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supported Ijy a natixe flush of color or insight, or
the rare gift of workmanship.^

His critical faculty remained dominant. This side
of his mind commands our sincere respect. He had
a natural aptitude for analysis and for generaliza-
tion, but his environment, always tending to develop
the practical side of his nature, furnished, during
the years of his growth and professional education,
no congenial atmosphere for the higher artistic i)er-

I Pages 322-329, Appendix.

30 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

ceptions. He had the necessary endowments of
mind. He was nobly sagacious and imaginative,
but he lacked the range of equipment to supply
standards and method. His environment was such
that he was drawn early and continuously in the
direction of public speech. Even here he preferred
discussion to oratory. Although circumstances drew
him toward politics rather than to scholarship or
literature, his mind continued dominant over his
tongue. Fortunately, he early formed the habit of
writing as well as speaking,^ and this habit, nour-
ished by his love for reading and analysis, kept alive
his penchant for criticism.

It was Lincoln's capacity for clear, incisive, yet
sympathetic criticism that gave him the preeminent
place in the leadership of the great movement w^hich
culminated in the overthrow of slavery and brought
about the new order of American life. Glimpses of
this form of his ability may be discerned in a lec-
ture which he gave on Temperance before the Wash-
ington Society, January 22, 1842. He condemned
the old doctrine of temperance reform by "denun-
ciations against dram-sellers and dram-drinkers."
This method was "unjust, as well as impolitic."
Drinking among men had a long history. Govern-

I 'J'arbell, 1 :36. 2,"].

Intimations of a Public Career 31

ment had provided it for soldiers and sailors ; physi-
cians had prescribed it. Its manufacture had long
been regarded as an honorable livelihood. It was
known and acknowledged to lie the cause of much
harm, "but none seemed to think the injury arose
from the use of a bad thing, but from the abuse
of a ver}' good thing." The failing of those who
abused it was regarded as a misfortune, "not as a
crime, or even as a disgrace." Why "assail, con-
demn, or despise them" then? Another error of
the old reformers was their contention that "habitual
drunkards were utterly incorrigible" ... to be turned
"adrift and damned without remedy." This attitude
was "so cold-blooded and feelingless" ... it could
not "enlist the enthusiasm of a popular cause." As
applied to the cause of temperance reform, the
doctrine of unpardonable sin is to be denied. It is
better to teach. "While the lamp holds out to burn,
the vilest sinner may return." The chief of sinners
may become the chief apostle of a cause. For their
task, "none are so w^ell educated." The world would
be vastly benefited by a "total and final banishment
from it of all intoxicating drinks." Three-fourths of
mankind confess it, and the "rest acknowledge it in
their hearts."

There was the note of something prospecti\'e in

32 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

this address. It was both sympathetic and con-
structive in what it proposed. It contains passages
prefiguring a simple yet lofty style. The theme of
the address was temperance, but the occasion was
the anniversary of Washington's natal day. Lin-
coln closed his address with a reverent, well-spoken
tribute to the memory of Washington — a tribute
only slightly marred by its stilted, over-rhetorical

Lincoln's eulogy on Henry Clay in 1852 sur-
passes in style and literary merit anything he wrote
in the intervening decade. As a composition it is
in some respects admirable. The language is frank,
well chosen, and interpretative. The address is well
planned and well proportioned; the thought is not
extravagant in any sense, but fairly represents the
eloquence, the ideals, and personality of Clay. His
service and character as a statesman are appraised,
and Lincohi's understanding of these squared with
his own views of the Union, of slavery, and of the
doctrine of the Declaration of Independence. Lin-
coln's writing during the ten years between the
Temperance address and this eulogy include his
speeches in Congress. He introduced the so-
called "Spot Resolutions" in the House calling
upon President Polk for specific information con-

Intimations of a Public Career 33

cerniiii^ the beginning of the Mexican \\'ar and
throwing upon him the burden of an ethical jus-
tification of that Avar. He addressed the House
in an arraignment of the President for his war
policy, which Lincoln regarded as indefensible. He
supported a national policy of internal improve-
ments in a speech which, like the speech and resolu-
tions on the Mexican cjuestion, revealed breadth of
legal knowledge and historical research. He deliv-
ered also a party speech in support of Zachary
Taylor for President which was not above the av-
erage performance of this character at the time.

