Frederick Howard Wines.

Forty years after. The greatness of Abraham Lincoln: an address delivered at the Lincoln monument on Decoration day, May 30, 1905 online

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Online LibraryFrederick Howard WinesForty years after. The greatness of Abraham Lincoln: an address delivered at the Lincoln monument on Decoration day, May 30, 1905 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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The Greatness of
Abraham Lincoln:


Delivered at the Lincoln Monument

On Decoration Day,

May 30, 1905,




U Mi lfl't*^



<&\\t <&veatne*& of Qbvahaxn gixtcoixt.

There is nothing new to be said about Abraham Lin-
coln. On this day consecrated to the memory of our
heroic dead, of whom he is the most illustrious, it is
nevertheless a sad but pleasant duty to recall him to
mind and place our humble tribute of grateful appre-
ciation upon his tomb. Especially is it appropriate
that this simple ceremonial be not neglected or unworth-
ily performed in the town where he lived, from which
he went forth, a knight without fear and without re-
proach, and to it he returned, crowned with the glory
of martyrdom. On this spot a nation plunged in grief
laid his beloved dust to rest in the grave. There are
those among us who knew him as no others had the
opportunity to know him. Around the head of every
departed hero a cloud gathers, large in proportion to
the height to which he towered above his fellows. It
takes the shape of a halo, it changes color with the
lapse of years, as the sky bursts into flame when the
sun's level rays gild the eastern or western horizon;
but, as the light of the noonday sun is white, so, in the
light of historical criticism, that which was mythical
fades away, and the true image of the man appears.
The difficult task that I have set myself, on this occa-
sion, is to draw a truthful portrait of Lincoln, one
whose verisimilitude will be felt and acknowledged by
those of his townsmen and contemporaries still living,
whose mouthpiece for the moment I would fain make
myself; for my eyes never beheld him except in death.

Nature made Lincoln great. That his greatness was
not always recognized by those who saw him in the
undress which was natural to him, is not surprising.
A mine does not reveal its hidden treasure until it is
opened. His ungainly figure was the casket in which
Nature had deposited a gem of priceless, unsuspected
value, a new soul, and such a one as his neighbors, his
country and the world did not dream to exist upon

Because he was not understood, and is not yet under-
stood, the imagination clothes with him mystery and
is prone to regard his career as a miracle. An appre-
ciative, sympathetic biographer has even said of him
that "he was an enigma to all men." From this
view I venture to dissent. There is indeed a sense in
which every man is an enigma to every other. No
man can or will unveil himself to any other, except
in part. No two men touch at all points, therefore no
two can comprehend each other, except in part. We
are all many-sided; Lincoln was so to a degree far
beyond most men. He was reticent by nature, did his
own thinking, acted upon his own judgment, gave his
entire confidence to no one, rarely sought advice, and
said no more upon any occasion than he chose to say.
Genius is always inexplicable.

It has been truly said that "to understand a thing
is to perceive its relations." To understand Lincoln, we
must comprehend his relations. He was of pioneer
stock, and his early life was that of a pioneer. How
inadequate, if not how false, is the conception formed
of pioneer life by one who has not himself shared it,
who knows the backwoods and the frontier only by
hearsay and report, who has never stood where he
could see the tide of emigration flow past him over the
prairies and plains of the great west ! A portrait must

have a background. Is it reasonable to suppose that
any but a frontiersman can so paint the reflected lights
and shadows as to bring into strong relief that gigantic
figure? As well might we expect a foreigner, with
European traditions and prejudices, who has never
crossed the Atlantic ocean, to picture to himself the
new world as it really is. A gulf as wide, as deep as
that ocean separates, too, the mere litterateur and
scholar from the able and successful man who has not
enjoyed the same advantages of a literary training.
Everything that books contain must have been known
by somebody, before a book about it could be written.
Book learning is knowledge at second hand on testi-
mony, to be received by faith. Lincoln, like all great
men who are self-made, looked man and nature directly
in the face.

