The Boys' Life of Abraham Lincoln HTML version

Unsuccessful Generals
So far Mr. Lincoln's new duties as President had not placed him at any disadvantage with
the members of his cabinet. On the old question of slavery he was as well informed and
had clearer ideas than they. On the new military questions that had come up since the
inauguration, they, like himself, had to rely on the advice of experienced officers of the
army and navy; and since these differed greatly, Mr. Lincoln's powerful mind was as able
to reach true conclusions as were men who had been governors and senators. Yet the idea
lingered that because he had never before held high office, and because a large part of his
life had been passed in the rude surroundings of the frontier, he must of necessity be
lacking in power to govern--be weaker in will, without tact or culture--must in every way
be less fitted to cope with the difficult problems so rapidly coming upon the
At the beginning even Secretary Seward shared this view. Mr. Lincoln must have been
surprised indeed, when, on the first day of April, exactly four weeks after his
inauguration, his Secretary of State, the man he justly looked upon as the chief member
of his cabinet, handed him a paper on which were written "Some Thoughts for the
President's Consideration." It was most grave and dignified in language, but in substance
bluntly told Mr. Lincoln that after a month's trial the Administration was without a
policy, domestic or foreign, and that this must be remedied at once. It advised shifting the
issue at home from slavery to the question of Union or disunion; and counseled the
adoption of an attitude toward Europe which could not have failed to rouse the anger of
the principal foreign nations. It added that the President or some member of his cabinet
must make it his constant duty to pursue and direct whatever policy should be adopted,
and hinted very plainly that although he, Mr. Seward, did not seek such responsibility, he
was willing to assume it. The interest of this remarkable paper for us lies in the way Mr.
Lincoln treated it, and the measure that treatment gives us of his generosity and self-
control. An envious or a resentful man could not have wished a better opportunity to put
a rival under his feet; but though Mr. Lincoln doubtless thought the incident very strange,
it did not for a moment disturb his serenity or his kindly judgment. He answered in a few
quiet sentences that showed no trace of passion or even of excitement; and on the central
suggestion that some one person must direct the affairs of the government, replied with
dignity "if this must be done, I must do it," adding that on affairs of importance he
desired and supposed he had a right to have the advice of all the members of his cabinet.
This reply ended the matter, and as far as is known, neither of them ever mentioned the
subject again. Mr. Lincoln put the papers away in an envelope, and no word of the affair
came to the public until years after both men were dead. In one mind at least there was no
longer a doubt that the cabinet had a master. Mr. Seward recognized the President's
kindly forbearance, and repaid it by devotion and personal friendship until the day of his
tragic death.
If, after this experience, the Secretary of State needed any further proof of Mr. Lincoln's
ability to rule, it soon came to him, for during the first months of the war matters abroad
claimed the attention of the cabinet, and with these also the untried western man showed