Abraham Lincoln’s Values and Philosophy
William E. Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)
Abraham Lincoln was “a man of profound feeling, just and firm principles, and incorruptible integrity,” wrote Civil War general and politician Carl Schurz. 1 As an American and America’s leader, Lincoln embodied the country’s values and virtues. “Lincoln’s greatness must be sought for in the constituents of his moral nature,” wrote John Bigelow, a New York journalist who became the American consul in Paris during the Civil War. “He was so modest by nature that he was perfectly content to walk behind any man who wished to walk before him. I do not know that history has made a record of attainment of any corresponding eminence by any other man who so habitually, so constitutionally, did to others as he would have them do to him. Without any pretensions to religious excellence, from the time he first was brought under the observation of the nation, he seemed, like Milton, to have walks ‘as ever in his great Taskmaster’s eye.’”2 Of his final meeting with President Lincoln in early April 1865, General William T. Sherman, no sentimentalist, wrote that he left “more than ever impressed by his kindly nature, his deep and earnest sympathy with the afflictions of the whole people, resulting from the war, and by the march of hostile armies through the South; and that his earnest desire seemed to be to end the war speedily, without more bloodshed or devastation, and to restore all the men of both sections to their homes.”3
Lincoln thought a lot. At home, in the office, on a horse, in the woods, in a buggy, Mr. Lincoln thought about life, politics, and morality. “Abraham Lincoln is the greatest of all interpreters of America’s moral meaning,” wrote Lincoln scholar William Lee Miller. “Lincoln was a particularly worthy interpreter of America’s moral meaning, in the first place, because he stated it with a rare eloquence. Secondly, he was the primary voice giving the American idea received from the founders its necessary reinterpretation and fresh critical application because he dramatized the centrality of equality – specifically racial quality – as part of the nation’s essence. And in doing those things, he was able, to an unusual degree, to avoid the bane, scourge, curse, and disease that threaten all human statements of moral claims and national ideals – self-righteousness, invidiousness, moral pride and condescension.”4 Lincoln was steeped in the American tradition. Lincoln understood the American Founders and the country’s subsequent history in the early 19th century. Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa wrote: “The central idea of our Founding was the equality of man.”5 This was Lincoln’s central idea as well. The young Lincoln lived out that principle. Miller noted that “in the society around him young Lincoln found two great bodies of opinion with ethical implications. He would respond to both with an unusually high level of seriousness. One was the idealism of the new American republic. The other was the religion drawn from the Bible there in the [Indiana] cabin, and promulgated the Pigeon Creek Baptist Church and by the various gatherings of sects in New Salem.”6
Mr. Lincoln’s personal philosophy was based on reason and respect for the law. “Mr. Lincoln believed in laws that imperiously ruled both matter and mind. With him there could be no miracles outside of law; he held that the universe was a grand mystery and a miracle,” wrote law partner William H. Herndon. “Nothing to him was lawless, everything being governed by law. There were no accidents in his philosophy. Every event had its cause. The past to him was the cause of the present and the present including the past will be the cause of the grand future and all are one, links in the endless chain, stretching from the infinite to the finite. Everything to him was the result of the forces of Nature, playing on matter and mind from the beginning of time and will to the end of it, play on matter and mind giving the world other, further, and grander results.”7 Because of its basis in reason, there was a consistency to Mr. Lincoln’s moral philosophy and a consistent focus on morality. “Any casual reader of Lincoln has to be struck by the consistency with which every argument, however technical or legal, or economic, took on moral dimension as well,” wrote Lincoln scholar Stewart Winger.”8
Historian James Oakes wrote that “for Lincoln there was nothing higher than the rule of law, without which there could be no real freedom.”9 In his Lyceum speech of January 1838, Mr. Lincoln warned: ”I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgement of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny. Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the every-day news of the times. They have pervaded the country, from New England to Louisiana; – they are neither peculiar to the eternal snows of the former, nor the burning suns of the latter; — they are not the creature of climate–neither are they confined to the slaveholding, or the non-slaveholding States. Alike, they spring up among the pleasure hunting masters of Southern slaves, and the order loving citizens of the land of steady habits. Whatever, then, their cause may be, it is common to the whole country.”10
