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