Nathan William MacChesney.

Abraham Lincoln; the tribute of a century, 1809-1909, commemorative of the Lincoln centenary and containing the principal speeches made in connection therewith online

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Online LibraryNathan William MacChesneyAbraham Lincoln; the tribute of a century, 1809-1909, commemorative of the Lincoln centenary and containing the principal speeches made in connection therewith → online text (page 26 of 44)
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suit. My wife and I have compromised." "What is the
compromise?" "Well," said the farmer, "we are going to
paint the house brown."

Years of diligent study, and this habit, continued from
early youth, of expressing his ideas aloud and making
speeches alike to trees and to people, made him attractive to
the local leaders of his party. His speech when nominated
for the Legislature of Illinois, was a model of brevity. It was
substantially this: "I am in favor of a protective tariff, a
national bank, and internal improvements. If you like my
principles, I should be glad to serve you." With the excep-
tion of the slavery issue, that speech, made in 1834, seventy-
five years ago, has been practically the platform of the Repub-
lican party since its formation until to-day.

Lincoln was of slow growth. There was nothing precocious
about him. He matured along fine lines, and each year added
to his mental stature. He made little impression during his
four terms in the Legislature, except for diligence and intelli-
gence. He served one term in Congress. There he displayed
the prevailing characteristic of his political life. He expressed
his opinions regardless of consequences. The country was


aflame for the Mexican War. The American people are always
with the President against a foreign enemy. He knew that
war had been provoked in order to take territory away from
Mexico for the extension of slavery. He followed in the lead
of Tom Corwin and made a vigorous speech denouncing the
policy and purpose of the war. Corwin 's speech retired him
permanently from public life, and Lincoln was not again a
candidate for the House of Representatives. This quality of
his mind, and moral courage, were happily illustrated in the
famous joint debates between Douglas and himself. Douglas
was the most formidable debater, either in the Senate or on
the platform, in the country. He was superbly prepared,
equipped with every art of the orator, resourceful beyond
anyone of his time, and unscrupulous in the presentation of
his own case and the misrepresentation of that of his op-
ponent. There was at that period a passionate devotion,
among the people, to the Union, but very little sentiment
against slavery. The Union was paramount above every-
thing. There was no disposition to interfere with slavery
where it was. The only unity on anti-slavery was against
its extension into the Territories. Lincoln prepared his first
speech in this debate with great care, and then submitted it
to the party leaders who had put him forward and who con-
stituted his advisers. When he came to the sentence, "A
house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this Gov-
ernment cannot endure permanently half slave and half free,"
they unanimously advised him to cut it out. They told him
that Douglas would take advantage of it by appealing to the
sentiment for the preservation of the Union as paramount to
anything else, and that he would charge Lincoln with being in
favor of dissolving the Union in order to free the negroes.
Lincoln said: "We are entering upon a great moral cam-
paign of education. I am not advocating Mr. Seward 's higher
law, but I am advocating the restriction of slavery within its
present limits, and the preservation of the new Territories for
free labor. That is more than immediate success, and on that
question we will ultimately succeed." Douglas did attack
Lincoln, making this point, as the advisers thought, his main


subject, and it was one of the principal elements in his elec-
tion. Once more the moral quality and courage of Lincoln
came out, when he submitted to his advisers, putting to Doug-
las the question whether the people of the Territories could ex-
clude slavery by their territorial legislation. Douglas was
claiming that it was a great chance for popular sovereignty to
repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which prohibited
slavery in the Territories, by leaving the question to the people.
Lincoln's advisers said, "He will answer, 'Yes.' " "Well,"
said Lincoln, "by answering 'No,' it will ruin his whole pro-
gramme. If he answers 'Yes,' that will alienate the South,
prevent his nomination for President, and split the Democratic
Party." The results were as Lincoln predicted. Douglas
was elected Senator. The South bolted the Democratic Con-
vention, the northern half nominating Douglas, the southern
half Breckinridge. But what Lincoln did not anticipate, the
^Republican Party nominated him and he was elected.

