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With Introduction and Notes













This little book is founded on the compiler's conviction that
the most practical and inspiring guide our history offers for de-
veloping genuinely democratic Americans is the life of Abra-
ham Lincoln. Coupled with this conviction is a second equally
strong, that the best place to study Lincoln is in his own writings.

The selections here given have been chosen with three dif-
ferent but closely related ideas in mind :

1. Abraham Lincoln's understanding of democracy, and the way
he worked it out in his own life, in his relations with his fellows and
with the American people.

2. His intellectual and moral development, particularly as we see
it in his handling of the slavery question.

3. His English prose and the method by which it was perfected.

The selections should be read with the facts of his life in
mind. The pupil should be helped to put himself in Lincoln's
place by such concrete questions as :

1 . How old was Lincoln at this time ?

2. In what town was he living?

3. How was he earning his living.?

4. Who were his friends 1 What was his family 1

5. What books was he reading?

6. What was his political party and what was its platform ?

7. Was he seeking an office, and if so, what was it? Who was his
opponent ?

These questions well answered will help the pupil to see Lin-
coln much as he sees other men. Biographies which will be use-
ful are : "A Short Life of Abraham Lincoln," by John George



Nicolay ; '' The Life of Abraham Lincoln," by J. G. Holland ;
" Abraham Lincoln, A Biography for Young People," by Noah
Brooks ; '' Abraham Lincoln, the Man of the People," by Nor-
man Hapgood ; " Abraham Lincoln," by John Torrey Morse, Jr. ;
" The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln," by Francis F.
Browne, and the compiler's " Life of Abraham Lincoln."


The selections are arranged chronologically. They begin with
extracts from the first public address, written when Lincoln was
twenty-three years old, and end with his last public words spoken
in Washington three days before his assassination. They consist
of letters to friends and to political allies and opponents, of public
''"papers, of addresses on a great variety of occasions, and of ex-
tracts from the debates and speeches in which he expounded
'his ideas on slavery. If fuller material is wished, or a complete
copy of a document from which only a fragment is here quoted,
the best source in which to seek it is Nicolay and Hay's " Com-
plete Works of Abraham Lincoln."

In reading, it should be remembered that the ideas which
have controlled the selections run through practically all of
them and are not illustrated simply by a few extracts,

Lincoln's Ideas of Democracy

It is important that Lincoln's ideas of democracy be disen-
tangled from theory and oratory in the pupil's mind and be
presented clearly as a series of practical rules of life, as they
certainly were to their author.

I. Let the pupil work out, from the selections and with what
help he cati get from biographies, Lincoln's 710 1 ions of what a ma7t
should be in a de7nocracy .

I. Self-Respecting. Study his relations to other men to show
this: to his law partner Herndon ; to Stephen H. Douglas; to
William H. Seward; to his generals.


2. Self-Reliant. At critical points in his career Lincoln always fol-
lowed his own conclusion as to what was wise. Illustrate this by his
choice of studies, political poHcies, and choice of men for his adminis-
tration and for the army.

3. Self-Developing. Trace his struggles for education.

4. Holding Public Good above Self-interest. How he took his de-
feat in 1858, sacrificing his ambition to be a United States senator in
order to make the issue clear to the people. How he offered to resign
from the presidency if it would help the situation. How he insisted
in 1864 on making a draft of men needed for the war, although the
action threatened to defeat his reelection to the presidency.

II. What ivas Lincoln'' s idea of the 7'elation of one man to
another in a democracy ?

This theme can be studied best by taking up Lincoln's treatment
of certain persons with whom he was thrown into close relationship.

1. His Stepbrother. See letters of advice to him.

2. Stephen H. Douglas. See Lincoln's treatment of him in the
debates of 1858.

3. General George B. McClellan.

4. Horace Greeley.

III. What was Lincoln'' s idea of a public mail's relation to the
people in a dejnoc?'acy ?

1. Did he believe the people capable of thinking out public ques-
tions and coming to their own conclusions, or did he believe they fol-
lowed the views of the leader of their political party .f*

2. What did Lincoln mean by " fooling " the people.?

3. What did Lincoln believe to be the right and true way to lead
the people ?

Ample material for answering and illustrating these questions
is contained in a study of his debates with Douglas, in his
efforts for compensated emancipation, and in his insisting that
the Civil War be continued until the South laid down arms.