The cure for the nation’s problems, advised Mr. Lincoln in the Lyceum speech, was respect for the nation’s law: “Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;– let every many remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the [charter] of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap – let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; – let it be written in Primmers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; – let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.” 11 Political philosopher Harry V. Jaffa wrote: “The Lyceum speech is designed, as the whole idea of political salvation implies, to give force to the one practical proposal of the Lyceum speech; namely, the proposal for a ‘political religion.'”12 The law was a persistent theme in Lincoln’s public discourse. Historian Kenneth J. Winkle observed: “Throughout Lincoln’s rhetoric and later his policy on both slavery and antislavery ran a profound commitment to do everything possible to enforce the law.”13
Despite his veneration for the law in a democracy, Lincoln was also very conscious of the importance of public opinion in making public policy. “Lincoln believed the will of the people could be identified through constitutionally prescribed forms of representation, and expressed in legislative deliberation and decision,” wrote historian Herman Belz. “The will of the people as communicated in public opinion imposed moral and constitutional obligation on government officials.” Belz added that “Lincoln viewed public opinion” as embodying “universal, objective, rational principles and ideas.” 14 But he noted that Lincoln understood the limits of public opinion – particularly on questions like slavery where public opinion was claimed by both sides.
Lincoln understood context as well as principles. “Even the younger Abraham Lincoln seems to have been more reflective about moral ideas than most politicians, or practical persons of any kind,” wrote William Lee Miller.sup>15
But it was passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 that excited Mr. Lincoln to complex moral analysis and tough political action. He saw the legislation, sponsored by Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, as an attack on the equality principle of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration and the Constitution were fundamental to Lincoln’s values. Historian Mark E. Neely, Jr., wrote: “Although Lincoln took his economic ideas almost uncritically from the Whig party, his view of the American revolution more closely resembled that of the Jacksonian Democrats. Characteristically, Lincoln saw the United States as dating neither from Plymouth Rock nor from the Constitution, but from the Declaration of Independence.”16 It was the Declaration which was the bedrock of Lincoln’s principles.
In his 1842 Temperance Speech on Washington’s birthday, Lincoln acknowledged the work of temperance advocates but warned against those in the past who simply railed against indulgence in liquor on principle and demonized individuals. Said Lincoln to the pro-temperance Washingtonian Society: “Too much denunciation against dram sellers and dram-drinkers was indulged in. This, I think, was both impolitic and unjust. It was impolitic, because, it is not much in the nature of man to be driven to any thing; still less to be driven about that which is exclusively his own business; and least of all, where such driving is to be submitted to, at the expense of pecuniary interest, or burning appetite.”17 Public opinion must be addressed, even when addressing an issue of principle. “Rather than a warning against the evil of alcohol,” noted historian Eric Foner, “most of the Washingtonian address consisted of Lincoln’s critique of prior efforts to combat it.”18
Mr. Lincoln’s political principles were based on the American Founding which he studied from an early age. Those principles combined reverence for the Declaration of Independence with respect for the Constitution. Lincoln saw slavery as antithetical to the principles of these Founding doctrines. “As an emerging political leader and shaper of opinion in 1854-1860, and as President of a war-torn nation in 1861-1865, he would always oppose slavery strongly – but within the law, under the Constitution, affirming the continuing bond of the Union,” wrote Miller. 19 Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote that for Lincoln, “politics was not about helping people exercise rights apart from doing what was right; and slavery was so clearly a violation of the rights of black slaves that it was tantamount to a moral wrong.” 20 Lincoln scholar Mark E. Neely wrote: “Lincoln never saw the nation as an organism evolved gradually from traditional Anglo-Saxon precedents. He saw it only as a ‘new nation,’ founded at a specific point in time, 1776 (or 1774), and large by a specific paper document, the Declaration of Independence. He saw the nation, then, as the product of the Revolution of 1776 not as a product of steady habit, custom, or the Constitution of 1787.”21 Neely wrote: “Abraham Lincoln’s view of the origins of the American nation shared with Webster’s the idea that all the important work had been done long before the Constitution of 1787. In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln stated flatly that the ‘Union is much older than the Constitution.’ With that statement, however, the similarities ended. Lincoln’s nation was not a hundred and fifty years older than the Constitution, but only thirteen.”22 The Declaration of Independence was the Founding document.