None of our Presidents have ever faced such conditions and
problems as Lincoln encountered when inaugurated. Five
States had already seceded. A Confederate government had
been formed, and its whole machinery was in operation
with a President, Cabinet, Congress, and Constitution. The
arsenals were stripped of arms, the forts of guns, a large
number of the ablest army officers were deserting to the
Southern Confederacy, but his initial difficulties were with his
own household. With the courage born of true greatness, he
summoned to his Cabinet, statesmen who had been, for years,
national leaders and who were his contestants in the national
Convention. As far as possible, he drew them equally from
those who had been Whigs and Democrats prior to the forma-
tion of the Republican party four years before, and who had
come together on the question of the extension of slavery,
though they differed upon every other matter of governmental
policy. Seward, Chase, and Cameron were household words
in the country. The President was hardly known. These
strong, cultured, ambitious, and self-centred men, veterans in
the public service, regarded with very little respect this
homely, uncouth, and almost unknown frontiersman who had,


as they thought, become President by accident, when that
great honor belonged to each of them. They thought that
the President would be a cipher, and the struggle would
be only between them as to which, as the stronger, would so
dominate the administration as to be practically President
of the United States. Lincoln understood this and them
perfectly. After a month Mr. Seward presented a written
proposition to the President which meant practically that,
to unite the country, war should be provoked with Eng-
land and France, and that he in those difficulties was quite
willing to undertake the administration of affairs. There
is no President, including Washington, who would not on
such a letter have either surrendered or called for the
resignation of his Cabinet Minister. But Lincoln's answer
was the perfection of confident strength and diplomacy.
He wanted the services of the best equipped man in the
country for Secretary of State, and the idol of nearly a
majority of his party, and so he said, in effect, "The Euro-
pean war will lead to their siding with the South and dis-
solving the Union. We are to have a civil war, and one is
enough at once. You can perform invaluable service in your
great department. I have been elected President and will
discharge, myself, the duties of that office." He knew that
Chase was disparaging him in conversation and trying to
prevent his nomination in order to get it for himself, but
he ignored these facts and supported Chase until his finan-
cial schemes, as Secretary of the Treasury, had given the
country credit and money, and then promoted him out of
the Cabinet and out of politics by making him Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Seward early recognized the master mind of the President,
and that behind an exterior of deference and extreme amiabil-
ity was the confident judgment and giant grip of a natural
leader of men. Thenceforth this most accomplished of the
orators, rhetoricians, and dialecticians of his day, as well
as one of its greatest statesmen, became the devoted assistant
of his chief.

Mr. Greeley, one of the greatest journalists the United


States has ever produced, and possessing influence never
since wielded by a single man upon public opinion, hated
slavery and loved peace. In practical matters Mr. Greeley
was very credulous, and some of the shrewd and unscrupulous
Southern leaders made him believe that they were empowered
to treat for peace upon honorable terms. Lincoln knew better.
He suggested to Mr. Greeley that he find out by a personal
interview, but soon discovered that the negotiations between
these alleged Confederate Commissioners and the great
journalist were part of a scheme on their part to gain time.
He solved that problem in a characteristic way by suddenly
issuing a proclamation, "to whom it may concern," saying
that anybody authorized to treat on behalf of the Confederate
Government would have safe conduct through the United
States to Washington and return, and the Commissioners
disappeared. The habit of tireless industry by day and
night, patient research, and clear analysis, were applied by
the President to the problems of the war. The great wars
of Europe are carried on by the general staff the civil
government at home forwarding recruits and furnishing sup-
plies but we had no machinery or equipment for a great
war. We had no general staff. Officers had to be tried
at fearful loss of life upon the battle-field, and jealousies
among them embarrassed operations; but in the White
House was developed a great strategist and commander with
neither partisanship nor prejudice. He sifted the claims of
the different generals, and one by one eliminated them until
he placed Grant in supreme command. He knew the posi-
tion all over the vast region of the War, of both his own
troops and those of the enemy. He studied the maps until
the roads for marching, and transportation facilities for con-
centrating, were better known by him than by any of the mili-
tary chiefs. His guiding hand and suggestive brain prevented
many a disaster and turned many a defeat into victory.
He familiarized himself with every department of the gov-
ernment, and, while giving full credit to his Cabinet, he was
still the master in the despatches and negotiations finally


agreed upon by the Secretary of State, and in the operations
of the Treasury, the War, and the Navy Department.

