L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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the consequence of their own reckless acts. Slavery,
which had taken the sword, must perish by the sword
it was the cause of the war, and war would only cease
with its destruction. Yet he advocated payment by the
nation of the full value of the slaves, and would even
have removed the slaves into a far country at the na-
tional expense. It was not until his kindly proposals
had been rejected by those whom they would have re-
lieved, with curses, that he ceased to make them, and
the patience of the loyal North had been twice ex-
hausted when he issued the decree of emancipation.

He came to his great office inexperienced in govern-
ment no modern ruler was ever surrounded by so many
difficulties. Yet he brought the nation through them
all into the harbor of permanent peace ; and, looking
back over his term, it is very difficult to say where he
took a wrong course or committed an error. Finally,
when he was strongest in the love of a loyal people, had
won the friendship of his former enemies, and had gained
the respect of mankind, he sealed his faithful service
with his blood, and was slain by an insane assassin.

Nor was the intellectual growth of Mr. Lincoln any
less remarkable. "We have seen that his education


scarcely deserved the name. His course of reading
was restricted to a few good books, but his thoroughness
of study more than compensated for their lack of num-
bers, if any such existed ; for he has written many para-
graphs which, in force, elegance, and beauty, are not
surpassed in our language. Except Shakespeare, no
writer of English has produced so many that will out-
live the spoken tongue. His farewell to his Spring-
field neighbors the closing paragraph of his first, and
the last third of his second inaugural address the last
sentence of his message to the third session of the Thirty-
seventh Congress his Gettysburg speech of Nov. 19,
1863, are examples from his pen which will not suffer
by comparison with anything written by Addison or
Irving, Daniel Webster, or that scholarly master of Eng-
lish composition, George P. Marsh. And where in our
language is a finer antithesis than this, thrown off,
calamo currente, in the middle of a letter in answer to
strictures on the conduct of the war? "When peace
with victory comes, there will be some black men who
will remember that with silent tongue, and clenched
teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they
have helped on mankind to this great consummation ;
while I fear there will be some white ones unable to for-
get that with malignant heart and deceitful speech they
have striven to hinder and prevent it." A collection of
his public addresses and letters, commencing with his
farewell to Springfield in February, 1861, and ending
with the last made by him on April 11, 1865, will be
read hereafter with an interest as absorbing as any vol-
ume in the literature of the rebellion.

Some of his written compositions may be classed as
literary curiosities. In August, 1862, Mr. Horace Greeley
had written to him an impatient and dictatorial letter,


charging him with culpable delay in the emancipation
of the slaves, and their employment in suppressing the
rebellion. Mr. Lincoln knew the force of short words
and crisp sentences he never used those of many syl-
lables or pretentious sound. His answer was all the
more effective in that it took no note of Mr. Greeley's
temper while its conclusive statements were embodied
in four hundred and thirteen words, of which three hun-
dred and two, or more than seventy-four per cent., were
words of a single syllable.

In the campaign of 1864, the friends of General Mc-
Clellan, in Tennessee, presented to him a protest against
the oath of loyalty prescribed by Governor Johnson, to be
taken by the voters. It was an adroit political attempt
to connect the President with a subject over which he
had no, authority, which he detected at first sight. They
wanted an answer. " I expect to let the friends of George
B. McClellan manage their side of this contest in their
own way, and I will manage my side of it in my way,"
he said. They were not satisfied, and wanted an answer
in writing. A few days later he sent them his written
reply. It occupied one and a half printed octavo pages ;
in fifteen paragraphs, none of them more than three
lines. But every paragraph was an answer which struck
the protest like a rock from a catapult.

