James McMahon Graham.

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FEBRUARY 12, 1913


7S4S3— 1177G

a OF n.

JUL 14 1915





Mr. GIIAIIAM. Mr. Speaker, in tlie grov.'th and devolopment
of a nation it would bo diftioult to overestimate tlie value of
great exauiijlc.s, of liigb ideals, and one of the compensating
benefits we derived from tbc Civil War is the long list of heroic
f'.ctious of magiianimous and noble deeds performed by men on
either side.

Never before in the history of the world did the vanquished
exhibit greater valor, and never did the victor in a great war
treat the vanquished with such splendid generosity as in that
titanic struggle. Xo Roman triumph marked the final victory.
Napoleon's standards waved at one time or another from the
citadels of almost every capital in continental Europe. The
Germans took literal possession of conquered Paris, but Grant
turned from Richmond at its very gate. No humiliating terms
were imposed at the surrender of the great Confederate com-
mander. He received the courteous and chivalric treatment
which brave men always accord to brave men. Perhaps the
greatest moment in the life of the silent commander was when
asked at Appomattox what disposition v,-as to be made of the
horses of the Confederate cavalry, which were mostly owned
by the men who rode them, and he replied in his quiet way,
" Let them keep them ; they'll need them for the spring plow-

Deeds of personal heroism were so numerous that it would be
invidious to mention any particular ones. There were, indeed,
giants in those days. That awful struggle was in truth a
struggle of Titans. But out of it all one great gaunt figure

784S5— 11T7G o

rises and stands above the others like a cedar of Lebanon,
towering beyond his fellows in massive grandeur, unique, alone,
for in the whole field of profane history there is neither proto-
type nor parallel for Abraham Lincoln.

I was not always an admirer of President Lincoln. When a
boy the first book I rend about the Civil War was Pollard's
Lost Cause, which was published in lUchmond before the heat
of the conflict had time to cool.

But later in life a number of circumsiances conspired to
attract mo to a study of the career of tlii.s wonderful man, this
first American, as Lowell called him.

For many years I have lived within a stone's throw of his
old home in Springfield. He once represented in Congress the
district I now have the honor to represent, and the fourteenth of
April, the anniversary of his martyrdom, reminds mo of the
too frequent recurrence of my own birthday amiiversary.

I have loved to talk of him with the low men still loft in
Springfield who knew him and admired him long before the
general public appreciated him. I have marveled at a career
whicli far outdistances romance. Many a time have I traveled
witli him in spirit over tliat long and weary journey from the
Kentucky cabin to the White House. I have tried to under-
stand him, to estimate his character, only with this result, tliat
as my own vision broadened I saw in liim new strength, now
wisdom, new self-control, in'w cleMicuts of greatness, till lie
became to me, as Stanton sjiid of him, "the most perfect ruler
of men the world had ever seen," and I am forced to the con-
clusion tliat ill the i)rovidence of (!od he was destined to be
the savior of the Republic, the preserver of government of the
people, by the i)'>oplt'. for the peo])le. [.\pplause.]

Having siiid this inm-li, you ;ire not surprised to lu'iir nie s;iy
tliat 1 rt'-aiil Aliraham l,iii<-oln as one of tlu- world's greatest

What is the real test of greatness? How is greatness to be
weighed or measured? Ry what method is it to b»> determined V

Ha nian'.s greatness is to be measured liy the serviee he
rendered his fellow mi-n, tlion indeed w:is Lincoln gre;\t.
78-1S5 -11770

If wo accept tlio criterion that he that ruloth his own spirit
is greater than he that taketh a city, still was Lincoln a great

If tlie ability to recognize and nntlerstand right principles
and to stand for them and stand by them, in gloom and defeat
as Avell as in snnshiue and victory, is a sign of greatness, still
was Lincoln great.

If absolnte and abiding faith in the ultimate triumph of that
which is right because it is right is a sign of greatness, ho
had it.

If the broadest charity, the greatest magnanimity, the most
complete absence of the spirit of resentment is an evidence of
greatness, then was Lincoln superlatively great.

If a deep, strong, boundless, active, and abiding sympathy
for all those who labor and are heavy laden is an evidence of
greatness, he had it in a degree approached by few other human

Unbounded courage, unwavering determination, unlimited ca-
pacity to work and to suffer are essentials of greatness. Lincoln
had them all in a remarkable degree.

