Abraham Lincoln.

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Complete Works of
Abraham Lincoln


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Abraham Lincoln

Photogravure from a Portrait taken from Life by

Charles A. Barry in Spring-field, Illinois,

June, 1860.

Complete Works of

Abraham Lincoln

Edited by

With a General Introduction by

RICHARD WATSON GILDER, and Special Articles


New and Enlarged Edition


New York


Copyright, 1894, by

Copyright, 1905, by

The Character of Lincoln/

WHILE I speak to you to-day, the body of
the President who ruled this people is
lying honored and loved, in our city. It
is impossible with that sacred presence in our midst
for me to stand and speak of the ordinary topics
which occupy the pulpit. I must speak of him to
day; and I therefore undertake to do what I had in
tended to do at some future time, to invite you to
study with me the character of Abraham Lincoln,
the impulses of his life, and the causes of his death.
I know how hard it is to do it rightly, how impos
sible it is to do it worthily. But I shall speak with
confidence because I speak to those who loved him,
and whose ready love will fill out the deficiencies in
a picture which my words will weakly try to draw.
I can only promise you to speak calmly, conscien
tiously, affectionately, and with what understanding
of him I can command.

We take it for granted first of all, that there is
an essential connection between Mr. Lincoln s char
acter and his violent and bloody death. It is no
accident, no arbitrary decree of Providence. He
lived as he did, and he died as he did, because he was

1 From a sermon at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadel
phia, April 23, 1865.



vi The Character of Lincoln

what he was. The more we see of events the less
we come to believe in any fate or destiny except the
destiny of character. It will be our duty, then, to see
what there was in the character of our great Presi
dent that created the history of his life and at last
produced the catastrophy of his cruel death. After
the first trembling horror, the first outburst of in
dignant sorrow has grown calm, these are the ques
tions which we are bound to ask and answer.

It is not necessary for me even to sketch the bio
graphy of Mr. Lincoln. He was born in Kentucky,
fifty-six years ago, when Kentucky was a pioneer
State. He lived, as boy and man, the hard and
needy life of a backwoodsman, a farmer, a river boat
man, and finally, by his own efforts at self-education,
of an active, respected, influential citizen in the half-
organized and manifold interests of a new and en
ergetic community. From his boyhood up he lived
in direct and vigorous contact with men and things,
not as in older states and easier conditions with words
and theories; and both his moral convictions and his
intellectual opinions gathered from that contact a
supreme degree of that character by which men knew
him that character which is the most distinctive
possession of the best American nature that almost
indiscribable quality which we call in general clearness
or truth, and which appears in the physical structure
as health, in the moral constitution as honesty, in the
mental structure as sagacity, and in the region of
active life as practicalness. This one character, with
many sides all shaped by the same essential force and

The Character of Lincoln


testifying to the same inner influences, was what was
powerful in him and decreed for him the life he was
to live and the death he was to die. We must take
no smaller view than this of what he was. Even his
physical conditions are not to be forgotten in making
up his character. We make too little always of the
physical; certainly we make too little of it here if we
lose out of sight the strength and muscular activity,
the power of doing and enduring, which the back
woods-boy inherited from generations of hard-living
ancestors, and appropriated for his own by a long dis
cipline of bodily toil. He brought to the solution of
the question of labor in this country, not merely a
mind but a body thoroughly in sympathy with labor,
full of the culture of labor, bearing witness to the
dignity and excellence of work in every muscle that
work had toughened and every sense that work had
made clear and true. He could not have brought
the mind for his task so perfectly, unless he had first
brought the body whose rugged and stubborn health
was always contradicting to him the false theories of
labor, and always asserting the true. Who shall say
that even with David the son of Jesse, there was not
a physical as well as a spiritual culture in the struggle
with the lion and the bear which occurred among the
sheepfolds, out of which God took him to be the ruler
of his people.

As to the moral and mental powers which dis
tinguished him, all embraceable under this general
description of clearness or truth, the most remark
able thing in the way in which they blend with one

viii The Character of Lincoln

another, so that it is next to impossible to examine
them in separation. A great many people have dis
cussed very crudely whether Abraham Lincoln was an
intelligent man or not; as if intellect were a thing
always of the same sort, which you could precipitate
from the other constituents of a man s nature and
weight by itself, and compare by pounds and ounces
in this man with another. The fact is that in all the
simplest characters the line between the mental and
moral natures is always vague and indistinct. They
run together, and in their best combinations you are
unable to discriminate in the wisdom which is their
result, how much is moral and how much is intellect
ual. You are unable to tell whether in the wise acts
and words which issue from such a life there is more
of the righteousness that comes of a clear conscience
or of the sagacity that comes of a clear brain. In
more complex characters and under more complex
conditions, the moral and the mental lives come to be
less healthily combined. They cooperate, they help
each other less. They come even to stand over against
each other as antagonists ; till we have that vague but
most melancholy notion which pervades the life of
all elaborate civilization, that goodness and great
ness, as we call them, are not to be looked for to
gether, till we expect to see and so do see a feeble
and narrow conscientiousness on the one hand and a
bad unprincipled intelligence on the other, dividing
the suffrages of men.

