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believe the restoration of the American Union
by force attainable.

From the Vatican came words of encour-
agement for the South.

It was declared that the North was fight-
ing for empire and the South for independ-
ence.

The Marquis of Salisbury said: "The
people of the South are the natural allies of
England. The North keeps an opposition shop
in the same department of trade as ourselves."

Not a very elevated sentiment — but Eng-
lish.

Some of their statesmen declared that the
subjugation of the South by the North would
be a calamity to the world.

Louis Napoleon was another enemy, and



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 27

he endeavored to establish a monarchy in
Mexico, to the end that the great North might
be destroyed. But the patience, the uncom-
mon common sense, the statesmanship of Lin-
coln — in spite of foreign hate and Northern
division — triumphed over all. And now we
forgive all foes. Victory makes forgiveness
easy.

Lincoln was by nature a diplomat. He
knew the art of sailing against the wind. He
had as much shrewdness as is consistent with
honesty. He understood, not only the rights
of individuals, but of nations. In all his cor-
respondence vidth other governments he
neither wrote nor sanctioned a line which
afterward was used to tie his hands. In the
use of perfect English he easily rose above
all his advisers and all his fellows.

No one claims that Lincoln did all. He
could have done nothing without the generals
in the field, and the generals could have done
nothing without their armies. The praise is
due to all — to the private as much as to the
officer; to the lowest who did his duty, as
much as to the highest.

My heart goes out to the brave private as
much as to the leader of the host.



28 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

But Lincoln stood at the centre and with
infinite patience, with consummate skill, with
the genius of goodness, directed, cheered, con-
soled and conquered.



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 29

VII.

Slavery was the cause of the war, and
slavery was the perpetual stumbling-block.
As the war went on, question after question
arose — questions that could not be answered
by theories. Should we hand back the slave
to his master, when the master was using his
slave to destroy the Union? If the South was
right, slaves were property, and by the laws
of war anything that might be used to the
advantage of the enemy might be confiscated
by us. Events did not wait for discussion.
General Butler denominated the negro as "a
contraband." Congress provided that the
property of the rebels might be confiscated.

The extreme Democrats of the North re-
garded the slave as more sacred than life. It
was no harm to kill the master — to burn his
house, to ravage his fields — but you must not
free his slave.

If in war a nation has the right to take
the property of its citizens — of its friends —
certainly it has the right to take the property
of those it has the right to kill.

Lincoln was wise enough to know that war
is governed by the laws of war, and that dur-



30 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

ing the conflict constitutions are silent. AH
that he could do he did in the interests of
peace. He offered to execute every law — in-
cluding the most infamous of all — to buy the
slaves in the border States — to establish grad-
ual, compensated emancipation; but the South
would not hear. Then he confiscated the
property of rebels — treated the slaves as con-
traband of war, used them to put down the
Rebellion, armed them and clothed them in
the uniform of the Republic — was in favor of
making them citizens and allowing them to
stand on an equality with their white brethren
under the flag of the Nation. During these
years Lincoln moved with events, and every
step he took has been justified by the consid-
erate judgment of mankind.



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 31



VIII.

Lincoln not only watched the war, but kept
his hand on the political pulse. In 1863 a
tide set in against the administration. A
Republican meeting was to be held in Spring-
field, Illinois, and Lincoln wrote a letter to be
read at this convention. It was in his hap-
piest vein. It was a perfect defence of his
administration, including the Proclamation of
Emancipation. Among other things he said:

"But the proclamation, as law, either is valid or it is
not valid. If it is not valid it needs no retraction, but
if it is valid it cannot ba retracted, any more than the
dead can be brought to life."

To the Northern Democrats who said they
would not fight for negroes, Lincoln replied:

"Some of them seem willing to fight for you — but
no matter."

Of negro soldiers:

"But negroes, like other people, act upon motives.
Why shouJd they do anything for us if we will do noth-
ing for them ? If they stake their lives for us they
must be prompted by the strongest motive — even the
promise of freedom. And the promise, being made,
must be kept."

