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to the necessity arising from its actual presence in
the nation" ; but a sense of duty called for opposition
to its spread to the Territories. "Let us not be slan-
dered from our duty by false accusations. . . . Let
us have faith that right makes might, and in that
faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we
understand it."

The address deeply impressed the East. Toward



104 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

Lincoln, its effect "was to dispel every thought of
anything but an earnest, high-minded, scholarly man,
bred to the knowledge of the republic's history and
political institutions, who has mastered the prob-
lem that tormented the nation and made the conflict
of sections seem not far away."^ Greeley in the
Tribune and Bryant in the Evening Post spoke in
high terms of it. "I do not hesitate," wrote Greeley,
shortly after the Civil War, "to pronounce it the
very best political address to which I ever listened
— and I have heard some of Webster's grandest." -
The address was reproduced as a campaign docu-
ment. In September, an edition, carefully anno-
tated, was published by Charles C. Nott and Cephas
Brainard of the New York bar, who were members
of the committee that arranged for its delivery.
The preface to their edition said :"

No one who has not actually attempted to verify
its details can understand the patient research and
historical labor which it embodies. . . . Neither can
any one who has not travelled over this precise ground
appreciate the accurac}^ of every detail, or the self-
denying impartiality with which j\lr. Lincoln has
turned from the testimony of "the Fathers," on the

1 Oberholtzer, "Abraham Lincoln," p. 136.

2 Rhodes, II :43i.

3 Putnam, "Abraham Lincohi," pp. 233, 234



At Cooper Institute 105

general question of slavery, to present the single ques-
tion which he discusses. From the first line to the
last — from his premises to his conclusion, he travels
with swift, unerring directness which no logician ever
excelled. ... A single, easy, simple sentence of plain
Anglo-Saxon words contains a chapter of history that,
in some instances, has taken days of labor to verify and
which must have cost the author months of investiga-
tion to acquire. And, though the public should justly
estimate the labor bestowed on the facts which are
stated, they cannot estimate the greater labor in-
volved on those which are omitted — how many pages
have been read — how many works examined — what
numerous statutes, resolutions, speeches, letters, and
biographies have been looked through. Commencing
with this address as a political pamphlet, the reader
will leave it as an historical work — brief, complete,
profound, impartial, truthful — which will survive the
time and the occasion that called it forth, and be
esteemed hereafter no less for its intrinsic worth than
its unpretending modesty.

To his New York audience, Lincoln's address
was a revelation of fresh strength and hope for
America. No one before him had assembled the
facts and ideals of the republic into a declaration so
compact of knowledge and persuasion, so pro-
foundly relevant to the supreme issue of the time.



106 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

His words were simple, sincere, and cheering. Here
was a new and unexpected pilot, with chart and
compass in his hand, with direction in his mind,
speaking the decisive word in a moment of cloud
and confusion. Strong men heard him, and went
away to deliberate upon his message. The people
read his words, and saw in them a higher meaning
the more they reflected. They felt there was char-
acter in what he said, and a fair promise of success
in what he proposed. There was something dawn-
ing in his lofty earnestness; and his conclusions
were clear, far-seeing, and fraught with insight. He
seemed to many to be the only man in the nation
whose courage, integrity, and comprehension gave
ample assurance against rashness in action, a suffi-
cient and steady wisdom for the present task. The
Cooper Institute x\ddress is not Lincoln's master-
piece, but it is a substantial contribution to our liter-
ature of knowledge and power. ^

From New York Lincoln went to New Hamp-
shire to visit his son Robert, then a student in the
academy at Exeter, preparing for Harvard. He

I On January 19, i860, during the interval between the invi-
tation to speak in New York and the delivery of the Cooper
Institute Address, Lincoln wrote a notable letter to A. H.
Stephens, interpreting the constitutional history of the country,
and evidently designed to strengthen the weak knees of the lat-
ter. It is to be found in Tracy's "Unpublished Letters of Abra-
ham Lincoln," p. 85 ff.



