Church of God, New World Ministries

Ascent To Greatness - Part 11

America’s Greatest President

America has never produced another leader with the character of “Honest Abe.” His utter honesty, his humility and his farsightedness are to this very day still proverbial.

Many lesser presidents would undoubtedly have been willing to let the rebellious states go their own way. They would not have believed in standing firm, regardless of the cost, in order to preserve the Union inviolate.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) was born in a log cabin in Kentucky only six years after the famous Louisiana Purchase in 1803. One of the best sketches of this remarkable man was written by Lincoln himself, and was addressed to J. W. Fell, December 20, 1859.

A Short Autobiography

“I was born February 12, 1809 in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families – second families, perhaps I should say. My Mother, who died in my 10th year, was of a family of the name of Hanks, some of whom now reside in Adams, and others in Macon County, Illinois.

“My paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia, to Kentucky about 1781 or 1782, where a year or two later he was killed by the Indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest. His ancestors, who were Quakers, went to Virginia from Berks County, Pennsylvania. An effort to identify them with the New England family of the same name ended in nothing more definite than as similarity of Christian names in both families, such as Enoch, Levi, Mordecai, Solomon, Abraham, and the like.

My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age, and he grew up literally without education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer County, Indiana, in my 8th year. We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called, but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond ‘readin’, writin’, and cipherin’, to the rule of three.

If a straggler supposed to understand Latin happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizard. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course, when I came of age I did not know much. Still, somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the rule of the three, but that was all. I have not been school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.

I was raised to farm work, which I continued till I was twenty-two. At twenty-two I came to Illinois, Macon County. Then I went to New Salem, at that time in Sangamon, now in Menard County, where I remained a year as a sort of clerk in a store. Then came the Black Hawk war; and I was elected a captain of volunteers, a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since.

I went to the campaign, was elated, ran for the legislature the same year (1832), and was beaten – the only time I ever have been beaten by the people. The next and three succeeding biennial elections I was elected to the legislature. I was not a candidate afterward. During this legislative period I had studied law, and removed to Springfield to practice it. In 1846, I was once elected to the lower House of Congress. Was not a candidate for reelection.

From 1849 to 1854, both inclusive, practiced law more assiduously than ever before. Always a Whig in politics: and generally on the Whig electoral tickets, making active canvasses. I was losing interest in politics when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again. What I have done since than is pretty well known.

If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be said I am, in height, six feet four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing on an average of one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair and grey eyes. No other marks or brands recollected.”

Lincoln’s account of his own life and of his own person tallies very well with what others have said of him.

An acquaintance of Lincoln’s mother described her as follows: “Abe got his mind and fixed morals from his good mother. Mrs. Lincoln was a very smart, intelligent, and intellectual woman, she was naturally strong-minded; was a gentle, kind, and tender woman, a Christian of the Baptist persuasion, she was a remarkable woman truly and indeed.”

Abraham Lincoln disagreed strongly with the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court which was made public on March 7, 1857. (That decision opened up all of America to slavery.) He appealed to the framers of the Declaration of Independence as his authority for believing the decision was in error.

Very few have understood the meaning of the words “all men are created equal” as found in the Declaration of Independence. Here is Lincoln’s clear, simple and convincing explanation of the meaning of those important words:

“I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what respects they did consider all men created equal – equal with ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this they meant.”

“They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.”

Abraham Lincoln well knew equality will never be fully attained by mortals in this life!

“They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”

“The assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration not for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be – as, thank God, it is now proving itself – a stumbling-block to all those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful pathos of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should reappear in this fair land and commence their vocation, they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.”

Americans are still striving to attain to true equality under the law, but this goal still eludes the grasp of every American. There is, however, much more equality in this land than there was during the days of the War of Independence. And there is much more equality among Americans now than there was during the Civil War.

Lincoln was not nationally known until the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates took place in 1856. The Kansas-Nebraska Acts of 1854 had made it legal for slavery to be established in the Kansas and Nebraska territories – if the settlers wanted it.

Lincoln and many others in the North didn’t like to see this extension of slavery into the North (previously it was confined to a line drawn due east-west between Arkansas and Missouri, and westward to the Pacific). Lincoln firmly believed that slavery was a moral, social and political evil. He would have no compromise.

