Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version
After twenty-three years of successive defeats, Lincoln, almost fortuitously, was at the
center of the political maelstrom. The clue to what follows is in the way he had
developed during that long discouraging apprenticeship to greatness. Mentally, he had
always been in isolation. Socially, he had lived in a near horizon. The real tragedy of his
failure at Washington was in the closing against him of the opportunity to know his
country as a whole. Had it been Lincoln instead of Douglas to whom destiny had given a
residence at Washington during the 'fifties, it is conceivable that things might have been
different in the 'sixties. On the other hand, America would have lost its greatest example
of the artist in politics.
And without that artist, without his extraordinary literary gift, his party might not have
consolidated in 1860. A very curious party it was. It had sprung to life as a denial, as a
device for halting Douglas. Lincoln's doctrine of the golden mean, became for once a
political power. Men of the most diverse views on other issues accepted in their need the
axiom: "Stand with anybody so long as he stands right." And standing right, for that
moment in the minds of them all, meant keeping slavery and the money power from
devouring the territories.
The artist of the movement expressed them all in his declaration that the nation needed
the Territories to give home and opportunity to free white people. Even the Abolitionists,
who hitherto had refused to make common cause with any other faction, entered the
negative coalition of the new party. So did Whigs, and anti-slavery Democrats, as well as
other factions then obscure which we should now label Socialists and Labormen.
However, this coalition, which in origin was purely negative, revealed, the moment it
coalesced, two positive features. To the man of the near horizon in 1860 neither of these
features seemed of first importance. To the man outside that horizon, seeing them in
perspective as related to the sum total of American life, they had a significance he did not
The first of these was the temper of the Abolitionists. Lincoln ignored it. He was content
with his ringing assertion,of, the golden mean. But there spoke the man of letters rather
than the statesman. Of temper in politics as an abstract idea, he had been keenly
conscious from the first; but his lack of familiarity with political organizations kept him
from assigning full value to the temper of any one factor as affecting the joint temper of
the whole group. It was appointed for him to learn this in a supremely hard way and to
apply the lesson with wonderful audacity. But in 1860 that stern experience still slept in
the future. He had no suspicion as yet that he might find it difficult to carry out his own
promise to stand with the Abolitionists in excluding slavery from the Territories, and to
stand against them in enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law. He did not yet see why any one
should doubt the validity of this promise; why any one should be afraid to go along with
him, afraid that the temper of one element would infect the whole coalition.
But this fear that Lincoln did not allow for, possessed already a great many minds.
Thousands of Southerners, of the sort whom Lincoln credited with good intentions about
slavery, feared the Abolitionists Not because the Abolitionists wanted to destroy slavery,