The Hon. W. H. Herndon
, of Springfield, Illinois
, for more than twenty years the law-partner of Mr. Lincoln
, delivered an address in that city, December 12th, 1865, upon the life and character of the lamented President
, which, for masterly analysis, has scarcely an equal in the annals of biographical literature.
Quaint and original in style and construction, this description — an imperfect abstract of which I subjoin — is in singular harmony with the character it depicts.
To those who knew Mr. Lincoln
personally, so thorough a dissection of his nature and traits will need no indorsement; while to the multitude who knew him not, it may be commended as probably more complete and exhaustive in its treatment of the subject, than anything which has been given to the world.
Abraham Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky, February 12th, 1809.
He moved to Indiana in 1816; came to Illinois in March, 1830; to old Sangamon County in 1831, settling in New Salem, and from this last place to this city in April, 1837: coming as a rude, uncultivated boy, without polish or education, and having no friends.
He was about six feet four inches high, and when he left this city was fifty-one years old, having good health and no gray hairs, or but few on his head.
He was thin, wiry, sinewy, raw-boned; thin through the breast to the back, and narrow across the shoulders;
standing, he leaned forward — was what may be called stoop-shouldered, inclining to the consumptive by build.
His usual weight was one hundred and sixty pounds. His organization — rather his structure and functions — worked slowly.
His blood had to run a long distance from his heart to the extremities of his frame, and his nerve-force had to travel through dry ground a long distance before his muscles were obedient to his will.
His structure was loose and leathery; his body was shrunk and shrivelled, having dark skin, dark hair,--looking woe-struck.
The whole man, body and mind, worked slowly, creakingly, as if it needed oiling.
Physically, he was a very powerful man, lifting with ease four hundred or six hundred pounds. His mind was like his body, and worked slowly but strongly.
When he walked, he moved cautiously but, firmly, his long arms and hands on them, hanging like giant's hands, swung down by his side.
He walked with even tread, the inner sides of his feet being parallel.
He put the whole foot flat down on the ground at once, not landing on the heel; he likewise lifted his foot all at once, not rising from the toe, and hence he had no spring to his walk.
He had economy of fall and lift of foot, though he had no spring or apparent ease of motion in his tread.
He walked undulatory, up and down, catching and pocketing tire, weariness, and pain, all up and down his person, preventing them from locating.
The first opinion of a stranger, or a man who did not
observe closely, was that his walk implied shrewdness, cunning,--a tricky man; but his was the walk of caution and firmness.
In sitting down on a common chair he was no taller than ordinary men. His legs and arms were, abnormally, unnaturally long, and in undue proportion to the balance of his body.
It was only when he stood up that he loomed above other men.
Mr. Lincoln's head was long and tall from the base of the brain and from the eyebrows.
His head ran backwards, his forehead rising as it ran back at a low angle, like Clay's, and, unlike Webster's, almost perpendicular.
The size of his hat, measured at the hatter's block, was 7 1/8, his head being, from ear to ear, 6 1/2 inches, and from the front to the back of the brain 8 inches. Thus measured, it was not below the medium size.
His forehead was narrow but high; his hair was dark, almost black, and lay floating where his fingers or the winds left it, piled up at random.
His cheek-bones were high, sharp, and prominent; his eyebrows heavy and prominent; his jaws were long, upcurved, and heavy; his nose was large, long, and blunt, a little awry towards the right eye; his chin was long, sharp, and upcurved; his eyebrows cropped out like a huge rock on the brow of a hill; his face was long, sallow, and cadaverous, shrunk, shrivelled, wrinkled, and dry, having here and there a hair on the surface; his cheeks were leathery; his ears were large, and ran out almost at right angles
from his head, caused partly by heavy hats and partly by nature; his lower lip was thick, hanging, and undercurved, while his chin reached for the lip upcurved; his neck was neat and trim, his head being well balanced on it; there was the lone mole on the right cheek, and Adam's apple on his throat.
Thus stood, walked, acted, and looked Abraham Lincoln.
He was not a pretty man by any means, nor was he an ugly one; he was a homely man, careless of his looks, plain-looking and plain-acting.