But his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas (the acknowledged leader of the Democratic party) advocated the doctrine of “popular sovereignty. “Each state would decide for itself whether or not to make slavery legal. Douglas said he was not all that concerned as to whether or not it was moral. During the summer of 1858, Lincoln and Douglas engaged in the now-famous debates. They spoke in seven different cities in Illinois, and debated the issue of whether slavery should be extended into the free territory.  Even though Douglas continued to speak in favor of “popular sovereignty,” Lincoln stuck by his guns – saying that slavery was a “moral, social and political evil.”

Lincoln lost the senatorial election to Douglas, but he had won fame as a powerful speaker – the foremost advocate against extending slavery into any new territories. From that time forth he began to stand tall in the eyes of the Republican party. They kept their eyes on this backwoods “railsplitter” who could out reason and out debate anyone in either the Republican or the Democratic party.

Lincoln’s views against slavery were clearly set forth in his speech before the Republican State Convention of Illinois on June 16, 1858:

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the 5th year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided will become all one thing, or all the other.

Either the opponent of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old and well as new, North as well as South.

How prophetic those words, spoken three and one-half years before the Civil War began, proved to be.

Did Lincoln favor forcing the Southern states to give us slavery? Many thought this was his object, but he repeatedly denied this. He did, however, hate slavery with a passion. Perhaps he got some of his sentiments from his Quaker ancestors. Lincoln was not an abolitionist, but many Quakers were.

Lincoln’s antipathy toward slavery was again revealed in his speech (the 6th in his debates with Douglas) on October 13, 1858.

“We have in this nation the element of domestic slavery. It is a matter of absolute certainly that it is a disturbing element. The Republican party thinks it wrong – we think it is a moral, a social, and a political wrong. We think it is a wrong not confining itself merely to the persons or the States where it exists, but that it is a wrong which in its tendency, to say the least, affects the existence of the whole nation.”

“Because we think it wrong, we propose a course of policy that shall deal with it as a wrong. We deal with it as with any other wrong, insofar as we can prevent its growing any larger, and so deal with it that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end to it.”

It must be remembered that Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He fully understood the difficulties, social complexities and the many ramifications of slavery in the Southern economy. And, he seems to have groaned with inner sympathy for the people of the South in their problems of handling this delicate, yet menacing issue.

Another of Lincoln’s well-reasoned observations, which appeared in the Ottawa Joint Debate, August 21, 1858 shows his deep grasp of the whole spectrum of the slavery issue:

“Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not not exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses North and South.

Doubtless there are individuals on both sides who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some Southern men do free their slaves, go North, and become tip-top Abolitionists; while some Northern ones go South and become most cruel slave-masters.

Lincoln continued to reveal his deep understanding, and his feeling for the Southerners:

“When Southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we, I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists, and that it is very difficult to get rid of it in any satisfactory way. I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself.”

“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.”

“If they were all landed there in a day, would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough to me to denounce people upon.”

But Lincoln was a basically honest man and a realist. Notice his candid remarks on this vexing problem:

“What next? Free them, and make then 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. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.”

But Abraham Lincoln was adamant in his firm conviction that the slaves should be given their constitutional rights:

“When they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge them, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives, which should not, in its stringency, be more likely to carry a free man into slavery, than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an innocent one.”

Only months before being chosen as a Republican presidential candidate for the election of 1860, Lincoln gave a thought-provoking speech before the Cooper Institute in New York City. His words at that address greatly stirred the audience including such distinguished persons as William Cullen Bryant and Horace Greely.

The day after Lincoln’s address, Mr. Greely’s New York Tribune acknowledged this railsplitter’s formidable speaking ability by commenting: “No man ever before made such an impression on his first appeal to a new New York audience.”

Lincoln, though well known through the Lincoln-Douglas debates, was not all that popular with American people generally. How did he come to be elected?

His election was the result of a serious rupture in the Democratic party. The leading Democrat was Senator Douglas from Illinois. He had favored “popular sovereignty” in the new territories.

But his ideas had angered and alienated the proslavery wing of his party. Though Northern Democrats nominated Douglas for President, the southern Democratic party chose the U.S. Vice-President, John C. Breckinridge, as their Presidential candidate for the 1860 election. This split the party right down the middle.

And to make matters worse for the ambitious Douglas, another party was formed calling itself the Constitutional Union party. They nominated former Senator John Bell of Tennessee as their man for the Presidency.