It is the great boon of such characters as Mr. Lin
coln s, that they reunite what God has joined together

The Character of Lincoln ix

and man has put asunder. In him was vindicated
the greatness of real goodness and the goodness of
real greatness. The twain were one flesh. Not one
of all the multitudes who stood and looked up to
him for direction with such a loving and implicit trust
can tell you to-day whether the wise judgments that
he gave came most from a strong head or a sound
heart. If you ask them they are puzzled. There are
men as good as he, but they do bad things. There
are men as intelligent as he, but they do foolish things.
In him goodness and intelligence combined and made
their best result of wisdom. For perfect truth con
sists not merely in the right constituents of character,
but in their right and intimate conjunction. This
union of the mental and moral into a life of admira
ble simplicity is what we most admire in children,
but in them it is unsettled and unpractical. But
when it is preserved into a manhood, deepened into
reliability and maturity, it is that glorified childlike-
ness, that high and reverend simplicity which shames
and baffles the most accomplished astuteness, and is
chosen by God to fill his purposes when he needs a
ruler for his people of faithful and true heart, such
as he had who was our President.

Another evident quality of such a character as this,
will be its freshness or newness, so to speak. Its
freshness, or readiness call it what you will its
ability to take up new duties and do them in a new
way will result of necessity from its truth and clear
ness. The simple natures and forces will always be
the most pliant ones. Water bends and shapes itself

x The Character of Lincoln

to any channel. Air folds and adapts itself to each
new figure. They are the simplest and the most
infinitely active things in nature. So this nature, in
very virtue of its simplicity, must be also free, always
fitting itself to each new need. It will always start
from the most fundamental and eternal conditions,
and work in the straightest even although they be
the newest ways to the present prescribed purpose.
In one word it must be broad and independent and
radical. So that freedom and radicalness in the
character of Abraham Lincoln were not separate
qualities, but the necessary results of his simplicity
and childlikeness and truth.

Here then we have some conception of the man.
Out of this character came the life which we admire
and the death which we lament to-day. He was
called in that character to that life and death. It
was just the nature, as you see, which a new nation
such as ours ought to produce. All the conditions
of his birth, his youth, his manhood, which made
him what he was, were not irregular and exceptional,
but were the normal conditions of a new and simple
country. His pioneer home in Indiana, was a type
of the pioneer land in which he lived. If ever there
was a man who was a part of the time and country
he lived in this was he. The same simple respect
for labor won in the school of work and incorporated
into blood and muscle; the same unassuming loyalty
to the simple virtues of temperance and industry and
integrity; the same sagacious judgment which had
learned to be quick-eyed and quick-brained in the

The Character of Lincoln xi

constant presence of emergency; the same direct and
clear thought about things, social, political and re
ligious, that was in him supremely, was in the people
he was sent to rule. Surely, with such a type-man
for ruler, there would seem to be but a smooth and
even road over which he might lead the people whose
character he represented into the new region of na
tional happiness and comfort and usefulness, for
which that character had been designed.

But then we come to the beginning of all trouble.
Abraham Lincoln was the type-man of the country,
but not of the whole country. This character which
we have been trying to describe was the character of
an American under the discipline of freedom. There
was another American character which had been de
veloped under the influence of slavery. There was
no one American character embracing the land.
There were two characters, with impulses of irre
pressible and deadly conflict. This citizen whom
we have been honoring and praising represented one.
The whole great scheme with which he was ultimately
brought in conflict, and which has finally killed him,
represented the other. Beside this nature, true and
fresh and new, there was another nature false and
effete and old. The one nature found itself in a new
world, and set itself to discover the new ways for the
new duties that were given it. The other nature, full
of the false pride of blood, set itself to reproduce in
a new world the institutions and the spirit of the old,
to build anew the structure of a feudalism which had
been corrupt in its own days, and which had been left

xii The Character of Lincoln

far behind by the advancing conscience and needs of
the progressing race. The one nature magnified
labor, the other nature depreciated and despised it.
The one honored the laborer and the other scorned
him. The one was simple and direct. The other
complex, full of sophistries and self-excuses. The
one was free to look all that claimed to be truth
in the face, and separate the error from the truth that
might be in it. The other did not dare to investigate
because its own established prides and systems were
dearer to it than the truth itself, and so even truth
went about in it doing the work of error. The one
was ready to state broad principles, of the brother
hood of man, the universal fatherhood and justice of
God, however imperfectly it might realize them in
practice. The other denied even the principles, and
so dug deep and laid below its special sins the broad
foundation of a consistent acknowledged sinfulness.
In a word, one nature was full of the influences of
Freedom, the other nature was full of the influences
of Slavery.

