Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

The Strange New Man
There is a period of sixteen months--from February, 1861, to a day in June, 1862,--when
Lincoln is the most singular, the most problematic of statesmen. Out of this period he
issues with apparent abruptness, the final Lincoln, with a place among the few
consummate masters of state-craft. During the sixteen months, his genius comes and
goes. His confidence, whether in himself or in others, is an uncertain quantity. At times
he is bold, even rash; at others, irresolute. The constant factor in his mood all this while is
his amazing humility. He seems to have forgotten his own existence. As a person with
likes and dislikes, with personal hopes and fears, he has vanished. He is but an afflicted
and perplexed mind, struggling desperately to save his country. A selfless man, he may
be truly called through months of torment which made him over from a theoretical to a
practical statesman. He entered this period a literary man who had been elevated almost
by accident to the position of a leader in politics. After many blunders, after doubt,
hesitation and pain, he came forth from this stern ordeal a powerful man of action.
The impression which he made on the country at the opening of this period was
unfortunate. The very power that had hitherto been the making of him--the literary
power, revealing to men in wonderfully convincing form the ideas which they felt within
them but could not utter--this had deserted him. Explain the psychology of it any way you
will, there is the fact! The speeches Lincoln made on the way to Washington during the
latter part of February were appallingly unlike himself. His mind had suddenly fallen
dumb. He had nothing to say. The gloom, the desolation that had penetrated his soul,
somehow, for the moment, made him commonplace. When he talked--as convention
required him to do at all his stopping places--his words were but faint echoes of the great
political exponent he once had been. His utterances were fatuous; mere exhortations to
the country not to worry. "There is no crisis but an artificial one," he said.[1] And the
country stood aghast! Amazement, bewilderment, indignation, was the course of the
reaction in many minds of his own party. Their verdict was expressed in the angry
language of Samuel Bowles, "Lincoln is a Simple Susan."[2]
In private talk, Lincoln admitted that he was "more troubled about the outlook than he
thought it discreet to show." This remark was made to a "Public Man," whose diary has
been published but whose identity is still secret. Though keenly alert for any touch of
weakness or absurdity in the new President, calling him "the most ill-favored son of
Adam I ever saw," the Public Man found him "crafty and sensible." In conversation, the
old Lincoln, the matchless phrase-maker, could still express himself. At New York he
was told of a wild scheme that was on foot to separate the city from the North, form a city
state such as Hamburg then was, and set up a commercial alliance with the Confederacy.
"As to the free city business," said Lincoln, "well, I reckon it will be some time before the
front door sets up bookkeeping on its own account."[3] The formal round of
entertainment on his way to Washington wearied Lincoln intensely. Harassed and
preoccupied, he was generally ill at ease. And he was totally unused to sumptuous living.
Failures in social usage were inevitable. New York was convulsed with amusement