"In temper he was Earnest, yet controlled, frank, yet sufficiently guarded, patient, yet energetic, forgiving, yet just to himself; generous yet firm," wrote J. T. Duryea of the U.S. Christian Commission, which met frequently with President Abraha Lincoln. "His conscience was the strongest element of his nature. His affections were tender & warm. His whole nature was simple and sincere - he was pure, and then was himself." 1
The Marquis de Chambrun, a French writer who came to know Mr. Lincoln in the last months of his life, observed: "Such a nature was admirably constituted to direct an heroic struggle on the part of a people proud enough to prefer a guide to a leader, a man commissioned to execute the popular will but, as in his case, strong enough to enforce his own."2
Much of Mr. Lincoln's character was framed in early manhood when he moved to New Salem, Illinois to work for shopkeeper Dennis Offut. Lincoln chronicler Edward J. Kempf wrote: "A long, lean, lanky, easy-going, smiling, awkward young stranger, wearing tight, home made pants shrunken far above his shoe tops, with a summer day into the straggling village of some 20 log cabins and 100 souls, on the bank of the Sangamon. He quickly made new friends and found employment until Offut arrived with the merchandise."3 Historian James A. Rawley wrote: "The new community, with its merchants, professional men, artisans, and mostly Southern population, framed a new life for Lincoln. He played the roles of merchant, odd jobs man, student of grammar, reader of Shakespeare and Robert Burns, spinner of stories, and soldier."4 New Salem friend Mentor Graham noted that Mr. Lincoln was often solicited to write letters for his less literate friends. He told Graham that "he learned to see other people thoughts and feelings and ideas by writing their friendly confidential letters."5
New Salem resident Caleb Carman recalled: "He was liked by every person who knew him. While he boarded with me he made himself useful in every way that he could. If the water-bucket was empty he filled it; if wood was needed he chopped it; and was always cheerful and in a good humor. He started out one morning with the axe on his shoulder, and I asked him what he was going to do. His answer was: 'I am going to try a project.' When he returned he had two hickory poles on his shoulders, and in a very short time two of my chairs had new bottoms."6 Lincoln attracted friends of all ages. "We were thrown much together," businessman G. S. Hubbard later related, "our intimacy increasing. I never had a friend to whom I was more warmly attached. His character was almost faultless. Possessing a warm and generous heart, genial, affable, honest, courteous to his opponents, persevering, industrious in research; never losing sight of the principal point under discussion."7
There was a clear charm to young Lincoln that residents would long remember. Johnny Potter recalled: "the first time I ever saw Abe Lincoln was that summer. I was just starting in life myself, on my place below here and had a log cabin. In front of the house was a tolerably low rail fence I had built, mebbe five rails high. We had done breakfast a few minutes, when two young men came walking along the road. One of them was Abe. A man named Offut. Offut was going to start a grocery at New Salem. Abe was walking up to go to work in the store. He had slept that night at Clary's Grove, and when he and the young man with him got along to my place they wanted to know if they could get a bite to eat. The old woman fixed them up something, the things were on the table, and they had their breakfast. When they got through they came out, and Abe straddled over that five-rail fence as if it wasn't in the way at all. I expect he would have gone over just as easy if it had been higher, for he had powerful long legs. When he got out to the road he turned and looked back at the table, and said: 'There's only one egg left; I believe I'd better make a clean thing of it.' So he straddled the fence again, got the egg and went off - laughing like a boy, shuffling the hot egg from one hand to the other and then peeling and eating it."8
Lincoln attracted friends of all ages. "We were thrown much together," businessman Gurdon S. Hubbard later related, "our intimacy increasing. I never had a friend to whom I was more warmly attached. His character was almost faultless. Possessing a warm and generous heart, genial, affable, honest, courteous to his opponents, persevering, industrious in research; never losing sight of the principal point under discussion."9 A fellow rail-splitter, George Close, told an early researcher that "Lincoln had nothing only plenty of friends - has always had them." Close, who knew Mr. Lincoln when he came to Illinois in 1929, said Mr. Lincoln had "not be with a man more than an hour to gain his good will." Close noted that his early appeal was by bipartisan and that in the 1832 election he received more votes in Springfield that the Democratic and Whig candidates for Congress received together.10
Despite his friendliness, it was not easy truly to get to know Mr. Lincoln. Even those who did often professed not to understand him. Pennsylvania Republican leader Alexander K. McClure wrote: "I regard Lincoln as very widely misunderstood in one of the most important attributes of his character. It has been common, during the last twenty-five years, to see publications relating to Lincoln from men who assumed that they enjoyed his full confidence. In most and perhaps all cases the writers believed what they stated, but those who assumed to speak most confidently on the subject were most mistaken. Mr. Lincoln gave his confidence to no living man without reservation. He trusted many, but he trusted only within the carefully-studied limitation of their usefulness, and when he trusted he confided, as a rule, only to the extent necessary to make that trust available. He had as much faith in mankind as is common amongst men, and it was not because he was of a distrustful nature or because of any specially selfish attribute of his character that he thus limited his confidence in all his intercourse with men."11
Lincoln biographer Josiah G. Holland wrote: "The writer has conversed with multitudes of men who claimed to know Mr. Lincoln intimately; yet there are not two of the whole number who agree in their estimate of him. The fact was that he rarely showed more than one aspect of himself to one man. He opened himself to men in different directions. It was rare that he exhibited what was religious in him; and he never did this at all, except when he found the nature and character that were sympathetic with that aspect and element of his character. A great deal of his best, deepest, largest life he kept almost constantly from view, because he would not expose it to the eyes and apprehension of the careless multitude."12
Jacob W. Bunn, a Springfield banker who was close to Mr. Lincoln politically, recalled that Mr. Lincoln "had his personal ambitions, but he never told any man his deeper plans, and few, if any, knew his inner thoughts. What was strictly private and personal to himself he never confided to any man on earth. When men have told of conversations with Lincoln in which they represent him as giving out either political or family affairs of a very sacred and secret character, their tales may be set down as false."13
McClure maintained: "Lincoln's want of trust in those closest to him was often a great source of regret, and at times of mortification. I have many times heard Mr. Leonard Swett and Mr. Ward Hill Lamon, and occasionally Mr. David Davis, speak of his persistent reticence on questions of the gravest public moment which seemed to demand prompt action by the President. They would confer with him, as I did myself at times, earnestly advising and urging action on his part, only to find him utterly impassible and incomprehensible. Neither by word nor expression could any one form the remotest idea of his purpose, and when he did act in many cases he surprised both friends and foes."14
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote that Mr. Lincoln "possessed extraordinary empathy - the gift or curse of putting himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires."15 More than a century earlier, Springfield lawyer Charles Zane contended: "Mr. Lincoln had Strong Emotional sensibilities here is where we find his motives; for it It is in the emotions that we find the Causes which render men restless and inquisitive; which prompts them to deeds both good and evil; here is the great field for human motives - here burns forever the hidden fire that lights up the material Structure and sets the intellect in motion that drives it on to all its achievements; here is where the instincts, the appetites, the propensities, the affections, the desire, the feelings of moral approval and disapproval, and the feelings of moral obligation, the heart and the Conscience, fight their battles and struggle for ascendency."16
Mr. Lincoln had a strong appreciation for the motivation of others. Herndon argued: `Mr. Lincoln believed that the great leading law of human nature is motive. He reasoned all ideas of a disinterested action out of my mind. I used to hold that an action could be pure, disinterested, and wholly free from selfishness; but he divested me of that delusion. His idea was that at the bottom of these motives was self. He defied me to act without motive and unselfishly; and when I did the act and told him of it, he analyzed and sifted it to the last grain. After he had concluded, I could not avoid the admission that he had demonstrated the absolute selfishness of the entire act. Although a profound analyzer of the laws of human nature he could form no just construction of the motives of the particular individual. He knew but little of the play of the features as seen in the 'human face divine.' He could not distinguish between the paleness of anger and the crimson tint of modesty. In determining what each play of the features indicated he was pitiably weak."17 Although it is hard to fathom the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of Abraham Lincoln's character, some generalizations can be made from the observations of his contemporaries.
In January 1863 Mr. Lincoln appointed General Joseph Hooker to replace Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Nowhere is Mr. Lincoln's understanding of human nature better revealed than in letter of January 26, 1863 to the new commander of the Army of the Potomac: "I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside's command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The Government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such a spirit prevails in it."
Mr. Lincoln concluded his letter: "And now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories."18 Longtime Lincoln friend Anson G. Henry accompanied the President to Hooker's encampment in April 1863. He wrote his wife that "Genl. Hooker showed me the letter Mr. Lincoln wrote him, when he tendered him the Command, & which ought to be printed in letters of Gold - It will be read by our posterity with greater veneration for its author than has ever been shown for any thing written by Washington, or any other man. It breathes a spirit of frankness & candor worthy of Mr. Lincolns character and is peculiarly his own."19
His naturalness defined him. President Lincoln "was so unconcernedly free from pose, and so intent on reaching his end in the shortest, most natural way, that roundabout methods did not occur to him. The more formal cabinet members found great difficulty in reconciling such direct, and sometimes impulsive behavior with the conduct they thought fitting to his office. They were themselves so intent on living up to the requirements of their high station that they had become a bit self-conscious. Seeing him on a rare afternoon taking a holiday, greeted boisterously as a playmate by the grandchildren of old Mr. Blair, father of the Postmaster General, and racing with the children until the tails of his long broadcloth coat floated straight out behind, they were inclined to be critical. And when he playfully endorsed an official paper 'Submitted to Mars & Neptune,' the heads of the War and Navy Departments could not reconcile such levity with their country's good - or their own offended dignity," wrote Helen Nicolay, daughter of presidential assistant John G. Nicolay.
President Lincoln sometimes baffled members of his Cabinet, who did not share his mix of humor and melancholy. Helen Nicolay wrote: "Secretary Welles was shocked that Mr. Lincoln could laugh heartily at a rather inane jest of Artemus Ward's, a moment before turning to consider the weighty matter of the Emancipation Proclamation. The President's habit of passing suddenly from mirth to extreme seriousness left them dazed and wondering. None of them seemed to realize how much this power of getting out for a moment from under his load of care, helped him to take it up again and bear his burden without going insane."20 Scholar Jacques Barzun wrote that "Lincoln's detachment was what produced his mastery over men. Had he not, as president, towered in mind and will over his cabinet, they would crushed or used him without remorse. Chase, Seward, Stanton, the Blairs, McClellan had among them egotism and ability to wreck several administrations."21
Mr. Lincoln was honest. "I hain't been caught lying yet, and I don't mean to be," President Lincoln reportedly said during the Civil War.22 Indeed, his honesty became a cliché. One New Salem colleague remembered: "If there was a trait of Mr. Lincolns Character which stood out more conspicuously than any other it was his regard for truth and veracity, he had less prevarication than almost any man with whom I was ever acquainted."23 Attorney Samuel C. Parks wrote "that for a man who was for the quarter of a century both a lawyer & a politician he was the most honest man I ever knew. He was not only morally honest but intellectually so - he could not reason falsely - if he attempted it he failed".24
Friend Jesse W. Fell wrote: "If there were any traits of character that Stood out in bold relief, in the person of Mr. Lincoln, it was that of Truth, and Candor. He was utterly incapable of incincerity sic, or of professing views of this or any other Subjects, he did not entertain."25 Congressman Isaac Arnold maintained that truth and integrity "were indeed the basis of his character".26 Law partner William H. Herndon wrote: "In the grand review of his peculiar characteristics, nothing creates such an impressive effect as his love of the truth. It looms up over everything else. His life is proof of the assertion that he never yielded in his fundamental conception of truth to any man for any end.
"All the follies and wrong Mr. Lincoln ever fell into or committed sprang out of these weak points; the want of intuitive judgment; the lack of quick, sagacious knowledge of the play and meaning of men's features as written on the face; the want of the sense of propriety of things; his tenderness and mercy; and lastly, his unsuspecting nature. He was deeply and sincerely honest himself, and assumed that others were so. He never suspected men; and hence in dealing with them he was easily imposed upon."27
Mr. Lincoln was forthright and unassuming. Journalist Noah Brooks, observed: "It was noticeable that Mr. Lincoln's keenest critics and bitter opponents studiously avoided his presence; it seemed as though no man could be familiar with his homely, heart-lighted features, his single-hearted directness and manly kindliness and remain long an enemy, or be any thing but his friend. It was this warm frankness of Mr. Lincoln's manner that made a hard-headed old 'hunker' once leave the hustings where Lincoln was speaking, in 1856, saying, 'I won't hear him, for I don't like a man that makes me believe in him in spite of myself."28
Lincoln scholar Waldo Braden wrote: "In the presidential role, he did not change; he continued to come across as a modest, down-to-earth, ordinary Westerner who was struggling to do the best that he could in the face of a fearsome burden. As always, he remained self-depreciating, speaking of being 'an accidental instrument,' 'a mere accident,' 'a humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty.'"29 Despite the burden of constant complaints, Mr. Lincoln managed on most occasions to keep his temper. Not all complaints were justified. On one occasion in 1862, President Lincoln wrote a complainant: "Your words of kindness are very grateful, but your suspicions that I intend you an injustice are very painful to me. I assure you such suspicions are groundless."30
Mr. Lincoln was resilient. Mr. Lincoln's mother died when he was seven; it was one of many personal and political reverses that Mr. Lincoln suffered in the five decades before his election to the presidency in 1860 - ranging from the death of one son in 1850 and another in 1862 to two defeats for the U.S. Senate. Other reverses included crushing debts from the failure of his attempts to run a general store, the death of a woman he hoped to marry and the breakup of engagements to two other women. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote that "perhaps it was the tension between his Calvinistic 'melancholy' and his bourgeois aggressiveness which acted as the best mutual restraint, which gave him the depth and resiliency that everyone who knew from the 1850s onward remarked upon as his greatest resources, and which became his most valuable character assets during the war. His confidence in the direction of providence kept his determinism from collapsing into helplessness in the darkest hours of the war, and it was his determinism that prevented his bourgeois optimism from soaring into arrogance in victory. 'This purifying process,' wrote Herndon, 'gave Mr. Lincoln charity, liberality, kindness, tenderness, toleration, a sublime faith, if you please, in the purposes, and ends of this Maker.'"31
When Mr. Lincoln recalled turning down appointment to be territorial governor of Oregon in 1849, President Lincoln agreed with a friend's suggestion that it was "fortunate that you declined. If you had gone to Oregon, you might have come back as senator, but you would never have been President." Mr. Lincoln responded: "'yes, you are probably right,' and then with a musing, dreamy look, he added: "I have all my life been a fatalist. What is to be will be, or rather, I have found all my life as Hamlet says:
'There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.'"32
Mr. Lincoln hewed to what he called the "Doctrine of Necessity." As William Herndon explained it: "Things were to be, and they came, irresistibly came, doomed to come; men were made as they are made by superior conditions over which they had no control; the fates settled things as by the doom of the powers, and laws, universal, absolute, and eternal, ruled the universe of matter and mind."33 Nevertheless, Mr. Lincoln was not a captive of this fatalism and worked hard to achieve goals he set for himself - like election to the Senate in 1855 and 1858 and then more successfully to the Presidency in 1860.
