Henry J. (Henry Jarvis) Raymond.

Lincoln, his life and times : being the life and public services of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, together with his state papers, including his speeches, addresses, messages, letters, and proclamations, and the closing scenes connected with his life and death (Volume 2) online

. (page 32 of 41)
Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry Jarvis) RaymondLincoln, his life and times : being the life and public services of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, together with his state papers, including his speeches, addresses, messages, letters, and proclamations, and the closing scenes connected with his life and death (Volume 2) → online text (page 32 of 41)
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graces of style, it gains immeasurably in practical force and
effect. It gives to his public papers a weight and influence
with the mass of the people which no public man of this
country had ever before attained. And this was heightened
Ly the atmosphere of humor which seemed to pervade his
mind, and which was just as natural to it, and as attractive
and softening a portion of it, as the smoky hues of Indian
summer are of the charming season to which they belong.
His nature was eminently genial, and he seemed to be incap-
able of cherishing an envenomed resentment. And although
he was easily touched by whatever was painful, the elasticity
of his temper and his ready sense of the humorous broke the
force of anxieties and responsibilities under which a man of
harder, though perhaps a higher, nature, would have sunk
and failed.

One of the most perplexing questions with which Mr. Lin-
coln had to deal, in carrying on the war, was that of slavery.
There were two classes of persons who could not see that
there was anything perplexing about it, or that he ought to
have had a moment's hesitation how to treat it. One was
made up of those who regarded the law of slavery as para-
mount to the Constitution, and the rights of slaverv as the
most sacred of all rights which are guaranteed by this instru-
ment; the other, of those who regarded the abolition of
slavery as the one thing to be secured, whatever else mipfit
be lost. The former denounced Mr. Lincoln for having in-
terfered with slavery in any way, for any purpose, or at any
time ; the latter denounced him, with equal bitterness, for riot
having swept it out of existence the moment Fort Sumter
was attacked. In this matter, as in all others, Mr. Lincoln
acted upon a fixed principle of his own, which he applied to
the practical conduct of affairs just as fast as the necessities
of the case required, and as the public sentiment would sus-
tain his action. His policy from the outset was a tentative
one— as, indeed, all policies of government, to be succe.-sful,
must always be. On the outbreak of the rebellion, the first
endeavor of the rebels was to secure the active co-operation
of all the slaveholding States. Mr. Lincoln's first action,
therefore, was to withhold as many of those States from
joining the rebel Confederacy as possible. Every one can see
now that this policy, denounced at the time by his more zeal-
ous anti-slavery supporters as temporizing and inadequate,


prevented Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, Missouri, and
part of Virginia from throwing their weight into the rebel
scale ; and, although it is very easy and very common to
undervalue services to a cause after its triumph seems secure,
there are few who will not concede that if these States had
been driven or permitted to drift into the rebel Confederacy,
a successful termination of the war would have been much
more remote and much more doubtful than it proved to be.
Mr. Lincoln did everything in his power, consistent with
fidelity to the Constitution, to retain the Border Slave States
within the Union; and the degree of success which attended
his efforts is the best proof of their substantial wisdom.

His treatment of the slavery question itself was marked by
the same characteristic features. There was not a man living
in whose heart the conviction that slavery was wrong was
more deeply rooted than in his. "If slavery is not wrong,"
said he, "then nothing is wrong." Nor was there one more
anxious to use every just and lawful means, consistent with
the national welfare, to secure its extirpation from the soil of
the Republic. But in everything he did upon this subject,
as upon every other, he aimed at practical results, not the
indulgence of any theory. He used no power over slavery
until the emergency had arisen by which alone its exercise
under the Constitution could be vindicated; and he went no
further and no faster in the steps which he took for its de-
struction, than public sentiment would warrant and sustain
him in going. He wished to take no step backward, and
therefore was doubly cautious in his advance. His policy
secured the final abolition of slavery. It not only decreed
that result, but it secured it in such a way, and by such suc-
cessive steps, each demanded by the special exigency of its
own occasion, as commanded the acquiescence of the great
body of the slaveholders themselves. The views by which his
action was governed are stated with characteristic clearness
and force in his letter of April 4, 1864, to Mr. Hodges, of
Kentucky,* and they must commend themselves to the ap-
proval of all candid minds.