It was vital to the success of the Union that the Confed-
eracy should not be assisted by foreign interference. He
knew that it had been the object of European statesmen,
since the Holy Alliance and the Monroe Doctrine, to divide,
if possible, the United States, and prevent a great world
power growing up in the Western Hemisphere. He might
have declared war on account of the equipment of the Con-
federate cruiser Alabama in British ports. England might
have had a pretext for war when Captain Wilkes took the
Confederate Commissioners from a British vessel. But in
the one case he trusted to diplomacy and delay, and in the
other he promptly decided that the American officer had no
right to go upon the deck of a British ship, sailing under
the British flag, and seize its passengers, and promptly sur-
rendered the Confederate Commissioners. With the feeling
that there was in the country, at that time, of bitterness
and resentment against Great Britain, no man but Abraham
Lincoln could have prevented a war. I have recently learned
that unknown to his Cabinet he would many an evening
drop into the house of the British Minister, and the effect
of those consultations sent direct to the other side in con-
fidence must have been of incalculable influence in causing
British statesmen to keep hands off, and especially in so
advising Queen Victoria and Prince Albert that they re-
mained through all our revolution staunchly our friends.

Lincoln hated slavery, but his love for the Union was
greater. If he could save the Union by freeing all the slaves,
or part of them, or none of them, he would so save the Union.
I remember the gathering, and then the full force, of the
storm against him because he would not free the slaves.
Thaddeus Stevens, Horace Greeley, Benjamin Wade, Henry
Winter Davis, and all the old Abolitionists like Wendell
Phillips, and William Lloyd Garrison, were the mighty lead-
ers of a formidable and an intelligent assault which few,
if any, but him could have resisted. He knew that at least


one-half of the Union Army cared nothing about slavery,
but were willing to die for the Union. He knew that New
York, Connecticut, and New Jersey would be uncertain, if
the issue were for slavery. He knew that the hundreds of
thousands of soldiers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland,
Missouri, and Virginia who were among the best troops he
had might join the Confederate Army and carry with them
their States if he attempted to free the slaves before they
saw it was a necessity of war. The folly of these brilliant
reformers is best exhibited by an incident which I knew,
when they answered this statement by saying it would be
a gain to the cause if the border States were all lost and
their troops with them. "When, however, with knowledge
greater than all of them, with a wisdom surer than any of
them, with a contact and understanding with the plain peo-
ple of the country such as none of them possessed, he saw
the time had come when the enemy must be deprived of the
workers of the field who were supplying their armies, and
the servants in their camps who were attending to their
wants and relieving their fighting force, he issued the im-
mortal Proclamation of Emancipation and the doom of the
Confederacy was sealed.

Justice and mercy were Lincoln's supreme characteristics.
He bore no enmities, cherished no ill will, and never exe-
cuted any revenges. While the whole North was raging
against those who had rebelled, and millions believed that
the destruction of their properties, the devastation of their
lands, and the loss of their slaves, which were their main prop-
erty, was a just punishment for endeavoring to break up the
Union, Lincoln appreciated thoroughly the conditions which
had impelled them to rebel. In the early days of the War
he argued earnestly with his Cabinet and the leaders in
Congress for authorization to offer the South four hundred
millions of dollars as a compensation for freeing their
slaves. To the answer that the country could not stand the
expense, he said, "The War is costing four millions a day
and it will certainly last one hundred days." After he had
visited Richmond when the War was over, and returned to


Washington, he again urged this proposition, saying that
the South was completely exhausted and this four hundred
million would be the best investment the country could
make in at once restoring peace and good will between all
sections, and furnishing the capital to the Southern people
to restore their homes, recuperate their fortunes and start
their industries. But in the bitter passions of the hour the
proposition received no support.