Mr. Lincoln was charitable. He never sought land for land's sake or wealth for wealth's sake. Attorney Joseph Gillespie recalled: "He never hoarded nor wasted but used money as he needed it and gave himself little or no concern about laying up."34 Contemporary Harvey Lee Ross recalled Mr. Lincoln's work for him on a title case: "I then took out my pocket book to pay him and supposed he would charge me about $10, as I knew he was always moderate in his charges. 'No, Mr. Lincoln,' said I, 'how much shall I pay you for this work and the long walk through the hot sun and dust?' He paused for a moment and took the big silk handkerchief and wiped the perspiration off that was running down his face, and said: 'I guess I will not charge you anything for that. I will let it go on the old score.' When he said that it broke me all up and I could not keep the tears from running down my face, for I could recall many instances where he had been so good and kind to me when I was carrying the mail; then for him to say he would charge me nothing for this work was more kindness than I could stand. I suppose what he meant by the old score was that I had occasionally helped him in his store and post office and my father had assisted him some when he got the post office."35
Mr. Lincoln did, however, seek a way out of the endless drudgery of manual labor. Dr. William Jayne remembered: "There was not a particle of avarice in Lincoln's mental make-up. Greediness of wealth was absolutely foreign to his nature. He wanted money sufficient to pay the ordinary living expenses of his household, but he did not care for gold just because he loved to have and handle it. To illustrate this statement I will relate a little story of our college society, of Illinois College - the Phi Alpha Literary Society - and his connection with said society. It was customary for this society to give a series of lectures during the college year, the profits of which were expended in the purchase of books for the society library. Mr. Lincoln was engaged to deliver one of these lectures. After his lecture was over and the audience had left the hall in which the lecture was given he recognized the fact that the audience was not large and therefore the receipts must have been rather small. Mr. Lincoln, with a kind smile, said to the president of the society, 'I have not made much money for you tonight.' In reply the president said, 'When we pay for the rent of the hall, music and advertising and your compensation, there will not be much left to buy books with for the library.' 'Well, boys, be hopeful; pay me my railroad fare and 50 cents for my supper at the hotel and we are square.' That showed our subject's kindness and liberality all over, yet at that day he was not burdened with cash and could have found good use for a few extra dollars. He thought our poor society needed the money more than he did."36
A Chicago attorney, Lambert Tree, remembered President-elect Lincoln stopping by his office to collect his fee on a legal case in which he had assisted the year before. Mr. Lincoln charged $100, which Tree considered insufficient. Mr. Lincoln responded that "there was not much to be done. You drew the declaration yourself, the defendant substantially made default, and after he paid us the judgment, we had only to buy a draft and remit you the money, and I think seventy-five dollars more is about enough for what we did in the case." Since Mr. Lincoln had prepared for a much more intense litigation, Tree thought the charge "extremely modest."37
New Salem friend Philip Clark remembered: "Gratitude was a religion with him. Lincoln was a poor financier. He was not a manager, and seldom had any money ahead. When he came to Springfield from Salem, he had been boarding for a year with a man named Nelson Ally at $1.50 per week, and was in debt to him $70. Misfortune overtook Ally long after that and he became an inmate of the Knox county poorhouse. Lincoln went in person and had him taken from the county house and given another home. He then asked Judge Davis to see that Ally should be cared for in case he (Lincoln) should die first."38
However, according to historian Allen C. Guelzo, "Lincoln's speculations on fatalism and necessity...throw a different light on one of Lincoln's most-admired attributes, his 'charity for all' and his 'malice toward one,' from the defeated Confederate leadership down to the sentry caught asleep on duty. Lincoln interpreters have been tempted to ascribe this 'charity' to a mysterious, godlike reservoir of virtue in Lincoln; but Herndon knew better and knew that it was closely linked to Lincoln's fatalism. 'Lincoln's patience sprang from his philosophy,' Herndon explained, 'his charity for men and his want of malice for them everywhere, all grew out of his peculiar philosophy.'"39 Historian William Lee Miller wrote: "Lincoln's fundamental generosity did not violate or ignore or 'becloud' his 'judgment,' to use Swett's term. But that judgment' itself was reshaped by the charitable insight into a general principle."40
Mr. Lincoln was instinctively cautious. He thought before he acted or talked. One correspondent found a clue to Lincoln's hush-mouthed caution in the way he played chess -- not boldly but defensively, keeping his next move entirely to himself: 'While playing chess Mr. Lincoln seems to be continually thinking of something else. Those who have played with him say he plays as if it were but a mechanical pastime to occupy his hands while his mind is busy with some other subject.He plays what chess-players call a 'safe game.' Rarely attacking, he is content to let his opponent attack while he concentrates all his energies in the defense -- awaiting the opportunity of dashing in at a weak point or the expenditure of his adversary's strength.'"41
Attorney General Edward Bates recalled in February 1863: "At about 5 oclock, while I was at dinner, Judge Swayne called to see me (on another business) and talking of Gen McClellan, and of the recently published letter of Genl. Scott, told me of several conversations with Genl McClellan, in one of which the genl. said that he had letters (or written communications) from the Prest. which put the P. in his (the Genl's power)." Bates wrote in his diary: "I said I did not believe it - that he might have letters (Written in Mr. Lincoln's confiding spirit) which the President would not like to see published, but that I doubted whether he had any, whose publication would not hurt the Genl quite as much as the Prest. - that the President tho' a confiding frank man, was still cautious in his writings.42
Mr. Lincoln was of the people. "Abraham Lincoln was eminently human," wrote Pennsylvania journalist Alexander K. McClure. "Although much as other men in the varied qualities which go to make up a single character, taking him all in all, 'none but himself can be his parallel.' Of all the public men I have met, he was the most difficult to analyze. His characteristics were more original, more diversified, more intense in a sober way, and yet more flexible under many circumstances, than I have ever seen in any other." The Pennsylvania Republican wrote: "He was a stranger to deceit, incapable of dissembling; seemed to be the frankest and freest of conversationalists, and yet few understood him even reasonably well, and none but Lincoln ever thoroughly understood Lincoln."43 Unquestionably, his personality was both complex and simple.
"Lincoln's greatness arose from a combination of qualities in a balanced personality," wrote biographer James G. Randall. One could never define his conduct as springing from mere automatic reaction. It came rather from informed study and mature reflection. Mere slogans and stereotypes did not impress him. He was a simple man - he was unpretentious in manner and straightforward in expression - but he was never naïve. He could be enthusiastic, but he was never extravagant."44
Mr. Lincoln was a listener. "Lincoln listened with the same energy that sparked his interest in books," wrote historian Charles B. Strozier.45 Massachusetts Republican Henry L. Dawes recalled Lincoln as "as the man open to human and humane influences, pained by the distress and sorrow which filled the land, shedding tears over the terrible sacrifice of life which was the price paid for victories that filled others with exultation."46 California Senator Cornelius Cole observed: "His deportment never missed, because it was the expression of his friendly feeling for all. He did not offend because in his heart he felt no animosity for anyone. Always in consultation he was argumentative, but not dictatorial. He was one of the best listeners and was always open to conviction, yet if his own reasons were well founded, and no one had a better reason to offer, he could not be moved. But he was never offensively opinionated."47
Although he didn't seek formal counsel, he did listen to others - and talked through his problems with them. Union chaplain John Eaton wrote: "The freedom with which he discussed public affairs with me often filled me with amazement, and many other men have testified to his openness when once his confidence was gained. He spoke quite fully of the opposition he encountered, and expressed some surprise that there should be so much antagonism to his policy in the ranks of the great abolitionists. I think the criticism of such men as Greeley and Wendell Phillips was a great grief and trial to him. Of a well-known abolitionist and orator he once exclaimed in one of his rare moments of impatience, 'He's a thistle! I don't see why God lets him live!' And of a certain Senator for whose principles and methods he was without mercy he once said, 'He's too crooked to lie still!' The vision invoked of the uneasy politician was irresistibly vivid."48
Journalist Benjamin Perley Poore wrote: "Mr. Lincoln used to wear at the White House, in the morning and after dinner, a long-skirted, faded dressing-gown, belted around his waist, and slippers. His favorite attitude when listening - and he was a good listener - was to lean forward and clasp his left knee with both hands, as if fondling it, and his face would then wear a sad, wearied look. But when the time came for him to give an opinion on what he had heard, or to tell a story, which something said 'reminded him of,' his face would lighten up with its homely, rugged smile, and he would run his fingers through his bristly black hair, which would stand out in every direction like that of an electric experiment doll."49 The Rev. Phineas Gurley recalled being present when a Cabinet member asked President Lincoln what was "the proper manner of telling a story. How is it yours are so interesting?" Mr. Lincoln replied that "there are two ways of relating a story. If you have an auditor who has the time, and is inclined to listen, lengthen it out, pour it out slowly as if from a jug. If you have a poor listener, hasten it, shorten it, shoot it out of a pop-gun."50
Writing of one visit to the White House, Union Army chaplain John Eaton observed: "The President was seated near the corner of his long office table, around which he was accustomed to gather with his Cabinet, and near him stood the trusted guardian, who, though ostensibly there to aid the callers in preferring to Mr. Lincoln their requests, was in reality guarding against any attack upon his life. It was a large room, and filled with applicants, save for the space directly in front of the table, which served as the approach to the President and was kept free. The crowd was as miscellaneous in character as it was large. Men, women, and even children, waited their turn to grasp the President's hand, and in most cases to ask some favor. There were privates and officers of the Union army, and civilians of every degree of loyalty, as well as some avowedly disloyal. Above them all on this particular occasion, I recollect the towering, manly form of Mr. Lincoln's pastor, the Reverend Dr. Phineas Gurley. I found my way around the table at which the President was seated, and stood somewhat behind him and to his right, in such a position that I saw the President's face as he greeted each new comer, and heard much of what was said. He had a thoroughly characteristic word of each one who accosted him, - no small test of personality in itself, - and in dealing with men who offered excuses for not serving in the army there was no lack of witty repartee." 51
New York Republican Chauncey M. Depew recalled: "The White House of that time had no executive offices as now, and the machinery for executive business was very primitive. The east half of the second story had one large reception-room, in which the president could always be found, and a few rooms adjoining for his secretaries and clerks. The president had very little protection or seclusion. In the reception-room, which was always crowded at certain hours, could be found members of Congress, office-seekers, and an anxious company of fathers and mothers seeking pardons for their sons condemned for military offenses, or asking permission to go to the front, where a soldier boy was wounded or sick. Every one wanted something and wanted it very bad. The patient president, wearied as he was with cares of state, with the situation on several hostile fronts, with the exigencies in Congress and jealousies in his Cabinet, patiently and sympathetically listened to these tales of want and woe."52
Lincoln chronicler Francis Fisher Browne wrote: "As each visitor approached the President, he was greeted with an encouraging nod and smile, and a few moments were cordially given him in which to state the object of the visit; the President listening with the most respectful and patient attention, and deciding each case with the greatest tact, delicacy, and clearness. 'His Yes,' says Mr. Albert Gallatin Riddle, 'was most gracious and satisfactory; his No, when reached, was often spoken by the petitioner, and left only a soothed disappointment. He saw the point of a case unerringly. He had a confidence in the homely views and speech of the common people, with whom his heart and sympathies ever were.'"53
Aide John Hay wrote: "Mr. Lincoln gained much of information, something of cheer and encouragement from these visits. He particularly enjoyed conversing with officers of the army and navy, newly arrived from the field or from sea. He listened with the eagerness of a child over a fairy tale to James A. Garfield's graphic account of the battle of Chickamauga; he was always delighted with the wise and witty sailor-talk of John A. Dahlgren, Gustavus V. Fox and Henry A. Wise. Sometimes a word fitly spoken had its results. When R. B. Ayres called on him, in company with Senator Ira Harris, and was introduced as a captain of artillery who had taken part in a recent unsuccessful engagement, he asked 'How many guns did you take in ?' 'Six' Ayres answered. 'How many did you bring out?' the President asked, maliciously. 'Eight.' This unexpected reply did much to gain Ayres his merited promotion."54
But his failure to seek the advice of members of his Cabinet and Congress sometimes grated. Historian Allen Guelzo noted the President's distinct non-dependence on outside advice: "Even the colorless Caleb Smith complained 'that Mr. Lincoln don't treat a Cabinet as other President's -- that he decides the most important questions without consulting his cabinet.' David Davis 'asked him once about his Cabinet: he said he never Consulted his Cabinet. He said they all disagreed so much he would not ask them -- he depended on himself -- always.' Leonard Swett 'sometimes doubted whether he ever asked anybody's advice about anything. He would listen to everybody; he would hear everybody, but he never asked for opinions."55
Although Mr. Lincoln was a deep thinker, his most obvious quality was his willingness to listen to others before he ventured his own ideas. Novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote: "He saw through other men who thought all the while they were instructing or enlightening hm, with a sort of dry, amused patience. He allowed the most tedious talker to prose to him, the most shallow and inflated to advise him, reserving only to himself the right to a quiet chuckle far down in the depths of his private consciousness. Thus all sorts of men and all sorts of deputations saw him, had their talks, bestowed on him al their tediousness, and gave him the benefit of their opinions; not a creature was denied access, not a soul so lowly but might have their chance to bore the soul of this more lowly servant of the people."56 In June 1863, the Washington Intelligencer reported: "It is one of the tribulations which must greatly add to the fatigues of office at his juncture, that our amiable President has to give so much of his time and attention to persons who apparently having no business of their own, expend a large degree of their surplus energy in benevolently minding the business of the President."57
