E. M. (Edwin Marshall) Irish.

Abraham Lincoln online

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Abraham Lincoln



FEBRUARY 9, 1907









On February 9th, 1907, the Lincoln Club of Kalamazoo
County, held its annual banquet at the Auditorium in the
City of Kalamazoo. Hon. James R. Garfield was the
guest of the evening, and spoke on "The Federal
Regulation of Commerce."

The following is the address of E. M. Irish in response
to the toast, "Abraham Lincoln:"

Mr. Toastmaster and Gentlemen:

The committee of the club have asked me to talk
about President Lincoln.

It cannot be fitting for me to relate the facts of his
life, because for years — even the crickets under the hearth-
stones have sung them to the American people.

There is always a consolation prize for the fellow who
is drawn for an after dinner talk. He may, if he pleases,
be rambling in his remarks. The audience are generally
surprised if he is not; and he need not be logical. The
audience are always surprised —and often pained — if he
tries to be.

I will promise not to spring logical surprises on you
to-night. I will only try to play cricket a little.

What is the reason for this fireside friendship with a
president? Why do the people love to talk about Lincoln?
Why has the committee asked me to speak of him to-night ?
For I cannot say anything that will be new to you.

Perhaps I cannot do better than to relate an incident ,
and explain its meaning as well as I can.

A few years ago an exposition was held in a neigh-
boring state. In one of the art rooms was a statue of
Apollo, — the Greek God, — as Thackeray wrote upon a
time, — "One of the Immortal Gods who are now dead."

It was carved in the idol stone of Italy, — a marvel of
manhood, — a glory of physical beauty. There it poised
with lyre in hand and a chiseled song on the marble lips.

One of the manifold myths of the ancients stood
revealed. It was Apollo with his harp singing the world
old song, — the music that raised Troy from Mount Ida's
hazy slope.

In the alcove's softened light its beauty hushed the
louder hum of voices, and groups of men and women were
stayed in passing, compelled by a master's charm.

Near it was another statute moulded in bronze. The
figure was tall and ungainly. The drapery was not —
Grecian. It was a Prince Albert coat that seemed to hang
in lanky folds, and to need pressing. The face of the
bronze was plain and sad.

No thought of art or beauty rippled on the lingerer's
lips, — but gay faces grew serious, and some of them
tearful. Then one would murmur to another, "It is
Lincoln," — and the hush on the gazers was like a spell.

Suppose a stranger from a far country to whom our
history and the mythology of the ancients were unknown
— an exile from some distant star — had wandered through
the gallery. Perhaps with the artist longing in his heart
he might have looked at the two figures and the groups
around them.

Suppose he asked one of us, Who are those men,

and why the contrast in the way they touch your people?
One is beautiful. The other is awkward and looks out of
place so near it. When did they live, and what did
they do?

What could we tell him?

Sir: One of them never lived except in fable, —
except as the artist's dream of beauty lives always.

Phidias and Praxiteles and the sculptors who came
after them never saw him. They have seen his prisoned
apparition peering out from the unhewn stone. It haunted
them, and often they tried with their cunning to set the
white eidolon free. But they could never quite do it. The
man you see there never lived in middle earth— never on
its land or sea. It is only, an effort to catch an ideal— a
dream of the sensuous beauty of our race.

With his harp he is building a city to the music of the
immortals. That was the way they put up buildings in
the olden days. Now it is one of the lost arts — so we call
it a legend. We use a steam hoist now. Apollo runs the
engine and whistles them up.

Ah, but the stranger might say, If this race of yours
has such classic ideals of strength and beauty, why do all
the groups pause with reverence before the other figure;
why the trace of sadness on the homely face, and why the
hushed and tearful homage that is paid it?

Sir: Because this one lived and walked our earth and
knew its people. Because when they see him in bronze or
homespun they think of a great, kindly, noble heart, that
the gift of power could never spoil. Over that image the

memory of a republic broods, and the spirit beauty of its
meaning creeps into the looker's soul.

The stranger might say, Tell me about this man of
your planet?