Although Lincoln’s values were based on America’s Founding, they had been formulated on the frontier. “His perspective was that of a man starting humbly who had worked his way up the social and economic ladder by sheer discipline, persistence, and force of will; it was a perspective he never lost,” wrote Lincoln scholar Norton Garfinkle. 23 Lincoln’s political and economic philosophy was framed by what historian Gabor Boritt has called the “right to rise.” 24 Lincoln scholar Frank Coburn noted: “Throughout his political career, Abraham Lincoln supported a view that government should support a policy of universal economic opportunity – a right to rise. As an Illinois state politician, his positions on internal improvements, state banks, and tariffs were drawn from adaptations of his doctrine. Lincoln expanded this tenet during the 1850s as the basis for his opposition to slavery by asserting that as members of humanity, slaves, too, deserved an equal opportunity to succeed.”25 Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa observed: “Lincoln reduced the essence of slavery to the formula, ‘You work, I’ll eat.’”26 Mr. Lincoln reverenced work – even when he joked about it. As President, he wrote: “The lady — bearer of this — says she has two sons who want to work. Set them at it, if possible. Wanting to work is so rare a merit, that should be encouraged.”27
Lincoln’s belief in freedom and equal opportunity to work was fundamental to his political philosophy. Political scientist Joseph R. Fornieri wrote that “Lincoln interprets American history as the unfolding of the implications within the Declaration. The document is foundational in the following ways: (1) it commemorates the birth of the nation; (2) it defines the creed of collective American identity; (3) it represents a moral covenant; (4) it guides the nation’s political institutions; (5) it constitutes a bulwark against despotism.”28 Fornieri wrote “that Lincoln transformed the ethos of the nation in the following ways: (1) he subverted the Constitution by interpreting the Declaration as a moral covenant; (2) he identified equality as the central idea of the nation; (3) he ‘internalized’ the Declaration’s assertion of equality by applying it to individuals.”29
Lincoln and Truth
Lincoln had a special reverence for truth. Fellow attorney Samuel Parks wrote that “the great feature in Mr. Lincoln’s character was his integrity in the longest sense of that term – his devotion to truth and justice and freedom in every department of human life and under every temptation. I have often said that for a man who was for a quarter of a century both a lawyer and 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. In politics he never would try to mislead – at the bar when he thought he was wrong he was the weakest lawyer I ever saw.” 30 Lincoln understood the importance of honesty in his own rise to the presidency. He told a Pennsylvania Congressman: “All through the campaign my friends have been calling me ‘honest Old Abe,’ and I have been elected mainly on that cry.”31
Honesty was a key value for Lincoln throughout his life. Criticizing a well-to-do political opponent in the 1830s, young Lincoln said: “I would rather die now, than, like the gentleman, change my politics, and simultaneous with the change receive an office worth $3,000 per year, and then have to erect a lightning-rod over my house to protect a guilty conscience from an offended God.”32 In an 1846 letter, Lincoln wrote: “I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false, is guilty of falsehood; and the accidental truth of the assertion does not justify or excuse him.”33
Lincoln was scrupulously honest even about political exaggeration concerning his own life. Historian Richard Norton Smith noted: “Campaign biographer John L.Scripps…described a youthful Lincoln whose intellectual curiosity had led him to Plutarch’s Lives. This charming tale had but one deficiency – it had been made up out of whole cloth by a writer who just assumed, as he put it in a post-election letter to the victorious candidate, that Lincoln was familiar with the erudite volume. ‘If you have not,’ wrote Scripps embarrassedly, ‘you must read it at once to make my statement good.’ Scripps received no formal reply, but the Library of Congress did, in the form of White house request to borrow Plutarch’s Lives. If a supporter exaggerated his virtues, then Lincoln would do his best not to make a liar out of him.”34