Union officer William E. Doster recalled: "In conversation, he was a patient, attentive listener, rather looking for the opinion of others, than hazarding his own, and trying to view a matter in all of its phases before coming to a conclusion. On ordinary affairs, his conversation was such as one would expect from a Western lawyer who had been a good deal in politics, full of stories drawn from his experiences as farmer, flatboatman on the Mississippi, storekeeper, and riding the circuits when practicing law in Illinois." Doster noted: "When conversation took a wider range, he disclosed a mind singularly free from the delusions of vanity which turn people's heads in high places, and a level head, incapable of fooling itself, or being fooled by others."58
Mr. Lincoln was a man of logic. Law partner William H. Herndon wrote: "The great predominating elements of Mr. Lincoln's peculiar character were: first, his great capacity and power of reason; second, his conscience and his excellent understanding; third, an exalted idea of the sense of right and equity; fourth, his intense veneration of the true and the good. His conscience, his heart and all the faculties and qualities of his mind bowed submissively to the despotism of his reason. He lived and acted from the standard of reason -- that throne of logic, home of principle -- the realm of deity in man. It is from this point Mr. Lincoln must be viewed. Not only was he cautious, patient, and enduring; not only had he concentration and great continuity of thought; but he had profound analytical power. His vision was clear, and he was emphatically the master of statement. His pursuit of the truth, as before mentioned, was indefatigable. He reasoned from well-chosen principles with such clearness, force, and directness that the tallest intellects in the land bowed to him. He was the strongest man I ever saw, looking at him from the elevated standpoint of reason and logic. He came down from that height with irresistible and crashing force. His Cooper Institute and other printed speeches will prove this; but his speeches before the courts -- especially the Supreme Court of Illinois -- if they had been preserved, would demonstrate it still more plainly. Here he demanded time to think and prepare. The office of reason is to determine the truth. Truth is the power of reason, and Lincoln loved truth for its own sake. It was to him reason's food."59
Mr. Lincoln was as curious as he was attentive - especially concerning human nature. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: "His mind was a countryman's mind; slow, careful, serious, and intensely tenacious, sagacious rather than shrewd, clear rather that clever, given to flashes of humor chiefly because its profound earnestness would have been insupportable without some break. Its quintessential quality was as plain to the unlettered rustic as eventually it became to James Russell Lowell and William Cullen Bryant: it was a dogged desire to learn the exact truth about everything and anything, and a delight in the reasoning process as a means of apprehending truth.60 Friend Joshua F. Speed "once remarked to him that his mind was a wonder to me - That impressions were easily made upon his mind and never effaced - 'no' said he 'you are mistaken - I am slow to learn and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch any thing on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out'."61
The courtrooms of the Eighth Circuit in Illinois offered a wonderful stage for Mr. Lincoln's personality. Bloomington attorney James S. Ewing observed Mr. Lincoln as a boy and young man and recalled: "I was a frequent attendant in the court room, and heard Mr. Lincoln try a great many law suits. The suits themselves often dealt with trivial matters, but great men were engaged in them. Mr. Lincoln was engaged in most of the suits of any importance. He was wonderfully successful. He was a master in all that went to make up what was called a 'jury lawyer.' His wonderful power of clear and logical statements seemed the beginning and the end of the case. After his statement of the law and the facts in any particular case, we wondered either how the plaintiff came to bring such a suit or how the defendant could be such a fool as to defend it. By the time the jury was selected, each member of it felt that the great lawyer was his friend and was relying upon him as a juror to see that no injustice was done. Mr. Lincoln's ready, homely, but always pertinent, illustrations and anecdotes could not be resisted. Few men ever lived who knew, as he did, the mainsprings of action, secret motives, the passions, prejudices and inclinations, which inspired the actions of men, and he played on the human heart as a master on an instrument."62
Mr. Lincoln sought out other venues for gaining information and insight. New Salem contemporary Philip Clark wrote: "Lincoln took a great interest in every public question. He was a special attendant at debating schools and always took part. There was a debating club formed in Springfield soon after he came to town and had gone into partnership with 'Bill' Herndon, where he could be found at every meeting."63
There was much of "Everyman" in Abraham Lincoln. Friend Joseph Gillespie wrote: "Mr. Lincoln was a great common man. He was a giant but formed & fashioned like other men. He only differed from most men in degree. He had only their qualities but then he had them in larger measure than any man of modern times."64 Sculptor Thomas D. Jones recalled: "Before the public Lincoln was a very grave and earnest man; in private, kind, modest, and replete with wit and humor. Whenever told a story for its zanyism, but purely for good humor, illustration, or 'adornment of his speech,' as Rabelais would say. As an evidence of Lincoln's kindly nature in domestic life, an old milkman called to see his bust. He said he had served Lincoln with milk for several years; that Lincoln would walk over to his place in the morning barefooted with a little milk bucket in one hand, and his oldest boy sitting astride of his shoulders, chirping like a bird."65 Aide William O. Stoddard wrote, "The 'plain people' understood him better than did the politicians; and he in turn had a wonderful perception of the real condition of the popular heart and will."66 Fellow attorney Milton Hay observed: "He was never a commonplace man. He never went into any company or community that he did not do or say something which marked him as a popular man."67 Springfield merchant Jacob Bunn wrote that Mr. Lincoln "appreciated intellectual and educated men, but he was at the same time a commoner - a man of the people. He never, however, went out and told the people, in terms, that he was one of them. They knew this without any assertions of the fact."68
In his memoirs, General John Pope wrote that Mr. Lincoln "was one of the people, familiar with their ideas and their ways and thoroughly acquainted with every detail of their home lives and their methods of thought and action. He was always with them; moved forward when they were ready; halted when they wished to halt and drew back when they thought it better to retire. It was not because 'he felt their pulse,' and learned what they wanted and would support or indeed that he asked any questions on the subject, but because he was literally one of them, moved by the same impulses and guided by the same instincts. It was himself he consulted when any great or novel thing was to be tried, knowing well enough that what he felt about the matter the great mass of his countrymen would think also and he never was deceived or misled in this matter. It was not because he was one of the people that he possessed such power, but because he was the absolute embodiment of the people in his own person and naturally in his high place their complete exponent."69
William Herndon wrote: "He was modest, quiet and unobtrusive in manner, sympathetic and cordial in social contact. He was commonplace and winsome, yet dignified, but not repelling, and was entirely assimilated: no person could feel any restraint or backwardness in his presence: the latch-string to his sympathy was always out, and, when not handicapped with melancholy, the door to his genial, hearty and sunshiny nature was always wide open. His sad countenance aroused universal sympathy: his bonhomie, geniality and humor drew all men involuntarily to him: his physiognomy was indicative both of great perception and equally of great reflection: his wonderfully expressive eyes indicated keen, shrewd discernment, deep penetration and patient and continuous reflection, as well as life-long and earnest sorrow."70 Jacob Bunn noted that "he was a most genial man and. he was easily approachable. He was in fact a popular man with all who knew him and was generally well liked, personally, not only by his own supporters, but by the members of the party opposed to him, or at least by those members of the opposing party who were sufficiently broadminded not to be very bitter partisans." 71
General Carl Schurz noted wrote a friend in October 1864: "Lincoln's personality, however, has in this crisis a quite peculiar significance. Free from the aspirations of genius, he will never become dangerous to a free commonwealth. He is the people personified; that is the secret of his popularity. His government is the most representative that has ever existed in world history. I will make a prophecy which may perhaps sound strange at this moment. In fifty years, perhaps much sooner, Lincoln's name will stand written upon the honor roll of the American Republic next to that of Washington, and there it will remain for all time. The children of those who now disparage him will bless him."72
Historian Roy D. Packard wrote: "A passion for simplicity in all things was one of Lincoln's dominant characteristics."73 Henry Clay Whitney wrote: "In his social life, characteristics, tastes and habits, he was the most simple, guileless, and unsophisticated man that it was possible to be. At the table, he ate what came first, without discrimination or choice: whatever room at the hotel came hand or whatever bed he came to first he took without criticism or inspection; if the fire needed replenishing and no one was at hand, he made no inquiry or complaint, but hunted up an axe, took off his coat, and went vigorously at work at the wood pile."74
Mr. Lincoln managed to be superior to his peers without acting superior to them. Springfield lawyer Charles S. Zane, wrote "how well he adapted his conversation and ways to the company and the surroundings. His readiness and willingness to accommodate himself to the people around him, his apparent desire to contribute his part toward rendering social intercourse enjoyable, always made him a welcome figure. In conversation he did not antagonize others, nor did he ever contend about trifles, and as to essentials he treated those differing from him with consideration."75 White House aide William O. Stoddard wrote: "Among the daily applicants for an interview with Mr. Lincoln were representatives of every class and grade in the social scale, and from every corner of the vast domains of the Republic, and it would be hardly correct to say that he was less than perfectly 'at home' with any and all of them. Even in conversation with men whose superior culture and information he frankly acknowledged, or for whose moral dignity or great achievements he professed the utmost respect, Mr. Lincoln was free from that embarrassment which at time is so painfully manifest in weaker men. Such entire self-possession is sometimes the consequence of overwhelming self-esteem, or an ever present consciousness of the possession of power, but with him it was the result of his utter absence of self-consciousness. His thoughts rarely reverted to any effect or impression which he himself might be making, and he was, therefore, if not at all graceful, at least easy and natural."76
Philadelphia Congressman William D. Kelley said in a speech soon after President Lincoln's assassination: "It is only the large man that is related to many men dearly, nearly, intellectually; and in this respect Abraham Lincoln's greatness is shown. Whatever was of interest enough to engage another thoroughly interested him, if was only to know why such a thing should interest an intellectual being. Hence it was that his sincerity was sometimes doubted because men of differing views would leave him each apparently well satisfied. He would strive to know precisely the aim of each, and to show them that in the course things were taking, the good they desired was likely to be assured."
In his eulogy, Ralph Waldo Emerson observed: "A plain man of the people, an extraordinary fortune attended him. He offered no shining qualities at the first encounter; he did not offend by superiority. He had a face and manner which disarmed suspicion, which inspired confidence, which confirmed good will. He was a man without vices. He had a strong sense of duty, which it was very easy for him to obey. Then, he had what farmers call a long head; was excellent in working out the sum for him-self; in arguing his case and convincing you fairly and firmly. Then, it turned out that he was a great worker; had prodigious faculty of performance; worked easily. A good worker is so rare; everybody has some disabling quality. In a host of young men that start together and promise so many brilliant leaders for the next age, each fails on trial; one by bad health, one by conceit, or by love of pleasure, or lethargy, or an ugly temper, - each has some disqualifying fault that throws him out of the career. But this man was sound to the core, cheerful, persistent, all right for labor, and liked nothing so well."77
Mr. Lincoln was a true westerner. Biographer Benjamin Thomas maintained: "Courage, honesty, self-reliance, democracy, and nationalism were the ideals of the frontier. Lincoln absorbed these qualities to the full, and benefited by the opportunities that the frontier afforded. But at the same time he avoided the weaknesses of the frontier, or at least outgrew them in time. He became self-reliant without becoming boastful - boastfulness was a common weakness of our frontier - and without overestimating himself; analytical and conservative rather than impulsive and opportunistic; respectful for law and traditions in a region where people often took the law into their own hands and where most men were concerned about the future and more or less indifferent about the past."78
Lincoln scholar F. Lauriston Bullard wrote: "One of the finest things about Abraham Lincoln is that he never tried to gloss his simple ways with any varnish of artificiality. His life in the West may have saved him from the hypocritical veneer which not seldom marks the ceremonies of fashion. We need not worry about the occasional outcropping of the habits of the prairie lawyer. At no public function was he found wanting in the gravity and dignity that benefited his rank. All undazed by power and position he put visitors of every class at ease and this in itself is a test of refinement."79
Mr. Lincoln had a westerner's love of stories. General Egbert L. Viele recalled that "Mr. Lincoln always used with great effect any anecdote which he possessed for the purpose of enforcing and exemplifying a higher form of argument and impressing a fact upon the minds of his hearers." Viele noted that Mr. Lincoln's humor exemplified the Mississippi Valley frontier. "Few people understand precisely the condition of Western life. They are crude and rude, though fast becoming otherwise. In Lincoln's time it was the life of the pioneer that is struggling with nature; and while people were working to obtain the food necessary for their absolute existence, there was little time for the cultivation of the graces and for the refinement of the intellect. So we must look at that country from the point of view of development."80
President Lincoln even used his sense of humor on members of his cabinet like Montgomery Blair, who were not known for possessing a sense of humor. According Union officer E. W. Andrews, Mr. Lincoln entertained his entourage on the railroad trip to Gettysburg in November 1863:
After cordially greeting us and directing us to make ourselves comfortable, the President, with quizzical expression, turned to Montgomery Blair (then Postmaster-General), and said:
"Blair, did you ever know that fight has sometimes proved a sure cure for boils?"