Nor were these admirable qualities marred by any vice or
weakness, barring a supposed weakness resulting from his
excessive human sympathy.

He was absolutely unselfish; he had in him no element of
cupidity; he was incapable of the feeling of mere revenge,
and his greatest ambition was to be right and to be of service
to his country and to humanity.

"Who can be named who had all these qualities in such
degree as this rail maker of the Sangamon? If we are to
measure greatness by the power to accomplish, by the conquest
of obstacles, by difficulties overcome, whom can you name fit
to be compared with this untaught and unaided child of the
forest and the prairie?

The so-called "ladder of fame" furnishes us with at least
a figure of speech by which we are wont to measure and com-
pare the achievements of the great. Let me use that rhetorical
figure for the purpose of a brief comparison between Lincoln
78iS5— 11776


and some of tbe great ones of the eartli whose names fill the
pages of the histories and whose fame comes ringing down the

I will not attempt more than mere suggestion, but I invite
you at your leisure to go into the details and ascertain what
each did for himself and what others did for him ; where each
began his individual career of accomplishment and where he
ended it ; in other words, how far he traveled, through his own
efforts, on this strenuous and toilsome journey up fame's ladder.

Let me illustrate what I mean by citing just a few of tha
names of the world's great which at once occur to anyone —
Alexander, Ctesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon.

Alexander was the son of a great monarch and heir to a
kingdom. lie had all the advantages position could give. lie
had as his private tutor the philosopher Ai'istotle, one of the
greatest intellects the world has known. At the age of 20 hi.s
father's death placed him on the throne of Macodon. Thus,
without any si^ecial peisonal elTurf, he found himself, before
he reached his majorily, far up fame's ladder.

Cicsar was of patrician birth and had bulb wealth and
family influence behind him. lie enjoyed tbe beuolit of tbe
best schools, and official preferment awaited his desire. His
family connection and social position enabled him to begin
life well up fame's ladder.

Charlemagne was a worthy descendent of the famous Charles
Martel, a King of France. He was, in truth, a great enii»ire
builder, but he, too, was lioiii well up tbe ladder of fanie.

And Napoleon, that wonderful man of destiny, was the son
of a general, a graduate of one of the greatest nulitary schools
of the time. Others prepared biiii I'oi- tlK> opjiortunity he .sei7-ed
so promiilly ami utilized so conii)lelel3'.

Nor is our own l.md without illustrations. Washington bad
all tbi' advantages that weallb and station could givo, and
Jefferson added to the.se advantages a thorough college training.

So that all these, through in!ierit«'d :idvant;ige, hfji\n th»ir
life work well uj) fame's laddt-r. r.nt wliat of Lincoln V What
udviintagc I'T hiilli or weallb or cnvironnicnl lia<l bcV Abso-
78185 11T7G

lately uoue. lie was borii ou the fi-outier in a log cabin 11 feet
square. His parents were poor, shiftless, and ambitionless,
and the father tried hard to repress his sou's desire for knowl-
edge. He lived till manhood amid the poorest and most de-
pressing surroundings, away from schools and schoolmasters,
enjoying only eight meager mouths of school opportunity in his
entire life.

He did not start in the race halfway up fame's ladder, not
even withhi sight of it. He had to clear away the brush and
traverse the swamps and overcome innumerable difficulties to
get within view of it; and these difficulties he overcame, not
because of his surroundings, but in spite of them, till he finally
planted his feet on the lowest round and, without inilueuce or
assistance, began the toilsome ascent.

And who will say that any of those favored sons of fortune
climbed higher than he?

If my theory be sound, if we are to measure the greatness of
the man by the distance covered from start to finish in life's
journey, whom can you recall who began so low, and, of his
own strength, rose as high as Abraham Lincoln?

The opinion is quite too prevalent that Lincoln's greatness
developed after his election to the Presidency. That is a mis-
take. The truth is he was always great, but it was, of course,
after bis election that the people were convinced of his great-

While he was fond of office and was somewhat persistent iu
seeking it, he never sacrificed, or even modified, his opinions
iu order to gain it.

He was a real loader of public opinion; he never changed
his views to be in accord with that opinion. When the pub-
lic differed from him he set to work to win the public to his

As early as 1S37 he filed a written protest against slavery in
the Illinois Legislature, of which he was then a member, being
joined by but one other member. Nothing could at that time
be more unpopular, as he well knew.