He had no pomp, display, or dignity, so-called.
He appeared simple in his carriage and bearing.
He was a sad-looking man; his melancholy dripped from him as he walked.
His apparent gloom impressed his friends, and created a sympathy for him, -one means of his great success.
He was gloomy, abstracted, and joyous,--rather humorous,--by turns.
I do not think he knew what real joy was for many years.
Mr. Lincoln sometimes walked our streets cheerily,--good-humoredly, perhaps joyously,and then it was, on meeting a friend, he cried “How d'y?”
clasping one of his friend's hands in both of his, giving a good hearty soul-welcome.
Of a winter's morning, he might be seen stalking and stilting it towards the market-house, basket on arm, his old gray shawl wrapped around his neck, his little Willie or Tad running along at his heels, asking a thousand little quick questions, which his father heard not, not even then knowing that little Willie
or Tad was there, so abstracted was he. When he thus met a friend, he said that something put him in mind of a story which he heard in Indiana or elsewhere, and tell it he would, and there was no alternative but to listen.
Thus, I say, stood and walked and looked this singular man. He was odd, but when that gray eye and face and every feature were lit up by the inward soul in fires of emotion, then it was that all these apparently ugly features sprang into organs of beauty, or sunk themselves into a sea of inspiration that sometimes flooded his face.
Sometimes it appeared to me that Lincoln's soul was just fresh from the presence of its Creator.
I have asked the friends and foes of Mr. Lincoln alike, what they thought of his perceptions.
One gentleman of undoubted ability and free from all partiality or prejudice, said, “Mr. Lincoln's perceptions are slow, a little perverted, if not somewhat distorted and diseased.”
If the meaning of this is that Mr. Lincoln saw things from a peculiar angle of his being, and from this was susceptible to Nature's impulses, and that he so expressed himself, then I have no objection to what is said.
Otherwise, I dissent.
Mr. Lincoln's perceptions were slow, cold, precise, and exact.
Everything came to him in its precise shape and color.
To some men the world of matter and of man comes ornamented with beauty, life, and action, and hence more or less
false and inexact.
No lurking illusion or other error, false in itself, and clad for the moment in robes of splendor, ever passed undetected or unchallenged over the threshold of his mind,--that point that divides vision from the realm and home of thought.
Names to him were nothing, and titles naught,--assumption always standing back abashed at his cold, intellectual glare.
Neither his perceptions nor intellectual vision were perverted, distorted, or diseased.
He saw all things through a perfect mental lens.
There was no diffraction or refraction there.
He was not impulsive, fanciful, or imaginative, but cold, calm, precise, and exact.
He threw his whole mental light around the object, and in time, substance, and quality stood apart; form and color took their appropriate places, and all was clear and exact in his mind.
His fault, if any, was that he saw things less than they really were; less beautiful and more frigid.
In his mental view he crushed the unreal, the inexact, the hollow, and the sham.
He saw things in rigidity rather than in vital action.
Here was his fault.
He saw what no man could dispute; but he failed to see what might have been seen.
To some minds the world is all life, a soul beneath the material; but to Mr. Lincoln no life was individual or universal that did not manifest itself to him. His mind was his standard.
His perceptions were cool, persistent, pitiless in pursuit of the truth.
No error went undetected, and no falsehood unexposed, if he once was aroused in search
If his perceptions were perverted, distorted, and diseased, would to Heaven that more minds were so.
The true peculiarity of Mr. Lincoln has not been seen by his various biographers; or, if seen, they have failed wofully to give it that prominence which it deserves.
It is said that Newton saw an apple fall to the ground from a tree, and beheld the law of the universe in that fall; Shakspeare saw human nature in the laugh of a man; Professor Owen saw the animal in its claw; and Spencer saw the evolution of the universe in the growth of a seed.
Nature was suggestive to all these men. Mr. Lincoln no less saw philosophy in a story, and a schoolmaster in a joke.
No man, no men, saw nature, fact, thing, or man from his stand-point.
His was a new and original position, which was always suggesting, hinting something to him. Nature, insinuations, hints, and suggestions were new, fresh, original, and odd to him. The world, fact, man, principle, all had their powers of suggestion to his susceptible soul.
