The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7




Immediately after Lincoln’s re-election to the Presidency, in an
off-hand speech, delivered in response to a serenade by some of
his admirers on the evening of November 10, 1864, he spoke as

“It has long been a grave question whether any government not too
strong for the liberties of its people can be strong enough to
maintain its existence in great emergencies. On this point, the
present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test, and the
Presidential election, occurring in regular course during the
rebellion, added not a little to the strain…. The strife of
the election is but human nature practically applied to the facts
in the case. What has occurred in this case must ever occur in
similar cases. Human nature will not change. In any future
great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall
have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as
good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this as philosophy
to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged….
Now that the election is over, may not all having a common
interest reunite in a common fort to save our common country?
For my own part, I have striven and shall strive to avoid placing
any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here, I have not
willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom. While I am deeply
sensible to the high compliment of a re-election and duly
grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my
countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think for their own good,
it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be
disappointed or pained by the result.”

This speech has not attracted much general attention, yet it is
in a peculiar degree both illustrative and typical of the great
statesman who made it, alike in its strong common-sense and in
its lofty standard of morality. Lincoln’s life, Lincoln’s deeds
and words, are not only of consuming interest to the historian,
but should be intimately known to every man engaged in the hard
practical work of American political life. It is difficult to
overstate how much it means to a nation to have as the two
foremost figures in its history men like Washington and Lincoln.
It is good for every man in any way concerned in public life to
feel that the highest ambition any American can possibly have
will be gratified just in proportion as he raises himself toward
the standards set by these two men.

It is a very poor thing, whether for nations or individuals, to
advance the history of great deeds done in the past as an excuse
for doing poorly in the present; but it is an excellent thing to
study the history of the great deeds of the past, and of the
great men who did them, with an earnest desire to profit thereby
so as to render better service in the present. In their
essentials, the men of the present day are much like the men of
the past, and the live issues of the present can be faced to
better advantage by men who have in good faith studied how the
leaders of the nation faced the dead issues of the past. Such a
study of Lincoln’s life will enable us to avoid the twin gulfs of
immorality and inefficiency–the gulfs which always lie one on
each side of the careers alike of man and of nation. It helps
nothing to have avoided one if shipwreck is encountered in the
other. The fanatic, the well-meaning moralist of unbalanced
mind, the parlor critic who condemns others but has no power
himself to do good and but little power to do ill–all these were
as alien to Lincoln as the vicious and unpatriotic themselves.
His life teaches our people that they must act with wisdom,
because otherwise adherence to right will be mere sound and fury
without substance; and that they must also act high-mindedly, or
else what seems to be wisdom will in the end turn out to be the
most destructive kind of folly.

Throughout his entire life, and especially after he rose to
leadership in his party, Lincoln was stirred to his depths by the
sense of fealty to a lofty ideal; but throughout his entire life,
he also accepted human nature as it is, and worked with keen,
practical good sense to achieve results with the instruments at
hand. It is impossible to conceive of a man farther removed from
baseness, farther removed from corruption, from mere self-
seeking; but it is also impossible to conceive of a man of more
sane and healthy mind–a man less under the influence of that
fantastic and diseased morality (so fantastic and diseased as to
be in reality profoundly immoral) which makes a man in this work-
a-day world refuse to do what is possible because he cannot
accomplish the impossible.

In the fifth volume of Lecky’s History of England, the historian
draws an interesting distinction between the qualities needed for
a successful political career in modern society and those which
lead to eminence in the spheres of pure intellect or pure moral
effort. He says:

“….the moral qualities that are required in the higher spheres
of statesmanship [are not] those of a hero or a saint. Passionate
earnestness and self-devotion, complete concentration of every
faculty on an unselfish aim, uncalculating daring, a delicacy of
conscience and a loftiness of aim far exceeding those of the
average of men, are here likely to prove rather a hindrance than
an assistance. The politician deals very largely with the
superficial and the commonplace; his art is in a great measure
that of skilful compromise, and in the conditions of modern life,
the statesman is likely to succeed best who possesses secondary
qualities to an unusual degree, who is in the closest
intellectual and moral sympathy with the average of the
intelligent men of his time, and who pursues common ideals with.
mow than common ability…. Tact, business talent, knowledge of
men, resolution, promptitude and sagacity in dealing with
immediate emergencies, a character which lends itself easily to
conciliation, diminishes friction and inspires confidence, are
especially needed, and they are more likely to be found among
shrewd and enlightened men of the world than among men of great
original genius or of an heroic type of character.”