It was probably well for him, and for us, that he
did not receive an academic education. The men of
whom this can be said are not many, but he must be
numbered among them. The knowledge of books is
not the knowledge of men, and for one in public life
the knowledge of men is of greater consequence than
that of books. The farm, the fiatboat, the country
store, the judicial circuit, brought him into touch with
the people as the university never could have done.
The university would have removed him to too great a
distance from them. The effort involved in acquiring
knowledge by his unaided exertions imparted additional
vigor to his mind. The sense of his ignorance of many
things taught within college walls developed within
him the grace of intellectual humility, that prime con-
dition of intellectual greatness. And his powers were
not dissipated by diversion from the main subject upon
which his attention was concentrated — law and politics,
or the science and art of government. So far from be-

ing illiterate, however, he was an indefatigable student,
in his early youth, and later in life, for instance, at
Vandalia, where, it is said, while in the legislature, he
read everything in the state library bearing upon the
special theme which he sought to master. He took
nothing into his mind that he did not assimilate, he
had a retentive memory, all that he acquired was a per-
manent possession, which became a part, so to speak, of

He was self-educated, but the remains of his personal
library attest the fact that, when he was a law student
in the office of John T. Stuart, he had studied with care
all the text-books on mathematics, physics and belles
lettres which were at that time included in the curri-
culum of Yale College. He probably knew them better
than most Yale graduates. He never acquired a knowl-
edge of any language but his mother-tongue; but his
mastery of English style, as shown in the Gettysburg
address and in his second inaugural, both of which are
numbered among the masterpieces of literature, was
due to his remarkable familiarity with Shakespeare and
the Bible.

It was only by slow degrees that his ability and at-
tainments became apparent to the world. There is
still, perhaps, in certain circles, too strong a disposition
to measure him by inapplicable and artificial standards.

The greatness of a man consists not in what he does,
but in what he is. What he does proves what he is.
He grows by doing, of course. He may be great, but
never have an opportunity to show to the world to his
real capacity. Nature has always in reserve an unlim-
ited supply of great men, for whose services she has
no actual need. For the want of scope and exercise for
his talents a man essentially great may never bring his
powers to the point of full fruitage. Men are like

trees. To produce a sequoia, such as we see in the val-
ley of the Yosemite, there is needed first the seed of a
sequoia, and after that the conditions of soil and cli-
mate favorable to its growth. That which was in the
seed comes out of it ; had it not been there, it would not
have come out. Apply this to Abraham Lincoln. Con-
trast him with the men who had opportunities but little
inferior to his own, but who failed to profit by them,
because they were of inferior calibre. He did the great
things he did, because he was great. He would have
been great, had he never done them, being what God
made him, though we might never have found it out.
That is the central truth on which I beg you to fix
your attention, for all that I may say will be by way
of illustrating it and pressing it home.

Of his physique I shall say little. His size and his
strength are proverbial. As to his health, I observe that
none of his biographers refer to any serious illness
from which he ever suffered. He was subject to fits
of terrible nervous depression, especially in early man-
hood, but they seem to have been temperamental, and
not the result of physical exhaustion. He is commonly
said to have been of homely features ; but I have heard
an artist, a sculptor, contend that this is a matter of
opinion. Beauty is not an objective fact, but a subjec-
tive impression; and for his part, he saw in him the
beauty of rugged strength, of honesty and kindness,
and he declared his face to be a rare and perfect speci-
men of the highest type of manly beauty, such as that
of Julius Caesar.