Just prior to tho (Icbate witli Doiis1;ts, when lie prcparctl tlie
Springfield speech in Avhich he usetl the illustration that " a house
divided against itself can not stand " he submitted it to a number
of his pergonal and political friends and admirers. They were
almost stunned at his rashness in using this biblical quotation.
They felt that it would kill him politically, but in spite of pro-
test, regardless of results, he used it, and time has surely vindi-
cated his sagacity and his courage. Tho men who knew him in
those days saj' that it was habitual with him to draw out the
views of others on political subjects while he withheld his
own. Even in those days he had supreme confidence in himself.
But it was not mere pride of opinion that made him so self-
confident, for he did not hesitate to adopt the views of others
wlien it seemed wise to do so.

His supreme self-confideace and his intense patriotism are
evidenced by his choice of a Cabinet. A smaller or less patriotic
man would have hesitated to choose as his adviser one who
almost held him in contempt or one who was generally sup-
posed to so far outclass him as to cast him altogether in the

I ne\er hoard of anyone who so grievously offended Linc<iln
as did Mr. Stanton, but that did not prevent him from making
Stanton Secretary of War.

Few other men could have borne the conduct of Secretary
Chase as Lincoln did under intolerable provocation, but he real-
ized Chase's value to the country and made all else subservient
to that ; and later, in spite of his disloyalty to his chief, Lincoln
appointed him to the highest place within his gift — Chief Jus-
tice of the Supreme Court. He placed at the head of Ids Cabi-
net his chief rival for the presidential nomination, Mr. Seward,
and quietly tolerated Seward's assumption of superiority, confi-
dent that lime would determine their relative iwsitious, as
Indeed It soon did to tlie Secretary's complete discomfiture. Lin-
coln felt Intuitively that he had nothing to fear from comparison
with any man. He was, therefore, entirely devoid of envy or
ji'alousy, first, because of this supreme and al)idirjg confidence


iu liimself, and, secoml, because lie was ready at any time to
adopt the views of others if tliey seemed sounder than his

The breadth and depth of Lincohi's charity passes ordinary
comprehension. The sight of misery in man or beast touched
him profoundly.

I believe he spoke with absolute sincerity and out of the full-
ness of his great heart when in his second inaugural he urged
Congress to proceed " wifii malice toward none, with charity for

His patience, his justice, his honesty, his sincerity conquered
everyone who really knew him. Douglas, his rival iu love, in
the liiw, aud in politics, pronounced him the honestest man
he ever knew. Wendell Phillips, who bitterly assailed him be-
cause he was not an abolitionist, finally declared, that he was
" God given, God led, and God sustained." Seward, who at first
thought lightly of him, lived to refer to him as " a man of des-
tiny with character made and molded by divine power to save
a nation," and Stanton, whose treatment of him when they
first met was almost contemptuous, truly said, as the gentle
spirit left the body, " Now he belongs to the ages." The rail
splitter, the flatboat hand, had conquered them all, and the con-
quest was complete and enduring. [Applause.]

Our country has been abundantly blest in the fact that it owes
everything to the common man, nothing to aristocracy or royalty.
What an array of names — Columbus, Washington, Franklin,
Jefiferson, Jackson, Lincoln — all springing from the common peo-
ple, but none of them quite so near the common clay as this
child of the frontier, this —

Kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, di-eading praise, not blame,
New birth of our new soil, this first American.

Truly docs the jwet say he was new birth of our new soil.
Generations separated him from the ways and the amenities of
784S5— 11776


cultivated society. He was so close to nature .tliat, as anothei"

poet well saj-s of liiui :

The color of (he groinvl wns in liim— Iho rod earth ;

The taug aud odor of the primal things;

The rectitude and patience of the rocks;

The gladness of the wind that shakes the corn ;

The courage of the bird that dares the sea ;

The justice of tlic rain that loves all loaves;

The pity of the mow that hides all scars;

The loving kindness of the wayside well ;

The tolerance aud equity of light that gives as freely lo

The shrinking weed as to the great oak flaring in the wind — ■

To the grave's low mound as to the Matterhorn

That shoulders out the sky.

