Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

From this time during many years almost all the men who saw beyond the surface in
Lincoln have indicated, in one way or another, their vision of a constant quality. The
observers of the surface did not see it. That is to say, Lincoln did not at once cast off any
of his previous characteristics. It is doubtful if he ever did. His experience was
tenaciously cumulative. Everything he once acquired, he retained, both in the outer life
and the inner; and therefore, to those who did not have the clue to him, he appeared
increasingly contradictory, one thing on the surface, another within. Clary's Grove and
the evolutions from Clary's Grove, continued to think of him as their leader. On the other
hand, men who had parted with the mere humanism of Clary's Grove, who were a bit
analytical, who thought themselves still more analytical, seeing somewhat beneath the
surface, reached conclusions similar to those of a shrewd Congressman who long
afterward said that Lincoln was not a leader of men but a manager of men.[1] This astute
distinction was not true of the Lincoln the Congressman confronted; nevertheless, it
betrays much both of the observer and of the man he tried to observe. In the
Congressman's day, what he thought he saw was in reality the shadow of a Lincoln that
had passed away, passed so slowly, so imperceptibly that few people knew it had passed.
During many years following 1835, the distinction in the main applied. So thought the
men who, like Lincoln's latest law partner, William H. Herndon, were not derivatives of
Clary's Grove. The Lincoln of these days was the only one Herndon knew. How deeply
he understood Lincoln is justly a matter of debate; but this, at least, he understood--that
Clary's Grove, in attributing to Lincoln its own idea of leadership, was definitely wrong.
He saw in Lincoln, in all the larger matters, a tendency to wait on events, to take the lead
indicated by events, to do what shallow people would have called mere drifting. To
explain this, he labeled him a fatalist.[2] The label was only approximate, as most labels
are. But Herndon's effort to find one is significant. In these years, Lincoln took the
initiative--when he took it at all--in a way that most people did not recognize. His spirit
was ever aloof. It was only the every-day, the external Lincoln that came into practical
contact with his fellows.
This is especially true of the growing politician. He served four consecutive terms in the
Legislature without doing anything that had the stamp of true leadership. He was not like
either of the two types of politicians that generally made up the legislatures of those days-
-the men who dealt in ideas as political counters, and the men who were grafters without
in their naive way knowing that they were grafters. As a member of the Legislature,
Lincoln did not deal in ideas. He was instinctively incapable of graft A curiously routine
politician, one who had none of the earmarks familiar in such a person. Aloof, and yet,
more than ever companionable, the power he had in the Legislature--for he had acquired
a measure of power--was wholly personal. Though called a Whig, it was not as a party
man but as a personal friend that he was able to carry through his legislative triumphs.
His most signal achievement was wholly a matter of personal politics. There was a
general demand for the removal of the capital from its early seat at Vandalia, and rivalry
among other towns was keen. Sangamon County was bent on winning the prize for its
own Springfield. Lincoln was put in charge of the Springfield strategy. How he played
his cards may be judged from the recollections of another member who seems to have
anticipated that noble political maxim, "What's the Constitution between friends?"