Though Lincoln won just under 40% of the popular votes (Lincoln got 1,865,693 compared to 2,823,975 for all of his opponents) he easily won the Presidential election. He received 180 electoral votes, Breckinridge received 72, Bell got 39 and Douglass received only 12 votes.

Most of Lincoln’s popular votes, and all of his electoral votes, came from the North. The Southerners had already warned that if Lincoln were elected, they would secede – and go their own way.

Lincoln had an agonizing wait after his election in November, 1860. He was not inaugurated into office until March 4th the following year.

The Southerners, who had already threatened secession if Lincoln were elected, carried out their threat. South Carolina was the first to take the fatal plunge on December 20, 1860. On that date their legislature passed the Ordinance of Secession declaring that their state had thereby repealed the acts by which the state of North Carolina had ratified the U.S. Constitution and had dissolved “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and the other states, under the name of the “United States of America.”

President Buchanan, in his message to Congress on December 3, 1860, denied the states the constitutional right of secession. But President Buchanan asserted that the U.S. Constitution gave him no right to attempt coercion. He hoped a compromise settlement could be reached.

But between January 9 and February 1, six other states Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas like dumb sheep, followed South Carolina’s lead. The governors of these six states immediately (without any kind of negotiations) seized all U.S. government buildings, forts and arsenals in their states – except Fort Pickens in Pensacola harbor and Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina.

In February all the delegates from the seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama and established a provisional government with Jefferson Davis as thier President, and Alexander H. Stephens as Vice-President. Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President on February 18.  Southerners did not doubt their constitutional right to secede, but many Southerners did question the expedience of doing so. But others also held sentiments similar to those expressed by Howell Cobb before the Georgia legislature: “We can make better terms out of the Union than in it.” The Southern states knew that they would have to act unitedly. For a single state to secede by itself would have been an invitation to disaster. The Southern states planned to secede from the Union, suspend the functions of the federal government in their state, then consider the matter of re-entry into the Union if and when they felt sufficient guarantees were given.

The Constitution which the Confederate States adopted on March 11 was very similar to the U.S. Constitution, but it made provision for individual state sovereignty. It also included a provision to guarantee that in all territory belonging to the Confederacy, but lying outside the limits of the several states, “the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial Government.”

Before the Confederates fired on the stars and stripes, many Northerners, quite unlike Lincoln, were disgusted with the Southerners and were ready to let the South go in peace. Neither side really wanted war. But they had reached a total impasse. The South believed it had the constitutional right to secede, but the leaders in the North (Buchanan and Lincoln) didn’t see it that way.

In the North, a strong feeling began to develop that they should let the “erring sisters depart in peace.”

Though President Buchanan did not believe he had the right to assume, under the Constitution, the power to coerce the wayward sisters back into the Union. President-elect Lincoln had totally different ideas.

Lincoln realized the Union was in deadly peril. He fully understood that a bloody conflict lay not far down the road – unless the Southerners repented of their actions.

Lincoln expressed his sadness and acknowledged his need for Divine assistance in his colossal task of serving as President of the U.S. during America’s supreme Civil War crisis. Less than a month before his inauguration, he gave a short farewell address to his friends at Springfield, Illinois, and asked their prayers:

“My friends: No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.”

“Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

President Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1961. His first inaugural address will long live as one of the crowning literary majesties of the English language. This great, and truly noble man, now had saddled on his shoulders the crushing burden of taking up the reigns of government of a nation torn by civil discord.

President Lincoln knew that at that very moment, brother was on the verge of drawing sword against brother, father against son, in a mindless fraternal slaughter which would soon stun the nation and horrify a shocked world.

During 1861 and 1862 there had been many battlefield reverses and much general apprehension in the nation that the war was not going too well. During the summer of 1862, there was much criticism and bitter denunciation of Lincoln. General McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign had ended in utter failure.

The radical abolitionist groups had denounced Lincoln for not immediately emancipating all the slaves. They even accused the President of being pro-slavery. And they accused his wife of being disloyal. Her youngest brother, her three half-brothers, and her two half-sister’s husbands were all serving in the Confederate army. Mrs. Lincoln had to continually endure suspicion and the charge of being disloyal.

Lincoln’s reply to Horace Greely’s somewhat critical sentiments, as published in the New York Tribune, gives clear and unmistakable evidence from Lincoln himself that his main purpose was to save the Union- not to destroy the institution of slavery.

