Denton Jaques Snider.

Abraham Lincoln, an interpretation in biography online

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Introduction page

Meaning of Lincoln's Life ... 5-12

Part First

Lincoln's Apprenticeship .... 13-257

Chapter First,
Lincoln's Youth . . ... 20- 91

Chapter Second.

Drifting. ... ... 92-200

Chapter Third.

Getting Anchored 201-257



Part Second. page

Lincoln's National Call .... 258-515

Chapter First,
From State to Nation .... 269-305

Chapter Second.
Lincoln's Subsidence . . . . . 306-356

Chapter Third,
The National Choice 357-5 L5

Part Third.
Lincoln, the Nation's Executive, 516-575



President-elect Lincoln, while on his journey to
the Capital for the purpose of being installed in the
highest office of the Nation, felt prompted by the
locality to make certain biographic remarks in an
address before the Senate of New Jersey, at Tren-
ton, a few days preceding his inauguration. These
remarks show the formative power of biography
over a human career, notably over that of Lincoln,
and hint suggestively, even if unconsciously, the
lines upon which his life is to be constructed by
the biographer. Preluding what is to follow by
these words of Lincoln, we shall emphasize his
salient thoughts. Let us then, first of all, hear
him speak.



"May I be pardoned, if, upon this occasion, I
mention that away back in my childhood, the
earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold
of a small book, such a one as few of the younger
members have ever seen — ^Weems' Life of Wash-
ington. I remember all the accounts there given
of the battle-fields and struggles for the liberties
of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my
imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Tren-
ton, New Jersey. . . . You all know, for you have
been boys, how these early impressions last longer
than any others. I recollect thinking then, boy
even though I was, that there must have been
something more than common that these men strug-
gled for. I am exceedingly anxious that that
thing, that something even 7?iore than national in-
dependence, that something that held out a great
promise to all the people of the world to all time to
come — I am exceedingly anxious that this Union,
the Constitution and the liberties of the people
shall be perpetuated in accordance with the origi-
nal idea for which that struggle was made, and I
shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an hum-
ble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of
this, his almost chosen People, for perpetuating the
object of that great struggle."

Thus Lincoln in siglit of his mighty task, gives
expression to the thoughts which well out of his
heai1 in presence of the historic associations clus-
tering around the New Jersey Capital. The chief


interest is that the speaker calls up Washington
moving from the hour of his sorest trial forward to one
of his greatest triumphs, and instinctively couples
that time with the present. An epoch is dawning
equal in magnitude to that of the Revolution, if
not more colossal; very naturally Lincoln conjoins
himself with Washington, and becomes aware of
himself as the pilot to a new era, though with
deep foreboding, as he looks out from Trenton upon
the coming crisis.

Nor should we omit to note those fleeting pro-
phetic intimations, those fitful flashes of foresight
and insight into the Supreme Oixler, of which Lin-
coln in his high moments was capable, and which
break forth through detached phrases from the
hidden depths of his agitated soul. He is conscious
that something is at stake "even more than na-
tional independence ", which was the purpose of
the old Revolution. He glimpses the far-extending,
globe-encircling significance of the contest, involv-
ing in its result "a great promise to all the people
of the world to all time to come'" : surely a vast
outlook, world-historical in the widest sense. And
the biogra]^her must try to stretch his own soul
to the vision of that promise seen by Lincoln, and
to give to it some kind of utterance. Moreover
Lincoln's great happiness is in feeling himself to be
"an instrument in the hands of the Almighty" as
well as an instrument in the hands "of this His
almost chosen People", to bring about the grand