Here then we have the two. The history of our
country for many years is the history of how these
two elements of American life approached collision.
They wrought their separate reactions on each other.
Men debate and quarrel even now about the rise of
Northern abolitionism, about whether the Northern
abolitionists were right or wrong, whether they did
harm or good. How vain the quarrel is! It was

The Character of Lincoln xiii

inevitable. It was inevitable in the nature of things
that two such natures living here together should be
set violently against each other. It is inevitable, till
man be far more unfeeling and untrue to his convic
tions than he has always been, that a great wrong
asserting itself vehemently should arouse to no less
vehement assertion the opposing right. The only
wonder is that there was not more of it. The only
wonder is that so few were swept away to take by an
impulse they could not resist their stand of hatred to
the wicked institution. The only wonder is that
only one brave, reckless man came forth to cast him
self, almost single-handed, with a hopeless hope,
against the proud power that he hated, and trust to
the influence of a soul marching on into the history
of his countrymen to stir them to a vindication of the
truth he loved. At any rate, whether the abolitionists
were wrong or right, there grew up about their vio
lence, as there always will about the extremism of ex
treme reformers, a great mass of feeling, catching
their spirit and asserting it firmly though in more
moderate degrees and methods. About the nucleus
of Abolitionism grew up a great American Anti-
slavery determination, which at last gathered strength
enough to take its stand, to insist upon the checking
and limiting the extension of the power of slavery,
and to put the type-man whom God had been pre
paring for the task, before the world to do the work
on which it had resolved. Then came discontent,
secession, treason. The two American natures long
advancing to encounter, met at last and a whole


The Character of Lincoln

country yet trembling with the shock, bears witness
how terrible the meeting was.

Thus I have tried briefly to trace out the gradual
course by which God brought the character which he
designed to be the controlling character of this new
world into distinct collision with the hostile character
which it was to destroy and absorb, and set it in the
person of its type-man in the seat of highest power.
The character formed under the discipline of Free
dom, and the character formed under the discipline
of Slavery, developed all their difference and met in
hostile conflict when this war began. Notice, it was
not only in what he did and was towards the slave,
it was in all he did and was everywhere that we ac
cept Mr. Lincoln s character as the true result of our
free life and institutions. Nowhere else could have
come forth that genuine love of the people, which in
him no one could suspect of being either the cheap
flattery of the demagogue or the r.bstract philan
thropy of the philosopher, which made our President,
while he lived, the centre of a great household knd,
and when he died so cruelly, made every humblest
household thrill with a sense of personal bereave
ment which the death of rulers is not apt to bring.
Nowhere else than out of the life of freedom could
have come that personal unselfishness and generosity
which made so gracious a part of this good man s

Now it was in this character rather than in any

The Character of Lincoln xv

mere political position that the fitness of Mr. Lincoln
to stand forth .in the struggle of the two American
natures really lay. We are told that he did not come
to the Presidential chair pledged to the abolition of
Slavery. When will we learn that with all true men
it is not what they intend to do, but it is what the
qualities of their natures bind them to do that deter
mines their career? The President came to his power
full of the blood, strong in the strength of Freedom.
He came there free and hating slavery. He came
there, leaving on record words like these spoken three
years before and never contradicted. He had said,
" A house divided against itself cannot stand. I
believe this Government cannot 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 expect it will cease to be divided. It will be
come all one thing or all the other." When the
question came he knew which thing he meant that it
should be. His whole nature settled that question
for him. With such a man, intentions far ahead
meant little. Such a man must always live as he
used to say he lived, (and was blamed for saying it)
" controlled by events, not controlling them." And
with a reverent and clear mind to be controlled
by events, means to be controlled by God. For such
a man there was no hesitation when God brought
him up face to face with Slavery and put the sword
into his hand and said, " Strike it down dead." He
was a willing servant then. If ever the face of a
man writing solemn words glowed with a solemn

xvi The Character of Lincoln

joy, it must have been the face of Abraham Lincoln,
as he bent over the page where the Emancipation
Proclamation of 1863 was growing into shape, and
giving manhood and freedom as he wrote it to hun
dreds of thousands of his fellowmen. Here was a
work in which his whole nature could rejoice. Here
was an act that crowned the whole culture of his life.
All the past, the free boyhood in the woods, the free
youth upon the farm, the free manhood in the hon
orable citizen s employments all his freedom gath
ered and completed itself in this. And as the swar
thy multitudes came in ragged, and tired, and hungry,
and ignorant, but free forever from anything but the
memorial scars of the fetters and the whip, singing
rude songs in which the new triumph of freedom
struggled and heaved below the sad melody that had
been shaped for bondage; as in their camps and
hovels there grew up to their half-superstitious eyes
the image of a great Father almost more than man
to whom they owed their freedom ; were they not half
right? For it was not to one man, driven by stress
of policy, or wept off by a whim of pity that the
noble act was due. It was to the American nature,
long kept by God in his own intentions till his time
should come, at last emerging into sight and power,
and bound up and embodied in this best and most
American of all Americans, to whom we and those
poor frightened slaves at last might look up together
and love to call him with one voice, our Father.