There is one line in this letter that will



32 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

give it immortality:

"The Father of waters again goes unyexed to the
sea."

This line is worthy of Shakespeare.
Another :

"Among free men there can be no successful appeal
from the ballot to the bullet."

He draws a comparison between the white
men against us and the black men for us:

"And then there will be some black men who can
remember that with silent tongue and clenched teeth
and steady eye and well-poised bayonet they have helped
mankind on to this great consummation ; while I fear
there will be some white ones unable to forget that with
malignant heart and deceitful speech they strove to
hinder it."

Under the influence of this letter, the love
of country, of the Union, and above all, the
love of liberty, took possession of the heroic
. North.

There was the greatest moral exaltation
ever known.

The spirit of liberty took possession of the
people. The masses became sublime.

To fight for yourself is natural — to fight
for others is grand; to fight for your country
is noble — to fight for the human race — for the



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 33

liberty of hand and brain — is nobler still.

As a matter of fact, the defenders of slav-
ery had sown the seeds of their own defeat.
They dug the pit in which they fell. Clay and
Webster and thousands of others had by their
eloquence made the Union almost sacred. The
Union was the very tree of life, the source
and stream and sea of liberty and law.

For the sake of slavery millions stood by
the Union, for the sake of liberty millions
knelt at the altar of the Union; and this love
of the Union is what, at last, overwhelmed
the Confederate hosts.

It does not seem possible that only a few
years ago our Constitution, our laws, our
Courts, the Pulpit and the Press defended and
upheld the institution of slavery — that it was
a crime to feed the hungry — to give water to
the lips of thirst — shelter to a woman flying
from the whip and chain!

The old flag still flies — the stars are there —
the stains have gone.



34 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

IX.

Lincoln always saw the end. He was un-
moved by the storms and currents of the
'times. He advanced too rapidly for the con-
servative politicians, too slowly for the radical
enthusiasts. He occupied the line of safety,
and held by his personality — by the force of
his great character, by his charming candor —
the masses on his side.

The soldiers thought of him as a father.

All who had lost their sons in battle felt
that they had his sympathy — felt that his face
was as sad as theirs. They knew that Lincoln
was actuated by one motive, and that his en-
ergies were bent to the attainment of one end
— the salvation of the Republic.

They knew that he was kind, sincere and
merciful. They knew that in his veins there
was no drop of tyrants' blood. They knew that
he used his power to protect the innocent, to
save reputation and life — that he had the
brain of a philosopher — the heart of a mother.

During all the years of war, Lincoln stood
the embodiment of mercy, between discipline
and death. He pitied the imprisoned and con-
demned. He took the unfortunate in his arms,



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 35

and was the friend even of the convict. He
knew temptation's strength — the weakness of
the will — and how in fury's sudden flame the
judgment drops the scales, and passion — blind
and deaf — usurps the throne.

One day a woman, accompanied by a Sen-
ator, called on the President. The woman was
the wife of one of Mosby's men. Her husband
had been captured, tried and condemned to be
shot. She came to ask for the pardon of her
husband. The President heard her story and
then asked what kind of man her husband
was. "Is he intemperate, does he abuse the
children and beat you?" "No, no," said the
wife, "he is a good man, a good husband, he
loves me and he loves the children, and we
cannot live without him. The only trouble
is that he is a fool about politics — I live in
the North, born there, and if I get him home,
he will do no more fighting for the South."
**Well," said Mr. Lincoln, after examining the
papers, "I will pardon your husband and turn
him over to you for safe keeping." The poor
woman, overcome with joy, sobbed as though
her heart would break.

"My dear woman," said Lincoln, "if I had
known how badly it was going to make you
feel, I never would have pardoned him." "You



36 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

do not understand me," she cried between her
sobs. "You do not understand me." "Yes,
yes, I do," answered the President, "and if
you do not go away at once I shall be crying
with you."