"No, Mr. President. How is that?"
"I'll tell you. Not long ago, when Colonel ___, with his cavalry, was at the front, and the Rebs were making things rather lively for us, the colonel was ordered out on a reconnaissance. He was troubled at the time with a big boil where it made horseback riding decidedly uncomfortable. He hadn't gone more than two or three miles when he declared he couldn't stand it any longer, and dismounted and ordered the troops forward without him. He had just settled down to enjoy his relief from change of position when he was startled by the rapid reports of pistols and the helter-skelter approach of his troops in full retreat before a yelling rebel force. He forgot everything but the yells, sprang into his saddle, and made capital time over the fences and ditches till safe within the lines. The pain from his boil was gone, and the boil too, and the colonel swore that there was no cure for boils so sure as fright from rebel yells, and that the secession had rendered to loyalty one valuable service at any rate."81
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was as humorless as Blair. General Viele wrote that Secretary Stanton "had received a telegram from General Mitchell, in Alabama, asking instructions in regard to a certain emergency that had occurred. The secretary said that he did not precisely understand the emergency as explained by General Mitchell, but he had answered back, 'All right; go ahead.' 'Now,' he said, 'Mr. President, if I have made an error in not understanding him correctly, I will have to get you to countermand the order.' 'Well,' exclaimed Lincoln, 'that is very much like the occasion of a certain horse sale I remember that took place at the cross roads down in Kentucky when I was a boy. A particularly fine horse was to be sold, and the people gathered together. They had a small boy to ride the horse up and down while the spectators examined the horse's points. At last one man whispered to the boy as he went by: 'Look here, boy, hain't that horse got the splints?' The boy replied: 'Mister, I don't know what the splints is; but if it is good for him he has got it, if it ain't good for him he ain't got it.'" Mr. Lincoln continued: "Now, if this was good for Mitchell it was all right: but if it was not I have got to countermand it."82
Illinois friend Joseph Gillespie recalled that "how he could gather up such a boundless supply & have them every ready at command was the wonder of all his acquaintances."83 Sculptor Thomas D. Jones worked on a bust of President-elect Lincoln in Springfield after his election in 1860. "Lincoln's keen perception of the ridiculous enabled him to enjoy an anecdote or story better than most men, and he treasured them to," recalled Jones. Speaking of their daily modeling sessions, Jones wrote: "We generally opened the ball in the morning with two or three anecdotes, each, and then went on with our work in silence. Should a story or anecdote not be clearly impressed upon his mind the next day he would ask me to repeat it.84 Georgian Alexander Stephens recalled: "He abounded in anecdotes; he illustrated everything that he was talking of speaking about by an anecdote; his anecdotes were always exceedingly apt and pointed, and socially he always kept his company in a roar of laughter."85
Springfield court official Thomas W. Kidd recalled: "Mr. Lincoln's stories were a recreation to him, and he only used them to relieve an overtaxed mind or to 'make a point' by telling a story which would require hours of argument. As [Usher] Linder one said to an Eastern lawyer, who expressed the opinion that Mr. Lincoln lost time in telling stories to a jury: 'Ah, my friend! Don't lay the flattering unction to your soul that he is losing time. Lincoln is like Tansey's horse, he "breaks to win."' Mr. Lincoln could tell a story as no other man I ever heard make the attempt. He had a purpose in telling them before juries and on the stump. He could annihilate an opponent with a story, and the other would scarcely know what hurt him."86
Artist Francis B. Carpenter recalled a story told "by a radical member of the last Congress. It was during the dark days of 1862. He called upon the President early one morning, just after news of a disaster. Mr. Lincoln commenced telling some trifling incident, which the Congressman was in mood to hear. He rose to his feet, and said, 'Mr. President, I did not come here this morning to hear stories; it is too serious a time.' Instantly the smile disappeared from Mr. Lincoln's face, who exclaimed, 'A, sit down! I respect you as an earnest, sincere man. You cannot be more anxious than I am constantly, and I say to you now, that were it not for this occasional vent, I should die!'"87
Psychobiographer Charles B. Strozier noted: "Lincoln's was a raucous, infectious, charming humor, a bubbling over of story, joke, anecdote, and tale that became a part of his every action and experience. It defined his style in law, politics, and in personal relationships. Nothing escaped, not even his famous tendency to pardon soldiers for desertion, cowardice or failure to perform adequately in the army.'" Strozier wrote: "Humor...served therapeutic purposes for Lincoln, though it also relaxed his clients, helped keep political opponents in their place, won many friends and much influence, and facilitated his leadership as President. Humor seemed to provide a kind of vitality for Lincoln, a zest that kept his depression at bay."88
Law partner William H. Herndon contended: "The truth is he loved a story however extravagant or vulgar, if it had a good point. If it was merely a ribald recital and had no sting in the end, that is, if it exposed no weakness or pointed no moral, he had no use for it either in conversation or public speed; but if it had the necessary ingredients of mirth and moral no one could use it with more telling effect. As a mimic he was unequalled, and with his characteristic gestures, he built up a reputation for story-telling- although fully as many of his narratives were borrowed as original - which followed him through life. One who listened to his early stories in New Salem says: 'His laugh was strong. Such awkward gestures belonged to no other many. They attracted universal attention, from the old sedate down to the schoolboy. Then in a few moments he was as a calm and thoughtful as a judge on the bench, and as ready to give advice on the most important matters; fun and gravity grew on him alike.'"89
Mr. Lincoln genuinely liked people. Attorney Charles Zane recalled: "One morning I happened to be passing, when Mr. Lincoln, on his way to the supreme court, met Governor John Reynolds, who was an ardent Democrat and pro-slavery man; they shook hands very cordially and Reynolds said 'I have not met you for a long time. After a few words Mr. Lincoln excused himself by saying, 'I have a case to argue in the Supreme Court this morning, and must go on.' And as he passed on the old Governor said to us: 'There goes a man I have never agreed with politically, and whom I have always opposed, but I would rather shake hands with him than any man living. I always feel when he shakes hands that he means just what the greeting should indicate, that he is my personal friend and wishes me well."90 Another Illinois resident recalled his father telling him after watching Mr. Lincoln in action in the local courtroom in 1842: "I wish I could raise a Son as big as Lincoln is bound to be if he lives - I have heard all three men Stephen Douglas, John A. Logan, John Todd Stuart at the bar and on the stump for some years and Lincoln is the greatest of them all. I say this to you, my son, though I am a democrat."91
In the years after President Lincoln's assassination, White House security guard William Crook was often asked about Mr. Lincoln's personality. Crook wrote: "He is the only man I ever knew the foundation of whose spirit was love. That love made him suffer. I saw him look at the ragged, hungry prisoners at City Point, I saw him ride over the battle-fields at Petersburg, the man with the hole in his forehead and the man with both arms shot away lying, accusing, before his eyes. I saw him enter into Richmond, walking between lanes of silent men and women who had lost their battle. I remember his face...And yet my memory of him is not of an unhappy man. I hear so much to-day about the president's melancholy. It is true no man could suffer more. But he was very easily amused. I have never seen a man who enjoyed more anything pleasant or funny that came his way. I think the balance between pain and pleasure was fairly struck, and in the last months when I knew him he was in love with life because he found it possible to do so much."92 Friend William Jayne wrote: "I venture to say that no man was less elated by prosperity, or depressed by adversity. He was so mentally balanced, that he could calmly share the triumph or endure defeat."93
Mr. Lincoln's humanity sometimes obscured his depth. Biographer Benjamin Thomas wrote: "Though Lincoln's complex and sometimes contradictory personality made him difficult to understand, his warm human qualities drew people to him, and he could count a host of friends."94 Journalist Donn Piatt wrote: "The man who could open a Cabinet meeting called to discus the Emancipation Proclamation by reading Artemus Ward, who called for a comic song on the bloody battle-field, was the same man who could guide with clear mind and iron hand the diplomacy that kept off the fatal interference of Europe, while conducting at home the most horrible of all civil wars that ever afflicted a people. He reached with ease the highest and the lowest level."95
There was a curious balance to his personality that less secure men could not fathom. German-American politician Carl Schurz recalled that President "Lincoln had great respect for the superior knowledge and culture of other persons. But he did not stand in awe of them."96 Friend Joshua F. Speed observed that "True to himself, he was true to everybody and every thing about and around him - When he was ignorant on any subject no matter how simple it might make him appear he was always willing to acknowledge it. His whole aim in life was to be true to himself & being true to himself he could be false to no one."97
Mr. Lincoln was an enigma to even those close to him. Journalist John Russell Young observed: "I know him, and yet seem never to have known him. When we approach Lincoln, it is as if we were on enchanted ground, into an atmosphere of incense and repose. Memories of him, more than of any of the famous men of the day, crowd upon me."98 "No man knows - no one in the future can ever know Abraham Lincoln. He was much greater - so much vaster even than his surroundings. What is not known of him is so much more than what is, that the true man can never be know on earth." So poet Walt Whitman said to novelist Bram Stoker shortly before Whitman's death."99
The more a man knew Mr. Lincoln, the more he admired him and the less he thought he really understood him. "Lincoln always seemed very much of a man. I have never read a description of him that recalls him quite as I knew," wrote John Russell Young. "Something always beyond and beyond."100 Judge Owen T. Reeves, who presided at the McLean County Circuit Court in the late 1850s, recalled: "Lincoln's personality was to me a revelation, different from any other personality I had ever tried to measure and comprehend, although it had been my good fortune in prior years to have had personal relations with a goodly number of men of wide and well-merited distinction. He had an individuality that was singularly impressive. Altogether, the problem of his true measure as a man was complex and not easy of solution. To me Mr. Lincoln was a continuous study, and the farther the study was carried, the higher the estimate of him arose until, to me, he stood out as a veritable marvel among men."101
Partner William H. Herndon wrote that Mr. Lincoln "was man of many moods and many sides. He never revealed himself entirely to any one man, and therefore he will always to a certain extent remain enveloped in doubt."102 Herndon contended: "In general terms his life was cold -- at least characterized by what many persons would deem great indifference. He had, however, a strong latent capacity to love: but the object must first come in the guise of a principle, next it must be right and true -- then it was lovely in his sight. He loved humanity when it was oppressed -- an abstract love as against the concrete love centred in an individual. He rarely used terms of endearment, and yet he was proverbially tender and gentle. He gave the key-note to his own character when he said: 'With malice towards none, with charity for all.' In proportion to his want of deep, intense love he had not hate and bore no malice. His charity for an imperfect man was as broad as his devotion to principle was enduring."103
Mr. Lincoln's personality was open and closed at the same time. Historian Earl Schenck Miers wrote: "Lincoln was an open-minded man, liking all classes of people and meeting them with candor and good humor. Thus, one Sunday morning, standing within the gates of the White House, he called out to a strange passer-by, 'Good morning, good morning! I am looking for a newsboy; when you get to the corner I wish you would start one up this way."104 California Senator Cornelius Cole recalled a White House reception where "Mrs. Cole and I waited in the long line to be received. She somehow dropped one of her white gloves and was not conscious of it until we had moved up and it was our turn to greet the President and Mrs. Lincoln. She stood looking about her in dismay for the missing glove, and the President, seeing what had happened, watched her with an amused smile. In a moment he said: 'Never mind, Mrs. Cole, I shall have a search made for it tomorrow, and shall preserve it as a souvenir.' This remark, coming from a man to whom book etiquette was a thing unknown, proved him to be an inborn gentleman. His deportment never missed, because it was the expression of his friendly feeling for all. He did not offend because in his heart no animosity for anyone.105 Presidential aide Edward Duffield Neill, who had an opportunity to observe President Lincoln up close for a year, observed: "Mr. Lincoln's manner were never repulsive. While he could not grace a ball-room nor compete with the perfumed and spangled representative of a foreign court in knowledge of the laws of fashion, yet in his heart there was always kindly feeling for others; and thus, in the best sense, he was a gentleman."106
At heart, Mr. Lincoln was a true democrat. At the same time he preserved and exercised real executive power. Presidential aide William O. Stoddard noted that if President Lincoln "met a governor, a general, a foreign diplomat, a visitor of especial distinction, it was out of his power to look upon the great personage before him as other or more or less than a human being like himself or any other man so to be met and spoken to." But Stoddard also noted that the President possessed the assurance of his role as the country's "revolutionary dictator." Stoddard wrote that Mr. Lincoln "was ready and willing to use all 'powers given him by his unwritten commission to "See to it that the Commonwealth suffers no harm."108 That applied to members of Congress and generals in the army. Stoddard described his management of army commanders "as a persistent effort by him to put each man, as nearly as might be, in the place for which he was best fitted and wherein he could perform the most effective service. If, having appointed any man to an especial duty, he found him insufficient for it, he was quite willing to transfer him to another."109
Mr. Lincoln was a creature of his own commitment to duty. Journalist Henry Villard wrote about month before his inauguration in 1861: "The most distinctive element in Mr. Lincoln's moral composition is his keen sense and comprehensive consciousness of duty." Villard wrote that Mr. Lincoln would "faithfully and fearlessly" his presidential obligations."110 Historian Allan Nevins wrote that an "element in Lincoln's strength was his manifest devotion to all his duties. He toiled nearly to exhaustion, giving an average of not less than fourteen hours a day, as Greeley recorded, to his public functions - not including state dinners. It was said that he entered the White House conservatory only once in his four years. His life, as John Hay testifies, was almost devoid of recreation, and most evenings he spent in his office, working or conferring with business callers. With difficulty his wife would sometimes carry him to Shakespeare or a concert. He felt keenly his responsibility as military commander-in-chief as well as head of the civil government, studying military treatises, scrutinizing every important dispatch from the field to the War Department, talking with generals, and making himself almost a one-man bureau for the examination of new weapons which offered some promise of shortening the contest. Endorsements on papers of the quartermaster bureau, some never published, show his interest in the flow of supplies. He was not a talented administrator, deputed labor poorly, and never organized the office of the President as it needed to be organized for war; but his vigilant attention to business was untiring."111 Hay's assistant, William O. Stoddard, noted that Mr. Lincoln "had vast capacity for work, and also the exceedingly valuable faculty of putting work upon others. He could load, up to their limit or beyond it, his Cabinet officers, generals, legislative supporters, and so forth. He could hold them responsible, sharply; but he never interfered with them, 'bothered them,' at their work, or found undue fault with its execution."112