This reply to Horace Greely was written one month before Lincoln made know his Emancipation Proclamation. Notice Lincoln’s clear and convincing reasoning:

“Dear Sir: I have just read yours of the 19th, addressed to myself through the New York Tribune. If there be in it any statements or assumptions of fact which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not, now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptible in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I wave it in deference to an old friend whose heart I have always supposed to be right.”

“As to the policy I “seem to be pursuing,” as you say, I have not meant to leave any on in doubt. I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was.’ ”
“If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them.”

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would also do that.”

“What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forebear, I forebear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

“I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help to the cause, I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors, and I shall adopt new views so far as they shall appear to be true views.”

“I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

About one month after writing that letter President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. He decided to do this without the advice of his cabinet. After writing it out he read it to them.

By midsummer, 1862, the military situation had gone from bad to worse. It was feared that to make the proclamation without a military victory would be interpreted as “our last shriek on the retreat.”

Secretary Seward therefore counselled Lincoln to wait until the North had achieved a victory, then make the Emancipation Proclamation. That is what Lincoln decided to do.

The commander of the Confederate army in Virginia, General Robert E. Lee, invaded Maryland in September, 1862 with about 50,000 troops. He hoped for a victory which would thereby gain foreign recognition for the Confederacy.

But a copy of Lee’s battle plans fell into the hands of Union soldiers, and this among other things, helped to prevent General Lee attaining the victory he had planned. At the battle of Antietam, the Northern forces almost cracked the Southern lines. Both armies suffered heavy losses and General Lee had to retreat back into Virginia after this bloody encounter. He had suffered nearly 11,000 casualties, while the North suffered about 12,500.

This Confederate retreat gave Lincoln the opportunity he had been looking for. Now, Lincoln believed, was the opportune time to issue his Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln’s generals, Northern abolitionists, powerful Republican congressmen and many others had been urging the President to free the slaves. Many in the North were now solidly behind such a move.

Although the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 had not given the Northern army a clear-cut triumph, nonetheless Lee was repulsed and had to retreat. This was good news for the North.

Accordingly, President Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22 in which he warned the states in rebellion that if they didn’t’ surrender by January 1, 1863, he would issue the final proclamation which would free their slaves.

This preliminary warning gave the rebellious states about one hundred days in which to comply with the President’s command. Otherwise the President would procede.

Southerners greeted the preliminary proclamation with sneers and utmost scorn. How could Mr. Lincoln free their slaves, when he was not now their President?

Lincoln knew that issuing the final proclamation on January 1, 1863 would accomplish several objectives: It would cause Europeans (the English and French in particular) to have greater sympathy for the Northern cause. The proclamation would also make it possible for many negro slaves to enter the military forces of the Union. Such a proclamation, it was hoped and believed, would in time weaken the South by causing Southern slaves to desert and seek the protection and patronage of the Union.

Furthermore, such a proclamation would tend to unite the Northerners more strongly behind Lincoln.

What were the main features of the Emancipation Proclamation which became effective on January 1, 1863?

Firstly, it freed all the slaves that were in the states (or in parts of any states) in rebellion against the Union).

Secondly, it asked all former slaves to abstain from violence (except in self- defense), and requested them to labor faithfully for reasonable wages; “And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.”

Thirdly, this proclamation made it possible for a large reservoir of blacks to be inducted into the military.

“And I further declare,” said the President, “and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the army service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”

The President’s Emancipation Proclamation concluded with an appeal to mankind and to the Almighty: “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”

Soon after the proclamation was issued, the North was solidly behind the President (including some who had dragged their feet before it was made), and the proclamation was also instrumental in gaining sympathy from Britain and France who tended to sympathize with the slaves and with the North even more after the proclamation.

The proclamation gave the final go ahead to recruiting Negro soldiers. About 180,000 Negroes donned the Union uniform during the remaining two years of the war. This helped to strengthen the armed forces of the North, and at the same time weakened Southern morale.

Overall, the Emancipation Proclamation proved to be a plus for Lincoln’s administration. Lincoln himself is said to have referred to it as “the central act of my administration, and the greatest event of the 19th century.”

