William H. (William Harrison) Lambert.

Abraham Lincoln; (Volume 2) online

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FEBRUARY 12, 19 9

Copied from original ambrotype, owned '>.'/ William //. Lambert, modi at
Springfield, Illinois, August 13, I860.

1809 — 1909



BY .

February 12, 1909

" Lincoln the Honest Man, Abolished Slavery,

Reestablished the Union, Saved the Republic,

Without Veiling the Statue of Liberty."

From inscription on Gold Medal
presented by Forty Thousand
Frenchmen to the widow of
Abraham Lincoln




12TH, 1909.

R. JAMES F. HOPE, President of The
Union League, introduced the speaker of
the evening, Major William H. Lambert,
in the following language :

Fellow Members: — I esteem it a great
privilege to stand in this presence, and present to you a
gentleman who needs no introduction to any gathering of
Union League members, nor, in fact, to any audience in
this city. He is a citizen of no mean city, — our own
goodly Philadelphia; a member not only of this Club,
but one who has sat in its councils and served it faithfully
and ably for several years as an officer.

And surely he deserves well of The Union League,
as in his early life he exemplified in his own person the
principles on which this League is founded, — love of
country and aid in preserving the Union of the United
States. Surely the man who offered himself for the
cause, the man who enlisted as a private in 1862, served
through the war with distinction and was mustered out
as a Major in July, 1865, receiving a medal of honor for
bravery on the field, should be and is an ideal member
of this Union League, deservedly held in high esteem by
his fellow members and is a bright example to the pres-
ent and future members of this institution.

We have one roll of honor in this Club — The Found-
ers. They have all passed into the Beyond, but their
work remains. What they did will be remembered while
The Union League lasts.

I feel we should have another roll of honor; one on
which should be inscribed the names of all those mem-
bers of the Club who, like our honored guest, served
their country at the time of its greatest need. If these
rolls should be cast in enduring brass or bronze and hung
upon the walls of the new building we are about to erect,
the walls could have no better decoration, and they would
be an object lesson to the membership and serve to stim-
ulate and to keep alive the principles on which The Union
League of Philadelphia was founded.

The shadows lengthen to the west in the lives of the
men who took an active part, and bore the brunt and
heat of the battle in those bitter days of terrible strife —
day by day their numbers lessen, and the time is not far
distant when the last of the veterans will have said
ADSUM to the last roll call. It would seem only fitting
then that we should have some such memorial — Lest we
forget. It is well to think of these things at times and
ponder them in our hearts, for as a man thinketh in his
heart so is he.

I am not one of those, however, who thinks that The
Union League lives altogether in the past. It cost more
of unselfish devotion, more of self-sacrifice to be a member
in the early days than it does now. Republicanism did not
walk in silver slippers, and Union League principles were
not particularly popular; but I believe we have a heritage,
and that there is an abundance of latent patriotic impulse
in this body that requires but the spark of necessity to


break into flame, and burn as bright and clear as in the
olden days; and that if the exigency arose and this coun-
try called for aid, this Union League would respond just
as promptly, just as patriotically as it did in the sixties;
and should there be a call to arms to protect our country
against foreign or domestic foes, hundreds of its mem-
bers and thousands of other young men in this community,
fired and inspired with the patriotic ardor of The Union
League, would respond as enthusiastically and as loyally
as they did in the early days, and they would come shout-
ing some such battle-cry as of old, " We are coming,
Father Abraham, 300,000 more."

And now, gentlemen, I have great pleasure in present-
ing to you the orator of the evening, the brave soldier, the
honored member of The Union League, the good citizen,
the amiable and capable gentleman, Major William H.
Lambert, who will address us on the subject of " Reminis-
cences of Abraham Lincoln."

Major William H. Lambert, delivered the following


MONG the many associations that are met
to commemorate the Centennial Anniver-
sary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln
there is none that can rejoice in the honor
done his name with greater fitness than The
Union League of Philadelphia.

The Union League owes its being to the earnest pur-
pose to uphold his hands; of it he was an Honorary Mem-
ber and in acknowledging his election as such he wrote
" the generous approval of a portion of my fellow citizens
so intelligent and patriotic as those comprising your asso-
ciation assures me that I have not wholly failed."

Among the founders of the League were men who had
early advocated his nomination for the Presidency, stren-
uously worked for his election and heartily approved his
administration, and when they united to form this organi-
zation they enrolled men of like sympathy and purpose,
and The Union League became the prototype of many
clubs emulous of its example. The League did not confine
itself to mere verbal expressions of approbation, valua-
ble and important as such evidences of sympathy and loy-
alty were, but it engaged actively and successfully in re-
cruiting for the army, and, participating vigorously in
the campaign for his renomination and re-election, was

powerfully effective in securing the triumph at the ballot
which ensured final victory in the field. Having stead-
fastly and energetically supported the great President, The
Union League of right joins the chorus of thanksgiving
and praise for the life, the character and the work of
Abraham Lincoln.