Nevertheless, Lincoln was ambitious. He admitted he was from the outset of his career and his values did not exist in isolation from his ambition. He wanted to make a name for himself – but he wanted to do so by pursuing principled policies. Psychobiographer Dwight G. Anderson wrote of Lincoln’s “Spot Resolutions” speech of 1848 in which he denounced the war policies of President James Polk: “The only possible answer [for why the speech was given] seems to be that he hoped to so distinguish himself on a national level as a virtuous leader that all other considerations would pale by comparison. It was obviously not a desire to propitiate constituency interests which prompted him to speak out in this way; nor could it have been a wish to demonstrate his party loyalty. He had already done the latter by supporting the [George] Ashmun resolution, and it was not necessary to further risk local censure on that account alone.” 35 But Lincoln understood, as he had stated his his Lyceum speech in January 1838 that ambition needed to be controlled. He warned: “Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. – It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.” 36 Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted: “Lincoln knew how large a role ambition played in his own character…But he also understood how necessary it was to the survival of popular government that ambition become the servant, not the master.”37
Mr. Lincoln both valued his own integrity and the integrity of the Union as he demonstrated in his attacks on the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Breaking the integrity of the nation’s Founding documents was for him the same as breaking the country. Scholar Rogan Kersh wrote: “Integrity, in Lincoln’s carefully specified terms, connoted both ‘integrated’ – joined as a single whole – and the moral rectitude also commonly associated with the idea. ‘The Union must be preserved in the purity of its principles,’ Lincoln told campaign crowds in 1856. Only then could Americans claim ‘integrity of its territorial parts.’ He first related principles and territory two years earlier during the Kansas-Nebraska debates, with a crescendo of rhetorical questions opposing slavery in the territories: ‘Is not Nebraska, while a territory, a part of us? Do we not own the country? And if we surrender the control of it, do we not surrender the right of self-government? It is part of ourselves…when all the parts are gone, what has become of the whole? What is there left of us? What use for the General Government, when there is nothing left of us?’”38
As a politician, Lincoln was idealistic, but practical. Lincoln wrote: “The true rule, in determining to embrace or reject any thing is not whether it has any evil in it, but whether it has more of evil than of good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. Almost every thing…is an inseparable compound of the two, so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.”39 But Lincoln also had an ability to ignore the chaff and get to the kernel of an issue. The struggle between right and wrong consumed Lincoln. In his Alton debate with Senator Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, Mr. Lincoln said: “That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles – right and wrong –throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ [Loud applause.] No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”40 Having grown up as a farmer’s son who was obliged to work where his father placed him, Lincoln understood involuntary servitude, albeit in a much less onerous version than experienced by black Americans.