On another occasion, a member of Con-
gress, on his way to see Lincoln, found in
one of the ante-rooms of the White House an
old white-haired man, sobbing — ^his wrinkled
face wet with tears. The old man told him
that for several days he had tried to see the
President — that he wanted a pardon for his
son. The Congressman told the old man to
come with him and he would introduce him
to Mr. Lincoln. On being introduced, the old
man said: "Mr. Lincoln, my wife sent me to
you. We had three boys. They all joined
your army. One of 'em has been killed, one's
a fighting now, and one of 'em, the youngest,
has been tried for deserting and he's going to
be shot day after to-morrow. He never de-
serted. He's wild, and he may have drunk too
much and wandered off, but he never deserted.
'Taint in the blood. He's his mother's favor-
ite, and if he's shot, I know she'll die." The
President, turning to his secretary, said:
"Telegraph General Butler to suspend the ex-
ecution in the case of (giving the



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 37

name) until further orders from me, and ask
him to answer ."

The Congressman congratulated the old
man on his success — but the old man did not
respond. He was not satisfied. "Mr. Presi-
dent," he began, "I can't take that news home.
It won't satisfy his mother. How do I know
but what you'll give further orders to-mor-
row?" "My good man," said Mr. Lincoln, "I
have to do the best I can. The generals are
complaining because I pardon so many. They
say that my mercy destroys discipline. Now,
when you get home you tell his mother what
you said to me about my giving further or-
ders, and then you tell her that I said this:
*If your son lives until they get further orders
from me, that when he does die people will
say that old Methusaleh was a baby compared
to him.'"

The pardoning power is the only remnant
of absolute sovereignty that a President has.
Through all the years, Lincoln will be known
as Lincoln the loving, Lincoln the merciful.



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN



Lincoln had the keenest sense of humor,
and always saw the laughable side even of
disaster. In his humor there was logic and
the best of sense. No matter how complicated
the question, or how embarrassing the situa-
tion, his humor furnished an answer and a
door of escape.

Vallandigham was a friend of the South,
and did what he could to sow the seeds of
failure. In his opinion everything, except re-
bellion, was unconstitutional.

He was arrested, convicted by a court mar-
tial, and sentenced to imprisonment.

There was doubt about the legality of the
trial, and thousands in the North denounced
the whole proceedings as tyrannical and in-
famous. At the same time millions demanded
that Vallandigham should be punished.

Lincoln's humor came to the rescue. He
disapproved of the findings of the court,
changed the punishment, and ordered that Mr.
Vallandigham should be sent to his friends in
the South.

Those who regarded the act as unconstitu-
tional almost forgave it for the sake of its
humor.



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 39

Horace Greeley always had the idea that
he was greatly superior to Lincoln, because he
lived in a larger town, and for a long time
insisted that the people of the North and the
people of the South desired peace. He took
it upon himself to lecture Lincoln, Lincoln,
with that wonderful sense of humor, united
with shrewdness and profound wisdom, told
Greeley that, if the South really wanted peace,
he (Lincoln) desired the same thing, and was
doing all he could to bring it about. Greeley
insisted that a commissioner should be ap-
pointed, with authority to negotiate with the
representatives of the Confederacy. This was
Lincoln's opportunity. He authorized Greeley
to act as such commissioner. The great editor
felt that he was caught. For a time he hesi-
tated, but finally went, and found that the
Southern commissioners were willing to take
into consideration any offers of peace that
Lincoln might make, consistent with the in-
dependence of the Confederacy.

The failure of Greeley was humiliating, and
the position in which he was left, absurd.

Again the humor of Lincoln had tri-
umphed.

Lincoln, to satisfy a few fault-finders in.
the North, went to Grant's headquarters and



40 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

met some Confederate commissioners. He
urged that it was hardly proper for him to
negotiate with the representatives of rebels
in arms — that if the South wanted peace, all
they had to do was to stop fighting. One of
the commissioners cited as a precedent the
fact that Charles the First negotiated with
rebels in arms. To which Lincoln replied that
•Charles the First lost his head.

The conference came to nothing, as Mr.
Lincoln expected.

The commissioners, one of them being
Alexander H. Stephens, who, when in good
health, weighed about ninety pounds, dined
with the President and Gen. Grant. After
dinner, as they were leaving, Stephens put
on an English ulster, the tails of which
reached the ground, while the collar was some-
what above the wearer's head.