Much has been said of Mr. Lincoln's habit of telling
stories, and it could scarcely be exaggerated. He had a keen

*See Appendix,


sense of the humorous and the ludicrous, and relished jokes
and anecdotes for the amusement they afforded him. But
story-telling was with him rather a mode of stating and illus-
trating facts and opinions, . than anything else. There is a
great difference among men in the manner of expressing
their thoughts. Some are rigidly exact and give everything
they say a logical form. Others express themselves in fig-
ures, and by illustrations drawn from nature or history. Mr.
Lincoln often gave clearness and force to his ideas by perti-
nent anecdotes and illustrations drawn from daily life.
Within a month after his first accession to office, when the
South was threatening civil war, and armies of office-seekers
were besieging him in the Executive Mansion, he said to the
writer of these pages that he wished he could get time to
attend to the Southern question; he thought he knew what
was wanted, and believed he could do something towards
quieting the rising discontent; but the office-seekers de-
manded all his time. "I am," said he, "like a man so busy
in letting rooms in one end of his house, that he can't stop
to put out the fire that is burning the other." Two or three'
years later, when the people had made him a candidate for re-
election, the same friend spoke to him of a member of his
cabinet who was a candidate also. Mr. Lincoln said he did
not much concern himself about that. It was very important
to him and the country that the department over which his
rival presided should be administered with vigor and energy,
and whatever would stimulate the Secretary to such action

would do good. "R ," said he, "you were brought up on

a farm, were you not? Then you know what a chin-fly is.
My brother and I," he added, "were once ploughing corn on
a Kentucky farm, I driving the horse and he holding the
plough. The horse was lazy, but on one occasion rushed
across the field so that I, with my long legs, could scarcely
keep pace with him. On reaching the end of the furrow, 1
found an enormous chin-fly fastened upon him, and knocked
him off. My brother asked me what I did that for._ I told
him I didn't want the old horse bitten in that way. 'Why,'
said my brother, 'that's all that made him go.' Now," said

Mr. Lincoln, "if Mr. has a presidential chin-fly biting

him, I'm not going to knock him off, if it will only make his
department go." These, which are given as illustrations of
very much of his conversation, were certainly pertinent and


frank. Oftentimes he would resort to anecdotes to turn the
current of conversation from some topic which he did not
wish discussed, greatly to the disgust, not unfrequently, of the
person who had come to extract information which Mr. Lin-
coln did not choose to impart. He had a habit, moreover,
in canvassing public topics, of eliciting, by questions or re-
marks of his own, the views and objections of opponents;
and, in debate, he never failed to state the positions of his
antagonist as fairly, and at least as strongly, as his opponent
could state them himself.

An impression is quite common that great men, who make
their mark upon the progress of events and the world's his-
tory, do it by impressing their own opinions upon nations
and communities, in disregard and contempt of their senti-
ments and prejudices. History does not sustain this view of
the case. No man ever moulded the destiny of a nation ex-
cept by making the sentiment of that nation his ally — by
working with it, by shaping his measures and his policy to
its succesive developments. But little more than a year be-
fore the Declaration of Independence was issued, Washing-
ton wrote to a friend in England that; the idea of separation
from Great Britain was not entertained by any considerable
number of the inhabitants of the colonies.* If independence
had then been proclaimed, it would not have been supported
by public sentiment ; and its proclamation would have excited
hostilities and promoted divisions which might have proved
fatal to the cause. Time, — the development of events, — the
ripening conviction of the necessity of such a measure, were
indispensable as preliminary conditions of its success. And
one of the greatest elements of Washington's strength was
the patient sagacity with which he could watch and wait
until these conditions were fulfilled. The position and duty
of President Lincoln in regard to slavery were very similar.
If he had taken counsel only of his own abstract opinions and
sympathies, and had proclaimed emancipation at the outset
of the war, or had sanctioned the action of those department
commanders who assumed to do it themselves, the first effect
would have been to throw all the Border Slave States into the
bosom of the slaveholding Confederacy, and add their for-