Helpful reading on the democracy of Lincoln is to be found
in Carl Schurz's Essay on Abraham Lincoln; in Herbert


Croly's comments on Lincoln in his " Promise of American
Life " ; in James Russell Lowell's Essays.

Lincoln's Treatment of the Question of Slavery

Lincoln's treatment of the question of slavery gives an ad-
mirable opportunity to study his mental and moral develop-
ment. The selections here given are sufficient to enable the
pupil to trace the way in which he solved each successive step
in the problem from 1837, ^^e time of his first public protest
against the institution, to the days just before his death, when
he was considering a policy of merciful reconstruction.

The following questions will serve as suggestions for work-
ing out this important study :

1. What was the general opinion on slavery in Illinois in 1837
when Lincoln made his first public protest against it? Did he run
any risk of losing his place in the State Assembly by his action?
What experience had he had with the institution before this?

2. What was the political situation in 1845 which called out the
letter to Williamson Durley ? What were Lincoln's political ambitions
at the time?

3. What was Lincoln doing when the Missouri Compromise was
repealed, and what effect did that repeal have upon him ?

4. Why did Lincoln leave the Whig party in 1856? What were
the views of the new Republican Party ?

5. What was Douglas's main argument in the debates of 1858?
How did Lincoln answer that argument ? What were the arguments
by which Lincoln sustained his position that slavery must be stopped
or it would spread over the entire nation ?

6. Was the Civil War fought to free the black man ?

7. How did Lincoln show that slavery was inconsistent with
democracy ?

8. Why did Lincoln want to free the slaves by buying them ?

9. Was emancipation a wise war measure ?

TO. What was Lincoln's idea of reconstruction?


Throughout this study stress should be laid on the intel-
lectual integrity, the courage and the willingness to sacrifice
personal to public interest, which characterized Lincoln's succes-
sive positions. In 1837, in 1856, in 1858, in 1861, 1862, 1863,
1864, — at each critical moment in his connection with slavery
questions — he risked his position by the boldness with which he
insisted that his views should be understood.

Books, other than those above named, useful for this study
are " Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln,"
by Francis B. Carpenter ; " Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln
by Distinguished Men of His Times," by Allen Thorndike Rice.

Lincoln as a Writer of English

Abraham Lincoln's ability to serve the country was greatly
increased by his command of English prose. The result of his
close hard thinking could never have been as effective if he
had not understood the art of putting thoughts into convincing
and moving words, and at the same time conveying a sense of
his own sincerity. His art was the logical result of a life-long
struggle to express the ideas which interested him, so clearly
that the humblest could understand his meaning.

It will be well to begin a study of his English by a review of
his schooling and his habits of reading, of writing, and of
speaking, when a boy. In turn there should be taken up his
study of English grammar, of surveying, and of the law. What
were the reasons impelling him in each case ? What were his
obstacles ? How did he meet them ? How did he succeed ?

Two books largely formed Lincoln's style, — the Bible and
Shakespeare. The tracing of their effect on his prose is not
difficult and should be attempted by the pupil.

The gradual development of his style may be traced by
comparing extracts of different periods, — as his first public
address in 1832 with the speech on the repeal of the Missouri


Compromise in 1854, with the Cooper Union speech in i860, and
with the extracts from the First and Second Inaugurals. Com-
pare in these extracts the vocabulary he commanded at different
times, the flexibility and elegance of phrase, the elevation of
tone, and the ability to convey feeling as well as ideas.

A similar comparative study may be made of Lincoln's letters,
documents too often overlooked. Take the letter to his partner
Herndon, written in 1864, and compare with that his letters to
Hooker, Grant, Greeley, and Mrs. Bixby here printed.

The purest and most beautiful English he wrote is found
in the Springfield Farewell, the Gettysburg Address, and the
Second Inaugural, and they deserve most careful analysis
according to the favorite methods of the individual teacher.