At Cooper Institute 107

had made speeches in New England, during his
term in Congress, in support of General Taylor's
candidacy for President of the United States. At
that time his most notable speech was made in Tre-
mont Temple, Boston, following an address by Mr.
Seward. During this visit of i860, he was call'ed
for and spoke at various points in New Hampshire
and Connecticut. His speeches contained a popular
flavor, but were well spoken of by the press. His
address at Hartford, March 5, seems ill-considered:
it has the manner of a superficial stump-speech.
True, it contains many facts he had often used, but
they are loosely put together, and the speech
breathes the language of hurried preparation for
the event, or no preparation at all. The speech at
New Haven is more coherent in form and sub-
stance ; it contains several paragraphs from the New
York Address. For the rest, it is reminiscent of
the less formal side of the debates with Douglas.
Both at Hartford and New Haven he referred to
the local shoemakers' strike, then in progress, as an
occasion to discuss, in a surface way, the antagonism'
between free and slave labor. The subject was con-
sidered, not on economic grounds, but with the aim,
apparently, of stimulating Republican votes.

Lincoln made friends for himself and his cause



108 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

in New England. The press reports of his speeches
were usually highly complimentary. The unpol-
ished manner was observed by his audiences, but
there was something contagious about what he said.
He was commended for his substance so liighly that
his awkwardness and informality were ascribed, at
least by many, to native good humor and unconven-
tionality. This was essentially correct. It is a
tribute to the good sense of his reporters that they
could say, "He fortified e\'ery position assumed Ijy
proofs which it is impossible to gainsay; and while
his speech was at intervals enlivened by remarks
which elicited applause at the expense of the Demo-
cratic party, there was, nevertheless, not a single
word which tended to impair the dignity of the
speaker, or weaken the force of the great truths he
uttered."" ' Or, again: "He indulges in no tlowers
of rhetoric, no eloquent passages : he is not a wit. a
humorist or a clown; yet, so great a vein of pleas-
antry and good nature pervades what he says, glid-
ing over a deep current of practical argument, that
he keeps his hearers in a smiling good mood with
their mouths open, ready to swallow all he says."

Interesting light on the appreciation accorded to
Lincoln in New England as well as on his method

I Tarbell. 1 :330. 33i-



At Cooper Institute 109

of self-education is reiorded in i'rancis li. Carpen-
ter's "Six Months at the White Mouse," a source
book (jf permanent iniijortance on Lincohi, written
shortly after his assassination by the man commis-
sioned to paint the emanci[)ation picture of the Presi-
dent and his cabinet. Mr. Carpenter reproduces an
article written during;- the war by Rev. J. P. Gulliver,
of Norwich, Conn., and published in TJic Independ-
ent of September i, 1864. On the mornint;" after
Lincoln made his speech at Norwich (March 9,
i860), Mr. Gulliver met Lincoln at the railway
station, where he was engaged in conversation with
the mayor of the city.

On being introduced to him. writes Mr. Gulliver, he
fixed his eyes upon me and said : "I have seen you
before, sir !" "I think not," I replied ; "you must mis-
take me for some other person." "No, I don't ; I saw
you at the Town Hall, last evening." "Is it possible,
Mr. Lincoln, that you could observe individuals so
closely in such a crowd ?" "Oh, yes !" he replied,
laughing; "that is my way. I don't forget faces.
Were you not there?" "I was, sir, and I was well
paid for going;" adding, somewhat in the vein of
pleasantry he had started, "I consider it one of the
most extraordinary speeches I ever heard."

As we entered the cars, he beckoned me to take a
seat with him, and said in a most agreeably frank



110 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

way, "Were you sincere in what you said about my
speech just now?" "I meant every word of it, Mr.
Lincoln. Why, an old dyed-in-the-wool Democrat,
who sat near me, applauded you repeatedly, and when
rallied upon his conversion to sound principles, an-
swered, 'I don't believe a word he says, but I can't
help clapping him, he is so pat !' That I call the tri-
umph of oratory. . . . Indeed, sir, I learned more of
the art of public speaking last evening than I could
from a whole course of lectures on Rhetoric."

"Ah ! that reminds me," said he, "of a most extraor-
dinary circumstance which occurred at New Haven
the other day. They told me that the Professor of
Rhetoric in Yale College, — a very learned man, isn't
he?"

"Yes, sir, and a fine critic, too."