coming consummation of the ages. It may be per-
mitted to draw forth into clearer outline from the
shadowy twilight in which they float, these pro-
phetic premonitions of Lincoln. We behold him
forecasting his highest function, and placing him-
self between the People (or Folk-Soul) on this side,
and on that side the Almighty revealing Himself
as the World-Spirit in the historic occurrences of
Time. Thus he is truly an instrument of both
these Powers, the one here below and the other
there above ; a mediator we may name him between
the Folk-Soul and the World-Spirit, both of which
he, Abraham Lincohi, is born to harmonize, after
they have produced just about the loudest and shrill-
est dissonance of the century, if not of all history.
So he speaks, not with the strictness of a logical
formula but with the glimmering outline of a far-
off forecast, discoursing first of that Power more
than national, in supereminent sway over all the
people of the world to all time to come, then of
himself as instrument of it, who is to bring it down
and realize it in this his almost chosen People, also
an elemental Power in the enduring world-histor-
ical act. Now it is these two Powers which will
move through the life of Lincoln, and will be b}^
him interwoven, and indeed unified, making him
truly the Great Man of his nation and epoch. To
each of them we give its own name, that they be
distinctly marked off and specially designated. In
the People, from whom Liucoln springs, to whom


he appeals, and for whom he acts, is working a
character, an instinct, a Soul — we shall often call
it the Folk-Soul. The almighty, providential
Power, whom Lincoln often invokes under one
name or other, who has his hand on human events,
antl directs them to his end, we shall name the
world-historical Spirit, or simply the World-Spirit.
This last is "something more than common",
"more than national", yet employing the particu-
lar nation at a given time as its upbearer and
realizcr for fulfilling a given stage of the supreme
end of the World's History. Moreover between
these two Powers there is a certain immediate re-
lation, as w^hen we hear it said that in a great
crisis Public Opinion (the Folk-Soul) bears directly
the impress of the Genius of the Age (the World-
Spirit) . In such a case, however, the Folk needs
a leader in word and action, voicing its dumb as-
piration and bringing it to realize in deeds the
decree of the supernal Power whose potency it
feels and whose end it carries out. Such a leader
for our Nation in its pivotal crisis was Lincoln,
mediating, as we designate the relation, this par-
ticular American Folk-Soul of ours, with the uni-
versal World-Spirit, the Prime Mover in and over
all History,

Another fact should be taken out of the forego-
ing bit of a speech and dwelt upon with due atten-
tion : Lincoln had read during his early youth in
the frontier cabin of his parents the life of George


Washington by M. L. Weems, who, we learn from
the title-page, was "formerly rector of Mount
Vernon parish ", where was located the well-known
residence of the Father of his Country. That book
had gone deep into Lincoln's soul and had stayed
with him through life, not only furnishing an ideal
of manhood and moulding his character, but also
showing him the way to reach the popular heart.
For Weems was a story-teller, an anecdotist, yea
a myth-maker, or at least a myth-gatherer, weav-
ing around the name of Washington many a won-
derful legend. Such for instance, was the marvel-
ous dream of Washington's mother (with interpre-
tation by Weems), and the hero's providential
escapes from his foes, the Indians and the British,
the whole being garnished with apt allusions to
Scripture and even to Homer. In the same book is
found the most popular of all American folk-tales,
the story of the Little Hatchet with its moral cli-
max: "Father, I can't tell a lie". This story,
Weems says, was taken down from the lips of "an
excellent lady ", of old the depository and trans-
mitter of folk-lore. Deeply educative was the
book for the almost schoolless boy reading in the
night by the fire of a back-log; even then he was
getting ready for his task, and he now recognizes
the fact, as he looks rearward into his past, una-
voidably connecting himself with Washington,
wh(M"(nn most of his countrymen have since fol-
lowed him. It is true that there is a striking dif-


ference between the high-toned, well-educated,
dignified Mrginia gentleman and the awkward,
self-made backwoodsman of the North-West. The
one represented the Right of Revokition and suc-
ceeded ; the other represented the Wrong of Revo-
kition and succeeded. The career of the first led
primarily to separation and won it; the career of
the second led primarily to union and won it. Still
both sprang from the same Mrginia, though at dif-
ferent removes ; the one may be called the son and
the other the grandson of the Old Commonwealth.
The triumphant end of Washington's war was
Yorktown^ the triumphant end of Lincoln's war
was Appomattox, both places being in the same
general locality of the same State, Mrginia.