It should be remembered that their full value cannot be
appreciated unless the pupil understands the occasion which
called each forth.

For studies in strength and exactness of expression there are
no writings better than Lincoln's remarks on labor and capital
in the Annual Message of 1861, and the letters to Horace
Greeley (August 22, 1862), to General Hooker (January 26,
1863), and to J. C. Conkling (August 26, 1863).

The value of the short well-chosen word and of the terse
sentence are admirably illustrated in these extracts.

Books which throw light on his literary qualities are Carl
Schurz's Essay on Lincoln, Richard Watson Gilder's Intro-
duction to his " Lincoln ; Passages from His Speeches and
Letters " ; and James Russell Lowell's Essay on Lincoln.

I. M. T.



Introduction xi

Views on Money- Loaning, Education, and Lawmaking ... 3

Political Views in 1836 5

First Public Protest against Slavery 6

Letter to Williamson Durley 7

Letter to William H. Herndon, his Law Partner, reproving

him for Suspicion of Others 9

Reflections on seeing Niagara Falls (1848) 10

Notes on the Practice of Law (1850) 11

Letter to John D. Johnston (January 2, 185 1) 13

Letter to John D. Johnston (November 4, 185 1) 14

Hope, the Inspiration of Labor 15

Repeal of the Missouri Compromise, Right of Self-Government 1 6

After the Defeat of 1856 25

" A House divided against itself " 25

Equality of White and Black Races 31

Republican and Democratic Principles compared 32

Lincoln's Autobiography 37

Slavery as the Fathers viewed it 39

Farewell Speech to his Friends in Springfield ...... 63

The Perpetuity of the Union . 63

Lincoln's Reply to Secretary Seward's Offer to become the

Head of the Administration 72

On the Relation of Labor and Capital 73

Message to Congress recommending Compensated Emanci-
pation y^

Letter to Horace Greeley yj

Sabbath Observance 78




Extract from Annual Message 79

Emancipation Proclamation 88

Letter to General Joseph Hooker 90

Proclamation for a National Fast Day 91

Letter to General U. S. Grant 92

Letter stating his Position in Regard to the War and to

Emancipation 93

Proclamation for Thanksgiving 97

The Gettysburg Address 99

Amnesty for those in Rebellion 100

Suggesting that Intelligent Negroes be admitted to the Elective

Franchise 105

Review of Slavery Policy 106

Letter to General U. S. Grant 108

Letter to Mrs. Bixby . . .- 109

Extract from Annual Message 109

Part of Second Inaugural Address 113

The Reconstruction of the Southern States 115

Notes 117


Abraham Lincoln was one of the most perfectly developed
men intellectually and morally which this country has produced.
He had the power which is the highest end of education, — that
is, the power to think out to a logical conclusion the problems
which life brought to him, and to express these conclusions in
language which the simplest could understand, and which at
the same time was distinguished in style and most effective in
convincing and moving men. His moral power matched his
intellectual power ; that is, when he had once made up his mind
that a course of action was wise, no amount of persuasion or
pressure could dissuade him from following it. He had in the
highest degree '' the courage of his convictions."

The superiority of Lincoln's development is the more sur-
prising because of the circumstances under which it was worked
out. He was bom on a small farm in Kentucky, when that
country was still sparsely settled and its opportunities for school-
ing were meager ; his father moved when he was but seven years
old to a piece of uncleared land in Indiana. The log cabin
which became his home, young Lincoln helped to build. The
food and clothes of the family he helped to produce. He
was strong and good-natured, and was his father's most useful
helper in the hard task of earning a living from what proved
to be a rather poor farm.

His father was illiterate, unable to sign his name save with
difficulty, and never known to read any book but the Bible.
The boy never had, all told, over a year of schooling, and even
this was under the itinerant system common to pioneer districts
where the only qualifications required of a teacher were that he


be able to teach " readin', writin', and 'rithmetic to the rule of
three," and where a master who understood a little Latin was
looked upon as a wizard. There was but one redeeming feature
to his boyhood education, — his mother, a gentle woman, able
to read and write and with a genuine ambition to instruct and
inspire her children. She gathered them about her, relating to
them Bible stories, curious country legends, wild tales of Indians
and of pioneer hardships, and often when it grew dark in the
evenings, heaping the chimney place of the log cabin full of
spicewood brush, that her boy and his sister might see to read
their few books and to con their lessons.