And when the step of Earthquake shook the house,
Wrenching the rafters from their ancient hold.
He held the ridgepole up and spiked again
The rafters of the Home. lie held his place —
Held the long purpose like a growing tree —
Held on through hlamo and faltered not at praise.
And when he fell in whirlwind, he went down
As when a kingly cedar green with houghs
Goes down with a great shout upon the hill,
And leaves a lonesome place against the sky.

Abraham Lincoln was Iho very iucaruatiou of the spirit of
democracy, of the rule of the common people. His thoughts
were their thoughts, their joys were his joys, and their sorrows
were his, too. His sad, deep-furrowed face was so marked with
melancholy that he seemed to bear all the burdens of his people.

What a man, and what a career ! Just look for a moment
with the eyes of your imagiuation ami bi^hold this awkward,
barefoot, backwoods boy at ten trying to do a man's part in tlio
woods with his ax ; living in a forest hut entirely open on one side ;
at night dragging his tired frame (o his attic nest of loaves by
climbing on pegs driven into the logs, to fnul himself ere morn-
ing sU>eping luuler a coverlet of snow; wallclng miles to borrow
n bool; ;iii(i lying prone on the Hour to read it by tlie light of
the blazing pine knots; wading waist deep through the wintry
waters of a creek to rescue a worlhle.cs dog; guiding a ilatl)o:it
down llic .Mississippi; malting rails to fence the lillle farm on
the Sangamon for his father and stepmother before leaxiiig
Iheiu to malio his own way in the world, before starling out at
twenty-two on the (inest for the road leading t<» lliat lignialive


ladder on wliicli be was destined to climb so bigb. Again see
bim start from Springfield on a flatboat trip to New Orleans;
see bim find a way to extricate tbe stranded boat wben older
and more experienced men fail, just as later on, in affairs of
gi'eater moment, be always found a way; see bim as grocer's
clerk treating all witb rigid, scrupulous bcnesty, walking tbree
miles before breakfast to bring to a customer tbe modicum of
tea wbicb tbe accidental use of a wrong weigbt deprived ber
of tbe evening before ; see bim postmaster, witb tbe mail in bis
bat, and see bim laying away at tbe end of bis term tbe very
pennies wbicb belonged to tbe Government, to be produced years
afterwards when called on for a settlement. Step by step see
him progress on tbe toilsome way, now storekeeper, now sur-
veyor, soldier, politician, and lawyer, but ever and always faith-
ful student, good citizen, and honest man. [Applause.]

Then see bim arrive in Springfield at tbe age of twenty-eight,
bringing with bim little credit, and less money, and riding a
borrowed horse. See him gradually rise, gaining steadily in
public estimation. See bim in tbe State legislature and in Con-
gress, and wben the question of slavery extension becomes acute
see bim challenge for a joint discussion bis opponent for sena-
torial honors, the ablest debater of his day, Stephen A. Douglas,
the Little Giant of the Prairie State. TTie whole civilized world
knows the result of that debate.

Like a skillful general Lincoln so directed tbe course of tbe
contest that be lost a skirmish in order to win a battle. He was
beaten for the Senator ship only to gain the Presidency.

On May 18, 1S60, he v/as nominated by the national convention
of his party at Chicago, and duly elected in November. On the
11th of the following February he departed from his Springfield
home never to return alive.

I can see in imagination tbe parting scene. In a pouring rain

he stood bareheaded on the coach platform at the old Wabash

depot and bade good-by to bis friends and neighbors. Listen to

him :

My friends, no one not in my situation can appreciate ray fooling
of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of these
people I owe everything. Kcre I have lived a quarter of a century, and


havo passed from a young man to an old man. Ilerc my cliildivn wore
boiD, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when or wlietlier
ever I may return, with a task before me greater than that which
rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being
wlso ever attended him I can not succeed. With that assi.«lnnce I can
not fail. Trusting in llim who can go with me and remain with you
and be everywhere for good, let us conlidently .hope that all will yet
be well. To His car-j commeudiug you, as I hopo in your juiijcrs you
will commend mr, I bid you an afiLeciiouate farev.cll.


How toiicliiug, how sincere, how full of faith iu God. AiuT

the lanj,'uage itself — how rhythmic, how direct, how simiile it is.