Henry C. Whitney, who was a longtime political and legal associate of Mr. Lincoln, wrote: "My judgement is that Lincoln regarded his obligation to duty as a stronger obligation than that to friendship and that in his distribution of patronage, as well as in his other public acts, he must so act, as to gain and hold, for the good of the cause, the most influential, and greatest number of, adherents and that he especially must gain and hold those who affinities and interests might impel them to the other side."113
He was a grower and a learner. Growth was a key to Mr. Lincoln's personality. "As the child of progress, Mr. Lincoln's character grew and developed in obedience to its surroundings. His was a life of growth and expansion from the cradle to the grave," recalled Attorney General James Speed."114 Mr. Lincoln learned from his mistakes - from his debt problems, from his courting problems, from his problems with language, from his problems with friends. California journalist Noah Brooks recalled Mr. Lincoln saying: "I am very sure that if I do not go away from here a wiser man, I shall go away a better man for having learned here what a very poor sort of a man I am."115 Mr. Lincoln was not so focused as to close his mind to possible sources of wisdom. John H. Littlefield recalled: "Lincoln displayed great eagerness to learn on all subjects from everybody. When he was introduced to persons his general method was to entertain them by telling them a story, or else cross-question them along the line of their work, and soon draw from them about all the information they had."116 William H. Herndon wrote: "The convolutions of his brain were long; they did not snap off quickly like a short, thick man's brain. The enduring power of Mr. Lincoln's thought and brain was wonderful. He could sit and think without food or rest longer than any man I ever saw."117
His learning found expression in words and language. "It is very common in this country to find great facility of expression and less common to find great lucidity of thought. The combination of the two in one person is very uncommon; but whenever you do find it, you have a great man," Mr. Lincoln told English journalist Edward Dicey.118 A Frenchman, the Marquis de Chambrun, wrote: "No one who heard him express personal ideas, as though thinking aloud, upon some great topic or incidental question, could fail to admire his accuracy of judgment and rectitude of mind. I have heard him give opinions on statesmen and argue political problems with astounding precision. I have heard him describe a beautiful woman and discuss the particular aspects of her appearance, differentiating what is lovely from what might be open to criticism, with the sagacity of an artist. In discussing literature, his judgment showed a delicacy and sureness of taste which would do credit to a celebrated critic. Having formed his mind through the process of lonely meditation during his rough and humble life, he had been impressed by the two books which the Western pioneer always keeps in his log-cabin, the Bible and Shakespeare."119
First impressions of Mr. Lincoln were often deceiving. "On two other points I should like to clear your mind. Your opinion of the President is too deprecatory. He is indeed a man without higher education and his manners harmonize little with the European conception of the dignity of a ruler," wrote general-diplomat Carl Schurz to a friend. "He is an overgrown nature-child and does not understand artifices of speech and attitude. But he is a man of profound feeling, just and firm principles, and incorruptible integrity. One can always rely upon his motives, and the characteristic gift of this people, a sound common sense, is developed in him to a marvelous degree. If you should sometime find opportunity to read his official papers and his political letters you would find this demonstrated in a manner which would surprise you. I know the man from personal observation as well as anyone and better than most. I am quite familiar with the motives of his policies. I have seen him fight his way heroically through many a terrible battle and work his way with true-hearted strength through many a desperate situation. I have often criticized him severely and subsequently have not infrequently found that he was right. I also understand his weaknesses; they are the weaknesses of a good man. That he has made great mistakes in the endless complications of his office cannot be denied but can easily be explained. Other men in the same situation would perhaps not have made the same mistakes, but they would have made others."120
Mr. Lincoln was a realist, not an egotist. Mr. Lincoln was not born to be egotistical. He had no pushy parents. He learned he had much to be self-conscious about. His life was a triumph of ambition and faith over self-doubt. Historian Allan Nevins noted that Mr. Lincoln "was himself a stern realist. He was a realist about his associates, Chase, Seward, Stanton, McClellan. He was a realist about himself and his limitations."121 At the end of the 1858 campaign for the Senate, Mr. Lincoln determined he would lose before the election results came. He told political associates gathered at his home. "Boys, you can put in your best licks, but I am not going to be elected."122
As President, Mr. Lincoln surrounded himself with men of strong egos. He was not threatened by the cosmopolitan William H. Seward, the blunt Edwin M. Stanton or the moralist Salmon P. Chase. Allan Nevins wrote: "As his secretaries John Hay and John G. Nicolay put it, he was a great opportunist in the good sense of the word, before the term opportunism was invented; in modern parlance, he was blessed with an uncanny sense of timing. He was, as Walter Bagehot said of Sir Robert Peel, the uncommon man of common opinions."123 Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote that "Lincoln, as would be evidenced throughout his presidency, was a master of timing." 124 Friend Leonard Swett recalled: "It was by ignoring men, and ignoring all small causes, but by closely calculating the tendencies of events and the great forces which were producing logical results."125
Mr. Lincoln's ego did not get in the way of his judgement. Nor did he let others speed or delay his decisions. Journalist Noah Brooks wrote of Lincoln's appointment of Salmon P. Chase to replace Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the fall of 1864: "There are some people in this world who never will have the manliness to be satisfied with any concession, however graceful, nor any object attained, however desirable. Of this class are some of the over-zealous and indiscreet friends of the new Chief Justice, who, now that Chase has been appointed, gleefully claim that the President was coerced into making the appointment, and who, while compelled to admit the wisdom which characterizes the appointment, scornfully add that it was a popular choice forced upon the President by men who control confirmations in the Senate. It seems a pity that when the President has paid a noble and willing compliment to one who has honorably been his competitor for Presidential honors, he cannot have the poor satisfaction of knowing that his own purity of motive and fixity of intention are appreciated by those who have made Chase and Chase's ambitions the excuse for injuring and conspiring against the good name of the President. Now, lest some of these narrow-minded slanderers of a good man may be able to create in California the same impression for which they are striving here, I will venture to say that the President never desired to appoint any other man than Chase to the Chief Justiceship; he never, I believe, had any other intention. It is a peculiar trait of his mind that when doubts and objections arise concerning the expediency of certain contemplated acts, he states to those with whom he comes in contact those doubts and objections, not as his, but with the express purpose of having them refuted, controverted and removed, if possible. A careless or unobservant listener goes away confounded and discouraged, but the crafty statesman has enjoyed seeing a false position demolished and his own convictions made stronger. This is the explanation of the extraordinary confusion in the minds of men who read the President's reply to the Chicago ministerial delegation at the same time that they read the Emancipation Proclamation, which he refused to give a hope for to that same delegation. So, although the President made no sign to show that he had fixed his mind on Chase, and even told those who plied him with arguments in Chase's favor, that certain things were urged against Chase, he only put forward those allegations, though genuine, as straw objections, to be brushed aside, by others. I hope that I may not be accused of toadyism in thus simply stating this matter; but I want to see exact justice done to Abraham Lincoln, and perhaps the trait of character here drawn may serve as a key to other parts of his conduct, otherwise misunderstood."126
Mr. Lincoln had an uncommon sense of and commitment to justice. It motivated his whole approach to emancipation. But it also affected his other relationships. In August 1861, President Lincoln wrote Secretary of War Simon Cameron: "It is said Capt. McKnabb, or, McNabb, in Utah, has been dismissed from the Army on the charge of being a disunionist; and that he wishes a hearing to enable him to show that the charge is false. Fair play is a jewell. Give him a chance if you can."127
Mr. Lincoln was a friendly man - but a loner. His loyalty to his friends sometimes clashed with his responsibility to the nation Nevertheless, manufacturer Stephen M. Warner testified that "from the goodness of his heart, he never forgot his old friends."128 As a congressman, biographer Ida Tarbell noted: "Lincoln's simple, sincere friendliness and his quaint humor soon won him a sure, if quiet, social position in Washington."129
Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted: "Lincoln 'had no idea -- no proper notion or conception of particular men & women,' Herndon complained. 'He could scarcely distinguish the individual.' In fact, Leonard Swett thought of Lincoln as 'a trimmer, and such a trimmer as the world has never seen' when it came to 'dealing with men.' But 'Lincoln never trimmed in principles -- it was only in his conduct with men.'"130 Historian William E. Gienapp wrote that Mr. Lincoln "had many acquaintances but few friends, bared his soul to no one, and throughout his political career made crucial decisions alone. These qualities continued after he went to Washington. As president he did not surround himself with a group of political cronies and had no close personal associates or intimate advisers. Instead, he gathered advice from various quarters, listened patiently to friend and foe, and then made up his mind in solitude."131
Mr. Lincoln was loyal - even to those who were not loyal to him. He defended friends and associates - from Herndon to Lamon from Stanton to Seward. Mr. Lincoln also admired loyalty. He said of Democrat William A. Richardson: "I regard him as one of the truest men that ever lived; he sticks to Judge Douglas through thick and thin - never deserted him, and never will. I admire such a man!"132 General John Pope wrote: "In his personal character Mr. Lincoln was a faithful friend, true to those he loved and without malice or hatred for his enemies. Nothing could be more touching than his affection for his family and his devotion and forebearance to them."133 Mr. Lincoln continued to consider himself a Whig long after the terminal nature of the party was evident. Lincoln scholar William Lee Miller wrote: "Lincoln, the loyal party man, had a particular scorn for politicians in Illinois, who switched from the Whigs to the more dominant Democrats. John T. Stuart told Herndon that from 1830 to 1837 the tendency in Illinois was for every man of ambition to turn Democrat."134
Mr. Lincoln was driven by duty more than relationships. A young woman who lived across the street in Springfield visited President-elect Lincoln at the State Capitol to introduce her future husband. According to her son: "Mr. Lincoln was very gracious. Taking her hand in his large hand, which was always very reassuring, he said, 'This is my little friend Delie, Delie Wheelock and gave her a few moments of undivided attention. It was this unfailing quality of genial friendliness to all whom he knew that endeared him to them, and left his indelible impression."135
Assistant Attorney General Titian J. Coffey recalled: "One of Mr. Lincoln's most amiable qualities was the patience and gentleness with which he would listen to people who thought they had wrongs to redress or claims to enforce. But sometimes, when his patience had been abused for selfish or unworthy purposes, he was quite capable of administering a caustic rebuke in his own way."136 New York Times Editor Henry Raymond himself a top Republican national official, observed: "Nothing was more marked in Mr. Lincoln's personal demeanor than its utter unconsciousness of his position. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find another man who would not, upon a sudden transfer from the obscurity of private life in a country town to the dignities and duties of the Presidency, feel it incumbent upon him to assume something of the manner and tone befitting that position. Mr. Lincoln never seemed to be aware that his place or his business were essentially different from those in which he had always been engaged. He brought to every question, - the loftiest and most imposing, - the same patient inquiry into details, the same eager longing to know and do exactly what was just and right, and the same working-day, plodding, laborious devotion, which characterized his management of a client's case at his law office in Springfield. He had duties to perform in both places - in the one case to his country, as to his client in the other. But all duties were alike to him. All called equally upon him for the best service of his mind and heart, and all were alike performed with a conscientious, single-hearted devotion that knew no distinction, but was absolute and perfect in every case."137
His dignity was natural but unmistakable. One Springfield resident, Turner R. King recalled that "Lincoln could not & would not bear insolence & from no man."138 Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald wrote: "By temperament and early training Lincoln grew up as a man of great reserve, unable to reach out in the broad, good fellowship that so many politicians cultivate as they strive to be everyone's closest friend. In his early life, he had never had anyone in whom he could confide, and that was not a barrier he could break down as an adult."139 Lincoln scholar F. Lauriston Bullard wrote: "Always there was aloof about the man. Of friends he had many, of intimates few. Nobody slapped him on the back."140 Biographer Benjamin Thomas recalled: "Notwithstanding Lincoln's geniality he was a lonely man; for there was a remoteness and innate dignity about him that kept acquaintances at arm's length. Most people addressed him as 'Mr. Lincoln' or 'Lincoln.' Not even stout, jovial Judge David Davis or any of his other intimates felt sufficiently free and easy with him to call him 'Abe.'"141 Friend Henry Clay Whitney wrote that "although I have heard of cheap fellows, professing that they were wont to address him as 'Abe,' I never knew of any one who ever did it in my presence. Lincoln disdained ceremony, but he gave no license for being called 'Abe.' His preference was being called 'Lincoln' with no handle at all."142
Mr. Lincoln's solitary dignity confused his colleagues. Journalist John Russell Young wrote: "What I confess, and, as reflecting the feelings of the elders around me, was a distrust of Lincoln. It comes back as an evidence of the strength of the man. I take it that great genius is always solitary - that we attain the Alpine attitude whenever we ascend. Lincoln measured the men about him at their value. He knew their worth, their fidelity and in no sense distrusted them. But it was every one to his duty."143
