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Department of Public Instruction
Bureau of Education

Abraham Lincoln

A selection of passages from his

with brief comments

Published on the occasion of the celebration in the
public schools of the Philippine Islands of the hun'
dredth anniversary of his birth, February 12, 1809


Bureau of Printing



n. OF 0-

m 9 '309


The selections from Abraham Lincoln's speeches and letters
herein given, with the exception of a single brief passage, are taken
from the period following his election as President of the United
States, when the days of his career as a great public debater were
over. After his election to the presidency Mr. Lincoln made no
argumentative speeches, although almost every public utterance is
a heartfelt plea for the ends for which he was struggling. To ap-
preciate his power and adroitness as a controversialist one must go
back to the period preceding his nomination — the years of his active
work in the West as an opponent of the extension of slavery. It
is difficult to make extracts from these speeches for the reason
that every part is closely bound together by logical arrangement,
and the speeches to be appreciated must be studied in the light
of the questions with which they deal. They are therefore
omitted in preference for selections from his words when he was
actually bearing the nation's burden in the midst of the stupendous
Civil War.

Lincoln's national prominence dates from 1854. At that time
he came prominently before the country as an uncompromising
opponent of the further extension of slavery to Territories of the
United States, particularly the region known as the Nebraska
and Kansas Territories. Lincoln was at that time a man of 45 ;
a successful lawyer with a reputation throughout the bounds of
his State. Illinois; but for the past five years he had taken no part
in political life. In 1820 the famous agreement made in Congress,
known as the Missouri Compromise, bound both parties to agree
that slavery should not extend northward of the parallel of 36° 30'.
Under this agreement the slavery question was held in abeyance
for thirty years, but in 1850 it became the central political issue
of America and continued so vmtil the Civil War. The issue that

Note. — The complete works of Abraham Lincoln have been published
by Nicolay and Hay, two volumes. There are several small compila-
tions, among them Chittenden's Abraham Lincoln's Speeches, and
Speeches and Letters of Abraham Lincoln in Everyman's Library, a
recent publication to which Ambassador Bryce has contributed an in-


particularly aroused the opponents of the extension of slavery
was the determination on the part of the slave States to carry
the institution into the Kansas-Nebraska Territory, a region unor-
ganized and under the power of Congress and expressly devoted
by the terms of the Missouri Compromise to freedom. It was the
proposal of Senator Douglas of Illinois, one of the most prominent
and influential statesmen of his day, to allow the question to be
reopened and to admit Kansas and Nebraska either slave or free as
the populations of those regions should determine. Lincoln's op-
position to Douglas began in 1854 and continued until the issue of
Civil War brought them together, Douglas then loyally supporting
the Union. In 1858 Lincoln challenged Senator Douglas to appear
before the people of Illinois in a series of debates on the question
at issue. The challenge was somewhat reluctantly accepted by
Douglas but was finally arranged, and debates were held in seven
different sections of the State, representing all. It was the
most famous series of political discussions ever held in the United
States; crowds that for that day were enormous attended each
speaking, and the utmost efforts of both of these men w^ere put
forth in these weeks of discussion. By successfully opposing one
of the foremost statesmen of his day Lincoln established his repu-
tation as a thinker of great ability and sincerity, and as a man who
had a policy and dared defend it. From this time on he became
a thoroughly national figure and in the West the leader of the
Republican party, which organized at this time to prevent the
further extension of slavery. Lincoln's policy was, that inasmuch
as the Constitution guaranteed slavery in States wdiere it was
already established, its abolition was legally impossible without
the consent of the people of those States, but that extended it
should not be and that the utmost eflforts of the freedom-loving
population of the country should be devoted to keeping it wdthin
the limits where it was then knowai. In 1858 Lincoln went further
and in what is perhaps the most important speech he ever made,
delivered at Springfield, Illinois, on his nomination to the Senate
of the United States, he declared his conviction that upon this
matter the country could not remain divided but that it must
become either all slave or all free. This brief but cogent and
eloquent oration can not be condensed or abbreviated; it must be
read as a whole in order to be appreciated. The opening para-
graph, however, which gives it its name, is as follow^s :


June 17, 1858.
"If we could first know where we are^ and whither we are
tending, we could better judge what to do, and liow to do it.
We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated
with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end
to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that
agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented.
In my opinion it will not cease until a crisis shall have been
reached and passed. 'A house divided against itself can not
stand.' I believe this Government can not endure permanently,
half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be
dissolved, — I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect
it will cease to be divided. It will become all one' thing, or all
the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further
spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in
the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its
advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in
all the States, old as well as new. North as well as South."


