William G. (William Gardiner) Hammond.

Abraham Lincoln : a eulogy delivered at Anamosa, Iowa, on the day of the state fast, April 27, 1865 online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryWilliam G. (William Gardiner) HammondAbraham Lincoln : a eulogy delivered at Anamosa, Iowa, on the day of the state fast, April 27, 1865 → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook






< < » » >











1 .::

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

The Institute of Museum and Library Services through an Indiana State Library LSTA Grant


No wish is more frequent, or more natural, to those who live
in periods of great excitement, than that they might be placed,
if only for an hour, far down the stream of futurity, and thus
enabled to view the events and the men around them with the
clear and impartial eye of history. The change would be like
rising from amid the smoke and roar of a fierce battle, where
all is tumult, confusion and hurry, and where the keenest eye
and the coolest brain can know nothing but the incidents of
its own special locality, to some lofty post of observation, in
whose serene atmosphere we can take in at a glance the whole
field of conflict, perceive the purpose and the result of every
movement, and clearly discern who and where are the master-
minds, the ruling spirits of the strife. But in the field of war
and the field of history, such achievements are equally diffi-
cult. No man, it has often been said, ever saw a whole battle.
It may be doubted whether any was ever sagacious enough to
read the events and the men of his own time, among all the
mists of prejudice, the cannon-roar of party strife, the shock
of conflicting ideas and passions, so truly and impartially as
after generations will.

If we examine the contemporary literature of any marked
period in human history, we are amazed to see how completely
time has often reversed the verdict of the passing hour. Men
who were looked on by their fellows as the marvels of their
age, as the pivots upon which the history of the time turned,
have sunk so utterly from view, that their very names have no
longer force enough to point an illustration ; while, on the
other hand, men whom their own contemporaries hardly

knew, or who, at best, were regarded merely as the useful
tools of the throned and titled great, emerge from their ob-
scurity, and are recognized as the true guides and leaders of
the race. Could we^ at this moment, lay aside the moment's
prejudices and errors, and look back on the four eventful years
just closed with the clear incisive gaze of posterity, we might
start with amaze to see how wrong had been our judgment,
how grossly exaggerated or understated our opinion of the
various scenes and actors we have beheld in this grandest of
historic dramas. ' .! . .... r • :J; / . ;:1

We have indeed seen the reputations of generals and states-
men made and unmade with wonderful haste, and can already
pass an almost historic judgment upon events that would seem
of yesterday, it it were not for the rapidity with which newer
and still newer scenes have passed over the stage in these iiftj
crowded months. But the wisest of us yet are but children
learning the alphabet, in our comprehension of the full mean-
ing and importance of the history we have ourselves been
helping to make. Here and there, perhaps, we may trace a
dim outline of some figure in that vast picture which History
hereafter will paint, in her boldest lines and brightest colors,
of the war for the Union. But how faintly and imperfectly
these figures yet are seen, we may well realize when we re-
flect that it is only within a few, very few, months past, that
his own partisans, his most ready admirers, have begun to ap-
preciate, in all its commanding proportions, the central figure
of the whole group, the large brain and large heart of
Abraham Lincoln. Not half comprehended in his full merit
by the very party that, with a wisdom greater than they them-
selves knew, placed him in the chair of state : trusted only as
an honest, good-natured, well-meaning countryman, by its
active leaders, who saw nothing in him of that plausible man-
ner and selfish shrewdness which form the demagogue's ideal
of successful statesmanship : doubted, carped at, ridiculed by
unscrupulous opponents : patiently weathering storm after
storm of popular impatience, and bearing on his own broad,