Lincoln lived his life at the edge of the box - not so far outside the box as to affront convention but not so far inside as to be restricted by convention when events dictated otherwise. Ohio attorney Donn Piatt wrote: "With all his awkwardness of manner, and utter disregard of social conventionalities that seemed to invite familiarity, there was something about Abraham Lincoln that enforced respect. No man presumed on the apparent invitation to be other than respectful. I was told at Springfield that this accompanied him through life. Among his rough associates, when young, he was leader, looked up to and obeyed, because they felt of his muscle and his readiness in its use. Among his companions at the bar it was attributed to his ready wit which kept his duller associates at a distance. The fact was, however, that this power came from a sense of reserve force of intellectual ability that no one took account of, save in its results"144
Henry C. Whitney recalled: "One morning, I was awakened early - before daylight - by my companion sitting up in bed, his figure dimly visible by the ghostly firelight, and talking the wildest and most incoherent nonsense all to himself. A stranger to Lincoln would have supposed he had suddenly gone insane. Of course I knew Lincoln and his idiosyncracies, and felt no alarm, so I listened and laughed. After he had gone on in this way for, say, five minutes, while I was awake, and I know not how long before I was awake, he sprang out of bed, hurriedly washed, and jumped into his clothes, puts some wood on the fire, and then sat in front of it, moodily, dejectedly, in a most sombre and gloomy spell, till the breakfast bell rang, when he started, as if from sleep, and went with us to breakfast. Neither Davis nor I spoke to him; we knew this trait; it was not remarkable for Lincoln."145
"The evidence of all the men admitted to his intimacy is that he maintained, without the least effort or assumption, a singular dignity and reserve, in the midst of his easiest conversation," wrote John Hay.146 Henry Clay Whitney wrote that Mr. Lincoln was "every inch a gentleman - not in form, but in substance."147 Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: "When the occasion required, however, his native dignity asserted itself, and a certain simple and yet influential grandeur was manifested in his deportment and demeanor. One soon forgot in his immediate presence the native ungainliness of his figure, and felt that he was in the personal atmosphere of the world's great men. Although Lincoln was genial and free in his manners, even with strangers, there was something in his bearing that forbade familiarity. Much has been said about his disregard for dress and personal appearance, but much of this is erroneous. He was neat in his person, scrupulously so, and his garb was that of a gentleman always."148
Painter Alban Jasper Conant tried to make conversation with Mr. Lincoln while painting his portrait. He recalled that "as I sat down again before my easel, I made some flippant remark calculated to appeal to the vulgarian. It was then I got my first hint of the innate dignity of the man. He made some monosyllabic reply, and there came over his face the most marvelously complex expression I have ever seen - a mingling of instant shrewd apprehension of the whole attitude of mind back of my remark, pained disappointment at my misunderstanding of him, and patience tolerance of it."149 John M. Palmer, grandson of Lincoln colleague John M. Palmer, once heard a group of men relate a coarse story which they attributed to Abraham Lincoln. His grandfather, overhearing the grandson relate the story to a relative, made him recite the whole thing. When he was done, the senior Palmer said: "I am going to tell you something, John McAuley, that you will remember as long as you live. Abraham Lincoln never told that story. He told many stories but none like that." The stories Mr. Lincoln told were driven by their point, not their coarseness.150
Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: "Nothing displeased him more than any attempt - and some fools did attempt it - at unseemly or undignified familiarity, for his nature was genuinely dignified and manly. Towards all who held appointments in his household he was to the last degree kind, considerate, and even indulgent; but nothing could be further out of the way than to suppose that his kindness of heart degenerated into what is vulgarly called 'good nature.' He was at times, when overworked or weary, even petulant - so much so as to be difficult of access; was always singularly firm in the assertion of his own fixed views or will, and if a just cause of anger aroused him, his anger was apt to be hot and lasting. He never did forgive a man whom he believed to have deceived him; of all men he hated and despised a liar. His manner at receptions, and other occasions of ceremony of social or official formality, was that of a man who performs an irksome but unavoidable duty, though he was never lacking in cordial hospitality. Take him all in all, then, his faults and foibles were mainly the result of early association and defective education, nor were they of sufficient prominent to obscure for a moment from those who knew him the simplicity, integrity, and grand strength of the best beloved and most entirely trusted, if not really the greatest, statesman of modern times. Those who are to come after us will be better able to judge of the work he did, and of him by his work."151
Noah Brooks wrote: "No man was ever more free from affectation, and the distaste that he felt for form, ceremony, and personal parade was genuine. Yet he was not without a certain dignity of bearing and character that commanded respect. At times too, he rebuked those who presumed too far on his habitual good-nature and affable kindness. On one occasion a deputation of citizens concerned in the distribution of offices in a distant State waiting upon him, with a remonstrance against certain pending appointments. Their objections were committed to writing, and the spokesman of the party read it to the President." The President's patience could be tried, recalled Brooks: "On another occasion, a still more audacious petitioner, introduced by a strong letter from a Senator of the United States, so far forgot himself as to break out with profane language in the presence of Lincoln. The President, when the offence was repeated a second time, rose with great dignity, opened the door of the audience-chamber and said: 'I thought that Senator _____ had sent me a gentleman. I find I am mistaken. There is the door, sir. Good-evening.'" 152
"At one time I saw him under circumstances which, if any could bring out those reputed defects in his carriage, should have done so. It was at a meeting of the House of Congress, gathered in the Hall of Representatives to celebrate some victory of the war,"a teenage Robert B. Stanton recalled in his later years. "The chamber was packed, and the galleries overflowed with men and women. I sat in a front-row seat. The door opened on the opposite side, and as the Marine Band played 'Hail to the Chief,' Mr. Lincoln entered. The whole audience rose and cheered. He glanced up at the throng and there appeared on his countenance a bright, beautiful, but gentle smile of thanks, nothing more. In a moment this was gone, and holding himself perfectly erect, with an expression of unconcern and self-possession, he walked across the hall up the speaker's desk with a simple grandeur and profound dignity that would be difficult for any one to surpass."153
Aide John Hay wrote that in the White House, Mr. Lincoln "frequently passed the evening [in his office] with a few friends in frank and free conversation. If the company was all of one sort, he was at his best; his wit and rich humor had free play; he was once more the Lincoln of the Eighth Circuit, the cheeriest of talkers, the riskiest of story tellers; but if a stranger came in, he put on in an instant his whole armor of dignity and reserve. He had as singular discernment of men; he would talk of the most important political and military concerns with a freedom which often amazed his intimates, but we do not recall an instance in which this confidence was misplaced."154
Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: "Lincoln particularly liked a joke at the expense of the dignity of some high civil or military official. One day, not long before his second inauguration, he asked me if I had heard about Edwin M. Stanton's meeting a picket on Broad River, South Carolina, and then told this story: 'General Foster, then at Port Royal, escorted the secretary up the river, taking a quartermaster's tug. Reaching the picket lines on the river, a sentry roared from the bank. 'Who have you got on board that tug? The severe and dignified answer was, 'The Secretary of War and Major-General Foster.' Instantly the picket roared back, "We've got major-generals enough up here - why don't you bring us up some hard-tack?"' The story tickled Lincoln mightily, and he told it until it was replaced by a new one."155
Treasury Hugh McCulloch recalled: "The habit of story-telling became part of his nature, and he gave free rein to it, even when the fate of the nation seemed to be trembling in the balance. Some eight or ten days after the first battle of Bull Run, when Washington was utterly demoralized by its result, I called upon him at the White House, in company with a few friends, and was amazed when, referring to something which had been said by one of the company about the battle which was so disastrous to the Union forces, he remarked, in his usual quiet manner, 'That reminds me of a story,' which he told in a manner so humorous as to indicate that he was free from care and apprehension. This to me was surprising. I could not then understand how the President could feel like telling a story when Washington was in danger of being captured, and the whole North was dismayed; and I left the White House with the feeling that I had been mistaken in Mr. Lincoln's character, and that his election might prove to have been a fatal mistake. This feeling was changed from day to day as the war went on; but it was not entirely overcome until I went to Washington in the spring of 1863, and as an officer of the government was permitted to have free intercourse with him. I then perceived that my estimate of him before his election was well grounded, and that he possessed even higher qualities than I had given him credit for; that he was a man of sound judgment, great singleness and tenacity of purpose, and extraordinary sagacity; that story-telling was to him a safety-valve, and that he indulged in it, not only for the pleasure it afforded him, but for a temporary relief from oppressing cares; that the habit had been so cultivated that he could make a story illustrate a sentiment and give point to an argument."156
John Hay noted: "Upon all but two classes the President made the impression of unusual power as well as of unusual goodness. He failed only in the case of those who judged men by a purely conventional standard of breeding, and upon those so poisoned by political hostility that the testimony of their own ears became untrustworthy. He excited no emotion but one of contempt in the finely-tempered mind of Nathaniel Hawthorne; several English tourists have given the most distorted pictures of his speech and his manners. Some Southern writers who met him in the first days of 1861, spoke of him as a drunken, brawling boor, whose mouth dripped with oaths and tobacco - when in truth, whiskey and tobacco were as alien to his lips as profanity."157
Lincoln chronicler H. Donald Winkler noted that Mr. Lincoln's manners were evident even in rough years of young adulthood in New Salem: "Lincoln's respect for New Salem women was demonstrated by his reaction when Charlie Reavis cursed around women shoppers. Lincoln demanded that Reavis desist, saying he would not tolerate such language in his store when ladies were present. When Reavis continued the vulgarity, Lincoln admonished him: 'I have spoken to you a number of times about swearing in the presence of ladies, and you have not heeded. Now I am going to rub the lesson into you so that you will not forget again.' Thereupon he seized Reavis by the arm and led him out of the store to the side of the street where there was a patch of smartweed. Throwing Reavis on his back and putting his foot on his chest, Lincoln grabbed a handful of the stinging weeds and rubbed Reavis's face, mouth, and eyes with them until he yelled for mercy."158
Biographer Jesse W. Weik wrote: "He detested and never would repeat neighborhood scandal. The savory morsels which some people find so toothsome and delicious under their tongues were wholly unpalatable to him. If he happened to narrate a story in which the wit or weakness of woman was a factor, it was invariably located in the wilds of Kentucky or southern Indiana or some other region equally remote. Besides, the story itself was so ingeniously told and the point or moral so obvious and suggestive, no one present could identify the heroine by name because no name was used or needed. Thus, it will be observed the reputation of every woman he knew was safe in his hands."159
But Mr. Lincoln did not stand on ceremony. Treasury official Maunsell B. Field observed "With civility the President was not overburdened, and his manners were any thing but acceptable to the fair sex. I used constantly to observe in Washington during the war, that, whereas all men appeared more or less abashed on approaching, at least for the first time, the nation's leaders, the ladies shared in none of this diffidence. On one occasion a lady was talking to Mr. Lincoln, asking a favor at that, and he remained sitting while she stood. After a while he arose and drew up another chair, as she supposed with the intention of offering it to her. Nothing of the sort. He stretched out his own long legs upon it. This was more than female patience could endorse. 'Mr. Lincoln,' exclaimed the lady,'I think you are the worst-bred man in the world.' 'Halloo,' asked the President, 'what have I done now?' The lady explained, and Mr. Lincoln, in the best temper, admitted that he believed he believed she was right."160
Hay may have overstated Hawthorne's contempt. But Mr. Lincoln never sought to be treated with special deference. "The simplicity of manner which shone out," noted Brooks, "was marked in his total lack of consideration of what was due his exalted station. He had an almost morbid dread of what he called 'a scene' - that is a demonstration of applause such as always greeted his appearance in public. The first sign of a cheer sobered him; he appeared sad and oppressed, suspended conversation, and looked out into vacancy; and when it was over resumed the conversation just where it was interrupted, with an obvious feeling of relief."161
Friend Joseph Gillespie recalled: "If Mr. Lincoln studied any one thing more than another and for effect it was to make himself understood by all classes. He had great natural clearness and lucidity of statement and this faculty he cultivated with marked assiduity. He despised everything like ornament or display & confined himself to a dry bold statement of his point and then worked away with sledge hammer logic at making his case".162 Henry Clay Whitney wrote: "He had no regard for trivial things, or for mere forms, manners, politeness, etiquette, official formalities, fine clothes, routine, or red tape; he disdained a bill-of-fare at table; a programme at theatre; or a license to get married. The pleadings in a law suit, the formal compliments on a social introduction, the exordium of peroration of a speech, he either wholly ignored or cut as short as he could."163
There was a clear social side to Mr. Lincoln despite his solitary dignity. Whitney wrote: "Except when he was in a melancholy mood, he was very fond of society and his business was largely done in concert with others, but he was at his best, and his effective work was done, when alone. His chief work of law, politics, diplomacy or statesmanship was done, by himself, in solitude; the highest efforts of his great life were achieved by solitary reflection; he relied more on the unaided results of self-introspection, probably, than any man of his age, if not of any age."164 Congressman Isaac N. Arnold recalled: "He had no equal as a talker in social life. His conversation was fascinating and attractive. He was full of wit, humor, and anecdote, and, at the same time, original, suggestive, and instructive."165 In a eulogy of President Lincoln delivered seven weeks after his death, Charles Sumner said: "While social in nature and enjoying the flow of conversation, he was often singularly reticent. Modesty was natural to such a character. As he was without affectation, so he was without pretense or jealousy. No person civil or military can complain that he appropriated to himself any honor that belonged to another."166