« ■ — HI I

*Letter to Captain Mackensie, October 9, 1774.


midable force to the armies of the rebellion ; the next result
would have been to arouse the political opposition in the loyal
States to fresh activity by giving it a rallying-cry ; and the
third would have been to divide the great body of those who
agreed in defending, the Union, but who did not then agree
in regard to the abolition of slavery. Candid men, who pay
more regard to facts than to theory, and who can estimate
with fairness the results of public action, will have no diffi-
culty in seeing that the probable result of these combined in-
fluences would have been such a strengthening of the forces
of the Confederacy, and such a weakening of our own, as
might have overwhelmed the Administration, and given the
rebellion a final and a fatal victory. By awaiting the develop-
ment of public sentiment, President Lincoln secured a sup-
port absolutely essential to success ; and there are few persons
now, whatever may be their private opinions on slavery, who
will not concede that his measures in regard to that subject
were adopted with sagacity, and prosecuted with a patient
wisdom which crowned them with final triumph.

In his personal appearance and manners, in the tone and
tendency of his mind and in the fibre of his general character,
President Lincoln presented more elements of originality
than any other man ever connected with the government of
this country. He was tall and thin, angular and ungraceful
in his motions, careless in dress, unstudied in manner, and
too thoroughly earnest and hearty, in everything he said or
did, to be polished and polite. But there was a native grace,
the out-growth of kindness of heart, which never failed to
shine through all his words and acts. His heart was as
tender as a woman's, — as accessible to grief and gladness as
a child's, — yet strong as Hercules to bear the anxieties and
responsibilities of the awful burden that rested on it. Little
incidents of the war, — instances of patient suffering in devo-
tion to duty, — tales of distress from the lips ofwomen, never
failed to touch the innermost chords of his nature, and to
awaken that sweet sympathy which carries with it, to those
who suffer, all the comfort the human heart can crave. Those
who have heard him, as many have, relate such touching epi-
sodes of the war, cannot recall without emotion the quivering
lip, the face gnarled and writhing to stifle the rising sob, and
the patient, loving eyes swimming in tears, which mirrored
the tender pity of bis gentle and loving nature. He seemed


a stranger to the harsher and stormier passions of man. Eas-
ily grieved, he seemed incapable of hate. Nothing could be
truer than his declaration, after the heated political contest
which secured his re-election, that he had "never willingly
planted a thorn in any human breast," — and that it was not
in his nature to exult over anv human being. It is first
among the marvels of a marvellous time, that to such a char-
acter, so womanly in all its traits, should have been commit-
ted, absolutely and with almost despotic power, the guid-
ance of a great nation through a bloody and terrible civil
war; and the success which crowned his labors proves that,
in dealing with great communities, as with individuals, it is
not the stormiest natures that are most prevailing, and that
strength of principle and of purpose often accompanies the
softest emotions of the human heart.

Nothing was more marked in Mr. Lincoln's personal de-
meanor than its utter unconsciousness of his position. It.
would be diffi'uclt, if not impossible, to find another man who
would not, upon a sudden transfer from the obscurity of pri-
vate life in a country town to the dignities and duties of the
Presidency, feel it incumbent upon him to assume something
of the manner and tone befitting that position. Mr. Lincoln
never seemed to be aware that his place or his business were
essentially different from those in which he had always been
engaged. He brought to every question, — the loftiest and
most imposing, — the same patient inquiry into details, the
same eager longing to know and to do exactly what was just
and right, and the same working-day, plodding, laborious de-
votion, which characterized his management of a client's case
at his law office in Springfield. He had duties to perform in
both places — in the one case to his country, as to his client
in the other. But all duties were alike to him. All called
equally upon him for the best service of his mind and heart,
and all were alike performed with a conscientious, single-
hearted devotion that knew no distinction, but was absolute
and perfect in every case.