The American people should feel profoundly grateful that the
greatest American statesman since Washington, the statesman who
in this absolutely democratic republic succeeded best, was the
very man who actually combined the two sets of qualities which
the historian thus puts in antithesis. Abraham Lincoln, the
rail-splitter, the Western country lawyer, was one of the
shrewdest and most enlightened men of the world, and he had all
the practical qualities which enable such a man to guide his
countrymen; and yet he was also a genius of the heroic type, a
leader who rose level to the greatest crisis through which this
nation or any other nation had to pass in the nineteenth century.


September 22, 1905.


“I have endured,” wrote Lincoln not long before his death, “a
great deal of ridicule without much malice, and have received a
great deal of kindness not quite free from ridicule.” On Easter
Day, 1865, the world knew how little this ridicule, how much this
kindness, had really signified. Thereafter, Lincoln the man
became Lincoln the hero, year by year more heroic, until to-day,
with the swift passing of those who knew him, his figure grows
ever dimmer, less real. This should not be. For Lincoln the
man, patient, wise, set in a high resolve, is worth far more than
Lincoln the hero, vaguely glorious. Invaluable is the example of
the man, intangible that of the hero.

And, though it is not for us, as for those who in awed stillness
listened at Gettysburg with inspired perception, to know Abraham
Lincoln, yet there is for us another way whereby we may attain
such knowledge–through his words–uttered in all sincerity to
those who loved or hated him. Cold, unsatisfying they may seem,
these printed words, while we can yet speak with those who knew
him, and look into eyes that once looked into his. But in truth
it is here that we find his simple greatness, his great
simplicity, and though no man tried less so to show his power, no
man has so shown it more clearly.

Thus these writings of Abraham Lincoln are associated with those
of Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, and of the other “Founders of
the Republic,” not that Lincoln should become still more of the
past, but, rather, that he with them should become still more of
the present. However faint and mythical may grow the story of
that Great Struggle, the leader, Lincoln, at least should remain
a real, living American. No matter how clearly, how directly,
Lincoln has shown himself in his writings, we yet should not
forget those men whose minds, from their various view-points,
have illumined for us his character. As this nation owes a great
debt to Lincoln, so, also, Lincoln’s memory owes a great debt to
a nation which, as no other nation could have done, has been able
to appreciate his full worth. Among the many who have brought
about this appreciation, those only whose estimates have been
placed in these volumes may be mentioned here. To President
Roosevelt, to Mr. Schurz and to Mr. Choate, the editor, for
himself, for the publishers, and on behalf of the readers, wishes
to offer his sincere acknowledgments.

Thanks are also due, for valuable and sympathetic assistance
rendered in the preparation of this work, to Mr. Gilbert A.
Tracy, of Putnam, Conn., Major William H. Lambert, of
Philadelphia, and Mr. C. F. Gunther, of Chicago, to the Chicago
Historical Association and personally to its capable Secretary,
Miss McIlvaine, to Major Henry S. Burrage, of Portland, Me., and
to General Thomas J. Henderson, of Illinois.

For various courtesies received, the editor is furthermore
indebted to the Librarian of the Library of Congress; to Messrs.
McClure, Phillips & Co., D. Appleton & Co., Macmillan & Co.,
Dodd, Mead & Co., and Harper Brothers, of New York; to Houghton,
Mifflin & Co., Dana, Estes & Co., and L. C. Page & Co., of
Boston; to A. C. McClurg & Co., of Chicago; to The Robert Clarke
Co., of Cincinnati, and to the J. B. Lippincott Co., of

It is hardly necessary to add that every effort has been made by
the editor to bring into these volumes whatever material may
there properly belong, material much of which is widely scattered
in public libraries and in private collections. He has been
fortunate in securing certain interesting correspondence and
papers which had not before come into print in book form.
Information concerning some of these papers had reached him too
late to enable the papers to find place in their proper
chronological order in the set. Rather, however, than not to
present these papers to the readers they have been included in
the seventh volume of the set, which concludes the ” Writings.”

[These later papers are, in this etext, re-arranged into
chronologic order. D.W.]

