Abraham Lincoln – Standing as a Hero

Lincoln’s Story by Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt in 1895

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

As Washington stands to the American Revolution and the establishment of the government, so Lincoln stands as the hero of the mightier struggle by which our Union was saved. He was born in 1809, ten years after Washington; his work done had been laid to rest at Mount Vernon. No great man ever came from beginnings which seemed to promise so little. Lincoln’s family, for more than one generation, had been sinking, instead of rising, in the social scale. His father was one of those men who were found on the frontier in the early days of the western movement, always changing from one place to another, and dropping a little lower at each remove. Abraham Lincoln was born into a family who was not only poor, but shiftless, and his early days were days of ignorance, and poverty, and hard work. Out of such inauspicious surroundings, he slowly and painfully lifted himself. He gave himself an education, he took part in an Indian war, he worked in the fields, he kept a country store, he read and studied, and, at last, he became a lawyer. Then he entered into the rough politics of the newly-settled state of Illinois. He grew to be a leader in his county and went to the legislature. The road was very rough, the struggle was very hard and very bitter, but the movement was always upward.

At last, he was elected to Congress and served one term in Washington as a Whig with credit, but without distinction. Then he went back to his law and his politics in Illinois. He had, at last, made his position. All that was now needed was an opportunity, and that came to him in the great anti-slavery struggle.

Lincoln was not an early Abolitionist. His training had been that of a regular party man, and as a member of a great political organization, but he was a lover of freedom and justice. Slavery, in its essence, was hateful to him, and when the conflict between slavery and freedom was fairly joined, his path was clear before him.

Abraham Lincoln while campaigning for the U.S. Senate, Chicago, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln while campaigning for the U.S. Senate, Chicago, Illinois

He took up the antislavery cause in his own state and made himself its champion against Douglas, the great leader of the Northern Democrats. He stumped Illinois in opposition to Douglas, as a candidate for the Senate, debating the question which divided the country in every part of the state. He was beaten at the election, but, by the power and brilliance of his speeches, his own reputation was made. Fighting the anti-slavery battle within constitutional lines, concentrating his whole force against the single point of the extension of slavery to the territories, he had made it clear that a new leader had arisen in the cause of freedom. From Illinois, his reputation spread to the East, and soon after his great debate, he delivered a speech in New York which attracted wide attention. At the Republican convention of 1856, his name was one of those proposed for vice-president.

When 1860 came, he was a candidate for the first place on the national ticket. The leading candidate was William H. Seward, of New York, the most conspicuous man of the country on the Republican side, but the convention, after a sharp struggle, selected Lincoln, and then the great political battle came at the polls. The Republicans were victorious, and, as soon as the result of the voting was known, the South set to work to dissolve the Union. In February, Lincoln made his way to Washington, at the end coming secretly from Harrisburg to escape a threatened attempt at assassination, and on March 4, 1861, assumed the presidency.

No public man, no great popular leader, ever faced a more terrible situation. The Union was breaking, the Southern States were seceding, treason was rampant in Washington, and the Government was bankrupt. The country knew that Lincoln was a man of great capacity in debate, devoted to the cause of antislavery and to the maintenance of the Union. But what his ability was to deal with the awful conditions by which he was surrounded, no one knew.

To follow him through the four years of Civil War which ensued is, of course, impossible here. Suffice it to say that no greater, no more difficult, a task has ever been faced by any man in modern times, and no one ever met a fierce trial and conflict more successfully.

Abraham Lincoln Anti Slavery

Abraham Lincoln Anti Slavery

Lincoln put to the front the question of the Union, and let the question of slavery drop, at first, into the background. He used every exertion to hold the Border States by moderate measures, and, in this way, prevented the spread of the rebellion. For this moderation, the antislavery extremists in the North assailed him, but nothing shows more his far-sighted wisdom and strength of purpose than his action at this time. By his policy at the beginning of his administration, he held the border states and united the people of the North in defense of the Union.

As the war went on, Lincoln went on, too. He had never faltered in his feelings about slavery. He knew, better than anyone, that the successful dissolution of the Union by the slave power meant, not only the destruction of an empire but the victory of the forces of barbarism. But he also saw, what very few others at the moment could see, that, if he was to win, he must carry his people with him, step by step. So when he had rallied them to the defense of the Union, and checked the spread of secession in the border states, in the autumn of 1862 he announced that he would issue a proclamation freeing the slaves.

The extremists had doubted him in the beginning, the conservative and the timid doubted him now, but when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, on January 1, 1863, it was found that the people were with him in that, as they had been with him when he staked everything upon the maintenance of the Union.

Battle of Bull's Run (Manassas), Virginia, July 21, 1861

Battle of Bull’s Run (Manassas), Virginia, July 21, 1861

The war went on to victory, and in 1864 the people showed at the polls that they were with the President, and reelected him by overwhelming majorities. Victories in the field went hand in hand with success at the ballot-box, and, in the spring of 1865, all was over. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and five days later, on April 14, a miserable assassin crept into the box at the theater where the President was listening to a play and shot him. The blow to the country was terrible beyond words, for then men saw, in one bright flash, how great a man had fallen.

Lincoln died a martyr to the cause to which he had given his life, and both life and death were heroic. The qualities which enabled him to do his great work are very clear now to all men. His courage and his wisdom, his keen perception and his almost prophetic foresight, enabled him to deal with all the problems of that distracted time as they arose around him. But he had some qualities, apart from those of the intellect, which were of equal importance to his people and to the work he had to do.

His character, at once strong and gentle, gave confidence to everyone, and dignity to his cause. He had an infinite patience and a humor that enabled him to turn aside many difficulties which could have been met in no other way. But most important of all was the fact that he personified a great sentiment, which ennobled and uplifted his people, and made them capable of the patriotism which fought the war and saved the Union. He carried his people with him, because he knew instinctively, how they felt and what they wanted. He embodied, in his own person, all their highest ideals, and he never erred in his judgment.

5 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln – Standing as a Hero”

    1. There was a period, due to the climate of slavery and attitudes toward blacks in the U.S., that Lincoln couldn’t see how a biracial society would work. Therefore he, like many others at the time, thought through all the possibilities of what would happen “after” the freeing of the slaves. His feelings toward all this evolved through out the Civil War, but in his Peoria, IL speech in 1854 he said:

      “If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to Liberia, to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, as I think there is, there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible.

      What then, free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? Free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.”

      With regard to his statement about sending slaves back to their original country, my own personal opinion would be to compare being kidnapped and enslaved in another country. If that country were to set me free, would I want to stay there, or go back to my home country? Even if I were generations removed from the original kidnapping, but still enslaved by a country not of my heritage, would I want to stay there? It’s possible that was part of his thinking, but that’s just my opinion.

  1. Well except for a few exceptions. Why did he only free the slaves in the South? But as they say, history is written by the victors with little regard for truth.

    1. Actually, he couldn’t in the “United States” without a Constitutional Amendment. In our article The Emancipation Proclamation page 3 John Hope Franklin, Prologue Magazine, notes in his article:

      “Meanwhile, no one appreciated better than Lincoln the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation had a quite limited effect in freeing the slaves directly. It should be remembered, however, that in the Proclamation he called emancipation “an act of justice,” and in later weeks and months he did everything he could to confirm his view that it was An Act of Justice. And no one was more anxious than Lincoln to take the necessary additional steps to bring about actual freedom. Thus, he proposed that the Republican Party include in its 1864 platform a plank calling for the abolition of slavery by constitutional amendment. When he was “notified” of his re-nomination, as was the custom in those days, he singled out that plank in the platform calling for constitutional emancipation and pronounced it “a fitting and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause.”

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