They continually put him in mind of something.
He was odd, fresh, new, original, and peculiar for this reason, that he was a new, odd, and original creation and fact.
He had keen susceptibilities to the hints and suggestions of nature, which always put him in mind of something known or unknown.
Hence his power and tenacity of what is called association of ideas must have been great.
His memory was tenacious and strong.
His susceptibility to all suggestions and hints enabled him at will to call up readily the associated and classified fact and idea.
As an evidence of this, especially peculiar to Mr. Lincoln, let me ask one question.
Were Mr. Lincoln's expression and language odd and original, standing out peculiar from those of all other men?
What does this imply?
Oddity and originality of vision as well as expression; and what is expression in words and human language, but a telling of what we see, defining the idea arising from and created by vision and view in us. Words and language are but the counterparts of the idea,--the other half of the idea; they are but the stinging, hot, heavy, leaden bullets that drop from the mould; and what are they in a rifle with powder stuffed behind them and fire applied, but an embodied force pursuing their object.
So are words an embodied power feeling for comprehension in other minds.
Mr. Lincoln was often perplexed to give expression to his ideas: first, because he was not master of the English language; and, secondly, because there were no words in it containing the coloring, shape, exactness, power, and gravity of his ideas.
He was frequently at a loss for a word, and hence was compelled to resort to stories, maxims, and jokes to embody his idea, that it might be comprehended.
So true was this peculiar mental vision of his, that though mankind has been gathering, arranging, and
classifying facts for thousands of years, Lincoln's peculiar stand-point could give him no advantage of other men's labor.
Hence he tore up to the deep foundations all arrangements of facts, and coined and arranged new plans to govern himself.
He was compelled, from his peculiar mental organization, to do this.
His labor was great, continuous, patient, and all-enduring.
The truth about this whole matter is that Mr. Lincoln read less and thought more than any man in his sphere in America.
No man can put his finger on any great book written in the last or present century that he read.
When young he read the Bible, and when of age he read Shakspeare.
This latter book was scarcely ever out of his mind.
Mr. Lincoln is acknowledged to have been a great man, but the question is what made him great.
I repeat, that he read less and thought more than any man of his standing in America, if not in the world.
He possessed originality and power of thought in an eminent degree.
He was cautious, cool, concentrated, with continuity of reflection; was patient and enduring.
These are some of the grounds of his wonderful success.
Not only was nature, man, fact, and principle suggestive to Mr. Lincoln, not only had he accurate and exact perceptions, but he was causative, i.e., his mind ran back behind all facts, things, and principles to their origin, history, and first cause,--to that point where forces act at once as effect and
He would stop and stand in the street and analyze a machine.
He would whittle things to a point, and then count the numberless inclined planes, and their pitch, making the point.
Mastering and defining this, he would then cut that point back, and get a broad transverse section of his pine stick, and peel and define that.
Clocks, omnibuses, and language, paddle-wheels, and idioms, never escaped his observation and analysis.
Before he could form any idea of anything, before he would express his opinion on any subject, he must know it in origin and history, in substance and quality, in magnitude and gravity.
He must know his subject inside and outside, upside and downside.
He searched his own mind and nature thoroughly, as I have often heard him say. He must analyze a sensation, an idea, and words, and run them back to their origin, history, purpose, and destiny.
He was most emphatically a remorseless analyzer of facts, things, and principles.
When all these processes had been well and thoroughly gone through, he could form an opinion and express it, but no sooner.
He had no faith.
“Say so's” he had no respect for, coming though they might from tradition, power, or authority.
All things, facts, and principles had to run through his crucible and be tested by the fires of his analytic mind; and hence, when he did speak his utterances rang out gold-like, quick, keen, and current upon the counters of the understanding.
reasoned logically, through analogy and comparison.
All opponents dreaded him in his originality of idea, condensation, definition, and force of expression, and woe be to the man who hugged to his bosom a secret error if Mr. Lincoln got on the chase of it. I say, woe to him!
Time could hide the error in no nook or corner of space in which he would not detect and expose it.
