“The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln!” and why, pray, add another to the many memoirs of him already published?
Because, dear reader, there was need of just one more. Listen, and we will prove it. The memoirs and biographies of our late President, which have already appeared, are, some of them, from able pens, and clearly and fairly accomplish the object for which they were written. Without exception, we believe, they belong to the class of campaign biographies; some written before his first, others during the canvass which preceded his second, election. Their principal object was, of course, political. They have not, we think, dealt in misrepresentation; there was no need of that. But they have presented him as a fit and proper candidate for the office of President of the United States, and for this purpose they have dwelt largely upon his previous political career in Congress; in the Senatorial canvass; in the closing portion of Mr. Buchanan’s presidency; and some of them on the stupendous events of the four years of his first administration, and the policy he pursued during that long period of darkness and gloom. This is all right and admirable in its way, and were there any question of a campaign life of the Good President, were he still with us, and still a candidate for the highest honors a grateful people could bestow, we should say at once, “that which is written is sufficient; we can add nothing to a record so pure and honorable.”
But this is not the time for a campaign life of Abraham Lincoln. He whom he served with singleness of heart here, hath called him up higher, and henceforth his place is with the glorified, whose brows are illumined with the pure and holy light which proceeds from the throne of God.
We could not if we would, and we would not if we could, attempt a political life of him whose loss we, as well as the nation, most deeply moarn. We have no fondness for the devious track of party politics, no desire to pander to so grovelling and base-born an ambition. But we have loved Abraham Lincoln as a child might love a father; we have confided in him, have trusted his sagacity, have honored his patriotism, have admired that sterling common sense which led him to judge so wisely, to act so honorably and justly, and to meet questions of such difficulty with such a wise and clear discrimination.
We desired to prepare this life of him, that we might exhibit him as he appeared and was, in all the relations of life, a man of the people, hardy, laborious, and self-reliant — a self-made man in the best sense of that title — studious, desirous ever to make up the deficiencies of education entailed by a frontier life, and of a rare teachable spirit; an honest, frank, manly man, one in whom his neighbors and friends could trust most implicitly; a pattern man in his fidelity to truth and principle and right. We have sought also to delineate him in his domestic and social relations, as a dutiful son, a kind and tender husband, a loving father, a genial and social friend, with a keen sense of humor, great conversational powers, and a fascinating way which, though his form was ungainly, won him the love of all who were thrown in his society. And it has been our aim also to depict him as he appeared in public life, a clear and lucid speaker, a skilful debater, who won the hearts of his audience to his own side, not by trick or subterfuge, but by his apt and effective way of “putting things;” clinching a point often by a telling illustration, which, however homely it might be, was never out of place; a statesman whose enlarged perceptions and breadth of view took in all the bearings of the great questions which have agitated the public mind in the last five years; a man who, acting slowly, with calmness and great deliberation, never made a mistake in regard to a principle, and never indulged a thought of self, but always sought his country’s good; a chief magistrate, who though reviled reviled not again, but with an almost angelic patience, sought to do good to those who despitefully used him; a diplomatist who believed that truth, honesty and frankness were better weapons for managing the intricate questions of our foreign policy, than deceit, duplicity, and “paltering in a double sense.” And if some “good angel will guide our pencil while we draw,” we would portray him also, as the Christian, in public and private life, seeking counsel from above, and amid all his weighty cares and his wearying burdens, looking to God for guidance, and devoutly acknowledging his indebtedness to him for every blessing. Having thus shown his character as it was in life, we would also venture, though with eyes bedimmed with tears, to draw aside the veil, and describe how the demon slavery, possessing the heart and firing the brain of the; wretched assassin, led him to commit a deed which shall consign him to eternal infamy; and how, all over our land, and throughout christendom, at the tidings of his death, a wail of anguish went up to heaven from millions of stricken hearts, who had recognized in him the second founder of the Republic, the Emancipator, the one historic name which shall go down to posterity, linked in our country’s history, with that of Washington.
With such a purpose, we submit that there are ample reasons, as there is abundant room, for a new memoir of our martyred President ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
The prominent feature of ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S life is the fact, that, from first to last, he was a truly representative Man of the People. In whatever position of private life or of public trust he was placed, whether in the frontier cabin, the modest law office at Springfield, the Halls of Legislation, or the Presidential chair at Washington, he always maintained the same truthful and noble character, winning the confidence of the people, and eliciting from all who came in contact with him a degree of personal affection and enthusiasm which has been given to no other American statesman of our day, unless it be to Henry Clay, whom he so highly respected, and, in no slight degree, resembled. The world, indeed, has seen many men, who, by the grace of their manners, the force of their intellect, or the splendor of their achievements, have obtained a strong hold upon the popular heart; yet the homage universally accorded to them was the result rather of a certain fascination than of sincere affection. France had her NAPOLEON, who rose from the people, and adroitly used that fact to subserve his personal ambition; yet he was not of them, although he enjoyed their idolatry. Their national pride was gratified by the dazzling success of one, who, soaring from their own level, had proven himself equal in abilities to the proudest monarchs, the ablest generals, and the most finished statesmen of his time. But the calmer judgment of history, sifting the real from the unreal, will record that the Emperor loved his people, if love it can be called, from motives of self-interest.
