his policy at home, the response abroad was sweeping and
unconditional. He had made himself the hero of the “Liberal
party throughout the world.” Among the few cheery words that
reached him in January, 1863, were New Year greetings of trust
and sympathy sent by English working men, who, because of the
blockade, were on the verge of starvation. It was in response
to one of these letters from the working men of Manchester that
Lincoln wrote:

“I have understood well that the duty of self-preservation
rests solely with the American people; but I have at the same
time been aware that the favor or disfavor of foreign nations
might have a material influence in enlarging or prolonging the
struggle with disloyal men in which the country is engaged. A
fair examination of history has served to authorize a belief
that the past actions and influences of the United States were
generally regarded as having been beneficial toward mankind. I
have therefore reckoned upon the forbearance of nations.
Circumstances–to some of which you kindly allude–induce me
especially to expect that if justice and good faith should be
practised by the United States they would encounter no hostile
influence on the part of Great Britain. It is now a pleasant
duty to acknowledge the demonstration you have given of your
desire that a spirit of amity and peace toward this country may
prevail in the councils of your Queen, who is respected and
esteemed in your own country only more than she is, by the
kindred nation which has its home on this side of the Atlantic.

“I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working men
at Manchester, and in all Europe, are called on to endure in
this crisis. It has been often and studiously represented that
the attempt to overthrow this government which was built upon
the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one
which should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery,
was likely to obtain the favor of Europe. Through the action
of our disloyal citizens, the working men of Europe have been
subjected to severe trials for the purpose of forcing their
sanction to that attempt. Under the circumstances, I can not
but regard your decisive utterances upon the question as an
instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been
surpassed in any age or in any country. It is indeed an
energetic and reinspiring assurance of the inherent power of
the truth, and of the ultimate and universal triumph of
justice, humanity and freedom. I do not doubt that the
sentiments you have expressed will be sustained by your great
nation; and on the other hand, I have no hesitation in assuring
you that they will excite admiration, esteem, and the most
reciprocal feelings of friendship among the American people. I
hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an augury
that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall
your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now
exist between the two nations, will be, as it shall he my
desire to make them, perpetual.”[14]


While the Jacobins were endeavoring to reorganize the
Republican antagonism to the President, Lincoln was taking
thought how he could offset still more effectually their
influence. in taking up the emancipation policy he had not
abandoned his other policy of an all-parties Administration,
or of something similar to that. By this time it was plain
that a complete union of parties was impossible. In the autumn
of 1862, a movement of liberal Democrats in Michigan for the
purpose of a working agreement with the Republicans was
frustrated by the flinty opposition of Chandler.[1] However, it
still seemed possible to combine portions of parties in an
Administration group that should forswear the savagery of the
extreme factions and maintain the war in a merciful temper.
The creation of such a group was Lincoln’s aim at the close of
the year.

The Republicans were not in doubt what he was driving at.
Smarting over their losses in the election, there was angry
talk that Lincoln and Seward had “slaughtered the Republican
party.”[2] Even as sane a man as John Sherman, writing to his
brother on the causes of the apparent turn of the tide could
say “the first is that the Republican organization was
voluntarily abandoned by the President and his leading
followers, and a no-party union was formed to run against an
old, well-drilled party organization.”[3] When Julian returned to
Washington in December, he found that the menace to the
Republican machine was “generally admitted and (his) earnest
opposition to it fully justified in the opinion of the
Republican members of Congress.”[4] How fully they perceived
their danger had been shown in their attempt to drive Lincoln
into a corner on the issue of a new Cabinet.

Even before that, Lincoln had decided on his next move. As in
the emancipation policy he had driven a wedge between the
factions of the Republicans, so now he would drive a wedge into
the organization of the Democrats. It had two parts which had
little to hold them together except their rooted partisan
habit.[5] One branch, soon to receive the label “Copperhead,”
accepted the secession principle and sympathized with the
Confederacy. The other, while rejecting secession and
supporting the war, denounced the emancipation policy as
usurped authority, and felt personal hostility to Lincoln. It
was the latter faction that Lincoln still hoped to win over.
Its most important member was Horatio Seymour, who in the
autumn of 1862 was elected governor of New York. Lincoln
decided to operate on him by one of those astounding moves
which to the selfless man seemed natural enough, by which the
ordinary politician was always hopelessly mystified. He called
in Thurlow Weed and authorized him to make this proposal: if
Seymour would bring his following into a composite Union party
with no platform but the vigorous prosecution of the war,
Lincoln would pledge all his influence to securing for Seymour
the presidential nomination in 1864. Weed delivered his
message. Seymour was noncommittal and Lincoln had to wait for
his answer until the new Governor should show his hand by his
official acts. Meanwhile a new crisis had developed in the
army. Burnside’s character appears to have been shattered by
his defeat. Previous to Fredericksburg, he had seemed to be a
generous, high-minded man. From Fredericksburg onward, he
became more and more an impossible. A reflection of McClellan
in his earlier stage, he was somehow transformed eventually
into a reflection of vindictivism. His later character began
to appear in his first conference with the Committee subsequent
to his disaster. They visited him on the field and “his
conversation disarmed all criticism.” This was because he
struck their own note to perfection. “Our soldiers,” he said,
“were not sufficiently fired by resentment, and he exhorted me
[Julian] if I could, to breathe into our people at home the
same spirit toward our enemies which inspired them toward us.”[6] What a transformation in McClellan’s disciple!

But the country was not won over so easily as the Committee.
There was loud and general disapproval and of course, the
habitual question, “Who next?” The publication by the Committee
of its insinuation that once more the stubborn President was
the real culprit did not stem the tide. Burnside himself made
his case steadily worse. His judgment, such as it was, had
collapsed. He seemed to be stubbornly bent on a virtual
repetition of his previous folly. Lincoln felt it necessary to
command him to make no forward move without consulting the

Burnside’s subordinates freely criticized their commander.
General Hooker was the most outspoken. It was known that a
movement was afoot–an intrigue, if you will-to disgrace
Burnside and elevate Hooker. Chafing under criticism and
restraint, Burnside completely lost his sense of propriety. On
the twenty-fourth of January, 1863, when Henry W. Raymond, the
powerful editor of the New York Times, was on a visit to the
camp, Burnside took him into his tent and read him an order
removing Hooker because of his unfitness “to hold a command in
a cause where so much moderation, forbearance, and unselfish
patriotism were required.” Raymond, aghast, inquired what he
would do if Hooker resisted, if he raised his troops in mutiny?
“He said he would Swing him before sundown if he attempted such
a thing.”

Raymond, though more than half in sympathy with Burnside, felt
that the situation was startling. He hurried off to
Washington. “I immediately,” he writes, “called upon Secretary
Chase and told him the whole story. He was greatly surprised
to hear such reports of Hooker, and said he had looked upon him
as the man best fitted to command the army of the Potomac. But
no man capable of so much and such unprincipled ambition was
fit for so great a trust, and he gave up all thought of him
henceforth. He wished me to go with him to his house and
accompany him and his daughter to the President’s levee. I did
so and found a great crowd surrounding President Lincoln. I
managed, however, to tell him in brief terms that I had been
with the army and that many things were occurring there which
he ought to know. I told him of the obstacles thrown in
Burnside’s way by his subordinates and especially General
Hooker’s habitual conversation. He put his hand on my shoulder
and said in my ear as if desirous of not being overheard, ‘That
is all true; Hooker talks badly; but the trouble is, he is
stronger with the country today than any other man.’ I ventured
to ask how long he would retain that strength if his real
conduct and character should be understood. ‘The country,’
said he, ‘would not believe it; they would say it was all a

Whether Chase did what he said he would do and ceased to be
Hooker’s advocate, may be questioned. Tradition preserves a
deal between the Secretary and the General–the Secretary to
urge his advancement, the General, if he reached his goal, to
content himself with military honors and to assist the
Secretary in succeeding to the Presidency. Hooker was a public
favorite. The dashing, handsome figure of “Fighting Joe”
captivated the popular imagination. The terrible Committee
were his friends. Military men thought him full of promise.
On the whole, Lincoln, who saw the wisdom of following up his
clash over the Cabinet by a concession to the Jacobins, was
willing to take his chances with Hooker.

His intimate advisers were not of the same mind. They knew
that there was much talk on the theme of a possible
dictator-not the constitutional dictator of Lincoln and
Stevens, but the old-fashioned dictator of historical melodrama.
Hooker was reported to have encouraged such talk. All this
greatly alarmed one of Lincoln’s most devoted henchmen–Lamon,
Marshal of the District of Columbia, who regarded himself as
personally responsible for Lincoln’s safety. “In conversation
with Mr. Lincoln,” says Lamon, “one night about the time
General Burnside was relieved, I was urging upon him the
necessity of looking well to the fact that there was a scheme
on foot to depose him, and to appoint a military dictator in
his stead. He laughed and said, ‘I think, for a man of
accredited courage, you are the most panicky person I ever
knew; you can see more dangers to me than all the other friends
I have. You are all the time exercised about somebody taking
my life; murdering me; and now you have discovered a new
danger; now you think the people of this great government are
likely to turn me out of office. I do not fear this from the
people any more than I fear assassination from an individual.
Now to show my appreciation of what my French friends would
call a coup d’etat, let me read you a letter I have written to
General Hooker whom I have just appointed to the command of the
army of the Potomac.”[9]

Few letters of Lincoln’s are better known, few reveal more
exactly the tone of his final period, than the remarkable
communication he addressed to Hooker two days after that
whispered talk with Raymond at the White House levee:

“General, I have placed you at the head of the army of the
Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear to me to
be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know
that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite
satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skilful
soldier, which of course I like. I also believe you do not mix
politics with your profession, in which you are right. You
have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an
indispensable quality. You are ambitious, which within
reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that
during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken
counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could,
in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most
meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard in
such a way as to believe it, of your recently Saying that both
the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course it
was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the
command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up
dictators. What I now ask you is military success, and I will
risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the
utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it
has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the
spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of
criticizing their commander and withholding confidence from
him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I
can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive
again, could get any good out of an army while such a Spirit
prevails in it; and now beware of rashness. Beware of
rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward
and give us victories.”[10]

The appointment of Hooker had the effect of quieting the
Committee for the time. Lincoln turned again to his political
scheme, but not until he had made another military appointment
from which at the moment no one could have guessed that trouble
would ever come. He gave to Burnside what might be called the
sinecure position of Commander of the Department of the Ohio
with headquarters at Cincinnati.[11]

During the early part of 1863 Lincoln’s political scheme
received a serious blow. Seymour ranked himself as an
irreconcilable enemy of the Administration. The anti-Lincoln
Republicans struck at the President in roundabout ways.
Heralding a new attack, the best man on the Committee, Julian,
ironically urged his associates in Congress to “rescue” the
President from his false friends–those mere Unionists who were
luring him away from the party that had elected him, enticing
him into a vague new party that should include Democrats.” It
was said that there were only two Lincoln men in the House.[12] Greeley was coquetting with Rosecrans, trying to induce him to
come forward as Republican presidential “timber.” The
Committee in April published an elaborate report which
portrayed the army of the Potomac as an army of heroes
tragically afflicted in the past by the incompetence of their
commanders. The Democrats continued their abuse of the

It was a moment of strained pause, everybody waiting upon
circumstance. And in Washington, every eye was turned
Southward. How soon would they glimpse the first messenger
from that glorious victory which “Fighting Joe” had promised
them. “The enemy is in my power,” said he, “and God Almighty
can not deprive me of them.”[13]

Something of the difference between Hooker and Lincoln, between
all the Vindictives and Lincoln, may be felt by turning from
these ribald words to that Fast Day Proclamation which this
strange statesman issued to his people, that anxious
spring,–that moment of trance as it were–when all things seemed
to tremble toward the last judgment:

“And whereas, it is the duty of nations as well as of men to
own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to
confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet
with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy
and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth announced in the
Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations
only are blessed whose God is the Lord:

“And insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like
individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in
this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of
civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment
inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end
of our national reformation as a whole people. We have been
the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have
been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We
have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has
ever grown; but we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the
gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and
enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in
the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were
produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too
self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and
preserving grace, too proud to pray to God that made us:

“It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended
Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency
and forgiveness.

“All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest
humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings. that
the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and
answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national
sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering
country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”[14]

Alas, for such men as Hooker! What seemed to him in his
vainglory beyond the reach of Omnipotence, was accomplished by
Lee and Jackson and a Confederate army at Chancellorsville.
Profound gloom fell upon Washington. Welles heard the terrible
news from Sumner who came into his room “and raising both hands
exclaimed, ‘Lost, lost, all is lost!'”[15]

The aftermath of Manassas was repeated. In the case of Pope,
no effort had been spared to save the friend of the Committee,
to find some one else on whom to load his incompetence. The
course was now repeated. Again, the Jacobins raised the cry,
“We are betrayed!” Again, the stir to injure the President.
Very strange are the ironies of history! At this critical
moment, Lincoln’s amiable mistake in sending Burnside to
Cincinnati demanded expiation. Along with the definite news of
Hooker’s overthrow, came the news that Burnside had seized the
Copperhead leader, Vallandigham, and had cast him into prison;
that a hubbub had ensued; that, as the saying goes, the woods
were burning in Ohio.

Vallandigham’s offense was a public speech of which no accurate
report survives. However, the fragments recorded by “plain
clothes” men in Burnside’s employ, when set in the perspective
of Vallandigham’s thinking as displayed in Congress, make its
tenor plain enough. it was an out-and-out Copperhead harangue.
If he was to be treated as hundreds of others had been, the
case against him was plain. But the Administration’s policy
toward agitators had gradually changed. There was not the same
fear of them that had existed two years before. Now the
tendency of the Administration was to ignore them.

The Cabinet regretted what Burnside had done. Nevertheless,
the Ministers felt that it would not do to repudiate him.
Lincoln took that view. He wrote to Burnside deploring his
action and sustaining his authority.1[6] And then, as a sort of
grim practical joke, he commuted Vallandigham’s sentence from
imprisonment to banishment. The agitator was sent across the
lines into the Confederacy.

Burnside had effectually played the marplot. Very little
chance now of an understanding between Lincoln and either wing
of the Democrats. The opportunity to make capital out of the
war powers was quite too good to be lost! Vallandigham was
nominated for governor by the Ohio Democrats. In all parts of
the country Democratic committees resolved in furious protest
against the dictator. And yet, on the whole, perhaps, the
incident played into Lincoln’s hands. At least, it silenced
the Jacobins. With the Democrats ringing the changes on the
former doctrine of the supple politicians, how certain that
their only course for the moment was to lie low. A time came,
to be sure, when they thought it safe to resume their own
creed; but that was not yet.

The hubbub over Vallandigham called forth two letters addressed
to protesting committees, that have their place among Lincoln’s
most important statements of political science. His argument
is based on the proposition which Browning developed a year
before. The core of it is:

“You ask in substance whether I really claim that I may
override all guaranteed rights of individuals on the plea of
conserving the public safety, whenever I may choose to say the
public safety requires it. This question, divested of the
phraseology calculated to represent me as struggling for an
arbitrary personal prerogative, is either simply a question who
shall decide, or an affirmation that no one shall decide, what
the public safety does require in cases of rebellion or

“The Constitution contemplates the question as likely to occur
for decision, but it does not expressly declare who is to
decide it. By necessary implication, when rebellion or
invasion comes, the decision is to be made from time to time;
and I think the man whom, for the time, the people have, under
the Constitution, made the Commander-in-chief of their army
and navy, is the man who holds the power and bears the
responsibility of making it. If he uses the power justly, the
same people will probably justify him; if he abuses it, he is
in their hands to be dealt with by all the modes they have
reserved to themselves in the Constitution.”[17]

Browning’s argument over again-the President can be brought to
book by a plebiscite, while Congress can not. But Lincoln did
not rest, as Browning did, on mere argument. The old-time jury
lawyer revived. He was doing more than arguing a theorem of
political science. He was on trial before the people, the
great mass, which he understood so well. He must reach their
imaginations and touch their hearts.

“Mr. Vallandigham avows his hostility to the war on the part of
the Union, and his arrest was made because he was laboring with
some effect, to prevent the raising of troops, to encourage
desertions from the army, and to leave the rebellion without an
adequate military force to sup-press it. He was not arrested
because he was damaging the political prospects of the
Administration or the personal interests of the Commanding
General, but because be was damaging the army, upon the
existence and vigor of which the life of the nation depends.
He was warring upon the military, and this gave the military
constitutional jurisdiction to lay hands upon him.

“I understand the meeting whose resolutions I am considering,
to be in favor of suppressing the rebellion by military
force-by armies. Long experience has shown that armies can not
be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe
penalty of death. The case requires, and the Law and the
Constitution sanction this punishment. Must I shoot a
simple-minded soldier boy who deserts while I must not touch a
hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?”[18]

Again, the ironical situation of the previous December; the
wrathful Jacobins, the most dangerous because the most sincere
enemies of the presidential dictatorship, silent, trapped,
biding their time. But the situation had for them a distinct
consolation. A hundred to one it had killed the hope of a
Lincoln-Democratic alliance.

However, the President would not give up the Democrats without
one last attempt to get round the Little Men. Again, he could
think of no mode of negotiation except the one he had vainly
attempted with Seymour. As earnest of his own good faith, he
would once more renounce his own prospect of a second term.
But since Seymour had failed him, who was there that could
serve his purpose? The popularity of McClellan among those
Democrats who were not Copperheads had grown with his
misfortunes. There had been a wide demand for his restoration
after Fredericksburg, and again after Chancellorsville.
Lincoln justified his reputation for political insight by
concluding that McClellan, among the Democrats, was the coming
man. Again Weed was called in. Again he became an ambassador
of renunciation. Apparently he carried a message to the effect
that if McClellan would join forces with the Administration,
Lincoln would support him for president a year later. But
McClellan was too inveterate a partisan. Perhaps he thought
that the future was his anyway.[19]

And so Lincoln’s persistent attempt to win over the Democrats
came to an end. The final sealing of their antagonism was
effected at a great Democratic rally in New York on the Fourth
of July. The day previous, a manifesto had been circulated
through the city beginning, “Freemen, awake! In everything,
and in most stupendous proportion, is this Administration
abominable!”[20] Seymour reaffirmed his position of out-and-out
partisan hostility to the Administration. Vallandigham’s
colleague, Pendleton of Ohio, formulated the Democratic
doctrine: that the Constitution was being violated by the
President’s assumption of war powers. His cry was, “The
Constitution as it is and the Union as it was.” He thundered
that “Congress can not, and no one else shall, interfere with
free speech.” The question was not whether we were to have
peace or war, but whether or not we were to have free
government; “if it be necessary to violate the Constitution in
order to carry on the war, the war ought instantly to be

Lincoln’s political program had ended apparently in a wreck.
But Fortune had not entirely deserted him. Hooker in a fit of
irritation had offered his resignation. Lincoln had accepted
it. Under a new commander, the army of the Potomac had moved
against Lee. The orators at the Fourth of July meeting had
read in the papers that same day Lincoln’s announcement of the
victory at Gettysburg.[22] Almost coincident with that
announcement was the surrender of Vicksburg. Difficult as was
the political problem ahead of him, the problem of finding some
other plan for unifying his support without participating in a
Vindictive Coalition, Lincoln’s mood was cheerful. On the
seventh of July he was serenaded. Serenades for the President
were a feature of war-time in Washington, and Lincoln utilized
the occasions to talk informally to the country. His remarks
on the seventh were not distinctive, except for their tone,
quietly, joyfully confident. His serene mood displayed itself
a week later in a note to Grant which is oddly characteristic.
Who else would have had the impulse to make this quaint little
confession? But what, for a general who could read between the
lines, could have been more delightful?[23]

“My dear General: I do not remember that you and I ever met
personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for
the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I
wish to say a word further. When you first reached the
vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally
did-march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with
the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith
except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the
Yazoo Pass expedition and the like could succeed. When you got
below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and the vicinity, I
thought you should go down the river and join General Banks,
and when you turned Northward, east of the Big Black, I feared
it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal
acknowledgment that you were right and I was wrong.

“Very truly,



Between March and December, 1863, Congress was not in session.
Its members were busy “taking the sense of the country” as they
would have said: “potting their ears to the ground,” as other
people would say. A startling tale the ground told them. it
was nothing less than that Lincoln was the popular hero; that
the people believed in him; that the politicians would do well
to shape their ways accordingly. When they reassembled, they
were in a sullen, disappointed frame of mind. They would have
liked to ignore the ground’s mandate; but being politicians,
they dared not.

What an ironical turn of events! Lincoln’s well-laid plan for
a coalition of Moderates and Democrats had come to nothing.
Logically, he ought now to be at the mercy of the Republican
leaders. But instead, those leaders were beginning to be
afraid of him, were perceiving that he had power whereof they
had not dreamed. Like Saul the son of Kish, who had set out to
find his father’s asses, he had found instead a kingdom. How
had he done it?

On a grand scale, it was the same sort of victory that had made
him a power, so long before, on the little stage at
Springfield. It was personal politics. His character had
saved him. A multitude who saw nothing in the fine drawn
constitutional issue of the war powers, who sensed the war in
the most simple and elementary way, had formed, somehow, a
compelling and stimulating idea of the President. They were
satisfied that “Old Abe,” or “Father Abraham,” was the man for
them. When, after one of his numerous calls for fresh troops,
their hearts went out to him, a new song sprang to life, a
ringing, vigorous, and yet a touching song with the refrain,
“We’re coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more.”

But how has he done it, asked the bewildered politicians, one
of another. How had he created this personal confidence?
They, Wade, Chandler, Stevens, Davis, could not do it; why
could he?

Well, for one thing, he was a grand reality. They, relatively,
were shadows. The wind of destiny for him was the convictions
arising out of his own soul; for them it was vox populi. The
genuineness of Lincoln, his spiritual reality, had been
perceived early by a class of men whom your true politician
seldom understands. The Intellectuals–“them literary
fellers,” in the famous words of an American Senator–were
quick to see that the President was an extraordinary man; they
were not long in concluding that he was a genius. The subtlest
intellect of the time, Hawthorne, all of whose prejudices were
enlisted against him, said in the Atlantic of July, 1863: “He
is evidently a man of keen faculties, and what is still more to
the purpose, of powerful character. As to his integrity, the
people have that intuition of it which is never deceived he has
a flexible mind capable of much expansion.” And this when
Trumbull chafed in spirit because the President was too “weak”
for his part and Wade railed at him as a despot. As far back
as 1860, Lowell, destined to become one of his ablest
defenders, had said that Lincoln had “proved both his ability
and his integrity; he . . . had experience enough in public
affairs to make him a statesman, and not enough to make him a
politician.” To be sure, there were some Intellectuals who
could not see straight nor think clear. The world would have
more confidence in the caliber of Bryant had he been able to
rank himself in the Lincoln following. But the greater part of
the best intelligence of the North could have subscribed to
Motley’s words, “My respect for the character of the President
increases every day.”[1] The impression he made on men of
original mind is shadowed in the words of Walt Whitman, who saw
him often in the streets of Washington: “None of the artists or
pictures have caught the subtle and indirect expression of this
man’s face. One -of the great portrait painters of two or
three centuries ago is needed.”[2]

Lincoln’s popular strength lay in a combination of the
Intellectuals and the plain people against the politicians.
He reached the masses in three ways: through his general
receptions which any one might attend; through the open-door
policy of his office, to which all the world was permitted
access; through his visits to the army. Many thousand men and
women, in one or another of these ways, met the President face
to face, often in the high susceptibility of intense woe, and
carried away an impression which was immediately circulated
among all their acquaintances.

It would be impossible to exaggerate the grotesque miscellany
of the stream of people flowing ever in and out of the
President’s open doors. Patriots eager to serve their country
but who could find no place in the conventional requirements of
the War Office; sharpers who wanted to inveigle him into the
traps of profiteers; widows with al their sons in service,
pleading for one to be exempted; other parents struggling with
the red tape that kept them from sons in hospitals; luxurious
frauds prating of their loyalty for the sake of property
exemptions; inventors with every imaginable strange device;
politicians seeking to cajole him; politicians bluntly
threatening him; cashiered officers demanding justice; men with
grievances of a myriad sorts; nameless statesmen who sought to
teach him his duty; clergymen in large numbers, generally with
the same purpose; deputations from churches, societies,
political organizations, commissions, trades unions, with every
sort of message from flattery to denunciation; and best of all,
simple, confiding people who wanted only to say, ‘We trust
you–God bless you!”