If has oft been pointed out that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free any slaves in the North. It only freed those slaves in the rebel states – where the President actually had no power to enforce the proclamation. It should be borne in mind that this was not intended by Lincoln to have an immediate gigantic impact. This proclamation was expected to be enforced in time – by the Northern Armies. They could free the slaves no faster than they conquered the South. But the government of the United States fully intended to free all slaves everywhere in the country as soon as it was practicable.

This Emancipation Proclamation had, it was believed by Lincoln and his countrymen, dealt the real deathblow to human bondage in America.

Officially, however, the real end of slavery came after Lincolns’ assassination when Congress ratified the 13th Amendment in December,1865.

“SECTION I. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been fully convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

“SECTION II. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

When the Southern states seceded, Lincoln delayed to take any precipitous action because he knew that if he waited until the South fired the first shots, this would unify the North behind the Union cause.

When the Confederates demanded that Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor be surrendered, Lincoln refused. Instead, President Lincoln sent supplies to replenish the provisions at the Fort. On April 12, 1861 Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter, and the following day it was forced to surrender, The Civil War had begun.

President Lincoln met the challenge with energy and resoluteness. He immediately called out the militia to suppress the “insurrection.” Also, he promptly enforced a blockade of Southern ports, and gave the Union army the right to suspend the privilege of habeas corpus in any areas where there were active Southern sympathizers.

Many people objected to his war-time measure, but Lincoln excused it, saying that it was necessary for the defense and preservation of the Constitution and the Union.

Only two days after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for the induction of 75,000 men into the army. He got more men than there was equipment to supply them.

Lincoln didn’t hesitate to remove a general who did not impress him with battlefield results. He appointed General George B. McClellan to command the main army on the Potomac. When McClellan didn’t gain any brilliant victories or do much of anything at all, Lincoln relieved him of his command and replaced him with General John Pope.

General Pope was no better, and suffered a serious defeat, so Lincoln recalled McClellan and asked him to defend Washington. “Little Mac” turned back General Lee at Antietam, but didn’t follow through and so Lincoln again had him relieved of his command.

Lincoln then put General Ambrose E. Burnside in command. Burnside was defeated at the Battle of Fredericksburg, so Lincoln appointed General Joseph Hooker to succeed him. He too met defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville, so Lincoln finally had him replaced by General Ulysses S. Grant. Commanding generals in the Union Army were rotated like musical chairs because of their lack of inspiration, leadership and prowess.

Some time before Lincoln replaced General Hooker, he wrote him the following letter:

“General: I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course, I have done this upon what appeared to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you.

I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which of course I like, I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable if not an indispensable quality.

You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.

I have heard, in such a way as to believe it of you, recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain success can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.

The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence from him, will not turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it; and now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.

Such a letter does a great deal to reveal the character of the man who wrote it. You can see that Lincoln was no pushover. On the other hand, you see revealed a man who was always willing to overlook human faults, if they did not get too much in the way of the man carrying out his serious responsibilities.

The events of the Civil War had not gone very well for the Union. When in 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that October 3 be set aside as a day of nationa wide Thanksgiving. The President solemnly proclaimed:

“The year that is drawing toward a close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that had been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield; and the country, rejoining in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverance and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, of suffers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidable engaged, and fervently  implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Two great victories had been won by the Union armies in 1863. General Lee’s Confederate army was defeated by General George G. Meade’s Union army at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the first three days of July.

Then, in the western theater of the war, Vicksburg, Mississippi fell to Grant’s victorious troops on July 4th.  This was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. After Lincoln heard that Vicksburg had been taken by the Union forces, he is said to have remarked: “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

It was decided to dedicate a cemetery on a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield. The date set for the ceremonies was November 19, 1863. Edward Everett, one of America’s greatest orators was scheduled to be the principle speaker at the ceremonies. Everett spoke for two solid hours. President Lincoln was asked to say a few words. And that is exactly what he did. He spoke for only three minutes, but his words continue to echo down through time like thunder claps.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is considered one of the finest masterpieces of English prose ever written! In the three short minutes Lincoln said the words every school boy has heard or recited since:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now, we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate- we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

What sort of a man was Lincoln? Lincoln’s law partner, William H. Herndon, has given us a good description of him. He knew Lincoln for about thirty years.

