« AnteriorContinuar »
proved fatal to the cause. Time, the development of events, the ripening conviction of the necessity of such a measure, were indispensable as preliminary conditions of its success. And one of the greatest elements of Washington’s strength was the patient sagacity with which he could watch and wait until these conditions were fulfilled. The position and duty of President Lincoln in regard to slavery were very similar. If he had taken counsel only of his own abstract opinions and sympathies, and had proclaimed emancipation at the outset of the war, or had sanctioned the action of those department commanders who assumed to do it themselves, the first effect would have been to throw all the Border Slave States into the bosom of the slaveholding Confederacy, and add their formidable force to the armies of the rebellion; the next result would have been to arouse the political opposition in the loyal States to fresh activity by giving it a rallying-cry; and the third would have been to divide the great body of those who agreed in defending the Union, but who did not then agree in regard to the abolition of slavery. Candid men, who pay more regard to facts than to theory, and who can estimate with fairness the results of public action, will have no difficulty in seeing that the probable result of these combined influences would have been such a strengthening of the forces of the Confederacy, and such a weakening of our own, as might have overwhelmed the Administration, and given the rebellion a final and a fatal victory. By awaiting the development of public sentiment, President Lincoln secured a support absolutely essential to success; and there are few persons now, whatever may be their private opinions on slavery, who will not concede that his measures in regard to that subject were adopted with sagacity, and prosecuted with a patient wisdom which crowned them with final triumph. In his personal appearance and manners, in the tone and tendency of his mind and in the fibre of his general character, President Lincoln presented more elements of originality than any other man ever connected with the government of this country. He was tall and thin, angular and ungraceful in his motions, careless in dress, unstudied in manner, and too thoroughly earnest and hearty, in every thing he said or did, to be polished and polite. But there was a native grace, the out-growth of kindness of heart, which never failed to shine through all his words and acts. His heart was as tender as a woman's, as accessible to grief and gladness as a child's, yet strong as Hercules to bear the anxieties and responsibilities of the awful burden that rested on it. Little incidents of the war, -instances of patient suffering in devotion to duty, tales of distress from the lips of women, never failed to touch the innermost chords of his nature, and to awaken that sweet sympathy which carries with it, to those who suffer, all the comfort the human heart can crave. Those who have heard him, as many have, relate such touching episodes of the war, cannot recall without emotion the quivering lip, the face gnarled and writhing to stifle the rising sob, and the patient, loving eyes swimming in tears, which mirrored the tender pity of his gentle and loving nature. He seemed a stranger to the harsher and stormier passions of man. Easily grieved, he seemed incapable of hate. Nothing could be truer than his declaration, after the heated political contest which secured his re-election, that he had “never willingly planted a thorn in any human breast,”—and that it was not in his nature to exult over any human being. It is first among the marvels of a marvellous time, that to such a character, so womanly in all its traits, should have been committed, absolutely and with almost despotic power, the guidance of a great nation through a bloody and terrible civil war; and the success which crowned his labors proves that, in dealing with great communities, as with individuals, it is not the stormiest natures that are most prevailing, and that strength of principle and of purpose often accompanies the softest emotions of the human heart. Nothing was more marked in Mr. Lincoln's personal demeanor than its utter unconsciousness of his position. 724 LIFE AND PUBLIC SERVICES OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find another man who would not, upon a sudden transfer from the obscurity of private life in a country town to the dignities and duties of the Presidency, feel it incumbent upon him to assume something of the manner and tone befitting that position. Mr. Lincoln never seemed to be aware that his place or his business were essentially different from those in which he had always been engaged. He brought to every question,-the loftiest and most imposing, the same patient inquiry into details, the same eager longing to know and to do exactly what was just and right, and the same working-day, plodding, laborious devotion, which characterized his management of a client's case at his law office in Springfield. He had duties to perform in both places—in the one case to his country, as to his client in the other. But all duties were alike to him. All called equally upon him for the best service of his mind and heart, and all were alike performed with a conscien. tious, single-hearted devotion that knew no distinction, but was absolute and perfect in every case.
Mr. Lincoln's place in the history of this country will be fixed quite as much by the importance of the events amidst which he moved, and the magnitude of the results which he achieved, as by his personal characteristics. The Chief Magistrate whose administration quelled a rebellion of eight millions of people, set free four millions of slaves, and vindicated the ability of the people, under all contingencies, to maintain the Government which rests upon their will, whose wisdom and unspotted integrity of character secured his re-election, and who, finally, when his work was done, found his reward in the martyrdom which came to round his life and set the final seal upon his renown, will fill a place hitherto unoccu. pied in the annals of the world.