unfaltering shoulders the sins of unfaithful or incapable subor-
diates : reckoning his own fame or popularity of no'account, so
he could but manfully labor at the task imposed upon him ;
the President went through the greater part ot his first term,
and even passed the ordeal of a canvas for re-election, without
recognition or gratitude for the vast intellectual ability he dis-
played. Had he depended for that re-election, last year, upon
popular repute as a great man, I doubt whether he would have
Bucceeded. The mass of his fellow-citizens who voted for him
did not do it because they thought him one. It^was because he
was the representative of a great cause, and because there was
something in his plain downright honesty that won men's confi-
dence, that he became the first re-elected President since An-
drew Jackson. Had he been taken from us six months earlier,
the American people might have blushed till their latest day,
to think that the greatest raaa of this century had lived and
died among them, unrecognized and unthanked. The marked,
though tardy, change of public opinion since last summer, has
spared us this reproach. None but those whose malignity no
goodness can disarm, or those whose narrow eyes and minds
no real greatness can penetrate, now fail to recognize the la-
mented President as both a good and a great man, whose
equal is not left us. And if there be one thing in which it is
possible for us to foresee the judgment of posterity, such will
be the rank assigned him, so long as History shall tell the tale
of the Second War of American Independence.

There will, indeed, always be a set of small, sharp critics, to
say : Mr. Lincoln was not a hero of this pattern, or of that :
Mr. Lincoln had no military genius, and would have failed
utterly, had he led an army into the field : Mr. Lincoln was
no orator, and could not move men's hearts by the mere magic
of his voice : Mr. Lincoln was sadly ignorant of literature and
the fine arts : Mr. Lincoln was very deficient in those social
graces which charmed the country in some of his predecessors.
He was a good, but not an extraordinary lawyer. He served a
term in the lower House of Congress, without making an es-


pecially brilliant mark there. He has left behind him no
books that will be the delight and the study of future genera-
tions. ; , -.uiiin? ^' . ■ '

All this is true : Mr, Lincoln was not a great lawyer, a
great author, a great orator, or a great general : he was simply
a great man. He excelled in no one of the arts by which men
in ordinary times rise to distinction, and fix on themselves the
eyes of the world. It is not for his admirable manner of do-
ing anything, that he will be remembered. It is for the mat-
ter, and the weight of his deeds : for the exercise of that grand
controlling and directing power, which moulds the destinies of
a nation, and to which oratory, military skill, intellectual cul-
ture, are but tools to work with on occasion. Among the de-
fenders of the nation, he held that place which the judgment
holds among the faculties of man, guiding, moving, or restrain-
ing, the tongue, the arm, and all beside, according to the needs
of the hour, and producing, out of what would otherwise be
fitful and aimless vagaries, a steady and permanent progress
toward the desired end. He had that measured, governed
strength, which is neither exerted for the mere pleasure of dis-
play, nor found lacking in the time of need : never anticipating
or dragging forward an occasion for its exercise, but always
ready to obey the call of duty : nevei sweeping forward, in
the exulting consciousness of its own might, with the impetu-
ous force, and too often with the destrnctiveness of an inunda-
tion, but rising at its appointed hour, to fill its due place,
silently and without effort, but as irresistible as the tides of the
ocean. Such a nature could not be appreciated, until men had
learned, by long and patient watching, how sure he was to
rise to the level of the occasion ; how safe, never to pass be-
yond it. Minds of this class are not the first to impress the
careless observer. Their elevation is like that of the gigantic
table lands in the heart of a continent. The traveler rises by
such easy degrees, and he finds at the highest point such a
vast sweep of apparent plain, that it is only after long and
careful observation he can be convinced that he is farther above

the common sea-level of humanity, in a higher and ptirer at-
mosphere, and nearer the heavens, than if he had clambered
to the very summit of some isolated but relatively insignificant
hill, whose precipitous sides and jagged peaks are the wonder
and admiration of passers-by.