Lincoln’s morality was well-practiced as well as well-preached. Journalist Ellis Henry Robert visited Illinois in 1860 and wrote: “I heard but one expression, of unqualified praise of Mr. Lincoln among his neighbors. No man living is more profoundly respected and more ardently beloved among those who know him best. All parties and interests join in paying tribute to his private virtues. Everywhere I heard him spoke of as the best of husbands, the kindest of parents, the most irreproachable of citizens.”41
Some crises in Lincoln’s personal life informed his philosophical perspective. In the late summer and early fall of 1842, he became involved in a dispute with Illinois State Auditor James Shields that almost concluded in a duel. Instead, at the last minute, a negotiated settlement of their differences was reached by friends. Historian James M. McPherson wrote that Mr. Lincoln’s statement closing the Shields duel “represented a transformation in Lincoln’s sense of manliness and honor: He recognized that an honorable man could not hide behind anonymity or politics in an attack on the integrity or character of another; he must accept responsibility for his words and actions. As a result of this experience, wrote [Douglas L.] Wilson, “Lincoln may, for the first time, have understood ‘honor’ and honorable behavior as all-important, as necessary as a matter of life and death.”42
With marriage to Mary Todd in November 1842, wrote historian Wilson, Lincoln made a decision and a commitment that he was bound to honor. “From this time on Lincoln became known for his resolution,” wrote Wilson. “One whose acquaintance with him began a few years later reported, ‘I don’t believe he could be made to give up anything on which he set his mind. He never got excited and never stormed around, but he was resolute.’” Wilson believed this commitment to honor his marriage vow to Mary was a turning point in Lincoln’s life. “For Lincoln personally, restoring the gem of his character was an all-important development…As his wife observed, the world found out about Lincoln’s hard-won resolution, for his rock-solid ability to keep his resolves once they were made would undergird his performance as president.”43
Life had to be pursued with integrity and intention, thought Lincoln. “There are no accidents in my philosophy. Every effect must have its cause. The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future. All these are links in the endless chain stretching from the finite to the infinite.”44 Historian Richard Norton Smith wrote: “Lincoln the pragmatist never supplanted Lincoln the idealist, although he was more than willing to adjust tactics in order to attain his ultimate objective.” 45 Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: “It us futile to debate whether a pragmatic Lincoln made a pretense of morals or a moral Lincoln made a pretense of pragmatism. He was a brilliant, subtle, troubled man feeling his way through a national identity crisis.” 46 Lincoln was both highly principled and highly pragmatic. Jacques Barzun described Lincoln as a pragmatist even as he confronted the evil of slavery. “Lincoln…understood how to handle principles – in the plural – in a world of actuality Just one year before war broke out, he plainly told his first great audience in the east that he thought slavery wrong and that there was ‘no middle ground between the right and the wrong.’ But he went on to say: ‘Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States?’ Lincoln wanted to stiffen resistance against the compromisers such as Senator Douglas, who was ‘groping’ for’ sophistical contrivances’ that would in the end perpetuate slavery.”47
Lincoln long believed in conceding unimportant points to political and legal rivals while he concentrated on the most important point. For Lincoln in the 1850s, the big point was preventing the spread of slavery. As President, the big point was preserving the Union – and then ending slavery as well. Historian Eric Foner wrote that “Through the crisis Lincoln displayed remarkable consistency. He proved willing to compromise on issues he had always considered inessential, but refused to countenance any concession that ran the risk of sundering the Republican party and surrendering the results of the election before his administration.”48
Lincoln’s principles governed him in all things. He believed they should be held constant. However, his principles scared him when he contemplated marriage. Writing Joshua Speed in 1842, Lincoln wrote of his earlier breakup with Mary Todd: “I must regain my confidence in my own ability to keep my resolves when they are made. In that ability, you know, I once prided myself as the only, or at least the chief, gem of my character; that gem I lost — how, and when, you too well know. I have not yet regained it; and until I do, I can not trust myself in my matter of much importance.”49 Historian Catherine Clinton wrote: “Lincoln knew because of ‘honor and conscience in all things,’ he would be forced to hold to his end of any bargain he might make.”50 Politics was not so different from marriage. Speaking to a Republican meeting in Chicago in March 1859, Mr. Lincoln concluded: “Stand by your principles, stand by your guns, and victory, complete and permanent, is sure at the last.” 51 In his annual message to Congress in December 1862, Lincoln wrote: “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”52 Prudence was a necessary virtue in the face of adversity. Norton Garfinkle observed: “Abraham Lincoln was not only a moral leader; he was also a political philosopher and an economic realist. Lincoln’s genius lay in his ability to see the relationship between the workaday, economic realities of American life and the nation’s highest moral and political principles.” 53 Lilncoln scholar John Channing Briggs wrote that Lincoln reflected “a life-long pattern of yielding and resisting, of deferring to other views yet refusing to abandon principle.”54