The remaining extracts begin with the brief but affecting words
with which he bade farewell to the people of his home town, who
gathered at the station for their last view of him as he left for
Washington. They were spoken from the rear platform of the

February 11, 1861.

"My Friends: No one, not in my position, can appreciate the
sadness I feel at this parting. To this people I owe all that I
am. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century; here
my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know
not how soon I shall see you again. A duty devolves upon me
which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any
other man since the days of Washington. He never would have
succeeded except by the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he
at all times relied. I feel that I can not succeed without the
same Divine aid which sustained him, and on the same Almighty
Being I place my reliance for support; and I hope you, my

friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance,
without which I can not succeed, but with which success is certain.
Again I bid jou an affectionate farewell."


Only a portion of the First Inaugural Address is given, but
this fragment embraces his appeal for a peaceful settlement of
the troubles that had brought the North and South to the verge
of war. His determination to defend the Union and the property
of the Federal Government is not so clearly apparent in this
selection. His most decisive paragraph was omitted by the advice
of Mr. Seward, who became his Secretary of State. To Mr.
Seward also is due the thought and the figure in the concluding
paragraph, but in rewriting it, Mr. Lincoln, with his unerring
taste for literary style, greatly improved and simplified the

March 4, 1861.

"* * * I take the official oath to-day with no mental res-
ervations, and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or
the laws by any hypercritical rules.

"It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a
President under our National Constitution. During that period
fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have, in suc-
cession, administered the Executive branch of the Government.
They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with
great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter
upon the same great task for the brief constitutional term of
four years, under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of
the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably

* * * ■ -;i- * * *

"Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not re-
move our respective sections from each other nor build an im-
passable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced,
and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other;
but the different parts of our country can not do this. They
can not but remain face to face; and intercourse, either amicable
or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then.

to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory
after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier
than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully
enforced between aliens than laws among friends? Suppose you
go to war, you can not fight always; and whan, after much loss
on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the
identical old questions as to terms of intercourse are again upon
you * * *.

"The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the
people, and they have conferred none upon him to fix terms for
the separation of the States. The people themselves can do
this also, if they choose; but the Executive, as such, has nothing
to do with it. His duty is to administer the present Government
as it came to his hands, and to transmit it, unimpaired by him,
to his successor.

"Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate
justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the
world? In our present differences, is either party without faith
of being in the right? If the Almighty Kuler of Nations with His
eternal truth and justice be on your side of the North, or on
yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail,
by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

uif * * ]^|y countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well
upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking
time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to
a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will
be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated
by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied, still have the old
Constitution, unimpaired, and on the sensitive point the laws
of your own framing under it; while the new Administration will
have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it
were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side
in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for precipitate
action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianit}", and a firm reliance
on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still
competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficult}'.

"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in
mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will


not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves
the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy
the government, Avhile I shall have the most solemn one to
'preserve, protect, and defend it.'

"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We
must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must
not break our bonds of affection.

"The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-
field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone
all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union
when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels
of our nature."


At this date we can only slightly appreciate the violence of the
criticism to which Mr. Lincoln was subjected as the war dragged
on. At times he seemed to be standing quite without support from
any quarter. Early in the war the opponents of slavery began
urging him to declare the slaves free. Lincoln's position on the
slavery question has been indicated above. He recognized that the
Constitution had guaranteed slavery to the Southern States and
that legally, under ordinary circumstances, it could not be annulled
by the Federal Government. The only possible right by which,
as President of the United States, he might decree its abolition
was as a "war measure," aimed to reduce the power of the
Confederacy and bring an earlier end to the conflict. Under the
sanction of this right he finally acted but only after months of
almost agonizing consideration. Many men in the "Border States,"
who had remained loyal to the Union, were slave owners; to act
too soon and without their support would be to sacrifice their
devotion. One of those most impatient for this action was the
great journalist Horace Greeley, probably the most influential
man in the United States. Finally in an open letter of the most
scathing character, Greeley attacked the President for having de-
layed too long. Mr. Lincoln made the reply given below, which
reveals his amazing self-command, and is at the same time one
of the most cogent and luminous defenses of a great policy that
was ever penned.

"August 22, 1802.

"I have just read yours of the 19th instant, addressed to
myself through the 'New York Tribune.'

"If there be in it any statements or assumptions of fact Avhich
I may know to be erroneous, I do not now and here controvert

''If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be
falsely drawn, I do not now and here argue against them.

''If there be perceptible in it an impatient and dictatorial
tone, I waive it, in deference to an old friend whose heart I
have always supposed to be right.