There was nothing notable in these addresses.
His congressional experience Lincoln seems to have
regarded as a sort of obiter dictum in his profes-
sional life and in no sense an introduction to a polit-
ical career. 'Tt afforded him a close inspection of
the complex machinery of the Federal government
and its relation to that of the States," as Mr. John
G. Nicolay wrote, and "it broadened immensely the
horizon of his observation, and the sharp personal
rivalries he noted at the center of the nation opened
to him new lessons in the study of human nature." ^
He attracted in Congress the interest of Alexander
H. Stephens, who said of him: "Mr. Lincoln was

I Nicolay, "Abraham Lincoln." pp. 89, 90.

34 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

careless as to his manners and awkward in his
speech, but possessed a strong, clear, vigorous mind.
He always attracted and riveted the attention of
the House when he spoke. His manner of speech
as well as of thought was original. He had no
model. He was a man of strong convictions, and
what Carlyle would have called an earnest man. He
abounded in anecdote. He illustrated everything
he was talking about by an anecdote, always ex-
ceedingly apt and pointed; and socially he always
kept his company in a roar of laughter." In view
of the friendship between Lincoln and Stephens as
fellow Whigs at this time, and the subsequent di-
vergence of their political careers, it is interesting
to record Lincoln's letter to Herndon, written from
Washington, February 2, 1848, giving his earliest
impression of Stephens :

Dear William : I just take my pen to say that
Mr. Stephens, of Georgia, a little, slim, pale-faced, con-
sumptive man, with a voice like Logan's, has just con-
cluded the very best speech of an hour's length I ever
heard. My old withered dry eyes are full of tears yet.
If he writes it out anything like he delivered it, our
people shall see a good many copies of it.
Yours truly,

A. Lincoln.

Intimations of a Public Career 35

Lincoln's partnership with Herndon, following a
brief association with Judge Stephen T. Logan
(1841-1843), began in 1843. This last partner-
ship continued actively until Lincoln's election to
the Presidency. The period from 1843 i-^i^til the
great debates with Douglas in 1858, interrupted
only by his term in Congress, was preeminently that
of Lincoln the lawyer. His chief intellectual con-
cern during this distincti\'ely professional period
was the preparation and trial of cases. The extent
of his service in causes before the Supreme Court
of the State w^as probaljly not surpassed by any of
his contemporaries of the Illinois bar.^ His partner,
Herndon, we are told, was one of the most widely
read men in Springfield. An authority tells us that,
at this time, "Herndon's chief extravagance was
buying books." ^ He kept the office sup^died with
late volumes on a variety of subjects, a fact which
greatly stimulated Lincoln's reading and conversa-
tion. His reading was stimulated also by Mrs. Lin-
coln and by Newton Bateman," State Superintend-
ent of Education, wdiose cultural attainments en-
gaged Lincoln's interest and f riendsliip.

1 Richards, "Abraham Lincohi, the Lawyer-Statesman,"
Chap. II and Appendix.

2 Rankin, p. 120.

3 Arnold, "Abraham Lincohi," p. 176.

36 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

An important contribution of first-hand infor-
mation on the sul)ject of Lincohi's personality and
intellectual habits during this period is given by
Henry B. Rankin in his "Personal Recollections of
Abraham Lincoln" (1916). The authcjr of this
interesting volume of reminiscences, who read law
in the office of Lincoln and Herndon. tells us of
Lincoln's introduction to Walt Whitman's Leaves
of Grass, which Herndon added to the office
library. The merits of the poem aroused highly
spirited discussion and diversity of opinion between
the "office students and Air. Herndon."

