Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

Defining The Issue
While these startling events were taking place in the months between Sumter and Bull
Run, Lincoln passed through a searching intellectual experience. The reconception of his
problem, which took place in March, necessitated a readjustment of his political attitude.
He had prepared his arsenal for the use of a strategy now obviously beside the mark. The
vital part of the first inaugural was its attempt to cut the ground from under the slave
profiteers. Its assertion that nothing else was important, the idea that the crisis was
"artificial," was sincere. Two discoveries had revolutionized Lincoln's thought. The
discovery that what the South was in earnest about was not slavery but State sovereignty;
the discovery that the North was far from a unit upon nationalism. To meet the one, to
organize the other, was the double task precipitated by the fall of Sumter. Not only as a
line of attack, but also as a means of defense, Lincoln had to raise to its highest power the
argument for the sovereign reality of the national government. The effort to do this
formed the silent inner experience behind the surging external events in the stormy
months between April and July. It was governed by a firmness not paralleled in his
outward course. As always, Lincoln the thinker asked no advice. It was Lincoln the
administrator, painfully learning a new trade, who was timid, wavering, pliable in
council. Behind the apprentice in statecraft, the lonely thinker stood apart, inflexible as
ever, impervious to fear. The thinking which he formulated in the late spring and early
summer of 1861 obeyed his invariable law of mental gradualness. It arose out of the deep
places of his own past. He built up his new conclusion by drawing together conclusions
he had long held, by charging them with his later experience, by giving to them a new
turn, a new significance.
Lincoln's was one of those natures in which ideas have to become latent before they can
be precipitated by outward circumstance into definite form. Always with him the idea
that was to become powerful at a crisis was one that he had long held in solution, that had
permeated him without his formulating it, that had entwined itself with his heartstrings;
never was it merely a conscious act of the logical faculty. His characteristics as a lawyer--
preoccupation with basal ideas, with ethical significance, with those emotions which
form the ultimates of life--these always determined his thought. His idea of nationalism
was a typical case. He had always believed in the reality of the national government as a
sovereign fact. But he had thought little about it; rather he had taken it for granted. It was
so close to his desire that he could not without an effort acknowledge the sincerity of
disbelief in it. That was why he was so slow in forming a true comprehension of the real
force opposing him. Disunion had appeared to him a mere device of party strategy. That
it was grounded upon a genuine, a passionate conception of government, one
irreconcilable with his own, struck him, when at last he grasped it, as a deep offense. The
literary statesman sprang again to life. He threw all the strength of his mind, the peculiar
strength that had made him president, into a statement of the case for nationalism.
His vehicle for publishing his case was the first message to Congress.[1] It forms an
amazing contrast with the first inaugural. The argument over slavery that underlies the
whole of the inaugural has vanished. The message does not mention slavery. From the
first word to the last, it is an argument for the right of the central government to exercise
sovereign power, and for the duty of the American people--to give their lives for the
Union. No hint of compromise; nought of the cautious and conciliatory tone of the