“It is now the time to describe the person of Mr. Lincoln: he was about six feet four inches high, and when he left the city, was fifty-one years old, having good health and no gray hairs or but few on his head; he was thin, wiry, sinewy, raw and big heavy-boned, thin through the breast to the back and narrow across the shoulders, standing he leaned forward; was what may be called stoop-shouldered, inclining to the consumptively built, his usual weight being about one hundred and sixty eight pounds. His organism, and structure were loose and leathery; his body was well shrunk, cadaverous and shriveled, having very dark skin, dry and tough, wrinkled and lying somewhat in flabby folds; dark hair, the man looking woe-struck. The whole man, body and mind, worked slowly, creakingly, as if it needed oiling. Physically he was a very powerful man, lifting, as said with ease four or six hundred pounds.

“Lincoln’s head was long and tall from the base of the brain to and from the eyebrows. His head ran backward, his forehead rising as it ran back at a low angle, like Clay’s and unlike Webster’s, almost perpendicular. The size of his hat, measured on the hatter’s hat block was 7 1/3, his head being from ear to ear six and a half inches. Thus measured it was not below the medium or average size.

“His forehead was narrow but high; his hair was dark, almost black, and lay floating where his fingers put it or the winds left it, piled up and tossed about at random; his cheekbones were high, sharp, and prominent; his eyebrows heavy and prominent; his jaws were long, up curbed, and massive, looked solid, heavy, and strong; his nose was large, long, and blunt, a little awry toward the right eye; his chin was long, sharp and up curved; his eyebrows cropped out like a huge jutting rock out of the brow of a hill; his face was long, narrow, sallow, and cadaverous, flesh shrunk, shriveled, wrinkled, and dry, having on his face a  few hairs here and there; his cheeks were leathern and saffron-colored; his ears were large and ran out nearly at right angles from the sides of his head, caused by heavy hats in which he carried his big cotton or other handkerchief, his bank look, his letters, and his memoranda, generally , and partly by nature; his head was well balanced on his shoulders, his little gray eyes in the right place.

“There was the lone mole on his right cheek just a little above the right corner of his mouth and Adam’s apple on his throat. Beneath this rough and uncouth exterior was a very fine, and exceedingly fine physical organization, a fine and dedicate network of nerves being woven through it along which feelings and thoughts travelled and flashed quicker than lightning.

“Thus I say stood, walked, looked, felt, thought, willed, and acted this peculiar and singular man; he was odd, angular, homely, but when those little gray eyes and face were lighted up by the inward soul on fires of emotion, defending the liberty  of man  or proclaiming the truths of the Declaration of Independence, or defending justice and eternal right, then it was that all those apparently ugly or homely features sprang into organs of beauty, or sank themselves into the sea of his inspiration that on such occasions flooded up his manly face. Sometimes it did appear to me that Lincoln was just fresh from the presence and hands of his Creator.”

Those who knew Lincoln realized here was an honest man, a man who had deep convictions, yes, and a man who was deeply religious. He never belonged to, and seldom attended a church. But he kept the Bible lying on his office desk while President, and is said to have read it often for inspiration. Many of his speeches betray a familiarity with the Scriptures that few, if any, other presidents have known.

And Lincoln was compassionate. It is said that while he was President, he saw a little old lady who needed someone to carry her heavy suitcase. But no one offered to assist. He gladly hoisted the heavy case upon his shoulder and took it to its destination – apparently without lettering her know who he was.

On one occasion he learned of a soldier’s widow who was being taken advantage of. She had gone to a lawyer to get the pension money which the government owed her. It amounted to about $400. The lawyer then charged her $200 for his services. Lincoln took it to court, and won the case. The jury made the lawyer refund all but $50 dollars to the widow.

In 1832, while still a young man, Lincoln had purchased a partnership in a store in New Salem, Illinois with William F. Berry. They purchased the store on credit. Later, Lincoln recalled that their partnership did nothing but get deeper and deeper in debt. After a few months the store failed.

Then Berry died in 1835.This left Lincoln liable for all the debts (about $1,100) accrued in the partnership. Even though it took him several years to pay off the debt, he finally did it – thereby winning the nickname of “Honest Abe.”

Lincoln and Herndon continued their law partnership for many years – from 1844 until Lincoln entered the White House. Even then, just before he left Springfield for Washington, Lincoln (knowing it would be to the advantage of Herndon) asked that his name be retained on the sign which advertise their law partnership.

Abraham Lincoln often charged very little for his services as a lawyer and especially when he was dealing with widows or with poor people, and he sometimes rendered free service when he knew his clients could ill afford to pay anything.