There was a method in this madness of accessibility. Its
deepest inspiration, to be sure, was kindness. in reply to a
protest that he would wear himself out listening to thousands
of requests most of which could not be granted, he replied with
one of those smiles in which there was so much sadness, “They
don’t want much; they get but little, and I must see them.”[3]

But there was another inspiration. His open doors enabled him
to study the American people, every phase of it, good and bad.
“Men moving only in an official circle,” said he, “are apt to
become merely official–not to say arbitrary–in their ideas, and
are apter and apter with each passing day to forget that they
only hold power in a representative capacity. . . . Many of
the matters brought to my notice are utterly frivolous, but
others are of more or less importance, and all serve to renew
in me a clearer and more vivid image of that great popular
assemblage out of which I sprung, and to which at the end of
two years I must return. . . . I call these receptions my
public opinion baths; for I have but little time to read the
papers, and gather public opinion that way; and though they may
not be pleasant in all their particulars, the effect as a
whole, is renovating and invigorating to my perceptions of
responsibility and duty.”[4]

He did not allow his patience to be abused with evil intent.
He read his suppliants swiftly. The profiteer, the shirk, the
fraud of any sort, was instantly unmasked. “I’ll have nothing
to do with this business,” he burst out after listening to a
gentlemanly profiteer; “nor with any man who comes to me with
such degrading propositions. What! Do you take the President
of the United States to be a commission broker? You have come
to the wrong place, and for you and for every one who comes for
the same purpose, there is the door.”[5]

Lincoln enjoyed this indiscriminate mixing with people. It was
his chief escape from care. He saw no reason why his friends
should Commiserate him because of the endless handshaking.
That was a small matter compared with the interest he took in
the ever various stream of human types. Sometimes, indeed, he
would lapse into a brown study in the midst of a reception.
Then he “would shake hands with thousands of people, seemingly
unconscious of what he was doing, murmuring monotonous
salutations as they went by, his eye dim, his thoughts far
withdrawn. . . Suddenly, he would see some familiar face–his
memory for faces was very good-and his eye would brighten and
his whole form grow attentive; he would greet the visitor with
a hearty grasp and a ringing word and dismiss him with a cheery
laugh that filled the Blue Room with infectious good nature.”[6] Carpenter, the portrait painter, who for a time saw him daily,
says that “his laugh stood by itself. The neigh of a wild
horse on his native prairie is not more undisguised and
hearty.” An intimate friend called it his “life preserver.”[7]

Lincoln’s sense of humor delighted in any detail of an event
which suggested comedy. His genial awkwardness amused himself
quite as much as it amused the world. At his third public
reception he wore a pair of white kid gloves that were too
small. An old friend approached. The President shook hands so
heartily that his glove burst with a popping sound. Holding up
his hand, Lincoln gazed at the ruined glove with a droll air
while the arrested procession came to a standstill. “Well, my
old friend,” said he, “this is a general bustification; you and
I were never intended to wear these things. If they were
stronger they might do to keep out the cold, but they are a
failure to shake hands with between old friends like us. Stand
aside, Captain, and I’ll see you shortly.”[8]

His complete freedom from pose, and from the sense of place,
was glimpsed by innumerable visitors. He would never allow a
friend to address him by a title. ‘Call me Lincoln,” he would
say; “Mr. President is entirely too formal for us.”[9]

In a mere politician, all this might have been questioned. But
Hawthorne was right as to the people’s intuition of Lincoln’s
honesty. He hated the parade of eminence. Jefferson was his
patron saint, and “simplicity” was part of his creed. Nothing
could induce him to surround himself with pomp, or even–as his
friends thought–with mere security. Rumors of plots against
his life were heard almost from the beginning. His friends
begged long and hard before he consented to permit a cavalry
guard at the gates of the White House. Very soon he
countermanded his consent. “It would never do,” said he, “for
a president to have guards with drawn sabers at his door, as if
he fancied he were, or were trying to be, or were assuming to
be, an emperor.”[10]

A military officer, alarmed for his safety, begged him to
consider “the fact that any assassin or maniac seeking his
life, could enter his presence without the interference of a
single armed man to hold him back. The entrance doors, and all
doors on the official side of the building, were open at all
hours of the day and very late into the evening; and I have
many times entered the mansion and walked up to the rooms of
the two private secretaries as late as nine or ten o’clock at
night, without Seeing, or being challenged by a single soul.”
But the officer pleaded in vain. Lincoln laughingly
paraphrased Charles II, “Now as to political assassination, do
you think the Richmond people would like to have Hannibal
Hamlin here any more than myself? . . . As to the crazy
folks, Major, why I must only take my chances-the most crazy
people at present, I fear, being some of my own too zealous
adherents.”[11] With Carpenter, to whom he seems to have taken a
liking, he would ramble the streets of Washington, late at
night, “without escort or even the company of a servant.”[12] Though Halleck talked him into accepting an escort when driving
to and fro between Washington and his summer residence at the
Soldiers’ Home, he would frequently give it the slip and make
the journey on horseback alone. in August of 1862 on one of
these solitary rides, his life was attempted. It was about
eleven at night; he was “jogging along at a slow gait immersed
in deep thought” when some one fired at him with a rifle from
near at hand. The ball missed its aim and the President’s
horse, as Lincoln confided to his familiars, “gave proof of
decided dissatisfaction at the racket, and with one reckless
bound, he unceremoniously separated me from my eight-dollar
plug hat . . . At break-neck speed we reached a haven of
safety. Meanwhile, I was left in doubt whether death was more
desirable from being thrown from a runaway Federal horse, or as
the tragic result of a rifle ball fired by a disloyal
bushwhacker in the middle of the night”[13]

While carrying his life in his hands in this oddly reckless
way, he belied himself, as events were to show, by telling his
friends that he fancied himself “a great coward physically,”
that he felt sure he would make a poor soldier. But he was
sufficiently just to himself to add, “Moral cowardice is
something which I think I never had.”[14]

Lincoln’s humor found expression in other ways besides telling
stories and laughing at himself. He seized every opportunity
to convert a petition into a joke, when this could be done
without causing pain. One day, there entered a great man with
a long list of favors which he hoped to have granted. Among
these was “the case of Betsy Ann Dougherty, a good woman,” said
the great man. “She lived in my county and did my washing for
a long time. Her husband went off and joined the Rebel army
and I wish you would give her a protection paper.” The pompous
gravity of the way the case was presented struck Lincoln as
very funny. His visitor had no humor. He failed to see jokes
while Lincoln quizzed him as to who and what was Betsy Ann. At
length the President wrote a line on a card and handed it to
the great man. “Tell Betsy Ann to put a string in this card
and hang it round her neck,” said he. “When the officers (who
may have doubted her affiliations) see this they will keep
their hands off your Betsy Ann.” On the card was written, “Let
Betsy Ann Dougherty alone as long as she behaves herself. A.

This eagerness for a joke now and then gave offense. On one
occasion, a noted Congressman called on the President shortly
after a disaster. Lincoln began to tell a story. The
Congressman jumped up. “Mr. President, I did not come here
this morning to hear stories. It is too serious a time.”
Lincoln’s face changed. “Ashley,” said he, “sit down! I
respect you as an earnest, sincere man. You can not be more
anxious than I have been constantly since the beginning of the
war; and I say to you now, that were it not for this occasional
vent, I should die.”[16] Again he said, “When the Peninsula
Campaign terminated suddenly at Harrison’s Landing, I was as
near inconsolable as I could be and live.”[17]

Lincoln’s imaginative power, the ineradicable artist in him,
made of things unseen true realities to his sensibility.
Reports of army suffering bowed his spirit. “This was
especially’ the case when the noble victims were of his own
acquaintance, or of the narrower circle of his familiar
friends; and then he seemed for the moment possessed of a sense
of personal responsibility for their individual fate which was
at once most unreasonable and most pitiful.” On hearing that
two sons of an old friend were desperately wounded and would
probably die, he broke out with: “Here, now, are these dear
brave boys killed in this cursed war. My God! My God! It is
too bad! They worked hard to earn money to educate themselves
and this is the end! I loved them as if they were my own.”[18] He
was one of the few who have ever written a beautiful letter of
condolence. Several of his letters attempting this all but
impossible task, come as near their mark as such things can.
One has become a classic:

“I have been shown,” he wrote to Mrs. Bixby, “in the files of
the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of
Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have
died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and
fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to
beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I
can not refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may
be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I
pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your
bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the
loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have
laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”[19]

All these innumerable instances of his sympathy passed from
mouth to mouth; became part of a floating propaganda that was
organizing the people in his support. To these were added many
anecdotes of his mercy. The American people had not learned
that war is a rigorous thing. Discipline in the army was often
hard to maintain. Impulsive young men who tired of army life,
or who quarreled with their officers, sometimes walked away.
There were many condemnations either for mutiny or desertion.
In the stream of suppliants pouring daily through the
President’s office, many were parents imploring mercy for rash
sons. As every death-warrant had to be signed by the
President, his generals were frequently enraged by his refusal
to carry out their decisions. “General,” said he to an angry
commander who charged him with destroying discipline, “there
are too many weeping widows in the United States now. -For
God’s sake don’t ask me to add to the number; for I tell you
plainly I won’t do it.”[20]

Here again, kindness was blended with statecraft, mercy with
shrewdness. The generals could not grasp the political side of
war. Lincoln tried to make them see it. When they could not,
he quietly in the last resort counteracted their influence.
When some of them talked of European experience, he shook his
head; it would not do; they must work with the tools they had;
first of all with an untrained people, intensely sensitive to
the value of human life, impulsive, quick to forget offenses,
ultra-considerate of youth and its rashness. Whatever else the
President did, he must not allow the country to think of the
army as an ogre devouring its sons because of technicalities.
The General saw only the discipline, the morale, of the
soldiers; the President saw the far more difficult, the more
roundabout matter, the discipline and the morale of the
citizens. The one believed that he could compel; the other
with his finger on the nation’s pulse, knew that he had to

However, this flowing army of the propaganda did not always
engage him on the tragic note. One day a large fleshy man, of
a stern but homely countenance and a solemn and dignified
carriage, immaculate dress–“swallow-tailed coat, ruffled
shirt of faultless fabric, white cravat and orange-colored
gloves”–entered with the throng. Looking at him Lincoln was
somewhat appalled. He expected some formidable demand. To his
relief, the imposing stranger delivered a brief harangue on the
President’s policy, closing with, “I have watched you narrowly
ever since your inauguration. . . . As one of your
constituents, I now say to you, do in future as you damn
please, and I will support you.” “Sit down, my friend,” said
Lincoln, “sit down. I am delighted to see you. Lunch with us
today. Yes, you must stay and lunch with us, my friend, for I
have not seen enough of you yet.”[21] There were many of these
informal ambassadors of the people assuring the President of
popular support. And this florid gentleman was not the only
one who lunched with the President on first acquaintance.

This casual way of inviting strangers to lunch with him was
typical of his mode of life, which was exceedingly simple. He
slept lightly and rose early. in summer when he used the
Soldiers’ Home as a residence, he was at his desk in the White
House at eight o’clock in the morning. His breakfast was an
egg and a cup of coffee; luncheon was rarely more than a glass
of milk and a biscuit with a plate of fruit in season; his
dinner at six o’clock, was always a light meal. Though he had
not continued a total abstainer, as in the early days at
Springfield, he very seldom drank wine. He never used tobacco.
So careless was he with regard to food that when Mrs. Lincoln
was away from home, there was little regularity in his meals.
He described his habits on such occasions as “browsing

Even when Mrs. Lincoln was in command at the White House, he
was not invariably dutiful. An amusing instance was observed
by some high officials. The luncheon hour arrived in the midst
of an important conference. Presently, a servant appeared
reminding Mr. Lincoln of the hour, but he took no notice.
Another summons, and again no notice. After a short interval,
the door of the office flew open and the titular “First Lady”
flounced into the room, a ruffled, angry little figure, her
eyes flashing. With deliberate quiet, as if in a dream,
Lincoln rose slowly, took her calmly, firmly by the shoulders,
lifted her, carried her through the doorway, set her down,
closed the door, and went on with the conference as if
unconscious of an interruption.[23] Mrs. Lincoln did not return.
The remainder of the incident is unknown.

The burden of many anecdotes that were included in the
propaganda was his kindness to children. It began with his
own. His little rascal “Tad,” after Willie’s death, was the
apple of his eye. The boy romped in and out of his office.
Many a time he was perched on his father’s knee while great
affairs of state were under discussion.[24] Lincoln could
persuade any child from the arms of its mother, nurse, or play
fellow, there being a “peculiar fascination in his voice and
manner which the little one could not resist.”[25]

All impressionable, imaginative young people, brought into
close association with him, appear to have felt his spell. His
private secretaries were his sworn henchmen. Hay’s diary rings
with admiration-the keen, discriminating, significant
admiration of your real observer. Hay refers to him by pet
name-“The Ancient,” “The Old Man,” “The Tycoon.” Lincoln’s
entire relation with these gifted youngsters may be typified by
one of Hay’s quaintest anecdotes. Lincoln had gone to bed, as
so often he did, with a book. “A little after midnight as I
was writing . the President came into the office laughing,
with a volume of Hood’s Works in his hand, to show Nicolay and
me the little caricature, ‘An Unfortunate Being’; seemingly
utterly unconscious that he, with his short shirt hanging about
his long legs, and setting out behind like the tail feathers of
an enormous ostrich, was infinitely funnier than anything in
the book he was laughing at. What a man it is! occupied all
day with matters of vast moment, deeply anxious about the fate
of the greatest army of the world, with his own plans and
future hanging on the events of the passing hour, he yet has
such a wealth of simple bonhomie and good fellowship that
he gets out of bed and perambulates the house in his shirt to
find us that we may share with him the fun of poor Hood’s queer
little conceits.”[26]

In midsummer, 1863, “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have
rarely seen him more serene and busy. He is managing this war,
the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of
the Union, all at once. I never knew with what a tyrannous
authority he rules the Cabinet, until now. The most important
things he decides and there is no cavil. I am growing more
convinced that the good of the country demands that he should
be kept where he is till this thing is over. There is no man
in the country so wise, so gentle, and so firm.”[27]

And again, “You may talk as you please of the Abolition Cabal
directing affairs from Washington; some well-meaning newspapers
advise the President to keep his fingers out of the military
pie, and all that sort of thing. The truth is, if he did, the
pie would be a sorry mess. The old man sits here and wields,
like a backwoods Jupiter, the bolts of war and the machinery of
government with a hand especially steady and equally firm. .
I do not know whether the nation is worthy of him for another
term. I know the people want him. There is no mistaking that
fact. But the politicians are strong yet, and he is not their
‘kind of a cat.’ I hope God won’t see fit to scourge us for our
sins by any of the two or three most prominent candidates on
the ground.”[28] This was the conclusion growing everywhere among
the bulk of the people. There is one more cause of it to be
reckoned with. Lincoln had not ceased to be the literary
statesman. in fact, he was that more effectively than ever.
His genius for fable-making took a new turn. Many a visitor
who came to find fault, went home to disseminate the apt fable
with which the President had silenced his objections and
captured his agreement. His skill in narration also served him
well. Carpenter repeats a story about An-drew Johnson and his
crude but stern religion which in mere print is not remarkable.
“I have elsewhere insinuated,” comments Carpenter, “that Mr.
Lincoln was capable of much dramatic power. . . . It was
shown in his keen appreciation of Shakespeare, and unrivaled
faculty of Storytelling. The incident just related, for
example, was given with a thrilling effect which mentally
placed Johnson, for the time being, alongside Luther and
Cromwell. Profanity or irreverence was lost sight of in a
fervid utterance of a highly wrought and great-souled
determination, united with a rare exhibition of pathos and

In formal literature, he had done great things upon a far
higher level than any of his writings previous to that sudden
change in his style in 1860. For one, there was the Fast Day
Proclamation. There was also a description of his country, of
the heritage of the nation, in the third message. Its aim was
to give imaginative reality to the national idea; just as the
second message had aimed to give argumentative reality.

“There is no line, straight or crooked, suitable for a national
boundary upon which to divide. Trace through from east to
west, upon the line between the free and the slave Country and
we shall find a little more than one-third of its length are
rivers, easy to be crossed, and populated, or soon to be
populated, thickly upon both sides; while nearly all its
remaining length are merely surveyors’ lines, over which people
may walk back and forth without any consciousness of their
presence. No part of this line can be made any more difficult
to pass by writing it down on paper or parchment as a national

“But there is another difficulty. The great interior region,
bounded east by the Alleghanies, north by the British
dominions, west by the Rocky Mountains, and south by the line
along which the culture of corn and cotton meets, and which
includes part of Virginia, part of Tennessee, all of Kentucky,
Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas,
Iowa, Minnesota, and the Territories of Dakota, Nebraska, and
part of Colorado, already has above ten millions of people, and
will have fifty millions within fifty years, if not prevented
by any political folly or mistake. It contains more than
one-third of the Country owned by the United States–certainly
more than one million square miles. Once half as populous as
Massachusetts already is, it would have more than seventy-five
millions of people. A glance at the map shows that,
territorially speaking, it is the great body of the republic.
The other parts are but marginal borders to it, the magnificent
region sloping west from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific
being the deepest and also the richest in undeveloped
resources. In the production of provisions, grains, grasses,
and all which proceed from them, this great interior region is
naturally one of the most important in the world. Ascertain
from the statistics the small proportion of the region which
has, as yet, been brought into cultivation, and also the large
and rapidly increasing amount of its products and we shall be
overwhelmed with the magnitude of the prospect presented; and
yet, this region has no seacoast, touches no ocean anywhere.
As part of one nation, its people now find, and may forever
find, their way to Europe by New York, to South America and
Africa by New Orleans, and to Asia by San Francisco. But
separate our common country into two nations as designed by the
present rebellion, and every man of this great interior region
is thereby cut off from some one or more of these outlets-not,
perhaps, by a physical barrier, but by embarrassing and onerous
trade regulations.

“And this is true wherever a dividing or boundary line may be
fixed. Place it between the now free and slave country, or
place it south of Kentucky or north of Ohio, and still the
truth remains that none south of it can trade to any port or
place north of it, and none north of it can trade to any port
or place south of it, except upon terms dictated by a
government foreign to them. These outlets east, west, and
south, are indispensable to the well-being of the people
inhabiting and to inhabit, this vast interior region. Which of
the three may be the best is no proper question. All are
better than either; and all of right belong to that people and
?o their Successors forever. True to themselves, they will not
ask where a line of separation shall be, but will vow rather
that there shall be no such line. Nor are the marginal regions
less interested in these communications to and through them to
the great outside world. They, too, and each of them, must
have access to this Egypt of the West without paying toll at
the crossing of any national boundary.

“Our national strife springs not from our permanent part, not
from the land we inhabit, not from our national homestead.
There is no possible severing of this but would multiply, and
not mitigate, evils among us. In all its adaptations and
aptitudes it demands union and abhors separation. In fact, it
would ere long, force reunion, however much of blood and
treasure the separation might have cost.”[30]

A third time he made a great literary stroke, gave utterance,
in yet another form, to his faith that the national idea was
the one constant issue for which he had asked his countrymen,
and would continue to ask them, to die. it was at Gettysburg,
November 19, 1863, in consecration of a military
burying-ground, that he delivered, perhaps, his greatest

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate–we can not
consecrate–we can not 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, for the
people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth.”[31]


Toward the end of 1863, Lowell prepared an essay on “The
President’s Policy.” It might almost be regarded as a manifesto
of the Intellectuals. That there was now a prospect of winning
the war “was mainly due to the good sense, the good humor, the
sagacity, the large- mindedness, and the unselfish honesty of
the unknown man whom a blind fortune, as it seemed, had lifted
from the crowd to the most dangerous and difficult eminence of
modern times.” When the essay appeared in print, Lincoln was
greatly pleased. He wrote to the editors of the North American
Review, “I am not the most impartial judge; yet with due
allowance for this, I venture to hope that the article entitled
‘The President’s Policy’ will be of value to the country. I
fear I am not quite worthy of all which is therein so kindly
said of me personally.”[1]

This very able defense of his previous course appeared as he
was announcing to the country his final course. He was now
satisfied that winning the war was but a question of time.
What would come after war was now in his mind the overshadowing
matter. He knew that the vindictive temper had lost nothing of
its violence. Chandler’s savagery–his belief that the
Southerners had forfeited the right to life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness–was still the Vindictive creed. ‘Vae
victi’! When war ended, they meant to set their feet on the
neck of the vanquished foe. Furthermore, Lincoln was not
deceived as to why they were lying low at this particular
minute. Ears had been flattened to the ground and they were
heeding what the ground had said. The President was too
popular for them to risk attacking him without an obvious
issue. Their former issue had been securely appropriated by
the Democrats. Where could they find another? With consummate
boldness Lincoln presented them an issue. It was
reconstruction. When Congress met, he communicated the text of
a “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction.”[2] This great
document on which all his concluding policy was based, offered
“a full pardon” with “restoration of all rights of property,
except as to slaves, or in property cases, where rights of
third persons shall have intervened” upon subscribing to an
oath of allegiance which required only a full acceptance of the
authority of the United States. This amnesty was to be
extended to all persons except a few groups, such as officers
above the rank of colonel and former officials of the United
States. The Proclamation also provided that whenever, in any
Seceded State, the new oath should be taken by ten per cent.
of all those who were qualified to vote under the laws of 1860,
these ten per cent. should be empowered to set up a new State

From the Vindictive point of view, here was a startling
announcement. Lincoln had declared for a degree of magnanimity
that was as a red rag to a bull. He had also carried to its
ultimate his assumption of war powers. No request was made for
congressional cooperation. The message which the Proclamation
accompanied was informative only.

By this time, the Vindictive Coalition of 1861 was gradually
coming together again. Or, more truly, perhaps, various of its
elements were fusing into a sort of descendant of the old
coalition. The leaders of the new Vindictive group were much
the same as the leaders of the earlier group. There was one
conspicuous addition. During the next six months, Henry Winter
Davis held for a time the questionable distinction of being
Lincoln’s most inveterate enemy. He was a member of the House.
In the House many young and headstrong politicians rallied
about him. The Democrats at times craftily followed his lead.
Despite the older and more astute Vindictives of the Senate,
Chandler, Wade and the rest who knew that their time had not
come, Davis, with his ardent followers, took up the President’s
challenge. Davis brought in a bill designed to complete the
reorganization of the old Vindictive Coalition. It appealed to
the enemies of presidential prerogative, to all those who
wanted the road to reconstruction made as hard as possible, and
to the Abolitionists. This bill, in so many words, transferred
the whole matter of reconstruction from the President to
Congress; it required a majority (instead of one-tenth)of all
the male citizens of a Seceded State as the basis of a new
government; it exacted of this -majority a pledge never to pay
any State debt contracted during the Confederacy, and also the
perpetual prohibition of slavery in their State constitution.

Davis got his bill through the House, but his allies in the
Senate laid it aside. They understood the country too -well
not to see that they must wait for something to happen. if the
President made any mistake, if anything went wrong with the
army-they remembered the spring of 1862, McClellan’s failure,
and how Chandler followed it up. And at this moment no man was
chafing more angrily because of what the ground was saying, no
man was watching the President more keenly, than Chandler.
History is said to repeat itself, and all things are supposed
to come to him who waits. While Davis’s bill was before the
House, Lincoln accepted battle with the Vindictives in a way
that was entirely unostentatious, but that burned his bridges.
He pressed forward the organization of a new State government
in Louisiana under Federal auspices. He wrote to Michael Hahn,
the newly chosen governor of this somewhat fictitious State: “I
congratulate you on having fixed your name in history as the
first Free State governor of Louisiana.”[3]

Meanwhile, the hotheads of the House again followed Davis’s
lead and flung defiance in Lincoln’s face. Napoleon, who had
all along coquetted alarmingly with the Confederates, had also
pushed ahead with his insolent conquest of Mexico. Lincoln and
Seward, determined to have but one war on their hands at a
time, had skilfully evaded committing themselves. The United
States had neither protested against the action of Napoleon,
nor in any way admitted its propriety. Other men besides the
Vindictives were biding their time. But here the hotheads
thought they saw an opportunity. Davis brought in a resolution
which amounted to a censure of the Administration for not
demanding the retirement of the French from Mexico. This was
one of those times when the Democrats played politics and
followed Davis. The motion was carried unanimously.[4] It was so
much of a sensation that the ‘American Minister at Paris,
calling on the Imperial Minister of Foreign Affairs, was met by
the curt question, “Do you bring peace or war?”

But it was not in the power of the House to draw Lincoln’s fire
until he chose to be drawn. He ignored its action. The
Imperial Government was informed that the acts of the House of
Representatives were not the acts of the President, and that in
relation to France, if the President should change his policy,
the imperial Government would be duly in formed.[5]

It was Lincoln’s fate to see his policy once again at the mercy
of his Commanding General. That was his situation in the
spring of 1862 when everything hung on McClellan who failed
him; again in the autumn of the year when McClellan so narrowly
saved him. The spring of 1864 paralleled, in this respect,
that other spring two years earlier. To be sure, Lincoln’s
position was now much stronger; he had a great personal
following on which he relied. But just how strong it was he
did not know. He was taking a great risk forcing a policy
high-handed in defiance of Congress, where all his bitterest
enemies were entrenched, glowering. If his General failed him

The man on whom this huge responsibility rested was Grant.
Lincoln had summoned him from the West and placed him at the
head of all the armies of the Republic. As to Halleck who had
long since proved himself perfectly useless, he was allowed to
lapse into obscurity.

Grant has preserved in his Memoirs his first confidential talk
with Lincoln: “He told me he did not want to know what I
proposed to do. But he submitted a plan of campaign of his own
that he wanted me to hear and then do as I pleased about. He
brought out a map of Virginia on which he had evidently marked
every position occupied by the Federal and Confederate armies
up to that time. He pointed out on the map two streams which
empty into the Potomac, and suggested that an army might be
moved on boats and landed between the mouths of those streams.
We would then have the Potomac to bring our supplies, and the
tributaries would protect our flanks while we moved out. I
listened respectfully, but did not suggest that the same
streams would protect Lee’s flanks while he was shutting us

Grant set out for the front in Virginia. Lincoln’s parting
words were this note: “Not expecting to see you again before
the spring campaign opens, I wish to express in this way my
entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so
far as I understand it. The particulars of your plans I
neither know nor seek to know. You are vigilant and
self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any
constraints or restraints upon you. While I am very anxious
that any great disaster or capture of our men in great numbers
shall be avoided, I know these points are less likely to escape
your attention than they would be mine. If there is anything
wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me
know it. And now,with a brave army and a just cause, may God
sustain you.”[7]


If the politicians needed a definite warning, in addition to
what the ground was saying, it was given by an incident that
centered upon Chase. A few bold men whose sense of the crowd
was not so acute as it might have been, attempted to work up a
Chase boom. At the instance of Senator Pomeroy, a secret paper
known to-day as the Pomeroy Circular, was started on its
travels. The Circular aimed to make Chase the Vindictive
candidate. Like all the other anti-Lincoln moves of the early
part of 1864, it was premature. The shrewd old Senators who
were silently marshaling the Vindictive forces, let it alone.

Chase’s ambition was fully understood at the White House.
During the previous year, his irritable self-consciousness had
led to quarrels with the President, generally over patronage,
and more than once he had offered his resignation. On one
occasion, Lincoln went to his house and begged him to
reconsider. Alone among the Cabinet, Chase had failed to take
the measure of Lincoln and still considered him a second-rate
person, much his inferior. He rated very high the services to
his country of the Secretary of the Treasury whom he considered
the logical successor to the Presidency.

Lincoln refused to see what Chase was after. “I have
determined,” he told Hay, “to shut my eyes as far as possible
to everything of the sort. Mr. Chase makes a good secretary
and I shall keep him where he is.”[1] In lighter vein, he said
that Chase’s presidential ambition was like a “chin fly”
pestering a horse; it led to his putting all the energy he had
into his work.[2]

When a copy of the Circular found its way to the White House,
Lincoln refused to read it.[3] Soon afterward it fell into the
hands of an unsympathetic or indiscreet editor and was printed.
There was a hubbub. Chase offered to resign. Lincoln wrote to
him in reply:

“My knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy’s letter having been made public
came to me only the day you wrote but I had, in Spite of
myself, known of its existence several days before. I have not
yet read it, and I think I shall not. I was not shocked or
surprised by the appearance of the letter because I had had
knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy’s committee, and of secret issues
which I supposed came from it, and of secret agents who I
supposed were sent out by it, for several weeks. I have known
just as little of these things as my friends have allowed me to
know. They bring the documents to me, but I do not read them;
they tell me what they think fit to tell me, but I do not
inquire for more. I fully concur with you that neither of us
can be justly held responsible for what our respective friends
may do without our instigation or countenance; and I assure
you, as you have assured me, that no assault has been made upon
you by my instigation or with my countenance. Whether you
shall remain at the head of the Treasury Department is a
question which I will not allow myself to consider from any
standpoint other than my judgment of the public service, and in
that view, I do not perceive occasion for a change.”[4] But this
was not the end of the incident. The country promptly
repudiated Chase. His own state led the way. A caucus of
Union members of the Ohio Legislature resolved that the people
and the soldiers of Ohio demanded the reelection of Lincoln.
In a host of similar resolutions, Legislative caucuses,
political conventions, dubs, societies, prominent individuals
not in the political machine, all ringingly declared for
Lincoln, the one proper candidate of the “Union party”-as the
movement was labeled in a last and relatively successful
attempt to break party lines.

