Abraham Lincoln by Helen Nicolay

Abraham Lincoln was not an ordinary man. He was, in truth, in the language of the poet Lowell, a "new birth of our new soil." His greatness did not consist in growing up on the frontier. An ordinary man would have found on the frontier exactly what he would have found elsewhere—a commonplace life, varying only with the changing ideas and customs of time and place. But for the man with extraordinary powers of mind and body, for one gifted by Nature as Abraham Lincoln was gifted, the pioneer life, with its severe training in self-denial, patience, and industry, developed his character, and fitted him for the great duties of his after life as no other training could have done.

LINCOLN'S HOME AFTER HIS MARRIAGE

LINCOLN'S HOME AFTER HIS MARRIAGE

His advancement in the astonishing career that carried him from obscurity to world-wide fame—from postmaster of New Salem village to President of the United States, from captain of a backwoods volunteer company to Commander-in-chief of the army and navy—was neither sudden nor accidental nor easy. He was both ambitious and successful, but his ambition was moderate, and his success was slow. And, because his success was slow, it never outgrew either his judgment or his powers. Between the day when he left his father's cabin and launched his canoe on the head waters of the Sangamon River to begin life on his own account, and the day of his first inauguration, lay full thirty years of toil, self-denial, patience; often of effort baffled, of hope deferred; sometimes of bitter disappointment. Even with the natural gift of great genius, it required an average lifetime and faithful, unrelaxing effort to transform the raw country stripling into a fit ruler for this great nation.

Almost every success was balanced—sometimes overbalanced—by a seeming failure. He went into the Black Hawk war a captain, and through no fault of his own came out a private. He rode to the hostile frontier on horseback, and trudged home on foot. His store "winked out." His surveyor's compass and chain, with which he was earning a scanty living, were sold for debt. He was defeated in his first attempts to be nominated for the legislature and for Congress; defeated in his application to be appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office; defeated for the Senate, when he had forty-five votes to begin with, by a man who had only five votes to begin with; defeated again after his joint debates with Douglas; defeated in the nomination for Vice-President, when a favorable nod from half a dozen politicians would have brought him success.

Failures? Not so. Every seeming defeat was a slow success. His was the growth of the oak, and not of Jonah's gourd. He could not become a master workman until he had served a tedious apprenticeship. It was the quarter of a century of reading, thinking, speech-making, and law-making which fitted him to be the chosen champion in the great Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It was the great moral victory won in those debates (although the senatorship went to Douglas), added to the title "Honest Old Abe," won by truth and manhood among his neighbors during a whole lifetime, that led the people of the United States to trust him with the duties and powers of President.

HOUSE IN WHICH LINCOLN LIVED WHEN HE WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT

HOUSE IN WHICH LINCOLN LIVED WHEN HE WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT

And when, at last, after thirty years of endeavor, success had beaten down defeat, when Lincoln had been nominated, elected, and inaugurated, came the crowning trial of his faith and constancy. When the people, by free and lawful choice, had placed honor and power in his hands, when his name could convene Congress, approve laws, cause ships to sail and armies to move, there suddenly came upon the government and the nation a fatal paralysis. Honor seemed to dwindle and power to vanish. Was he then, after all, not to be President? Was patriotism dead? Was the Constitution only a bit of waste paper? Was the Union gone?

The outlook was indeed grave. There was treason in Congress, treason in the Supreme Court, treason in the army and navy. Confusion and discord were everywhere. To use Mr. Lincoln's forcible figure of speech, sinners were calling the righteous to repentance. Finally the flag, insulted and fired upon, trailed in surrender at Sumter; and then came the humiliation of the riot at Baltimore, and the President for a few days practically a prisoner in the capital of the nation.

PRESIDENT LINCOLN AND TAD

PRESIDENT LINCOLN AND TAD

But his apprenticeship had been served, and there was to be no more failure. With faith and justice and generosity he conducted for four long years a war whose frontiers stretched from the Potomac to the Rio Grande; whose soldiers numbered a million men on each side. The labor, the thought, the responsibility, the strain of mind and anguish of soul that he gave to his great task, who can measure? "Here was place for no holiday magistrate, no fair-weather sailor," as Emerson justly said of him. "The new pilot was hurried to the helm in a tornado. In four years—four years of battle days—his endurance, his fertility of resources, his magnanimity, were sorely tried and never found wanting." "By his courage, his justice, his even temper, ... his humanity, he stood a heroic figure in a heroic epoch."

THE LINCOLN MONUMENT AT SPRINGFIELD

THE LINCOLN MONUMENT AT SPRINGFIELD

What but a lifetime's schooling in disappointment; what but the pioneer's self-reliance and freedom from prejudice; what but the clear mind quick to see natural right and unswerving in its purpose to follow it; what but the steady self-control, the unwarped sympathy, the unbounded charity of this man with spirit so humble and soul so great, could have carried him through the labors he wrought to the victory he attained?

With truth it could be written, "His heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong." So, "with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gave him to see the right," he lived and died. We, who have never seen him, yet feel daily the influence of his kindly life, and cherish among our most precious possessions the heritage of his example.

STATUE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. BY AUGUSTUS ST. GAUDENS

STATUE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. BY AUGUSTUS ST. GAUDENS

Lincoln's Birthday

February 12

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Born February 12, 1809  Died April 15, 1865

Lincoln was the sixteenth President of the United States. He was descended from a Quaker family of English origin. He followed various occupations, including those of a farm laborer, a salesman, a merchant, and a surveyor; was admitted to the bar in 1836 and began the practice of law in this year. He was twice elected President, the second time receiving 212 out of 233 electoral votes. He was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater, Washington, April 14, 1865, and died the following day.