Mr. Lincoln's place in the history of this country will be
fixed quite as much by the importance of the events amidst
which he moved, and the magnitude of the results which he
achieved, as by his personal characteristics. The Chief
Magistrate whose administration quelled a rebellion of eight


millions of people, set free four millions of slaves, and vindi-
cated the ability of the people, under all contingencies, to
maintain the Government which rests upon their will, whose
wisdom and unspotted integrity of character secured his re-
election, and who, finally, when his work was done, found his
reward in the martyrdom which came to round his life and
set the final seal upon his renown, will fill a place hitherto
unoccupied in the annals of the world.

668 the Life, public services, and





I went to Washington the last week in February, 1864, for the pur-
pose of carrying out my cherished project of painting the scene
commemorative of the first reading in cabinet council of the Emanci-
pation Proclamation. To my friends, Samuel Sinclair and F. A. Lane,
of New York, the Honorable Schuyler Colfax, and Honorable Owen
Lovejoy, shall I ever be indebted for the opening up of the way for
the successful accomplishment of this undertaking. Through the lat-
ter gentleman arrangements were made with the President and Mrs.
Lincoln, by which the spacious "State dining-room" of the Executive
Mansion was placed at my disposal for a studio, in order that I might
enjoy every facility for studying my subjects from the life.

The painting of the picture occupied about six months. It embraced
full-length life-size portraits of the President and entire cabinet, and
portrays, as faithfully as I was capable of rendering it, the scene as
it transpired in the old cabinet chamber of the White House, when the
Act of Emancipation first saw the light.

My relations with Mr. Lincoln of course became of an intimate
character. Permitted the freedom- of his private office at almost all
hours, I was privileged to see and know more of his daily life than
has perhaps fallen to the lot of anyone not sustaining to him domes-
tic or official relations.

In compiling a chapter of anecdotes, I have endeavored to embrace
only those which bear the marks of authenticity. Many in this col-
lection I myself heard the President relate; others were communi-
cated to me by persons who either heard or took part in them. Sev-
eral have had a wide circulation, in connection with subjects of inter-
est at different times which called them out. The reminiscences are
mainly my own, and are taken, for the most part, from articles con-
tributed on various occasions, since the assassination, to the public


Many persons formed their impressions of the late President from
the stories in circulation attributed to him, and consequently t sun-
posed him to have been habitually of a jocund, humorous disposition.
There was this element in his nature in a large degree, but it was
the sparkle and ripple of the surface. Underneath was a deep under-
current of sadness, if not melancholy. When mo-c depressed. i\ was


his way frequently to seek relief in some harmless pleasantry. I recol-
lect an instance related to me, by a radical member of the last Con-
gress. It was during the dark days of 1862. He called upon the
President early one morning, just afternews of a disaster. Mr. Lin-
coln commenced telling some trifling incident, which the Congress-
man was in no mood to hear. He rose to his feet, and said, "Mr.
President, I did not come here this morning to hear stories; it is too
serious a time." Instantly the smile disappeared from Mr. Lincoln's

face, who exclaimed, "A , sit down! I respect you as an earnest,

sincere man. You cannot be more anxious than I am constantly,
and I say to you now, that were it not for this occasional vent, I
should die!"

It has been the business of my life to study the human face, and I
have said repeatedly to friends that Mr. Lincoln had the saddest face
I ever attempted to paint. During some of the dark days of the
spring and summer of 1864, I saw him at times when his care-worn,
troubled appearance was enough to bring tears of sympathy into the
eyes of his most bitter opponents. I recall particularly one day,
when, having occasion to pass through the main hall of the domestic
apartments, I met him alone, pacing up and down a narrow passage,
his hands behind him, his head bent forward upon his breast, heavy
black rings under his eyas, showing sleepless nights — altogether such
a picture of the effects of sorrow and care as I have never seen!

"No man," says Mrs. Stowe, "has suffered more and deeper, albeit
with a dry, weary, patient pain, that seemed to some like insensibility,
than President jLincoln." "Whichever way it ends," he said to her,
"I have the impression that I shan't last long after it is over."

After the dreadful repulse of Fredericksburg, he is reported to
have said: "If there is a man out of perdition that suffers more than
I do, I pity him."