Lincoln's own mother died when he was only eight years old.
His father married again, and fortunately for the boy, the step-
mother proved to be as interested in his books and lessons and
as ambitious that he should learn as his own mother had been.
Indeed, as he grew up and his father objected to his taking time
for reading and study, it was his stepmother who became his

In spite of the barrenness of his early surroundings the boy
showed from the first a love of books and a necessity for ex-
pressing himself in writing. As soon as he had learned to read,
books became his constant companions. There were few in
either the house of his father or those of his neighbors. The
Bible, " .^sop's Fables," " Robinson Crusoe," " Pilgrim's Prog-
ress," " A History of the United States," and Weems's " Life
of Washington " comprised the store of reading matter in the
community in which he lived, and when young Lincoln had ex-
hausted this he began to borrow from a distance. He once told
a friend that there was not a book he had not read within a
radius of fifty miles of his boyhood home. The character of the
books seems to have made little difference to him. The legends
say that he walked as far to get a treatise of law as to get a
volume of poetry or biography. Everything excited his eager
curiosity, his hungry desire for new thought and expression.


He did not simply read the books ; he absorbed them, copying
long extracts, making them literally his own, — something which
he could and did recite as he followed the plow, and which
furnished him material for the long discussions he sought with
every passing neighbor.

When his boyhood was past and he had entered upon that
career of Jack-of-all-trades which he was forced to pursue until
he was nearly twenty-five years old, he continued to read much
in the intervals of railsplitting, fiatboating, storekeeping, acting
as village postmaster and deputy surveyor. In this period of
life he made a thorough and critical acquaintance with Shake-
speare and Burns. It is rare indeed that a person is found so
well versed in Shakespeare as Lincoln was. He could quote
pages from many of the plays and had a very clear and intelli-
gent opinion of the meaning of difficult passages. He was fond
of seeing the plays acted, and while in Washington as Presi-
dent of the United States, never missed a Shakespearean play
if he could help it. Often he sent for the leading actor after
it was over and discussed the arrangement of the play, amazing
his auditors by his knowledge.

It was while Lincoln was studying Shakespeare that there
fell into his hands a set of books which finally led him to read
law. The incident illustrates very well the eagerness with
which he always seized any book which came in his way and the
avidity with which he read it. Soon after Lincoln's nomination
to the Presidency, in i860, an ardent Republican of New Jersey
sent A. J. Conant, a well-known portrait painter of the day, to
Springfield to paint the portrait of the party's nominee. Mr.
Conant confesses that he had not expected to find much of a
subject, for Lincoln was practically unknown in the East, and
he was the more surprised to discover that this new man pos-
sessed a genuine, if unconventional, intellectual cultivation. Ac-
cordingly, during the sittings, he took pains to ask Mr. Lin-
coln many questions about his early life in order to find Out,


if possible, what his education had been. One day he asked
Mr. Lincoln how he became interested in the law. " It was Black-
stone's ' Commentaries ' that did it," said Mr. Lincoln, and then
he related how he first happened on the books, " I was keep-
ing store in New Salem, when one day a man who was migrat-
ing to the West drove up with a wagon which contained his
family and household plunder. He asked me if I would buy
an old barrel for which he had no room in his wagon, and
which he said contained nothing of special value. I did not
want it, but to oblige him I bought it and paid him, I think,
half a dollar. Without further examination I put it away in the
store and forgot all about it. Sometime after, in overhauling
things, I came upon the barrel and emptied its contents upon
the floor. I found at the bottom of the rubbish a complete
edition of Blackstone's " Commentaries." I began to read those
famous works, and I had plenty of time, for during the long
summer days, when the farmers were busy with their crops,
my customers were few and far between. " The more I read " —
this he said with unusual emphasis — " the more intensely
interested I became. Never in my whole life was my mind
so thoroughly absorbed. I read until I devoured them."