As the date of the “Union Convention” approached, Lincoln put
aside an opportunity to gratify the Vindictives. Following the
Emancipation Proclamation, the recruiting offices had been
opened to negroes. Thereupon the Confederate government
threatened to treat black soldiers as brigands, and to refuse
to their white officers the protection of the laws of war. A
cry went up in the North for reprisal. It was not the first
time the cry had been raised. In 1862 Lincoln’s spokesman in
Congress, Browning, had withstood a proposal for the trial of
General Buckner by the civil authorities of Kentucky. Browning
opposed such a course on the ground that it would lead to a
policy of retaliation, and make of the war a gratification of
revenge.[5] The Confederate threat gave a new turn to the
discussion. Frederick Douglas, the most influential negro of
the time, obtained an audience with Lincoln and begged for
reprisals. Lincoln would not consent. So effective was his
argument that even the ardent negro, convinced that his race
was about to suffer persecution, was satisfied.

“I shall never forget,” Douglas wrote, “the benignant
expression of his face, the tearful look of his eye, the quiver
in his voice, when he deprecated a resort to retaliatory
measures. ‘Once begun,’ said he, ‘I do not know where such a
measure would stop.’ He said he could not take men out and kill
them in cold blood for what was done by others. If he could
get hold of the persons who were guilty of killing the colored
prisoners in cold blood, the case would be different, but he
could not kill the innocent for the guilty.”[6]

In April, 1864, the North was swept by a wild rumor of
deliberate massacre of prisoners at Fort Pillow. Here was an
opportunity for Lincoln to ingratiate himself with the
Vindictives. The President was to make a speech at a fair held
in Baltimore, for the benefit of the Sanitary Commission. The
audience was keen to hear him denounce the reputed massacre,
and eager to applaud a promise of reprisal. Instead, he
deprecated hasty judgment; insisting that the rumor had not
been verified; that nothing should be done on the strength of
mere report.

“It is a mistake to suppose the government is indifferent in
this matter, or is not doing the best it can in regard to it.
We do not to-day know that a colored soldier or white officer
commanding colored soldiers has been massacred by the Rebels
when made a prisoner. We fear it–believe it, I may say-but we
do not know it To take the life of one of their prisoners on
the assumption that they murder ours, when it is short of
certainty that they do murder ours, might be too serious, too
cruel a mistake.”[7]

What a tame, spiritless position in the eyes of the
Vindictives! A different opportunity to lay hold of public
opinion he made the most of. And yet, here also, he spoke in
that carefully guarded way, making sure he was not understood
to say more than he meant, which most politicians would have
pronounced over-scrupulous. A deputation of working men from
New York were received at the White House. “The honorary
membership in your association,” said he, “as generously
tendered, is gratefully accepted. . . . You comprehend, as
your address shows, that the existing rebellion means more, and
tends to more, than the perpetuation of African slavery-that it
is, in fact, a war upon the rights of all working people.”

After reviewing his own argument on this subject in the second
message, he concluded:

“The views then expressed now remain unchanged, nor have I much
to add. None are so deeply interested to resist the present
rebellion as the working people. Let them beware of
prejudices, working division and hostility among themselves.
The most notable feature of a disturbance in your city last
summer was the hanging of some working people by other working
people. It should never be so. The strongest bond of human
sympathy outside of the family relation, should be one uniting
all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.
Nor should this lead to a war upon property, or the owners of
property. Property is the fruit of labor; property is
desirable; is a positive good in the world. That some should
be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just
encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is
houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work
diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuming
that his own shall be safe from violence when built.”[8]

Lincoln was never more anxious than in this fateful spring when
so many issues were hanging in the balance. Nevertheless, in
all his relations with the world, his firm serenity was not
broken. Though subject to depression so deep that his
associates could not penetrate it, he kept it sternly to
himself.[9] He showed the world a lighter, more graceful aspect
than ever before. ‘A precious record of his later mood is the
account of him set down by Frank B. Carpenter, the portrait
painter, a man of note in his day, who was an inmate of the
White House during the first half of 1864. Carpenter was
painting a picture of the “Signing of the Emancipation
Proclamation.” He saw Lincoln informally at all sorts of odd
times, under all sorts of conditions. “All familiar with him,”
says Carpenter, “will remember the weary air which became
habitual during his last years. This was more of the mind than
of the body, and no rest and recreation which he allowed
himself could relieve it. As he sometimes expressed it, ‘no
remedy seemed ever to reach the tired spot.”[10]

A great shadow was darkening over him. He was more than ever
convinced that he had not long to live. None the less, his
poise became more conspicuous, his command over himself and
others more distinguished, as the months raced past. In truth
he had worked through a slow but profound transformation. The
Lincoln of 1864 was so far removed from the Lincoln of Pigeon
Creek-but logically, naturally removed, through the absorption
of the outer man by the inner–that inevitably one thinks of
Shakespeare’s change “into something rich and strange.”

Along with the weakness, the contradictions of his earlier
self, there had also fallen away from him the mere grossness
that had belonged to him as a peasant. Carpenter is
unconditional that in six months of close intimacy, seeing him
in company with all sorts of people, he never heard from
Lincoln an offensive story. He quotes Seward and Lincoln’s
family physician to the same effect.[11]

The painter, like many others, was impressed by the tragic cast
of his expression, despite the surface mirth.

“His complexion, at this time, was inclined to sallowness his
eyes were bluish gray in color–always in deep shadow, however,
from the upper lids which were unusually heavy (reminding me in
this respect of Stuart’s portrait of Washington) and the
expression was remarkably pensive and tender, often
inexpressibly sad, as if the reservoir of tears lay very near
the surface–a fact proved not only by the response which
accounts of suffering and sorrow invariably drew forth, but by
circumstances which would ordinarily affect few men in his
position.”[12] As a result of the great strain to which he was
subjected “his demeanor and disposition changed-so gradually
that it would be impossible to say when the change began. . .
. He continued always the same kindly, genial, and cordial
spirit he had been at first; but the boisterous laughter became
less frequent, year by year; the eye grew veiled by constant
meditation on momentous subjects; the air of reserve and
detachment from his surroundings increased. He aged with great

Every Saturday afternoon the Marine Band gave an open-air
concert in the grounds of the White House. One afternoon
Lincoln appeared upon the portico. There was instant applause
and cries for a speech. “Bowing his thanks and excusing
himself, he stepped back into the retirement of the circular
parlor, remarking (to Carpenter) with a disappointed air, as he
reclined on a sofa, ‘I wish they would let me sit there quietly
and enjoy the music.’His kindness to others was unfailing. it
was this harassed statesman who “came into the studio one day
and found (Carpenter’s) little boy of two summers playing on
the floor. A member of the Cabinet was with him; but laying
aside all restraint, he took the little fellow in his arms and
they were soon on the best of terms.” While his younger son
“Tad” was with his mother on a journey, Lincoln telegraphed:
“Tell Tad, father and the goats are well, especially the
goats.”[14] He found time one bright morning in May to review the
Sunday-school children of Washington who filed past “cheering
as if their very lives depended upon it,” while Lincoln stood
at a window “enjoying the scene… making pleasant remarks
about a face that now and then struck him.”[15] Carpenter told
him that no other president except Washington had placed
himself so securely in the hearts of the people. “Homely,
honest, ungainly Lincoln,” said Asa Gray, in a letter to
Darwin, “is the representative man of the country.”

However, two groups of men in his own party were sullenly
opposed to him–the relentless Vindictives and certain
irresponsible free lances who named themselves the “Radical
Democracy.” In the latter group, Fremont was the hero; Wendell
Phillips, the greatest advocate. They were extremists in all
things; many of them Agnostics. Furious against Lincoln, but
unwilling to go along with the waiting policy of the
Vindictives, these visionaries held a convention at Cleveland;
voted down a resolution that recognized God as an ally; and
nominated Fremont for the Presidency. A witty comment on the
movement–one that greatly amused Lincoln–was the citation of a
verse in first Samuel: “And every one that was in distress, and
every one that was in debt, and every one that was
discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a
captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred

If anything was needed to keep the dissatisfied Senators in the
party ranks, it was this rash “bolt.” Though Fremont had been
their man in the past, he had thrown the fat in the fire by
setting up an independent ticket. Silently, the wise
opportunists of the Senate and all their henchmen, stood aside
at the “Union convention”–which they called the Republican
Convention–June seventh, and took their medicine.

There was no doubt of the tempest of enthusiasm among the
majority of the delegates. It was a Lincoln ovation.

In responding the next day to a committee of congratulation,
Lincoln said: “I am not insensible at all to the personal
compliment there is in this, and yet I do not allow myself to
believe that any but a small portion of it is to be
appropriated as a personal compliment. . . . I do not allow
myself to suppose that either the Convention or the [National
Union] League have concluded to decide that I am the greatest
or best man in America, but rather they have concluded that it
is best not to swap horses while crossing the river, and have
further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might
not make a botch of it trying to swap.”[16]

Carpenter records another sort of congratulation a few days
later that brought out the graceful side of this man whom most
people still supposed to be hopelessly awkward. It happened on
a Saturday. Carpenter had invited friends to sit in his
painting room and oversee the crowd while listening to the
music. “Towards the close of the concert, the door suddenly
opened, and the President came in, as he was in the habit of
doing, alone. Mr. and Mrs. Cropsey had been presented to him
in the course of the morning; and as he came forward, half
hesitatingly, Mrs. C., who held a bunch of beautiful flowers in
her hand, tripped forward playfully, and said: ‘Allow me, Mr.
President, to present you with a bouquet!’ The situation was
momentarily embarrassing; and I was puzzled to know how ‘His
Excellency’ would get out of it. With no appearance of
discomposure, he stooped down, took the flowers, and, looking
from them into the sparkling eyes and radiant face of the lady,
said, with a gallantry I was unprepared for ‘Really, madam, if
you give them to me, and they are mine, I think I can not
possibly make so good use of them as to present them to you, in

In gaining the nomination, Lincoln had not, as yet, attained
security for his plans. Grant was still to be reckoned with.
By a curious irony, the significance of his struggle with Lee
during May, his steady advance by the left flank, had been
misapprehended in the North. Looking at the map, the country
saw that he was pushing southward, and again southward, on
Virginia soil. McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, with them it
had been:

“He who fights and runs away
May live to fight another day.”

But Grant kept on. He struck Lee in the furious battle of the
Wilderness, and moved to the left, farther south. “Victory!”
cried the Northern newspapers, “Lee isn’t able to stop him.”
The same delusion was repeated after Spottsylvania where the
soldiers, knowing more of war than did the newspapers, pinned
to their coats slips of paper bearing their names;
identification of the bodies might be difficult. The popular
mistake continued throughout that dreadful campaign. The
Convention was still under the delusion of victory.

Lincoln also appears to have stood firm until the last minute
in the common error. But the report of Grant’s losses, more
than the whole of Lee’s army, filled him with horror. During
these days, Carpenter had complete freedom of the President’s
office and “intently studied every line and shade of expression
in that furrowed face. In repose, it was the saddest face I
ever knew. There were days when I could scarcely look into it
without crying. During the first week of the battles of the
Wilderness he scarcely slept at all. Passing through the main
hall of the domestic apartment on one of these days, I met him,
clad in a long, morning wrapper, pacing back and forth a narrow
passage leading to one of the windows, his hands behind him,
great black rings under his eyes, his head bent forward upon
his breast- altogether such a picture of the effects of sorrow,
care, and anxiety as would have melted the hearts of the worst
of his adversaries, who so mistakenly applied to him the
epithets of tyrant and usurper.”[18]

Despite these sufferings, Lincoln had not the slightest thought
of giving way. Not in him any likeness to the
-sentimentalists, Greeley and all his crew, who were exultant
martyrs when things were going right, and shrieking pacifists
the moment anything went wrong. In one of the darkest moments
of the year, he made a brief address at a Sanitary Fair in

“Speaking of the present campaign,” said he, “General Grant is
reported to have said, ‘I am going to fight it out on this line
if it takes all summer.’ This war has taken three years; it was
begun or accepted upon the line of restoring the national
authority over the whole national domain, and for the American
people, as far as my knowledge enables me to speak, I say we
are going through on this line if it takes three years more.”[19] He made no attempt to affect Grant’s course. He had put him in
supreme command and would leave everything to his judgment.
And then came the colossal blunder at Cold Harbor. Grant stood
again where McClellan had stood two years before. He stood
there defeated. He could think of nothing to do but just what
McClellan had wanted to do–abandon the immediate enterprise,
make a great detour to the Southwest, and start a new campaign
on a different plan. Two years with all their terrible
disasters, and this was all that had come of it! Practically
no gain, and a death-roll that staggered the nation. A wail
went over the North. After all, was the war hopeless? Was Lee
invincible? Was the best of the Northern manhood perishing to
no result?

Greeley, perhaps the most hysterical man of genius America has
produced, made his paper the organ of the wail. He wrote
frantic appeals to the government to cease fighting, do what
could be done by negotiation, and if nothing could be done-at
least, stop “these rivers of human blood.”

The Vindictives saw their opportunity. They would capitalize
the wail. The President should be dealt with yet.


Now that the Vindictives had made up their minds to fight, an
occasion was at their hands. Virtually, they declared war on
the President by refusing to recognize a State government which
he had set up in Arkansas. Congress would not admit Senators
or Representatives from the Reconstructed State. But on this
issue, Lincoln was as resolute to fight to a finish as were any
of his detractors. He wrote to General Steele, commanding in

“I understand that Congress declines to admit to seats the
persons sent as Senators and Representatives from Arkansas.
These persons apprehend that, in consequence, you may not
support the new State government there as you otherwise would.
My wish is that you give that government and the people there
the same support and protection that you would if the members
had been admitted, because in no event, nor in any view of the
case, can this do harm, while it will be the best you can do
toward suppressing the rebellion.”[1]

The same day Chase resigned. The reason he assigned was,
again, the squabble over patronage. He had insisted on an
appointment of which the President disapproved. Exactly what
moved him may be questioned. Chase never gave his complete
confidence, not even to his diary. Whether he thought that the
Vindictives would now take him up as a rival of Lincoln,
continues doubtful. Many men were staggered by his action.
Crittenden, the Registrar of the Treasury, was thrown into a
panic. “Mr. President,” said he, “this is worse than another
Bull Run. Pray let me go to Secretary Chase and see if I can
not induce him to withdraw his resignation. Its acceptance now
might cause a financial panic.” But Lincoln was in a fighting
mood. “Chase thinks he has become indispensable to the
country,” he told Chittenden. “He also thinks he ought to be
President; he has no doubt whatever about that. He is an able
financier, a great statesman, and at the bottom a patriot . .
he is never perfectly happy unless he is thoroughly miserable
and able to make everybody else just as uncomfortable as he is
himself. . He is either determined to annoy me or that I
shall pat him on the shoulder and coax him to stay. I don’t
think I ought to do it. I will take him at his word.”[2]

He accepted the resignation in a note that was almost curt:
“Of all I have said in commendation of your ability and
fidelity, I have nothing to unsay; and yet you and I have
reached a point of mutual embarrassment in our official
relations which it seems can not be overcome or longer
sustained consistently with the public service.”[3]

The selection of a successor to Chase was no easy matter. The
Vindictives were the leaders of the moment. What if they
persuaded the Senate not to confirm Lincoln’s choice of
Secretary. “I never saw the President,” says Carpenter, “under
so much excitement as on the day following this event” On the
night of July first, Lincoln lay awake debating with himself
the merits of various candidates. At length, he selected his
man and immediately went to sleep.

“The next morning he went to his office and wrote the
nomination. John Hay, the assistant private secretary, had
taken it from the President on his way to the Capitol, when he
encountered Senator Fessenden upon the threshold of the room.
As chairman of the Finance Committee, he also had passed an
anxious night, and called this early to consult with the
President, and offer some suggestions. After a few moments’
conversation, Mr. Lincoln turned to him with a smile and said:
‘I am obliged to you, Fessenden, but the fact is, I have just
sent your own name to the Senate for Secretary of the Treasury.
Hay had just received the nomination from my hand as you
entered.’ Mr. Fessenden was taken completely by surprise, and,
very much agitated, protested his inability to accept the
position. The state of his health, he said, if no other
consideration, made it impossible. Mr. Lincoln would not
accept the refusal as final. He very justly felt that with Mr.
Fessenden’s experience and known ability at the head of the
Finance Committee, his acceptance would go far toward
reestablishing a feeling of security. He said to him, very
earnestly, ‘Fessenden, the Lord has not deserted me thus far,
and He is not going to now–you must accept!’

“They separated, the Senator in great anxiety of mind.
Throughout the day, Mr. Lincoln urged almost all who called to
go and see Mr. Fessenden, and press upon him the duty of
accepting. Among these, was a delegation of New York bankers,
who, in the name of the banking community, expressed their
satisfaction at the nomination. This was especially gratifying
to the President; and in the strongest manner, he entreated
them to ‘see Mr. Fessenden and assure him of their support.'”[4]

In justification of his choice, Lincoln said to Hay:–“Thinking
over the matter, two or three points occurred to me: first his
thorough acquaintance with the business; as chairman of the
Senate Committee of Finance, he knows as much of this special
subject as Mr. Chase; he possesses a national reputation and
the confidence of the country; he is a Radical without the
petulance and fretfulness of many radicals.”[5] In other words,
though he was not at heart one of them, he stood for the moment
so close to the Vindictives that they would not make an issue
on his confirmation.

Lincoln had scored a point in his game with the Vindictives.
But the point was of little value. The game’s real concern was
that Reconstruction Bill which was now before the Senate with
Wade as its particular sponsor. The great twin brethren of the
Vindictives were Wade and Chandler. Both were furious for the
passage of the bill. “The Executive,” said Wade angrily,
“ought not to be allowed to handle this great question of his
own liking.”

On the last day of the session, Lincoln was in the President’s
room at the Capitol Signing bills. The Reconstruction Bill,
duly passed by both Houses, was brought to him. Several
Senators, friends of the bill and deeply anxious, had come into
the President’s room hoping to see him affix his signature. To
their horror, he merely glanced at the bill and laid it aside.
Chandler, who was watching him, bluntly demanded what he meant
to do. “This bill,” said Lincoln, “has been placed before me a
few minutes before Congress adjourns. it is a matter of too
much importance to be swallowed in that way.”

“If it is vetoed,” said Chandler, whose anger was mounting, “it
will damage us fearfully in the Northwest. The important point
is that one prohibiting slavery in the Reconstructed States.”

“That is the point,” replied the President, “on which I doubt
the authority of Congress to act.”

“It is no more than you have done yourself,” retorted Chandler.

Lincoln turned to him and said quietly but with finality: “I
conceive that I may in an emergency do things on military
grounds which can not constitutionally be done by Congress.”

Chandler angrily left the room. To those who remained, Lincoln
added: “I do not see how any of us now can deny and contradict
what we have always said, that Congress has no constitutional
power over slavery in the States.”[6]

In a way, he was begging the question. The real issue was not
how a State should be constitutionally reconstructed, but
which, President or Congress, had a right to assume dictatorial
power. At last the true Vindictive issue, lured out of their
arms by the Democrats, had escaped like a bird from a snare and
was fluttering home. Here was the old issue of the war powers
in a new form that it was safe for them to press. And the
President had squarely defied them. it was civil war inside
the Union party. And for both sides, President and
Vindictives, there could now be nothing but rule or ruin.

In this crisis of factional politics, Lincoln was unmoved,
self-contained, lofty, deliberate. “If they (the Vindictives)
choose to make a point on this, I do not doubt that they can do
harm. They have never been friendly to me. At all events, I
must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right. I
must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.”


Lincoln had now reached his final stature. In contact with the
world his note was an inscrutable serenity. The jokes which he
continued to tell were but transitory glimmerings. They
crossed the surface of his mood like quick flickers of golden
light on a stormy March day,– witnesses that the sun would yet
prevail,–in a forest-among mountain shadows. Or, they were
lightning glimmers in a night sky; they revealed, they did not
dispel, the dark beyond. Over all his close associates his
personal ascendency was complete. Now that Chase was gone, the
last callous spot in the Cabinet had been amputated. Even
Stanton, once so domineering, so difficult to manage, had
become as clay in his hands.

But Lincoln never used power for its own sake, never abused his
ascendency. Always he got his end if he could without evoking
the note of command. He would go to surprising lengths to
avoid appearing peremptory. A typical remark was his smiling
reply to a Congressman whom he had armed with a note to the
Secretary, who had returned aghast, the Secretary having
refused to comply with the President’s request and having
decorated his refusal with extraordinary language.

“Did Stanton say I was a damned fool?” asked Lincoln. “Then I
dare say I must be one, for Stanton is generally right and he
always says what he means.”

Nevertheless, the time had come when Lincoln had only to say
the word and Stanton, no matter how fierce his temper might’
be, would acknowledge his master. General Fry, the Provost
Marshal, witnessed a scene between them which is a curious
commentary on the transformation of the Stanton of 1862.
Lincoln had issued an order relative to the disposition of
certain recruits. Stanton protested that it was unwarranted,
that he would not put it into effect. The Provost Marshal was
called in and asked to state at length all the facts involved.
When he had finished Stanton broke out excitedly–

“‘Now, Mr. President, those are the facts and you must see that
your order can not be executed.’

“Lincoln sat upon a sofa with his legs crossed and did not say
a word until the Secretary’s last remark. Then he said in a
somewhat positive tone, ‘Mr. Secretary, I reckon you’ll have to
execute the order.’

“Stanton replied with asperity, ‘Mr. President, I can not do
it. The order is an improper one, and I can not execute it.”

Lincoln fixed his eye upon Stanton, and in a firm voice with an
accent that clearly showed his determination, he said, ‘Mr.
Secretary, it will have to be done.'”[1]

At this point, General Fry discreetly left the room. A few
moments later, he received instructions from Stanton to execute
the President’s order.

In a public matter in the June of 1864 Lincoln gave a
demonstration of his original way of doing things. It
displayed his final serenity in such unexpected fashion that no
routine politician, no dealer in the catchwords of statecraft,
-could understand it. Since that grim joke, the deportation of
Vallandigham, the Copperhead leader had not had happy time.
The Confederacy did not want him. He had made his way to
Canada. Thence, in the spring of 1864 he served notice on his
country that he would perform a dramatic Part, play the role of
a willing martyr-in a word, come home and defy the government
to do its worst. He came. But Lincoln did nothing. The
American sense of humor did the rest. If Vallandigham had not
advertised a theatrical exploit, ignoring him might have been
dangerous. But Lincoln knew his people. When the show did not
come off, Vallandigham was transformed in an instant from a
martyr to an anticlimax. Though he went busily to work, though
he lived to attend the Democratic National Convention and to
write the resolution that was the heart of its platform, his
tale was told.

Turning from Vallandigham, partly in amusement, partly in
contempt, Lincoln grappled with the problem of reinforcing the
army. Since the Spring of 1863 the wastage of the army had
been replaced by conscription. But the system had not worked
well. it contained a fatal provision. A drafted man might
escape service by paying three hundred dollars. Both the
Secretary of War and the Provost Marshal had urged the
abolition of this detail. Lincoln had communicated their
arguments to Congress with his approval and a new law had been
drawn up accordingly. Nevertheless, late in June, the House
amended it by restoring the privilege of commuting service for
money.[2] Lincoln bestirred himself. The next day he called
together the Republican members of the House. “With a sad,
mysterious light in his melancholy eyes, as if they were
familiar with things hidden from mortals” he urged the
Congressmen to reconsider their action. The time of three
hundred eighty thousand soldiers would expire in October. He
must have half a million to take their places. A Congressman
objected that elections were approaching; that the rigorous law
he proposed would be intensely unpopular; that it might mean
the defeat, at the polls, of many Republican Representatives;
it might even mean the President’s defeat. He replied that he
had thought of all that.

“My election is not necessary; I must put down the rebellion; I
must have five hundred thousand more men.”[3]

He raised the timid politicians to his own level, inspired them
with new courage. Two days later a struggle began in the House
for carrying out Lincoln’s purpose. On the last day of the
session along with the offensive Reconstruction Bill, he
received the new Enrollment Act which provided that “no payment
of money shall be accepted or received by the Government as
commutation to release any enrolled or drafted man from
personal obligation to per-form military service.”

Against this inflexible determination to fight to a finish,
this indifference to the political consequences of his
determination, Lincoln beheld arising like a portentous
specter, a fury of pacifism. It found expression in Greeley.
Always the swift victim of his own affrighted hope, Greeley had
persuaded himself that both North and South had lost heart for
the war; that there was needed only a moving appeal, and they
would throw down their arms and the millennium would come.
Furthermore, on the flimsiest sort of evidence, he had fallen
into a trap designed to place the Northern government in the
attitude of suing for peace. He wrote to Lincoln demanding
that he send an agent to confer with certain Confederate
officials who were reported to be then in Canada; he also
suggested terms of peace.[4] Greeley’s terms were entirely
acceptable to Lincoln; but he had no faith in the Canadian
mare’s nest. However, he decided to give Greeley the utmost
benefit of the doubt, and also to teach him a lesson. He
commissioned Greeley himself to proceed to Canada, there to
discover “if there is or is not anything in the affair.” He
wrote to him, “I not only intend a sincere effort for peace,
but I intend that you shall be a personal witness that it is

Greeley, who did not want to have any responsibility for
anything that might ensue, whose joy was to storm and to find
fault, accepted the duty he could not well refuse, and set out
in a bad humor.