Mr. Lincoln's innate but easy dignity was unusual. "During the first winter I spent in Washington in the War Department I had constant opportunities of seeing Mr. Lincoln, and of conversing with him in the cordial and unofficial manner which he always preferred. Not that there was ever any lack of dignity in the man. Even in his freest moments one always felt the presence of a will and of an intellectual power which maintained the ascendancy of his position. He never posed, or put on airs, or attempted to make any particular impression; but he was always conscious of his own ideas and purposes, even in his most unreserved moments." wrote journalist and War Department official Charles A. Dana.167 This dignity helped keep others at their distance. Editor John Russell Young wrote: "I do not recall Lincoln as in appearance an imposing man - but impressive. You would turn and look at him a second time on the street. And there was that in his face when you looked closely that might well give one pause - a deep unfathomable sense of power."168
House Speaker Schuyler Colfax later wrote: "Critics have arraigned Mr. Lincoln for lack of dignity; and he used to acknowledge, in reply, that he had never enjoyed a quarter's education in any dignity school whatever. While his Western training, so full as it had been of independent individuality, appeared to make the requirements of etiquette always chafe and gall him, you can imagine how astonished was Lord Lyons, the stately British Minister, when he presented the autograph letter from Queen Victoria, announcing, as is the custom with European monarchies, the marriage of the Prince of Wales, and adding that whatever response the President would make he would immediately transmit to his royal mistress. Mr. Lincoln responded instantly, by shaking the marriage announcement at the bachelor minister before him, saying, "Lyons, go thou and do likewise.'"169
Mr. Lincoln's physiognomy often underlined his philosophy. Historian Richard J. Carwardine wrote: "Lincoln was sharply aware of the figure he cut. His unprepossessing appearance and physical attributes did much to reinforce his appeal as a man close to the sons of the soil."170 Daniel Mark Epstein wrote: "Great stage actors are not always classic beauties, but their faces have one thing in common: their features are prominent and generously spaced. Large eyes, set well apart, high cheekbones, and long nose and chin are typical. Without such equipment one cannot carry emotions beyond the footlights. Lincoln was not handsome. But he had the features of a professional actor, and they responded with maximum mobility to inner and outer stimuli, delight, sorrow, or subtle wit. He could raise and lower his bushy eyebrows in mock surprise or dead menace, or lift one eyebrow in doubt or before delivering the punch line of a joke. The mouth was beautifully shaped, the full underlip conveying his compassion, the firm upper lip his strength of purpose. His smile was famous, incandescent, a Frans Hals smile that lit up the gray eyes and drew up the cheeks, drawing back the deep-cut lines that flared from his nose to the corners of his mouth and bracketed his chin. And this grin seemed all the more brilliant when it suddenly broke from behind the clouds of gloom for which the man was equally known."171
Mr. Lincoln was slow to anger and slow to act. Justice Department official Titian J. Coffey recalled: "One of Mr. Lincoln's most amiable qualities was the patience and gentleness with which he would listen to people who thought they had wrongs to redress or claims to enforce. But sometimes, when his patience had been abused for selfish or unworthy purposes, he was quite capable of administering a caustic rebuke in his own way."172 Mr. Lincoln's patience was remarkable, but it could be strained. When confronted by an army officer who complained about Mr. Lincoln's failure to rule favorably on his case: "Sir, I give you fair warning never to show yourself in this room again. I can bear censure, but not insult!'"173 Even President Lincoln's occasional fits of temper were quickly regretted. On the night he was murdered, Mr. Lincoln had a brief encounter at the White House before he left for Ford's Theater:
Massachusetts Republican politician George Ashmun referred to a matter of business connected with a cotton claim, preferred by a client of his, and said that he desired to have a 'commission' appointed to examine and decide upon the merits of the case. Mr. Lincoln replied with considerable warmth of manner, "I have done with 'commissions.' I believe they are contrivances to cheat the Government out of every pound of cotton they can lay their hands on." Mr. Ashmun's face flushed, and he replied that he hoped the President meant no personal imputation.
Mr. Lincoln saw that he had wounded his friend, and he instantly replied: "You did not understand me, Ashmun. I did not mean what you inferred. I take it all back." Subsequently he said: "I apologize to you, Ashmun."
He then engaged to see Mr. Ashmun early the next morning.174
Lincoln's anger was rare although partner Herndon testified to Lincoln's "righteous indignation when aroused."175 Attorney Samuel C. Parks recalled: "Mr Lincoln's temper both as lawyer & politician was admirable. But when thoroughly roused & provoked he was capable of terrible passion & invective. His 'skinning of one of his political opponents is still spoken of by those who heard it as awfully severe. And his denunciation of a defendant (before a Jury in Petersburg) who had slandered an almost friend school mistress was probably as bitter a Philippic as was ever uttered."176
Missouri Republicans often drove President Lincoln to vexation. After one letter from Governor Hamilton Gamble, Mr. Lincoln replied on July 23, 1863: "My Private Secretary has just brought me a letter saying it is a very 'cross' one from you, about mine to Gen. Schofield, recently published in the Democrat. As I am trying to preserve my own temper, by avoiding irritants, so far as practicable, I have declined to read the cross letter. I think fit to say, however, that when I wrote the letter to Gen. Schofield, I was totally unconscious of any malice, or disrespect towards you, or of using any expression which should offend you, if seen by you. I have not seen the document in the Democrat, and therefore can not say whether it is a correct copy."177
Secretaries Nicolay and Hay wrote: "Oftentimes, when men came to him in the rage and transport of a first indignation over some untoward incident, they were surprised to find him quiet, even serene, - perhaps with a smile on his face and jest on his lips, - engaged in routine work, and prone to talk of other and more commonplace matters. Of all things the exhibition of mock-heroism was foreign to his nature." Generally it happened that when others in this mood sought him, his own spirit had already been through the fiery trial of resentment - but giving no outward sign, except at times with lowered eyebrow, a slight nodding and shaking of the head, a muttering motion or hard compression of the lips, and, rarely, an emphatic downward gesture with the clenched right hand."178
Historian Michael Burlingame noted: "Lincoln allegedly said that he grew angry only when frustrated intellectually: 'When a mere child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way that I could not understand. I do not think I ever got angry at anything else in my life; but that always disturbed my temper, and has ever since. Nearly the end of the Civil War, he acknowledged that he could become deeply infuriated at people as well. He told Virginia Governor Francis H. Pierpont that, amid the trials he had endured, 'I have been angry once since I came to the White House. Then, if I had encountered the man who caused my anger, I certainly would have hurt him." Actually, noted Burlingame, "In the White House, Lincoln lost his temper more than once, despite what he may had told Governor Pierpont of Virginia. Although long-suffering, he found it difficult to tolerate insolence."179 As a young man Mr. Lincoln nursed a mean streak Sometimes his earnestness gave way to sarcasm.
Secretary William O. Stoddard noted that the President's temper frayed with time. "Mr. Lincoln did not retain the external equanimity of his earlier days under the galling pressure of the burdens laid upon him in 1863. The goading irritations were too many, and they gave him no rest whatever."180 There were plenty of opportunities during his presidency that would have provoked ordinary mortals to a fit of temper. However, John W. Forney, secretary of the Senate and a frequent White House visitor noted "I never saw him out of temper but once, and that was when I presented him the unanimous confirmation of a certain personage for a high office. 'Why did the Senate not confirm Mr. ____ and Mr. ____? My friends knew I wanted this done, and I wanted it done to-day;' and then he used certain strong expressions against the successful person. I looked at him with some surprise, never having seen him in such a mood, and said, 'Why, Mr. Lincoln, you seem to hold me responsible for the act of the Senate, when you must be aware of the custom under which that body acted.' 'Oh, no,' was his reply; 'I was not scolding you, my friend, but I fear I have been caught in a trap.'"181 According to William H. Crook, Mr. Lincoln counterbalanced the impulsive nature of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:
To such expressions of a natural impatience from Stanton Mr. Lincoln opposed a placid front. More than that, he was placid. He knew Secretary Stanton's intense, irritable nature. He knew how the excitement of the time tried men's tempers and shattered their nerves. He himself, apparently, was the only one who was not to be allowed the indulgence of giving way. So Mr. Stanton's indignation passed unnoticed. The two men were often at variance when it came to matters of discipline in the army. On one occasion, I have heard, Secretary Stanton was particularly angry with one of the generals. He was eloquent about him. 'I would like to tell him what I think of him!' he stormed.
'Why don't you?' Mr. Lincoln agreed. 'Write it all down -- do.'
Mr. Stanton wrote his letter. When it was finished he took it to the President. The President listened to it all.
'All right. Capital!' he nodded. 'And now, Stanton, what are you going to do with it?'
'Do with it? Why, send it, of course!'
'I wouldn't,' said the President. 'Throw it in the waste-paper basket.'
'But it took me two days to write ---'
'Yes, yes, and it did you ever so much good. You feel better now. That is all that is necessary. Just throw it in the basket.'
After a little more expostulation, into the basket it went.182
When he abused a caller, President Lincoln sometimes redressed his comments with an apology. In the summer of 1862, a Colonel Scott sought permission to recover his wife's body after a steamboat collision. After listening to Colonel Scott's undeniably moving story, Mr. Lincoln's response was curt and unfeeling: "Am I to have no rest? Is there no hour or spot when or where I may escape this constant call? Why do you follow me here with such business as this? Why do you not go to the War-office, where they have charge of all this matter of papers and transportation?" When told that Colonel Scott had failed in that mission, Mr. Lincoln went on about length about the problems of the war and concluded: "At any rate, you must not vex me with your family troubles. Why, every family in the land is crushed with sorrow; but they must not each come to me for help. I have all the burden I can carry." The following day, President Lincoln appeared at the hotel room of Colonel Scott: "My dear Colonel, I was a brute last night. I have no excuse for my conduct. Indeed, I was weary to the last extent, but I had no right to treat a man with rudeness who had offered his life for his country, much more a man who came to me in great affliction. I have had a regretful night, and come now to beg your forgiveness." He told Scott that the arrangements he sought had been made to recover his wife's body.183
Mr. Lincoln "was essentially a nice man. Academic historians cannot allow themselves such flip idiomatic judgments, but to an outsider like me that seems about the truth of it," observed 20thth century journalist Jan Morris. "He could be scheming, irritable, disingenuous, but he was never pompous or overbearing. Who but an Abe Lincoln would have been found lying on a sofa in the White House with a telescope propped between his big feet, watching the ships sail by on the Potomac? What other President would have been so heartrendingly fond of the little scamp Tad as to take him to official functions and parades, even into cabinet meetings or on presidential visits to the war zone? Would any other chief executive be given a present of kittens by his secretary of state?"184 Journalist John Forney wrote: "Many a fierce conflict took place in his presence between angry politicians, but it required a very strong provocation to overbalance his judgment or his equanimity. Not so, however, with an appeal for mercy; not so with a petition from the poor. Here he was as weak as woman, and more than once mingled his tears with the gentler sex."185
"If I have one vice, and I can call it nothing else, it is not to be able to say no!" President Lincoln told General Egert Viele one morning. "Thank God for not making me a woman, but if He had, I suppose He would have made me just as ugly as He did, and no one would ever have tempted me. It was only the other day, a poor parson whom I knew some years ago in Joliet came to the White House with a sad story of his poverty and his large family - poor parsons seem always to have large families - and he wanted me to do something for him. I knew very well that I could do nothing for him, and yet I couldn't bear to tell him so, and so I said I would see what I could do. The very next day the man came back for the office which he said that I had promised him - which was not true, but he seemed really to believe it. Of course there was nothing left for me to do, except to get him a place through one of the secretaries. But if I had done my duty, I should have said 'no' in the beginning."186 Friend Joshua Speed recalled a conversation with President Lincoln at the White House after he had just granted a favor to two Pennsylvania women: "It is more than one can often say that in doing right one has made two people happy in one day. Speed, die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower when I thought a flower would grow."187
Good humor for Mr. Lincoln was an occupational necessity. Henry C. Whitney wrote: "Mr. Lincoln had to perform many unpleasant duties, and to placate every variety of unreasonable man, there was the imperious Stanton, the dictatorial Greeley, the sardonic Stevens, the sarcastic Conkling, the prejudiced Sumner, the facile Seward, the sleek Fernando Wood - and they were but types of thousands with whom he must deal, disarm and conquer. He must refuse many reasonable requests - must lay his hand heavily upon many worthy communities - must force unpalatable policies upon the country: good humor must be restored to irascible spirits who came to him 'fighting mad:' and many who came on ardent missions must be sent empty, but good-naturedly, away. Neither reason nor force were the needed weapons, but pleasantry was: and one stroke of the President's ready and facile wit was often more utility than a whole day's debate in Congress."188
Mr. Lincoln did not carry grudges - even for the roles played by Democrats Norman B. Judd and John Palmer in Lyman Trumbull's victory over him in the 1855 legislative election for the U.S. Senate. Lincoln scholar William Lee Miller wrote: "Lincoln's suppression of any resentment toward Judd, Trumbull, and Palmer was an early sample of a mode of conduct that was becoming characteristic; his praise of General Taylor for not seizing an opportunity for revenge showed that this was a matter of reflection on his part. In the years to come he would make explicit reference to avoiding malice and to not seeking revenge and to not planting thorns often enough both in public speeches and in private letters, both in informal comment and in formal orders, to indicate that it was a settled conviction. He thought or was thinking about the matter sufficiently often, and sufficiently deeply, for the words and ideas to come to his pen and his lips repeatedly and to be reflected in his deeds repeatedly."189 Unlike James Buchanan, whose grudge match with Senator Stephen Douglas doomed his presidency to failure, Lincoln had no grudge matches. Although personally not vindictive, Mr. Lincoln often found himself surrounded by people who were anathemas to each other - William Herndon and Mary Todd, Montgomery Blair and Salmon P. Chase, Ward Hill Lamon and James Wadsworth.