As Stephens went out, Lincoln touched
Grant and said: "Grant, look at Stephens.
Did you ever see as little a nubbin with as
much shuck?"

Lincoln always tried to do things in the
easiest way. He did not waste his strength.
He was not particular about moving along
straight lines. He did not tunnel the moun-



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 41

tains. He was willing to go around, and;
reach the end desired as a river reaches the:



42 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN



XL

One of the most wonderful things ever
done by Lincoln was the promotion of General
Hooker. After the battle of Fredericksburg,
General Burnside found great fault with
Hooker, and wished to have him removed from
"the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln disapprov-
ed of Burnside's order, and gave Hooker the
command. He then wrote Hooker this mem-
orable letter:

"I have placed you at the head of the Army of the
Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears
to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best
for you to know that there are soma things in regard to
which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you
to be a brave and skillful ooldier — which, of course,
I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your
profession — in which you are right. You have con-
fidence — which is valuable, if not an indispensable,
quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable
bounds, does good rather than harm ; but I think that
during General Burnside's command of the army you
have taken counsel of your ambition to thwart him as
much as you could — in which you did a great wrong to
the country and to a most meritorious and honorable
brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to be-
lieve it, of your recently saying that both the army and
the Government needed a dictator. Of course it was
mot for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 43

command. Only those generals who gain success can
set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military
successes, and I will risk the dictatorship. The Gov-
ernment will support you to the utmost of its ability,
which is neither more nor less than it has done and will
do for all commanders. I much fear that the cpirit
which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criti-
cising their commander and withholding confidence in
him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you, so far
as I can, to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon,
if he v/ere alive, can get any good out of an army
while such a spirit prevails in it. And now bswara of
rashness. Bewara of rashness, but with energy and
sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories."

This letter has, in my judgment, no par-
allel. The mistaken magnanimity is almost
equal to the prophecy:

"I much fear that the spirit which you have aided
to infuse into the army, of criticising their command
and withholding confidence in him, will now turn upon
you."

Chancellorsville was the fulfillment.



44 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN



XII.

Mr. Lincoln was a statesman. The great
stumbling-block — the great obstruction — in
Lincoln's way, and in the way of thousands,
was the old doctrine of States Eights.

This doctrine was first established to pro-
tect slavery. It was clung to to protect the
inter-State slave trade. It became sacred in
connection with the Fugitive Slave Law, and
it was finally used as the corner-stone of
Secession.

This doctrine was never appealed to in
defence of the right — always in support of the
wrong. For many years politicians upon both
sides of this question endeavored to express
the exact relations existing between the Fed-
eral Government and the States, and I know
of no one who succeeded, except Lincoln. In
his message of 1861, delivered on July the 4th,
the definition is given, and it is perfect:

"Whatever concerns the whole should be confided to
"the whole — to the General Government. Whatever con-
cerns only the State should be left exclusively to the
State."

When that definition is realized in prac-
tice, this country becomes a Nation. Then we



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 45

shall know that the first allegiance of the citi-
zen is not to his State, but to the Republic,
and that the first duty of the Republic is to
protect the citizen, not only when in other
lands, but at home, and that this duty cannot
be discharged by delegating it to the States.
Lincoln believed in the sovereignty of the
people — in the supremacy of the Nation — in
the territorial integrity of the Republic.



46 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

XIII.

A great actor can be known only when he
has assumed the principal character in a great
drama. Possibly the greatest actors have
never appeared, and it may be that the great-
est soldiers have lived the lives of perfect
peace. Lincoln assumed the leading part in.
the greatest drama ever enacted upon the
stage of this continent.

His criticisms of military movements, his
correspondence with his generals and others
on the conduct of the war, show that he was
at all times master of the situation — that he
was a natural strategist, that he appreciated
the difficulties and advantages of every kind,
and that in "the still and mental" field of war
he stood the peer of any man beneath the flag.

Had McClellan followed his advice, he
would have taken Richmond.