Well, we will try to.

We could tell him he was born in an old Kentucky
home— in a log cabin. It was on the twelfth day of
February, 1809. Two days later and he would have been a
valentine. It was in our dim barbaric days — called in
story the nineteenth century.

He had a noble pioneer woman for a mother. Her
name before she was married was Nancy Hanks. On that
February day in the morning of eighteen hundred, in that
little cabin, the first Lincoln club was formed.

It is the Prima Donna by the cradle side who sings
the grand songs of the ages, and they build men.

The boy did not have the culture and training of the
schools. Sometimes an itinerant teacher happened along.
He "boarded round" — "spherical board" — it has been
called — and taught what little he knew himself.

In one way however, frontier education was a success.
It was possible to study the spelling book. Spelling bees
were among the swell functions of the backwoods four
hundred, and the boys used to bet that Abe Lincoln could
spell down all comers. Don't take this as a tip, sir;
because it would not be safe to bet that way on every
president of the United States.

Among Lincoln's early books were the Bible and
Pilgrim's Progress, the life of George Washington, and
the poems of Robert Burns.

From this kind of reading he grew up with the habit
of using language in a simple, direct way. Even when it
was put into a political speech people knew what it meant.

Afterwards he studied law. At first it troubled him
to understand it. I don't wonder at that; for I have just
been reading the amendments to' the Interstate commerce
acts, and the railroad rate bill.

Then he concluded it was of no use to try to be a
lawyer unless he studied geometry. He borrowed a
geometry and tackled it out under the trees. Its clear
and absolute reasoning attracted him. It always came
out at the truth. One of the things he found set down
there, was that a straight line is the shortest distance
between two points.

Later in life he tried for weary months to convince
certain generals that it applied to the distance between a
point called Washington, and one known as Richmond.

Still another axiom must have made an impression on
his mind, judging by the way he stuck to it for four years.
It was that the whole is greater than any of its parts.

Finally he became a country lawyer. A country
lawyer is sometimes like Kipling's British soldier, his
"Tommy Atkins." Kipling tells us that "Single men in
barracks don't grow into plaster saints."

Stephen A. Douglas, who grew up with Lincoln,
once said of him in a speech:

"He was then as good at telling an anecdote as now. He could
beat any of the boys at wrestling or running a foot race, in pitching quoits
or tossing a copper; could ruin more liquor than all of the boys of the town
together; and the dignity and impartiality with which he presided at a horse
race or fist fight, excited the admiration and won the praise of everybody."

From what I have heard the old folks say in Southern
Illinois, I conclude that Douglas knew what he was
talking about.

It is not worth while for us to try to make saints of
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Those who
were near to them have told us so.

I am glad Lincoln had some faults. It brings him
nearer to the rest of us. He could understand men

Goethe said that it was only by acting foolishly that
he learned to talk wisely.

I do not want any friends without faults myself; for if
I found one who was perfect, how quickly he would find
me out, and it would be a case of friendship ceasing.

The youngster himself seemed to have a prophetic
forecast that he might improve later on — for in boyhood
days he wrote in his copy book these lines:

"Abraham Lincoln,
His hand and pen,
He will be good,
But God knows when."

As he grew into public life he became an orator, — and
at the same time a man who saw the truth clearly, and had
the independence of character to speak out his convictions.
He took pains to understand thoroughly what he was to
talk about. He was gifted with common sense, — and his
clearness of statement carried meanings with certainty.

Orators are so plentiful now that they will sometimes
pay to get into banquets and hear themselves talk. Many
of them are dangerous if allowed to run at large. They
acquire facility of expression. They read the newspapers

and encyclopedias,— and the magazines, a little more than
the rest of us. With a watered capital of superficial
knowledge they set up wisdom factories. They gain
notoriety and become agitators instead of safe leaders.
Some of them make us think of what a certain Englishman
said of Lord Macaulay. He said he wished he could be
as sure of anything as Macaulay was of everything.

Socrates said all men were sufficiently eloquent in
what they understood. Another writer tells us that "Out
of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."