Though Mr. Lincoln had accurate perceptions, though nature was extremely suggestive to him, though he was a profound thinker as well as analyzer, still his judgments and opinions formed upon minor matters were often childish.
I have sometimes asked prominent, talented, and honest men in this and other States for their manly opinion of Mr. Lincoln's judgments.
I did this to confirm or overthrow my own opinions on this point.
Their answers were that his judgments were poor.
But now what do we understand by the word “judgments?”
It is not reason; it is not will, nor is it understanding; but it is the judging faculty,--that capacity or power that forms opinions and decides on the fitness, beauty, harmony, and appropriateness of things under all circumstances and surroundings, quickly, wisely, accurately.
Had Mr. Lincoln this quality of mind?
I think not. His mind was like his body, and worked slowly.
Tne portion of mankind maintained that Mr.
Lincoln was weak-minded, and they look at him only from the stand-point of his judgments.
Another class maintain that he was a great, deep, profound man in his judgments.
Do these two classes understand themselves?
Both views cannot be correct.
Mr. Lincoln's mind was slow, angular, and ponderous, rather than quick and finely discriminating, and in time his great powers of reason on cause and effect, on creation and relation, on substance and on truth, would form a proposition, an opinion wisely and well,--that no human being can deny.
When his mind could not grasp premises from which to argue he was weaker than a child, because he had none of the child's intuitions,--the souls quick, bright flash over scattered and unarranged facts.
Mr. Lincoln was a peculiar man, having a peculiar mind; he was gifted with a peculiarity, namely, a new lookout on nature.
Everything had to be newly created for him,--facts newly gathered, newly arranged, and newly classed.
He had no faith, as already expressed.
In order to believe he must see and feel, and thrust his hand into the place.
He must taste, smell, and handle before he had faith, i.e., belief.
Such a mind as this must act slowly,--must have its time.
His forte and power lay in his love of digging out for himself and hunting up for his own mind its own food, to be assimilated unto itself; and then in time he could and would form opinions and conclusions that no
human power could overthrow.
They were as irresistible as iron thunder, as powerful as logic embodied in mathematics.
I have watched men closely in reference to their approaches to Mr. Lincoln.
Those who approached him on his judgment side treated him tenderly — sometimes respectfully, but always as a weak-minded man. This class of men take the judgment as the standard of the mind.
I have seen another class approach him on his reason-side, and they always crouched low down and truckled, as much as to say, “great,” “grand,” “omnipotent.”
Both these classes were correct.
One took judgment as the standard of the man, and the other took reason.
Yet both classes were wrong in this,--they sunk out of view one side of Mr. Lincoln. A third class knew him well, and always treated him with human respect: not that awe and reverence with which we regard the Supreme Being; not that supercilious haughtiness which greatness shows to littleness.
Each will please to examine itself, and then judge of what I say. I have approached Mr. Lincoln on all sides, and treated him according to the angle approached.
An additional question naturally suggests itself here, and it is this: Had Mr. Lincoln great, good common sense?
Different persons, of equal capacity and honesty, hold different views on this question,--one class answering in the affirmative, and the other in the negative.
These various opinions necessarily spring out of the question just discussed.
If the true test is that a man shall quickly, wisely, and well judge the rapid rush and whirl of human transactions, as accurately as though indefinite time and proper conditions were at his disposal, then I am compelled to follow the logic of things, and say that Mr. Lincoln had no more than ordinary common sense.
The world, men and their actions, must be judged as they rush and pass along.
They will not wait on us; will not stay for our logic and analysis; they must be seized as they run. We all our life act on the moment.
Mr. Lincoln knew himself, and never trusted his dollar or his fame on his casual opinions; he never acted hastily on great matters.
Mr. Lincoln very well knew that the great leading law of human nature was motive.
He reasoned all ideas of a disinterested action from my mind.
I used to hold that an action could be pure, disinterested, and holy, free from all selfishness, but he divested me of that delusion.
His idea was that all human actions were caused by motives, and that at the bottom of those motives was self. He defied me to act without a motive and unselfishly; and when I did the act and told him of it, he analyzed and sifted it, and demonstrated beyond the possibility of controversy that it was altogether selfish.