"As to the policy I 'seem to be pursuing/ as you say, I have
not meant to leave any one in doubt. I would save the Union.
I would save it in the shortest way under the Constitution.

"The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer
the Union will be, — the Union as it was.

"If there be those who would not save the Union unless they
could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them.

"If there be those who would not save the Union unless they
could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them.

""il/t/ paramount object m this struggle is to save the Union,
and not either to save or to destroy slavery.

"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would
do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it;
and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I
would also do that.

"What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because
I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear
because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

"I shall do less whenever I shall believe that what I am doing
hurts the cause; and I shall do more whenever I shall believe
doing more will help the cause.

"I shall try to correct errors where shown to be errors, and
I shall adopt new views as fast as they shall appear to be true

"I have here stated by purpose according to my views of
official duty, and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed
personal wish that all men everywhere could be free."


the proclamation of emancipation.

January 1, 1863.

"Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year
of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a procla-
mation was issued by the President of the United States, con-
taining among other things the following, to wit:

" 'Tliat on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord
one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as
slaves, within any State or designated part of a State, the people
whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall
be then, thenceforward and forever, free; and the executive govern-
ment of the United States, including the military and naval au-
thority thereof, Avill recognize and maintain the freedom of such
persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any
of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

" 'That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid,
by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any,
in which the people thereof, respectively, shall be then in rebellion
against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the
people thereof, shall, on that day, be in good faith represented in
the Congress of the United States, by members chosen thereto at
elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State
shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervail-
ing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and
the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United

"Now therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United
States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander in
Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, in time of
actual armed rebellion against the avithority and Government of
the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for
suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the
year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three,
and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed
for the full period of one hundred days from the day first above
mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States
wherein the people thereof respectively are this day in rebellion
against the United States, the following, to wit:

[Here follows the enumeration.]


"And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I
do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said
designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall
be, free; and that the executive government of the United States,
including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize
and maintain the freedom of said persons.

"And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free,
to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and
I recommend to them that in all cases when allowed, they labor
faithfully for reasonable wages,

"And I further declare and make known, that such persons of
suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the
United States, to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other
places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

"And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice,
w^arranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke
the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of
Almighty God."


As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the Nation,
Mr. Lincoln's position was extremely difficult. There was no
General Staff from which he could seek advice and the first
generals appointed by him were unsuccessful. He was often
obliged to deal directly with the field commanders. The letters
to General Hooker and to General Grant are representative of a
correspondence characterized by patience, firmness and complete

''January 26, 1863.

"General: I have placed you at the head of the army of the
Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear to me
to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know
that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite
satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier,
which of course I like. I also believe you do not mix politics
with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence
in yourself, which is a valuable if not an indispensable quality.
You are ambitious, Avhich, within reasonable bounds, does good
rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside's
command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition,


and thwarted liim as much as you could, — in which you did a
great wrong to the covmtry, and to a most meritorious and
honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to
believe it, of your recently saying that the Army and the Govern-
ment needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in
spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those
generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now
ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.
The Government will support you to the utmost of its ability,
which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for
all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided
to infuse into the army, of criticising their commander and with-
holding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall
assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor
Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an
army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now beware of
rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless
vigilance, go forward and give us victories."

his letter to general grant.

"April 30, 1864.
"Not expecting to see you again before the spring campaign
opens, I wish to express in this way my entire satisfaction with
what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it.
The particulars of your plans I neither know nor seek to know.
You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish
not to obtrude any constraints nor restraints upon you. While
I am very anxious that any great disaster or capture of our men
in great numbers shall be avoided, I know these points are less
likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there
is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail
to let me know it. And now, with a brave army and a just cause,
may God sustain you."



The brief address at the field of Gettysburg is his most famous
utterance. Probably it could not be improved by the change of
a single word, yet it was written with a pencil on tne back of a
letter while riding in the train to the occasion. It has come to be
recognized as one of the enduring pieces of English literature.


November 19, 18G3.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon
this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated
to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that
nation, or anv nation so conceived and so dedicated, can lonof
endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We
have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting
place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might
live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But in a larger sense we can not dedicate, we can not con-
secrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living
and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above
our power to add or detract. The world will little note nor
long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what
they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated
here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have
thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here
dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these
honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for
which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here
highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that
this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom ; and
that government of the people, by the people, and for the people,
shall not perish fi'om the earth."


Words could not exceed in dignity and appropriateness the
lines to Mrs. Bixby. It is an example of the heart-breaking
sympathy which the President extended at all times to the


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