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The subject I have selected for my paper this
evening, is the Life and Character of the late President of the
United States of America, Abraham Lincoln. I have done
so, because it is not yet five months since he was the great
moving Spirit in that terrible drama there, which so agitated the
world, and on which the curtain has not yet fallen. I have done
so also, because, in my humble opinion, his merits are not
known in this country, and much undervalued, by the large
majority, at all events. My endeavour has been, to analyse his
life and character, so as to form some estimate of his true worth.

Liverpool, Sth Sept. 1865.

Abraham Lincoln was born on the 12tTi February, 1809, in the
State of Kentucky, Those who place faith in pedigree, in being
the descendants of a good stock, will be disappointed to learn, that
the only trunk which can be traced for the American President's
family tree, is his grandfather, after whom he was named, who
was a very poor backwoodsman in Kentucky, and who was
murdered and scalped by the native Indians there, not far from
the miserable log cabin which he occupied, sometime about the
year 1780. Thomas Lincoln, the father of the subject of this
essay, was this unfortunate man's younger son, and was a mere
infant when his father was murdered. He grew up without any
education whatever, being employed about a farm from a very
early age. In 1806, he married Nancy Hanks, who was mother
of Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Lincoln and his wife belonged to
the despised class, styled in Kentucky, " the poor whites," but
Mrs. Lincoln was a superior woman of her class. She could
not write, but she had the advantage of her husband, in being
able to read : we find that they attended a Baptist Chapel;
that Mrs. Lincoln was noted for piety, and was much
respected by her neighbours. She was very desirous that her
children should have some education, and when only seven years
of age, Abraham was sent to a country school, in the neighbour-
hood. His school-days here, however, came to a very early close,
his father, with all his household, having emigrated to the free
State of Indiana, in the Autumn of 1816, a very few months
after he had been sent to school.

Thomas Lincoln found his position, as " a poor .white,"
becoming too uncomfortable, as the Planters in Kentucky grew
rapidly in wealth, and increased the numbers of slaves on their
plantations. We learn his mode of life from the description


of their new home, which little Abraham assisted his father
to build, mere child as he then was. It was a simple log
hut, eighteen feet square, one room forming the entire dwelling;
but some planks were laid across the rough joists overhead,
making a sort of rickety loft, in which a small bed was fitted up
for Abraham, and to which he ascended, at nights, by a ladder,
for a good many years. Truly, this is a very humble origin —
born of poor and uneducated parents — despised, even among a
slave population, where his childhood was passed, and his boy-
hood spent in a similar state of poverty, in a rude, uncultivated
country, where the only neighbours he could come in contact
with were adventurous settlers, similar to themselves, and thinly
scattered. It would be difficult to find a more humble origin
than this.

Mrs. Lincoln had three children ; a daughter, who was older
than Abraham, and two sons, one of whom died, however, in
infancy, so that Abraham was her only boy, and the special
object of her care. She became still more desirous that he should
be educated ; but there was either no school near their new home,
or they could not now afibrd the expense of sending him to
school, so she, herself, endeavoured to continue the lessons he
had commenced before leaving Kentucky, and Abraham being a
very apt, diligent boy, she had succeeded in teaching him to put
his letters together, and to read, by the time he was nine years
of age. She had just accomplished this, when she died, in the
autumn of 1818. Abraham felt the loss of his excellent mother
very deeply, and never alluded to her, in his after-life, but in
terms of the strongest affection and regard.