He never hesitated to sacrifice euphony to strength.
" This finishes the job" he said, when Illinois had voted,
making the number of states requisite to ratify the amend-
ment of the Constitution abolishing slavery. Cuthbert
Bullitt and other citizens of Louisiana had written to
him, protesting against the severity with which the war
was waged. " Would you prosecute the war with elder-
stalk squirts charged with rose-water, if you were in my
position ?" he demanded, and there was no reply. In his


message to the extra session of Congress of July 4, 1861,
he wrote of Southern political leaders, that, " with re-
bellion thus sugar-coated, they have been drugging the
public mind of their section for more than thirty years."
Mr. Defrees, the public printer, advised the omission of
the compound word, on the ground that it was not dig-
nified. " Let it stand !" said the President; " I was not
attempting to be dignified, but plain. There is not a
voter in the Union who will not know what sugar-coated

His heart was as tender as ever beat in a human
breast. Those who saw him standing by the cofiins of
young Ellsworth and the eloquent Baker knew how he
loved his friends how he sorrowed over their loss. In
his companionship with his boys, and particularly with
the younger, there was a most touching picture of pa-
rental affection; in his emotion when he lost them, a grief
too sacred to be further exposed. " He could not deny
a pardon or a respite to a soldier condemned to die for
a crime which did not involve depravity, if he were to
try," said an old army officer. He shrank from the con-
firmation of a sentence of death in such a case, as if it
were a murder by his hand. " They say that I destroy
all discipline and am cruel to the army, when I will not
let them shoot a soldier now and then," he said. " But
I cannot see it. If God wanted me to see it, he would
let me know it, and until he does, I shall go on pardon-
ing and being cruel to the end." An old friend called
by appointment, and found him with a pile of records of
courts-martial before him, for approval. " Go away,
Swett!" he exclaimed, with intense impatience "to-
morrow is butchering day, anji I will not be interrupted
until I have found excuses for saving the lives of these
poor fellows !" Many pages might be filled with au-


thentic illustrations of his tenderness and mercy, for
they were prominent in his official life. Three times I
assisted in procuring their exercise, each to the saving
of a soldier, and each time he shared, our own delight
over our success, though he knew not how his face shone
when he felt that he had spared a human life.

In the presidential campaign of 1864 there were sul-
len whisperings that Mr. Lincoln had no religious opin-
ions nor any interest in churches or Christian institu-
tions. They faded away with other libels, never to be
renewed until after his death. One of his biographers,
who calls himself the " friend and partner for twenty
years" of the deceased President, has since published
what he calls a history of his life, in which he revives
the worst of these rumors, with additions which, if true,
would destroy much of the world's respect for Mr. Lin-
coln. He asserts that his " friend and partner " was " an
infidel verging towards atheism." Others have dissem-
inated these charges in lectures and fugitive sketches
so industriously that they have produced upon strangers
some impression of their truth. The excuse alleged is,
their desire to present Mr. Lincoln to the world "just as
he was." Their real purpose is to present him just as
they would have him to be, as much as possible like

It is a trait of the infidel to parade his unbelief before
the public, and he thinks something gained to himself
when he can show that others are equally deficient in
moral qualities. But these writers have attempted too
much. Their principal charge of infidelity, tinged with
atheism, is so completely at variance with all our knowl-
edge of his opinions that its origin must be attributed to
malice or to a defective mental constitution.

His sincerity and candor were conspicuous qualities of


Mr. Lincoln's mind. Deception was a vice in which he
had neither experience nor skill. All who were admit-
ted to his intimacy will agree that he was incapable of
professing opinions which he did not entertain. When
we find him at the moment of leaving his home for
Washington, surrounded by his neighbors of a quarter
of a century, taking Washington for his exemplar, whose
success he ascribed "to the aid of that Divine Provi-
dence upon which he at all times relied," and publicly
declaring that he, himself, " placed his whole trust in the
same Almighty Being, and the prayers of Christian men
and women ;" when, not once or twice, but on all prop-
er, and more than a score of subsequent occasions, he
avowed his faith in an Omnipotent Ruler, who will judge
the world in righteousness in the Bible as the inspired
record of his history and his law; when with equal
constancy he thanked Almighty God for, and declared
his interest in, Christian institutions and influences as the
appointed means for his effective service, we may as-
sert that we know that he was neither an atheist nor
an infidel, but, on the contrary, a sincere believer in the
fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. In fact,
he believed so confidently that the Almighty was mak-
ing use of the war, of himself, and other instrumentalities
in working out some great design for the benefit of hu-
manity, and his belief that he himself was directed by
the same Omniscient Power was expressed with such
frankness and frequency, that it attracted attention, and
was criticised by some as verging towards superstition.
His public life was a continuous service of God and his
fellow-man, controlled and guided by the golden rule,
in which there was no hiatus of unbelief or incredulity.
Here I might well stop, and submit that these charges
do not deserve any further consideration. But I know