United with the thousands who to-day commemorate
the centenary of his birth, recalling all that we have heard
and read concerning him, especially the many incidents
of his life that for months preparatory to this day have
been narrated in our newspapers and magazines, remem-
bering how he shaped our history and enriched our lit-
erature, it is hard to realize how little known he was to
the country at large prior to the assembling of the con-
vention that nominated him for the Presidency.

He had served a single term in the National House of
Representatives, he had been an unsuccessful candidate
for the United States Senate in 1855, in the next year
his name had been presented to the first National Con-
vention of the Republican party as a candidate for the
Vice-Presidency; again placed in nomination by his party
for the Senate, he engaged with Stephen A. Douglas in
a political debate the most memorable in our history out-
side the halls of Congress, and as a result of this debate
he secured a majority of the popular vote of the State
for the Republican candidates for the Legislature, but as
the majority of the legislators chosen was for Douglas,
Lincoln was a second time defeated in his aspiration for
the Senate. The fame of the debate led a club of young
men in the city of New York to invite Mr. Lincoln to
lecture, and in compliance he made a remarkable address
at the Cooper Institute, in the presence of a large audi-


ence comprising some of the foremost members of the
Republican party; because of this address he was re-
quested to deliver a series of speeches in the New Eng-
land States. These speeches in New York and the East
attracted the attention of men influential in the councils
of the party, who, opposed to the more prominent candi-
dates for the Presidential nomination, were seeking a can-
didate who in their judgment would be more likely to be

Consideration of Lincoln's availability, the importunity
of the Republican candidates for Governor in Pennsyl-
vania and Indiana, both " October States " and suppos-
edly doubtful, local antagonism to Seward and to Chase,
and the intense earnestness of Lincoln's friends in Illinois
and adjacent States co-operated to secure for him the nom-

Seemingly Lincoln had made so little impression upon
the people at large, that conservatives who deprecated
the radical phrase of the " Irrepressible Conflict " and
feared its effect upon voters had apparently forgotten, if
indeed they had known, that months before Seward had
pronounced these objectionable words, Lincoln had de-
clared "A house divided against itself cannot stand; I
believe this government cannot endure permanently half
slave and half free."

Despite efforts that have been made to controvert the
statement, the truth is that for the moment the supreme
fact of the Chicago Convention of i860 " was the defeat
of Seward rather than the nomination of Lincoln. It
was the triumph of a presumption of availability over
pre-eminence in intellect and unrivalled fame."

Elected to the Presidency by a minority of the popular


vote, his election followed by the threatened withdrawal
of several States, the successful candidate might well be
awed by the stupendous responsibility that awaited him.
The months of suspense between his election and his in-
auguration were fraught with intense anxiety. In the
hope of averting the threatened calamity many public
meetings urged compromise and favored liberal conces-
sions. Reaction appeared to be setting in and many who
had helped to elect him seemed to regret their success;
but whoever else was shaken, Lincoln was not, and to his
intimate friends gave assurance of his firm adherence to
the principles that had triumphed in his election.

In letters to Senator Trumbull Lincoln wrote, " Let
there be no compromise on the question of extending slav-
ery — if there be all our labor is lost, and ere long must
be done again. * * * Stand firm. The tug has to
come and better now than any time hereafter."

" If any of our friends do prove false, and fix up a com-
promise on the territorial question, I am for fighting
again, that is all." " If it prove true (report that the
forts in South Carolina will be surrendered by the consent
of President Buchanan), I will, if our friends at Wash-
ington concur, announce publicly at once that they are to
be retaken after the inauguration. This will give the
Union men a rallying cry and preparations will proceed
somewhat on this side as well as on the other." *

Meanwhile he steadily refrained from public utterance
until he set forth from the home to which he w T as never
to return alive. His touching farewell to his Spring-
field neighbors and the series of addresses in reply to
greetings from the several communities through which he

* These passages were read from the original autograph letters.


passed on his journey to the National Capital plainly
showed that he appreciated the weight of the burden he
was about to assume and so far encouraged the party that
had elected him, but gave little evidence of special fit-
ness for the work. In the light of after events, the asser-
tion which he made in Independence Hall, that rather
than surrender the principles which had been declared
there he would be assassinated on the spot, is pre-eminent
as an indication of the source and the courage of his po-
litical convictions, while the fact that at the time of its ut-
terance, he had been warned of a conspiracy to kill him,
removes from these words any suspicion that they were
spoken for rhetorical effect, and invests them with the
solemnity of prophecy. The inaugural address of the new
President was awaited with painful solicitude. Appre-
hension that, in the hope of averting disaster, he might
yield somewhat of the principles upon which he had been
elected; fear that, in retaliation for threats of disunion,
he might determine upon desperate assault on the rights
of the revolted and threatening States; mistrust that he
might prove unequal to the Nation's supreme exigency,
combined to intensify anxiety.