So let him lie here in our midst to-day, and let our

The Character of Lincoln


people go and bend with solemn thoughtfulness and
look upon his face and read the lessons of his burial.
As he paused here on his journey from his western
home and told us what by the help of God he meant
to do, so let him pause upon his way back to his
western grave and tell us with a silence more elo
quent than words how bravely, how truly by the
strength of God he did it. God brought him up as
he brought David up from the sheep folds to feed
Jacob, his people and Israel his inheritance. He
came up in earnestness and faith and he goes back
in triumph. As he pauses here to-day, and from
his cold lips bids us bear witness how he has met the
duty that was laid on him, what can we say out of
our full hearts but this " He fed them with a
faithful and true heart and ruled them prudently with
all his power." The Shepherd of the People! that
old name that the best rulers ever craved. What
ruler ever won it like this dead President of ours?
He fed us faithfully and truly. He fed us with
counsel when we were in doubt, with inspiration when
we sometimes faltered, with caution when we would
be rash, with calm, clear, trustful cheerfulness through
many an hour when our hearts were dark. He fed
hungry souls all over the country with sympathy and
consolation. He spread before the whole land feasts
of great duty and devotion and patriotism on which
the land grew strong. He fed us with solemn, solid
truths. He taught us the sacredness of government,
the wickedness of treason. He made our souls glad
and vigorous with the love of Liberty that was in his.

xviii The Character of Lincoln

He showed us how to love truth and yet be charita
ble how to hate wrong and all oppression, and yet
not treasure one personal injury or insult. He fed
all his people from the highest to the lowest, from
the most privileged down to the most enslaved. Best
of all, he fed us with a reverent and genuine religion.
He spread before us the love and fear of God just
in that shape in which we need them most, and out
of his faithful service of a higher Master who of us
has not taken and eaten and grown strong. " He
fed them with a faithful and true heart." Yes, till
the last. For at the last, behold him standing with
hand reached out to feed the South with Mercy and
the North with Charity, and the whole land with
Peace, when the Lord who had sent him called him
and his work was done.

Abraham Lincoln


O, slow to smite and swift to spare,
Gentle and merciful and just!

Who, in the fear of God, didst bear

The sword of power a nation s trust !

In sorrow by thy bier we stand,

Amid the awe that hushes all,
And speak the anguish of a land

That shook with horror at that fall.

Thy task is done; the bond are free;

We bear thee to an honored grave,
Whose proudest monument shall be

The broken fetters of the slave.

Pure was thy life; its bloody close

Has placed thee with the sons of light,

Among the noble host of those

Who perished in the cause of Right.



Photogravure from a portrait taken from life by Charles A.
Barry in Springfield, 111., June, 1860.



Fac-simile of the original letter to the President of the National
Republican Convention.


From an original photograph of the house where he lived when
elected President.


Wood-engraving after a daguerreotype taken about 1851.


After a rare engraving showing the effect of the bombardment.

Complete Works of
Abraham Lincoln

Volume VI

Complete Works of
Abraham Lincoln

CUT March 9, 1860

WHETHER we will or not, the question
of slavery is the question, the all-ab
sorbing topic, of the day. It is true
that all of us and by that I mean, not the
Republican party alone, but the whole Ameri
can people, here and elsewhere all of us wish
the question settled wish it out of the way.

It stands in the way and prevents the adjust
ment and the giving of necessary attention to
other questions of national housekeeping. The
people of the whole nation agree that this ques
tion ought to be settled, and yet it is not settled.
And the reason is that they are not yet agreed
how it shall be settled.

Again and again it has been fondly hoped that
it was settled, but every time it breaks out afresh
and more violently than ever. It was settled,


2 Abraham Lincoln [Mar. 9

our fathers hoped, by the Missouri Compro
mise, but it did not stay settled. Then the com
promise of 1850 was declared to be a full and
final settlement of the question. The two great
parties, each in national convention, adopted
resolutions declaring that the settlement made
by the compromise of 1850 was a finality that
it would last forever. Yet how long before it
was unsettled again? It broke out again in
1854, an d blazed higher and raged more fu
riously than ever before, and the agitation has

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