how false they are, and I may be excused if I record
one of my sources of knowledge.

The emphatic statement made by the President to
Mr. Fessenden, that he was called to the Treasury by
a Power higher than human authority, I have already
mentioned. His calm serenity at times when others
were so anxious, his confidence that his own judgment
was directed by the Almighty, so impressed me that,
when I next had the opportunity, at some risk of giving
offence, I ventured to ask him directly how far he be-
lieved the Almighty actually directed our national
affairs. There was a considerable pause before he
spoke, and when he did speak, what he said was more in
the nature of a monologue than an answer to my in-
quiry :

"That the Almighty does make use of human agencies,
and directly intervenes in human affairs, is," he said,
"one of the plainest statements of the Bible. I have
had so many evidences of his direction, so many in-
stances when I have been controlled by some other
power than my own will, that I cannot doubt that this
power comes from above. I frequently see my way
clear to a decision when I am conscious that I have no
sufficient facts upon which to found it. But I cannot re-
call one instance in which I have followed my own judg-
ment, founded upon such a decision, where the results
were unsatisfactory ; whereas, in almost every instance
where I have yielded to the views of others, I have had
occasion to regret it. I am satisfied that when the Al-
mighty wants me to do or not to do a particular thing,
he finds a way of letting me know it. I am confident
that it is his design to restore the Union. He will do
it in his own good time. We should obey and not op-
pose his will."


"You speak with such confidence," I said, "that I
would like to know how your knowledge that God acts
directly upon human affairs compares in certainty with
your knowledge of a fact apparent to the senses for
example, the fact that we are at this moment here in
this room."

" One is as certain as the other," he answered, " al-
though the conclusions are reached by different proc-
esses. I know by my senses that the movements of the
world are those of an infinitely powerful machine, which
runs for ages without a variation. A man who can put
two ideas together knows that such a machine requires
an infinitely powerful maker and governor : man's nature
is such that he cannot take in the machine and keep out
the maker. This maker is God infinite in wisdom as
well as in power. Would we be any more certain if we
saw him ?"

" I am not controverting your position," I said. " Your
confidence interests me beyond expression. I wish I
knew how to acquire it. Even now, must it not all de-
pend on our faith in the Bible ?"

" No. There is the element of personal experience,"
he said. " If it did, the character of the Bible is easily
established, at least to my satisfaction. We have to be-
lieve many things which we do not comprehend. The
Bible is the only one that claims to be God's Book
to comprise his law his history. It contains an im-
mense amount of evidence of its own authenticity. It
describes a governor omnipotent enough to operate this
great machine, and declares that he made it. It states
other facts which we do not fully comprehend, but
which we cannot account for. What shall we do with

" Now let us treat the Bible fairly. If we had a wit-


ness on the stand whose general story we knew was
true, we would believe him when he asserted facts of
which we had no other evidence. We ought to treat the
Bible with equal fairness. I decided a long time ago
that it was less difficult to believe that the Bible was what
it claimed to be than to disbelieve it. It is a good book
for us to obey it contains the ten commandments, the
golden rule, and many other rules which ought to be
followed. No man was ever the worse for living ac-
cording to the directions of the Bible."

