Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version
Lincoln's ultimatum of December twentieth contained three proposals that might be made
to the Southern leaders:
That the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law which hitherto had been left to State
authorities should be taken over by Congress and supported by the Republicans.
That the Republicans to the extent of their power should work for the repeal of all those
"Personal Liberty Laws" which had been established in certain Northern States to defeat
the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law.
That the Federal Union must be preserved.
In presenting these proposals along with a refusal to consider the Crittenden
Compromise, Seward tampered with their clear-cut form. Fearful of the effect on the
extremists of the Republican group, he withheld Lincoln's unconditional promise to
maintain the Fugitive Slave Law and instead of pledging his party to the repeal of
Personal Liberty Laws he promised only to have Congress request the States to repeal
them. He suppressed altogether the assertion that the Union must be preserved. About
the same time, in a public speech, he said he was not going to be "humbugged" by the
bogy of secession, and gave his fatuous promise that all the trouble would be ended
inside ninety days. For all his brilliancy of a sort, he was spiritually obtuse. On him, as on
Douglas, Fate had lavished opportunities to see life as it is, to understand the motives of
men; but it could not make him use them. He was incorrigibly cynical. He could not
divest himself of the idea that all this confusion was hubbub, was but an ordinary political
game, that his only cue was to assist his adversaries in saving their faces. In spite of his
rich experience,--in spite of being an accomplished man of the world,--at least in his own
estimation--he was as blind to the real motives of that Southern majority which had
rejected Breckinridge as was the inexperienced Lincoln. The coolness with which he
modified Lincoln's proposals was evidence that he considered himself the great
Republican and Lincoln an accident. He was to do the same again--to his own regret.
When Lincoln issued his ultimatum, he was approaching the summit, if not at the very
summit, of another of his successive waves of vitality, of self-confidence. That
depression which came upon him about the end of 1858, which kept him undecided, in a
mood of excessive caution during most of 1859, had passed away. The presidential
campaign with its thrilling tension, its excitement, had charged him anew with
confidence. Although one more eclipse was in store for him--the darkest eclipse of all--he
was very nearly the definitive Lincoln of history. At least, he had the courage which that
Lincoln was to show.
He was now the target for a besieging army of politicians clamoring for "spoils" in the
shape of promises of preferment. It was a miserable and disgraceful assault which
profoundly offended him. To his mind this was not the same thing as the simple-
hearted personal politics of his younger days--friends standing together and helping one
another along--but a gross and monstrous rapacity. It was the first chill shadow that
followed the election day.