After the death of his mother, the boy displayed a strong love
of reading, and devoured every book he could lay his hands upon.
His desire for self-improvement was extraordinary; within a year
after his mother's death he conceived the idea of learning to
write, and, without assistance from any teacher, he proceeded to
teach himself, collecting scraps of writing wherever he could pick

them up, and working away with a piece of chalk, or the charred
end of a stick, to imitate the letters, on any smooth surface he
could find ; and, in this manner, alone and unassisted, he had
actually taught himself to write, before he was thirteen years of
age. I have pictured to myself the little fellow, picking up his
scraps of torn letters, and collecting his copies for imitation, in
many different ways, and getting them deciphered by some kind
neighbour who might be so far educated as to be able to do so,
then scratching away, alone and unobserved, in some quiet
corner; and in my entire study of this man's life and cha-
racter, there is no portion of it on which I have dwelt
with so much pleasure, as upon the young boy working out
his first great conception; for, at his age, and in his situa-
tion, it was indeed a great conception, and a wonderful
achievement to have accomphshed it. This is the first view
that breaks upon us of the character of Abraham Lincoln, and it
does so at a very early stage of his life. Let us hope that ripen-
ing years wiU only expand and mature, and that no disease nor
withering blight may destroy or dry up, the promising fruit.

About a year after his mother's death, his father married
Mrs. SaUy Johnson, a widow, with three children, and of
the same social status as himself. This appears to have had
little or no influence upon Abraham's life. He seems to have
got on harmoniously enough with his new relatives, but they
assisted in no way his studies or efforts at self-improvement :
they had little or no education, and had no taste whatever for
reading or literature. When in his tweKth year, however, his
father sent him again to school, in the neighbourhood, for a few
months, where he was taught arithmetic, as far as the Rule of
Three, and this completed the entire education, at school, which
he ever received. He used frequently to say, when President of
the United States, "that one year would embrace the whole
teaching, by schoolmaster, he ever had in his life."


Between the age of thirteen and twenty-one, there is little to
mark his life. He was a tall, strapping lad, and at thirteen he
had to do something towards the support of his father's house.
There was little choice of employment for him where they dwelt,
and that of a woodman, cutting down trees, and splitting rails,
was the hardy occupation in which those years of his life were
passed. He was expert also at the use of the rifle, and with it
he added something to the stock of the family larder. Thus, the
years during which he passed from boyhood into manhood were
spent in the most healthful, strengthening, and invigorating
employment in which he could have been occupied, and formed
that hard, wiry, muscular frame, for which he was remarkable in
after-life. Now, we are told in one of the biographic sketches of
his life which I have seen, that during those years, he spent his
evenings after labour, in reading and study ; but reflective
readers will naturally say: — " Well, situated and occupied as he
was, what are aU the reading and study he can have done — his
dweUing a log cabin eighteen feet square, with a rickety loft as a
bedchamber, in which lived his father, sister and stepmother,
with two or three of her children, besides himself — ^in an out-
landish sort of country, and with few neighbours, most of whom
must have been as poor and as ignorant as themselves, how
could a lad obtain books, or the opportunity for reading or study,
of any consequence whatever? and that, too, when he must have
returned each evening fagged and ready for rest, to this mise-
rable home, after his hard day's labour." This is the first view
which naturally occui's to us, and we place little faith in any
general statement " that he spent those evenings in reading and
study." But, improbable or even impossible as it may appear,
there is one little anecdote told of him, during this period, when
he was about sixteen or seventeen years of age, and confirmed by
liimself, when President, and a circumstance which occurred in
1832, when he was about twenty-three years of age, wliich,
together, cast a great light back over those eight years of his life,