Meanwhile two other men had conceived an undertaking somewhat
analogous but in a temper widely different. These were Colonel
Jaquess, a clergyman turned soldier, a man of high simplicity
of character, and J. R. Gilmore, a writer, known by the pen
name of Edmund Kirke. Jaquess had told Gilmore of information
he had received from friends in the Confederacy; he was
convinced that nothing would induce the Confederate government
to consider any terms of peace that embraced reunion, whether
with or without emancipation. “It at once occurred to me,”
says Gilmore, “that if this declaration could be got in such a
manner that it could be given to the public, it would, if
scattered broadcast over the North, destroy the peace-party and
reelect Mr. Lincoln.” Gilmore went to Washington and obtained
an interview with the President. He assured him–and he was a
newspaper correspondent whose experience was worth
considering–that the new pacifism, the incipient “peace party,”
was schooling the country in the belief that an offer of
liberal terms would be followed by a Southern surrender. The
masses wanted peace on any terms that would preserve the Union;
and the Democrats were going to tell them in the next election
that Lincoln could save the Union by negotiation, if he would.
Unless the popular mind were disabused of this fictitious hope,
the Democrats would prevail and the Union would collapse. But
if an offer to negotiate should be made, and if “Davis should
refuse to negotiate–as he probably would, except on the basis
of Southern independence–that fact alone would reunite the
North, reelect Lincoln, and thus save the Union.”[6]

“Then,” said Lincoln, “you would fight the devil with fire.
You would get that declaration from Davis and use it against

Gilmore defended himself by proposing to offer extremely
liberal terms. There was a pause in the conversation. Lincoln
who was seated at his desk “leaned slightly forward looking
directly into (Gilmore’s) eyes, but with an absent, far-away
gaze as if unconscious of (his) presence.” Suddenly, relapsing
into his usual badinage, he said, “God selects His own
instruments and some times they are queer ones: for instance,
He chose me to see the ship of state through a great crisis.”[7] He went on to say that Gilmore and Jaquess might be the very
men to serve a great purpose at this moment. Gilmore knew the
world; and anybody could see at a glance that Jaquess never
told anything that wasn’t true. If they would go to Richmond
on their own responsibility, make it plain to President Davis
that they were not official agents, even taking the chance of
arrest and imprisonment, they might go. This condition was
accepted. Lincoln went on to say that no advantage should be
taken of Mr. Davis; that nothing should be proposed which if
accepted would not be made good. After considerable further
discussion he drew up a memorandum of the terms upon which he
would consent to peace. There were seven items:

1. The immediate dissolution of the armies.

2. The abolition of slavery.

3. A general amnesty.

4. The Seceded States to resume their functions as states in
the Union as if no secession had taken place.

5. Four hundred million dollars to be appropriated by Congress
as compensation for loss of slave property; no slaveholder,
however, to receive more than one-half the former value of his

6. A national convention to be called for readjustment of all
other difficulties.

7. It to be understood that the purpose of negotiation was a
full restoration of the Union as of old.[8]

Gilmore and Jaquess might say to Davis that they had private
but sure knowledge that the President of the United States
would agree to peace on these terms. Thus provided, they set

Lincoln’s thoughts were speedily claimed by an event which had
no Suggestion of peace. At no time since Jackson threw the
government into a panic in the spring of 1862, had Washington
been in danger of capture. Now, briefly, it appeared to be at
the mercy of General Early. in the last act of a daring raid
above the Potomac, he came sweeping down on Washington from the
North. As Grant was now the active commander-in-chief,
responsible for all the Northern armies, Lincoln with a
fatalistic calm made no move to take the capital out of his
hands. When Early was known to be headed toward Washington,
Lincoln drove out as usual to spend the night at the Soldiers’
Home beyond the fortifications. Stanton, in whom there was a
reminiscence at least of the hysterical Secretary of 1862, sent
after him post haste and insisted on his returning. The next
day, the eleventh of July, 1864, Washington was invested by the
Confederate forces. There was sharp firing in front of several
forts. Lincoln–and for that matter, Mrs. Lincoln also–made a
tour of the defenses. While Fort Stevens was under fire, he
stood on the parapet, “apparently unconscious of danger,
watching with that grave and passive countenance the progress
of the fight, amid the whizzing bullets of the sharp shooters,
until an officer fell mortally wounded within three feet of
him, and General Wright peremptorily represented to him the
needless risk he was running.” Hay recorded in his diary “the
President in good feather this evening . . . not concerned
about Washington’s safety . . . only thought, can we bag or
destroy the force in our front.'” He was much disappointed when
Early eluded the forces which Grant hurried to the Capitol.
Mrs. Lincoln was outspoken to the same effect. The doughty
little lady had also been under fire, her temper being every
whit as bold as her husband’s. When Stanton with a monumental
playfulness proposed to have her portrait painted in a
commanding attitude on the parapet of Fort Stevens, she gave
him the freedom of her tongue, because of the inadequacy of his

This incident had its aftermath. A country-place belonging to
the Postmaster General had been laid waste. its owner thought
that the responsibility for permitting Early to come so near to
Washington fell chiefly on General Halleck. He made some sharp
criticisms which became public the General flew into a rage and
wrote to the Secretary of War: “The Postmaster General ought to
be dismissed by the President from the Cabinet.” Stanton handed
his letter to the President, from whom the next day the General
received this note: “Whether the remarks were made I do not
know, nor do I suppose such knowledge is necessary to a correct
response. if they were made, I do not approve them; and yet,
under the circumstances, I would not dismiss a member of the
Cabinet therefor. I do not consider what may have been hastily
said in a moment of vexation at so severe a loss is sufficient
ground for so grave a step. Besides this, truth is generally
the best vindication against slander. I propose continuing to
be myself the judge as to when a member of the Cabinet shall be
dismissed.” Lincoln spoke of the affair at his next conference
with his Ministers. “I must, myself, be the judge,” said he,
“how long to retain in and when to remove any of you from his
position. It would greatly pain me to discover any of you
endeavoring to procure another’s removal, or in any way to
prejudice him before the public. Such an endeavor would be a
wrong to me, and much worse, a wrong to the country. My wish
is that on this subject no remark be made nor question asked by
any of you, here or elsewhere, now or hereafter.”[10]

Not yet had anything resulted either from the Canadian mission
of Greeley, or from the Richmond adventure of Gilmore and
Jaquess. There was a singular ominous pause in events.
Lincoln could not be blind to the storm signals that had
attended the close of Congress. What were the Vindictives
about? As yet they had made no Sign. But it was incredible
that they could pass over his defiance without a return blow.
When would it come? What would it be?

He spent his nights at the Soldiers’ Home. As a rule, his
family were with him. Sometimes, however, Mrs. Lincoln and his
sons would be absent and his only companion was one of the
ardent young secretaries. Then he would indulge in reading
Shakespeare aloud, it might be with such forgetfulness of time
that only the nodding of the tired young head recalled him to
himself and brought the reading to an end. A visitor has left
this charming picture of Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home in the
sad sweetness of a summer night:

“The Soldiers’ Home is a few miles out of Washington on the
Maryland side. It is situated on a beautiful wooded hill,
which you ascend by a winding path, shaded on both sides by
wide-spread branches, forming a green arcade above you. When
you reach the top you stand between two mansions, large,
handsome and substantial, but with nothing about them to
indicate the character of either. That on the left is the
Presidential country house; that directly before you, is the
‘Rest,’ for soldiers who are too old for further service . .
. in the graveyard near at hand there are numberless
graves–some without a spear of grass to hide their newness–that
hold the bodies of volunteers.

“While we stood in the soft evening air, watching the faint
trembling of the long tendrils of waving willow, and feeling
the dewy coolness that was flung out by the old oaks above us,
Mr. Lincoln joined us, and stood silent, too, taking in the

“‘How sleep the brave who sink to rest,
By all their country’s
wishes blest,” he said, softly. . .

“Around the ‘Home’ grows every variety of tree, particularly of
the evergreen class. Their branches brushed into the carriage
as we passed along, and left us with that pleasant woody smell
belonging to leaves. One of the ladies, catching a bit of
green from one of these intruding branches, said it was cedar,
and another thought it spruce.

“‘Let me discourse on a theme I understand,’ said the
President. ‘I know all about trees in right of being a
backwoodsman. I’ll show you the difference between spruce,
pine and cedar, and this shred of green, which is neither one
nor the other, but a kind of illegitimate cypress. He then
proceeded to gather specimens of each, and explain the
distinctive formation of foliage belonging to each.”[11]

Those summer nights of July, 1864, had many secrets which the
tired President musing in the shadows of the giant trees or
finding solace with the greatest of earthly minds would have
given much to know. How were Gilmore and Jaquess faring? What
was really afoot in Canada? And that unnatural silence of the
Vindictives, what did that mean? And the two great armies,
Grant’s in Virginia, Sherman’s in Georgia, was there never to
be stirring news of either of these? The hush of the moment,
the atmosphere of suspense that seemed to envelop him, it was
just what had always for his imagination had such strange charm
in the stories of fated men. He turned again to Macbeth, or to
Richard II, or to Hamlet. Shakespeare, too, understood these
mysterious pauses–who better!

The sense of the impending was strengthened by the alarms of
some of his best friends. They besought him to abandon his
avowed purpose to call for a draft of half a million under the
new Enrollment Act. Many voices joined the one chorus: the
country is on the verge of despair; you will wreck the cause by
demanding another colossal sacrifice. But he would not listen.
When, in desperation, they struck precisely the wrong note, and
hinted at the ruin of his political prospects, he had his calm
reply: “it matters not what becomes of me. We must have men.
if I go down, I intend to go like the Cumberland, with my
colors flying.”[12]

Thus the days passed until the eighteenth of July. Meanwhile
the irresponsible Greeley had made a sad mess of his Canadian
adventure. Though Lincoln had given him definite instructions,
requiring him to negotiate only with agents who could produce
written authority from Davis, and who would treat on the basis
of restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, Greeley
ignored both these unconditional requirements.[13] He had found
the Confederate agents at Niagara. They had no credentials.
Nevertheless, he invited them to come to Washington and open
negotiations. Of the President’s two conditions, he said not a
word. This was just what the agents wanted. It could easily
be twisted into the semblance of an attempt by Lincoln to sue
for peace. They accepted the invitation. Greeley telegraphed
to Lincoln reporting what he had done. Of course, it was plain
that he had misrepresented Lincoln; that he had far exceeded
his authority; and that his perverse unfaithfulness must be
repudiated. On July eighteenth, Hay set out for Niagara with
this paper in Lincoln’s handwriting.[14]

“To whom it may concern: Any proposition which embraces the
restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the
abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an
authority that can control the armies now at war against the
United States, will be received and considered by the executive
government of the United States, and will be met by liberal
terms on other substantial and collateral points and the bearer
or bearers thereof shall have, safe conduct both ways. ABRAHAM

This was the end of the negotiation. The agents could not
accept these terms. Immediately, they published a version of
what had happened: they had been invited to come to Washington;
subsequently, conditions had been imposed which made it
impossible for them to accept Was not the conclusion plain?
The Washington government was trying to open negotiations but
it was also in the fear of its own supporters playing craftily
a double game. These astute diplomats saw that there was a
psychological crisis in the North. By adding to the confusion
of the hour they had well served their cause. Greeley’s fiasco
was susceptible of a double interpretation. To the pacifists
it meant that the government, whatever may have been intended
at the start, had ended by setting impossible conditions of
peace. To the supporters of the war, it meant that whatever
were the last thoughts of the government, it had for a time
contemplated peace without any conditions at all. Lincoln was
severely condemned, Greeley was ridiculed, by both groups of
interpreters. Why did not Greeley come out bravely and tell
the truth? Why did he not confess that he had suppressed
Lincoln’s first set of instructions; that it was he, on his own
responsibility, who had led the Confederate agents astray; that
he, not Lincoln was solely to blame for the false impression
that was now being used so adroitly to injure the President?
Lincoln proposed to publish their correspondence, but made a
condition that was characteristic. Greeley’s letters rang with
cries of despair. He was by far the most influential Northern
editor. Lincoln asked him to strike out these hopeless
passages. Greeley refused. The correspondence must be
published entire or not at all. Lincoln suppressed it. He let
the blame of himself go on; and he said nothing in

He took some consolation in a “card” that appeared in the
Boston Transcript, July 22. it gave a brief account of the
adventure of Gilmore and Jaquess, and stated the answer given
to them by the President of the Confederacy. That answer, as
restated by the Confederate Secretary of State, was: “he had no
authority to receive proposals for negotiations except by
virtue of his office as President of an independent Confederacy
and on this basis alone must proposals be made to him.”[16]

There was another circumstance that may well have been
Lincoln’s consolation in this tangle of cross-purposes. Only
boldness could extricate him from the mesh of his difficulties.
The mesh was destined to grow more and more of a snare; his
boldness was to grow with his danger. He struck the note that
was to rule his conduct thereafter, when, on the day he sent
the final instructions to Greeley, in defiance of his timid
advisers, he issued a proclamation calling for a new draft of
half a million men.[17]


Though the Vindictives kept a stealthy silence during July,
they were sharpening their claws and preparing for a tiger
spring whenever the psychological moment should arrive. Those
two who had had charge of the Reconstruction Bill prepared a
paper, in some ways the most singular paper of the war period,
which has established itself in our history as the Wade-Davis
Manifesto. This was to be the deadly shot that should unmask
the Vindictive batteries, bring their war upon the President
out of the shadows into the open.

Greeley’s fiasco and Greeley’s mortification both played into
their hands. The fiasco contributed to depress still more the
despairing North. By this time, there was general appreciation
of the immensity of Grant’s failure, not only at Cold Harbor,
but in the subsequent slaughter of the futile assault upon
Petersburg. We have the word of a member of the Committee that
the despair over Grant translated itself into blame of the
Administration.[1] The Draft Proclamation; the swiftly traveling
report that the government had wilfully brought the peace
negotiations to a stand-still; the continued cry that the war
was hopeless; all these produced, about the first of August, an
emotional crisis–just the sort of occasion for which Lincoln’s
enemies were waiting.

Then, too, there was Greeley’s mortification. The
Administration papers made him a target for sarcasm. The Times
set the pace with scornful demands for “No more back door
diplomacy.”[2] Greeley answered in a rage. He permitted himself
to imply that the President originated the Niagara negotiation
and that Greeley “reluctantly” became a party to it. That
“reluctantly” was the truth, in a sense, but how falsely true!
Wade and Davis had him where they wanted him. On the fifth of
August, The Tribune printed their manifesto. It was an appeal
to “the supporters of the Administration . . . to check the
encroachment of the Executive on the authority of Congress, and
to require it to confine itself to its proper sphere.” It
insinuated the basest motives for the President’s interest in
reconstruction, and for rejecting their own bill. “The
President by preventing this bill from becoming a law, holds
the electoral votes of the Rebel States at the dictation of his
personal ambition. . . . If electors for President be
allowed to be chosen in either of those States, a sinister
light will be cast on the motives which induced the President
to ‘hold for naught’ the will of Congress rather than his
government in Louisiana and Arkansas.”

After a long discussion of his whole course with regard to
reconstruction, having heaped abuse upon him with shocking
liberality, the Manifesto concluded:

“Such are the fruits of this rash and fatal act of the
President–a blow at the friends of the Administration, at the
rights of humanity, and at the principles of Republican
government The President has greatly presumed on the
forbearance which the supporters of his Administration have so
long practised in view of the arduous conflict in which we are
engaged, and the reckless ferocity of our political opponents.
But he must understand that our support is of a ’cause’ and not
of a man; that the authority of Congress is paramount and must
be respected; that the whole body of the Union men in Congress
will not submit to be impeached by him of rash and
unconstitutional legislation; and if he wishes our support he
must confine him-self to his executive duties–to obey and
execute, not make the laws–to suppress by arms, armed
rebellion, and leave political reorganization to Congress. If
the supporters of the government fail to insist on this they
become responsible for the usurpations they fail to rebuke and
are justly liable to the indignation of the people whose rights
and security, committed to their keeping, they sacrifice. Let
them consider the remedy of these usurpations, and, having
found it, fearlessly execute it”

To these incredible charges, Lincoln made no reply. He knew,
what some statesmen never appear to know, the times when one
should risk all upon that French proverb, “who excuses,
accuses.” However, he made his futile attempt to bring Greeley
to reason, to induce him to tell the truth about Niagara
without confessing to the country the full measure of the
despair that had inspired his course. When Greeley refused to
do so, Lincoln turned to other matters, to preparation for the
draft, and grimly left the politicians to do their worst. They
went about it with zest. Their reliance was chiefly their
power to infect the type of party man who is easily swept from
his moorings by the cry that the party is in danger, that
sacrifices must be made to preserve the party unity, that
otherwise the party will go to pieces. By the middle of
August, six weeks after Lincoln’s defiance of them on the
fourth of July, they were in high feather, convinced that most
things were coming their way. American politicians have not
always shown an ability to read clearly the American people.
Whether the politicians were in error on August 14, 1864, and
again on August twenty-third, two dates that were turning
points, is a matter of debate to this day. As to August
fourteenth, they have this, at least, in their defense. The
country had no political observer more keen than the Scotch
free lance who edited The New York Herald. It was Bennett’s
editorial view that Lincoln would do well to make a virtue of
necessity and withdraw his candidacy because “the
dissatisfaction which had long been felt by the great body of
American citizens has spread even to his own supporters.”[3] Confident that a great reaction against Lincoln was sweeping
the country, that the Manifesto had been launched in the very
nick of time, a meeting of conspirators was held in New York,
at the house of David Dudley Field, August fourteenth. Though
Wade was now at his home in Ohio, Davis was present. So was
Greeley. It was decided to ask Lincoln to withdraw. Four days
afterward, a “call” was drawn up and sent out confidentially
near and far to be signed by prominent politicians. The “call”
was craftily worded. It summoned a new Union Convention to
meet in Cincinnati, September twenty-eighth, for the purpose
either of rousing the party to whole-hearted support of
Lincoln, or of uniting all factions on some new candidate.
Greeley who could not attend the committee which drew up the
“call” wrote that “Lincoln is already beaten.”[4]

Meanwhile, the infection of dismay had spread fast among the
Lincoln managers. Even before the meeting of the conspirators
on the fourteenth, Weed told the President that he could not be

One of his bravest supporters, Washburne, came to the dismal
conclusion that “were an election to be held now in Illinois,
we should be beaten.” Cameron, who had returned from Russia and
was working hard for Lincoln in Pennsylvania, was equally
discouraging. So was Governor Morton in Indiana. From all his
“stanchest friends,” wrote his chief manager to Lincoln, “there
was but one report. The tide is setting strongly against us.”[6]

Lincoln’s managers believed that the great host of free voters
who are the balance of power in American politics, were going
in a drove toward the camp of the Democrats. It was the
business of the managers to determine which one, or which ones,
among the voices of discontent, represented truly this
controlling body of voters. They thought they knew. Two
cries, at least, that rang loud out of the Babel of the hour,
should be heeded. One of these harked back to Niagara. In the
anxious ears of the managers it dinned this charge: “the
Administration prevented negotiations for peace by tying
together two demands, the Union must be restored and slavery
must be abolished; if Lincoln had left out slavery, he could
have had peace in a restored Union.” It was ridiculous, as
every one who had not gone off his head knew. But so many had
gone off their heads. And some of Lincoln’s friends were
meeting this cry in a way that was raising up other enemies of
a different sort. Even so faithful a friend as Raymond, editor
of The Times and Chairman of the Republican National Executive
Committee, labored hard in print to prove that because Lincoln
said he “would consider terms that embraced the integrity of
the Union and the abandonment of slavery, he did not say that
he would not receive them unless they embraced both these
conditions.”[7] What would Sumner and all the Abolitionists say
to that? As party strategy, in the moment when the old
Vindictive Coalition seemed on the highroad to complete
revival, was that exactly the tune to sing? Then too there was
the other cry that also made a fearful ringing in the ears of
the much alarmed Executive Committee. There was wild talk in
the air of an armistice. The hysteric Greeley had put it into
a personal letter to Lincoln. “I know that nine-tenths of the
whole American people, North and South, are anxious for
peace-peace on any terms-and are utterly sick of human
slaughter and devastation. I know that, to the general eye, it
now seems that the Rebels are anxious to negotiate and that we
repulse their advances. . . . I beg you, I implore you to
inaugurate or invite proposals for peace forthwith. And in
-case peace can not now be made, consent to an armistice for
one year, each party to retain all it now holds, but the Rebel
ports to be opened. Meantime, let a national convention be
held and there will surely be no war at all events.”[8]

This armistice movement was industriously advertised in the
Democratic papers. It was helped along by the Washington
correspondent of The Herald who sowed broadcast the most
improbable stories with regard to it. Today, Secretary
Fessenden was a convert to the idea; another day, Senator
Wilson had taken it up; again, the President, himself, was for
an armistice.[9]

A great many things came swiftly to a head within a few days
before or after the twentieth of August. Every day or two,
rumor took a new turn; or some startling new alignment was
glimpsed; and every one reacted to the news after his kind.
And always the feverish question, what is the strength of the
faction that approves this? Or, how far will this go toward
creating a new element in the political kaleidoscope? About
the twentieth of August, Jaquess and Gilmore threw a splashing
stone into these troubled waters. They published in The
Atlantic a full account of their interview with Davis, who, in
the clearest, most unfaltering way had told them that the
Southerners were fighting for independence and for nothing
else; that no compromise over slavery; nothing but the
recognition of the Confederacy as a separate nation would
induce them to put up their bright swords. As Lincoln
subsequently, in his perfect clarity of speech, represented
Davis: “He would accept nothing short of severance of the
Union- precisely what we will not and can not give. . . .
He does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to
deceive ourselves. He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union;
we can not voluntarily yield it”[10]

Whether without the intrusion of Jaquess and Gilmore, the
Executive Committee would have come to the conclusion they now
reached, is a mere speculation. They thought they were at the
point of desperation. They thought they saw a way out, a way
that reminds one of Jaquess and Gilmore. On the twenty-second,
Raymond sent that letter to Lincoln about “the tide setting
strongly against us.” He also proposed the Committee’s way of
escape: nothing but to offer peace to Davis “on the sole
condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the
Constitution–all other questions to be settled in a convention
of the people of all the States.”[11] He assumed the offer would
be rejected. Thus the clamor for negotiation would be met and
brought to naught. Having sent off his letter, Raymond got his
committee together and started for Washington for a council of

And this brings us to the twenty-third of August. On that day,
pondering Raymond’s letter, Lincoln took thought with himself
what he should say to the Executive Committee. A mere
opportunist would have met the situation with some insincere
proposal, by the formulation of terms that would have certainly
been rejected. We have seen how Lincoln reasoned in such a
connection when he drew up the memorandum for Jaquess and
Gilmore. His present problem involved nothing of this sort.
What he was thinking out was how best to induce the committee
to accept his own attitude; to become for the moment believers
in destiny; to nail their colors; turn their backs as he was
doing on these devices of diplomacy; and as to the rest-permit
to heaven.

Whatever his managers might think, the serious matter in
Lincoln’s mind, that twenty-third of August, was the draft.
And back of the draft, a tremendous matter which probably none
of them at the time appreciated. Assuming that they were right
in their political forecast, assuming that he was not to be
reelected, what did it signify? For him, there was but one
answer: that he had only five months in which to end the war.
And with the tide running strong against him, what could he do?
But one thing: use the war powers while they remained in his
hands in every conceivable way that might force a conclusion on
the field of battle. He recorded his determination. A Cabinet
meeting was held on the twenty-third. Lincoln handed his
Ministers a folded paper and asked them to write their initials
on the back. At the time he gave them no intimation what the
paper contained. It was the following memorandum: “This
morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable
that this Administration will not be reelected. Then it will
be my duty to so cooperate with the President elect as to save
the Union between the election and the inauguration, as he will
have secured his election on such ground that he can not
possibly save it afterward.”[12]

He took into his confidence “the stronger half of the Cabinet,
Seward, Stanton and Fessenden,” and together they assaulted the
Committee.[13] It was a reception amazingly different from what
had been expected. Instead of terrified party diplomats
shaking in their shoes, trying to face all points at once,
morbid over possible political defeats in every quarter, they
found what may have seemed to them a man in a dream; one who
was intensely sad, but who gave no suggestion of panic, no
solicitude about his own fate, no doubt of his ultimate
victory. Their practical astuteness was disarmed by that
higher astuteness attained only by peculiar minds which can
discern through some sure interior test the rare moment when it
is the part of wisdom not to be astute at all.

Backed by those strong Ministers, all entirely under his
influence, Lincoln fully persuaded the Committee that at this
moment, any overture for peace would be the worst of strategic
blunders, “would be worse than losing the presidential
contest–it would be ignominiously surrendering it in

Lincoln won a complete spiritual victory over the Committee.
These dispirited men, who had come to Washington to beg for a
policy of negotiation, went away in such a different temper
that Bennett’s Washington correspondent jeered in print at the
“silly report” of their having assembled to discuss peace.[15] Obviously, they had merely held a meeting of the Executive
Committee. The Tribune correspondent telegraphed that they
were confident of Lincoln’s reelection.[l6]

On the day following the conference with Lincoln, The Times
announced: “You may rest assured that all reports attributing
to the government any movements looking toward negotiations for
peace at present are utterly without foundation. . . . The
government has not entertained or discussed the project of
proposing an armistice with the Rebels nor has it any intention
of sending commissioners to Richmond . . . its sole and
undivided purpose is to prosecute the war until the rebellion
is quelled. . . .” Of equal significance was the
announcement by The Times, fairly to be considered the
Administration organ: “The President stands firm against every
solicitation to postpone the draft.”[17]


The question insists upon rising again: were the anti-Lincoln
politicians justified in their exultation, the Lincoln
politicians justified in their panic? Nobody will ever know;
but it is worth considering that the shrewd opportunist who
expressed himself through The Herald changed his mind during a
fortnight in August. By one of those odd coincidences of which
history is full, it was on the twenty- third of the month that
he warned the Democrats and jeered at the Republicans in this
insolent fashion:

“Many of our leading Republicans are now furious against
Lincoln. . . . Bryant of The Evening Post is very angry
with Lincoln because Henderson, The Post’s publisher, has been
arrested for defrauding the government.

Raymond is a little shaky and has to make frequent journeys to
Washington for instructions. . . .

“Now, to what does all this amount? Our experience of politics
convinces us that it amounts to nothing. The sorehead
Republicans complain that Lincoln gives them either too little
shoddy or too little nigger. What candidate can they find who
will give them more of either?

“The Chicago (Democratic) delegates must very emphatically
comprehend that they must beat the whole Re-publican party if
they elect their candidate. It is a strong party even yet and
has a heavy army vote to draw upon.The error of relying too
greatly upon the weakness of the Republicans as developed in
the quarrels of the Republican leaders, may prove fatal . . .
the Republican leaders may have their personal quarrels, or
their shoddy quarrels, or their nigger quarrels with Old Abe;
but he has the whip hand of them and they will soon be bobbing
back into the Republican fold, like sheep who have gone astray.
The most of the fuss some of them kick up now, is simply to
force Lincoln to give them their terms. .

“We have studied all classes of politicians in our day and we
warn the Chicago Convention to put no trust in the Republican
soreheads. Furiously as some of them denounce Lincoln now, and
lukewarm as the rest of them are in his cause, they will all be
shouting for him as the only true Union candidate as soon as
the nominations have all been made and the chances for bargains
have passed.

Whatever they say now, we venture to predict that Wade and his
tail; and Bryant and his tail; and Wendell Phillips and his
tail; and Weed, Barney, Chase and their tails; and Winter
Davis, Raymond, Opdyke and Forney who have no tails; will all
make tracks for Old Abe’s plantation, and will soon be found
crowing and blowing, and vowing and writing, and swearing and
stumping the state on his side, declaring that he and he alone,
is the hope of the nation, the bugaboo of Jeff Davis, the first
of Conservatives, the best of Abolitionists, the purest of
patriots, the most gullible of mankind, the easiest President
to manage, and the person especially predestined and
foreordained by Providence to carry on the war, free the
niggers, and give all the faithful a fair share of the spoils.
The spectacle will be ridiculous; but it is inevitable.”[1]

The cynic of The Herald had something to go upon besides his
general knowledge of politicians and elections. The Manifesto
had not met with universal acclaim. in the course of this
month of surprises, there were several things that an
apprehensive observer might interpret as the shadow of that
hand of fate which was soon to appear upon the wall. In the
Republican Convention of the Nineteenth Ohio District, which
included Ashtabula County, Wade’s county, there were fierce
words and then with few dissenting votes, a resolution, “That
the recent attack upon the President by Wade and Davis is, in
our opinion, ill-timed, ill-tempered, and ill-advised . . .
and inasmuch as one of the authors of said protest is a citizen
of this Congressional District and indebted in no small degree
to our friendship for the position, we deem it a duty no less
imperative than disagreeable, to pronounce upon that
disorganizing Manifesto our unqualified disapproval and

To be sure there were plenty of other voices from Ohio and
elsewhere applauding “The War on the President.” Nevertheless,
there were signs of a reluctance to join the movement, and some
of these in quarters where they had been least expected.
Notably, the Abolitionist leaders were slow to come forward.
Sumner was particularly slow. He was ready, indeed, to admit
that a better candidate than Lincoln could be found, and there
was a whisper that the better candidate was himself. However,
he was unconditional that he would not participate in a fight
against Lincoln. if the President could be persuaded to
withdraw, that was one thing. But otherwise–no Sumner in the

Was it possible that Chandler, Wade, Davis and the rest had
jumped too soon? To rebuild the Vindictive Coalition, the
group in which Sumner had a place was essential. This group
was composed of Abolitionists, chiefly New Englanders, and for
present purpose their central figure was Andrew, the Governor
of Massachusetts. During the latter half of August, the fate
of the Conspiracy hung on the question, Can Andrew and his
group be drawn in?