The talker whose mind is ripe on a subject; who is
sincere and sees with impartial eyes; who tries to be fair;
can use the gift of language so people will not only listen
with understanding hearts, but with believing minds. He
will speak words that are alive. As some one said, "Cut
them and they will bleed."

Lincoln could do all that. He was all that.

To-day his speeches are considered by good critics
to be models of sterling English. But at the time they
were given to the public, — even his first inaugural is an
illustration, — the small grammarians took offense. They
were of the lawnmower type. They would run their rattle-
trap reapers over a green sward, until it could not billow
with the breeze and show the change of sunlight and
shadow to the passing cloud.

Those people are supposed to be dead now — like
Thackeray's gods. They were akin to the traveler who
went to Switzerland and saw the Alps. When asked how
he liked them, he said, "It is a likely country, but it
needs grading badly."

Once Lincoln was a soldier. When the Black Hawk
war broke out he became captain of a volunteer company of
backwoodsmen. Splendid American soldiers they make,
because they can shoot rifles so the bullets hit the mark.

But the war was over too soon for him to get into a
fight. He went back to civil life a reformed tin patriot, —
like many a veteran who saved his country from invasion
in the Spanish=American war.

When he was captain of that company of volunteers,
no astrologer of the midnight read the magnet star of his
fate. No one told us where it would draw him:— that he
was to become the great captain of the greatest volunteer
army the world ever saw:— that as the embers of its
campfires grew cold and it marched over the goal of
victory, a stray shot across the falling curtain would lay
him low on the field of honor, — dead with the white stars
of the republic draped across his silent heart, — and no
stain upon them except the ruddy drops of patriot blood.

Around his rude cradle the wolfkins of the wilderness
howled. When he lay down for his long rest it was in the
nation's capital; and over his last cradle, — the one that
never rocks, — the people and their statesmen — the soldiers
and the field marshals of his native land, — and even a
brave and generous enemy — wept.

But how did this happen?

He was born of the race of the Anglo-Saxons; and
stranger, I must tell you they are a scrappy folk. When
no outsider is pitching on to them, they will fight with each
other. They do not have as many revolutions as the South
American states,— but they take themselves very seriously;

—they have bigger ones, and keep them up longer. When
we have a family row, many crowns must crack, my Lord.

We speak of Lincoln and say it is after the war?
After what war? Every year the soldiers of the north, —
and of the south, — drop the white and crimson bloom of
springtime on their comrades' graves. They may conse-
crate those mounds with red roses or white ones, and no
partisan fervor makes the color significant.

But turn back in our story to the Isle of Britain.
There you may read that the red rose of Lancaster and the
white one of York, were emblems on different sides of
civil wars more fierce and bitter than our own.

The cavaliers of the Stuart and the Ironsides of
Cromwell ! Scotland's mountain and lowland ! Culloden's
dreary heath where the tartan plaids were rolled in blood !
The Tower of London and the scaffold ! The Colonial
Revolution! And of course when "nothing else was
doing" in the free for all, — the flag of green Erin
flapping over an Irish rebellion!

These allusions recall periods when this tribe we
belong to flashed their swords or their shillalahs in each
other's faces, and Merry England's hearts were split with
English steel.

They were a Christian people. For many years they
were so anxious to save each other's souls that they fought
civil wars over the proper way to do it. But when they
killed a fellow on the other side they knew that his soul
was lost.

Much of the modern trouble has been over taxes.
The Anglo-Saxon is an ardent patriot. He loves his

mmnn iM iin Mun iHM imi


country and thinks it the best the sun ever shone on —
provided of course his party is running the machine. On
general principles he is always ready to die for it. But let
the tax gatherer call and he is likely to do two things. In
the first place he will be like a man who went to sleep in
church. One of the deacons was passing the hat and
nudged him with it. The man woke up, looked at the
hat, and said, "No, tain't mine." Then he looked the
other way. The deacon was lucky to get his hat back.
If the tax officers keep on nudging— our patriots are
likely to bristle up, and again they are ready — to die for
their country.