The address failed to satisfy extremists either North
or South, but the great body of loyal people were de-
lighted with the manifest determination of the President
to preserve, protect and defend the government he had
sworn to uphold. But his solemn assurances that he
would in no wise endanger the property, peace and secur-
ity of any section of the country; that it was his purpose
to administer the government as it had come to him, and
to transmit it unimpaired by any act of his to his succes-
sor; and his appeal to the memories of the past, and to


the common interests of the present, were alike powerless
to recall the revolted States to their allegiance or to re-
strain the action of other States, bent on following their

Anticipating the inauguration of President Lincoln, the
Southern Confederacy had been proclaimed, and its troops
were arrayed against the authority of the United States,
while the absence of efforts of repression seemed to indi-
cate that the dissolution of the Union, so arrogantly de-
clared by the States in rebellion, was to be accomplished.

For weeks succeeding his inauguration, the President
awaited the progress of events, — the policy of laissez-
faire seemed to have been adopted. Some tentative ef-
forts were made to relieve the beleaguered forts within the
limits of the insurgent territory, but apparently the Na-
tion was drifting to death.

But the shot on Sumter wrought instant and wondrous
change. However uncertain Abraham Lincoln may have
been as to the method of maintaining the Union, his pur-
pose to maintain it had been positively declared; and from
the moment the flag was fired upon the method was no
longer in doubt. The call of April 15, 1861, was the an-
swer to the challenge of Charleston Harbor. We know
now that the number of men called forth was utterly
inadequate to the work to be done, but the value of the
call was less in the number of men it evoked than in the as-
sertion that armed rebellion was to be confronted, and the
power of the Nation was to be put forth for its own
preservation, and the enforcement of the laws.

Previous to his entrance upon the Presidency, Mr. Lin-
coln had had no part in the administration of great af-
fairs; he was destitute of experience in statecraft and he


had no precedent either in our own history or in that of
other lands to guide him. He had called to his Cabinet
the chief of the leaders of the Republican party, men
whose great experience in public affairs and whose ad-
mitted ability and acquirements justified their selection
and might well indeed have induced him to submit to their
direction, But he realized that as President he could not,
even if he would, transfer the obligation of his office.
Whatever doubts may have existed in the minds of his ad-
visers as to his purpose and fitness to accept the responsi-
bilities of his office were soon dispelled and it is evident
that the President dominated his administration from the
beginning when in reply to the Secretary of State, who
had advised a radical and startling change in the govern-
mental policy and had expressed his willingness to un-
dertake its direction, Lincoln declared, "If this must be
done, I must do it;" to the close when he notified the
Lieutenant General " you are not to decide, discuss or
confer upon any political questions. Such questions the
President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to
no military conferences or conventions."

In this connection and as confirmatory of the Presi-
dent's control of affairs, the recently published letter of
his private secretary, John Hay, is particularly interest-
ing as showing the impression made upon a qualified ob-
server, and recorded at the time. Writing at Washing-
ton under date August 7, 1863, to his fellow secretary,
Nicolay, Hay said: "The Tycoon is in fine whack. I
have rarely seen him more serene and busy. He is man-
aging this war, the draft, foreign relations and planning
a reconstruction of the Union all at once. I never knew
with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet until


now. The most important things he decided and there
is no cavil."

The outbreak of hostilities presented to President Lin-
coln an opportunity not of his seeking, but of which he
might well avail himself. However specious the plea of
State rights, however disguised the chief motive which
prompted the secession of the revolting States, he knew,
as the people knew, that slavery was the real cause of the
Rebellion. He had long foreseen that the country could
not permanently endure partially slave, partially free; he
knew that slavery had been the basis of the controversies
and dangers of the past. If tradition may be believed, in
his early manhood he had declared that if ever he should
have a chance, he would hit slavery hard, and now the
chance had come. In 1837, with one other member of
the Illinois Legislature, he had placed himself on record
declaring his belief " that the institution of slavery is
founded on both injustice and bad policy " and protest-
ing against the passage of resolutions favoring it. Slav-
ery was attempting the destruction of the Republic, and,
by its own appeal to arms, was offering an opportunity for
a counter-blow, which might forever destroy an institution
whose malign influence had long controlled national af-
fairs, and endangered the perpetuity of the Nation. He
was President and Commander-in-chief; in the party that
had elected him were many thousands anxious for the
proclamation of freedom to the slave and insistent upon
its issue. He had been the nominee of a party, but he
was now the President of the United States, and neither
hope of partisan gain nor personal gratification could
swerve him from what he conceived to be the obligation
of his oath. His conception of his duty was forcibly ex-