Andrew did not like the President. He was one of those who
never got over their first impression of the strange new man of
1861. He insisted that Lincoln lacked the essential qualities
of a leader. “To comprehend this objection,” says his frank
biographer, “which to us seems so astoundingly wide of the
mark, we must realize that whenever the New Englander of that
generation uttered the word ‘leader’ his mind’s eye was filled
with the image of Daniel Webster . . . his commanding
presence, his lofty tone about affairs of state, his sonorous
profession of an ideal, his whole ex cathedra attitude. All
those characteristics supplied the aristocratic connotation of
the word ‘leader’ as required by a community in which a
considerable measure of aristocratic sympathy still lingered.

Andrew and his friends were like the men of old who having
known Saul before time, and beholding him prophesying, asked
‘Is Saul also among the prophets?'”[4]

But Andrew stood well outside the party cabals that were
hatched at Washington. He and his gave the conspirators a
hearing from a reason widely different from any of theirs.
They distrusted the Executive Committee. The argument that had
swept the Committee for the moment off its feet filled the
stern New Englanders with scorn. They were prompt to deny any
sympathy with the armistice movement.[5] As Andrew put it, the
chief danger of the hour was the influence of the Executive
Committee on the President, whom he persisted in considering a
weak man; the chief duty of the hour was to “rescue” Lincoln,
or in some other way to “check the peace movement of the
Republican managers.”[6] if it were fairly certain that this
could be effected only by putting the conspiracy through,
Andrew would come in. But could he be clear in his own mind
that this was the thing to do? While he hesitated, Jaquess and
Gilmore did their last small part in American history and left
the stage. They made a tour of the Northern States explaining
to the various governors the purposes of their mission to
Richmond, and reporting in full their audience with Davis and
the impressions they had formed.[7] This was a point in favor of
Lincoln–as Andrew thought. On the other hand, there were the
editorials of The Times. As late as the twenty-fourth of
August, the day before the Washington conference, The Times
asserted that the President would waive all the objects for
which the war had been fought, including Abolition, if any
proposition of peace should come that embraced the integrity of
the Union. To be sure, this was not consistent with the report
of Jaquess and Gilmore and their statement of terms actually
set down by Lincoln. And yet–it came from the Administration
organ edited by the chairman of the Executive Committee. Was
rescue” of the President anything more than a dream?

It was just here that Lincoln intervened and revolutionized the
whole situation. With what tense interest -Andrew must have
waited for reports of that conference held at Washington on the
twenty-fifth. And with what delight he must have received
them! The publication on the twenty-sixth of the sweeping
repudiation of the negotiation policy; the reassertion that the
Administration’s “sole and undivided purpose was to prosecute
the war.” Simultaneous was another announcement, also in the
minds of the New Englanders, of first importance: “So far as
there being any probability of President Lincoln withdrawing
from the canvass, as some have suggested, the gentlemen
comprising the Committee express themselves as confident of his

Meanwhile the letters asking for signatures to the pro-posed
“call” had been circulated and the time had come to take stock
of the result From Ohio, Wade had written in a sanguine mood.
He was for issuing the call the moment the Democratic
Convention had taken action.[9] On the twenty-ninth that
convention met. On the thirtieth, the conspirators
reassembled–again at the house of David Dudley Field–and Andrew
attended. He had not committed himself either way.

And now Lincoln’s firmness with the Executive Committee had its
reward. The New Englanders had made up their minds.
Personally, he was still obnoxious to them; but in light of his
recent pronouncement, they would take their chances on
rescuing” him from the Committee; and since he would not
withdraw, they would not cooperate in splitting the Union
party. But they could not convince the conspirators. A long
debate ended in an agreement to disagree. The New Englanders
withdrew, confessed partisans of Lincoln.[10] It was the
beginning of the end.

Andrew went back to Boston to organize New England for Lincoln.
J. M. Forbes remained to organize New York.[11] All this,
ignoring the Executive Committee. It was a new Lincoln
propaganda, not in opposition to the Committee but in frank
rivalry: “Since, or if, we must have Lincoln,” said Andrew,
“men of motive and ideas must get into the lead, must elect
him, get hold of ‘the machine’ and ‘run it’ themselves.”[12]

The bottom was out of the conspiracy; but the leaders at New
York were slow to yield. Despite the New England secession,
they thought the Democratic platform, on which McClellan had
been invited to stand as candidate for the Presidency, gave
them another chance, especially the famous resolution:

“That this Convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of
the American people, after four years of failure to restore the
Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the
pretense of a military necessity, or war power higher than the
Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in
every part, and the public liberty and the private right alike
trodden down and the material prosperity of the country
essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty and the public
welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation
of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the
States, or other peaceable means to the end that at the
earliest practicable moment peace may be restored on the basis
of the Federal Union of the States.”

Some of the outlying conspirators also suffered a revival of
hope. The Cincinnati Gazette came out flat foot for the
withdrawal of Lincoln.[13] So did The Cincinnati Times, pressing
hard for the new convention.[14] On the second of September,
three New York editors, Greeley for The Tribune, Parke Godwin
for The Post, and Tilton for The Independent, were busily
concocting a circular letter to Governors of the States with a
view to saving the conspiracy.[15]

But other men were at work in a different fashion, that same
day. Lincoln’s cause had been wrecked so frequently by his
generals that whenever a general advanced, the event seems
boldly dramatic. While the politicians at New York and Chicago
thought they were loading the scales of fate, long lines of men
in blue were moving through broken woodland and over neglected
fields against the gray legions defending Atlanta. Said
General Hood, it was “evident that General Sherman was moving
with his main body to destroy the Macon road, and that the fate
of Atlanta depended on our ability to defeat this movement.”
During the fateful pow-pow at the house of Dudley Field,
Sherman’s army like a colossal scythe was swinging round
Atlanta, from the west and south, across Flint River, through
the vital railway, on toward the city. On the second of
September, the news that Atlanta was taken “electrified the
people of the North.”[16]

The first thought of every political faction, when, on the
third, the newspapers were ringing with this great news, was
either how to capitalize it for themselves, or how to forestall
its capitalization by some one else. Forbes “dashed off” a
letter to Andrew urging an immediate demonstration for
Lincoln.[17] He was sure the Raymond group would somehow try to
use the victory as a basis for recovering their leadership.
Davis was eager to issue the “call” at once.[18] But his fellows
hesitated. And while they hesitated, Andrew and the people
acted. On the sixth, a huge Lincoln rally was held at Faneul
Hall. Andrew presided. Sumner spoke.[19] That same day, Vermont
held State elections and went Republican by a rousing majority.
On the day following occurred the Convention of the Union party
of New York. Enthusiastic applause was elicited by a telegram
from Vermont. “The first shell that was thrown by Sherman into
Atlanta has exploded in the Copperhead Camp in this State, and
the Unionists have poured in a salute with shotted guns.”[20] The
mixed metaphors did not reduce the telegram’s effect. The New
York Convention formally endorsed Lincoln as the candidate of
the Union party for President.

So much for the serious side of the swiftly changing political
kaleidoscope. There was also a comic side. Only three days
sufficed–from Davis’s eagerness to proceed on the fourth to
letters and articles written or printed on the seventh–only
three days, and the leaders of the conspiracy began turning
their coats. A typical letter of the seventh at Syracuse
describes “an interview with Mr. Opdyke this morning, who told
me the result of his efforts to obtain signatures to our call
which was by no means encouraging. I have found the same
sentiment prevailing here. A belief that it is too late to
make any effectual demonstration, and therefore that it is not
wise to attempt any. I presume that the new-born enthusiasm
created by the Atlanta news will so encourage Lincoln that he
can not be persuaded to withdraw.”[21] Two days more and the
anti-Lincoln newspapers began to draw in their horns. That
Independent, whose editor had been one of the three in the last
ditch but a week before, handsomely recanted, scuttling across
to what now seemed the winning side. “The prospect of victory
is brilliant. If a fortnight ago the prospect of Mr. Lincoln’s
reelection seemed doubtful, the case is now changed. The
odious character of the Chicago platform, the sunshiny effect
of the late victories, have rekindled the old enthusiasm in
loyal hearts.”[22] One day more, and Greeley sullenly took his
medicine. The Tribune began printing “The Union Ticket–for
President, Abraham Lincoln.”

There remains the most diverting instance of the haste with
which coats were turned. On the sixth of September, only three
days after Atlanta!–the very day of the great Lincoln rally,
the crown of Andrew’s generalship, at Fanuel Hall–a report was
sent out from Washington that “Senator Wade is to take the
stump for Mr. Lincoln.”[23] Less than a week later The Washington
Chronicle had learned “with satisfaction, though not with
surprise, that Senator Wade, notwithstanding his signature to a
celebrated Manifesto, had enrolled himself among the Lincoln
forces.”[24] Exactly two weeks after Atlanta, Wade made his first
speech for Lincoln as President. It was a “terrific assault
upon the Copperhead policy.”[25]

The ship of the conspiracy was sinking fast, and on every hand
was heard a scurrying patter of escaping politicians.


The key-notes of Lincoln’s course with the Executive Committee,
his refusal to do anything that appeared to him to be futile,
his firmness not to cast about and experiment after a policy,
his basing of all his plans on the vision in his own mind of
their sure fruitage–these continued to be his key-notes
throughout the campaign. They ruled his action in a difficult
matter with which he was quickly forced to deal.

Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, was widely and
bitterly disliked. Originally a radical Republican, he had
quarreled with that wing of the party. In 1863 the Union
League of Philadelphia, which elected all the rest of the
Cabinet honorary members of its organization, omitted Blair. A
reference to the Cabinet in the Union platform of 1864 was
supposed to be a hint that the Postmaster General would serve
his country, if he resigned. During the dark days of the
summer of 1864, the President’s mail was filled with
supplications for the dismissal of Blair.[1] He was described as
an incubus that might cause the defeat of the Administration.

If the President’s secretaries were not prejudiced witnesses,
Blair had worn out his welcome in the Cabinet. He had grown
suspicious. He tried to make Lincoln believe that Seward was
plotting with the Copperheads. Nevertheless, Lincoln turned a
deaf ear to the clamor against him. Merely personal
considerations were not compelling. If it was true, as for a
while he believed it was, that his election was already lost,
he did not propose to throw Blair over as a mere experiment.
True to his principles he would not become a juggler with

The turn of the tide in his favor put the matter in a new
light. All the enemies of Blair renewed their attack on a
slightly different line. One of those powerful New Englanders
who had come to Lincoln’s aid at such an opportune moment led
off. On the second day following the news of Atlanta, Henry
Wilson wrote to him, “Blair, every one hates. Tens of
thousands of men will be lost to you, or will give you a
reluctant vote because of the Blairs.”[2]

If this was really true, the selfless man would not hesitate
to’ require of Blair the same sort of sacrifice he would, in
other conditions, require of himself. Lincoln debated this in
his own mind nearly three weeks.

Meanwhile, various other politicians joined the hue and cry.
An old friend of Lincoln’s, Ebenezer Peck, came east from
Illinois to work upon him against Blair.[3] Chandler, who like
Wade was eager to get out of the wrong ship, appeared at
Washington as a friend of the Administration and an enemy of
Blair.[4] But still Lincoln did not respond. After all, was it
certain that one of these votes would change if Blair did not
resign? Would anything be accomplished, should Lincoln require
his resignation, except the humiliation of a friend, the
gratification of a pack of malcontents? And then some one
thought of a mode for giving definite political value to
Blair’s removal. Who did it? The anonymous author of the only
biography of Chandler claims this doubtful honor for the great
Jacobin. Lincoln’s secretaries, including Colonel Stoddard who
had charge of his correspondence, are ignorant on the subject.[5] It may well have been Chandler who negotiated a bargain with
Fremont, if the story is to be trusted, which concerned Blair.
A long-standing, relentless quarrel separated these two. That
Fremont as a candidate was nobody had long been apparent; and
yet it was worth while to get rid of him. Chandler, or
another, extracted a promise from Fremont that if Blair were
removed, he would resign. On the strength of this promise, a
last appeal was made to Lincoln. Such is the legend. The
known fact is that on September twenty-second Fremont withdrew
his candidacy. The next day Lincoln sent this note to Blair:

“You have generously said to me more than once that whenever
your resignation could be a relief to me, it was at my
disposal. The time has come. You very well know that this
proceeds from no dissatisfaction of mine, with you personally
or officially. Your uniform kindness has been unsurpassed by
that of any friend.”[6]

No incident displays more clearly the hold which Lincoln had
acquired on the confidence and the affection of his immediate
associates. Blair at once tendered his resignation: “I can not
take leave of you,” said he, “without renewing the expression
of my gratitude for the uniform kindness which has marked your
course with regard to myself.”[7] That he was not perfunctory,
that his great chief had acquired over him an ascendency which
was superior to any strain, was demonstrated a few days later
in New York. On the twenty-seventh, Cooper Institute was
filled with an enthusiastic Lincoln meeting. Blair was a
speaker. He was received with loud cheers and took occasion to
touch upon his relations with the President. “I retired,” said
he, “on the recommendation of my own father. My father has
passed that period of life when its honors or its rewards, or
its glories have any charm for him. He looks backward only,
and forward only, to the grandeur of this nation and the
happiness of this great people who have grown up under the
prosperous condition of the Union; and he would not permit a
son of his to stand in the way of the glorious and patriotic
President who leads us on to success and to the final triumph
that is in store for us.”[8]

It was characteristic of this ultimate Lincoln that he offered
no explanations, even in terminating the career of a minister;
that he gave no confidences. Gently inexorable, he imposed his
will in apparent unconsciousness that it might be questioned.
Along with his overmastering kindness, he had something of the
objectivity of a natural force. It was the mood attained by a
few extraordinary men who have reached a point where, without
becoming egoists, they no longer distinguish between themselves
and circumstance; the mood of those creative artists who have
lost themselves, in the strange way which the dreamers have,
who have also found themselves.

Even in the new fascination of the probable turn of the tide,
Lincoln did not waver in his fixed purpose to give all his best
energies, and the country’s best energies, to the war. In
October, there was a new panic over the draft. Cameron
implored him to suspend it in Pennsylvania until after the
presidential election. An Ohio committee went to Washington
with the same request. Why should not the arguments that had
prevailed with him, or were supposed to have prevailed with
him, for the removal of a minister, prevail also in the way of
a brief flagging of military preparation? But Lincoln would
not look upon the two cases in the same spirit. “What is the
Presidency worth to me,” he asked the Ohio committee, “if I
have no country ?”[9]

From the active campaign he held himself aloof. He made no
political speeches. He wrote no political letters. The army
received his constant detailed attention. In his letters to
Grant, he besought him to be unwavering in a relentless

As Hay records, he was aging rapidly. The immense strain of
his labor was beginning to tell both in his features and his
expression. He was moving in a shadow. But his old habit of
merriment had not left him; though it was now, more often, a
surface merriment. On the night of the October elections,
Lincoln sat in the telegraph room of the War Office while the
reports were coming in. “The President in a lull of
despatches, took from his pocket the Naseby Papers and read
several chapters of the Saint and Martyr, Petroleum V. They
were immensely amusing. Stanton and Dana enjoyed them scarcely
less than the President, who read on, con amore, until nine

The presidential election was held on the eighth of November.
That night, Lincoln with his Secretary was again in the War
Office. The early returns showed that the whole North was
turning to him in enormous majorities. He showed no
exultation. When the Assistant Secretary of the Navy spoke
sharply of the complete effacement politically of Henry Winter
Davis against whom he had a grudge, Lincoln said, “You have
more of that feeling of personal resentment than I. Perhaps I
have too little of it; but I never thought it paid. A man has
no time to spend half his life in quarrels. if any man ceases
to attack me I never remember the past against him.”[11]

“Towards midnight,” says Hay in his diary, “we had supper. The
President went awkwardly and hospitably to work shovelling out
the fried oysters. He was most agreeable and genial all the
evening. . . . Captain Thomas came up with a band about
half-past two and made some music. The President answered from
a window with rather unusual dignity and effect, and we came

“I am thankful to God,” Lincoln said, in response to the
serenade, “for this approval of the people; but while grateful
for this mark of their confidence in me, if I know my heart, my
gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not
impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure
to me to triumph over any one, but I give thanks to the
Almighty for this evidence of the people’s resolution to stand
by free government and the rights of humanity.”[13]

During the next few days a torrent of congratulations came
pouring in. What most impressed the secretaries was his
complete freedom from elation. “He seemed to deprecate his own
triumph and sympathize rather with the beaten than the
victorious party.” His formal recognition of the event was a
prepared reply to a serenade on the night of November tenth. A
great crowd filled the space in front of the north portico of
the White House. Lincoln appeared at a window. A secretary
stood at his side holding a lighted candle while he read from
a manuscript. The brief address is justly ranked among his
ablest occasional utterances. As to the mode of the
deliverance, he said to Hay, “Not very graceful, but I am
growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing


In Lincoln’s life there are two great achievements.

One he brought to pass in time for him to behold his own
victory. The other he saw only with the eyes of faith. The
first was the drawing together of all the elements of
nationalism in the American people and consolidating them into
a driving force. The second was laying the foundation of a
political temper that made impossible a permanent victory for
the Vindictives. It was the sad fate of this nation, because
Lincoln’s hand was struck from the tiller at the very instant
of the crisis, to suffer the temporary success of that faction
he strove so hard to destroy The transitoriness of their evil
triumph, the eventual rally of the nation against them, was the
final victory of the spirit of Lincoln.

The immediate victory he appreciated more fully and measured
more exactly, than did any one else. He put it into words in
the fifth message. While others were crowing with exaltation
over a party triumph, he looked deeper to the psychological
triumph. Scarcely another saw that the most significant detail
of the hour was in the Democratic attitude. Even the bitterest
enemies of nationalism, even those who were believed by all
others to desire the breaking of the Union, had not thought it
safe to say so. They had veiled their intent in specious
words. McClellan in accepting the Democratic nomination had
repudiated the idea of disunion. Whether the Democratic
politicians had agreed with him or not, they had not dared to
contradict him. This was what Lincoln put the emphasis on in
his message: “The purpose of the people within the loyal States
to maintain the Union was never more firm nor more nearly
unanimous than now. . . . No candidate for any office, high
or low, has ventured to seek votes on the avowal that he was
for giving up the Union. There have been much impugning of
motive and much heated controversy as to the proper means and
best mode of advancing the Union cause; but on the distinct
issue of Union or No Union the politicians have shown their
instinctive knowledge that there is no diversity among the
people. In affording the people the fair opportunity of
showing one to another and to the world, this firmness and
unanimity of purpose, the election has been of vast value to
the national cause.”[1]

This temper of the final Lincoln, his supreme detachment, the
kind impersonality of his intellectual approach, has no better
illustration in his state papers. He further revealed it in a
more intimate way. The day he sent the message to Congress, he
also submitted to the Senate a nomination to the great office
of Chief Justice. When Taney died in the previous September,
there was an eager stir among the friends of Chase. They had
hopes but they felt embarrassed. Could they ask this great
honor, the highest it is in the power of the American President
to be-stow, for a man who had been so lacking in candor as
Chase had been? Chase’s course during the summer had made
things worse. He had played the time-server. No one was more
severe upon Lincoln in July; in August, he hesitated, would not
quite commit himself to the conspiracy but would not discourage
it; almost gave it his blessing; in September, but not until it
was quite plain that the conspiracy was failing, he came out
for Lincoln. However, his friends in the Senate overcame their
embarrassment–how else could it be with Senators?–and pressed
his case. And when Senator Wilson, alarmed at the President’s
silence, tried to apologize for Chase’s harsh remarks about the
President, Lincoln cut him short. “Oh, as to that, I care
nothing,” said he. The embarrassment of the Chase propaganda
amused him. When Chase himself took a hand and wrote him a
letter, Lincoln said to his secretary, “What is it about?”
“Simply a kind and friendly letter,” replied the secretary.
Lincoln smiled. “File it with the other recommendations,” said

He regarded Chase as a great lawyer, Taney’s logical successor.
All the slights the Secretary had put upon the President, the
intrigues to supplant him, the malicious sayings, were as if
they had never occurred. When Congress assembled, it was
Chase’s name that he sent to the Senate. It was Chase who, as
Chief Justice, administered the oath at Lincoln’s second

Long since, Lincoln had seen that there had ceased to any
half-way house in the matter of emancipation. His thoughts
were chiefly upon the future. And as mere strategy, he saw
that slavery had to be got out of the way. It was no longer a
question, who liked this, who did not. To him, the ultimate
issue was the restoration of harmony among the States. Those
States which had been defeated in the dread arbitrament of
battle, would in any event encounter difficulties, even deadly
perils, in the narrow way which must come after defeat and
which might or might not lead to rehabilitation.

Remembering the Vindictive temper, remembering the force and
courage of the Vindictive leaders, it was imperative to clear
the field of the slavery issue before the reconstruction issue
was fairly launched. It was highly desirable to commit to the
support of the governments the whole range of influences that
were in earnest about emancipation. Furthermore, the South
itself was drifting in the same direction. In his interview
with Gilmore and Jaquess, Davis had said: “You have already
emancipated nearly two millions of our slaves; and if you will
take care of them, you may emancipate the rest. I had a few
when the war began. I was of some use to them; they never were
of any to me.”[3]

The Southern President had “felt” his constituency on the
subject of enrolling slaves as soldiers with a promise of
emancipation as the reward of military service.

The fifth message urged Congress to submit to the States an
amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery. Such action
had been considered in the previous session, but nothing had
been done. At Lincoln’s suggestion, it had been recommended in
the platform of the Union party. Now, with the President’s
powerful influence behind it, with his prestige at full circle,
the amendment was rapidly pushed forward. Before January
ended, it had been approved by both Houses. Lincoln had used
all his personal influence to strengthen its chances in
Congress where, until the last minute, the vote was still in

While the amendment was taking its way through Congress, a
shrewd old politician who thought he knew the world better than
most men, that Montgomery Blair, Senior, who was father of the
Postmaster General, had been trying on his own responsibility
to open negotiations between Washington and Richmond. His
visionary ideas, which were wholly without the results he
intended, have no place here. And yet this fanciful episode
had a significance of its own. Had it not occurred, the
Confederate government probably would not have appointed
commissioners charged with the hopeless task of approaching the
Federal government for the purpose of negotiating peace between
“the two countries.”

Now that Lincoln was entirely in the ascendent at home, and
since the Confederate arms had recently suffered terrible
reverses, he was no longer afraid that negotiation might appear
to be the symptom of weakness. He went so far as to consent to
meet the Commissioners himself. On a steamer in Hampton Roads,
Lincoln and Seward had a long conference with three members of
the Confederate government, particularly the Vice-President,
Alexander H. Stephens.

it has become a tradition that Lincoln wrote at the top of a
sheet of paper the one word “Union”; that he pushed it across
the table and said, “Stephens, write under that anything you
want” There appears to be no foundation for the tale in this
form. The amendment had committed the North too definitely to
emancipation. Lincoln could not have proposed Union without
requiring emancipation, also. And yet, with this limitation,
the spirit of the tradition is historic. There can be no doubt
that he presented to the commissioners about the terms which
the year before he had drawn up as a memorandum for Gilmore and
Jaquess: Union, the acceptance of emancipation, but also
instantaneous restoration of political autonomy to the Southern
States, and all the influence of the Administration in behalf
of liberal compensation for the loss of slave property. But
the commissioners had no authority to consider terms that did
not recognize the existence of “two countries.” However,
this Hampton Roads Conference gave Lincoln a new hope. He
divined, if he did not perceive, that the Confederates were on
the verge of despair. If he had been a Vindictive, this would
have borne fruit in ferocious telegrams to his generals to
strike and spare not. What Lincoln did was to lay before the
Cabinet this proposal:–that they advise Congress to offer the
Confederate government the sum of four hundred million dollars,
provided the war end and the States in secession acknowledge
the authority of the Federal government previous to April 1,
1865. But the Cabinet, complete as was his domination in some
respects, were not ripe for such a move as this. “‘You are
all against me,’ said Lincoln sadly and in evident surprise at
the want of statesmanlike liberality on the part of the
executive council,” to quote his Secretary, “folded and laid
away the draft of his message.”[5] Nicolay believes that the idea
continued vividly in his mind and that it may be linked with
his last public utterance–“it may be my duty to make some new
announcement to the people of the South. I am considering and
shall not fail to act when satisfied that action is proper.”

It was now obvious to every one outside the Confederacy that
the war would end speedily in a Northern victory. To Lincoln,
therefore, the duty of the moment, overshadowing all else, was
the preparation for what should come after. Reconstruction.
More than ever it was of first importance to decide whether the
President or Congress should deal with this great matter. And
now occurred an event which bore witness at once to the
beginning of Lincoln’s final struggle with the Vindictives and
to that personal ascendency which was steadily widening. One
of those three original Jacobins agreed to become his spokesman
in the Senate. As the third person of the Jacobin brotherhood,
Lyman Trumbull had always been out of place. He had gone wrong
not from perversity of the soul but from a mental failing, from
the lack of inherent light, from intellectual conventionality.
But he was a good man. One might apply to him Mrs. Browning’s
line: “Just a good man made a great man.” And in his case, as
in so many others, sheer goodness had not been sufficient in
the midst of a revolution to save his soul. To quote one of
the greatest of the observers of human life: “More brains, O
Lord, more brains.” Though Trumbull had the making of an
Intellectual, politics had very nearly ruined him. For all his
good intentions it took him a long time to see what Hawthorne
saw at first sight-that Lincoln was both a powerful character
and an original mind. Still, because Trumbull was really a
good man, he found a way to recover his soul. What his insight
was not equal to perceiving in 1861, experience slowly made
plain to him in the course of the next three years. Before
1865 he had broken with the Vindictives; he had come over to
Lincoln. Trumbull still held the powerful office of Chairman
of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He now undertook to be the
President’s captain in a battle on the floor of the Senate for
the recognition of Louisiana.