and prove, in the clearest and most satisfactory manner, that in
spite of all those apparently insurmountable difficulties, he must
have read, and cultivated his mind in no ordinary manner, during
that period. When about sixteen or seventeen years of age, and
employed as I have mentioned, cutting down trees, and splitting
rails, he had borrowed from a Mr. Crawford (a person in better
circumstances than his father, for whom he had -worked occa-
sionally.) a copy of the " Life of Washington," which he carried
liome with him, and commenced to read with great avidity on the
evening he received it. Next morning, he placed it carefully in
a corner, near the top of his bed, in the rickety loft I have previ-
ously described to you, but that day it rained heavily, and when
he returned from his work, in the evening, and proceeded to his
corner to have his second feast, he found, to his dismay, that the
rain had penetrated the leaky roof, and that his borrowed book
was saturated with water, and much injured. What was he to
do ? He had no money with which to purchase another copy of
the book, but he went straight to Mr. Crawford, told him bluntly
what had occurred, and said: — "I have no money with which
to buy another copy of the book, but I shall work to you for the
money, as I must restore it in as good order as I received it, or
return you its value." So, Mr. Crawford fixed its value at three
days' labour, and Abraham worked those three days for Mr.
Crawford, and the damaged copy of "Washington" became his.
What an eager searching after knowledge does this little anec-
dote betray ; what a simple, sterling, straightforward honesty of
heart does it shew ! The next circumstance sheds a very power-
ful flood of light upon the knowledge and acquirements he must
have gamed during those eight years. In March, 1830, his
father moved from Indiana to the richer and more thriving State
of Illinois, taking Abraham and aU his family along with him.
Abraham obtained employment from a man of the name of
Offult, in a flat boat, which made trips to New Orleans, being
loaded with stores, which were sold at the plantations on the


Mississippi. lu July, 1831, tliis same Offiilt, having conceived
a strong liking for Abraliam, placed him in charge of a shop
and mill at New Salem, a little thriving town of Illinois ; and
the circumstance I have to relate to you is this :— Early in 1832
a war, called the Black Hawk War, broke out, and the citizens
of New Salem formed a volunteer company to assist in putting
it down. Abraham Lincoln joined this company, and, to his
astonishment, his comrades elected him their captain, without
his having the slightest knowledge or expectation of their inten-
tion to do so. Nor was this all : on his return from a very short
campaign with his company, he was still more surprised, to be
waited upon by a deputation of the citizens of New Salem, who
proposed to nominate him as a candidate for the Legislature of
Illinois, at the election, then about to take place ; and he was
nominated, and although he was not elected at this time, a
large number of votes were recorded for him. Now, let us pause
here for a short sj)ace, and consider this. Here is a young mau,
barely twenty-three years of age, and who has only resided in
this New Salem for about nine months, elected captain of their
company of volunteers, and that too, by the voice of the members,
without his own knowledge ; and, during a short absence with
his company, lo I a large body of the citizens of New Salem select
this young stranger as a fit and proper person to be their repre-
sentative in the Legislature of their State. What is this New
Salem '? It is a thriving, little town, in one of the most prosper-
ous States in the American Union, and its inhabitants are a
sharp, intelligent, enterprising people. Can this strangei", who
has so rapidly impressed them with such a high opinion of his
abilities, that they heap these honours upon him, be a raw,
uneducated, uninformed lad, from the backwoods of Indiana?
It would be absurd to imagine such a case. And yet, this
stranger is Abraham Lincoln, and he is utterly alone, with
nothing whatever to recommend him: he has no friends, no
money ; he is only a servant, keeping a shop, and looking after


a small mill for his master. How, then, can he have so
impressed this people ? There is oue talisman only which can
have been in his possession, and that talisman he must have
possessed, however he obtained it — the talisman of acquired
and cultivated knowledge, and the easy power of wielding it. I
know not what books he read, or what mode of study he adopted
in the backwoods and wretched log cabin of Indiana; but here,
we have before us, at the age of twenty-three, a young man of such
high attainments, that he at once commands the respect and
honour, not merely of his compeers in years, but of his seniors,
in a strange, populous, and active place, to such a degree,
that they select him as a fit and proper person for high and most
responsible honours. As certain, therefore, as I know, that the
student who wins the honours of wrangler at Cambridge, must
have pored with earnest brain over his studies, do I feel satis-
fied that Abraham Lincoln must have read hard, and studied
hard, by lamp or such light as he could procure, during those
eight years of his life in the backwoods of Indiana. I think we
may consider, that the green fruit we looked at with so much
pleasure, is still sound and healthy, and that it is ripening
according to promise.