The utter absence of pretence and aiFectation in the Presi-
dent's character, diminished his reputation with the large class
who expect to see a great man always in statuesque attitude;
while it will be one of the features which, in future ages, will
command alike the respect and the love of the world. There
is, indeed, something peculiarly winning in the noble simplicity
and directness with which this man went about his work. He
was never unconscious of the magnitude of the task before
him, and he never pretended to be so. We may be sure that
no man felt more fully than he the length of the single step
he made, from the obscure life of a country lawyer, in a small
"Western town, to the chief seat of a great nation, in the day
of its greatest struggle. He knew, as well as any man, that
upon his conduct would depend, in great measure, the result of
the most critical conflict through which Free Institutions had
ever passed. He could not but know, also, that in that crisis
was involved for himself the issue of as lofty fame, or as deep
disgrace, as has ever yet been linked with the name of any in-
habitant of this New World. But among all the trials and
anxieties through which, as through clouds and thick darkness,
his path led, there is one, at least, of which we find no trace.
What figure Abraham Lincoln was making in the world, what
his contemporaries said, or posterity might say, of him as an
individual, he took no thought. We know, from his own lips,
that he never read the comments of friend or foe on his own
character. He had graver work to do than to look after the
interests of any one man, though that man were himself. In
the rare instances when some misapprehension led him to ex-
plain, it was the President, not himself, whose acts required to
be rightly judged. Of all he has said or written in these four
years, I find just one line, — one simple, beautiful line, — given

to a thought of his own reputation. In the short letter which
corrected a mistake of the North American Review as to his
poh'cj, referring, as he was obliged to do, to the tribute of high
admiration paid him in that article, he says : " I fear I am
not quite worthy of all which is therein kindly said of me,
personally." The subject is not dwelt on. No exaggeration
of modesty, no labored effort of self-depreciation. A single
passing word ; but a word that speaks volumes for the true
modesty, the quiet, unaffected humility and dignity combined,
of a spirit too pure and too lofty for morbid self-consciousness.
On the other hand, no ruler ever was so frank and out-
spoken in vindicating his subordinates from unjust reproach,
even when it became necessary to take upon himself a part of
the disgrace into which they had fallen. When the Secretary
of War was made a scape-goat for the sins of the people, and
Congress had censured him in a severe resolution, the Presi-
dent steps forward at once to tell them that he himself " was
at least equally responsible with him for whatever error, wrong,
or fault was committed in the premises." Perhaps the most
characteristic speech he ever made, was the one in which he
defended that Secretary's successor.

" I am very little inclined on any occasion to eay anything, unless I hope
to produce some good by it. The only thing 1 think of just now, not likely
to be better said by some one else, is a matter in which we have heard some
other persons blamed for what 1 did myself. There has been a very wide-
spread attempt to have a quarrel between Gen. McClellan and the Secretary of
War. Now I occupy a position that enables me to observe, that these two
gentlemen are not nearly so deep in the quarrel as some pretending to be
their friends. General McClellan's attitude is such that in the very selfishness
of his nature, he cannot but wish to be successful, and I hope he will, — and
the Secretary of War is in precisely the same situation. If the military com-
manders in the field cannot be successful, not only the Secretary of War, but
myself, for the time being the master of them both, cannot but be failures.
* * * * General McClellan has sometimes asked for things that
the Secretary of War did not give him. General McClellan is not to blame
for asking for what he wanted and needed, and the Secretary of War is not
to blame for not giving when he bad none to give. And I say here, as far as
I know, the Secretary of War has withheld no one thing at any time in my
power to give him. I have no accusation against him. I believe he is a
brave and able man, and I stand here, as justice requires me to do, to take
upon myself what has been charged on the Secretary of War as withholding
from him."

I have quoted this speech at some length, because it is not
a bad illustration of the President's succinct, homely.^ JStraigJit-,,