"W^ell, I suppose so ; he ought to be, at any rate.
They told me that he came to hear me, and took notes
of my speech, and gave a lecture on it to his class the
next day ; and, not satisfied with that, he followed me
up to Meridian the next evening, and heard me again
for the same purpose. Now, if this is so, it is to my
mind very extraordinary. I have been sufficiently
astonished at m^ success in the West. It has been
most unexpected. But I had no thought of any marked
success in the East, and least of all that I should draw
out such commendations from literary and learned
men. Now," he continued, "I should like very much



At Cooper Institute 111

to know what it was in my speech you thought so
remarkable, and what you suppose interested my
friend, the Professor, so much?"

"The clearness of your statements, Mr. Lincoln ;
the unanswerable style of your reasoning, and espe-
cially your illustrations, which were romance and
pathos and fun. and logic all welded together. That
story about the snakes, for example, which set the
hands and feet of your Democratic hearers in such
vigorous motion, was at once queer and comical, tragic
and argumentative. It broke through all the barriers
of a man's previous opinions and prejudices at a crash,
and blew up the very citadel of his false theories before
he could know what had hurt him."

In response to Mr. Gulliver's inquiry how he had
acquired his unusual power of "putting things," and
suggesting that it must have been through educa-
tion, Lincoln replied :

"Well, as to education, the newspapers are correct ;
I never went to school more than six months in my
life. But as you say, this must be a product of culture
in some form. ... I can say this, that among my
earliest recollections I remember how, when a mere
child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to
me in a way I could not understand. I don't think I
ever got angry at anything else in my life. ... I can
remember going to my little bedroom, after hearing



112 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

the neighbors talk of an evening with my father, and
spending no small part of the night walking up and
down, trying to make out what was the exact meaning
of some of their — to me — dark sayings. I could not
sleep . . . until I had caught it . . . until I put it in
language plain enough, as I thought, for any boy I
knew to comprehend. ... I am never easy now, w^hen
I am handling a thought, till I have bounded it North,
and bounded it South, and bounded it East, and
bounded it West. Perhaps that accounts for the char-
acteristic you observe in my speeches, though I never
put the two things together before."

"Mr. Lincoln, I thank you for this. It is the most
splendid educational fact I ever happened upon."

Replying" to Gulliver's desire to know how he had
prepared for his profession, Lincoln stated that he
had been a lawyer's clerk at Springfield, had copied
"tedious documents," and had picked up what law
he could "in the intervals of other work."

"But your question reminds me of a bit of education
I had, which I am bound in honesty to mention. In
the course of my law reading, I constantly came upon
the word demonstrate. I thought at first that I under-
stood its meaning, but soon became satisfied that I did
not. I said to myself, 'What do I mean when I dem-
onstrate more than when I reason or prove? How
does demonstration differ from any other proof?' I



At Cooper Institute 113

consulted Webster's dictionary. That told of 'certain
proof,' 'proof beyond a doubt' ; but I could form no
idea of what sort of proof that was. ... I consulted
all the dictionaries and books of reference I could
find, but with no better results. You might as well
have defined blue to a blind man. At last I said, 'Lin-
coln, you can never make a lawyer if you do not under-
stand what demonstrate means' ; and I left my situation
in Springfield, went home to my father's house, and
stayed there till I could give any proposition in the
six books of Euclid at sight. I then found out what
demonstrate means, and went back to my law studies." ^

The interviev^ with Lincoln was concluded with
a reference to assertions he had made regarding
"the demoralizing influences of Washington upon
northern politicians in respect to the slavery ques-
tion." Air. Gulli\"er said there was one other matter
he wished to mention.

"Mr. Lincoln, . . . You have become, by the con-
troversy with Douglas, one of our leaders in this great

I The reader will observe a discrepancy between this report
of Gulliver and Lincoln's own autobiographical statement that
he studied Euclid after his term in Congress (1846-48). The
statement that Lincoln returned to his father's house to study
Euclid has not been verified. We know that Lincoln studied
law at New Salem; that he studied Kirkham's Grammar and
Flint and Gibson's treatise on surveying there also, under the
tutelage of Mentor Graham, the neighborhood schoolmaster.
Mr. Henry B. Rankin told the writer that Graham claimed to
have instructed Lincoln in Euclid also.