Rector Weems thus heroizes Washington for his
People and writes a unique book, though running
somewhat in the Plutarchian mythologic vein and
breaking out into dramatic dialogue upon tempt-
ing occasions. Such a biography is at present
hardly possible, perchance not desirable, though
to our forefathers it had unquestionably its mes-
sage. Lincoln drew from it deep joys and deeper
training of the spirit. His own life was enwreathed,
particularly while he was President, in masses of
fable ever sprouting afresh from the Folk-Soul, he
being himself the People's own fabulist. This the
biographer cannot neglect, though with it must be
given the profounder significance of Lincoln's
careerj truly world-historical.


Another utterance may be cited, concordant
with the foregoing statement, showing to whom
Lincoln's thoughts reverted as he beheld and
brooded over the coming trials of his country. His
fellow-citizens of Springfield assembled for a part-
ing salutation when he set out to assume his Presi-
dential duties, with the cloud of Civil War already
darkening the Southern horizon. He bade them
farewell, breathing a sigh of premonition and giv-
ing a glimpse of that great man of the past in
whose presence he seemed to live during those try-
ing days: "I now leave, not knowing when or
whether ever I may return, imth a task before me
greater than that which rested upon Washington^

part jfirst.

When it began to be foreshadowed about 1859-
60 that Abraham Lincohi was the coming man of
the supreme national emergency, a great desire
was felt to know how he got to be. Even to his
friends the hues of his early life ran back into a cloud
which he seemed unwilling to disperse. Two
little bits of autobiography were wrung from him
by the necessities of the approaching campaign.
From the first we take the following extract which
gives a glimpse of his early opportunities for



education in the backwoods of Indiana. (Works
of Lincoln, by Nicolay & Hay, I, p. 596.)

'There were some schools so-called, but no
qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond
reading writing and ciphering to the rule of three.
If a straggler supposed to understand Latin
happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was
looked upon as a wizard. There was absolutely
nothing to excite ambition for education." Still
we shall see that Lincoln learned from these
frontier teachers the elements and the educative
instrumentalities of all culture. He thus had the
chance of making further progress by means of
the printed page, though "I have not been to
school since. The little advance I now have upon
this store of education, I have picked up from time
to time under the pressure of necessity." Somewhat
too disparaging is the tone of these confessions, as
Lincoln contrasted himself with Seward and other
college-bred men in public life. But he had oppor-
tunities for training which they had not, and
which are by no means to be omitted from any
complete account of his life's discipline for his
mighty task.

In the other bit of autobiography (Works,
I, p. 639), written in the third person, for use during
the campaign of 1860, he returns to the defects of
his early education: "Abraham now thinks that
the aggregate of all his schooling did not amount
to one year. He was never in a college or academy


as a student, and never inside a college or academy
building till since he had a law license. What he
has in the way of education, he has picked up.
After he was twenty-three he studied English
Grammar — imperfectly of course, but so as to
speak and write as he now docs. He studied and
nearly mastered the six books of Euclid since he
was a member of Congress," that is, after he was
forty years old. Through these simple modest
paragraphs pee})s out the uncjuenchablc aspiration
of the man; he educates himself and graduates
from a school of which he is the only man of his
time who holds or can hold a diploma. Now that
school with its curriculum is just what our reader,
we hope, wishes to hear about in this book of ours.
Still another precious autobiographic morsel
concerning Lincoln we can catch up from the first
pages of his Boswoll, Hcrndon. Just after the
Chicago Convention of 18G0, a reporter by the
name of Scripps, called upon him for some details
of his life. Lincoln at first shrank from the idea,
exclaiming, "Why, Scripps, it is a great piece of
folly to make anything out of me or my early life.
It can all be condensed into a single sentence, and
that sentence you will find in Gray's Elegy,

The short and simple annals of the poor.

That's my life, and that is all that you or anyone
else can make of it."