forward style. Mr. Lincoln has been reproached' with his lack
of literary cultivation and polish. The style of his letters and
messages does not show any familiarity with classical models,
or treatises on Rhetoric ; but in the literatm-e of the nineteenth
century, there are few authors who can be favorably compared
with him for precision, clearness and point in saying exactly
what he means, nothing more, and nothing less. It is the
complete antithesis of that sonorous mass of verbiage which
has come to be regarded as the true official and diplomatic
style. If I knew nothing else of Mr. Lincoln, it would prove
to me that he was no ordinary man : not even a man of talent,
in the common acceptation of the term : but a man of self-
sustained, original genius. There is something characteristic
even in the quaint, involved, knotty sentences that have been
picked out, here and there, as marks for critical pop-guns. At
such times he seems to be thinking aloud, and places before
you, with rare honesty, the native, unsophisticated thought, as
it first struggled into shape in his own mind, out of a labyrinth
of perplexities. Our only wonder must be, that amid the in-
cessant toils and distractions of his office, these are not more
frequent than they are. When the subject admits of clearness,
the terse, emphatic sentences strike home like the blows of a
battle-axe. As an antidote to that love of tine writing and
fine talking which is the besetting sin of Young America, I
know nothing in our yiolitical literature at all comparable to the
little — alas! too little, that he has left us. ' •■' •■' ■ ' >'=' -' ■•' •-■'.■
The lack of all bombast and conventionality in his style, har-
monized with the simple and unpretending course of his offi-
cial life. Among his thousands and thousands of subordinates,
no man, perhaps, was so little elated by his rank, or assumed
so little factitious importance, as the President of the United
States, the commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy. , The
hearty, off-hand, familiar manner in which he met his fellow-
citizens, was a constant theme of criticism with those who had
been trained under a system of official life modeled from the
manners of plantation lords, and the social traditions of the first


families of Virginia. He never forgot, probably never tried to
forget, the liabics of his Western village, or the stories he had
heard and told while riding a Western circuit. The truth was,
he was too completely absorbed in his gigantic task, for any
effort at social distinction, had his tastes led him that way.
His disregard of ofiicial etiquette has sometimes been attribu-
ted to his lack of early advantages. The experience of the
world teaches a different lesson, in regard to the comparative
estimate put upon outward splendor by those who have, and
those who have not, been accustomed to it from childhood, at
least in the case of ordinary natures. Not because he had won
his way bravely, under all disadvantages of birth and educa-
tion, to the highest place in the gift of the American people,
but because his nature was too pure, too noble, too manly, to
be corrupted by the ordinary temptations of such a rise, was
Abraham Lincoln so truly the People's President, — so frank,
so affable, so void of petty vanity. And this character was its
own protection. There are men to whom a certain amount of
ofiicial dignity is absolutely necessary, as their only safeguard
against personal contempt. But this was a want the President
never knew. The nearer men came to him, the more they
respected him. It was when they were least conscious of the
rank of the President, that they were most attracted by the
frank and open heart of the man.

This frankness, indeed, was something more than manner, —
more even than a moral trait; it was an element, and no small
one, of his intellectual greatness. In this he seems to stand
alone and unrivaled among men famous in history. We look
amongj them in vain for one who avowed so freely all his
wishes, hopes, fears, likes, and dislikes. It was not a mere
absence of dishonest concealment. Other statesmen have been
upright and truthful. But he alone took the people into his
confidence, and, with a noble daring, made them sharers in
his very doubts and perplexities. He did not affect, even by
silence, more wisdom or more forethought than he possessed.
If hie policy was ,, et unformed, his mind in doubt, his vision


limited, he said so. There was no attempt to maintain a mys-
terious reserve, or to bint that he was governing events by a
deep-laid scheme. The declaration he repeated most frequent-
ly was, that ho waited for events to control his course, and that
he refused to commit himself beforehand to any unchangeable

To politicians of the old school, trained in the affectation of
omniscient political sagacity, this was foolishness and a stum-
bling-block together. They had been accustomed to leaders
who would sooner have confessed a lack of honesty tlian of
prescience, and whose manners the poet has described with
almost prophetic ken :

" There are a set of men whose vi,<ages
Do cream and mantle like a standing pond,
And do a wilful stillness entertain,
"With purpose to be dressed in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit ;
As who should say: ^ I am Sir Orach,
And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark.'"'