A reputation for wit and humor or story-telling has been
fatal to many brilliant Americans. The people of the United
States prefer serious men, even if stupid and platitudinous
in speech, to those who, no matter how brilliant in all ways,
are nevertheless famous for humor and anecdote. Lincoln
survived because this faculty and habit did not become
known until after he was President. I heard him tell a
great many stories and every one of them enforced and
clinched the argument stronger than hours of logic. We
must remember that there was no civil service, that there
were more appointments to office in the creation of the
internal revenue system and in the customs a hundred
fold then, than had ever been before; and that an army
of two millions of men had to be officered, and the ques-
tion of the appointment and promotion of these officers
come to the President; and the same of a large navy. The
pressure of office-seekers who came in swarms led by their
senators and congressmen, would have crushed him, except
for his faculty of turning them off with an apt story or a
joke. A political leader in Maryland at that period ap-
peared nearly every day at the White House with a regi-
ment of hungry applicants. Baltimore was only an hour
away, and it was so little expense that they could descend
like an army of locusts at frequent intervals at the White
House. The President, wearied until even his patience was
exhausted, directed one day that they should all be admitted
at once. They filled the large room in which he stood.
He was far from well and said, "Gentlemen, I at last have
something that I can give you all." With one acclaim they
commenced saying, "Thank you, Mr, President' Thank you,


Mr. President!" and their leader started to make a speech.
The President said, "It is the smallpox. The doctor tells
me I have varioloid!" The room was emptied in a second.
A strong body of temperance people came to him after
General Grant had won many victories and he was contem-
plating making him Commander-in-chief, protested and even
went so far as to demand Grant's dismissal on the ground
that he was a hard drinker. Lincoln answered, "Ladies and
Gentlemen, I wish you would kindly tell me the brand of
whiskey General Grant drinks. I would like to send a few
bottles to my other generals." He rarely, with all his wit,
humor, and faculty for apt illustration, said anything which
would hurt the feelings of his hearer.

He cared little for poetry, but in early youth he had found
in an old almanac a poem which he committed to memory and
repeated often all through his life. It was entitled "Immor-
tality," and the first verse was:

"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 a grave."

He reverenced the sentiment of that poem. One day a Con-
gressman with a delegation of constituents who wanted offices,
came into the room very drunk, and commenced a speech
to the President by saying, "Oh! why should the spirit of
mortal be proud?" The President answered coldly, "I see
no reason whatever," and dismissed them. Probably rem-
iniscent of the loved and lost, he often repeated this verse
from Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest

In their bloom;

And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year

On the tomb!"

"With malice toward none, with charity for all." This
line, in one of his Inaugurals, summed up the philosophy of


his life. He was six feet four inches in height, with muscles
of steel, and in early life among the rough, cruel, hard-
drinking youth of the neighborhood was the strongest of
them all; but his strength was always used to protect the
weak against the strong, and to humble the bully, who is
the terror of such communities. During his youth and early
manhood he lived where drinking was so common that it
was the habit, and the young men were all addicted to
whiskey and tobacco-chewing, but the singular purity of
his nature was such, that notwithstanding the ridicule of
his surroundings, he never used alcohol or tobacco. When
President, he so often reversed the sentences of court mar-
tials which condemned convicted soldiers to death, that the
generals complained bitterly. I heard General Sherman at
one of his birthday dinners, when asked by the generals
present how he got over these pardons, as the findings of
the Court had to be sent to the President for approval, an-
swer grimly, "I shot them first."

The day before election, in 1864, when to the anxieties in
the field were added those of the canvass, he heard of a
widow whose five sons had enlisted and all been killed, and
wrote to her in his own hand one of the most pathetic letters
of condolence there is in such literature.