And yet the life of Lincoln before ISOO has


become that part of him which the People love
to hang over and ponder upon in a kind of in-
satiable wonder. More than any other recorded
career it reveals the possibilities of the American
man rising from the humblest to the highest
position in the land. How did he do it? The
reader clutches and caresses every little fact try-
ing to coax out of it some brief whisper of the
lurking secret. Lincoln's education certainly
flowed not in the ordinary channels made by the
stream of transmitted culture. Still he had an
education unique of its kind and preparing him
supremely for his world-historical function. Now
this education of Lincoln, being quite different
from what is usually included under that term and
reaching considerably beyond th(! usual school-age,
we shall designate specially as his Apprenticeship,
which indeed covers the first thirty-three years of
his life, from his birth till his marriage. And this
considerable stretch of human existence has like-
wise its lesser turns and tides, which the biog-
rapher should not fail to trace in passing.

Lincoln the apprentice, therefore, we are to
follow in the present period, tracking him as far
as possible along the main lines of his spirit's early
flowering. AVe arc to behold in it a time of pre-
liminary training for his work; we can hardly leave
out of view whither he is going, and under what
guidance. Easy enough is it ordinarily to tell to
what school, college, university this or that dis-


tinguished man went, what he studied and who
were his teachers, in the beaten road of academic
disciphne. But all this becomes just the difficult
thing to speak out and even to find in the case of
Lincoln, who has and even makes his own curric-
ulum while he goes along. He creates his college
course as he lives, and the biographer must create
it after him from the little and few fragments which
have been fished out of his youth's fountain of
oblivion. His chief instruction does not take place
in a building devoted to education; Lincoln's
school-house is the world, more particularly his
institutional environment, which he is to absorb
more completely and to become acquainted with
more intimately than any other man of his time.
The People was his instructor, and he learned the
lesson so well that he in the end became the in-
structor of the People.

We may say, then, that during the first period of
his life Lincoln was the apprentice of the Folk-
Soul, especially as the latter manifested itself in
the Northwestern portion of the United States.
Primarily he is of it, one with it, pulsing respon-
sively to all its throbs; an embryo we may regard
him, not yet consciously born of his institutional
mother, even if lustily struggling for birth and the
light of Heaven. During all these years, a full
generation indeed, young Lincoln is but a germinal
unit, an atom of the vast protoplasmic mass called
the Multitude, from which, through the discipline


of life, he is to differentiate himself and rise up to
true individuality. This concentrates into one
burning point the People, who thus in their Great
Man can see themselves by their own light. Through
such individuals a Nation, if it can produce them,
need never die, being able to re-constitute and to
re-make itself in the pinch of destiny

The apprentice Lincoln — so we may name him
for the nonce — we are now to see in the workshop
or school of the Folk-Soul, learning its ways, how
it looks at things, and particularly how it deals
with its own institutions. He has to get widely
and well acquainted with his own around him —
the hardest branch in the curriculum of life. More-
over he has not merely to commune deeply with
the Folk-Soul, but he must learn to talk to it in its
own dialect. Thus it understands him when he
speaks to it, and it responds to him, often with a
tremendous acclaim. On the other hand he under-
stands it, probably better than any other American
has ever succeeded in doing. Still all this he has to
learn, and this is the theme of his Apprenticeship.
Anecdote, fable, law, politics, even love are some
of the elements surging through the long discipline,
often chaotic in outer appearance, but inwardly
attuned to one harmonious end, if our ear can be
brought to catch the music.