No wonder that these men and their followers, in both par-
ties, were horror-struck at such a departure from established
usages ! No wonder that they could not recognize the sub-
stantial wisdom of the President's course, when he laid aside
all the outward forms in which political wisdom had been im-
memorially clothed. He said plainly that his ujind was not
yet made up on certain points. They groaned in spirit at the
idea of a politician whose mind was not made up on all points,
at all times, and under all circumstances. Sometimes he
changed his mind : and instead of setting himself to prove,
according to established precedent, that he had not changed at
all, but that the whole universe had faced about, and left him
standing consistently, he said simply: "I am wiser to-day
than I was yesterday." No wonder that they charged him
with weakness and vacillation. Sometimes he said : " I think
the road we are travelling leads to such or such a point ; but
we are not arrived there yet." No wonder that the enthusi-
astic friends of progress, who are never content with travellings


the safe highway, but wonld always reach their object by a
succession of leaps, complained that the President was "dilatory
and irresolute: that it was a sign of weakness to know which
way the road you were travelling led, unless you were ready
to jump at once to the end of it.

Thus by his transparency of heart, and freedom of utter-
ance, he lost the support of some friends, and gave handle of
reproach to many enemies. Had a weak man done the same,
his ruin would have been irretrievable. There seemed to be
times when he had alienated, by this frankness, nearly all
those practised and energetic politicians, without whom, it was
fancied, no administration could stand. But just when ene-
mies hoped, and friends feared, to see him tall, their eyes were
opened, and they saw that this very plain-speaking and simple
honesty had justly won from the mass of the Northern people
a reciprocation of the hearty confidence which the President
placed in tlicm: and that, let the politicians do as they
would, the strong arms of the people were under his chair.
They had learned to trust Abraham Lincoln as no man had
been trusted before, since the commencement of the nine-
teenth century.

It isneedless, now, to defend the author of the Emancipation
Proclamation against the attacks once so lavishly made upon
him by over-zealous radicals, for his slowness to adopt extreme
measures. But it may be worth while to remark, what I think
has escaped notice : how much the cause of Progress owes to
the President's well established reputation for caution and con-
servatism. It was because they felt confidence in his power
to hold back on occasion, that the great body of the people
felt so safe as they did in pushing forward upon the road of
radical reform. Had his place been occupied by a chief-mag-
istrate fully committed to extreme innovation, or from whose
character an eager and reckless precipitancy in reform might
be dreaded, the mass of sober thinkers who stand upon middle
ground, and who in almost all great questions hold the bal-
ance of power, would have been as careful to restrain as in


this case they were bold to urge forward. Thousands and tens
of thousands were emancipators under Lincoln, who would
have been conservatives under Fremont or Wendell Phillips.
They would trust the ship of state through the dangerous
channel, with a pilot so eminently cautious, when they would
have held firm to the old anchorage, had he shown a feverish
desire to make all sail. Mr. Lincoln knew well that the first
display of eagerness or impatience on his part, even in a cause
he had so eagerly at heart as the ultimate abolition of Slavery,
would be the signal for doubts and fears and suspicions innu-
merable among men who were yet undecided : and he wisely
held back till the popular mind had become thoroughly con-
vinced of the need, and had begun to press upon him with the
whole weight of public opinion. "When that time did come,
how willingly he took his place at their head, with what un-
flinching will and determination he kept it, is now matter of
history. The very slowness with which he took new ground,
ensured his inflexible firmness to maintain it once taken. He
made no move forward till he had looked over the whole field
and convinced himself that it was a safe one ; and consequently
there were no footsteps pointing backward in the path he trod.
It was slow, sometimes tiresome work, waiting for the Presi-
dent, in the language of the day, "to put his foot down." But
once down, there were not rebels enough in the Southern Con-
federacy, or traitors enough in the North, or devils enough in
hell, had they all linked their forces in one infamous trinity of
evil, to lift that heavy foot from off" the neck of the prostrate
and writhing monster.,..;; ju./.riiif' . >: r. ;j ,;;:.,';.,... :,;: ,; - tA
My allotted time runs short, and I have yet to mention
Abraham Lincoln's truest and best title to the rank of a great
man, — his fearless, unspotted, transparent honesty of purpose.


Online LibraryWilliam G. (William Gardiner) HammondAbraham Lincoln : a eulogy delivered at Anamosa, Iowa, on the day of the state fast, April 27, 1865 → online text (page 1 of 2)