He is our only President who came to that great office
from absolutely original American frontier conditions. Our
early Presidents were landed aristocrats or the products
of the great colleges of the country. Even the least equipped
of our chief magistrates had opportunities for culture from
the outside which amounted to a liberal education, but this
man of the log cabin and the woods, having had the ad-
vantages of neither teachers, nor schools, nor guides in the
selection of books, courses of reading, or curriculum of study,
before death removed him from the presidency towered high
among the cultured, the statesmen, and all the gifted genius
of the country, in both ideas and expression.

I first saw Lincoln when he stepped off his car for a few
minutes at Peekskill, while on his way to Washington for
his inauguration. He was cheerful and light hearted, though


he travelled through crowds, many of whom were enemies,
part of the time in secret, and all the time in danger of
assassination. I met him frequently three years afterwards,
when care, anxiety, and overwork had made him look prema-
turely aged. I was one of the Committee in charge of the
funeral train which was bearing his body to his home, while
on its way through the State of New York. The hostile
hosts of four years before were now standing about the road-
way with bared heads, weeping. As we sped over the rails
at night, the scene was the most pathetic ever witnessed.
At every cross-roads the glare of innumerable torches illu-
mined the whole population, from age to infancy, kneeling
on the ground, and their clergymen leading in prayers and
hymns. The coffin was placed in the capitol at Albany that
the Governor, State Officers, and Legislature might have a
farewell look at the great President. The youthful confi-
dence of my first view was gone, also the troubled and worn
look of the closing years of his labors, but there rested upon
the pallid face and noble brow an expression in death of
serenity, peace, and happiness.

We are celebrating within a few months of each other the
ter-centenary of Milton and the centenaries of Poe and Dar-
win. Our current literature of the daily, weekly, and
monthly press is full of eulogy of the Puritan poet, of his
influence upon English literature and the English language,
and of his immortal work, "Paradise Lost." There are not
in this vast audience twenty people who have read "Paradise
Lost," while there is scarcely a man, woman, or child in
the United States who has not read Lincoln's "Speech at
Gettysburg." Few gathered to pay tribute to that remark-
able genius, Edgar Allan Poe, and yet in every school house
in the land to-day the children are reciting or hearing read
extracts from the address of Lincoln. Darwin carved out a
new era in scientific research and established the truth of
one of the most beneficent principles for the progress and
growth of the world. Yet Darwin's fame and achievements
are for the select few in the higher realms of liberal learn-
ing. But for Lincoln the acclaim goes up to him to-day


as one of the few foremost men of all the ages, from states-
men and men of letters in every land, from the halls of
Congress and of the Legislatures, from the seats of justice,
from colleges and universities, and above and beyond all,
from the homes of the plain people of the United States.



THE city of Boston had an elaborate official celebration
under the direction of a Committee of Twenty-five, ap-
pointed by the Honorable Geo. A. Hibbard, Mayor of Boston,
of which committee Mr. Bernard J. Rothwell was Chairman,
and Colonel J. Payson Bradley, Secretary. The Committee
was composed of the leading citizens, and under its auspices,
special and numerous celebrations were planned and carried
out throughout the city.

On the morning of the Centenary day, commemorative ex-
ercises were held in all of the schools, well-known speakers
appearing upon the programmes ; the general idea of the Bos-
ton Committee being as was the prevailing desire elsewhere
to make the celebration not only a tribute and a memorial, but
an educational force, disseminating among the younger genera-
tion knowledge of the life, the ideals, and the deeds of Lin-
coln. One hundred and thirteen thousand school children
took part in the observances of the day.

Another feature of the morning celebration was the joint
session, at noon, of the Senate and House of Representatives
of Massachusetts, commemorative of the day the Honorable
Henry Cabot Lodge, United States Senator from Massachu-
setts, delivering the impressive oration.

Online LibraryNathan William MacChesneyAbraham Lincoln; the tribute of a century, 1809-1909, commemorative of the Lincoln centenary and containing the principal speeches made in connection therewith → online text (page 26 of 44)