The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln HTML version

Lincoln And The War
It is one thing to be elected President of the United States,-- that means triumph, honor,
power: it is quite another thing to perform the duties of President,--for that means labor,
disappointment, difficulty, even danger. Many a man envied Abraham Lincoln when, in
the stately pomp of inauguration and with the plaudits of the spectators ringing about
him, he took the oath of office which for four years transforms an American citizen into
the ruler of these United States. Such envy would have been changed to deepest
sympathy if they could have known what lay before him. After the music and cannon
were dumb, after the flags were all furled and the cheering crowds had vanished, the
shadows of war fell about the Executive Mansion, and its new occupant remained face to
face with his heavy task--a task which, as he had truly said in his speech at Springfield,
was greater than that which rested upon Washington.
Then, as never before, he must have realized the peril of the nation, with its credit gone,
its laws defied, its flag insulted. The South had carried out its threat, and seven million
Americans were in revolt against the idea that "all men are created equal," while twenty
million other Americans were bent upon defending that idea. For the moment both sides
had paused to see how the new President would treat this attempt at secession. It must be
constantly borne in mind that the rebellion in the Southern States with which Mr. Lincoln
had to deal was not a sudden revolution, but a conspiracy of slow growth and long
planning. As one of its actors frankly admitted, it was "not an event of a day. It is not
anything produced by Mr. Lincoln's election. . . . It is a matter which has been gathering
head for thirty years." Its main object, it must also be remembered, was the spread of
slavery. Alexander H. Stephens, in a speech made shortly after he became the
Confederate Vice-President, openly proclaimed slavery to be the "corner-stone" of the
new government. For years it had been the dream of southern leaders to make the Ohio
River the northern boundary of a great slave empire, with everything lying to the south of
that, even the countries of South and Central America, as parts of their system. Though
this dream was never to be realized, the Confederacy finally came to number eleven
States (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Texas,
Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia), and to cover a territory of more than
750,000 square miles--larger than England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany
and Switzerland put together, with a coast line 3,500 miles long, and a land frontier of
over 7,000 miles.
President Buchanan's timidity and want of spirit had alone made this great rebellion
possible, for although it had been "gathering head for thirty years" it was only within the
last few months that it had come to acts of open treason and rebellion. President
Buchanan had opportunity and ample power to crush it when the conspirators first began
to show their hands. Instead he wavered, and delayed, while they grew bold under his
lack of decision, imagining that they would have a bloodless victory, and even boasting
that they would take Washington for their capital; or, if the new President should thwart
them and make them fight, that they would capture Philadelphia and dictate the peace
they wanted from Independence Hall.