Blackstone whetted his appetite for more law. Later, when
he had become a lawyer, a politician, a man of family, the love
of books remained, and he often read late into the night after a
hard day at the bar, trying to make up, he said, for that chance
at an education which he did not have as a boy.

Lincoln began to write almost as soon as to read. Many
doggerels have been preserved that he scrawled in his early
exercise books, such as

Good boys who to their books apply,
Will all be great men by and bye.

There are also many well-authenticated stories of attempts at
essays and poetry. Some of these boyish performances even


found their way into local papers, and not a few were pre-
served by his family and have been published by his earliest
biographers. Of course they are crude, but they all show a
sense of the value of words and an evident pleasure in what
Schurz calls the " comely phrase." They are never meaning-
less. They are never flat. They show always that the writer
had an idea of his own, and that though he might work it out
blunderingly, he nevertheless had a real feeling of the possi-
bilities in his medium.

Through all the hard years of his early manhood he stuck to
his effort to express himself by writing. He must have been
nearly twenty years old when he began to feel the need of
a knowledge of grammar, to realize that these blocks out of
which he had been building sentences intuitively and imita-
tively, governed only by his pleasure in them and by the un-
conscious influence of his reading, were really subject to
certain laws. He decided he must know these laws, learn how to
put words together scientifically. The familiar story of Lincoln's
hunt for a grammar, of his impassioned study of it before a fire
of stumps by night after his long day's work, is at once one
of the most pathetic and most inspiring in the history of his
intellectual life.

By the time Lincoln was twenty-three years of age, he felt
himself sufficiently master of his medium to put out his first
public document, an address to the people of Sangamon County,
Illinois, offering himself as a candidate for the offiice of repre-
sentative to the General Assembly of the state. This docu-
ment is remarkable for its directness. Its author plunges at
once into the subjects which he supposes most interesting to
his constituents, and states his views in English which bears
all the characteristics of his style twenty-five years later.

From 1832 on, throughout the rest of his life, we have a
steady series of addresses called out by the events in which he
was most deeply interested. In addition to elaborate arguments


such as these are, Lincoln's writings contain several remarkable
Shi addresses for specal occasions; preeminent among these

'^ S:rS rS'course of his life several lectures on
sublets quite out of politics. A very good te-P-ance ec^^u^
is ii this'list, as well as an address on -~ ^^^f J;
the bulk of Lincoln's work is m the form of addresses, Dy
rTo means confined himself to this species of composmon At
: rious imes in his life he tried his hand at essays, whtch have
been Tost- he even wrote occasional verse, a little of has
Seen preserved; and from the testimony of his assoaates we
tnow'that ideas'for stories sometimes fhtted trough h>s head
In Lincoln's literary output nothing is better than h.s letters
For instance, his letters to his constituents, through wh,ch f o
many years he did most of his elect>oneermg, form a senes
rjolitical documents as distinguished for Aeu^ quamt phrase^
oloL and humor as for their frankness and shrewdness; and
Z% letters in which he gave counsel to friends must eventu-

allv become classic. , ,.

Putting together all his writings, - addresses, lectures, pubhc
and privfte iftters, and fugitive expression, - the bulk o w^k
which resulted in the course of his life .s considerable. H s
Tomplete works, edited by Nicolay and Hay, contamnrg fully

"rqueltionlbly the most important of Lincoln's literary work
is the'series of speeches made between 1854 and '^^S, - wh ch
he developed his arguments against the extension of slavery tor
the prese'rvation of%he Union and in favor of
The most familiar of these are the powerful -P''^^ '° ^""^^^
in ,858, but they are by no means all which are worth attenton.
The 'speech made in X856, when he publicly severed his con^
nection with the old Whig party and joined the newly found d
Republican organization, is one of the most -'go™"^ ^"^ el^
quent he ever delivered. It is doubtful if any speech of his

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Online LibraryA LincolnSelections from the letters, speeches (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 13)