Though he was a profound analyzer of the laws of human nature, still he had no idea of the peculiar motives
of the particular individual.
He could not well discriminate in human nature.
He knew but little of the play of the features as seen in “the human face divine.”
He could not distinguish between the paleness of anger and the crimson tint of modesty.
He could not determine what each play of the features indicated.
The great predominating elements of Mr. Lincoln's peculiar character, were: First, his great capacity and power of reason; secondly, his excellent understanding; thirdly, an exalted idea of the sense of right and equity; and, fourthly, his intense veneration of what was true and good. His reason ruled despotically all other faculties and qualities of his mind.
His conscience and heart were ruled by it. His conscience was ruled by one facultyreason.
His heart was ruled by two facultiesreason and conscience.
I know it is generally believed that Mr. Lincoln's heart, his love and kindness, his tenderness and benevolence, were his ruling qualities; but this opinion is erroneous in every particular.
First, as to his reason. He dwelt in the mind, not in the conscience, and not in the heart.
He lived and breathed and acted from his reason,--the throne of logic and the home of principle, the realm of Deity in man. It is from this point that Mr. Lincoln must be viewed.
His views were correct and original.
He was cautious not to be deceived; he was patient and enduring.
He had concentration and great continuity of thought; he had a profound analytic power; his visions were clear, and he was emphatically the master of statement.
His pursuit of the truth was indefatigable, terrible.
He reasoned from his wellchosen principles with such clearness, force, and compactness, that the tallest intellects in the land bowed to him with respect.
He was the strongest man I ever saw, looking at him from the stand-point of his reason,--the throne of his logic.
He came down from that height with an irresistible and crushing force.
His printed speeches will prove this; but his speeches before courts, especially before the Supreme Courts of the State and Nation, would demonstrate it: unfortunately none of them have been preserved.
Here he demanded time to think and prepare.
The office of reason is to determine the truth.
Truth is the power of reason — the child of reason.
He loved and idolized truth for its own sake.
It was reason's food.
Conscience, the second great quality and forte of Mr. Lincoln's character, is that faculty which loves the just: its office is justice; right and equity are its correlatives.
It decides upon all acts of all people at all times.
Mr. Lincoln had a deep, broad, living conscience.
His great reason told him what was true, good, and bad, right, wrong, just or unjust, and his conscience echoed back its decision; and it was from this point that he acted and spoke and wove his character and fame among us. His
conscience ruled his heart; he was always just before he was gracious.
This was his motto, his glory: and this is as it should be. It cannot be truthfully said of any mortal man that he was always just.
Mr. Lincoln was not always just; but his great general life was. It follows that if Mr. Lincoln had great reason and great conscience, he was an honest man. His great and general life was honest, and he was justly and rightfully entitled to the appellation, “Honest Abe.”
Honesty was his great polar star.
Mr. Lincoln had also a good understanding; that is, the faculty that understands and comprehends the exact state of things, their near and remote relation.
The understanding does not necessarily inquire for the reason of things.
I must here repeat that Mr. Lincoln was an odd and original man; he lived by himself and out of himself.
He could not absorb.
He was a very sensitive man, unobtrusive and gentlemanly, and often hid himself in the common mass of men, in order to prevent the discovery of his individuality.
He had no insulting egotism, and no pompous pride; no haughtiness, and no aristocracy.
He was not indifferent, however, to approbation and public opinion.
He was not an upstart, and had no insolence.
He was a meek, quiet, unobtrusive gentleman.
These qualities of his nature merged somewhat his identities.
Read Mr. Lincoln's, speeches, letters, messages, and proclamations, read his whole record in
his actual life, and you cannot fail to perceive that he had good understanding.
He understood and fully comprehended himself, and what he did and why he did it, better than most living men.
There are contradictory opinions in reference to Mr. Lincoln's heart and humanity. One opinion is that he was cold and obdurate, and the other opinion is that he was warm and affectionate.
I have shown you that Mr. Lincoln first lived and breathed upon the world from his head and conscience.