Later, quite a surprise occurred when we found that
the Whitman poetry and our discussions had been
engaging Lincoln's silent attention. After the rest of
us had finished our criticism of some peculiar verses
and of Whitman in general . . . and had resumed our
usual duties or had departed, Lincoln, who during the
criticisms had been apparently in the unapproachable
depths of one of his glum moods of meditative silence
. . . took up Leaves of Grass for his first reading
of it. After half an hour or more devoted to it he
turned back to the first pages of it, and to our general
surprise, began to read aloud. Other office work was
discontinued by us all while he read with sympathetic
emphasis verse after verse. His rendering revealed a

Intimations of a Public Career 37

charm of new life in Whitman's versification. Save
for a few comments on some broad allusions that
Lincoln suggested could have been veiled, or left out,
he commended the new poet's verses for their virility,
freshness, unconventional sentiments, and unique form
of expression, and claimed that Whitman gave promise
of a new school of poetry.

Speaking in general of Lincoln's literary likings,
Mr. Rankin continues :

He enjoyed j^articularly Holmes, Theodore Parker,
Beecher, Whittier, Lowell, the elder x\bbott, and Haw-
thorne. He cared little for fiction, though Uncle
Tom's Cabin moved him deeply while reading it. His
literary taste was keen and delicate, and his zest for
the best in current literature was unerring to recog-
nize and appreciate beauty of style and strength of
personality in a writer's method of expressing thought.
His likes and dislikes in literature were quick, strong,
and- positive. A few glances, a sentence read here
and there, a hasty turning of leaves, sufficed with him
for a decision to toss the book aside, or make it his
own as he found leisure to read it. Lincoln was an
earnest seeker of the best in thottght and form in

This method of determining his "likes and dis-

I Rankin, pp. 129. 130.

38 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

likes in literature" calls to mind Herndon's account
of Lincoln's swift estimate of a biography of Burke :

In 1856 I purchased ... a Life of Edmund Burke.
I have forgotten now who the author was. . . . One
morning Lincoln came into the office and, seeing the
book in my hands, inquired what I was reading. . . .
Taking it in his hand he threw himself down on the
office sofa and hastily ran over its pages, reading a
little here and there. At last he closed and threw it
on the table with the exclamation, "No, I've read
enough of it. It's like all the others. Biographies as
generally written are not only misleading, but false.
The author of this life of Burke makes a wonderful
hero out of his subject. He magnifies his perfections
— if he had any — and suppresses his imperfections.
He is so faithful in his zeal and so lavish in praise of
his every act that one is almost driven to believe that
Burke never made a mistake or a failure in his life.
. . . History is not history unless it is the truth."

It was of course Lincoln's misfortune not to have
known the field of biography beyond Weems's
Washington, and probably INIarion's, and some
campaign biographies. He had read also a life of
Clay, and may have read Franklin's Autobiography.^
He read the biographical histories of Abbott. Of

I Holland, "Life of Lincoln," p. 31.

Intimations of a Public Career 39

such books he would easily discover the uncritical
character. His keen judgment and taste for the
best would detect the inadequacy of such books as
interpretations of the men and events they described.
His education had enabled him to estimate these
juvenile performances at their value, but had not
been inclusive enough to profit by biographical lit-
erature based upon competent research, carefully
balanced evidence, and disinterested purpose.

It is natural that we should desire to reconstruct
the processes of Lincoln's education and his acqui-
sition of good style, but the effort to do this with
the completeness to which research aspires is baffled
at points for lack of evidence. It may be safe to
conclude that from his admission to the bar to his
re-entrance into politics in 1854, Lincoln devoted
himself assiduously to reading and study. His part-
nership with such accomplished lawyers as Major
Stuart and Judge Logan, from 1837 to 1843, ^^'
forded him an unusual opportunity to perfect him-
self in the principles and practice of law. But when
in the latter year, upon his own initiative, he headed
the new firm of Lincoln and Herndon, his cultural
interests made rapid advancement. His acquaint-
ance with literature now widened and was main-
tained for the rest of his life. His tastes were ver-

40 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

satile, he was conscious of the necessity of education
to a successful career, and he had already developed
that capacity for independent investigation and judg-
ing of facts which scholarship has accorded him so