" If your views are correct, the Almighty is on our
side, and we ought to win without so many losses "

He promptly interrupted me and said, " "We have no
right to criticise or complain. He is on our side, and so
is the Bible, and so are churches and Christian societies
and organizations all of them, so far as I know, al-
most without an exception. It makes me stronger and
more confident to know that all the Christians in the
loyal states are praying for our success, that all their
influences are working to the same end. Thousands of
them are fighting for us, and no one will say that an
officer or a private is less brave because he is a praying
soldier. At first, when we had such long spells of bad
luck, I used to lose heart sometimes. Now I seem to
know that Providence has protected and will protect us
against any fatal defeat. All we have to do is to trust
the Almighty and keep right on obeying his orders and
executing his will."

I could not press inquiry further. I knew that Mr.
Lincoln was no hypocrite. There was an air of such
sincerity in his manner of speaking, and especially in
his references to the Almighty, that no one could have
doubted his faith unless the doubter believed him dis-
honest. It scarcely needed his repeated statements that


" whatever shall appear to be God's will, that I will do,"
his special gratitude to God for victories, or his numer-
ous expressions of his firm faith that God willed our
final triumph, to convince the American people that he
was not and could not be an atheist or an infidel.

He has written of the Bible, that "this great Book
of God is the best gift which God has ever given to
man," and that " all things desirable for man to know
are contained in it." His singular familiarity with its
contents is even stronger evidence of the high place it
held in his judgment. His second inaugural address
shows how sensibly he appreciated the force and beauty
of its passages, and constitutes an admirable application
of its truths, only possible as the result of familiar use
and thorough study.

Further comment cannot be necessary. Abraham
Lincoln accepted the Bible as the inspired word of God
he believed and faithfully endeavored to live according
to the fundamental principles and doctrines of the Chris-
tian faith. To doubt either proposition is to be untrue
to his memory, a disloyalty of which no American
should be guilty.

There are a few persons whose perverted minds ex-
perience a satisfaction in imputing to Mr. Lincoln a love
for coarse, erotic stories and a habit of repeating them,
which, if he had, would indicate a vulgar stratum in his
mental structure. If these persons were conscious of
the contempt with which those who really knew him
listen to their statements that they have heard Mr. Lin-
coln relate these stories, they would never repeat them.
No occupant of the Executive chair knew better the ex-
altation of his office or how to maintain its dignity. If
he had been inclined to such practices, this knowledge


would have effectually restrained him from their indul-
gence. But there is not a shadow of truth in these im-
putations. Major Hay and Mr. Nicolay, his secretaries,
were members of his household during a large portion
of his official term Mr. Carpenter, the artist, lived in
the White House during six months Professor Henry
sought every opportunity to be with him, and these four
witnesses, who saw him in his unconstrained private life,
agree that neither of them heard from Mr. Lincoln's lips
any sentence or word which might not have been re-
peated in the presence of ladies. The subject is one
upon which I can and must give evidence. It was a
great pleasure to me to listen to him, and I have several
times sought to excite his propensity for anecdote with
success. In my own office, where no one but a mes-
senger was present, he was under no restraint. Yet I
never heard him relate a story or utter a sentence which I
could not have repeated to my wife and daughters. The
story of young "Webster and the schoolmaster, related
elsewhere, was the least refined ever told in my presence.
What may have been his habit, in this respect, before
his election, and his coming to Washington, is unimpor-
tant. It is of his public life of which I am speaking.
A vulgar story in the mouth of the President of the
United States would have been offensive to none more
so than to Mr. Lincoln. It is time that the statements
in question should cease. They originate in the prurient
imaginations of their authors. The friends of Abraham
Lincoln, who revere his memory, should protect his repu-
tation. They should resent such imputations in a man-
ner which will impress his calumniators if it does not re-
form them.

I am asked, and more frequently as time moves on,


which is the best biography of Abraham Lincoln?
Where is the most reliable account of his life and ser-
vices to be found ? I am able to answer these inquiries
without hesitation. In my opinion, the noble work of
Messrs. Nicolay and Hay must always be the standard
life of Lincoln. Their opportunities for observation and
the collection of authentic facts were exceptionally good
their labors have been diligent and faithful. Their
volumes constitute a great storehouse of facts well ar-
ranged and digested. It would be faint praise to say
that their history is a work of rare merit.