pressed in his letter to Horace Greeley, probably the most
important of the many notable letters written by the Pres-
ident. Replying to the Editor's article accusing him of
failure to meet the rightful expectations of 20,000,000
of the loyal people, Mr. Lincoln wrote from Washington
under date of August 22, 1862 :

" I have just read yours of the 19th, addressed to my-
self through the 'New York Tribune.' If there be in it
any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know
to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them.
If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to
be falsely drawn, I do not, now and here, argue against
them. If there be perceptible in it an impatient and dic-
tatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend,
whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

" As to the policy I ' seem to be pursuing,' as you say,
I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. I would
save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under
the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can
be restored, the nearer the Union will be ' the Union as
it was.' If there be those who would not save the Union
unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do
not agree with them. If there be those who would not
save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy
slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount
object in this struggle is to save the Union, and
is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I
could save the Union without freeing any slave, I
would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all
the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by
freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do
that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I


do because I believe it helps to save the Union ; and what
I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help
to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall be-
lieve what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more
whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.
I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors, and
I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be
true views.

" I have here stated my purpose according to my view
of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-
expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could
be free."

Twenty months later in a letter to a citizen of Ken-
tucky, in answer to his request for a statement of what had
been said to the Governor of that State, the President
wrote: " I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not
wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I
did not so think and feel, and yet I have never understood
that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted
right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It
was in the oath I took that I would to the best of
my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution
of the United States. I could not take the office without
taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take
an oath to get power, and break the oath in using
the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil ad-
ministration this oath even forbade me to practically in-
dulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral ques-
tion of slavery. * * * And I aver that, to this day,
I have done no official act in mere deference to my ab-
stract judgment and feeling on slavery."

With clear view, and steadfast purpose, President Lin-


coin devoted his life to the preservation of the Union.
To accomplish this end, in the spirit of the great Apostle
to the Gentiles he made himself servant unto all that he
might gain the more. Subordinating self, personal preju-
dices and partisan feelings were not allowed to obtrude
between him and his conception of the country's need.
Ability to serve the cause was the essential qualification
for high office and honor, and outweighing other consid-
erations, atoned for past or present personal objection.

Early in 1862 he appointed as chief of the War De-
partment a man of boundless zeal and energy, who had
treated Mr. Lincoln with marked discourtesy, had de-
nounced his conduct of the war, and had freely expressed
dislike for him and doubt of his fitness, an appointment
as sagacious and fortunate as it was magnanimous; and
he retained in his Cabinet the Secretary of the Treasury,
whose own aspirations for the Presidential nomination
were well known to Mr. Lincoln, who wrote: " Whether
you shall remain at the head of the Treasury Depart-
ment is a question which I will not allow myself to con-
sider from any standpoint other than my judgment of the
public service, and, in that view, I do not perceive occa-
sion for a change."

The War of 186 1-5 was no mere factional contest. It
was a people's war, begun by a people jealous of its insti-
tutions, fearful of the wane of the power it had long
wielded, distrustful of the new administration's assur-
ances of non-intervention with the rights of States, and
conscious that the limitation of slavery to the territory
that it now occupied must eventually effect its extinction.
The war was accepted by a people innocent of purpose
to interfere with the " domestic institution " within State


lines, and far from united in opinion about slavery, and
though substantially opposed to its extension over the coun-
try's free domain, not agreed as to the best method of
legislative treatment; but one absolutely in love for the
Union and determination to maintain it. " One would
make war rather than let the Nation survive, and the
other would accept war rather than let it perish. And
the war came."

Only the enlistment of the people on each of the con-
tending sides could have sustained so long a war of such
magnitude, and offered such heroic devotion as distin-
guished it. The President realized that his ability to
make effective his oath to preserve the Government was
dependent upon the firm and continued support of the
loyal people, that he could lead them no faster and no
further than they would follow, and that it was abso-
lutely necessary to retain their confidence. His faith in
the principles of the Declaration of Independence, his
conviction that the people were the rightful source of all


Online LibraryWilliam H. (William Harrison) LambertAbraham Lincoln; (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 2)