October, 1905,

A. B. L.



No American can study the character and career of Abraham Lincoln
without being carried away by sentimental emotions. We are
always inclined to idealize that which we love,–a state of mind
very unfavorable to the exercise of sober critical judgment. It
is therefore not surprising that most of those who have written
or spoken on that extraordinary man, even while conscientiously
endeavoring to draw a lifelike portraiture of his being, and to
form a just estimate of his public conduct, should have drifted
into more or less indiscriminating eulogy, painting his great
features in the most glowing colors, and covering with tender
shadings whatever might look like a blemish.

But his standing before posterity will not be exalted by mere
praise of his virtues and abilities, nor by any concealment of
his limitations and faults. The stature of the great man, one of
whose peculiar charms consisted in his being so unlike all other
great men, will rather lose than gain by the idealization which
so easily runs into the commonplace. For it was distinctly the
weird mixture of qualities and forces in him, of the lofty with
the common, the ideal with the uncouth, of that which he had
become with that which he had not ceased to be, that made him so
fascinating a character among his fellow-men, gave him his
singular power over their minds and hearts, and fitted him to be
the greatest leader in the greatest crisis of our national life.

His was indeed a marvellous growth. The statesman or the
military hero born and reared in a log cabin is a familiar figure
in American history; but we may search in vain among our
celebrities for one whose origin and early life equalled Abraham
Lincoln’s in wretchedness. He first saw the light in a miserable
hovel in Kentucky, on a farm consisting of a few barren acres in
a dreary neighborhood; his father a typical “poor Southern
white,” shiftless and without ambition for himself or his
children, constantly looking for a new piece of land on which he
might make a living without much work; his mother, in her youth
handsome and bright, grown prematurely coarse in feature and
soured in mind by daily toil and care; the whole household
squalid, cheerless, and utterly void of elevating inspirations…
Only when the family had “moved” into the malarious backwoods of
Indiana, the mother had died, and a stepmother, a woman of thrift
and energy, had taken charge of the children, the shaggy-headed,
ragged, barefooted, forlorn boy, then seven years old, “began to
feel like a human being.” Hard work was his early lot. When a
mere boy he had to help in supporting the family, either on his
father’s clearing, or hired out to other farmers to plough, or
dig ditches, or chop wood, or drive ox teams; occasionally also
to “tend the baby,” when the farmer’s wife was otherwise engaged.
He could regard it as an advancement to a higher sphere of
activity when he obtained work in a “crossroads store,” where he
amused the customers by his talk over the counter; for he soon
distinguished himself among the backwoods folk as one who had
something to say worth listening to. To win that distinction, he
had to draw mainly upon his wits; for, while his thirst for
knowledge was great, his opportunities for satisfying that thirst
were wofully slender.

In the log schoolhouse, which he could visit but little, he was
taught only reading, writing, and elementary arithmetic. Among
the people of the settlement, bush farmers and small tradesmen,
he found none of uncommon intelligence or education; but some of
them had a few books, which he borrowed eagerly. Thus he read
and reread, AEsop’s Fables, learning to tell stories with a point
and to argue by parables; he read Robinson Crusoe, The Pilgrim’s
Progress, a short history of the United States, and Weems’s Life
of Washington. To the town constable’s he went to read the
Revised Statutes of Indiana. Every printed page that fell into
his hands he would greedily devour, and his family and friends
watched him with wonder, as the uncouth boy, after his daily
work, crouched in a corner of the log cabin or outside under a
tree, absorbed in a book while munching his supper of corn bread.
In this manner he began to gather some knowledge, and sometimes
he would astonish the girls with such startling remarks as that
the earth was moving around the sun, and not the sun around the
earth, and they marvelled where “Abe” could have got such queer
notions. Soon he also felt the impulse to write; not only making
extracts from books he wished to remember, but also composing
little essays of his own. First he sketched these with charcoal
on a wooden shovel scraped white with a drawing-knife, or on
basswood shingles. Then he transferred them to paper, which was
a scarce commodity in the Lincoln household; taking care to cut
his expressions close, so that they might not cover too much
space,–a style-forming method greatly to be commended. Seeing
boys put a burning coal on the back of a wood turtle, he was
moved to write on cruelty to animals. Seeing men intoxicated
with whiskey, he wrote on temperance. In verse-making, too, he
tried himself, and in satire on persons offensive to him or
others,–satire the rustic wit of which was not always fit for
ears polite. Also political thoughts he put upon paper, and some
of his pieces were even deemed good enough for publication in the
county weekly.

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