I have attempted to show you that he lived and breathed upon the world through the tender side of his heart, subject at all times and places to the logic of his reason, and to his exalted sense of right and equity, namely, his conscience.
He always held his conscience subject to his head; he held his heart always subject to his head and conscience.
His heart was the lowest organ, the weakest of the three.
Some men would reverse this order, and declare that his heart was his ruling organ; that always manifested itself with love, regardless of truth and justice, right and equity.
The question still is, was Mr. Lincoln a cold, heartless man, or a warm, affectionate man?
Can a man be a warm-hearted man who is all head and conscience, or nearly so?
What, in the first place, do we mean by a warm-hearted man?
Is it one who goes out of himself and reaches for others spontaneously, because of a deep love of humanity, apart from equity and truth, and does what
it does for love's sake?
If so, Mr. Lincoln was a cold man. Or, do we mean that when a human being, man or child, approached him in behalf of a matter of right, and that the prayer of such an one was granted, that this is an evidence of his love?
The African was enslaved, his rights were violated, and a principle was violated in them.
Rights imply obligations as well as duties.
Mr. Lincoln was President; he was in a position that made it his duty through his sense of right, his love of principle, his constitutional obligations imposed upon him by oath of office, to strike the blow against slavery.
But did he do it for love?
He himself has answered the question: “I would not free the slaves if I could preserve the Union without it.”
I use this argument against his too enthusiastic friends.
If you mean that this is love for love's sake, then Mr. Lincoln was a warm-hearted man — not otherwise.
To use a general expression, his general life was cold.
He had, however; a strong latent capacity to love; but the object must first come as principle, second as right, and third as lovely.
He loved abstract humanity when it was oppressed.
This was an abstract love, not concrete in the individual, as said by some.
He rarely used the term love, yet was he tender and gentle.
He gave the key-note to his own character, when he said, “with malice toward none, and with charity for all,” he did what he did. He had no intense loves, and hence no hates and no malice.
He had a broad
charity for imperfect man, and let us imitate his great life in this.
“But was not Mr. Lincoln a man of great humanity?”
asks a friend at my elbow, a little angrily; to which I reply, “Has not that question been answered already?”
Let us suppose that it has not. We must understand each other.
What do you mean by humanity?
Do you mean that he had much of human nature in him?
If so, I will grant that he was a man of humanity.
Do you mean, if the above definition is unsatisfactory, that Mr. Lincoln was tender and kind?
Then I agree with you. But if you mean to say that he so loved a man that he would sacrifice truth and right for him, for love's sake, then he was not a man of humanity.
Do you mean to say that he so loved man, for love's sake, that his heart led him out of himself, and compelled him to go in search of the objects of his love, for their sake?
He never, to my knowledge, manifested this side of his character.
Such is the law of human nature, that it cannot be all head, all conscience, and all heart at one and the same time in one and the same person.
Our Maker made it so, and where God through reason blazed the path, walk therein boldly.
Mr. Lincoln's glory and power lay in the just combination of head, conscience, and heart, and it is here that his fame must rest, or not at all.
Not only were Mr. Lincoln's perceptions good; not only was nature suggestive to him; not only
was he original and strong; not only had he great reason, good understanding; not only did he love the true and good — the eternal right; not only was he tender and kind,--but, in due proportion and in legitimate subordination, had he a glorious combination of them all. Through his perceptions,the suggestiveness of nature, his originality and strength; through his magnificent reason, his understanding, his conscience, his tenderness, and kindness, his heart, rather than love,--he approximated as nearly as most human beings in this imperfect state to an embodiment of the great moral principle, “Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you.”
There are two opinions — radically different opinions — expressed about Mr. Lincoln's will, by men of equal and much capacity.
One opinion is, that he had no will; and the other is, that he was all will -omnipotently so. These two opinions are loudly and honestly affirmed.
Mr. Lincoln's mind loved the true, the right, and good, all the great truths and principles — in the mind of man. He loved the true, first; the right, second; and the good, the least.
His mind struggled for truths and his soul for substances.
Neither in his head nor in his soul did he care for forms, methods, ways,--the nonsubstantial facts or things.