The new government in Louisiana had been in actual operation
for nearly a year. Though Congress had denounced it; though
the Manifesto had held it up to scorn as a monarchial outrage;
Lincoln had quietly, steadily, protected and supported it. It
was discharging the function of a regular State government. A
governor had been elected and inaugurated-that Governor Hahn
whom Lincoln had congratulated as Louisiana’s first Free State
Governor. He could say this because the new electorate which
his mandate had created had assembled a constitutional
convention and had abolished slavery. And it had also carried
out the President’s views with regard to the political status
of freedmen. Lincoln was not a believer in general negro
suffrage. He was as far as ever from the theorizing of the
Abolitionists. The most he would approve was the bestowal of
suffrage on a few Superior negroes, leaving the rest to be
gradually educated into citizenship. The Louisiana Convention
had authorized the State Legislature to make, when it felt
prepared to do so, such a limited extension of suffrage.[6]

In setting up this new government, Lincoln had created a
political vessel in which practically all the old electorate of
Louisiana could find their places the moment they gave up the
war and accepted the two requisites, union and emancipation.
That electorate could proceed at once to rebuild the
social-political order of the State without any interval of
“expiation.” All the power of the Administration would be with
them in their labors. That this was the wise as well as the
generous way to proceed, the best minds of the North had come
to see. Witness the conversion of Trumbull. But there were
four groups of fanatics who were dangerous: extreme
Abolitionists who clamored for negro equality; men like Wade
and Chandler, still mad with the lust of conquest, raging at
the President who had stood so resolutely between them and
their desire; the machine politicians who could never
understand the President’s methods, who regarded him as an
officious amateur; and the Little Men who would have tried to
make political capital of the blowing of the last trump. All
these, each for a separate motive, attacked the President
because of Louisiana.

The new government had chosen Senators. Here was a specific
issue over which the Administration and its multiform
opposition might engage in a trial of strength. The Senate had
it in its power to refuse to seat the Louisiana Senators.
Could the Vindictive leaders induce it to go to that length?
The question took its natural course of reference to the
Judiciary Committee. On the eighteenth of February, Trumbull
opened what was destined to be a terrible chapter in American
history, the struggle between light and darkness over
reconstruction. Trumbull had ranged behind Lincoln the
majority of his committee. With its authority he moved a joint
resolution recognizing the new government of Louisiana.

And then began a battle royal. Trumbull’s old associates were
promptly joined by Sumner. These three rallied against the
resolution all the malignancy, all the time-serving, all the
stupidity, which the Senate possessed. Bitter language was
exchanged by men who had formerly been as thick as thieves.

“You and I,” thundered Wade, “did not differ formerly on this
subject We considered it a mockery, a miserable mockery, to
recognize this Louisiana organization as a State in the Union.”
He sneered fiercely, “Whence comes this new-born zeal of the
Senator from Illinois? . . . Sir, it is the most miraculous
conversion that has taken place since Saint Paul’s time.”[7]

Wade did not spare the President. Metaphorically speaking, he
shook a fist in his face, the fist of a merciless old giant
“When the foundation of this government is sought to be swept
away by executive usurpation, it will not do to turn around to
me and say this comes from a President I helped to elect. . .
. if the President of the United States operating through his
major generals can initiate a State government, and can bring
it here and force us, compel us, to receive on this floor these
mere mockeries, these men of straw who represent nobody, your
Republic is at an end . . . talk not to me of your ten per
cent. principle. A more absurd, monarchial and anti-American
principle was never announced on God’s earth.”[8]

Amidst a rain of furious personalities, Lincoln’s spokesman
kept his poise. It was sorely tried by two things: by Sumner’s
frank use of every device of parliamentary obstruction with a
view to wearing out the patience of the Senate, and by the
cynical alliance, in order to balk Lincoln, of the Vindictives
with the Democrats. What they would not risk in 1862 when
their principles had to wait upon party needs, they now
considered safe strategy. And if ever the Little Men deserved
their label it was when they played into the hands of the
terrible Vindictives, thus becoming responsible for the
rejection of Lincoln’s plan of reconstruction. Trumbull
upbraided Sumner for “associating himself with those whom he so
often denounced, for the purpose of calling the yeas and nays
and making dilatory motions” to postpone action until the press
of other business should compel the Senate to set the
resolution aside. Sumner’s answer was that he would employ
against the measure every instrument he could find “in the
arsenal of parliamentary warfare.”

With the aid of the Democrats, the Vindictives carried the day.
The resolution was “dispensed with.”[9]

As events turned out it was a catastrophe. But this was not
apparent at the time. Though Lincoln had been beaten for the
moment, the opposition was made up of so many and such
irreconcilable elements that as long as he could hold together
his own following, there was no reason to suppose he would not
in the long run prevail. He was never in a firmer, more
self-contained mood than on the last night of the session.[10] Again, as on that memorable fourth of July, eight months
before, he was in his room at the Capitol signing the
last-minute bills. Stanton was with him. On receiving a
telegram from Grant, the Secretary handed it to the President
Grant reported that Lee had proposed a conference for the
purpose of “a satisfactory adjustment of the present unhappy
difficulties by means of a military convention.” Without asking
for the Secretary’s opinion, Lincoln wrote out a reply which he
directed him to sign and despatch immediately. “The President
directs me to say that he wishes you to have no conference with
General Lee, unless it be for the capitulation of General Lee’s
army, or on some minor or purely military matter. He instructs
me to say that you are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon
any political questions, such questions the President holds in
his own hands and will submit them to no military conferences
or conventions. Meanwhile, you are to press to the utmost your
military advantages.”[11]

In the second inaugural [12] delivered the next day, there is not
the faintest shadow of anxiety. It breathes a lofty confidence
as if his soul was gazing meditatively downward upon life, and
upon his own work, from a secure height. The world has shown a
sound instinct in fixing upon one expression, “with malice
toward none, with charity for all,” as the key-note of the
final Lincoln. These words form the opening line of that
paragraph of unsurpassable prose in which the second inaugural

“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.”


During the five weeks which remained to Lincoln on earth, the
army was his most obvious concern. He watched eagerly the
closing of the enormous trap that had been slowly built up
surrounding Lee. Toward the end of March he went to the front,
and for two weeks had his quarters on a steamer at City Point.
It was during Lincoln’s visit that Sherman came up from North
Carolina for his flying conference with Grant, in which the
President took part. Lincoln was at City Point when Petersburg
fell. Early on the morning of April third, he joined Grant who
gives a strange glimpse in his Memoirs of their meeting in the
deserted city which so recently had been the last bulwark of
the Confederacy.[1] The same day, Richmond fell. Lincoln had
returned to City Point, and on the following day when confusion
reigned in the burning city, he walked through its streets
attended only by a few sailors and by four friends. He visited
Libby Prison; and when a member of his party said that Davis
ought to be hanged, Lincoln replied, “Judge not that ye be not
judged.”[2] His deepest thoughts, however, were not with the
army. The time was at hand when his statesmanship was to be
put to its most severe test. He had not forgotten the anxious
lesson of that success of the Vindictives in balking
momentarily the recognition of Louisiana. it was war to the
knife between him and them. Could he reconstruct the Union in
a wise and merciful fashion despite their desperate opposition?

He had some strong cards in his hand. First of all, he had
time. Congress was not in session. He had eight months in
which to press forward his own plans. If, when Congress
assembled the following December, it should be confronted by a
group of reconciled Southern States, would it venture to refuse
them recognition? No one could have any illusions as to what
the Vindictives would try to do. They would continue the
struggle they had begun over Louisiana; and if their power
permitted, they would rouse the nation to join battle with the
President on that old issue of the war powers, of the

But in Lincoln’s hand there were four other cards, all of which
Wade and Chandler would find it hard to match. He had the
army. In the last election the army had voted for him
enthusiastically. And the army was free from the spirit of
revenge, the Spirit which Chandler built upon. They had the
plain people, the great mass whom the machine politicians had
failed to judge correctly in the August Conspiracy. Pretty
generally, he had the Intellectuals. Lastly, he had–or with
skilful generalship he could have–the Abolitionists.

The Thirteenth Amendment was not yet adopted. The question had
been raised, did it require three-fourths of all the States for
its adoption, or only three-fourths of those that were ranked
as not in rebellion. Here was the issue by means of which the
Abolitionists might all be brought into line. It was by no
means certain that every Northern State would vote for the
amendment. In the smaller group of States, there was a chance
that the amendment might fail. But if it were submitted to the
larger group; and if every Reconstructed State, before Congress
met, should adopt the amendment; and if it was apparent that
with these Southern adoptions the amendment must prevail, all
the great power of the anti-slavery sentiment would be thrown
on the side of the President in favor of recognizing the new
State governments and against the Vindictives. Lincoln held a
hand of trumps. Confidently, but not rashly, he looked forward
to his peaceful war with the Vindictives.

They were enemies not to be despised. To begin with, they were
experienced machine politicians; they had control of
well-organized political rings. They were past masters of the
art of working up popular animosities. And they were going to
use this art in that dangerous moment of reaction which
invariably follows the heroic tension of a great war. The
alignment in the Senate revealed by the Louisiana battle had
also a significance. The fact that Sumner, who was not quite
one of them, became their general on that occasion, was
something to remember. They had made or thought they had made
other powerful allies. The Vice President, Andrew Johnson-the
new president of the Senate-appeared at this time to be cheek
by jowl with the fiercest Vindictives of them all. It would be
interesting to know when the thought first occurred to them:
“If anything should happen to Lincoln, his successor would be
one of us!”

The ninth of April arrived and the news of Lee’s surrender.

“The popular excitement over the victory was such that on
Monday, the tenth, crowds gathered before the Executive Mansion
several times during the day and called out the President for
speeches. Twice he responded by coming to the window and
saying a few words which, however, indicated that his mind was
more occupied with work than with exuberant rejoicing. As
briefly as he could he excused himself, but promised that on
the following evening for which a formal demonstration was
being arranged, he would be prepared to say something.”[3]

The paper which he read to the crowd that thronged the grounds
of the White House on the night of April eleventh, was his last
public utterance. It was also one of his most remarkable ones.
In a way, it was his declaration of war against the
Vindictives.[4] It is the final statement of a policy toward
helpless opponents–he refused to call them enemies–which among
the conquerors of history is hardly, if at all, to be

“By these recent successes the reinauguration of the national
authority-reconstruction-which has had a large share of thought
from the first, is pressed more closely upon our attention. It
is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike a case of war between
independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to
treat with-no one man has authority to give up the rebellion
for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mould from,
disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small
additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ
among ourselves as to the mode, manner and measure of
reconstruction. As a general rule, I abstain from reading the
reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by
that to which I can not properly offer an answer. In spite of
this precaution, however, it comes to my knowledge that I am
much censured for some supposed agency in setting up and
seeking to sustain the new State government of Louisiana.

He reviewed in full the history of the Louisiana experiment
From that he passed to the theories put forth by some of his
enemies with regard to the constitutional status of the Seceded
States. His own theory that the States never had been out of
the Union because constitutionally they could not go out, that
their governmental functions had merely been temporarily
interrupted; this theory had always been roundly derided by the
Vindictives and even by a few who were not Vindictives. Sumner
had preached the idea that the Southern States by attempting to
secede had committed “State suicide” and should now be treated
as Territories. Stevens and the Vindictives generally, while
avoiding Sumner’s subtlety, called them “conquered provinces.”
And all these wanted to take them from under the protection of
the President and place them helpless at the feet of Congress.
To prevent this is the purpose that shines between the lines in
the latter part of Lincoln’s valedictory:

“We all agree that the Seceded States, so called, are out of
their proper practical relation with the Union, and that the
sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to
those States, is to again get them into that proper practical
relation. I believe that it is not only possible, but in fact
easier, to do this without deciding or even considering whether
these States have ever been out of the Union, than with it
Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly
immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join
in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical
relations between these States and the Union, and each forever
after innocently indulge his own opinion whether in doing the
acts he brought the States from without into the Union, or only
gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.
The amount of constituency, so to speak, on which the new
Louisiana government rests would be more satisfactory to all if
it contained 50,000 or 30,000, or even 20,000 instead of only
about 12,000, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some
that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I
would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very
intelligent, and on those who served our cause as soldiers.

“Still, the question is not whether the Louisiana government,
as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is,
will it be wiser to take it as it is and help to improve it, or
to reject and disperse it? Can Louisiana be brought into
proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining
or by discarding her new State government? Some twelve
thousand voters in the heretofore slave State of Louisiana have
sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful
political power of the State, held elections, organized a State
government, adopted a free State constitution, giving the
benefit of public schools equally to black and white and
empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise
upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to
ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress
abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These 12,000
persons are thus fully committed to the Union and to perpetual
freedom in the State–committed to the very things, and nearly
all the things, the nation wants–and they ask the nation’s
recognition and its assistance to make good their committal.

“Now, if we reject and spurn them, we do our utmost to
disorganize and disperse them. We, in effect, say to the white
man: You are worthless or worse; we will neither help you nor
be helped by you. To the blacks we say: This cup of liberty
which these, your old masters, hold to your lips we will dash
from you and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled
and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where
and how. If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both
white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into
proper practical relations with the Union, I have so far been
unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize and
sustain the new government of Louisiana, the converse of all
this is made true. We encourage the hearts and nerve the arms
of 12,000 to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and
proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it,
and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man, too, in
seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance and
energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the
elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the
already advanced steps toward it than by running backward
over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is
only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall
sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it.

“Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in
favor of the proposed amendment to the national Constitution.
To meet this proposition it has been argued that no more than
three-fourths of those States which have not attempted
secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment I do
not commit myself against this further than to say that such a
ratification would be questionable, and sure to be persistently
questioned, while a ratification by three-fourths of all the
States would be unquestioned and unquestionable. I repeat the
question: Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical
relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding
her new State government? What has been said of Louisiana will
apply generally to other States. And yet so great
peculiarities pertain to each State, and such important and
sudden changes occur in the same State, and with also new and
unprecedented is the whole case that no exclusive and
inflexible plan can safely be prescribed as to details and
collaterals. Such exclusive and inflexible plan would surely
become a new entanglement. Important principles may and must
be inflexible. In the present situation, as the phrase goes,
it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people
of the South. I am considering and shall not fail to act when
satisfied that action will be proper.”


There was an early spring on the Potomac in 1865. While April
was still young, the Judas trees became spheres of purply,
pinkish bloom. The Washington parks grew softly bright as the
lilacs opened. Pendulous willows veiled with green laces
afloat in air the changing brown that was winter’s final
shadow; in the Virginia woods the white blossoms of the dogwood
seemed to float and flicker among the windy trees like enormous
flocks of alighting butterflies. And over head such a glitter
of turquoise blue! As lovely in a different way as on that
fateful Sun-day morning when Russell drove through the same
woods toward Bull Run so long, long ago. Such was the
background of the last few days of Lincoln’s life.

Though tranquil, his thoughts dwelt much on death. While at
City Point, he drove one day with Mrs. Lincoln along the banks
of the James. They passed a country graveyard. “It was a
retired place,” said Mrs. Lincoln long afterward, “shaded by
trees, and early spring flowers were opening on nearly every
grave. It was so quiet and attractive that we stopped the
carriage and walked through it. Mr. Lincoln seemed thoughtful
and impressed. He said: ‘Mary, you are younger than I; you
will survive me. When I am gone, lay my remains in some quiet
place like this.'”[1]

His mood underwent a mysterious change. It was serene and yet
charged with a peculiar grave loftiness not quite like any
phase of him his friends had known hitherto. As always, his
thoughts turned for their reflection to Shakespeare. Sumner
who was one of the party at City Point, was deeply impressed by
his reading aloud, a few days before his death, that passage in
Macbeth which describes the ultimate security of Duncan where
nothing evil “can touch him farther.”[2]

There was something a little startling, as if it were not quite
of this world, in the tender lightness that seemed to come into
his heart. “His whole appearance, poise and bearing,” says one
of his observers, “had marvelously changed. He was, in fact,
transfigured. That indescribable sadness which had previously
seemed to be an adamantine element of his very being, had been
suddenly changed for an equally indescribable expression of
serene joy, as if conscious that the great purpose of his life
had been achieved.”[3]

It was as if the seer in the trance had finally passed beyond
his trance; and had faced smiling toward his earthly comrades,
imagining he was to return to them; unaware that somehow his
emergence was not in the ordinary course of nature; that in it
was an accent of the inexplicable, something which the others
caught and at which they trembled; though they knew not why.
And he, so beautifully at peace, and yet thrilled as never
before by the vision of the murdered Duncan at the end of
life’s fitful fever–what was his real feeling, his real vision
of himself? Was it something of what the great modern poet
strove so bravely to express–

And yet Dauntless the slughorn to my lips I set,
And blew: Childe Roland to the dark tower came.”

Shortly before the end, he had a strange dream. Though he
spoke of it almost with levity, it would not leave his
thoughts. He dreamed he was wandering through the White House
at night; all the rooms were brilliantly lighted; but they were
empty. However, through that unreal solitude floated a sound
of weeping. When he came to the East Room, it was explained;
there was a catafalque, the pomp of a military funeral, crowds
of people in tears; and a voice said to him, “The President has
been assassinated.”

He told this dream to Lamon and to Mrs. Lincoln. He added that
after it had occurred, “the first time I opened the Bible,
strange as it may appear, it was at the twenty-eighth chapter
of Genesis which relates the wonderful dream Jacob had. I
turned to other passages and seemed to encounter a dream or a
vision wherever I looked. I kept on turning the leaves of the
Old Book, and everywhere my eye fell upon passages recording
matters strangely in keeping with my own thoughts–supernatural
visitations, dreams, visions, etc.”

But when Lamon seized upon this as text for his recurrent
sermon on precautions against assassination, Lincoln turned the
matter into a joke. He did not appear to interpret the dream
as foreshadowing his own death. He called Lamon’s alarm
“downright foolishness.”[4]

Another dream in the last night of his life was a consolation.
He narrated it to the Cabinet when they met on April
fourteenth, which happened to be Good Friday. There was some
anxiety with regard to Sherman’s movements in North Carolina.
Lincoln bade the Cabinet set their minds at rest. His dream of
the night before was one that he had often had. It was a
presage of great events. In this dream he saw himself “in a
singular and indescribable vessel, but always the same . . .
moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore.”
This dream had preceded all the great events of the war. He
believed it was a good omen.[5]

At this last Cabinet meeting, he talked freely of the one
matter which in his mind overshadowed all others. He urged his
Ministers to put aside all thoughts of hatred and revenge. “He
hoped there would be no persecution, no bloody work, after the
war was over. None need expect him to take any part in hanging
or killing these men, even the worst of them. ‘Frighten them
out of the country, let down the bars, scare them off,’ said
he, throwing up his hands as if scaring sheep. Enough lives
have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentment if we
expect harmony and union. There was too much desire on the
part of our very good friends to be masters, to interfere and
dictate to those States, to treat the people not as fellow
citizens; there was too little respect for their rights. He
didn’t sympathize in these feelings.”[6]

There was a touch of irony in his phase “our very good
friends.” Before the end of the next day, the men he had in
mind, the inner group of the relentless Vindictives, were to
meet in council, scarcely able to conceal their inspiring
conviction that Providence had intervened, had judged between
him and them.[7] And that allusion to the “rights” of the
vanquished! How abominable it was in the ears of the grim
Chandler, the inexorable Wade. Desperate these men and their
followers were on the fourteenth of April, but defiant. To the
full measure of their power they would fight the President to
the last ditch. And always in their minds, the tormenting
thought-if only positions could be reversed, if only Johnson,
whom they believed to be one of them at heart, were in the
first instead of the second place!

While these unsparing sons of thunder were growling among
themselves, the lions that were being cheated of their prey,
Lincoln was putting his merciful temper into a playful form.
General Creswell applied to him for pardon for an old friend of
his who had joined the Confederate Army.

“Creswell,” said Lincoln, “you make me think of a lot of young
folks who once started out Maying. To reach their destination,
they had to cross a shallow stream and did so by means of an
old flat boat when the time came to return, they found to their
dismay that the old scow had disappeared. They were in sore
trouble and thought over all manner of devices for getting over
the water, but without avail. After a time, one of the boys
proposed that each fellow should pick up the girl he liked best
and wade over with her. The masterly proposition was carried
out until all that were left upon the island was a little short
chap and a great, long, gothic-built, elderly lady. Now,
Creswell, you are trying to leave me in the same predicament.
You fellows are all getting your own friends out of this
scrape, and you will succeed in carrying off one after another
until nobody but Jeff Davis and myself will be left on the
island, and then I won’t know what to do–How should I feel? How
should I look lugging him over? I guess the way to avoid such
an embarrassing situation is to let all out at once.”[8]

The President refused, this day, to open his doors to the
throng of visitors that sought admission. His eldest son,
Robert, an officer in Grant’s army, had returned from the front
unharmed. Lincoln wished to reserve the day for his family and
intimate friends. In the afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln asked him if
he cared to have company on their usual drive. “No, Mary,”
said he, “I prefer that we ride by ourselves to-day.”[9] They
took a long drive. His mood, as it had been all day, was
singularly happy and tender.[10] He talked much of the past and
the future. It seemed to Mrs. Lincoln that he never had
appeared happier than during the drive. He referred to past
sorrows, to the anxieties of the war, to Willie’s death, and
spoke of the necessity to be cheerful and happy in the days to
come. As Mrs. Lincoln remembered his words: “We have had a
hard time since we came to Washington; but the war is over, and
with God’s blessings, we may hope for four years of peace and
happiness, and then we will go back to Illinois and pass the
rest of our lives in quiet. We have laid by some money, and
during this time, we will save up more, but shall not have
enough to support us. We will go back to Illinois; I will open
a law office at Springfield or Chicago and practise law, and at
least do enough to help give us a livelihood.”[11]

They returned from their drive and prepared for a theatre party
which had been fixed for that night. The management of the
Ford’s Theatre, where Laura Keene was to close her season with
a benefit performance of Our American Cousin, had announced in
the afternoon paper that “the President and his lady” would
attend. The President’s box had been draped with flags. The
rest is a twice told tale–a thousandth told tale.

An actor, very handsome, a Byronic sort, both in beauty and
temperament, with a dash perhaps of insanity, John Wilkes
Booth, had long meditated killing the President. A violent
secessionist, his morbid imagination had made of Lincoln
another Caesar. The occasion called for a Brutus. While
Lincoln was planning his peaceful war with the Vindictives,
scheming how to keep them from grinding the prostrate South
beneath their heels, devising modes of restoring happiness to
the conquered region, Booth, at an obscure boarding-house in
Washington, was gathering about him a band of adventurers, some
of whom at least, like himself, were unbalanced. They
meditated a general assassination of the Cabinet. The unexpected
theatre party on the fourteenth gave Booth a sudden
opportunity. He knew every passage of Ford’s Theatre. He
knew, also, that Lincoln seldom surrounded himself with guards.
During the afternoon, he made his way unobserved into the
theatre and bored a hole in the door of the presidential box,
so that he might fire through it should there be any difficulty
in getting the door open.

About ten o’clock that night, the audience was laughing at the
absurd play; the President’s party were as much amused as any.
Suddenly, there was a pistol shot. A moment more and a woman’s
voice rang out in a sharp cry. An instant sense of disaster
brought the audience startled to their feet. Two men were
glimpsed struggling toward the front of the President’s box.
One broke away, leaped down on to the stage, flourished a knife
and shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis!” Then he vanished through
the flies. It was Booth, whose plans had been completely
successful. He had made his way without interruption to within
a few feet of Lincoln. At point-blank distance, he had shot
him from behind, through the head. In the confusion which
ensued, he escaped from the theatre; fled from the city; was
pursued; and was himself shot and killed a few days later.

The bullet of the assassin had entered the brain, causing
instant unconsciousness. The dying President was removed to a
house on Tenth Street, No. 453, where he was laid on a bed in
a small room at the rear of the hall on the ground floor.[12]

Swift panic took possession of the city. “A crowd of people
rushed instinctively to the White House, and bursting through
the doors, shouted the dreadful news to Robert Lincoln and
Major Hay who sat gossiping in an upper room. . . . They
ran down-stairs. Finding a carriage at the door, they entered
it and drove to Tenth Street.”[13]

To right and left eddied whirls of excited figures, men and
women questioning, threatening, crying out for vengeance.
Overhead amid driving clouds, the moon, through successive
mantlings of darkness, broke periodically into sudden blazes of
light; among the startled people below, raced a witches’ dance
of the rapidly changing shadows.[14]

Lincoln did not regain consciousness. About dawn his pulse
began to fail. A little later, “a look of unspeakable peace
came over his worn features”[15], and at twenty-two minutes after
seven on the morning of the fifteenth of April, he died.



It is said that a complete bibliography of Lincoln would
include at least five thousand titles. Therefore, any limited
bibliography must appear more or less arbitrary. The following
is but a minimum list in which, with a few exceptions such as
the inescapable interpretative works of Mr. Rhodes and of
Professor Dunning, practically everything has to some extent
the character of a source.

Alexander. A Political History of the State of New York. By
De Alva Stanwood Alexander. 3 vols. 1909.

Arnold. History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of
Slavery. By Isaac N. Arnold. 1866.

Baldwin. Interview between President Lincoln and Colonel John
B. Baldwin. 1866.

Bancroft. Life of William H. Seward. By Frederick Bancroft. 2
vols. 1900.

Barnes. Memoir of Thurlow Weed. By Thurlow Weed Barnes. 1884.

Barton. The Soul of Abraham Lincoln. By William Eleazar
Barton. 1920.

Bigelow. Retrospections of an Active Life. By John Bigelow. 2
vols. 1909.

Blaine. Twenty Years of Congress. By James G. Blaine. 2
vols. 1884.

Botts. The Great Rebellion. By John Minor Botts. 1866.

Boutwell. Reminiscences of Sixty Years in Public Affairs. By
George S. Boutwell 2 vols. 1902.

Bradford. Union Portraits. By Gamaliel Bradford. 1916.

Brooks. Washington in Lincoln’s Time. By Noah Brooks, 1895.

Carpenter. Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln.
By F. B. Carpenter. 1866.

Chandler. Life of Zachary Chandler. By the Detroit Post and
Tribune. 1880.

Chapman. Latest Light on Abraham Lincoln. By Ervin Chapman.
1917. The Charleston Mercury.

Chase. Diary and Correspondence of Salmon Chase. Report,
American Historical Association, 1902, Vol. II.

Chittenden. Recollections of President Lincoln and His
Administration. By L. Chittenden. 1891.

Coleman. Life of John J. Crittenden, with Selections from his
Correspondence and Speeches. By Ann Mary Coleman. 2 vols.

Conway. Autobiography, Memories and Experiences of Moncure
Daniel Conway. 2 vols. 1904.

Correspondence. The Correspondence of Robert Toombs, Alexander H.
Stephens, and Howell Cobb. Edited by U. B. Phillips. Report
American Historical Association, 1913, Vol. II.

Crawford. The Genesis of the Civil War. By Samuel Wylie
Crawford. 1887.

C. W. Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

Dabney. Memoir of a Narrative Received from Colonel John B.
Baldwin, of Staunton, touching the Origin of the War. By Reverend
R. L. Dabney, D. D., Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 1.

Davis. Rise and Fail of the Confederate Government. By
Jefferson Davis. 2 vols. 1881.

Dunning. Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction and Related
Topics. By William A. Dunning. 1898.

Field. Life of David Dudley Field. By Henry M. Field. 1898.

Flower. Edwin McMasters Stanton. By Frank Abial Flower. 1902.

Fry. Military Miscellanies. By James B. Fry. 1889.