As early as 1839, according to Joseph Jefferson's
autobiography, Lincoln appeared before the city
council of Springfield and persuaded that body to
relax its puritanic attitude toward the theatre and
theatrical representations in that city. Mr. Jefferson
says that when his company came against the ob-
struction of the city ordinance, "a young lawyer
called on the managers. He had heard of the injus-
tice, and offered, if they would place the matter in
his hands, to have the license taken off, declaring
that he only wanted to see fair play, and would
accept no fee whether he failed or succeeded. The
case was brought before the council. . . . He han-
dled the subject with tact, skill, and humor, tracing
the history of the drama from the time when Thespis
acted in a cart, to the stage of to-day. . . . He now
lies buried in Springfield, under a monument com-
memorating his greatness and his virtues, — and his
name was Abraham Lincoln."^

Lincoln must be conceded the ability to master

I Joseph Jefferson's Aufobiograpliy, pp. 28-30-

Intimations of a Public Career 41

the literature of the subjects before him, and to as-
similate the essential details of the problem within
it. Behind this power was a native thirst for
knowledge, a love for the best that had been said
and thought in the world, "a sheer desire to see
things as they are." This "self-educated"' man
clothed his mind with the materials of genuine cul-
ture. Call it genius or talent, the process of his
attainment was that described by Professor Emerton
in speaking of the education of Erasmus: "He was
no longer at school, but was simply educating him-
self by the only pedagogical method which ever yet
produced any results anywhere, — namely, by the
method of his own tireless energy in continuous
study and practice." ^

I Emerton, "Desiderius Erasmus," p. 22.

Lincoln's view of self-education is indicated in his letters to
J. T. Thornton and J. M. Brockman, December 2, 1858, and
September 25, i860, respectively, the latter of which is to be
found on page 303, Appendix.



It must not be. There is no power in Venice

Can alter a decree established ;

'T will be recorded for a precedent,

And many an error by the same example

Will rush into the state. It cannot be.

— Shakespeare.

Lincoln steadfastly resisted the temptations to
climb upward by superficial means. He would not
substitute cant for genuine speech. His native bent
was toward the sincere and logical. His proposi-
tions and his ideals sought to over-reach the contin-
gent and apparent and face the tests of general
truth. This sincere trait of his character shows
itself clearly in his second contest with Douglas at
Peoria, October, 1854. After his opponent had
spoken for three hours, until past five o'clock, and
had been received with manifest marks of apprecia-
tion, Lincoln requested the crowd to return after
supper to listen to his reply. As an inducement to
the people to hear him through, as they had done in
Douglas's case, he consented to give Douglas an
hour for rebuttal. He announced to the reassem-


Prelude to the Great Debate 43

bled audience that he would speak on the Missouri
Compromise, and said :

As I desire to present my own connected view of
this subject, my remarks will not be specifically an
answer to Judge Douglas ; yet, as I proceed, the main
points he has presented will arise, and will receive
such respectful attention as I may be able to give them.
... I do not propose to question the patriotism or to
assail the motives of any man or class of men, but
rather to confine myself to the naked merits of the
question. I also wish to be no less than national in
all the positions I may take, and whenever I take
ground which others have thought, or may think, nar-
row, sectional, or dangerous to the Union, I hope to
give a reason which will appear sufficient, at least to
some, why I think differently.

And as this subject is no less than part and parcel
of the larger general question of domestic slavery, I
wish to make and keep the distinction between the
existing institution and the extension of it so broad
and clear that no honest man can misunderstand me,
and no dishonest one misrepresent me.

These words represent Lincoln's propensity to
reduce a question to its ultimate ground of validity.
Like Burke, he was disposed to uncover the actual
philosophy upon which the issue rested.

44 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

The Peoria speech is a long one. Likewise it has
outstanding importance. It marks Lincohi's re-en-
trance into the arena of political debate and aspira-
tion. This course was precipitated b}- the passage
of Senator Douglas's bill through Congress in ]\lay,
1854, to permit the people of the Nebraska Terri-
tory to determine by popular vote whether they
should enter the Union with or without slavery.
This measure had also repealed the AIis.souri Com-
promise of 1820, which had forbidden slavery north
of 36' 30'' north latitude. The unpopularity of this
repeal in Illinois lost Douglas many of his former
friends. His discomfiture in Chicago, where the
crowd hissed him as he attempted to speak in defense
of his measure, w^as followed by a speech at Spring-
field, where Lincoln was chosen to answer him.
Lincoln's speech surprised even his closest friends
by its great force and completeness, but no copy of
it was preserved. The Peoria speech twelve days
later is taken to be a repetition of it. This speech,
which Lincoln wrote out after its delivery, is highly
significant for the reason that it contains the ground
argument A\hich he opposed to Douglas in the debate
four years later. It was the prelude to that great
intellectual duel which was to determine whether
Lincoln or Douglas should become President of the

Prelude to the Great Debate 45

United States, and which nf the Iwu political phi-
losophies, nationalism dr state's rights, shonld
triumph in the country.

