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Lincoln's Personal Life
Nathaniel Wright Stephenson
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The Tribune Of The People
Between March and December, 1863, Congress was not in session. Its members were
busy "taking the sense of the country" as they would have said: "potting their ears to the
ground," as other people would say. A startling tale the ground told them. it was nothing
less than that Lincoln was the popular hero; that the people believed in him; that the
politicians would do well to shape their ways accordingly. When they reassembled, they
were in a sullen, disappointed frame of mind. They would have liked to ignore the
ground's mandate; but being politicians, they dared not.
What an ironical turn of events! Lincoln's well-laid plan for a coalition of Moderates and
Democrats had come to nothing. Logically, he ought now to be at the mercy of the
Republican leaders. But instead, those leaders were beginning to be afraid of him, were
perceiving that he had power whereof they had not dreamed. Like Saul the son of Kish,
who had set out to find his father's asses, he had found instead a kingdom. How had he
On a grand scale, it was the same sort of victory that had made him a power, so long
before, on the little stage at Springfield. It was personal politics. His character had saved
him. A multitude who saw nothing in the fine drawn constitutional issue of the war
powers, who sensed the war in the most simple and elementary way, had formed,
somehow, a compelling and stimulating idea of the President. They were satisfied that
"Old Abe," or "Father Abraham," was the man for them. When, after one of his numerous
calls for fresh troops, their hearts went out to him, a new song sprang to life, a ringing,
vigorous, and yet a touching song with the refrain, "We're coming, Father Abraham, three
hundred thousand more."
But how has he done it, asked the bewildered politicians, one of another. How had he
created this personal confidence? They, Wade, Chandler, Stevens, Davis, could not do it;
why could he?
Well, for one thing, he was a grand reality. They, relatively, were shadows. The wind of
destiny for him was the convictions arising out of his own soul; for them it was vox
populi. The genuineness of Lincoln, his spiritual reality, had been perceived early by a
class of men whom your true politician seldom understands. The Intellectuals--"them
literary fellers," in the famous words of an American Senator--were quick to see that the
President was an extraordinary man; they were not long in concluding that he was a
genius. The subtlest intellect of the time, Hawthorne, all of whose prejudices were
enlisted against him, said in the Atlantic of July, 1863: "He is evidently a man of keen
faculties, and what is still more to the purpose, of powerful character. As to his integrity,
the people have that intuition of it which is never deceived he has a flexible mind capable
of much expansion." And this when Trumbull chafed in spirit because the President was
too "weak" for his part and Wade railed at him as a despot. As far back as 1860, Lowell,
destined to become one of his ablest defenders, had said that Lincoln had "proved both
his ability and his integrity; he . . . had experience enough in public affairs to make him a
statesman, and not enough to make him a politician." To be sure, there were some
Intellectuals who could not see straight nor think clear. The world would have more
confidence in the caliber of Bryant had he been able to rank himself in the Lincoln