Mr. Lincoln was a conciliator. "Some of Lincoln's priceless utterances were by way of adjusting personal feuds and quarrels, for which he had no earthly use. In his oral reprimand to Captain J. Madison Cutts in 1863, a classic whose significance has been newly brought to light, Lincoln said: 'Quarrel not all. No man resolved to make the most of himself, can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper, and the loss of self-control."190
White House bodyguard William Crook recalled: "To the men who criticised him, as did Thaddeus Stevens, he showed no impatience; to the men who insulted him, as did Duff Green, he answered nothing; to Salmon P. Chase, whose vanity made him disloyal, in spite of high character and great attainments, he was patience itself."191 According to Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, "Several Northern Congressmen in Lincoln's office were calling for retaliation. They wanted hangings of 'rebel' leaders. A Pennsylvania Representative, James K. Moorhead, was making a second and more vitriolic attack than his first one when Lincoln leaned across his table, shot out an arm and pointed a long finger: 'Mr. Moorhead, haven't you lived long enough to know that two men may honestly differ about a question and both be right?'"192
Historian James G. Randal wrote that "Lincoln's broad tolerance was shown in his speech on temperance. He had nothing of the self-righteous unction so common among temperance reformers. Far from denouncing the drunkard he showed that in his own growing years intoxicating liquor was 'a respectable article of manufacture and merchanidse.'...To berate habitual drunkards as utterly incorrigible was repugnant to his sense of human decency. He considered such an attitude 'fiendishly selfish.'"193
Mr. Lincoln was a master manipulator of Seward, of Chase, Blair, of Chase, of Greeley and Confederate emissaries. He out-thought and out-maneuvered his adversaries. But his mastery did not come through trickery. Springfield businessman Jacob Bunn wrote that Mr. "Lincoln may have kept many things to himself, and in many matters it may be said he was secretive, but, whenever he did speak, he said what he really thought. He never dealt in double meanings or used language for the purpose of concealing his opinions."194 In his memoirs, Maine Congressman James G. Blaine argued: "There was never the slightest lack of candor or fairness in his methods. He sought to control men through their reason and their conscience. The only art he employed was that of presenting his views so convincingly as to force conviction on the minds of his hearers and his readers."195
Historian Glyndon Van Deusen wrote: "From the beginning a sense of strain hovered over the meeting of the Cabinet, for all the members early developed real or fancied grievances. Each man was eager to obtain his full share of the patronage, and more if possible; all resented poaching by the others on what they regarded as their own preserves. Seward was peculiarly vulnerable to this accusation because the jurisdictional limits of the departments were poorly defined and State had developed a habit of assuming the duties not specifically assigned to others."196
Allen C. Guelzo wrote: "Lincoln's cabinet...began to find that Lincoln's early awkwardness in failing to use his cabinet as a decision-making body had been converted into a conscientious and highly effective policy of allowing cabinet secretaries only the amount of leash they required for their jobs. 'Each member of the cabinet was responsible for the manner of conducting the affairs of his particular department,' Lincoln explained to the Missouri Radical James Taussig in May, 1863, "There was no centralization of responsibility for the action of the cabinet anywhere, except in the president himself.' As a result, 'No President ever leaned so lightly upon his Cabinet,' wrote Connecticut congressman Henry Deming. 'No man reproduces less in official documents, the argument and thought which he imbibes at consultations, and it is a marvelous fact that no sentence is to be found in any of his state papers, which suggests the suspicion of any other impress but that of his own mint.'"197
William H. Herndon wrote: "Mr. Lincoln had a deep, broad, living conscience. His reason, however, was the real judge; it told him what was true or false, and therefore good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust, and his conscience echoed back the decision. His conscience ruled his heart; he was always just before he was generous. It cannot be said of any mortal that he was always absolutely just. Neither was Lincoln always just; but his general life was. It follows that if Mr. Lincoln had great reason and great conscience he must have been an honest man; and so he was. He was rightfully entitled to the appellation 'Honest Abe.' Honesty was his polar star.198
Lincoln scholar M. L. Houser wrote: "As a boy and youth, he was congenitally and instinctively honest; and he made that fact so patent to all and sundry that he gained the sobriquet of 'Honest Abe,' much to his personal advantage. He knew how to sell one A. Lincoln to the public, including voters; and he was not unlike a wise merchant who believes in carrying a good stock of high-grade merchandise, and who also understands the advantage of displaying choice items from it so attractively in a show window that a Priest or a Levite passing by on the other side cannot fail to notice the exhibition, and receive a favorable impression. He was smart in his integrity, and honest in his shrewdness; and he was neither the first nor the last individual in whom keen intelligence and the ability to plan astutely have accompanied an excellent character and commendable purposes."199
A Springfield minister wrote during the 1860 election: "His moral character stands among us here without reproach or blemish. I have known him for twenty years, and latterly as circumstances have made him more prominent I have become well acquainted with him, and have watched the course of pubic opinion in these parts, both among his friends and his foes. Abraham Lincoln has been here all the time, consulting and consulted by all classes, all parties, and on all subjects of political interest, with men of every degree of influence and every degree of corruption and yet I have never heard even an enemy accuse him of intentional dishonesty or corruption."200
Navy Secretary Gideon Welles called Mr. Lincoln "Unassuming and unpretentious. He was not afflicted with the petty jealousy of narrow minds, nor had he any apprehension that others would deprive him of just fame. He gave to Mr. Seward, as to each of his council, his generous confidence, and patiently listened, if he did not always adopt or assent to the suggestions that were made. To those who knew Abraham Lincoln, or who were at all intimate with his Administration, the representation that he was subordinate to any member of his Cabinet, or that he was deficient in executive or administrative ability, is absurd."201
In Alexander K. McClure's judgment, "I have seen Lincoln many times when he seemed to speak with the utmost candor, I have seen him many times when spoke with mingled candor and caution, and I have seen him many times when he spoke but little and with extreme caution. It must not be inferred because of the testimony borne to Lincoln's reticence generally and to his singular methods in speaking on subjects of a confidential nature, that he was ever guilty of deceit. He was certainly one of the most sincere men I have ever met, and he was also one of the most sagacious men that this or any other country has ever produced. He was not a man of cunning, in the ordinary acceptation of the word; not a man who would mislead in any way, unless by silence; and when occasion demanded he would speak with entire freedom as far as it was possible for him to speak at all. I regard as one who believed that the truth was not always to be spoken, but who firmly believed, also, that only the truth should be spoken when it was necessary to speak at all."202
Mr. Lincoln's judgment was not infallible but it was perceptive. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote: "He is sometimes, but not often, deceived by heartless intriguers who impose upon him. Some appointments have been secured by mischievous men, which would never have been made had he known the facts. In some respects he is a singular man and not fully understood. He has great sagacity and shrewdness, but sometimes his assertion or management is astray. When he relies on his own right intentions and good common sense, he is strongest. So in regard to friends whom he distrusts, and mercenary opponents, in some of whom he confides. A great and almost inexcusable error for a man in his position." Robert L. Wilson knew Mr. Lincoln three decades earlier in Sangamon County: "His practical common sense, his thorough knowledge of human nature made him an overmatch for his compeers, and for any man that I have ever known"203
Friend Joseph Gillespie recalled: "He was grave and gay alternately. He was the most rigidly logical in debate and yet he illustrated every point by a humerous anecdote".204 Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson said in his graveside eulogy in Springfield: "I think there have been minds more broad in their character, more comprehensive in their scope, but I doubt if ever there has been a man who could follow step by step, with more logical power, the points which he desired to illustrate. He gained this power by the close study of geometry, and by a determination to perceive the truth in all its relations and simplicity, and when found, to utter it."205
Henry Clay Whitney wrote: "The most salient of Lincoln's intellectual qualifications was his infallible and remorseless logic - his ability to analyse any complex proposition, and to resolve it into its simple elements, and not only so, but to array all those elements so plainly to the simplest comprehension, that all minds, little or great, could then see the truth and the error clearly: nor did he put his terms of ratiocination upon stilts or in classical attire - he unravelled the mysteries of abstruse truths or fallacies and translated them into words of one or two syllables."206
Joseph Gillespie wrote: "To sum up his character I should say that he had greater natural mental calibre [sic] than any man I ever Knew. He was extremely just and fair minded. He was gentle as a girl and yet as firm for the right as adamant. He was tender hearted without much shew of sensibility. His manners were Kind without ostentation. He was unquestionably ambitious for official distinction but he only desired place to enable him to do good and serve his country & his kind. It was somewhat strange how Mr Lincoln constituted as he was could be a radical. But radical he was far as ends were concerned while he was conservative as to the means to be employed to bring about the ends. I think he had it in his mind for a long time to war upon slavery until its destruction was effected but he always indicated a preference for getting rid of slavery purchase rather than the war power. He was an artful man and yet his art had all he appearance of simple mindedness."207 Lincoln scholar William Baringer wrote: "Though Lincoln was no Plato, his mental processes were finer, more powerful, than those of any other public man of his day."208
Secretaries John G. Nicolay and John Hay wrote: "His judgment, like his perception, far outran the average mind. While others fumed and fretted at things that were, all his inner consciousness was abroad in the wide realm of possibilities, busily searching out the dim and difficult path towards things to be. His easy and natural attention to ordinary occupations afford no indication of the double mental process which was habitual with him."209
Contemporary Robert G. Ingersoll wrote: ""Lincoln was an immense personality - firm but not obstinate. Obstinacy is egotism - firmness, heroism. He influenced others without effort, unconsciously; and they submitted to him as men submit to nature, unconsciously. He was severe with himself, and for that reason lenient with others. He appeared to apologize for being kinder than his fellows. He did merciful things as stealthily as others committed crimes. Almost ashamed of tenderness, he said and did the noblest words and deeds with that charming confusion - that awkwardness - that is the perfect grace of modesty."210 Henry C. Whitney wrote that Mr. Lincoln "was one of the most uneven, eccentric, and heterogeneous characters, probably, that ever played a part in the great drama of history; and it was for that reason that he was so greatly misjudged and misunderstood."211
Mr. Lincoln's character was central to efforts to preserve the Union. New York attorney George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary on December 11, 1863, after the Presidential Proclamation Amnesty, "Uncle Abe is the most popular man in America today. The firmness, honesty, and sagacity of the 'gorilla despot' may be recognized by the rebels themselves sooner than we expect, and the weight of his personal character may do a great deal toward restoration of our national unity."212
Mr. Lincoln's personality was understood by many critics only after his murder. Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson praised the martyred President after his death: "The nation has failed to comprehend fully the character of Abraham Lincoln in all its proportions, but now that he has suddenly fallen, the people are beginning to do justice towards their fallen leader. He will pass into history as the foremost man of the age." Earlier in the war, Wilson wrote: "As I have witnessed his tender mercy, his charity, his considerable kindness towards these men whose hands are dripping with blood of our loyal countrymen, I have prayed for one hour of Andrew Jackson."213
The President worked through his problems. As aide Stoddard wrote: "The White House is deserted, save by our faithful and untiring Chief Magistrate, who, alone of all our public men, is always at his post. He looks less careworn and emaciated than in the spring, as if, living only for his country, he found his own vigor keeping pace with the returning health of the nation."214 Fellow attorney John Scott remembered: "When you come to analize [sic] his character, the elements that entered into, you will find that he possessed no one element of character in any higher degree than many of his contemporaries. His greatness sprang from a strange combination of all the essentials of character entering into and forming a grand and heroic character, independent of any one great essential -- And such a character is always Self-reliant - He would gather up difficulties, though they were mountainous, in their proportions and would toss them out of his way as lightly as a boy would his Shuttle-cock."215
Historian George Bancroft, previously not a Lincoln admirer, eulogized that Mr. Lincoln "was scoffed at by the proud as unfit for his station, and now against the usage of later years and in spite of numerous competitors he was the unbiased and the undoubted choice of the American people for a second term of service. Through all the mad business of treason he retained the sweetness of a most placable disposition; and the slaughter of myriads of the best on the battle-field, and the more terrible destruction of our men in captivity by the slow torture of exposure and starvation, had never been able to provoke him into harboring one vengeful feeling or one purpose of cruelty."216