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Charles Evans Hughes.

Speech of Hon. Charles E. Hughes at the Lincoln dinner of the Republican club at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, February 12, 1908 .. online

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SPEECH OF
HON. CHARLES E. HUGHES,

AT THE

LINCOLN DINNER OF THE REPUBLICAN
CLUB,

AT THE

Waldorf-Astoeia, New York,
February 12, 1908.

Governor Hughes: Mr. President, Gentlemen of
the Republican Club and Ladies: The exigencies of
the gubernatorial office have not given me oppor-
tunity to prepare any address which would be
worthy of the traditions of this anniversary, and
I appear before you without any set speech. I
am very glad, indeed, of the opportunity of wel-
coming to the State of New York the Governor
of our sister State of Kentucky, and I envy you
the pleasure that you will have in listening to
those who will adequately present the memories of
this occasion. But, my friends, from a boy I have
been full of Lincoln. There is no day in the year
that is so eloquent to me as the day in which we
commemorate his birth. It is true that on that
day of all days, when we celebrate the Declaration
of Independence, the American heart is warm with
the sentiments of liberty and of free opportunity
and of party recognition of equality. It is also
true that on the day when we celebrate the birth
of the Father of his Country, we render loyal

Law Reporting Compaut, 67 Wall Street, New York.



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tiibiite to the distinguished services of the man
who, against odds which we little ai^preciate, bat-
tled for the independence which was so nobly
declared; and we all feel richer in our manhood
l)eeause we were introduced to the family of
nations l)y one who so worthily represented the
l)est that humanity has olfered. But there is one
man who presents to the American people above
all others in his many sided greatness the type
representative of those qualities which distinguish
American character, and make possible the main-
tenance of our national strength, and, in Abraham
Lincoln we recognize, not simply one who gave his
life for his country and rendered the most impor-
tant service that any man could render in the
preservation of the Union, but one who seemed to
have centered in himself those many attributes
which we recognize as the sources of oixr national
l)ower. He is, par excellence, the true American,
Abraham Lincoln.

I wish in our colleges, and wherever young men
<ire trained, particularly for political life, that
there could be a course in Lincoln. I wish our
young men could be taken through the long efforts
of his career, I wish they could become more in-
timately acciuainted with the addresses that he de-
livered, I wish that they could get in closer touch
with that remarkable personality and then they
would never find it possible to take a low or sordid
view of American opportunity.

Abraham Lincoln was an acute man, but we
erect no monuments to shrewdness. We have no
memorials by which we desire to perpetuate the
lecords of American smartness. Skill in maniim-
lation, acuteness in dealing for selfish purposes,
may win their temporary victories, but the acute-
ness that the American people admire is that acute-
ness which is devoted to the solution of problems



■^.U^OJULltw



affecting their prosperity ami directly related to
their interests, and which is employed imselfishly
and for the benefit of the people, apart from any
individual interest.

I have long been a student of Lincoln. I have
marvelled at the ability which he displayed. There
has been no greater exi^oneut of that shrewdness
of intellect which so pre-eminently characterizes
the American, but Abraham Lincoln devoted all his
talents and his extraordinary perspicacity to the
welfare of the people. He was a man of principle.
He was a man, all of whose acts were founded
iipon a recognition of the fundamental principles
which underlie our Republic. Said he, on one
occasion, "I have no sentiments except those which
I have derived from a study of the Declaration of
Independence. ' ' He was jirofoundly an apostle of
liberty. I have said that he was a man of prin-
ciple. Rarely has the doctrine of the relation of
the Nation to the States, and of government to
the individual, been more hicidly expounded than
he expounded it in those sentences which probably
are familiar to you all. He said: "The nation
must control whatever concerns the nation. The
States, or any minor political communities, must
control whatever exclusively concerns them. The
individual shall control whatever exclusively con-
cerns him. That is real popular sovereignty."

He was an exjjert logician. He brought to bear
upon his opponents the batteries of remorseless
logic. He had a profound confidence in the rea-
soning judgment of the American people. He
disdained all efforts to capture the populace by
other means.

There is nothing more illuminating than his con-
duct of that grand cam]>aign against Douglas in
1858. He developed his line of attack in a ques-
tion. He brought to bear upon his opponent an



extraordinarj^ ability of analysis. He eviscerated
the subject of discussion and he presented the
whole matter that was then before the great
American Nation in its bare bones, in a perfectly
cool and logical consideration; and, while he lost
the campaign for the senatorship, he made him-
self the apostle of thinking America in its oppo-
sition to the extension of slavery. He had
one foundation principle, and that was this:
"Slavery," he said, "is wrong. It may be recog-
nized where it constitutionally exists, but shall it
be extended ? ' ' And to eveiy proposition that was
])resented by his skillful and adroit opponent he
presented not abuse, not any appeal to the emo-
tions of the multitude, but cogent reasoning from
which none could escape, and, while he lost the
senatorship, he ajipeared before the American peo-
jile as re])resenting their ideal of straightforward,
honest representation of the truth applicable to
their crisis, and received the highest honor within
their gift.