Lincoln’s moral universe was framed by what was right and what was practical. That was especially the case regarding slavery. Historian Elbert B. Smith wrote: “Lincoln the realist understood his America, and his humanitarians involved a total view of the tragedy of slavery for Negro and white alike.” 55 As President, that perspective was accentuated. Lincoln scholar William Lee Miller wrote that “the president’s moral situation is…unique: in his case, the words of his oath are specified. Where these others are sworn to support the Constitution, the president swears, more fundamentally, to defend it, to preserve it, to protect it.”56 For Lincoln, his presidential oath was sacred. He took seriously his oaths and his promises, but he also understood the realities of the real world. Lincoln couched moral statements with legal limitations, and his legal statements he reenforced with moral meaning. Historian Richard Hofstadter wrote that the Emancipation Proclamation had “all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.”57 Miller wrote: “When Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States…his moral situation was radically redefined. He was no longer a private citizen advocating a position; he was now an oath-bound public servant with prescribed duties.”58
After black men joined the Union army and fought for their country, Lincoln believed there was an implicit contract between them and the government to guarantee their freedom. In his public “Conkling Letter” in August 1863, Lincoln said that “negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do any thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive – even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.”59
The balancing act between principles and the real world was particularly difficult in the month before Fort Sumter was attacked and surrendered in April 1861. In order to preserve and mobilize northern support, President Lincoln carefully managed the run-up to the Civil War – attempting to appear both firm and conciliatory. He recognized that “the administration must not be perceived as the aggressor,” noted Russell McClintock. 60 The historian wrote: “Lincoln’s decision on Sumter was consistent with his stance throughout the crisis in that he leaned as far toward conciliation as he could without sacrificing federal authority. That is to say, as circumstances at Charleston grew dire, the need for firmness became paramount; it was now the appearance of magnanimity that counted.”61
Mercy, shorn of self-interest, was a fundamental principle for Mr. Lincoln. It was fundamental especially for his conscience and peace of mind. He told fellow Illinois attorney Joseph Gillespie: “my impression is that mercy bears richer fruits than any other attribute.”62 Another attorney, Charles Zane, recalled that Lincoln “possessed the benevolent affections or those founded, on love, in a remarcable [sic] degree; hence he was willing and ready to extend aid & help to the needy and the week. [H]e …encouraged the unfortunate and the [w]retched; he was forgiving and had much charity for the errors and follies of his fellow men.”63
Respect for life animated Lincoln. William Lee Miller wrote: “The pardoning power of presidents is a point in the formal system at which the particular characteristics of a single case on the one side and the moral understanding of a single individual on the other can determine the result – a point at which a president’s moral understanding may be revealed with a rare clarity.”64 Fundamental for Lincoln was the value of all human life. That was particular evident when President Lincoln was reviewing the decisions of courts martial and deciding how to mitigate, postpone and pardon those facing the harshest punishments, especially death. Adjutant General Joseph Holt, who reviewed these cases with the president, wrote that Lincoln “shrank with evident pain from even the idea of shedding human blood. (In a great army like ours these cases came by hundreds, and the carrying out of all these many sentences impressed him as nothing short of ‘wholesale butchery.’) In every case he always leaned to the side of mercy.”65
Lincoln’s beliefs were the product of experience and reading. Historian Kenneth J. Winkle wrote that “Lincoln based his beliefs on what he considered fundamental, if not eternal, principles that he felt should not be altered capriciously and only then for the sake of national survival. Once he developed these principles, he maintained them with remarkable consistency for decades, through a wide range of shifting political currents. During his life, abolitionists faulted Lincoln for moving too slowly toward emancipation and equality, even denouncing his hesitation to risk disunion in so imperative an effort. One of Lincoln’s greatest strengths as a politician and later as a statesman, however, was his forthright enunciation of his beliefs and his steadfast refusal to compromise those convictions out of temporary political expediency.”66
Lincoln had a strong sense of the application of his personal principles to public policy. Shortly before he vetoed the controversial Wade-Davis Reconstruction bill in July 1864, President Lincoln told aide John Hay: “At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right: I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.”67 Longtime friend Joshua Speed wrote: “Unlike all other men there was entire harmony between his public and private life – He must believe that he was right and that he had truth and justice with him or he was a weak man – But no man could be stronger if he thought he was right.”68 Lincoln in the 1850s couldn’t understand Stephen A. Douglas’s “don’t care” policy regarding slavery’s expansion. Politics without moral courage was for Lincoln unthinkable.