Had Hooker acted in accordance with his
suggestions, Chancellorsville would have been
a victory for the Nation.

Lincoln's political prophecies were all ful-
filled.

We know now that he not only stood at
the top, but that he occupied the centre, from.



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 47

first to last, and that he did this by reason
of his intelligence, his humor, his philosophy,
his courage and his patriotism.

In passion's storm he stood, unmoved, pa-
tient, just and candid. In his brain there was
no cloud, and in his heart no hate. He longed
to save the South as well as North, to see the
Nation one and free.

He lived until the end was known.

He lived until the Confederacy was dead —
until Lee surrendered, until Davis fled, until
the doors of Libby Prison were opened, until
the Republic was supreme.

He lived until Lincoln and Liberty were
united forever.

He lived to cross the desert — to reach the
palms of victory — to hear the murmured music
of the welcome waves.

He lived until all loyal hearts were his —
until the history of his deeds made music in
the souls of men — until he knew that on Col-
umbia's Calendar of worth and fame his name
stood iirst.

He lived until there remained nothing for
him to do as great as he had done.

What he did was worth living for, worth
■dying for.

He lived until he stood in the midst of



48 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

universal Joy, beneath the outstretched wings
of Peace — the foremost man in all the world.

And then the horror came. Night fell on
noon. The Savior of the Republic, the breaker
of chains, the liberator of millions, he who had
"assured freedom to the free," was dead.

Upon his brow Fame placed the immortal
wreath, and for the first time in the history of
the world a Nation bowed and wept.

The memory of Lincoln is the strongest,
tenderest tie that binds all hearts together
now, and holds all States beneath a Nation's
flag.



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 49

XIV.

Abraham Lincoln — strange mingling of
mirth and tears, of the tragic and grotesque,
of cap and crown, of Socrates and Democri-
tus, of ^sop and Marcus Aurelius, of all that
is gentle and just, humorous and honest, mer-
ciful, wise, laughable, lovable and divine, and
all consecrated to the use of man; while
through all, and over all, were an overwhelm-
ing sense of obligation, of chivalric loyalty to
truth, and upon all, the shadow of the tragic
end.

Nearly all the great historic characters
are impossible monsters, disproportioned by
flattery, or by calumny deformed. We know
nothing of their peculiarities, or nothing but
their peculiarities. About these oaks there
clings none of the earth of humanity.

Washington is now only a steel engraving.
About the real man who lived and loved and
hated and schemed, we know but little. The
glass through which we look at him is of such
high magnifying power that the features are
exceedingly indistinct.

Hundreds of people are now engaged in



50 A LECTURE ON LINCOLN

smoothing out the lines of Lincoln's face —
forcing all features to the common mould —
so that he may be known, not as he really was,
but, according to their poor standard, as he
should have been.

Lincoln was not a type. He stands alone —
no ancestors, no fellows, and no successors.

He had the advantage of living in a new
country, of social equality, of personal free-
dom, of seeing in the horizon of his future the
perpetual star of hope. He preserved his in-
dividuality and his self-respect. He knew and
mingled with men of every kind; and, after
all, men are the best books. He became ac-
quainted with the ambitions and hopes of the
heart, the means used to accomplish ends, the
springs of action and the seeds of thought.
He was familiar with nature, with actual
things, with common facts. He loved and ap-
preciated the poem of the year, the drama
of the seasons.

In a new country a man must possess at
least three virtues — honesty, courage and gen-
erosity. In cultivated society, cultivation is
often more important than soil. A well-exe-
cuted counterfeit passes more readily than a
blurred genuine. It is necessary only to ob-
serve the unwritten laws of society — to be



A LECTURE ON LINCOLN 51

honest enough to keep out of prison, and
generous enough to subscribe in public —
where the subscription can be defended as an
investment.

In a new country character is essential;
in the old, reputation is sufficient. In the
new, they find what a man really is; in the
old, he generally passes for what he resembles.
People separated only by distance are much


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Online LibraryRobert Green IngersollA lecture on Lincoln → online text (page 2 of 3)