He could not, by his very structure and formation in mind and body, care anything about them.
He did not intensely
or much care for particular individual man,--the dollar, property, rank, order, manners, or such like things.
He had no avarice in his nature, or other like vice.
He despised, somewhat, all technical rules in law and theology and other sciences,mere forms everywhere,--because they were, as a general rule, founded on arbitrary thoughts and ideas, and not on reason, truth, right, and the good.
These things were without substance, and he disregarded them because they cramped his original nature.
What suited a little, narrow, critical mind did not suit Mr. Lincoln's, any more than a child's clothes did his body.
Generally, Mr. Lincoln could not take any interest in little local elections — town meetings.
He attended no gatherings that pertained to local or other such interests, saving general political ones.
He did not care (because he could not, in his nature) who succeeded to the presidency of this or that Christian Association or Railroad Convention; who made the most money; who was going to Philadelphia, when and for what, and what were the costs of such a trip.
He could not care who, among friends, got this office or thatwho got to be street inspector or alley commissioner.
No principle of goodness, of truth, or right was here.
How could he be moved by such things as these?
He could not understand why men struggled for such things.
He made this remark to me one day, I think at Washington, “If ever this free people — if this Government itself is ever
utterly demoralized, it will come from this human wriggle and struggle for office — a way to live without work; from which nature I am not free myself.”
It puzzled him a good deal, at Washington, to know and to get at the root of this dread desire,--this contagious disease of national robbery in the nation's death-struggle.
Because Mr. Lincoln could not feel any interest in such little things as I have spoken of, nor feel any particular interest in the success of those who were thus struggling and wriggling, he was called indifferent — nay, ungrateful — to his friends.
Especially is this the case with men who have aided Mr. Lincoln all their life.
Mr. Lincoln always and everywhere wished his friends well; he loved his friends and clung to them tenaciously, like iron to iron welded; yet he could not be actively and energetically aroused to the true sense of his friends' particularly strong feelings of anxiety for office.
From this fact Mr. Lincoln has been called ungrateful.
He was not an ungrateful man by any means.
He may have been a cool man — a passive man in his general life; yet he was not ungrateful, Ingratitude is too positive a word — it does not convey the truth.
Mr. Lincoln may not have measured his friendly duties by the applicant's hot desire; I admit this.
He was not a selfish man,--if by selfishness is meant that Mr. Lincoln would do any act, even to promote himself to the Presidency, if by that act any human being was wronged.
is said that Abraham Lincoln preferred Abraham Lincoln to any one else, in the pursuit of his ambitions, and that, because of this, he was a selfish man, then I can see no objections to such an idea, for this is universal human nature.
It must be remembered that Mr. Lincoln's mind acted logically, cautiously, and slowly.
Now, having stated the above facts, the question of his will and its power is easily solved.
Be it remembered that Mr. Lincoln cared nothing for simple facts, manners, modes, ways, and such like things.
Be it remembered that he did care for truth, right, for principle, for all that pertains to the good.
In relation to simple facts, unrelated to substance, forms, rules, methods, ways, manners, he cared nothing; and if he could be aroused, he would do anything for anybody at any time, as well foe as friend.
As a politician he would courteously grant all facts and forms --all non-essential things — to his opponent.
He did so because he did not care for them; they were rubbish, husks, trash.
On the question of substance, he hung and clung with all his might.
On questions of truth, justice, right, the good, on principle his will was as firm as steel and as tenacious as iron.
It was as firm, solid, real, vital, and tenacious as an idea on which the world hinges or hangs.
Ask Mr. Lincoln to do a wrong thing, and he would scorn the request; ask him to do an unjust thing, and he would cry, “Begone!”
ask him to sacrifice his convictions of the truth, and his soul would indignantly exclaim, “The world perish first!”
Such was Mr. Lincoln's will.
On manners and such like things, he was pliable.
On questions of right and substance, he was as firm as a rock.
One of these classes of men look at Mr. Lincoln from the stand-point of things non-essential, and the other looks at him from the stand-point of substance, rejecting forms.
Hence the difference.