Mr. Lincoln did not, however, discount the importance of self-interest in human behavior. William H. Herndon wrote that Mr. Lincoln believed “that all human actions were caused by motives, and at the bottom of these motives was self.” 69 Historian Stewart Winger wrote that “Lincoln based his arguments on the welfare of individuals. He rarely, if ever, used the classical republican language of public virtue; and for him, the concept of ‘disinterestedness’ so crucial to republican thinking amounted to a theological absurdity.” 70 Kenneth L. Deutsch and Joseph R. Fornieri observed: “As a man of strong political principles with ‘hedgehog qualities, Lincoln was also a politician. He viewed politicians as ‘a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people, and who, to say the most of them, are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men.’” 71 He learned from people, noted friend Joseph Gillespie: “He had an immense stock of common sense and he had faith enough in it to trust it in every emergency. He had passed through all the grades of society when he reached the Presidency and he had found common sense a sure reliance and he put it into practice[.] He acted all through his career upon just such principles as every man of good common sense would approve and say ‘that is just as I would have done myself.’”72
Justice was another fundamental value for Mr. Lincoln. Money never got in the way of Lincoln’s principles. Law partner William H. Herndon recalled Lincoln’s behavior as they prepared to try a case: “With him justice and truth were paramount. If to him a thing seemed untrue he could not in his nature simulate truth. His retention by a man to defend a lawsuit did not prevent him from throwing it up in its most critical stage if he believed he was espousing an unjust cause. This extreme conscientiousness and disregard of the alleged sacredness of the professional cloak robbed him of much so-called success at the bar. He once wrote to one of our clients: ‘I do not think there is the least use of doing anything more with your lawsuit. I not only do not think you are sure to gain it, but I do think you are sure to lose it. Therefore the sooner it ends the better.’” His intellectual honesty allowed him to see a question from more than one side.” Herndon wrote:
“Messrs. Stuart and Edwards once brought a suit against a client of ours which involved the title to considerable property. At that time we had only two or three terms of court, and the docket was somewhat crowded. The plaintiff’s attorneys were pressing us for a trial, and we were equally as anxious to ward it off. What we wanted were time and a continuance to the next term. We dared not make an affidavit for continuance, founded on facts, because no such pertinent and material facts as the law contemplated existed. Our case for the time seemed hopeless. One morning, however, I accidentally overheard a remark from Stuart indicating his fear lest a certain fact should happen to come into our possession. I felt some relief, and at once drew up a fictitious plea, averring as best I could the substance of the doubts I knew existed in Stuart’s mind. The plea was as skilfully drawn as I knew how, and was framed as if we had the evidence to sustain it. The whole thing was a sham, but so constructed as to work the desired continuance, because I knew that Stuart and Edwards believed the facts were as I pleaded them. This was done in the absence and without the knowledge of Lincoln. The plea could not be demurred to, and the opposing counsel dared not take the issue on it. It perplexed them sorely. At length, before further steps were taken, Lincoln came into court. He looked carefully over all the papers in the case, as was his custom, and seeing my ingenious subterfuge, asked, “Is this seventh plea a good one?” Proud of the exhibition of my skill, I answered that it was. “But,” he inquired, incredulously, “is it founded on fact?” I was obliged to respond in the negative, at the same time following up my answer with an explanation of what I had overheard Stuart intimate, and of how these alleged facts could be called facts if a certain construction were put upon them. I insisted that our position was justifiable, and that our client must have time or be ruined. I could see at once it failed to strike Lincoln as just right. He scratched his head thoughtfully and asked, “Hadn’t we better withdraw that plea? You know it’s a sham, and a sham is very often but another name for a lie. Don’t let it go on record. The cursed thing may come staring us in the face long after this suit has been forgotten.’ The plea was withdrawn.”73