There never has been an illustiatiou, I venture
to say, within the memory of man, where intellect
has exerted so potent a magnetism, and where
loyalty has been commended simply because rea-
s(in exerted its sway. I love to dwell upon these
historic events. Any American who has failed
to take a(h-antage of their study has lost largely
his opportunity.

"Whenever you are tempted to think in a dis-
couraging manner of the future of the American
Republic, you should read the annals of those times
when the Union itself was in the balance, and you
should realize how inevitably the American public
res])ouds to the demands of reason and how neces-
sarily anything that cannot stand against honest
judgment must fail in this enlightened Republic.



Lineoln was a humlilo man, nnpretentions and
of lowly birth. He was without affectation. He
was the most democratic of men. No one that
has ever lived among ns has been so much a
l)rother to every man, however lowly bora or un-
fortunately circumstanced. His was not the early
training of those who like many of our dis-
tinguished men had the advantages afforded by
parentage with noble traditions, although in poor
circumstances, with schooling and environment
which would stimulate the loftiest of aspirations.
He sprung from conditions which would seem to
stifle ambition. He simply was a man, — a man
born, — a great American ; superior to all the dis-
advantages which surrounded his bii-th and early
training, and there is no man who walks in any
station of life in anj' part of the country who can-
not call Lincoln his brother, his friend, a man of
like passions and like experiences with himself.

We recognize some men for the services that
they have rendered. They have deserved well of
their country. We recognize Lineoln for his ser- '
vice. No one has deserved better of his country.
He rendered a service which cannot be eulogized in
too extravagant terms; but we forget anything
that Lincoln ever did or anj^thing that Lincoln ever
said in the recognition of the great manhood that
was his, which transcendetl anything he did be-
cause of what he was.

I have said that he was a man of principle;
and so he was. But he was a progressive man ; he
was sensitive to the demands of his day. Three or
or four years — three years, I believe it was, after
the outbreak of the war he said, "I have not con-
trolled events; I confess events have controlled
me. After three years we find ourselves in a situ-
ation which neither party and no man devised or
expected." He was a man who met each demand



as it arose. To the raflieals he was too conserva-
tive; to the conservatives he was too radical. Few
in the community praised him durino; his life.
Prohably no man in the whole history of the Re-
public was ever so severely criticised and so merci-
lessly lami)ooned in the dark days of 1864, after he
had, throu,a,'h years of trouble, sustained a burden
which would have broken down an ordinary man.
He said in August of that year that it seemed
there were no friends, and he looked forward to
the next election as almost certain to go against
the party which he represented.

Without sacrilege I may say he was "a man of
sorrows and acquainted with grief." And fre-
quently alone, without the sustaining encourage-
ment of even those who were close to him in his
official family, he endeavored to exercise that
judgment which history commends and that
extraordinary talent for analyzing difficult situa-
tions which are the marvels of our later day.

My friends, Lincoln represents what the Amer-
ican Republic is capable of and, in one personality,
typifies what we have accomplished and of what
we can reasonably hope.

He was a humane man, a man of emotion which
he never allowed to control his reason: a man of
sentiment, of deep feeling. He was a lowly man
who never asserted himself as superior to his fel-
lows, but he could rise in the dignity of his man-
hood to a majesty that has seldom been equalled
by any ruler of any people under any form of
government. When Lee sent to Grant and sug-
gested that there might be some talk with regard
to the disposition that might be made of public
affairs in the interest of peace, and Grant for-
warded the communication or the substance of it
to the President, the President, without a mo-
ment's hesitation, or without consultation with



any one. said, in effect, "You shall confine your
communications with (leneral T^ee to the matter of
capitulation or to minor or military .subjects. You
shall not discuss with him any political affairs.
The Pi'esident reserves to himself the control of
those questions and will not submit them to any
military convention."

It was not an assertion of any superiority
which he felt above his brother man. It was sim-
ply the realization of the dija^nity of his office and
its responsibility in a supreme crisis, and the will-
ingness to assume that responsibility before the
American people with that iimate confidence of
which, with his supreme intellect, he could never
be deprived.