114 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

struggle with slavery, which is undoubtedly the strug-
gle of the nation and the age. What I would like to
say is this, and I say it with a full heart. Be true to
your principles and we will be true to you, and God
will be true to us all !" His homely face lighted up
instantly with a beaming expression, and taking my
hand warmly in both of his, he said: "I say Amen toi
that — Amen to that !"

Lincoln was now a national figure to be reckoned
with by local leaders of his party. He received
many letters from men friendly to his nomina-
tion for the Presidency. He was not averse to the
possibility before him. yet he felt conservatively
about it. Typical of his feeling was his letter of
March 24, i860, to Samuel Galloway, assuring him
of the esteem in which he w^as held in Ohio :

Of course I am gratified to know I have friends in
Ohio who are disposed to give me the highest evi-
dence of their friendship and confidence. Mr. Parrott,
of the legislature, has written me to the same efifect.
If I have any chance, it consists mainly in the fact
that the whole opposition would vote for me, if nomi-
nated. (I don't mean to include the pro-slavery oppo-
sition of the South, of course.) My name is new in
the field, and I suppose I am not the first choice of a
very great many. Our policy, then, is to give no



At Cooper Institute 115

offense to others — leave them in a mood to come to vis
if they shall be compelled to give up their first love.
This, too, is dealing justly with all, and leaving us in
a mood to support heartily whoever shall be nomi-
nated. I believe I have once before told you that I
especially wish to do no ungenerous thing toward
Governor Chase, because he gave us his sympathy in
1858 when scarcely any other distinguished man did.
Whatever you may do for me, consistently with these
suggestions, will be appreciated and gratefully remem-
bered.

May 18. Lincoln was nominated for President by
the Republican convention at Chicago, on the third
ballot. Seward was his only close competitor. On
the next day, at his home in Springfield, he thanked
the committee of formal notification from the con-
vention "for the high honor" done him, and ex-
pressed his sense of the responsibility it imposed, —
"a responsibility which I could almost wish had
fallen upon some one of the far more eminent men
and experienced statesmen whose distinguished
names were before the convention." On the 23rd.
he wrote his acceptance in a letter to George Ashmun
of the Massachusetts delegation, who was chairman
of the convention. This letter was exceedingly apt
for the time and the occasion.



116 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

Sir: I accept the nomination tendered me by the
convention over which you presided, and of which I
am formally apprised in the letter of yourself and
others, acting as a committee of the convention for
that purpose.

The declaration of principles and sentiments which
accompanies your letter meets my approval ; and it
shall be my care not to violate or disregard it in any
part.

Imploring the assistance of Divine Providence, and
with due regard to the views and feelings of all who
were represented in the convention — to the rights of
all the States and Territories and people of the nation ;
to the inviolability of the Constitution ; and the per-
petual union, harmony, and prosperity of all — I am
most happy to cooperate for the practical success of
the principles declared by the convention.

Your obliged friend and fellow-citizen,

A. Lincoln.

This letter was in engaging contrast to the long
political discussions contained in the letters of ac-
ceptance by Lincoln's two leading opponents for
the Presidency. It was in strict keeping with his
decision to observe prudence and discretion in his
utterances during the political contest. Shortly
afterward, he received a friendly letter, advising
caution in making promises of any kind, from the



At Cooper Institute 117

poet, William Cullen Bryant, who had introduced
Lincoln at Cooper Institute. "Mr. Bryant's letter
contained much political wisdom, and was written
in that scholarly style for which he was distin-
guished. But it could not surpass the simple dignity
and grace of Lincoln's reply" : ^

Springfield, III., June 28, i860.
Please acce])t my thanks for the honor done me by
your kind letter of the i6th.. I appreciate the danger
against which you would guard me ; nor am I wanting
in the purpose to avoid it. I thank you for the addi-
tional strength your words give me to maintain that
purpose.

Your friend and servant,

A. Lincoln.

As the reader of Lincoln's compositions moves
from one to another, he is continually reminded of
their sanity and human spirit. Sometimes they are
crude and disappointing in statement, sometimes
they are sporti\e, transient, or unstudied in matter.
In compositions of some length he is rarely sure
and inviolate in manner or in points of detail. In
this respect he was like everybody else who has
written prose extensively. Somel)ody has called
attention to his accustomed use of the "split infini-

I Browne, p. 248.



