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Biography of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln by James Russell Lowell
THERE have been many painful crises since the impatient
vanity of South Carolina hurried ten prosperous Commonwealths
into a crime whose assured retribution was to leave them
either at the mercy of the nation they had wronged, or of the
anarchy they had summoned but could not control, when no
thoughtful American opened his morning paper without dreading
to find that he had no longer a country to love and honor.
Whatever the result of the convulsion whose first shocks were
beginning to be felt, there would still be enough square
miles of earth for elbow-room; but that ineffable sentiment
made up of memory and hope, of instinct and tradition, which
swells every man's heart and shapes his thought, though
perhaps never present to his consciousness, would be gone
from it, leaving it common earth and nothing more. Men might
gather rich crops from it, but that ideal harvest of
priceless associations would be reaped no longer; that fine
virtue which sent up messages of courage and security from
every sod of it would have evaporated beyond recall. We
should be irrevocably cut off from our past, and be forced to
splice the ragged ends of our lives upon whatever new
conditions chance might leave dangling for us. We confess
that we had our doubts at first whether the patriotism of our
people were not too narrowly provincial to embrace the
proportions of national peril. We felt an only too natural
distrust of immense public meetings and enthusiastic cheers.
That a reaction should follow the holiday enthusiasm with
which the war was entered on, that it should follow soon, and
that the slackening of public spirit should be proportionate
to the previous over-tension, might well be foreseen by all
who had studied human nature or history. Men acting
gregariously are always in extremes; as they are one moment
capable of higher courage, so they are liable, the next, to
baser depression, and it is often a matter of chance whether
numbers shall multiply confidence or discouragement. Nor
does deception lead more surely to distrust of men, than
self-deception to suspicion of principles. The only faith
that wears well and holds its color in all weathers is that
which is woven of conviction and set with the sharp mordant
of experience. Enthusiasm is good material for the orator,
but the statesman needs something more durable to work