Even our own illustrious Washington, the very Polar Star of American patriotism, honored with an ever increasing fame throughout both contments, represented, in his day, the higher intellectual and social phase of American society, rather than those humbler circles of thought and action in which the masses move and have their being. The influence of gentle blood, the advantages of education, wealth and position, which moulded his earlier life, conspired to make him the representative of the aristocratic class. And though the purity of his personal and public life, his unswerving patriotism, and the power of his well-balanced intellect, gained for him the sincerest affection of his countrymen, that affection ever was, and ever will be, mingled with a species of awe, which seemed to set him apart from ordinary mortals.
But LINCOLN, while living, and yet more truly since his death, holds a not inferior place in the hearts of his countrymen. It has been happily said of him, that “what Robert Burns has proverbially been to the people of his native land, and, to a certain extent, of all lands, as a bard, Abraham Lincoln seems to have become to us as a statesman and a patriot, by his intimate relations alike with the humbler and the higher walks of life.” By the unstudied and truthful exercise of the native talents with which God endowed him, and under circumstances comparatively unfavorable, he was raised, apparently by the continued and universal suffrage of his fellow-citizens, from a place of humble obscurity to a position and a fame equalled only by that of Washington. And the secret of his success was simply this, that he never, for one moment in all his varied experiences, forgot that he was of the people; never, in a single instance, neglected their interests. The people, also, fully comprehended him. They remembered that his experiences, whether of gladness or of sorrow, had been the same as theirs; that the great principles of justice and humanity underlying their own happiness, rights and feelings, were deeply enshrined within his heart. They knew, too, that unstained by temptation and unswerved by success, he would always be, as he always had been, the champion and defender of their interests. His identity with the people was such, and such only, as common toils, experiences and emotions could have produced. And in that identity of interest, feeling and purpose, was his power — a power which, from the beginning of his career to the latest hour of his life, was never weakened by the blasts of partisan detraction, or by any demerit of his own.
In person, also, as in principle, he was a truly representative American. His gaunt and bony form, firmly knit by the labor of a frontier life, was, to the people, a constant reminder that his earlier years had been spent amid scenes and trials with which they were themselves familiar. His features were plain and homely, but they were illumined by thoughtful eyes, tenderly described by one who knew him well, as “the kindest eyes that were ever placed in mortal head;” and the habitual sadness of his countenance revealed the man of strong emotions, of earnest purpose, of infinite depth of feeling. His language was always simple, clear and unequivocal; his style of argument familiar, logical, and generally pointed with a quaint illustration, an apt story, or an easy play of humor. His manner was such as might have been expected of the man, cordial, off-hand, yet having an innate refinement which placed others at their ease, and so harmonized and softened his angularities, as to invest with a certain dignity the harsher outlines of his tall and ungainly figure. He had, also, a straightforward way of handling subjects the most complicated and the most important; not with a self-conceited flippancy, but with a sort of every-day-affair ease and simplicity of treatment which seemed suddenly to divest them of all extraneous matters, and to leave them so clearly defined in all their relations, as to excite our surprise and admiration. Indeed, the rare art of “putting things,” was possessed by this honest man in an eminent degree. The numerous perplexing questions which were constantly being developed by the progress of the war, were treated by this Illinois lawyer with a freedom and fearlessness which could only have proceeded from a conviction that principles were always the same, whatever might be the magnitude of the case in question.
In short, amid the herculean responsibilities of a four years’ war, such, for extent and principles involved, as the world had never before seen; amid questions, civil, military, and political; amid defeats and party clamor; amid a multitude of counsellors and varying counsels; amid the plottings of political generals and the blunders of incompetent commanders, “Honest Abe” was always “master of the position.” Purity of intention, directness of purpose, patience and firmness, in every situation and in every emergency, ever marked his course of action. No public man, under the pressure of great responsibilities, adhered more strictly to Col. Crockett’s well-known rule of “Be sure you’re right, and then go ahead;” and those familiar phrases which were so often on his lips, “We must keep pegging away,” and, “I have put my foot down,” expressed the patient determination of a loyal but sorely tried heart. There was no Jacksonian swagger of “By the Eternal!” but there was an ever present sense of his accountability to God for his acts, and a practical reliance upon His arm of strength in all that he did, which peculiarly characterized President Lincoln. “Pray for me that I may receive the Divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, but with which, success is certain,” were his words of farewell to the assembled friends and neighbors who bade him God speed when he left his Springfield home to enter upon the duties of the Presidential chair. And again, four years later, in his second inaugural speech, which now seems to us as one of his last utterances, he thus speaks to a great people, whose sorrows he had borne, and whose success was at hand: “With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”