Though Lincoln generally appeared to be a humble man, often traveling with the common people on the train, and always avoiding show, he learned to have confidence in his own talents and abilities. He realized, however, the wisdom of seeking the advice and counsel of others, and believed in appointing able men to assist him in his Presidency.

Shortly after his election, he appointed a number of able men to his cabinet. Salmon P. Chase and William H. Seward had been his principal rivals for the recent presidential nomination. Lincoln appointed Chase Secretary of the Treasure, and gave Seward the job of Secretary of State.

Other cabinet members included Edwin M. Stanton (Secretary of War), Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy), Caleb B. Smith (Secretary of the interior), Montgomery Blair (Postmaster General), and Edward Bates (Attorney General).

Though Lincoln often sought advice, he didn’t feel compelled to accept it unless he, in his own convictions, felt it was good.

Reportedly, on one occasion when the President sought advice from his cabinet, he informed them of his intended course of action, then asked for their counsel. All, without exception, were opposed to his plan of action. And some members of his cabinet felt they were much more able than the homely looking, awkward President – who somehow managed to get into the White House.

But these Cabinet members felt confident that the nation would be steered on a good course and was in safe hands so long as they were in his cabinet, and so long as they could pretty well-run things.

On this occasion, after seeking the advice of the Cabinet, and after they all advised against his intended course of action, Lincoln announced: “Well, gentlemen, I see there are five noes and one aye. The ayes have it. And if I need your advice again, I shall call you. Good day, Gentlemen!”

But the President did accept the advice of others when he felt it was sound. Without first consulting his cabinet, he had drafted and soon intended to issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. He assembled his cabinet and told them he was not there to get their advice but was there to inform them that he intended to issue the Proclamation in the immediate future.

Various suggestions were made, including that of the Secretary of State (William H. Seward), who said he approved of issuing the proclamation, but suggested that Lincoln wait until the Union had won a victory, then make it.

Here is Seward’s advice: “Mr. President, I approve of the proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind, consequent upon our repeated reverses, is so great that I fear the effect of so important a step. It may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help; the government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the government.”

Mr. Seward continued “Now, while I approve the measure, I suggest, sir, that you postpone its issue, until you can give it to the country supported by military success, instead of issuing it, as would be the case now, upon the greatest disasters of the war!”

Lincoln once wrote a letter to his step-brother which reveals great wisdom. When Lincoln’s financial fortunes improved, his poor relatives often called upon him for assistance. And he is known to have given them considerable assistance – especially his step-mother whom he loved and respected very deeply. But his relatives sometimes took advantage of him. Lincoln, though compassionate, was no pushover.

How fortunate the United States was to have a wise, humble, honest, far-sighted man of deep religious and moral convictions for their President at that time.

Many people (including not a few leaders) would have been willing to compromise, to let the southern states go their own way – let the wayward sisters depart in peace.

But, in 1861, the Union was in deadly peril. The real issue was not that of slavery – as Lincoln repeatedly affirmed – but was whether or not the Constitution granted each state the right to secede - thereby rupturing the Union beyond repair.

Though there is nothing which specifically authorizes or forbids a state in the Union to secede – yet Lincoln and other Northern leaders felt the true intent of the Constitution was that the states would be bound in perpetual Union.

It is true that during the latter part of the Civil War, the emphasis (after the Emancipation Proclamation) was placed on freeing the Negroes from their slavery. But the President led the United States into a Civil War – after the stars and stripes had been fired on – for the express purpose of preserving the Union, not for the purpose of freeing the slaves.

During the first two or three years of the war, things went badly for the North. They suffered defeat after defeat, and at that time had just about reached the end of their rope. Some were ready to compromise – to grant the South their independence – thus permanently dividing the nation. But not the President. He never wavered.

Even though it took over six hundred thousand lives to prove that the Union was to be perpetual, the United States has continued to grow and prosper ever since the Civil War. This unparalleled growth has only been possible as a result of the states remaining united. It took the Civil War to prove that the Union was meant to be perpetual. And it took a strong President to withstand superhuman pressures from all sides, and to doggedly direct the Union to persevere to the end in order to preserve the Union intact.

Like Washington, Lincoln was no god, nor even an angel. But he was a wise, compassionate, far-sighted President. He was just what this nation needed to guide her through the most traumatic period in her history.

 
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