Galaxy. The History of Emancipation. By Gideon Welles.
The Galaxy, XIV, 838-851.

Gilmore. Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil
War. By James R. Gilmore. 1899.

Gilmore, Atlantic. A Suppressed Chapter of History. By
James R. Gilmore, Atlantic Monthly, April, 1887.

Globe. Congressional Globe, Containing the Debates and
Proceedings. 1834-1873.

Godwin. Biography of William Cullen Bryant. By Parke Godwin.

1883. Gore. The Boyhood of Abraham Lincoln. By J. Rogers
Gore. 1921.

Gorham. Life and Public Services of Edwin M. Stanton. By George
C. Gorham. 2 vols. 1899.

Grant. Personal Memoirs. By Ulysses S. Grant. 2 vols. 1886.

Greeley. The American Conflict. By Horace Greeley. 2 vols.

Gurowski. Diary from March 4, 1861, to November 12, 1862. By
Adam Gurowski. 1862.

Hanks. Nancy Hanks. By Caroline Hanks Hitchcock. 1900.

Harris. Public Life of Zachary Chandler. By W. C. Harris,
Michigan Historical Commission. 1917.

Hart. Salmon Portland Chase. By Albert Bushnell Hart. 1899.

Hay MS. Diary of John Hay. The war period is covered by three
volumes of manuscript. Photostat copies in the library of the
Massachusetts Historical Society, accessible only by special

Hay, Century. Life in the White House in the Time of Lincoln. By
John Hay, Century Magazine, November, 1890.

The New York Herald.

Herndon. Herndon’s Lincoln. The True Story of a Great Life: The
History and Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln. By W. H.
Herndon and J. W. Weik. 3 vols. (paged continuously). 1890.

Hill. Lincoln the Lawyer. By Frederick Trevers Hill 1906.

Hitchcock. Fifty Years in Camp and Field. Diary of
Major-General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, U. S. A. Edited by W.
Croffut. 1909.

Johnson. Stephen A. Douglas. By Allen Johnson. 1908.

The Journal of the Virginia Convention. 1861.

Julian. Political Recollections 1840-1872. By George W. Julian.

Kelley. Lincoln and Stanton. By W. D. Kelley. 1885.

Lamon. The Life of Abraham Lincoln. By Ward H. Lamon.

Letters. Uncollected Letters of Abraham Lincoln. Now first
brought together by Gilbert A. Tracy. 1917.

Lieber. Life and Letters of Francis Lieber. Edited by Thomas S.
Perry, 1882.

Lincoln. Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln. Edited by John G.
Nicolay and John Hay. 2 vols. New and enlarged edition. 12
volumes. 1905. (All references here are to the Colter edition.)

McCarthy. Lincoln’s Plan of Reconstruction. By Charles M.
McCarthy, 1901.

McClure. Abraham Lincoln and Men of War Times. By A. K. McClure.

Merriam. Life and Times of Samuel Bowles. By G. S. Merriam. 2
vols. 1885.

Munford. Virginia’s Attitude toward Slavery and Secession. By
Beverley B. Munford. 1910.

Moore. A Digest of International Law. By John Bassett Moore.
8 vols. 1906.

Newton. Lincoln and Herndon. By Joseph Fort Newton. 1910.

Nicolay. A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln. By John G. Nicolay.

Nicolay, Cambridge. The Cambridge Modern History: Volume VII.

The United States. By various authors. 1903.

Miss Nicolay. Personal Traits of Abraham Lincoln. By Helen
Nicolay. 1912.

N. and H. Abraham Lincoln: A History. By John G. Nicolay and
John Hay. 10 vols. 1890.

N. P. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies.
First series. 27 vols. 1895-1917.

O. P. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
128 vols. 1880-1901.

Outbreak. The Outbreak of the Rebellion. By John G. Nicolay.

Own Story. McClellan’s Own Story. By George B. McClellan.

Paternity. The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln. By William Eleazer
Barton. 1920.

Pearson. Life of John A. Andrew. By Henry G. Pearson. 2 vols.

Pierce. Memoirs and Letters of Charles Sumner. By Edward
Lillie Pierce. 4 vols. 1877-1893.

Porter. In Memory of General Charles P. Stone. By Fitz John
Porter. 1887.

Public Man. Diary of a Public Man. Anonymous. North American
Review. 1879.

Rankin. Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln. By Henry B.
Rankin. 1916.

Raymond. Journal of Henry J. Raymond. Edited by Henry W.
Raymond. Scribner’s Magazine. 1879-1880.

Recollections. Recollections of Abraham Lincoln. By Ward Hill
Lamon. 1911.

Reminiscences. Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, by Distinguished

Men of his Time. Edited by Allen Thorndyke Rice. 1886.

Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, first session,
Thirty-Ninth Congress.

Rhodes. History of the United States from the Compromise of
1850. By James Ford Rhodes. 8 vols. 1893-1920.

Riddle. Recollections of War Times. By A. G. Riddle. 1895.

Schrugham. The Peaceful Americans of 1860. By Mary Schrugham.

Schure. Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of
Carl Schure. Selected and edited by Frederick Bancroft. 1913.

Scott. Memoirs of Lieutenant General Scott, LL.D. Written
by himself. 2 vols. 1864.

Seward. Works of William H. Seward. 5 vols. 1884.

Sherman. Memoirs of William T. Sherman. By himself. 2 vols.
1886. Sherman Letters.

Letters of John Sherman and W. T. Sherman. Edited by Rachel
Sherman Thorndike. 1894.

Southern Historical Society Papers.

Stephens. Constitutional View of the Late War between the
States. By Alexander H. Stephens. 2 vols. 1869-1870.

Stoddard. Inside the White House in War Times. By William O.
Stoddard. 1890.

Stories. “Abe” Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories. With introduction
and anecdotes by Colonel Alexander McClure. 1901.

The New York Sun.

Swinton. Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac. By William
Swinton. 1866.

Tarbell. The Life of Abraham Lincoln. By Ida M. Tarbell. New
edition. 2 vols. 1917.

Thayer. The Life and Letters of John Hay. By William Roscoe
Thayer. 2 vols. 1915.

The New York Times.

The New York Tribune.

Tyler. Letters and Times of the Tylers. By Lyon G. Tyler.
3 vols. 1884-1896.

Van Santvoord. A Reception by President Lincoln. By C. J. Van
Santvoord. Century Magazine, Feb., 1883.

Villard. Memoirs of Henry Villard. 2 vols. 1902.

Wade. Life of Benjamin F. Wade. By A. G. Riddle. 1886.

Warden. Account of the Private Life and Public Services of Salmon
Portland Chase. By R. B. Warden. 1874.

Welles. Diary of Gideon Welles. Edited by J. T. Morse, Jr. 3
vols. 1911.

White. Life of Lyman Trumbull. By Horace White. 1913.

Woodburn. The Life of Thaddeus Stevens. By James Albert
Woodburn. 1913.



1. Herndon, 1-7, 11-14; 1, anon, 13; N. and H., 1, 23-27.
This is the version of his origin accepted by Lincoln. He
believed that his mother was the illegitimate daughter of a
Virginia planter and traced to that doubtful source “all the
qualities that distinguished him from other members” of his
immediate family. Herndon, 3. His secretaries are silent upon
the subject. Recently the story has been challenged. Mrs.
Caroline Hanks Hitchcock, who identifies the Hanks family of
Kentucky with a lost branch of a New England family, has
collected evidence which tends to show that Nancy was the
legitimate daughter of a certain Joseph H. Hanks, who was
father of Joseph the carpenter, and that Nancy was not the
niece but the younger sister of the “uncle” who figures in the
older version, the man with whom Thomas Lincoln worked. Nancy
and Thomas appear to have been cousins through their mothers.
Mrs. Hitchcock argues the case with care and ability in a
little book entitled Nancy Hanks. However, she is not
altogether sustained by W. E. Barton, The Paternity of Abraham

Scandal has busied itself with the parents of Lincoln in
another way. It has been widely asserted that he was himself
illegitimate. A variety of shameful paternities have been
assigned to him, some palpably absurd. The chief argument of
the lovers of this scandal was once the lack of a known record
of the marriage of his parents. Around this fact grew up the
story of a marriage of concealment with Thomas Lincoln as the
easy-going accomplice. The discovery of the marriage record
fixing the date and demonstrating that Abraham must have been
the second child gave this scandal its quietus. N. and H., 1,
23-24; Hanks, 59-67; Herndon, 5-6; Lincoln and Herndon, 321.
The last important book on the subject is Barton, The Paternity
of Abraham Lincoln.

2. N. and H., 1-13.

3. Lamon, 13; N. and H., 1, 25.

4. N. and H., 1, 25.

5. Gore, 221-225.

6. Herndon, 15.

7. Gore, 66, 70-74, 79, 83-84, 116, 151-154, 204, 226-230, for
all this group of anecdotes.

The evidence with regard to all the early part of Lincoln’s
life is peculiar in this, that it is reminiscence not written
down until the subject had become famous. Dogmatic certainty
with regard to the details is scarcely possible. The best one
can do in weighing any of the versions of his early days is to
inquire closely as to whether all its parts bang naturally
together, whether they really cohere. There is a body of
anecdotes told by an old mountaineer, Austin Gollaher, who knew
Lincoln as a boy, and these have been collected and recently
put into print. Of course, they are not “documented” evidence.
Some students are for brushing them aside. But there is one
important argument in their favor. They are coherent; the boy
they describe is a real person and his personality is
sustained. If he is a fiction and not a memory, the old
mountaineer was a literary artist–far more the artist than one
finds it easy to believe.

8. Gore, 84-95; Lamon, 16; Herndon, 16.

9. Gore, 181-182, 296, 303-316; Lamon, 19-20; N. and H., I,


1. N. and H., I, 32-34.

2. Lamon, 33-38, 51-52, 61-63; N. and H., 1, 34-36.

3. N. and H., 1, 40.

4. Lamon, 38, 40, 55.

5. Reminiscences, 54, 428.


1. N. and H., 1, 45-46, 70-72; Herndon, 67, 69, 72.

2. Lamon, 81-82; Herndon, 75-76.

3. Lincoln, 1, 1-9.

4. Lamon, 125-126; Herndon, 104.

5. Herndon, 117-118.

6. N. and H., 1, 109.

7. Stories, 94.

8. Herndon, 118-123.

9. Lamon, 159-164; Herndon, 128-138; Rankin, 61-95.

10. Lamon, 164.

11. Lamon, 164-165; Rankin, 95.


1. Riddle, 337.

2. Herndon, 436.

3. N. and H., I, 138.

4. Lincoln, I, 51-52.

5. McClure, 65.

6. Herndon, 184.185.

7. Anon, 172-183; Herndon, 143-150, 161; Lincoln, 1, 87-92.

8. Gossip has preserved a melodramatic tale with regard to
Lincoln’s marriage. It describes the bride to be, waiting,
arrayed, in tense expectation deepening into alarm; the guests
assembled, wondering, while the hour appointed passes by and
the ceremony does not begin; the failure of the prospective
bridegroom to appear; the scattering of the company, amazed,
their tongues wagging. The explanation offered is an attack of
insanity. Herndon, 215; I,anon, 239-242. As might be expected
Lincoln’s secretaries who see him always in a halo give no hint
of such an event. It has become a controversial scandal. Is
it a fact or a myth? Miss Tarbell made herself the champion of
the mythical explanation and collected a great deal of evidence
that makes it hard to accept the story as a fact Tarbell, I,
Chap. XI. Still later a very sane memoirist, Henry B. Rankin,
who knew Lincoln, and is not at all an apologist, takes the
same view. His most effective argument is that such an event
could not have occurred in the little country town of
Springfield without becoming at the time the common property of
all the gossips. The evidence is bewildering. I find myself
unable to accept the disappointed wedding guests as established
facts, even though the latest student of Herndon has no doubts.
Lincoln and Herndon, 321-322. But whether the broken marriage
story is true or false there is no doubt that Lincoln passed
through a desolating inward experience about “the fatal first
of January”; that it was related to the breaking of his
engagement; and that for a time his sufferings were intense.
The letters to Speed are the sufficient evidence. Lincoln, I,
175; 182-189; 210-219; 240; 261; 267-269. The prompt
explanation of insanity may be cast aside, one of those foolish
delusions of shallow people to whom all abnormal conditions are
of the same nature as all others. Lincoln wrote to a noted
Western physician, Doctor Drake of Cincinnati, with regard to
his “case”–that is, his nervous breakdown–and Doctor Drake
replied but refused to prescribe without an interview. Lamon,


1. Carpenter, 304-305.

2. Lamon, 243, 252-269; Herndon, 226-243, 248-251; N. and H.,
201, 203-12.

3. A great many recollections of Lincoln attempt to describe
him. Except in a large and general way most of them show that
lack of definite visualization which characterizes the memories
of the careless observer. His height, his bony figure, his
awkwardness, the rudely chiseled features, the mystery in his
eyes, the kindliness of his expression, these are the elements
of the popular portrait. Now and then a closer observer has
added a detail. Witness the masterly comment of Walt Whitman.
Herndon’s account of Lincoln speaking has the earmarks of
accuracy. The attempt by the portrait painter, Carpenter, to
render him in words is quoted later in this volume. Carpenter,
217-218. Unfortunately he was never painted by an artist of
great originality, by one who was equal to his opportunity. My
authority for the texture of his skin is a lady of unusual
closeness of observation, the late Mrs. M. T. W. Curwen of
Cincinnati, who saw him in 1861 in the private car of the
president of the Indianapolis and Cincinnati railroad. An
exhaustive study of the portraits of Lincoln is in preparation
by Mr. Winfred Porter Truesdell, who has a valuable paper on
the subject in The Print Connoisseur, for March, 1921.

4. Herndon, 264.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., 515.

7. A vital question to the biographer of Lincoln is the
credibility of Herndon. He has been accused of capitalizing
his relation with Lincoln and producing a sensational image for
commercial purposes. Though his Life did not appear until 1890
when the official work of Nicolay and Hay was in print, he had
been lecturing and corresponding upon Lincoln for nearly
twenty-five years. The “sensational” first edition of his Life
produced a storm of protest. The book was promptly recalled,
worked over, toned down, and reissued “expurgated” in 1892.

Such biographers as Miss Tarbell appear to regard Herndon as a
mere romancer. The well poised Lincoln and Herndon recently
published by Joseph Fort Newton holds what I feel compelled to
regard as a sounder view; namely, that while Herndon was at
times reckless and at times biased, nevertheless he is in the
main to be relied upon.

Three things are to be borne in mind: Herndon was a literary
man by nature; but he was not by training a developed artist;
he was a romantic of the full flood of American romanticism and
there are traceable in him the methods of romantic portraiture.
Had he been an Elizabethan one can imagine him laboring hard
with great pride over an inferior “Tamburlane the Great”–and
perhaps not knowing that it was inferior. Furthermore, he had
not, before the storm broke on him, any realization of the
existence in America of another school of portraiture, the
heroic–conventual, that could not understand the romantic. If
Herndon strengthened as much as possible the contrasts of his
subject–such as the contrast between the sordidness of
Lincoln’s origin and the loftiness of his thought–he felt that
by so doing he was merely rendering his subject in its most
brilliant aspect, giving to it the largest degree of
significance. A third consideration is Herndon’s enthusiasm
for the agnostic deism that was rampant in America in his day.
Perhaps this causes his romanticism to slip a cog, to run at
times on a side-track, to become the servant of his religious
partisanship. In three words the faults of Herndon are
exaggeration, literalness and exploitiveness.

But all these are faults of degree which the careful student
can allow for. By “checking up” all the parts of Herndon that
it is possible to check up one can arrive at a pretty confident
belief that one knows how to divest the image he creates of its
occasional unrealities. When one does so, the strongest
argument for relying cautiously, watchfully, upon Herndon
appears. The Lincoln thus revealed, though only a character
sketch, is coherent. And it stands the test of comparison in
detail with the Lincolns of other, less romantic, observers.
That is to say, with all his faults, Herndon has the inner
something that will enable the diverse impressions of Lincoln,
always threatening to become irreconcilable, to hang together
and out of their very incongruity to invoke a person that is
not incongruous. And herein, in this touchstone so to speak is
Herndon’s value.

8. Herndon, 265.

9. Lamon, 51.

10. Lincoln, I, 35-SO.

11. The reader who would know the argument against Herndon
(436-446) and Lamon (486-502) on the subject of Lincoln’s early
religion is referred to The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, by William
Eleazer Barton. It is to be observed that the present study is
never dogmatic about Lincoln’s religion in its early phases.
And when Herndon and Lamon generalize about his religious life,
it must be remembered that they are thinking of him as they
knew him in Illinois. Herndon had no familiarity with him
after he went to Washington. Lamon could not have seen very
much of him–no one but his secretaries and his wife did. And
his taciturnity must be borne in mind. Nicolay has recorded
that he did not know what Lincoln believed. Lamon, 492. That
Lincoln was vaguely a deist in the ‘forties–so far as he had any
theology at all–may be true. But it is a rash leap to a
conclusion to assume that his state of mind even then was the
same thing as the impression it made on so practical,
bard-headed, unpoetical a character as Lamon; or on so
combatively imaginative but wholly unmystical a mind as
Herndon’s. Neither of them seems to have any understanding of
those agonies of spirit through which Lincoln subsequently
passed which will appear in the account of the year 1862. See
also Miss Nicolay, 384-386. There is a multitude of
pronouncements on Lincoln’s religion, most of them superficial.

12. Lincoln, I, 206.

13. Nicolay, 73-74; N. and H., 1, 242; Lamon, 275-277.

14. Lamon, 277-278; Herndon, 272-273; N. and H., 1, 245-249.


1. N. and H., I, 28~28&

2. Tarbell, 1, 211.

3. Ibid., 210-211.

4. Herndon, 114.

5. Lincoln, II, 28-48.

6. Herndon, 306-308, 319; Newton, 4(141).

7. Tarbell, I, 209-210.

8. Herndon, 306.

9. Lamon, 334; Herndon, 306; N. and H., I, 297.


1. Herndon, 307, 319.

2. Herndon, 319-321.

3. Herndon, 314-317.

4. Herndon, 332-333.

5. Herndon, 311-312.

6. Herndon, 319.

7. Lamon, 165.

8. Herndon, 309.

9. Herndon, 113-114; Stories, 18~

10. Herndon, 338.

11. Lamon, 324.

12. Lincoln, 11, 142.

13. Herndon, 347.

14. Herndon, 363.

15. Herndon, 362.

16. Lincoln, II, 172.

17. Lincoln, II, 207.

18. Lincoln, II, 173.

19. Lincoln, II, 165.


1. Johnson, 234.

2. I have permission to print the following letter from the
Honorable John H. Marshall, Judge Fifth Judicial Circuit,
Charleston, Illinois:

“Your letter of the 24th inst. at hand referring to slave
trial in which Lincoln was interested, referred to by Professor
Henry Johnson. Twenty-five years ago, while I was secretary of
the Coles County Bar Association, a paper was read to the
Association by the oldest member concerning the trial referred
to, and his paper was filed with rue. Some years ago I spoke
of the matter to Professor Johnson, and at the time was unable
to find the old manuscript, and decided that the same had been
inadvertently destroyed. However, quite recently I found this
paper crumpled up under some old book records. The author of
this article is a reputable member of the bar of this country
of very advanced age, and at that time quoted as his authority
well-known and very substantial men of the county, who had
taken an active interest in the litigation. His paper referred
to incidents occurring in 1847, and there is now no living
person with any knowledge of it. The story in brief is as

“In 1845, General Robert Matson, of Kentucky, being hard
pressed financially, in order to keep them from being sold in
payment of his debts, brought Jane Bryant, with her four small
children to this county. Her husband, Anthony Bryant, was a
free negro, and a licensed exhorter in the Methodist Church of
Kentucky. But his wife and children were slaves of Matson. In
1847, Matson, determined to take the Bryants back to Kentucky
as his slaves, caused to be issued by a justice of the peace of
the county a writ directed to Jane Bryant and her children to
appear before him forthwith and answer the claim of Robert
Matson that their service was due to him, etc. This action
produced great excitement in this county. Practically the
entire community divided, largely on the lines of pro-slavery
and anti-slavery. Usher F. Linder, the most eloquent lawyer
in this vicinity, appeared for Matson, and Orlando B. Ficklin,
twice a member of Congress, appeared for the negroes. Under the
practice the defendant obtained a hearing from three justices
instead of one, and a trial ensued lasting several days, and
attended by great excitement. Armed men made demonstrations
and bloodshed was narrowly averted. Two of the justices were
pro-slavery, and one anti-slavery. The trial was held in
Charleston. The decision of the justice was discreet. It was
held that the court had no jurisdiction to determine the right
of property, but that Jane and her children were of African
descent and found in the state of Illinois without a
certificate of freedom, and that they be committed to the
county jail to be advertised and sold to pay the jail fees.

“At the next term of the circuit court, Ficklin obtained an
order staying proceedings until the further order of the court.
Finally when the case was heard in the circuit court Linder and
Abraham Lincoln appeared for Matson, who was insisting upon the
execution of the judgment of the three justices of the peace so
that he could buy them at the proposed sale, and Ficklin and
Charles Constable, afterward a circuit judge of this circuit,
appeared for the negroes. The judgment was in favor of the
negroes and they were discharged.

“The above is a much abbreviated account of this occurrence,
stripped of its local coloring, giving however its salient
points, and I have no doubt of its substantial accuracy.”

3. Lincoln, II, 185.

4. Lincoln, II, 186.

5. Lamon, 347.

6. Lincoln, II, 232-233.

7. Lincoln, II, 190-262.

8. Lincoln, 274-277.


1. Herndon, 371-372.

2. Lincoln, II, 329-330.

3. Lincoln, III, 1-2.

4. Herndon, 405-408.

5. Lincoln. II, 279.

6. Lamon, 416.


1. Lincoln, V, 127.

2. Tarbell, I, 335.

3. Lincoln, V, 127,138, 257-258.

4. Lincoln, V, 290-291. He never entirely shook off his
erratic use of negatives. See, also, Lamon, 424; Tarbell, I,

5. Lincoln, V, 293-32&6. McClure, 23-29; Field, 126,137-138;
Tarbell, I, 342-357.


1. Letters, 172.

2. Lincoln, VI, 77, 78, 79, 93.

3. Bancroft, 11,10; Letters, 111.


1. Bancroft, II, 10; Letters, 172.

2. Bancroft, II, 9-10.

3. Herndon, 484.

4. McClure, 140-145; Lincoln, VI, 91, 97.

5. Recollections, 111.

6. Recollections, 121.

7. Recollections, 112-113; Tarbell, I, 404-415.

8. Tarbell, 1, 406.

9. Tarbell, I, 406.

10. Lincoln, VI, 91.

11. Tarbell, 1, 406.

12. Herndon, 483-484

13. Lamon, 505; see also, Herndon, 485.

14. Lincoln, VI, 110.


1. Lincoln, VI, 130.

2. Merriam, I, 318.

3. Public Man, 140.

4. Van Santvoord.

5. N. and H., I, 36; McClure, 179.

6. Herndon, 492.

7. Recollections, 39-41.

8. Lincoln, VI, 162-164.

9. Bancroft, II, 38-45.

10. Public Man, 383.

11. Chittenden, 89-90.

12. Public Man, 387.


1. Hay MS, I, 64.

2. Tyler, II, 565-566.

3. Bradford, 208; Seward, IV, 416.

4. Nicolay, 213.

5. Chase offered to procure a commission for Henry Villard,
“by way of compliment to the Cincinnati Commercial” Villard,

6. N. and H., III, 333, note 12.

7. Outbreak, 52.

8. Hay MS, I, 91; Tyler, II, 633; Coleman, 1, 338.

9. Hay MS, I, 91; Riddle, 5; Public Man, 487.

10. Correspondence, 548-549.

11. See Miss Schrugham’s monograph for much important data
with regard to this moment. Valuable as her contribution is, I
can not feel that the conclusions invalidate the assumption of
the text.

12. Lincoln, VI, 192-220.

13. Sherman, I, 195-1%.

14. Lincoln, VI, 175-176.

15. 127 0. R., 161.

16. Munford, 274; Journal of the Virginia Convention, 1861.

17. Lincoln, VI, 227-230.

18. N. R., first series, IV, 227.

19. Hay MS, I, 143.

20. The great authority of Mr. Frederick Bancroft is still on
the side of the older interpretation of Seward’s Thoughts,
Bancroft, II, Chap. XXIX. It must be remembered that
following the war there was a reaction against Seward. When
Nicolay and Hay published the Thoughts they appeared to give
him the coup de grace. Of late years it has almost been the
fashion to treat him contemptuously. Even Mr. Bancroft has
been very cautious in his defense. This is not the place to
discuss his genius or his political morals. But on one thing I
insist, Whatever else he was-unscrupulous or what you will-he
was not a fool. However reckless, at times, his
spread-eagleism there was shrewdness behind it. The idea that
he proposed a ridiculous foreign policy at a moment when all
his other actions reveal coolness and calculation; the idea
that he proposed it merely as a spectacular stroke in party
management; this is too much to believe. A motive must be
found better than mere chicanery.

Furthermore, if there was one fixed purpose in Seward, during
March and early April, it was to avoid a domestic conflict; and
the only way he could see to accomplish that was to side-track
Montgomery’s expansive all-Southern policy. Is it not fair,
with so astute a politician as Seward, to demand in explanation
of any of his moves ‘he uncovering of some definite political
force he was playing up to? The old interpretation of the
Thoughts offers no force to which they form a response.
Especially it is impossible to find in them any scheme to get
around Montgomery. But the old view looked upon the Virginia
compromise with blind eyes. That was no part of the mental
prospect. In accounting for Seward’s purposes it did not exist.
But the moment one’s eyes are opened to its significance,
especially to the menace it had for the Montgomery program, is
not the entire scene transformed? Is not, under these new
conditions, the purpose intimated in the text, the purpose to
open a new field of exploitation to the Southern expansionists
in order to reconcile them to the Virginia scheme, is not this
at least plausible? And it escapes making Seward a fool.

21. Lincoln, VI, 23~237.

22. Welles, 1,17.

23. There is still lacking a complete unriddling of the
three-cornered game of diplomacy played in America in March and
April, 1861. Of the three participants Richmond is the most
fully revealed. It was playing desperately for a compromise,
any sort of compromise, that would save the one principle of
state sovereignty. For that, slavery would be sacrificed, or
at least allowed to be put in jeopardy. Munford, Virginia’s
Attitude toward Slavery and Secession; Tyler, Letters and Times
of the Tylers; Journal of the Virginia Convention of 1861.
However, practically no Virginian would put himself in the
position of forcing any Southern State to abandon slavery
against its will. Hence the Virginia compromise dealt only
with the expansion of slavery, would go no further than to give
the North a veto on that expansion. And its compensating
requirement plainly would be a virtual demand for the
acknowledgment of state sovereignty.

