Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

The Jacobins Become Inquisitors
The temper animating Hay's "Jacobins" formed a new and really formidable danger
which menaced Lincoln at the close of 1861. But had he been anything of an opportunist,
it would have offered him an unrivaled opportunity. For a leader who sought personal
power, this raging savagery, with its triple alliance of an organized political machine, a
devoted fanaticism, and the war fury, was a chance in ten thousand. It led to his door the
steed of militarism, shod and bridled, champing upon the bit, and invited him to leap into
the saddle. Ten words of acquiescence in the program of the Jacobins, and the dreaded
role of the man on horseback was his to command.
The fallacy that politics are primarily intellectual decisions upon stated issues, the going
forth of the popular mind to decide between programs presented to it by circumstances,
receives a brilliant refutation in the course of the powerful minority that was
concentrating around the three great "Jacobins." The subjective side of politics, also the
temperamental side, here found expression. Statecraft is an art; creative statesmen are like
other artists. Just as the painter or the poet, seizing upon old subjects, uses them as outlets
for his particular temper, his particular emotion, and as the temper, the emotion are what
counts in his work, so with statesmen, with Lincoln on the one hand, with Chandler at the
opposite extreme.
The Jacobins stood first of all for the sudden reaction of bold fierce natures from a long
political repression. They had fought their way to leadership as captains of an opposition.
They were artists who had been denied an opportunity of expression. By a sudden turn of
fortune, it had seemed to come within their grasp. Temperamentally they were fighters.
Battle for them was an end in itself. The thought of Conquest sang to them like the
morning stars. Had they been literary men, their favorite poetry would have been the
sacking of Troy town. Furthermore, they were intensely provincial. Undoubted as was
their courage, they had also the valor of ignorance. They had the provincial's disdain for
the other side of the horizon, his unbounded confidence in his ability to whip all creation.
Chandler, scornfully brushing aside a possible foreign war, typified their mood.
And in quiet veto of all their hopes rose against them the apparently easy-going, the
smiling, story-telling, unrevengeful, new man at the White House. It is not to be
wondered that they spent the summer laboring to build up a party against him, that they
turned eagerly to the new session of Congress, hoping to consolidate a faction opposed to
His second message [1], though without a word of obvious defiance, set him squarely
against them on all their vital contentions. The winter of 1861-1862 is the strangest
period of Lincoln's career. Although the two phases of him, the outer and the inner, were,
in point of fact, moving rapidly toward their point of fusion, apparently they were further
away than ever before. Outwardly, his most conspicuous vacillations were in this winter
and in the following spring. Never before or after did he allow himself to be
overshadowed so darkly by his advisers in all the concerns of action. In amazing contrast,
in all the concerns of thought, he was never more entirely himself. The second message,
prepared when the country rang with what seemed to be a general frenzy against him, did
not give ground one inch. This was all the more notable because his Secretary of War had