Where did this man, who scarcely entered the schoolhouse and

knew not the college or tlic university, get this magnificent,

this perfect couunaud of Uiuguage? How and where and when

did he master that elusive thing called style so thoroughly that

some of his letters and speeches adorn the walls of groat

institutions of learning as specimens of perfect English? Let

me read to j'ou his letter to Mr.s. Bixley, vihich both graces and

adorns a wall of Oxford Uuivor.sily as a si)CLiuieu of perfect

composition :

Dbau Madam : I have been shown iu the files rif the War Department
a statement of the adjutant general of Massachusetts that you are the
mother of five sous who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I
feel how v.-eak and fruitless must bo any words of mine wliich should
nttemiit to beguile you from a loss so overwhelming, but I can not re-
frain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the
thanks of the IJepublic they died to save. I pray our heavenly rather
may a.ssuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the
cherished memory of (he loved and lost and the solemn pride that must
be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice on the altar of freedom.


Ills Cetlysburg addicts is conceded to be the be.<5t short
speech in the language, but short as it is and excellent as it is,
I shall not now ask you to listen to it. Intlecd. were I lo in-
dulge in quoting si)eclincns of his eloquence. I should find ni>
rea.sonable slopping place. I can uol, however, resist the im-
pulse lo quote llic proi)hecy which concludes his lirst JMaugural:

I nm loath to clo.sc. Wo are not enemies. l)ut friends. We must not
l)e enemies. Though' passion may have strained, it must not break our
bontls of niri-ctidii. The mystic chords of memory, stretching froui every
ballh- thid .•ind patriot gi-ave to every living heart and licarlliston<' all
over this bro.ul land, will yet swell the clioru.s of the Inlon, when
Ogain touched, as surely Ihcy will be, by the better angels of our n.ilure.

7SIS5 11770


And may I not also recite the hymn with which he closes his

second inaugural? — ■

With malice toward none, with charity for all ; with firmness in the
right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work
we are in ; to bind up the Nation's wounds ; to care for him who shall
have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan — to do all
things which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among
ourselves and with all nations.


What rhythm, what majesty, what patriotism I

If we did not knov>' that his spare moments from boyhood up
were given to the study of the Bible and to the companionsiiip
of ul3sop aud Bunyan and Defoe and Burns and Shakespeare,
we might well exclaim as did the doctors aud the scribes of old
coucerniug Him who spake as man never spake, " Whence hath
this man letters, having never learned?" But we know that
his mastery of his native tongue, the only one he knew, did not
come unsought. It was acquired by persi-steut and resolute
effort, and was tinged and tempered by the tenderness of a
nature filled with love for God and man and country- It re-
flected his patience, his fortitude, his fidelity, his absolute fair-
ness and sense of justice, as well as his courage, sincerity,
and resolution. In short, with him, as with eA'ery master of dic-
tion, the style bespoke the man.

Almost fortj'-seveu years have come and gone since the fateful
night -nhen the hand of a poor deluded lunatic, without a mo-
ment's notice or a word of warning, struck him down. What a
shock he ga^e the world and what a cruel wound he thus inflicted
on the torn and bleeding Southland ! By that blow he struck
down the only man who had the strength and the will to stay
the rutliless hands of those greedy and unscrupulous adventurers
who, at the close of the vrar, promptly proceeded to plunder the
stricken South. I give it as the opinion of his lifelong friends
in Springfield that Lincoln never lost his love and sympathy
for his native Southland, and that had he lived he would never
have permitted the reign of robbery and ruin which that fair
land experienced in reconstruction days. The hand, the only
hand, which had the strength to save them was paralyzetl in
death by one who vainly imagined he was aiding their cause.
784S3— 1177G


As for Lincoln, It was far beyond tlie poor power of tlio as-
sassin to rob him of one tittle of his fame. Indeed, he added
the one thing needed, if anything v/ere needed, to enshrine his
memory forever in the hearts of the American people, and that
was the martyr's crown. And for this he chose, most oppor-
tunely, the moment when his victim had reached the summit,
nay, the very zenith of his fame.

The war was practicallj' over. The dove of peace hovered
over the land. The Union was saved. Government of the peo-
ple, by the people, and for the people had not perished from the
earth. The ship of state was safe at anchor. The shackles
were struck from the limbs of four million slaves. And the peo-


Online LibraryJames McMahon GrahamAbraham Lincoln (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 2)