118 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

tive." About this, an amusing story is told of a
correction suggested to him in the second paragraph
of his letter accepting the nomination for the Presi-
dency. He handed the letter to his friend, Dr.
Newton Bateman, State Superintendent of Educa-
tion, with the remark :

"Mr. Schoolmaster," he said, "here is my letter of
acceptance. I am not very strong on grammar, and
I wish you to see if it is all right. I wouldn't like to
have any mistakes in it."

The doctor took the MS. and after reading it, said:

"There is only one change I would suggest, Mr.
Lincoln. You have written, 'It shall be my care to not
violate or disregard it in any part ; you should have
written, not to violate. Never sj^lit an infinitive, is the
rule."

Mr. Lincoln took the manuscript, regarding it a
moment with a puzzled air. "So you think I better
put those two little fellows end to end, do you?" he
said as he made the change.^

Lincoln's fund of ideas outran his resources and
technic of speech. In this, too, he was not unlike
many another of his fellow mortals.

I Tarbell, 1 :36i.



CHAPTER VII

ON THE ROAD TO WASHINGTON

And, moving up from high to higher, ,
Becomes on Fortune's crowning slope
The pillar of a people's hope,

The centre of a world's desire.

— Tcittjyson.

Naturally, Lincoln's elevation to the responsibil-
ity which the Presidency involved opened to him a
wide vista of intellectual expansion as novel as it
was, at the time, disquieting. There were many
sober-minded citizens within his own party who had
serious misgivings as to his preparation for the
task before him, — a task full of hazard, which called
for the most exquisite handling to avoid the ship-
wreck which already threatened the republic. Few,
if any, could realize at the moment the sound char-
acter of his preparation and the singleness of pur-
pose that had been evolved in his previous mastery
of constitutional history and principles, in his eager
and intensive acquaintance with the thought of his
contemporaries on both sides of the great question
which had long disturbed the nation, and in his

119



120 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

unexampled opportunity to test the actual strength
of that preparation against the most resourceful
statesman of the opposing party. Moreover, he had
tried himself and his views in the presence of those
critics he was accustomed to regard as most reliable,
the people and the press. This experience had
deepened his convictions and had fortified his con-
fidence in himself. As President-elect he approached
the infinitely complicated business before him with
calm deliberation, with his wonted delicacy of per-
ception and knowledge of men, and above all with
the fixed instincts and practice of sincerity and tact
in his relations with others.

Between Lincoln's election, November 6, and his
inauguration, March 4, seven southern states had
severed their relation with the Union and estab-
lished a confederacy. During this interim. Presi-
dent Buchanan had halted betwixt the opinions of
the loyal and disloyal groups of his cabinet advisers.
His fourth annual message to Congress contained a
dissertation on the danger imminent to the country
from prolonged slavery agitation. In this part of
his message he supported his genuine union sympa-
thies with citations from Andrew Jackson and
James Madison, but he weakly argued that his sworn
duty to execute the laws was made impracticable



On the Road to Washington 121



fc>"



by the action of federal officials in South Carolina,
and threw upon Congress the responsibility of pro-
viding more effective legislation to protect the
country from dissolution. Warning Congress
against the possible emergency of its having to de-
cide the "momentous question, whether you possess
the power by force of arms to compel a State to
remain in the Union," he forthwith, with the en-
couragement of a few lines froni Madison, con-
cluded that Congress, although possessing many
means of preserving the Union "by conciliation,"
had no authority to do so by "force." ^ The failure
of the Crittendon compromise, a sincere but ill-
starred effort to prevent disruption by means of a
permanent division between free and slave territory,
was in all probability due to Lincoln's personal un-
friendliness to the "popular sovereignty" feature of
the proposal.- The brief but ardent attem]:)ts of
Alexander H. Stephens to forestall secession ended
in nothing beyond his brilliant and unanswerable
logic, as, for example, before the convention of his
own State in January, 1861. The Peace Conven-
tion, on the motion of Virginia, likewise came to
naught. Sumner and Chase, interpreting the ma-

1 Richardson, "Messages and Papers of the Presidents,"
V :626 ff.

2 Rhodes, III :290.



122 Lincoln as a Man of Letters

jority opinion of the party that had elected Lincoln,


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Online LibraryLuther Emerson RobinsonAbraham Lincoln as a man of letters (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 21)