John T. (John Thomas) Bell.

Abraham Lincoln : an address before the Illinois Society of Oakland, California online

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An address before the Illinois Society of Oakland, California by

Along a countr}' road in Kentucky, a woman and a
little girl riding horseback, the horses also carrying
various articles of household effects; trudging beside them,
afoot, a man and a little boy. The husband and father of
this household never learned to read or write, and when
the lad reached the age of twenty-one his own education
was limited to the ability to write, read and do simple
sums in arithmetic. Thus this famil}' — unknown, illiterate,
poor among the poor — journeyed toward a new home in
Indiana, the bulk of their small worldly possessions having
previously gone forward by f^at boat.

There was nothing of note about this scene; doubtless
it was common enough in that locality in 1816, but that
little boy. dressed in a jeans suit that his mother had
made, a hickory shirt, and barefooted, came to be the best
known and best loved man in all the world; to write State
papers which now command the admiration of the most
scholarh' and cultured; to make, on the occasion of the
dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, an
address of two minutes' length which has been character-
ized as setting the high-water mark of American oratory;
to serve this great Nation, as its Chief Executive and con-
duct it safel}^ through four years of the bloodiest war the

world has ever kiunvn; to strike the chains from four
million bondsmen: to die a martyr to human liberty; to
be honored by a funeral procession sixteen hundred miles
l(^ng and to be mourned by millions with the sincere grief
which marks a personal bereavement.

Two surprising things occurred in the month of June,
1860 — the holding of a national pt)litical convention at
Chicago, then a town of only 109.200 population on the
western border of the well-settled States, and the nomina-
tion by that convention of Abraham Lincoln, a country
lawyer of Illinois, whose only title to fame, outside a very
limited circle, rested upon a series of eight joint debates
held with Stephen A. Douglas two years previously.

This nomination was received with dismay by the
people of the Xorth and with derision and sneers by those
of the South. Thoughtful men who loved their country
realized that so grave was the crisis then impending that
the highest order of intellect, the clearest vision and the
most profound judgment combined with courage and forti-
tude of the most exalted character, would be required by
the Nation of the one who was to become its Executive
on the Fourth of March following.

What an appalling task it was which confronted this
modest, unassuming, sad-eyed man from the prairies of
the West when he reached Washington February 23, 1861!
So thoroughly permeated with disloyalty was official life
at the Nation's capital at that date that he could not place
his hand upon a single individual, high or low in station,
and say: "Upon you I can rely." Inexperienced in state-
craft; with but slight acquaintance with the leaders of his
own party; surrounded by those who received him coldly
or with open expressions of contempt; seven States
already seceded, with the certainty that others would

follow; the entire military force of the countrj- consisting
of only 20.0C0 men; the few ships comprising the navy
scattered abroad; an empty national treasury — surely,
surel}', never before was burden so heavy placed upon the
shoulders of man as that which Abraham Lincoln took up
when he stood on the eastern portico of the Capitol and

solemnly dedicated himself to the service of his distracted

count r}'.

Xine days after ]\Ir. Lincoln's arrival at Washington
the Nation was electritied by an inaugural address the
equal of which had never been penned. Courtly gentlemen
and polished scholars had preceded this homely man in
his high office, but never before had the people of this
continent been so touched and thrilled on like occasion
as they were by President Lincoln's first inaugural, and it
will ever stand a model of logic, of clean-cut statement, of
patriotic fervor, of sympathetic regard for misled people,
of cogent reasoning, of winning persuasiveness.

Then followed, for this simple-minded man. four j-ears
of unprecedented experience; of mental and physical
strain; of gleams of sunshine; of days of gloom; of vic-
tories won; of disaster and defeat; of messages of cheer;
of vicious assault; of contidence expressed; of coldness
and distrust; of official jealousies; of bitter antagrjuisms;
of bloody sacrilices; of treasure wasted; of battles ill-
planned and lost; of fraud and corruptitm; of exalted
heroism; of cowardice and treacher}-; of agonized appeals
from fathers and mothers and little children in behalf of
loved ones perishing in prisons; of death in his own house-
hold — the mere reading of the record of those fr)ur dread-
ful, dreadful years tills one with amazement that this
tender-hearted man should have lived through an experi-
ence ao crushine-.

A\'e know that there were times when his soul cried
out for relief. A friend of former years attended one of
the Presidential receptions and afterward related that ,Mr.
Lincoln paid little heed to the great throng, including
persons of the highest distinction, pressing forward to
take him b}' the hand. After the reception rooms of the
White House were cleared the President took his friend's
arm and the two walked up and down m silence. A
remark was made upon ^Ir. Lincoln's evident depression,
whereupon he grasped his friend fiercely by the arm and
exclaimed: "What day is this? What day is this? This
is Frida}-; this is the day they shoot farmers' boys down
on the Potomac for going to sleep on sentry post! My
God. I can't endure it! I can't endure it!"

With his keen sensil)ilities, his loving heart which took
in all mankind, his feeling of close kindred with the com-
mon people, what a shock it must have been to him to be
asked to approve the findings of courts martial imposing
the death penalty upon Union soldiers. At such times he
took advantage of every possible pretext for withholding
his endorsement. On one occasion, in granting a pardon
to a deserter, he said: "It makes me feel rested after a
hard day's work if 1 can find some good excuse for saving
a man's life/ and I go to bed happy as T think how joyous
the signing of my name makes him and his famih- and his
friends." Upon being asked to sign the death warrant of
twenty-four deserters, he replied: "There are already too
many weeping widows in the LTnited States. For God's
sake do not ask me to add to the mmiber, for I won't do
it." On another occasion of this character he said: "I
think the boy can do us more good above the ground than
under it." An application for the pardon of a deserter
was presented to him in a case where the soldier had

previously displayed distinguished courage on the battle-
field. . "Did you say he was once badly wounded?" he
asked. "Then, as the Scriptures say that in the shedding
of blood there is remission of sins, I guess we will have to
let him off this time."