Here, however, we shall just hint what the
future is fully to reveal. This A]ij:)rcnticeship is not
the finality of the man, but is only the means,


the road leading him forward to his supreme voca-
tion. As he himself declared, he is "the instru-
ment" in the hands of the Almighty and of the
People to fulfil the grand behest of the Ages. Still
he has to have preparation and a good deal of it.
This Apprenticeship is, accordingly, but a part or
stage of the total Lincoln. Nevertheless it has
its own process and its own law governing its some-
what diversified and scattered occurrences. These
are what we shall have to study, seeking to put
them into some kind of inner relation and order,
which brings to light their psychical movement, and
thus reveals the soul itself in its unfolding. This
Apprenticeship, we may say in advance, will show
Lincoln in three stages or chapters of his si)irit's
evolution towards its supreme end: first, his
youth with its schooling at home under the paternal
roof, then his going forth and experiencing the
world in a time of drifting, finally his getting
established in State, Community and Family, or
his becoming institutionalized. With this last
phase his Apprenticeship is rounded out to fullness,
and the Apprentice passes on to the next great
sweep of his life's occurrences driving forward
towards his goal.


Xtncoln'0 !3outb.

The boundary of Lincoln's youthful period we
may draw through the year when he becomes of
age, and quits parental guidance for the direct ex-
perience of the world. He reaches a new individ-
uality, being now his own master; a kind of second
birth it is, bringing him into another, yet inde-
pendent life. From babyhood to manhood we
conceive Lincoln's youth to range, dropping upon
his path many an important lesson which he will
never forget. In his tenth year the tenderest tie
of his young existence was snapped in twain by
the death of his mother, which stamped or helped
to stamp upon his soft heart and even upon his
face lines of an undying sorrow.

Accordingly Lincoln, till ho was twenty-one years
old, remained at home, and received the domestic
training of his father's family. It was a shifting
unsettled household, yet had an inner life over
which the two women, the mother and the step-
mother, successively presided, giving to it in the
humblest siu'roundings a real nobility of character
and depth of feeling. This training of the home
through his two mothers developed and purified
Lincoln's emotional life, so that his native human
sympathy was always one of his mightiest powers.
To be sure he; was originally gifted with a great re-


sponsivc heart, which nevertheless might have
been dwarfed or pei'vcrted had it not been mi-
folded and ennobled by the maternal instinct
moulding the child-soul in the home.

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12th, 1809,
three miles from the little town of Hodgensville,
in a locality which was then included in Hardin
County, Kentucky, but which now belongs to La
Rue County. His parents were named Thomas
and Nancy Lincoln, whose social position was that
of the poor class of Southerners. The son de-
clared in a brief sketch of himself (in 1859) that
"my parents were both born in Virginia, of un-
distinguished families — second families perhaps I
should say." Wherein we feel the unspoken con-
trast with the first families of Virginia, so famous,
to which his people did not belong.

We have already seen how Lincoln shrank from
his own biography in his response to reporter
Scripps just after his nomination for the Presi-
dency. Of course he could not and did not appre-
ciate the import of his own life up to 1860, when he
made the before cited statements about himself.
And he was then seemingly correct in his judgment.
The succeeding five years are to bring out the man
and to set him down in the very focus of the World's
History, which will throw a search-light into eveiy
little nook of his previous humble existence. Those
last years of his were the realization of what lay
in him, and revealed him ec^ual to the mightiest


crisis of the age. So mankind must find out how
he came to be what he was, and will persist in pry-
ing into every dark corner of his earlier days to see
if it can not discover the clew of his genesis. That
inquisitive reporter of 18G0 was but the brief pre-
lude of a long line of biographers running down
into the present and shooting out many a bud for
the future.

A word may be inserted here upon the scope of
the present work, which does not attempt to add
new details of Lincoln's life, but to order and inter-
pret old facts, those already well-knowm and col-
lected by numerous investigators. Nor is there
intended a critique of the extensive Lincoln
literature, though such a work would be timely, if
done by the right hand in the right way. Within
all the outer occurrences of his life we seek to see
and to utter the spiritual or psychical evolution of
Lincoln unfolding in and through the institutions
of his land, which he not only maintained but also
transformed, thereby putting them in line with
the movement of the World's Histor3^

It is well known that Lincoln often reflected
upon, yea, brooded over the mystery of his origin
and destiny. He seemed unable to account for

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderAbraham Lincoln, an interpretation in biography → online text (page 1 of 34)