If King George had not waked up the colonies with
his taxation cudgel, Michigan might be in England to-day.

In Kalamazoo, when we doubt whether the warlike
spirit of the continental lives, we ask the citizens to pay a
paving tax.

When the orators stirred the question of property
rights in African slaves, the electrodes of revolution
became charged. Part of our people believed in the
extension of slavery, and part did not. Some would let it
stay as it was, and others wanted to wipe it out altogether.

And stranger, the speakers on both sides kept saying
things, until the radical wings of the different parties were
live-wired with the same electric load that bristles the hair
on a couple of bull dogs when the orators around them
say, "Sic 'em, Tige!"

The man in bronze said that a house divided against
itself could not stand; that our union could not exist half
slave and half free.


He was elected president. When he took his seat
seven states had seceded. He did not want war. In his
first inaugural he pleaded with an earnest and reasoning
tenderness against it. But he was talking to Anglo-Saxons
after the orators had slapped up their fighting blood. The
scrap was on. The man in bronze didn't like it. His
kindly heart could not look unmoved at bloodshed among
his countrymen. But he stood bravely up beside the
quivering liberty mast, where the old flag of Yorktown
and Lundy's Lane was floating from the halyards. Then
he was jeered at by his enemies and called a baboon,
because he was not a handsome man. Often he lacked
the support of men he had counted with him. Some of
the people wanted to go faster than he did, and others did
not want to go at all. He was fixed much as a teamster
was who bought a pair of horses, and found that one of
them was a puller from "Cluck," and the other was balky.
Someone asked him if his new team agreed. He said,
"You bet they do. One of them is willing to do all the
work, and the other is willing he should."

Part of the north wanted emancipation at once, and
part did not want it at all. And he had the loyal slave
states of the border to satisfy. If these states that stayed
in the union had thrown their war dice with the south, a
successful confederacy might have been the outcome; —
and after that, — old-fashioned Scotch and English war on
the boundary.

The union men who lived in these states had trouble
in keeping them loyal. They needed protection from the
radical wing of the northern abolitionists. In Lincoln they


found not only a statesman, but one of the most subtle
politicians of his day.

The man raised on the border knew where the balance
of power lay. He tried to bring both sides to compen-
sated emancipation. If the states along the Dixie line
had accepted his plan, it is probable that it could have
been carried out.

There were times when he was anything but the idol
of the country. His soldiers died in fever swamps and
fell before the rifle sleet. His generals were defeated.
Some scamps at the north made the army blankets and
soldiers' overcoats of shoddy. The war taxes ran high.
He was abused by many of the men who elected him.
Slander is like death: — it loves a shining mark.

The shadow of domestic sorrow gathered over his
household. Amid the cares that perplexed him, he lost
the son who was the comfort of his heart. The pathos of
the look you notice grew deeper in his eyes, and at times
seemed sad as Gethsemane. But he grew up with the
army and it loved him. Through all his troubles he had
a patience that never turned away from the troubles of his
people. He managed to drive the team with the balky
horse. He became an evolution of the civil war.

By and by, the people began to realize that he had
been honest and sincere and fair to all; that he had been
unselfish, and the real friend of his country. He had
never used his great power to uplift himself. He had
been handling the Anglo Saxons in a civil scrap; and no
man in their history had ever done so well with so large a
contract. They believed he always told them the truth,


and they gave him a place in their hearts with two of their
other leaders who were truth tellers: — King Alfred and
George Washington.

But as the chaff is fanned away by the winnowing
winds of history he seems nearer than the others, and we
begin to know him for the commoner of the centuries.

When he left us the war was just over. North and
south were bitter toward each other, and we did not have
a united country at the farewell to the dead chieftain.

It was sixteen years later when the English speaking —
fraternities, had the first real family reunion in their
history. Then we gathered around the open mound of the
soldier who sleeps in beautiful Lake View by the Ohio
shores of Erie.

He also was our president, and fell at his post of
duty. All the many warring elements of the past — all who
spoke the mother tongue — went with him hand in hand,
down to the marge of the mystic river.