At Peoria, Lincoln maintained two cardinal doc-
trines which Douglas never successfully combated,
around which the sentiment of the nation opposed
to slavery consolidated as the basis of the new Re-
publican party. These doctrines were :

I. That the Kansas-Nebraska act was wrong
because it violated a just compromise and permitted
the extension of an institution which in itself was
"monstrous" and "unjust."

II. That Douglas's contention that the act was
an assertion of the "sacred right of self-govern-
ment" was fallacious, because, although the doctrine
of self-government "is absolutely and eternally
right," the act in question had no application to the
principle of self-government because the negro is a

Of its arguments which Lincoln later employed
against Douglas in the great senatorial campaign
were these :

If he is not a man, in that case he who is a man
may as a matter of self-government do what he pleases
with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that
extent a total destruction of self-government to say

46 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

that he too shall not govern himself ? When the white
man governs himself, that is self-government ; but
when he governs himself and also governs another
man, that is more than self-government — that is des-

Douglas had insisted, and very logically, that by
the terms of the new legislation, it was a matter of
indifference to him whether in the new territory
slavery should be voted up or voted down. To this
attitude Lincoln replied :

This declared indifference, but, as I mlist think,
real, covert zeal, for the spread of slavery, I cannot
but hate. ... I hate it because it deprives our repub-
lican example of its just influence in the world ; enables
the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to
taunt us as hypocrites ; causes the real friends of free-
dom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it
forces so many good men among ourselves into an
open war with the very fundamental principles of
civil liberty, criticising the Declaration of Independ-
ence, and insisting that there is no right principle of
action but self-interest.

As Lincoln's propositions against an economic
aristocracy were unanswerable in the nineteenth
century, they state the case of democracy against
autocratic government with equal irresistibility

Prelude to the Great Debate 47

to-day. At Peoria he said: "What [ do say is that
no man is good enough to govern another man
without that other's consent. . . . The master not
only governs the slave without his consent, but he
governs him by a set of rules altogether different
from those which he prescribes for himself. Allow
all the governed an equal voice in the government,
and that, and that only, is self-government." This
complete description of responsible government re-
quired a great struggle to make it a fact. It is inter-
esting to compare Lincoln's dictum with that of a
great English statesman of the mediaeval age, pro-
phetic of British democracy of a later time : "What
concerns all should by all be approved."^ In these
days it reminds one also of Immanuel Kant's defi-
nition of "constitutional freedom, as the right of
every citizen to have to obey no other law than
that to which he has given his consent or approval,'' ^
a definition of which his own countrymen as yet are
ignorant or are powerless to enjoy. The case of
Belgium and certain other countries strikingly call
to mind Kant's corollary proposition: "No State
shall intermeddle by force with the constitution or

1 Edward I : Quod tangit omnes, ab omnibus comprebetur.
Translated above.

2 "Essay on Eternal Peace," translated by Hastic, Boston
edn., p. 137.

48 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

government of another State."^ We shall see, in
the next chapter, how Lincoln, in debate with Doug-
las, extended his conception of the democratic prin-
ciple by a telling exposition of absolutism.

Meantime it is important to sketch the story of
his great utterances and the character of their con-
tent as they lead up to that point. The closely rea-
soned argument of the Peoria speech drove the
oratory of Douglas to cover. The senator asked
and received from Lincoln an agreement that
neither of them should make another speech during
the campaign. Lincoln (who alone did not violate
the agreement) had shown his capacity to burrow
deeper than his opponent, to reason from principle
rather than from expediency, and he disclosed the
fact that he did not go before the public without
having mastered the history of the question in
debate. Unlike the method of Douglas, he gave
piquancy also to what he said by the use of apt quo-

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