In his relations with others he was always considerate
and forbearing. This was shown in a marked degree in
his intercourse with Gen. McClellan during an entire year
of disaster, and appalling sacrifices, bringing the country
to the verge of ruin. After the bloody battle of Fred-
ericksburg w^as fought by Gen. Burnside (who succeeded
jNIcClellan) the leading officers of the army of the Potomac
were in a demoralized condition. By appointment, at
midnight,, December 31, 1862, Gen. Burnside met ^Ir.
Lincoln at the White House and a long and anxious
conference followed. Then the President wrote to his
military adviser. Gen. H. W. Halleck, requesting him to
visit the army of the Potomac in its camps, investigate the
situation, confer v.ith the officers and then to direct Gen.
Burnside to move forward, or direct him to remain where
he was. "If you fail me in this," wrote the President,
"you fail me precisely where I feel that I have a right to
rely upon your military judgment." On the back of this
paper, now on file in the War Department, is this endorse-
ment in Mr. Lincoln's handwriting, under the same date
as the paper itself, January 1. 1863: "Withdrawn, because
Gen. Halleck thinks it is too harsh."

General Halleck did not render the service then asked of
him, but remained in Washington. Gen. Hooker succeeded
•Gen. Burnside, fighting the battle of Chancellorsville,
which was almost as disastrous to the Union as was that
of Fredericksburg, and was .succeeded bj' Gen. Meade, who
commanded at the battle of Gettysburg.

Tn the midst of the disappointments and perplexities
of the first two years of the war. what a comfort it must
have been to Mr. Lincohi to look across the country to his
(nvn loved \\"est to the operations of the army commanded
by an officer to whom President Johnson was wont to
refer, in later years, as "that little man Grant"; who had
alwaN-s obe3'ed orders, had never complained though often
treated with the grossest injustice by his immediate
superior. General Halleck. who never asked ror re-inforce-
ments and who never lost a battle. Grant was one after
Lincoln's own heart, and when the modest, unassuming
man from Galena. Illinois, stood before the modest,
unassuming man from Springfield, Illinois, on March 9.
1864. in the White House, to receive his commission as
Lieutenant-General and commander of all the armies of
the United States, v;hat a blessed feeling of relief it must
have brought to the overburdened heart of the President
to know that at last he had found a man who would lift
from his own shoulders a great part of their burden.

Ours is a Christian Nation and Abraham Lincoln was a
Christian President of that Nation. Beginning by asking
the prayers of hs fellow citizens at Springfield when he
bade them good-bye on starting to Washington, he
expressed, on ever}- suitable occasion, his reliance upon
God. In all of his State papers, in his correspondence, in
military orders, in congratulatory addresses, fitting refer-
ence was ever made to the power of the z\lmighty and
confidence expressed in His goodness, justice and mercy
in dealing with this people. On the eve of the battle of
Antietam. in September, 1862, he promised his Maker that,
if v.ctor}' should come to the Union arms he would issue
a proclamation abolishing human slavery in the rebellious
States, and this promise was followed by the immortal

Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect Jannarj'^ 1,
1863. Speaking of the battle of Gettysburg, he said to
General Sickles: "In the stress and pmch of the cam-
paign there I went to mj^ room and got down on my
knees and prayed Almighty God for victory at Gettys-
burg. I told Him that this was His country and that
the war was His war, but that we really couldn't stand
another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville, and then and

there I made a solemn vow that if He would stand by the
boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by Him, and He did,
and I will."

We can take great satisfaction in knowing that
President Lincoln lived to see the Civil War practically
ended; that he walked the streets of the late capital of the
Confederacy surrounded by black men and women and
children who, with streaming eyes, sought to touch the
hand or kiss the garment of one who was, to them, God's
own instrument and direct representative; that he heard
from the lips of the Great Captain the story of General
Lee's surrender, and that he received the heartfelt con-
gratulation of the people of the Northern States over the
approaching end of his great task.

In a Chicago paper was printed an illustration of the
marvelous growth of that city. Beginning with a mere
speck to typif}' the population of seventy- persons in 1830,
a little larger dot illustrates that of 4.479 in 1840; then
the hgure of a pigmy is employed to indicate the relative
size of the population ten 3-ears later, the pigm}- increasing
in proportion as the decades pass until, with the census of
1896 showing a population of a million and three quarters,
a great giant stands as the representation of this later
period. So may be illustrated the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Begun in obscurity, in oirest poverty, a j^outli passed

under conditi(^ns tending- to debase rather than to elevate,
with no encouragement from those about him to gain an
education or improve his condition, he slowly grew as the
3"ears went by, developing the worthier qualities of human
character and bravel}' meeting every responsibility, until,
finally, he stood before the world, the noblest man this
earth hath known since the Savior of mankind put off

"Heroic soul, in homely garb half hid

Sincere, sagacious, melancholy, quaint;
What he endured, no less than what he did,

Hath reared his monument and crowned him saint."

"71. ^OC^. ^S^. ^3l9t.


Online LibraryJohn T. (John Thomas) BellAbraham Lincoln : an address before the Illinois Society of Oakland, California → online text (page 1 of 1)