When we consider his intellectual qualities, there can
be no question that love of the truth was the master
passion of his soul. Had he lived in the days of coat
armor, the legend upon his shield might well have been
the saying of Solomon, or of some one as wise as Solo-

inon, "Buy the truth and sell it not." He sought for
wisdom as for hid treasure. How he toiled, alone,
without a teacher, and in the face of difficulties which
in the case of most boys would have proved insurmount-
able, to acquire the rudiments of knowledge ! Truth
had such an affinity for his mind that he may almost
be said to have divined it by intuition. This love of
truth was like an inward light. It enabled him to see
all things in perspective. His mind was like a camera.
He believed in the truth. He identified his fortunes
with it, casting himself upon its bosom as he launched
his flatboat upon the current of the Mississippi, with
full assurance that its majestic flow would bear him to
his desired and destined haven. The larger the truth,
the greater his confidence in it. Without technical
scientific training, he grasped the basic conception of
science, that of the sequence of cause and effect in an
unbroken series, the uniformity, universality, and im-
mutability of natural law. Unread in metaphysics, he
was a student of history, and felt that he and all men
and all events are controlled by that mysterious power
which the ignorant call fate, the wise law, and the re-
ligious providence. A year before his death he wrote
to a friend, "I claim not to have controlled events but
confess plainly that events have controlled me." This
simple faith was the secret of his patient optimism,
his unsurpassed courage, his fidelity to every trust.

Closely allied to this supreme love of truth was his
exquisite sense of right. Eight is truth in action.
Truth and righteousness were the two poles of the axis
around which his entire being revolved with an un-
varying steadiness resembling the regularity of the di-
uranl motion of the globe.

From a very early age he was dimly conscious of his
budding powers, and restlessly sought a vent for their

exercise and display. Ambition is innate in every su-
perior mind. His ambition was inseparably united to
the burning wish to be of service to mankind. In his
first address to his constituents he said, "I have no
other [ambition] so great as that of being truly es-
teemed by my fellow-men, by rendering myself worthy
of their esteem." At the moment of the most profound
gloom into which he ever fell, he said, "I have an
irrepressible desire to live till I can be assured that the
world is a little better for my having lived in it." In
his address before the Springfield Lyceum he declared
that the ambition of many men aspires to nothing
higher than the holding of public office— a seat in Con-
gress, a gubernatorial or presidential chair, "but such
belong not to the family of the lion or the tribe of the
eagle." "Towering genius," he continued, "thirsts and
burns for distinction; and if possible it will have it,
whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or en-
slaving freemen." The nature of the distinction which
he coveted, and which he ultimately achieved, is fore-
shadowed in this youthful production. He obeyed the
injunction of Emerson, he "hitched his wagon to a

He was but twenty-three years of age when, untried
and unknown, without backing of any description, he
announced himself as a candidate for the legislature,
quaintly remarking: "If elected, I shall be thankful;
if not, it will be all the same." He was but two years
older when his ambition was gratified. For four suc-
cessive terms, covering a period of eight years, his con-
stituents returned him to the lower house. Twice in
succession he was selected by his Whig colleagues as
their candidate for the speakership, and they went down
to defeat bearing a banner inscribed with his name.
Both in 1840 and in 1844 his name was on their elec-

toral ticket. At the age of thirty-seven he was sent to
Washington as Congressman, the only Whig Congress-
man from his state. From that time forward, he was
admittedly the foremost man of his party in Illinois;
three times its candidate for a seat in the United
States Senate — in 1849, when he was defeated by
Shields, in 1855, when, in order to defeat Matteson, he
withdrew in favor of Trumbull, and in 1859, when he
was beaten by Douglas.

Such honors do not come by accident, nor to men un-
worthy of them. His social qualities, his kindness of
heart, his affability, his sense of humor and skill as a
raconteur, all contributed to render him popular. He
had the tender sympathy for men, and even for ani-
mals, which caused him to spend an hour in replacing
in their nest two half-fledged birds, and then apologize
for it in the words, "I could not have slept well to-night,
if I had not saved those birds; their cries would have
rung in my ears." It afterward impelled him to par-
don deserters, and to say, when urged to retaliate the
cruelty of Andersonville in kind, "I never can; I can
never starve men like that." He expressed the core of
his great heart, when he remarked of himself, "Die
when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew
me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a
flower when I thought a flower would grow." But pop-
ularity does not insure permanent precedence; it is as
ephemeral as the ever veering wind. Leadership de-
pends on the enduring qualities of head and heart of
him who retains through life his ascendancy over men.