As I have said, the canvas for him at this period was unsuc-
cessful, but a large number of votes were recorded for him, and
it was at this time he acquired the surname of " Honest Abe," a
surname which he retained during the remainder of his life.
Now, although we may at the first glance be disposed to smile
at this homely title, I doubt if, upon second thoughts — when we
consider the man, and when we consider that it was first con-
ferred by those who dealt with him in business, and that from
this centre it gradually extended its range until it was confirmed
by the voice of the American nation — I say, that I doubt if we
shall not regard it as one of the noblest titles which the American
nation co\ild have conferred upon him.

It was sliovtly after this period that he formed another extra-
ordinary resolution, for one in his circumstances — a resolution to
study law, and become a lawyer. He had opened a shop upon his
own account, hut the business was not congenial to his tastes ;
and, having little or no capital, his honest ideas would not allow
him to attempt to carry on business excepting on a very small
scale. So, at his leisure hours, he proceeded, alone and
unassisted, precisely upon the same principle as he had taught
himself to write, to teach himself law — he borrowed several legal
books, and commenced to read. He found, however, that he
could not hope, for years, to acquire a sufficient knowledge of
law to enable him to practice ; and, as the profits of his
shop were very small, he tried another mode of making a
livelihood. He had formed the acquaintance of a Mr.
John Calhoun, who gave him some lessons in surveying,
and he commenced practice as surveyor upon his own
account, about the beginning of 1834. In tliis he was very
successful, and was fully employed, and worked very hard ; but
he still found time to prosecute his legal studies, and we shall
soon see the best of all proofs of the labour and the devotion
with which he must have worked at those studies.

In the August of this year, 1834, he was again brought
forward as a candidate for the Legislature of Illinois, two years
after his first nomination, and this time his election was carried
by a large majority. Thus his political life commenced in the
twenty-fifth year of his age, and it. is unnecessary for me here to
say more regarding his success as a member of the Uliuois
Legislature, than simply to mention that in 1830, 1838, and
1840, he was re-elected and returned by very large majorities,
sufficient proofs that he was esteemed a valuable representative
by the people.

We now arrive at the next great step in his career. In 1836
he obtained a law hcence ; he has attended no coUege lectures,
no lawyer's office ; alone and unassisted, and with his time


amply occupiedj as we have seen, has he read aud studied law
during the last four years only, and yet he has obtained a law
licence. Did ever young lawyer, with every advantage, and with
his whole time devoted to his studies, pass in shorter time? " It is
absurd," we exclaim; "this fellow's knowledge of law must be mere
surface, it can have no depth, it is presumption in him to attempt
practice." But what do we find? In April, 1837, the Hon.
John T. Stuart, a lawyer in the first practice in Springfield, the
Capital of Illinois, has assumed Abraham Lincoln as his partner,
and he has removed to Springfield, and his name there, as a
rising lawyer, is already high. This speaks for itself; and
I shall not expatiate upon it, the limits of my paper vdll not
permit me to do so, but the ripe fruit is now before us, and its
qualities do not require to be pointed out or enlarged upon.

I have now traced the life of Abraham. Lincoln from childhood
to his twenty-eighth year. Born in a very low grade of the
white population in America, with no forefathers' name to
stimulate his ambition, brought up from childhood to manhood
in one of the poorest, rudest, and least cultivated States of the
Union, and in one of the dreariest of homesteads, among poor and
ignorant relatives, without friends, without influence, without
advantage of any kind. And what do we find him now in his
twenty-eighth year? We find him "Honest Abe," member of
the Legislature of Illinois, twice returned, a lawyer of rising
reputation, aud partner of the Hon. John T. Stuart, of Spring-

I shall pass over the next twenty-four years of his life with a
rapid glance. He has attained a position purely by his own
unassisted abilities, strength of purpose, and force of character,
in which the powers he possesses, will steadily and rapidly tell
their own tale — and that tale was simply told during those
twenty-four years. He is now fifty-two years of age — he has
lisen to the top of the ladder in his profession, and has realized
a fortune — he has risen to the top of the ladder as a politician.