North and south together! England! Ireland!
Scotland! What buried memories of old wars! Great
Britain and the states!

When the cable sped the tidings of his passing —
within a few brief hours on roofs where the "Banner of
England blew," and over the republic's untroubled
sections, the two flags once hostile trailed at half mast
together. Across the tides old bells that rang in Hamp-
den's time, in the stormy morning of liberty rocked slowly
in their towers. As their solemn music stirred the patriot
dust of the English centuries, — we might almost have
heard it, — blending with the tolling of our own; — chiming

—mii im wnnimnnyimiiim nmiM>mM


like the sweet and homelike bells of Shandon, — tv/o
kindred nations' peace and sympathy.

Of the long line of leaders gone before, — to him it
was given to bring all the Anglo-Saxon's in peaceful union
around his resting place.

How eloquently could those impassioned lips, grown
silent under the seal that speech has never broken, have
spoken of such occasion if another had been in his place!

Our thought goes backward to the past and returns to
this room again, and our eyes grow misty as we welcome
the guest of the evening. For to him — even part of his
country's history is a memory of his youth wherein the
stranger may not mingle.

Lincoln said the two battles of the Anglo-Saxon civil
wars that meant most to the people, were Marston Moor
where Cromwell crushed the Stuarts, and Gettysburg.

The slaughter at Gettysburg hurt the president deeply.
It was on this field that he made the short but never to be
forgotten speech that has been classed with the oration of
Pericles over the Grecian dead.

Before the battle was fought a change had come over
the armies. When the first call for volunteers was made,
light hearted boys flocked gaily to the camps for what
they thought would be a ninety day picnic.

This race of ours loves an army, — till it comes to
footing the bills. The lust of martial glory has been the
passion of its generations. It has too often passed for the
noble sentiment of patriotism. An English Colonel said
a few years ago, that fighting a human enemy was better
sport than elephant shooting or potting tigers. He called


it man hunting. Lincoln was not that kind of sportsman.
No true patriot is.

But when the flag slid down the staff at Sumter, the
land was wild with rolling drums and the lilt of bugles.
The fledgling soldiers heard the mellow trumpets play the
camp calls,— the drill,— the jolly jingle of the reveille;—
which the boys will tell you kept saying, "I can't get 'em
up in the morning." They heard the mess call; and they
took to it the way chickens do to the ruck-tuck of the
dough spoon on the feed pan:— for the poor fellows
thought it would always mean three square meals a day.
They learned the long roll. But they had never heard the
mournful melody of the field horns sounding taps over a
soldier's grave. They knew not the guard line, nor the
solitary post of the midnight sentinel. They had never
helped to kill their fellow men by thousands; nor had they
seen their bleeding comrades die.

By and by the marches and the many battles came;
and the northern and southern regiments had grown into
veteran soldiers and efficient armies.

On both sides of the Blue Ridge they were marching
to what I suppose the sporting Colonel would call a
summer shooting meet. The prizes they were to shoot for
were new target ranges on the soil of the north. They
came in touch at Gettysburg.

In those battalions the flower of the republic's
youthful manhood trooped. They were no longer picnic
soldiers. They were seasoned by camp and march;— reck-
less survivors of battle death rolls; and hardened to military
murder: —the two finest armies in the world.


Over them the mountains' wild-winged eagles reeled,
as if they already scented the noble carrion of onset.

The massing columns that flew the colors of Lee,
deployed into the long battle fronts; and the heart- wave of
the Southland swelled against the lines of Meade.

Once more the mad-lipped pipers blew; and the
doomful horns of Hades were winding out the order,
"Commence firing."

From skyey deeps above the cannon smoke, the
bugler of the innumerable legions blew the call, "Lie
down;" and from the two armies, thousands of Ameri-
can soldiers heard, — and were still on their last field.

Many of them were boys from eighteen to twenty
years old. As Pericles said, — "Youth perished from the


Online LibraryE. M. (Edwin Marshall) IrishAbraham Lincoln → online text (page 1 of 2)