Precisely what passed between Richmond and Washington is still
something of a mystery. John Hay quotes Lincoln as saying that
he twice offered to evacuate Sumter, once before and once after
his inauguration, if the Virginians “would break up their
convention without any row or nonsense.” Hay MS, I, 91; Thayer,
I, 118-119. From other sources we have knowledge of at least
two conferences subsequent to the inauguration and probably
three. One of the conferences mentioned by Lincoln seems
pretty well identified. Coleman II, 337-338. It was informal
and may be set aside as having little if any historic
significance. When and to whom Lincoln’s second offer was made
is not fully established. Riddle in his Recollections says
that he was present at an informal interview “with loyal
delegates of the Virginia State Convention,” who were wholly
satisfied with Lincoln’s position. Riddle, 25. Possibly, this
was the second conference mentioned by Lincoln. It has
scarcely a feature in common with the conference of April 4,
which has become the subject of acrimonious debate. N. and H.,
III, 422-428; Boutwell, II, 62-67; Bancroft, II, 102-104;
Munford, 270; Southern Historical Papers, 1, 449; Botts, 195-
201; Crawford, 311; Report of the Joint Committee on
Reconstruction, first session, Thirty-Ninth Congress; Atlantic,
April, 1875. The date of this conference is variously given as
the fourth, fifth and sixth of April. Curiously enough Nicolay
and Hay seem to have only an external knowledge of It; their
account is made up from documents and lacks entirely the
authoritative note. They do not refer to the passage in the
Hay MS, already quoted.

There are three versions of the interview between Lincoln and
Baldwin. One was given by Baldwin himself before the Committee
on Reconstruction some five years after; one comprises the
recollections of Colonel Dabney, to whom Baldwin narrated the
incident in the latter part of the war; a third is in the
recollections of John Minor Botts of a conversation with
Lincoln April 7, 1862. No two of the versions entirely agree.
Baldwin insists that Lincoln made no offer of any sort; while’
Botts in his testimony before the Committee on Reconstruction
says that Lincoln told him that he had told Baldwin that he was
so anxious “for the preservation of the peace of this country
and to save Virginia and the other Border States from going out
that (he would) take the responsibility of evacuating Fort
Sumter, and take the chances of negotiating with the Cotton
States.” Baldwin’s language before the committee is a little
curious and has been thought disingenuous. Boutwell, I, 66.
However, practically no one in this connection has considered
the passage in the Hay MS or the statement in Riddle. Putting
these together and remembering the general situation of the
first week of April there arises a very plausible argument for
accepting the main fact in Baldwin’s version of his conference
and concluding that Botts either misunderstood Lincoln (as
Baldwin says he did) or got the matter twisted in memory. A
further bit of plausibility is the guess that Lincoln talked
with Botts not only of the interview with Baldwin but also of
the earlier interview mentioned by Riddle and that the two
became confused in recollection.

To venture on an assumption harmonizing these confusions. When
Lincoln came to Washington, being still in his delusion that
slavery was the issue and therefore that the crisis was
“artificial,” he was willing to make almost any concession, and
freely offered to evacuate Sumter if thereby he could induce
Virginia to drop the subject of secession. Even later, when he
was beginning to appreciate the real significance of the
moment, he was still willing to evacuate Sumter if the issue
would not be pushed further in the Border States, that is, if
Virginia would not demand a definite concession of the right of
secession. Up to this point I can not think that he had taken
seriously Seward’s proposed convention of the States and the
general discussion of permanent Federal relations that would be
bound to ensue. But now he makes his fateful discovery that
the issue is not slavery but sovereignty. He sees that
Virginia is in dead earnest on this issue and that a general
convention will necessarily involve a final discussion of
sovereignty in the United States and that the price of the
Virginia Amendment will be the concession of the right of
secession. On this assumption it is hardly conceivable that he
offered to evacuate Sumter as late as the fourth of April. The
significance therefore of the Baldwin interview would consist
in finally convincing Lincoln that he could not effect any
compromise without conceding the principle of state
sovereignty. As this was the one thing he was resolved never
to concede there was nothing left him but to consider what
course would most strategically renounce compromise.
Therefore, when it was known at Washington a day or two later
that Port Pickens was in imminent danger of being taken by the
Confederates (see note 24), Lincoln instantly concentrated all
his energies on the relief of Sumter. All along he had
believed that one of the forts must be held for the purpose of
“a clear indication of policy,” even if the other should be
given up “as a military necessity.” Lincoln, VI, 301. His
purpose, therefore, in deciding on the ostentatious
demonstration toward Sumter was to give notice to the whole
country that he made no concessions on the matter of
sovereignty. In a way it was his answer to the Virginia

At last the Union party in Virginia sent a delegation to confer
with Lincoln. It did not arrive until Sumter had been fired
upon. Lincoln read to them a prepared statement of policy
which announced his resolution to make war, if necessary, to
assert the national sovereignty. Lincoln, VI, 243-245.

The part of Montgomery in this tangled episode is least
understood of the three. With Washington Montgomery had no
official communication. Both Lincoln and Seward refused to
recognize commissioners of the Confederate government Whether
Seward as an individual went behind the back of himself as an
official and personally deceived the commissioners is a problem
of his personal biography and his private morals that has no
place in this discussion. Between Montgomery and Richmond
there was intimate and cordial communication from the start.
At first Montgomery appears to have taken for granted that the
Secessionist party at Richmond was so powerful that there was
little need for the new government to do anything but wait But
a surprise was in store for it During February and March its
agents reported a wide-spread desire in the South to compromise
on pretty nearly any terms that would not surrender the central
Southern idea of state sovereignty. Thus an illusion of that
day–as of this–was exploded, namely the irresistibility of
economic solidarity. Sentimental and constitutional forces
were proving more powerful than economics. Thereupon
Montgomery’s problem was transformed. Its purpose was to build
a Southern nation and it had believed hitherto that economic
forces had put into its hands the necessary tools. Now it must
throw them aside and get possession of others. It must evoke
those sentimental and constitutional forces that so many rash
statesmen have always considered negligible. Consequently, for
the South no less than for the North, the issue was speedily
shifted from slavery to sovereignty. Just how this was brought
about we do not yet know. Whether altogether through foresight
and statesmanlike deliberation, or in part at least through
what might almost be called accidental influences, is still a
little uncertain. The question narrows itself to this: why was
Sumter fired upon precisely when it was? There are at least
three possible answers.

(1) That the firing was dictated purely by military necessity.
A belief that Lincoln intended to reinforce as well as to
supply Sumter, that if not taken now it could never be taken,
may have been the over-mastering idea in the Confederate
Cabinet. The reports of the Commissioners at Washington were
tinged throughout by the belief that Seward and Lincoln were
both double-dealers. Beauregard, in command at Charleston,
reported that pilots had come in from the sea and told him of
Federal war-ships sighted off the Carolina coast. O. R.
297, 300, 301, 304, 305.

(2) A political motive which to-day is not so generally
intelligible as once it was, had great weight in 1861. This
was the sense of honor in politics. Those historians who brush
it aside as a figment lack historical psychology. It is
possible that both Governor Pickens and the Confederate Cabinet
were animated first of all by the belief that the honor of
South Carolina required them to withstand the attempt of what
they held to be an alien power.

(3) And yet, neither of these explanations, however much
either or both may have counted for in many minds, gives a
convincing explanation of the agitation of Toornbs in the
Cabinet council which decided to fire upon Sumter. Neither of
these could well be matters of debate. Everybody had to be
either for or against, and that would be an end. The Toombs of
that day was a different man from the Toombs of three months
earlier. Some radical change had taken place in his thought
What could it have been if it was not the perception that the
Virginia program had put the whole matter in a new light, that
the issue had indeed been changed from slavery to sovereignty,
and that to join battle on the latter issue was a far more
serious matter than to join battle on the former. And if
Toombs reasoned in this fearful way, it is easy to believe that
the more buoyant natures in that council may well have reasoned
in precisely the opposite way. Virginia had lifted the
Southern cause to its highest plane. But there was danger that
the Virginia compromise might prevail. If that should happen
these enthusiasts for a separate Southern nationality might
find all their work undone at the eleventh hour. Virginians
who shared Montgomery’s enthusiasms had seen this before then.
That was why Roger Pryor, for example, had gone to Charleston
as a volunteer missionary. In a speech to a Charleston crowd
he besought them, as a way of precipitating Virginia into the
lists, to strike blow. Charleston Mercury, April 11, 1861.

The only way to get any clue to these diplomatic tangles is by
discarding the old notion that there were but two political
ideals clashing together in America in 1861. There were three.
The Virginians with their devotion to the idea of a league of
nations in this country were scarcely further away from Lincoln
and his conception of a Federal unit than they were from those
Southerners who from one cause or another were possessed with
the desire to create a separate Southern nation. The Virginia
program was as deadly to one as to the other of these two
forces which with the upper South made up the triangle of the
day. The real event of March, 1861, was the perception both by
Washington and Montgomery that the Virginia program spelled
ruin for its own. By the middle of April it would be difficult
to say which had the better reason to desire the defeat of that
program, Washington or Montgomery.

24. Lincoln, VI, 240, 301, 302; N. R., first series, IV, 109,
235, 239; Welles, I, 16, 22-23, 25; Bancroft, II, 127,
129-130,138,139, 144; N. and H., III, Chap. XI, IV, Chap. I.
Enemies of Lincoln have accused him of bad faith with regard to
the relief of Fort Pickens. The facts appear to be as follows:
In January, 1861, when Fort Pickens was in danger of being
seized by the forces of the State of Florida, Buchanan ordered
a naval expedition to proceed to its relief. Shortly
afterward–January 2–Senator Mallory on behalf of Florida
persuaded him to order the relief expedition not to land any
troops so long as the Florida forces refrained from attacking
the fort. This understanding between Buchanan and Mallory is
some-times called “the Pickens truce,” sometimes “the Pickens
Armistice.” N. and H., III, Chap. XI; N. R., first series, 1,
74; Scott, II, 624-625. The new Administration had no definite
knowledge of it. Lincoln, VI, 302. Lincoln despatched a
messenger to the relief expedition, which was still hovering
off the Florida coast, and ordered its troops to be landed.
The commander replied that he felt bound by the previous orders
which had been issued in the name of the Secretary of the Navy
while the new orders issued from the Department of War; he
added that relieving Pickens would produce war and wished to be
sure that such was the President’s intention; he also informed
Lincoln’s messenger of the terms of Buchanan’s agreement with
Mallory. The messenger returned to Washington for ampler
instructions. N. and H., IV, Chap. I; N. R., first series, I,
109-110, 110-111.

Two days before his arrival at Washington alarming news from
Charleston brought Lincoln very nearly, if not quite, to the
point of issuing sailing orders to the Sumter expedition.
Lincoln, VI, 240. A day later, Welles issued such orders. N.
IL, first series, I, 235; Bancroft, II, 138-139. On April
sixth, the Pickens messenger returned to Washington. N. and
H., IV, 7. Lincoln was now in full possession of all the
facts. In his own words, “To now reinforce Fort Pickens before
a crisis would be reached at Fort Sumter was impossible,
rendered so by the exhaustion of provisions at the latter named
fort. . . . The strongest anticipated case for using it (the
Sumter expedition) was now presented, and it was resolved to
send it forward.” Lincoln, VI, 302. He also issued peremptory
orders for the Pickens expedition to land its force, which was
done April twelfth. N. R., first series, I, 110-111, 115. How
he reasoned upon the question of a moral obligation devolving,
or not devolving, upon himself as a consequence of the
Buchanan-Mallory agreement, he did not make public. The fact
of the agreement was published in the first message. But when
Congress demanded information on the subject, Lincoln
transmitted to it a report from Welles declining to submit the
information on account of the state of the country. 10. IL,

25. Lincoln, VI, 241.


1. May MS, I, 23.

2. N. and H., IV, 152.

3. Hay MS, I, 45.

4. Hay MS, I, 46.

5. Hay MS, I, 5~56.

6. Sherman, I, 199.

7. Nicolay, 213.

8. N. and H., IV, 322-323, 360.

9. Bigelow, I, 360.

10. Nicolay, 229.

11. Lincoln, VI, 331-333.

12. Own Story, 55, 82.


1. Lincoln, VI, 297-325.

2. Lincoln, X, 199.

3. Lincoln, X, 202-203.

4. Lincoln, VI, 321.

5. Lincoln, VII, 56-57.

6. Bancroft, II, 121; Southern Historical Papers, I, 446.

7. Lincoln, VI, 304.

8. Hay MS, I, 65.

9. Lincoln, VI, 315.

10. 39 Globe, I, 222; N. and H., IV, 379.


1. White, 171.

2. Riddle, 40-52.

3. Harris, 62.

4. Public Man, 139.

5. 37 Globe, III, 1334.

6. Chandler, 253.

7. White, 171.

8. Conway, II, 336.

9. Conway, II, 329.

10. Rhodes, III, 350.

11. Lincoln, VI, 351.

12. Hay MS, I, 93.

13. Hay MS, 1, 93.

14. Bigelow, I, 400.

15. Chandler, 256.


1. Lincoln, VII, 28-60.

2. Nicolay, 321.

3. C. W. I 3 66

4. Julian, 201.

5. Chandler, 228.

6. 37 Globe, II, 189-191; Lincoln, VII, 151-152; O. R.,
341-346; 114 0. R., 786, 797; C. W., I, 5, 74, 79; Battles and
Leaders, II, 132-134; Blaine, I, 383-384, 392-393; Pearson, 1,
312-313; Chandler, 222; Porter.

7. Swinton, 79-85, quoting General McDowell’s memoranda of
their proceedings.

8 37 Globe, II, 15.

9 Riddle, 296; Wade, 316; Chandler, 187.

10. C. W., 1, 74.

11. 37 Globe, II, 1667.

12. 37 Globe, II, 1662-1668, 1732-1742.

13. Lincoln, VII, 151-152.


1. 37 Globe, II, 67.

2. Rhodes, III, 350.

3. 37 Globe, II, 3328.

4. 37 Globe, II, 2764.

5. 37 Globe, II, 2734.

6. 37 Globe II, 2972-2973.

7. 37 Globe, II, 440.

8. 37 Globe, II, 1136-1139.

9. Quoting 7 Howard, 43-46.


1. N. and H., IV, 444.

2. Own Story, 84.

3. Own Story, 85.

4. Gurowski, 123.

5. Hay MS, 1, 99; Thayer, 1,125.

6. N. and H., IV, 469.

7. Hay MS, I, 93.

8. 5 0. R., 41.

9. Swinton, 79-84; C. W., 1, 270.

10. C. W., I, 270, 360, 387; Hay MS, II, 101.

11. Gorham, I, 347-348; Kelly, 34.

12. Chandler, 228; Julian, 205.

13. Hay MS, I, 101; 5 0. R., 1~

14. 5 0. R., 50.

15. 5 0. R., 54-55; Julian, 205.

16. Hay MS, I, 103.

17. Hitchcock, 439.

18. Hitchcock, 440. The italics are his.

19. 5 0. R., 58.

20. 5 0. R., 59.

21. 5 0. R, 63.

22. Own Story, 226; 5 0. R., 18.

23. C. W., I, 251-252.

24. C. W., 1, 251-253, 317-318.

25. 15 0. R., 220; Hitchcock, 439, note.

26. 14 0. R., 66.

27. 12 0. R., 61.

28. 17 0. R., 219.

29. Rhodes, IV, 19.

30. Nicolay, 306; McClure, 168.

31. 17 0. R., 435.

32. Julian, 218.

33. N. and H., V, 453.

34. Lincoln, VII, 266-267.

35. 37 Globe, II, 3386-3392.


1. Alexander, III, 15-17.

2. 37 Globe, II, 1493.

3. Julian, 215; Conway, I, 344.

4. 37 Globe II, 2363.

5. Lincoln, VII, 171-172.

6. 37 Globe, II, 1138.

7. Lincoln, VII, 172-173.

8. Pierce, IV, 78; 37 Globe, II, 25%.

9. Schurz, I, 187.

10. London Times, May 9, 1862, quoted in American papers.

11. 128 0. R., 2-3.

12. Lincoln, VII, 270-274.

13. Carpenter, 2021.

14. Galaxy, XIV, 842-843.

15. Lincoln, VII, 270-277; 37 Globe, II, 3322-3324, 3333.

16. Julian, 220; 37 Globe, II, 3286-3287.

17. Lincoln, VII, 280-286.


1. Carpenter, 189.

2. Recollections, 161.

3. Recollections, 161-164; Carpenter, 119.

4. Carpenter, 116.

5. Carpenter, 90.

6. Chapman, 449-450.

7. Carpenter, 187.

8. Lincoln, VIII, 52-53.

9. Lincoln, VIII, 50-51.


1. Reminiscences, 434.

2. Recollections, 261.

3. Galaxy, 842.

4. Galaxy, 845.

5 Carpenter, 22.

6. O. R., 80-81.

7. C. W., I, 282.

8. Lincoln, VIII, 15.

9. Julian, 221.

10. Thayer, 1, 127.

11. Welles, 1,104; Nicolay, 313.

12. Thayer, 1,129.

13. Thayer, 1, 161.

14. Reminiscences, 334-335, 528; Tarbell, II, 118-120;
Lincoln, VIII, 28-33.

15. Chase, 87-88.

16. Lincoln, VII, 40.


1. Bigelow, I, 572.

2. 37 Globe, III, 6.

3. 37 Globe, III, 76.

4. Lincoln, VII, 57-60.

5. Lincoln, VII, 73.

6. Swinton, 231.

7. C. W., 1, 650.

8. Bancroft, II, 365; Welles, 1, ~198.

9. N. and H., VI, 265.

10. Welles, I, 205; Alexander, III, 185.

11. Welles, 1, 196-198.

12. Welles, 1, 201-202.

13. Welles, I, 200.

14. Lincoln, VII, 195-197.


1. Harris, 64.

2. Gurowski, 312.

3. Sherman Letters, 167.

4. Julian, 223.

5. Recollections, 215; Barnes, 428; Reminiscences, XXXI, XXXI
I, XXXVI II. Nicolay and Hay allude to this story, but
apparently doubt its authenticity. They think that Weed “as is
customary with elderly men exaggerated the definiteness of the

6. Jullan, 225.

7. Lincoln, VIII, 154.

8. Raymond, 704.

9. Recollections, 193-194.

10. Lincoln, VII I, 206207.

11. 37 Globe, III, 1068.

12. Riddle, 278.

13. Welles, I, 336.

14. Lincoln, VIII, 235-237.

15. Welles, I, 293.

16. Lincoln, VIII, 527.

17. Lincoln, IX, 3A.

18. Lincoln, VIII, 307-308.

19. Barnes, 428; Reminiscences, XXX, XXXIII-XXXVIII.

This story is told on the authority of Weed with much
circumstantial detail including the full text of a letter
written by McClellan. The letter was produced because
McClellan had said that no negotiations took place. Though the
letter plainly alludes to negotiations of some sort, it does
not mention the specific offer attributed to Lincoln. Nicolay
and Hay are silent on the subject. See also note five, above.

20. Tribune, July 7, 1863.

21. Tribune, July 6, 1863.

22. Lincoln, IX, 17.

23. Lincoln, IX, 20-21.


1. Rhodes, III, 461; Motley’s Letters, II, 146.

2. Reminiscences, 470.

3. Hay, Century.?

4. Carpenter, 281-282.

5. Van Santvoord.

6. Hay, Century, 35.

7. Carpenter, 150.

8. Recollections, 97.

9. Recollections, 80.

10. Carpenter, 65.

11. Carpenter, 65-67.

12. Carpenter, 64.

13. Recollections, 267.

14. Carpenter, 64.

15. Recollections, 83-84.

16. Carpenter, 152.

17. Carpenter, 219.

18. Recollections, 103-105.

19. Lincoln, X, 274-275.

20. Recollections, 103.

21. Recollections, 95-96.

22. Hay, Century.

23. Rankin, 177-179.

24. Hay, Century, 35.

25. Carpenter.

26. Thayer, I, 198-190.

27. Thayer, I, 196-197.

28. Thayer, I, 199-200.

29. Carpenter, 104.

30. Lincoln, VIII, 112-115.

31. Lincoln, IX, 210.


1. Lincoln, IX, 284.

2. Lincoln, IX, 219-221.

3. Lincoln, X, 38-39.

4. 38 Globe, I, 1408.

5. Bancroft, II, 429-430; Moore, VI, 497-498

6. Grant, II, 123.

7. Lincoln, X, 90-91.


1. Nicolay, 440.

2. Carpenter, 130; Hay MS.

3. Nicolay, 440.

4. Lincoln, X, 25-26.

5. 37 Globe, II, 2674.

6. Nicolay, 352.

7. Lincoln, X, 49.

8. Lincoln, X, 5~54.

9. Rankin, 381-387; Hay, Century.

10. Carpenter, 217.

11. Carpenter, 81.

12. Carpenter, 218.

13. Hay, Century, 37.

14. Lincoln, X, 89.

15. Carpenter, 131.

16. Lincoln, X, 122-123.

17. Carpenter. 168-169.

18. Carpenter, 30-31.

19. Lincoln, X, 129.


1. Lincoln, X, 139-140.

2. Chittenden, 379.

3. Lincoln, X, 140-141.

4. Carpenter, 181-183.S. N. and H., X, 95-100.

5. Hay MS, I, 1617; N. and H., IX, 120121.


1. Reminiscences, 398.

2. Globe, I, 3148.

3. Riddle, 254.

4. Greeley, II, 664-666.

5. N. and H., 186190.

6. Gilmore, 240.

7. Gilmore, Atlantic. & Gilmore, 243-244.

9. Hay MS, I, 7677; N. and H., 167-173; Carpenter, 301-302.

10. N. and H., IX, 338-339.

11. Carpenter, 223-225.

12. Carpenter, 282; also, N. and H., IX, 364.

13. N. and H., IX, 188.

14. N. and H., IX, 192.

15. N. and H., IX, 195.

16. N. and H IX, 212, note.

17. Lincoln, X, 164-166.


1. Julian, 247.

2. Times, August 1, 1864.

3. Herald, August 6, 1864.

4. Sun, June 30, 1889.

5. N. and H., IX, 250.

6. N. and H., IX, 218.

7. Times, August 18, 1864. & N. and H., IX, 197.

9. Herald, August 18, 1864.

10. Lincoln, X, 308.

11. N. and H., IX, 250.

12. Lincoln, X, 203-204.

13. N. and H., IX, 221.

14. Ibid.

15. Herald, August 26, 1864.

16. Tribune, August 27, 1864.

17. Times, August 26, 1864.


1. Herald, August 24, 1864.

2. Times, August 26, 1864~

3. Pierce, IV, 197-198.

4. Pearson, 11,150-151.

5. Herald, August 23, 1864.

6. Pearson, II, 168.

7. Ibid. The terms offered Davis were not stated in the
Atlantic article. See Gilmore, 289-290.

8. Tribune, August 27′, 1864.

9. Sun, June 30, 1889.

10. Sun, June 30, 1889; Pearson, II, 160-161.

11. Pearson,, II, 164.

12. Pearson, II, 166.

13. Sun, June 30, 1889.

14. Tribune, August 30, 1864.

15. Pearson, II, 162.

16. Tribune, September 3, 1864.

17. Pearson, 11,165.

18. Sun, June 30, 1889.

19. Pearson, II, 167; Tribune, September 7, 1864.

20. Tribune, September 6, 1864.

21. Sun, June 30, 1889.

22. Tribune, September 9, 1864.

23. Tribune, September 7, 1864.

24. Tribune, September 12, 1864.

25. Tribune, September 22, 1864.


1. N. and H., IX, 339.

2. Ibid.

3. Arnold, 390.

4. Chandler, 274-276.

5. The familiar version of the retirement of affair is
contained in the Life of Chandler issued by the Detroit Post
and Tribune without an author’s name. This book throughout is
an apology for Chandler. In substance its story of this
episode is as follows: Chandler beheld with aching heart the
estrangement between Lincoln and Wade; he set to work to bring
them together; at a conference which he had with Wade, in
Ohio, a working understanding was effected; Chandler hurried to
Washington; with infinite pains he accomplished a party deal,
the three elements of which were Lincoln’s removal of Blair,
Fremont’s resignation, and Wade’s appearance in the
Administration ranks. Whatever may be said of the physical
facts of this narrative, its mental facts, its tone and
atmosphere, are historical fiction. And I have to protest that
the significance of the episode has been greatly exaggerated.
The series of dates given in the text can not be reconciled
with any theory which makes the turn of the tide toward Lincoln
at all dependent on a Blair-Fremont deal. Speaking of the
tradition that Chandler called upon Lincoln and made a definite
agreement with him looking toward the removal of Blair, Colonel
W. O. Stoddard writes me that his “opinion, or half memory,
would be that the tradition is a myth.” See also, Welles, II,

6. Lincoln, X, 228-229.

7. Times, September 24, 1864.

8. Times, September 28, 1864.

9. N. and H., IX, 364.

10. Thayer, II, 214; Hay MS.

11. N. and H., IX, 377.

12. Thayer, II, 216; Hay MS, III, 29.

13. Lincoln, X, 261.

14. N. and H., IX, 378-379.


1. Lincoln, X, 283.

2. N. and H., IX, 392-394.

3. N. and H., IX, 210-211.

4. One of the traditions that has grown up around Lincoln
makes the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment a matter of
threats. Two votes were needed. It was discovered according
to this simpleminded bit of art that two members of the
opposition had been guilty of illegal practices, the precise
nature of which is conveniently left vague. Lincoln, even in
some highly reputable biographies, sent for these secret
criminals, told them that the power of the President of the
United States was very great, and that he expected them to vote
for the amendment. The authority for the story appears to be a
member of Congress, John B. Aley. Reminiscences, 585-586; Lord
Charnwood, Abraham Lincoln, 335-336. To a great many minds it
has always seemed out of key. Fortunately, there is a rival
version. Shrewd, careful Riddle has a vastly different tale in
which Lincoln does not figure at all, in which three necessary
votes were bought for the amendment by Ashley. Riddle is so
careful to make plain just what he can vouch for and just what
he has at second hand that his mere mode of narration creates
confidence. Riddle, 324-325. Parts of his version are to be
found in various places.

5. Nicolay, Cambridge, 601.

6. Lincoln, X, 38-39, and note; XI, 89.

7. 38 Globe, II, 903.

8. 38 Globe, II, 1127.

9. 38 Globe, 11,1129; Pierce, IV, 221-227.

10. Recollections, 249.

11. Nicolay, 503-504; Lincoln, XI, 43.

12. Lincoln, XI, 4446.


1. Grant, II, 459.

2. Tarbell, II, 229.

3. N. and H., IX, 457.

4. Pierce, IV, 236.

5. Lincoln, XI, 84-91.


1. Tarbell, II, 231-232.

2. Pierce, IV, 235.

3. Tarbell, II, 232.

4. Recollections, 116.

5. Nicolay, 531.

6. N. and H., X, 283-284.

7. Julian, 255.

8. Recollections, 249.

9. Recollections, 119.

10. Nicolay, 532.

11. Recollections, 119-120; Carpenter, 293; Nicolay, 532;
Tarbell, II, 235.

12. Nicolay, 539.

13. Thayer, II, 219; Hay MS,

14. Riddle, 332.

15. Nicolay, 530.

End of Etext of Lincoln’s Personal life by Stephenson

This etext was retrieved by ftp from
It is also available from