Neither can we account for such continued ascendancy
by attributing it to skill in the arts of the political
manipulator. He knew those arts. Within the limits
of integrity and honor, he may be said to have prac-
tised them. He was a politician. No man not a poli-



tician is qualified to be governor of a state or president
of the republic. A more astute politician this country
has perhaps never known. Among his friends were
many politicians less scrupulous than himself, for
whose actions he cannot be held personally responsible.
But what is a politician? What is the distinction be-
tween a politician and a statesman?

It is the difference between an end and the means to
that end. A statesman is one who has clearly in mind
some patriotic purpose ; a politician is one who perceives
the processes by which alone that purpose can be accom-
plished. Political ends must be reached, and are ar-
rived at, by political processes; they can be attained in
no other way. This Mr. Lincoln well knew, and his
conduct proves it. The difference between a statesman
and a politician may be illustrated by comparing the
former to the engineer who constructs a railway, but
the latter to the engineer who sits in the cab of the lo-
comotive which he drives over the rails after they have
been laid. A road must run somewhere. The politi-
cian who has no goal in sight other than an office for
himself will be apt to drive the car of state into the
ditch or into the river. The self-seeking political
schemer and wireworker is never a patriot, never a
statesman. This was not the type of man God gave to
this nation in the person of Abraham Lincoln. He
could say of himself in all candor and in truth, "I have
never done an official act with a view to promote my
personal aggrandizement." He subordinated his per-
sonal ambitions to the public good. HM most intimate
friend says of him, "He never believed in political
combinations ," and again, "He was much more eager for
the second nomination than for the first, yet from the
beginning he discouraged all efforts on the part of his
friends to obtain it." To one of his appointees, speak-


ing of his possible use of his position to influence the re-
sult of a pending election, he wrote these memorable
words : "My wish is that you will do just as you think
fit with your own suffrage in the case, and not constrain
any of your subordinates to do other than he thinks fit
with his/' No more need be said, in order to differen-
tiate him from politicians of the baser sort, who seek
to shield themselves from condemnation by pleading his
example in justification of their course.

No, Lincoln had one great end in view throughout
his life, from its beginning to its close. It was the ex-
tinction of slavery. Its gradual extinction, mark you,
not its sudden and violent abolition. He hated slavery
as intensely as did Lovejoy or Sumner or Seward or
Chase or Giddings. But he was like Henry Clay, a
gradual emancipationist, a colonizationist. He advoca-
ted compensation to the slave-holder. This is one rea-
son why he was misunderstood. Of the institution as
an institution, he said : "If slavery is not wrong, noth-
ing is wrong." He quoted, as expressing his own
sentiment, the words of Jefferson, himself a slave-hold-
er: "This momentous question, like a fire-bell in
the night, awakened and filled me with terror." Who
does not recall the language of his second inaugural
with reference to it? "Fondly do we hope, fervently
do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speed-
ily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until
all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred
and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until
every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by
another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand
years ago, so still it must be said, 'The judgments of the
Lord are true and righteous altogether.' "

Never for one moment did he doubt that freedom
would in the end triumph over slavery, because he had


implicit faith in the ultimate victory of truth over error,
the ultimate triumph of right over wrong. It was his
fortune to live at an epoch when this was the precise
issue which absorbed the attention of the American peo-
ple, to the exclusion of all minor issues which had pre-
viously divided them. Behold the hour and the man!

From the day when his only term in Congress came
to an end in 1849, he was, as has already been said, the
recognized leader of his party in Illinois. His elevation
to ,the presidency was no sudden, miraculous event. The
steps that led to this happy consummation are easily
traced in history. They were simple, natural, and in a
sense inevitable.

