Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

Apparent Ascendency
Toward the end of 1863, Lowell prepared an essay on "The President's Policy." It might
almost be regarded as a manifesto of the Intellectuals. That there was now a prospect of
winning the war "was mainly due to the good sense, the good humor, the sagacity, the
large- mindedness, and the unselfish honesty of the unknown man whom a blind fortune,
as it seemed, had lifted from the crowd to the most dangerous and difficult eminence of
modern times." When the essay appeared in print, Lincoln was greatly pleased. He wrote
to the editors of the North American Review, "I am not the most impartial judge; yet with
due allowance for this, I venture to hope that the article entitled 'The President's Policy'
will be of value to the country. I fear I am not quite worthy of all which is therein so
kindly said of me personally."[1]
This very able defense of his previous course appeared as he was announcing to the
country his final course. He was now satisfied that winning the war was but a question of
time. What would come after war was now in his mind the overshadowing matter. He
knew that the vindictive temper had lost nothing of its violence. Chandler's savagery--his
belief that the Southerners had forfeited the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness--was still the Vindictive creed. 'Vae victi'! When war ended, they meant to set
their feet on the neck of the vanquished foe. Furthermore, Lincoln was not deceived as to
why they were lying low at this particular minute. Ears had been flattened to the ground
and they were heeding what the ground had said. The President was too popular for them
to risk attacking him without an obvious issue. Their former issue had been securely
appropriated by the Democrats. Where could they find another? With consummate
boldness Lincoln presented them an issue. It was reconstruction. When Congress met, he
communicated the text of a "Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction."[2] This great
document on which all his concluding policy was based, offered "a full pardon" with
"restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves, or in property cases, where
rights of third persons shall have intervened" upon subscribing to an oath of allegiance
which required only a full acceptance of the authority of the United States. This amnesty
was to be extended to all persons except a few groups, such as officers above the rank of
colonel and former officials of the United States. The Proclamation also provided that
whenever, in any Seceded State, the new oath should be taken by ten per cent. of all those
who were qualified to vote under the laws of 1860, these ten per cent. should be
empowered to set up a new State government.
From the Vindictive point of view, here was a startling announcement. Lincoln had
declared for a degree of magnanimity that was as a red rag to a bull. He had also carried
to its ultimate his assumption of war powers. No request was made for congressional
cooperation. The message which the Proclamation accompanied was informative only.
By this time, the Vindictive Coalition of 1861 was gradually coming together again. Or,
more truly, perhaps, various of its elements were fusing into a sort of descendant of the
old coalition. The leaders of the new Vindictive group were much the same as the leaders
of the earlier group. There was one conspicuous addition. During the next six months,
Henry Winter Davis held for a time the questionable distinction of being Lincoln's most
inveterate enemy. He was a member of the House. In the House many young and
headstrong politicians rallied about him. The Democrats at times craftily followed his