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I. CHOICE OF MATERIAL
THE written and spoken words of Abraham Lincoln are the precious heritage of the American people, both for their noble sentiments upon the duties and opportunities of America, and for their significance as an essential part of the English tongue. A poor boy, a hard-working youth and long an obscure lawyer, Abraham Lincoln became the leader of the nation in a time of crisis. A painfully self-educated youth, he nevertheless placed himself among the immortals by his splendid thoughts and almost unapproachable powers of expression.
For these reasons, the works of Abraham Lincoln are a treasurehouse for the people of the United States; and their study should be a part of the education of every boy and girl. He was the cleanest, most effective, and most widely read author of his times. He wrote in many fields and in many moods. Sometimes he was exact, sometimes rhetorical, but always clear, to the farthest possibility of human speech. He could be calm; he could be gay; he could be stern; he could be passionate. He made the English language fit itself to his thoughts. Like Dante, he might have boasted that he never wandered in search of a word, but that he had made words speak for him more than any other man.
In making up a proper selection for the use of schools and readers, the first difficulty has been to choose; for few great writers have provided so small a proportion that can be disregarded. The editor's duty has been to find the text of the speeches and state papers which by common consent are among his greatest works, especially the "House Divided Against Itself," the two inaugurals, the war message of July, 1861, the "Answer to the Prayer of Twenty Millions," and that climax of skill and soul, "The Gettysburg Address."
The editions of Lincoln's works which have been searched in making up these selections, contain scores of extracts little below those masterpieces. There has been no difficulty in finding other materials; the editor's task has been to decide what speeches could be omitted or shortened so as to bring the whole within the limits of this volume.
No collection represents the greatness of Lincoln which does not reproduce the wbole of some of the large pieces and many of the short ones, because they are units, every word necessary to bring out the fullness of Lincoln's mind, and the wonderful capacity of revealing himself in what he wrote. Hence the whole of several of the speeches on the slavery question from 1854 to 1860 are included, as well as the two inaugurals, the first war message, and the letter here entitled the “Constitutional War" (June, 1863).
On the other hand in many of the political speeches, especially before his election as president, he devoted much space to complicated questions, then before the country, which have long since been adjusted and put
away. For instance the student of history is concerned with the exact issues in the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott Decision, and the Lecompton Constitution, while the student literature is chiefly interested in Lincoln as a master of statecraft and of oratory.
Hence in such controversies as that with Douglas in 1858, and in the Cooper Institute speech the details of the politics of the time have been left out, in order to bring into relief the essential principles which have no limit of time.
Some writers must be judged by elaborate works. You must read the whole of an essay of Emerson or a tale of Poe or a novel of Hawthorne to understand those authors at all. No such works were ever written by Abraham Lincoln. His longest public speech would not occupy more than about thirty pages of this book. The spirit, the humor, the grasp of the man are perhaps best revealed in short, pithy memoranda and letters which at the same time carry the reader back to the epoch in which Lincoln was the greatest figure. Hence the large number of short extracts in this work ranging from forty words upwards. In two pieces, “Thanks to the Soldier" (1862), and the "Commander-in-Chief” (1863), extracts have been assembled from kindred letters, telegrams, and off-hand addresses scattered through many months, all bearing upon his point of view taward the soldier and the officer.
It has not been part of the editor's intent to prepare an historical book, though Lincoln's writings necessarily give point to the study of United States history. Lincoln
was a public man from his early manhood. He thought in terms of politics and government. Above all he had a natural sense of human freedom, an indestructible love for, belief in, and championship of, liberty. He was an anti-slavery man by origin, because more clearly than any other man of his time he saw that slavery of the negro tended to degrade the white man. He saw it the more plainly because he was a Southern man by birth. Throughout his life he was intimately associated with slave holders and supporters of slavery. He never hated them; he always hated the system, which as he once said, "has and continuously exercises the power of making me miserable.”
II. CLASSIFICATION OF MATERIAL
The extracts in this volume appear in their chronological sequence. They might easily be classified, according to subject, the first department being the brief autobiographies which appear at the beginning. Little of the familiar personal correspondence with friends and kin appears here; but it would be impossible to omit such pieces as a “Near View of Slavery,” “Advice to a Slack Man,” “To Run the Machine as It Is”; and above all, those lofty letters to the kindred of dead soldiers, here printed under the titles "Loss of a Noble Soldier," and “To the Mother of Five Heroes,” which almost equal the Gettysburg Address in power and perhaps surpass it in the direct touch of humanity.
Akin to these are the numerous brief speeches and letters, especially toward the end of the Civil War, which
CLASSIFICATION OF MATERIAL
in Lincoln's hands were cut jewels of expression, and infused with the noblest ideals. Any regiment marching up to the White House, might call out from the President a few words, which, if he had spoken no others, would place him at the head of American oratory.
Before his actual entering into public life Lincoln began to frame carefully-wrought speeches, which soon turned in the direction of a crusade against slavery. From 1845 to 1865 there was hardly a formal public speech or message which did not contain his simple doctrine that a government of the people meant government for all the people; that to exclude one race from the rights of man, would in the end logically and certainly lead to the attempt of one part of the privileged class to shut out another part-till free government perished.
The abolitionist hated slavery and declaimed against it. Lincoln was the one man of his time who, though not an abolitionist, foresaw the inevitable effect upon the community of the advance of slave power.
In the great struggle of the fifties, he was the one man that never gave up the principle that no more slave states must be admitted, that no privileges must be given to slavery in the territories. He followed in and out through the windings of Douglas' time-serving logic in imperishable speeches.
As chief executive of the nation in the troublous times of the Civil War, Lincoln wrote elaborate state papers, which bring to the light his human and adroit way of dealing with individuals. Witness his rebuke to Seward in the "President is President” (1861), his inaugurals and annual messages, his proclamations, especially the two bearing on the emancipation of the slaves and his "Last