Mr. Lincoln was a man of firm, unyielding will, when, in human transactions, it was necessary to be so, and not otherwise.
At one moment Mr. Lincoln was as pliable and expansive as gentle air, and at the next moment he was as biting, firm, tenacious, and unyielding as gravity itself.
Thus I have traced Mr. Lincoln through his perceptions, his suggestiveness, his judgments, and his four great predominant qualities, namely,--his powers of reason, his great understanding, his conscience, and his heart.
I assert that Mr. Lincoln lived in the head.
He loved the truth; he loved the eternal right and the good,--never yielding the fundamental conceptions of these to any man for any end.
All the follies and wrong Mr. Lincoln ever fell into, or committed, sprang or came out of his weak points, namely, his want of quick, sagacious, intuitive judgment,--his want of quick, sagacious, intuitive knowledge of the play and meaning of the features of men as written on the face,--his tenderness and mercy, and, lastly, his utterly unsuspecting nature.
He was deeply and seriously honest himself,
and assumed that others were so organized.
He never suspected men. These, with other defects of his nature, caused all his follies and wrongs, if he ever had any of either.
All the wise and good things Mr. Lincoln ever did, sprang or came out of his great reason, his conscience, his understanding, and his heart, his love of truth, right, and the good.
I am speaking now of his particular and individual faculties and qualities, not their combination, nor the result of wise or unwise combinations.
Each man and woman must form his or her own estimate of the man in the mind.
Run out these facts, qualities, and faculties, and see what they must produce.
For instance, a tender heart; a wise, strong reason; a good understanding, an exalted conscience, a love of the good, must, in such combination, practically applied, produce a man of great humanity.
Take another illustration in the combination of his faculties and qualities.
Mr. Lincoln's eloquence lay, 1st, in the strength of his logical faculty, his supreme power of reasoning, his great understanding, and his love of principle; 2d, in his clear, exact, and very accurate vision; 3d, in his cool and masterly statement of his principles, around which the issues gather; in the statement of those issues, and the grouping of the facts that are to carry conviction, aided by his logic, to the minds of men of every grade of intelligence.
He was so clear that he could not be misunderstood nor misrepresented.
He stood square and bolt upright to his convictions, and formed by them his thoughts and utterances.
Mr. Lincoln's mind was not a wide, deep, broad, generalizing, and comprehensive mind, nor versatile quick, bounding here and there, as emergencies demanded it. His mind was deep, enduring, and strong, running in deep iron grooves, with flanges on its wheels.
His mind was not keen, sharp, and subtile; it was deep, exact, and strong.
Whatever of life, vigor, force, and power of eloquence the whole of the above qualities, or a wise combination will give; whatever there is in a fair, manly, honest, and impartial administration of justice, under law, to all men at all times,through these qualities and capabilities given, never deviating; whatever there is in a strong will in the right, governed by tenderness and mercy; whatever there is in toil and a sublime patience; whatever there is in particular faculties, or a wise combination of them,--not forgetting his weak points,--working wisely, sagaciously, and honestly, openly and fairly;--I say, whatever there is in these, or a combination of them, that Mr. Lincoln is justly entitled to in all the walks of life.
These limit, bound, and define him as statesman, orator, as an executive of the nation, as a man of humanity, a good man, and a gentleman.
These limit, bound, and define him every way, in all the ways and walks of life.
He is under his law and his nature, and he never can get out of it.
This man, this long, bony, wiry, sad man, floated into our county in 1831, in a frail canoe, down the north fork of the Sangamon River, friendless, pennyless, powerless, and alone,--begging for work in this city,--ragged, struggling for the common necessaries of life.
This man, this peculiar man, left us in 1861, the President of the United States, backed by friends and power, by fame, and all human force; and it is well to inquire how.
To sum up, let us say, here is a sensitive, diffident, unobtrusive, natural-made gentleman.
His mind was strong and deep, sincere and honest, patient and enduring; having no vices, and having only negative defects, with many positive virtues.
His is a strong, honest, sagacious, manly, noble life.
He stands in the foremost rank of men in all ages, -their equal,--one of the best types of this Christian civilization.