My friends, we see in Lincoln patience, the rea-
soning faculty, humanity, the democratic senti-
ment, patient consideration, all combined, and we
may well learn from him the lessons which at
eveiy hour of our history we should well study.

There may be those who look with uncertainty
upon our future, who feel oppressed by the prob-
lems of the day. I am not one of them.

"'\Miy," said Lincoln, "should we not have
patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the
American people?"

Why not, indeed ? Who are the American peo-
ple? They are the most intelligent people organ-
ized into any civil society on the face of this broad
earth. They have abundant opportunities for
education. They are keen and alert. They are
those whom you meet in every walk of life. Their
common sense is of general recognition among all
the peoples of the world. A\Tiy not have patient
confidence in the ultimate justice of the American
people? If we could only feel, as Lincoln felt, and
derive our political sentiments from a study of the
principles of the Declaration of Independence and



8



proceed, as Lincoln did, with remorseless logic to
the consideration of the demands of every exi-
gency, there can be no question but what each
problem will be solved, and that every decade of
American history will witness a further advance,
and that the i)rosperity of the future will far
transcend anything that we have realized in the
past.

Undoubtedly abuses exist; undoubtedly abuses
must be cured. If there is any man who thinks, or
any set of men who think, that by any astuteness
they may stand in the way of progress and may
prevent the correction of evils that exist, let them
beware. They will tiud themselves impotent.
Progress will take no account of them. The Amer-
ican people will advance step by step surely and
inevitably to a realization of their ideal, and noth-
ing whatever will stand hi the way, in the course
of time, of that equality of opportunity and of
equal rights before the law which the Declaration
of ludependence announced and which the Con-
stitution was intended to conserve.

What we need to-day is a definition of evils.
What we need to-day is a delimiting of abuses, and
let the whole power and strength of the Republic,
as represented by those who are naturally its
leaders, be devoted to the careful and calm consid-
eration of remedies in order that we may save our
prosperity and, at the same time, render every
condition which threatens us impotent and power-
less, because the will of the peoi)le in the interest
of the people, the deliberate expression of the pop-
ular judg-ment, must in this country at all times be
su])reme.

There is plenty of coal on board; every man is
at his post; steam is up, and the only question is
as to the direction and to avoid the sand-bars and
the shoals; it is a question of the selection of the



right course. I believe most thoroughly in the
judgment of the American people. Every man in
this country worthy of his citizenship desires to
work. He desires to get a fair opportunity to
show what is in him. He desii-es to have the ad-
vantages which from boyhood he has been taught
that this American Eepublic affords. He desires
to have hurdles and obstacles which may have
been put in his way by special partiality or by a
perversion of government removed. He desires
to have no disadvantage created by any ill-consid-
ered interference with government relations. But,
on the other hand, he intends to have the fullest
advantage and opportunity for the exercise of his
individual power, with recognition of the equal
right of every other man to the exercise of his
individual power; so that all may be prosperous
and all may succeed; and all that we need is to put
a stop to those things which are inimical to our
common advantage, and insist upon our common
rights, and reason together in regard to what is
fair and what is just, and accomplish things with
full ascertainment of the facts because they are
right, and because the people, in their deliberate
judgment, demand that they should be accom-
plished.

We are all fortunate that we have a Lincoln.
"\A^iat would the country be if we were all a lot of
sordid money grabbers with nothing to point to
but the particular sharpness of A. or the special
success in some petty manipulation of B? T^Hiat
a grand thing it is that we have the inheritance of
the memory of a man who had everything which
we could aspire to in intellectual attainment ; who
was endowed with a strength of moral piirpose;
who was perfectly sincere in the interest of the
people, and who gave his life work and eventually
his life itself in order that our Union with its op-
portimities might survive.



10



I am proud, my friends, to have had an oppor-
tmiity to study Lincoln 's life. If any of you have
failed to take advantage of that opportunity, do
not let another year go by without making a thor-
ough study of that career. It is an epitome of
Americanism. It will realize all that you have
dreamed of and all that you can possibly imagine.
It is simply the representation of a man upon
whose brow God had written the line of superioi'-
ity, who never arrogated it to himself except iu
his great function of discharging the highest office
of government. Defeated again and again, failing
to realize the ambition that was next to him —
again and again he rose by sheer force of intellect
and character until he came to the point where a
Nation 's burden was put upon him, and he carried
it so nobly that forever he will be to us a Nation's
representative of the typical American.



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Online LibraryCharles Evans HughesSpeech of Hon. Charles E. Hughes at the Lincoln dinner of the Republican club at the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, February 12, 1908 .. → online text (page 1 of 1)