Biography of Abraham Lincoln HTML version

uncontrollable contingencies; so many of the data, whether
for hope or fear, were, from their novelty, incapable of
arrangement under any of the categories of historical
precedent, that there were moments of crisis when the firmest
believer in the strength and sufficiency of the democratic
theory of government might well hold his breath in vague
apprehension of disaster. Our teachers of political
philosophy, solemnly arguing from the precedent of some petty
Grecian, Italian, or Flemish city, whose long periods of
aristocracy were broken now and then by awkward parentheses
of mob, had always taught us that democracies were incapable
of the sentiment of loyalty, of concentrated and prolonged
effort, of far- reaching conceptions; were absorbed in
material interests; impatient of regular, and much more of
exceptional restraint; had no natural nucleus of gravitation,
nor any forces but centrifugal; were always on the verge of
civil war, and slunk at last into the natural almshouse of
bankrupt popular government, a military despotism. Here was
indeed a dreary outlook for persons who knew democracy, not
by rubbing shoulders with it lifelong, but merely from books,
and America only by the report of some fellow-Briton, who,
having eaten a bad dinner or lost a carpet-bag here, had
written to *The Times* demanding redress, and drawing a
mournful inference of democratic instability. Nor were men
wanting among ourselves who had so steeped their brains in
London literature as to mistake Cockneyism for European
culture, and contempt of their country for cosmopolitan
breadth of view, and who, owing all they had an all they were
to democracy, thought it had an air of high-breeding to join
in the shallow epicedium that our bubble had burst. But
beside any disheartening influences which might affect the
timid or the despondent, there were reasons enough of settled
gravity against any over-confidence of hope. A war--which,
whether we consider the expanse of the territory at stake,
the hosts brought into the field, or the reach of the
principles involved, may fairly be reckoned the most
momentous of modern times--was to be waged by a people
divided at home, unnerved by fifty years of peace, under a
chief magistrate without experience and without reputation,
whose every measure was sure to be cunningly hampered by a
jealous and unscrupulous minority, and who, while dealing
with unheard-of complications at home, must soothe a hostile
neutrality abroad, waiting only a pretext to become war. All
this was to be done without warning and without preparation,