In Congress, while he had voted the supplies needed
with which to carry on the Mexican war, he had openly
shown his dislike for it and disapproval of President
Polk's method of beginning it. He had voted for the
Wilmot proviso, forbidding the establishment of slavery
in any territory acquired from Mexico, which was agreed
to by the House, but rejected by the Senate. In the
Compromise of 1850, shaped by Henry Clay, (who in
his old age had been recalled from retirement for that
purpose), California was admitted as a free state, but
from the newly organized territories of Utah and New
Mexico slavery was not excluded. Lincoln would have
preferred to have had it otherwise, but he bowed to the
law and to the judgment of others, his political friends,
and accepted the situation. The next five years of his
life were for him years of comparative political quiesc-
ence. The Compromise of 1850 had been endorsed in
the political platforms of both parties. The Whig
party was in a semi-moribund state. And the question
of the extension of slavery was generally held and be-
lieved to have been adjusted for all time by the Missouri
Compromise of 1820, establishing the line of 36° 30',


known as Mason and Dixon's line, north of which
slavery was never to be allowed. It was then that
Douglas struck a ponderous blow upon the fire-bell of
Jefferson, whose clangor resounded through the land,
arousing everybody, north and south alike. Douglas,
as chairman of the Senate committee on territories, re-
ported with favorable recommendation the famous Kan-
sas-Nebraska bill, annulling the Missouri Compromise,
which was declared to be inoperative and void. This was
in January, 1854.

Lincoln at once sprang into the ring as champion of
the opposition to this revolutionary measure.

No Illinoisan would detract in the smallest degree
from the well-earned, well-merited fame of Senator
Douglas. In this state at least, the names of Lincoln
and Douglas lead all the rest. These two were rivals at
all points. Their respective careers abound in parallels
and in contrasts, of which it is hard to say which were
the most wonderful. Douglas, like Lincoln, was both a
politician and a statesman ; but in Lincoln the politician
was subordinated to the statesman. This cannot be said
of Douglas with equal assurance. It would, however,
be unfair to him to question the sincerity of his con-
victions or to insinuate that his motives, though they
may have been mixed, were not consistent with genuine
love of country. He made a mistake, a fatal mistake.
His ability no one denies. His soubriquet was "The
Little Giant." The Whigs were afraid of him. Make
him out to be never so great, the fact remains that Lin-
coln was greater. No man but Lincoln was ever put
up to meet him in debate. Lincoln never feared to
measure swords with him, anywhere or at any time.
At the State Fair, which was held in Springfield in Oc-
tober, 1854, Douglas defended his position and his con-


duct as a senator from the free state of Illinois. The
clarion voice of Lincoln rang out in reply, with such
effect that his political friends requested him in writing
to follow Douglas up until the election: They clashed
again at Peoria, when Douglas asked him to desist, and
accordingly it was agreed that there should be no more
joint discussion between them during that campaign.

The Republican party was organized in 1856 — in this
state at Bloomington, in the nation at Philadelphia,
where 110 votes (a little less than one-third) were reg-
istered as in favor of Lincoln for vice-president on the
ticket with Fremont. His name was placed by the Re-
publicans of Illinois that year on their electoral ticket.
He would have been the candidate of the party for gov-
ernor, had he not declined the honor in advance. He
threw himself with ardor into the campaign as a private
serving in the ranks. None the less on that account
was he the real leader in the fray.

Those were the days of "bleeding Kansas" and of the
DTed Scott decision. The Nebraska Bill contained what
Benton characterized as "a stump speech within its
belly," declaring it to be "the true meaning and intent
of this act not to legislate slavery into any territoty or
state, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people
thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their do-
mestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the
Constitution." This was called popular sovereignty.
The Dred Scott decision went farther. The opinion,
in the nature of an obiter dictum, was expressed, that
Congress had no power to exclude slavery from the ter-
ritories. This was a set-back to popular sovereignty,
from an unexpected source. Douglas cheerfully brushed
it to one side with the remark that without friendly leg-
islation to protect the property in man, slavery might,


under that decision, be lawful in a territory, but it
would be impossible. His unfortunate dilemma was
tliat, to become president, he had to persuade the south


Online LibraryFrederick Howard WinesForty years after. The greatness of Abraham Lincoln: an address delivered at the Lincoln monument on Decoration day, May 30, 1905 → online text (page 1 of 2)