'and is acknowledged leader of the largest party in the State —
he has risen to the top of the ladder in his Nation — he is elected
President of the United States of America — and he still retains
his title of Honest Abe, a title now a household word.

Before proceeding, however, to consider Abraham Lincoln as
President of the United States, it is necessary to devote a short
space to the question of slavery, and to the cause of the secession
of the Slave States from the Union, as there is much miscon-
ception regarding these questions in this country. I have to
confess myself that I was very strongly prejudiced against
Abraham Lincoln and his government, when I commenced
the study of his life, purely from an utter misconception of
these questions as they existed in America, and I believe
my views were the general popular belief in England. I
shall endeavour as briefly as possible to explain these ques-
tions. Everybody knows that' the United States consists of a
union of distinct and separate States, each of which sends its
representatives to Congress ; and that, previous to the late
disruption, most of the Southern States were Slave States, or
States in which slavery existed as an institution, while the States
in the North were Free States, or States in which slavery was
not an institution. But it is not so universally known, in this
countr}^, that every separate State has a distinct government or
legislatui'e of its own, which manages its o^\Ta internal
government, and originates all laws that regulate its domestic
affairs ; and that Congress has no power to interfere with the
domestic laws of any State — it has only the power to veto anj'
act before it is passed. A law, therefore, once passed in any
State, and having received the sanction of the President or the
Governor appointed by him for that particular State, Congress
is powerless to interfere with it ; and, consequently, according
to the Constitution of the United States, neither the President
nor Congress can interfere with the institution of slavery
in any State in which it may exist as an institution- But


if auy State should attempt to exteud tlie iustiLutiou of
slavery, or to increase the powers of the slave owner, they
have the power to veto any such act. I may also state here
that to the west of the present States exists a vast terri-
tory, peopled only by wandering tribes of Indians, and that
large tracts of this territory are admirably adapted for being
converted into sugar, tobacco, or cotton plantations, and this
territory belongs to the United States Government. Now, there
was no doubt a very considerable party of Abolitionists, who
beheved slavery to be a great national sin, and that it
ought to be abolished from the institutions of the country;
but the two great parties who divided the States were the
Democrats and the Republicans. The Democrats were princi-
pally slave owners in the Southern States, and those interested
commercially with them, and they maintained that the slaves were
their property, in the same way as their horses or cattle, and that
they were entitled to take their slaves with them wherever they
chose, and to use them for doing the labour they were fitted for,
in the very same manner as they might take their horses or
cattle along with them and apply them for their labour. In
short, their effort was to extend and increase the powers of the
slave owner. The Republicans were opposed to slavery on the
same principles as the Abolitionists, but they supported the
laws and the constitution of the United States, and they would
not permit any interference with these; in other words, they
would allow no unconstitutional act to be committed. Their
reply to the Democrats therefore was, "You may use your
slaves within your own States according to the laws of your own
States— ^we have no right to interfere with that ; but you shall
not bring your slaves as your horses or your cattle into our
States, neither shall you take them into any portion of the
western territories, and open out slave plantations or form new
Slave States there ; neither shall you increase the powers of the
slave owner, if it is in our power to veto such a proceeding."


And Abraham Lincoln was the leader of the ilepublican party
when he was elected President, and there is no doubt that the
Southern States, who had returned the President from their own
class for many years, dreaded the growth of this Eepublicau
party, and feared its able leader, now elected President. They
heard the cry, that slavery was a national sin, echoed from all
sides, but they were born and brought up with slaves for ser-
vants, and their eyes were not opened to the crime of the insti-
tution — while they saw ruin to their plantations, and no hope
of opening up new and profitable plantations in the territories,
in this growing feeling of horror at slavery. True, Abraham
Lincoln and his party said — " we shall not interfere with the
institution of slavery as it exists in your own States, we have no

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Online LibraryR Y.Abraham Lincoln : a study → online text (page 1 of 3)