Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version
A Menacing Pause
Lincoln had now reached his final stature. In contact with the world his note was an
inscrutable serenity. The jokes which he continued to tell were but transitory
glimmerings. They crossed the surface of his mood like quick flickers of golden light on
a stormy March day,-- witnesses that the sun would yet prevail,--in a forest-among
mountain shadows. Or, they were lightning glimmers in a night sky; they revealed, they
did not dispel, the dark beyond. Over all his close associates his personal ascendency was
complete. Now that Chase was gone, the last callous spot in the Cabinet had been
amputated. Even Stanton, once so domineering, so difficult to manage, had become as
clay in his hands.
But Lincoln never used power for its own sake, never abused his ascendency. Always he
got his end if he could without evoking the note of command. He would go to surprising
lengths to avoid appearing peremptory. A typical remark was his smiling reply to a
Congressman whom he had armed with a note to the Secretary, who had returned aghast,
the Secretary having refused to comply with the President's request and having decorated
his refusal with extraordinary language.
"Did Stanton say I was a damned fool?" asked Lincoln. "Then I dare say I must be one,
for Stanton is generally right and he always says what he means."
Nevertheless, the time had come when Lincoln had only to say the word and Stanton, no
matter how fierce his temper might' be, would acknowledge his master. General Fry, the
Provost Marshal, witnessed a scene between them which is a curious commentary on the
transformation of the Stanton of 1862. Lincoln had issued an order relative to the
disposition of certain recruits. Stanton protested that it was unwarranted, that he would
not put it into effect. The Provost Marshal was called in and asked to state at length all
the facts involved. When he had finished Stanton broke out excitedly--
"'Now, Mr. President, those are the facts and you must see that your order can not be
"Lincoln sat upon a sofa with his legs crossed and did not say a word until the Secretary's
last remark. Then he said in a somewhat positive tone, 'Mr. Secretary, I reckon you'll
have to execute the order.'
"Stanton replied with asperity, 'Mr. President, I can not do it. The order is an improper
one, and I can not execute it."
Lincoln fixed his eye upon Stanton, and in a firm voice with an accent that clearly
showed his determination, he said, 'Mr. Secretary, it will have to be done.'"