For those who deem the work of these authors too
comprehensive, and wish to know what can be com-
prised in a single volume, his life by Mr. Arnold will
have no competitor. Mr. Arnold was Mr. Lincoln's asso-
ciate at the bar, and his friend of many years. The two
friends were unlike each other, and yet I think Mr. Ar-
nold possessed many of the qualities which made Mr.
Lincoln so attractive. His book was a labor of love, and
is everywhere worthy of its subject and its author. Al-
though Mr. Arnold did not survive to witness its publi-
cation, and it lacks the final polish of his hand, it is one
of the most reliable of American biographies.

My pen lingers over this paragraph, the last I may
ever write about a good man whom I honored, respected,
loved. I do not hope to make it worthy of its theme
or to employ it to better advantage than to commend
the history of Abraham Lincoln to the careful study of
all my countrymen. He came to his great office inex-
perienced and almost unknown his responsibilities were
heavier, his difficulties greater than were ever encoun-
tered by the head of any civil government he was the
object of the unrelenting hostility of his enemies, of the
fiercest criticism of many of his former friends.


His final triumph was not long delayed. An hour
came of universal victory, when the nation was swelling
with a mighty joy over peace restored to a reunited
nation. It was the last hour of his noble life. In the
very climax of his career, when his mind was filled with
sympathy for the vanquished and with plans for their
relief, when those who had borne arms against him had
been overcome by his noble generosity, when he had
not a personal enemy in all the republic, he was stricken
down. It is an honor and a consolation to his country-
men, South as well as North, that he fell by the hand of
a crazed assassin.

I venture the hope that what I have written in this
volume will tend to suppress the aspersions of a very
small number of writers upon Mr. Lincoln, and increase
the interest of his countrymen in the study of his life
and character. The time has not yet come to measure
his services, or to compare him with other public men.
We must leave that duty to those who come after us,
when Abraham Lincoln shall have ceased to grow in the
world's esteem, and we, who saw his face and heard his
voice, and felt the warm grasp of his kindly hand, have
passed away. For the present, we may say of him as
his biographer wrote of Cicero, that, " though violent, his
death was not untimely," for, like another noble man and
martyr, he was ready to be offered, he had fought a
good fight, he had finished his course, and he had kept
the faith. Until we shall follow him where he shall re-
ceive his crown, let our hearts be his shrine, and our
prayer without ceasing be, " Lord, keep his memory
green !"


Adams, Charles Francis, American
minister in London, his efforts to
prevent sailing of Confederate iron-
clads, 198 ; bis confidential de-
spatches, 199; his agreement to
indemnify the liberal Englishman,
202 ; prevents the sailing of the
iron-clads ; value of the service,

Anderson, Major Robert, favors ar-
mored vessels, from experience
with armored battery at siege of
Fort Sumter, 212.

Armored vessels : Messrs. Laird con-
tract to build two for the Con-
federates, 197 ; their destination
and intended use, 198 ; how their
delivery was prevented by noble
act of an Englishman, 198-211;
they are sold to Eastern powers,
208, 209 ; iron-clads first suggested
by Major Anderson after fall of
Sumter, 213; their use opposed by
naval officers, 214.

Assassination conspiracy : Republi-
cans refuse to believe in its exist-
ence ; two members of Conference
secretly visit Baltimore, February
17th, 58 ; Baltimore Republicans
give details of the plot, 60; cool
statements of an Italian, who had
betrayed his associates, 61 ; con-
spiracy at first believed to be con-
fined to the criminal classes ; meet-
ings of its members ; who provided
the money ? an actor connected
with it, 60-63 ; police in sympathy
with the plot, 63 ; the schooner and
tug purchased, 61-63 ; Mr. Lincoln
declines to pass through Baltimore
except in open day, 63 ; the facts
communicated to E. B. Washburn,
who replied that Mr. Lincoln had

finally put himself in the hands of
his friends, who would insure his
safety, 64.

Baird, Professor Spencer F., secretary

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 32 of 35)