The Honorable Schuyler Colfax, in his funeral oration at Chicago,
said of him : —

"He bore the nation's perils, and trials, and sorrows, ever on his
mind. You know him, in a large degree, by the illustrative stories of
which his memory and his tongue were so prolific, using them to
point a moral, or to soften discontent at his decisions. But this was
the mere badinage which relieved him for the moment from the
heavy weight of public duties and responsibilities under which he
often wearied. Those whom he admitted to his confidence, and with
whom he conversed of his feelings, knew that his inner life was check-
ered with the deepest anxiety and most discomforting solicitude.
Elated by victories for the cause which was ever in his thoughts,
reverses to our arms cast a pall of depression over him. One morn-
ing, over two years ago, calling upon him on business, I found him
looking more than usually pale and careworn, and inquired the rea-
son. He replied, with the bad news he had received at a late hour
the previous night, which had not yet been communicated to the
press— he had not closed his eyes or breakfasted; and, with an ex-
pression I shall never forget, he exclaimed, 'How willingly would I
exchange places to-day with the soldier who sleeps on the ground in
the Army of the Potomac!'"

He may not have looked for it from the hand of an assassin, but he


felt sure that his life would end with the war long ago. "He told
me," says a correspondent of the Boston Journal, "that he was certain
he'should not outlast the rebellion." It was in last July. As will be
remembered, there was dissension then among the Republican lead-
ers. Many of his best friends had deserted him, and were talking of
an opposition convention to nominate another candidate; and uni-
versal gloom was among the people.

The North was tired of the war, and supposed an honorable peace
attainable. Mr. Lincoln knew it was not— that any peace at that
time would be only disunion. Speaking of it, he said: "I have faith
in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The danger is,
they are misled. Let them know the truth, and the country is safe."
He looked haggard and careworn; and further on in the interview I
remarked on his appearance, "You are wearing yourself out with
work." "I can't work less," he answered, "but it isn't that — work
never troubled me. Things look badly, and I can't avoid anxiety.
Personally I care nothing about a re-election, but if our divisions de-
feat us, I fear for the country." When I suggested that right must
eventually triumph; that I had never despaired of the result, he said,
"Neither have I, but I may never live to see it. I feel a presentiment
that I shall not outlast the rebellion. When it is over, my work
will be done."


The evening of March 22d, 1864, was a most interesting one to me.
I was with the President alone in his office for several hours. Busy
with pen and papers when I went in, he presently threw them aside
and commenced talking to me of Shakespeare, of whom he was very
fond. Little "Tad," his son, coming in, he sent him to the library
for a copy of the plays, and then read to me several of his favorite
passages. Relapsing into a sadder strain, he laid the book aside, and
leaning back in his chair, said : —

"There is a poem which has been a great favorite with me for years,
which was first shown to me when a young man by a friend, and
which I afterwards saw and cut from a newspaper and learned by
heart. I would," he continued, "give a great deal to know who wrote
it, but I have never been able to ascertain."

Then, half closing his eyes, he repeated the verses to me. Greatly
pleased and interested, I told him I would like some time to write
them down. A day or two afterwards, he asked me to accompany
him to the temporary studio in the Treasury Department of Mr.
Swayne, the sculptor, who was making a bust of him. While "sit-
ting," it occurred to me that then would be a good opportunity to
secure the lines. He very willingly complied with my request to re-
peat them, and, sitting upon some books at his feet, as nearly as I
remember, I wrote the verses down, one by one, as he uttered
them :* —

•The authorship of this poem has been made known since its publication in
the Evening Post. It was written bv William Knox, a young Scotchman, a
contemporary of Sir Walter Scott— who thought highly of his promise. He
died quite young.

The two verses in brackets were not repeated by Mr. Lincoln, but belong
to the original poem.


Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?—
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young, and the old, and the low and the high,

Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry Jarvis) RaymondLincoln, his life and times : being the life and public services of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, together with his state papers, including his speeches, addresses, messages, letters, and proclamations, and the closing scenes connected with his life and death (Volume 2) → online text (page 32 of 41)