Lincoln’s principles were evident without being preached. The principles were lived. Lincoln biographer Albert Beveridge wrote: “The people believed what Lincoln said – or, rather, believed that he was sincere. This fact is often stated in political letters to the newspapers at that time. ‘Such has become the established integrity of Lincoln with us,’ writes the local correspondent of the Chicago Tribune in his account of a political meeting addressed by Lincoln at Danville [in September 1858], ‘that let a jury be empanelled from any part of our popular country, to try a cause, and they will take his exposition of the law and the facts of a case without a scruple; for they know that as Lincoln has never misconstrued the law, nor perverted the evidence, they can follow him and do no wrong. And when a man brings that kind of a reputation on the hustings, his power with the people is almost omnipotent.”74
For Mr. Lincoln, his life, his world, and his honesty were of one piece. Mr. Lincoln’s principles and politics did not exist in isolation. William Lee Miller wrote: “A large part of the mature Lincoln’s genius will be the depth and care and courtesy with which he expresses the political moralities of the actual situation.”75 Lincoln’s beliefs were rooted in reality, but they were also rooted in relationships. His understanding of principles was based on his understanding of people. “As president LIncoln studied and understood on the basis of practical reason,” wrote historian Herman Belz. “Lord Charnwood’s assessment of his statesmanship is apt. When the war was over, Charnwood wrote, “it seemed to the people that he had all along been thinking their real thoughts for them; but they knew that this was because he had fearlessly thought for himself.’”76
Lincoln knew himself and he understood what people thought about him. Scholar Jacques Barzun wrote: “What gave Lincoln his enormous strength in relation to others was that he had learned early in life to accept himself. He knew that he was ugly, ungainly, awkward in society, untaught except by himself, and as a Congressman for one term unsuccessful. The great point was that he did not resent these deficiencies, he neither tried to cover them up nor referred to them continually from embarrassment. They were part of him and…he accepted all of himself as inevitable, as a fact of nature.”77
As a politician, Lincoln was principled and conservative but not ideological or rigid. Historian T. Harry Williams argued that “Lincoln would not have been able to comprehend the attempts of modern writers to classify his ideas into an ideology. Indeed, he would not have known what an ideology was.” 78 Historian Richard N. Current wrote that Lincoln “originated no philosophy of politics. He did not even read very widely in the theoretical literature that was available to him. According to Herndon, Lincoln liked the essays of John Stuart Mill, especially On Liberty, but he considered the works of Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin ‘entirely too heavy for an ordinary mind to digest.’ In his self-education he acquainted himself thoroughly with the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New, and with the plays of William Shakespeare. He studied textbooks on the history of the United States, he read and reread Parson Weeks’s Life of Washington, and he familiarized himself with the writings of American statesmen, particularly Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay. From the Whig leaders Webster and Clay, Lincoln derived most of his of his opinions on the tariff, on banking, and on internal improvements. Above all, he mastered those classic statements of the American political faith, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.”79 He understood America’s Founding better than any historian.
Mr. Lincoln may not have been a deep philosopher. His views, however, were the product of deep analysis and long cogitation that he developed an adolescent reader and thinker. Historian James N. Leiker wrote: “Lincoln’s many speeches, debates, and writings nonetheless reveal an ongoing intellectual effort to address some of the major philosophical questions of the modern age – namely, what is a human being, what rights do human beings enjoy, and what type of equality is possible among them in light of their diversity cultures and capabilities?”80 Lincoln scholar Louis A. Warren wrote: “Young Lincoln developed a confidence in his own intellectual powers that would be a key to all his accomplishments. He developed confidence that he could take up a subject, read books about it, and acquire a mastery of it sufficient to his purpose — as he would do repeatedly throughout his life.”81 Indeed, wrote William Lee Miller, Lincoln had a “profound moral imagination.”82
Lincoln’s reflection led to analysis. Springfield attorney Charles Zane wrote that “he looked…deeply into the nature of things. He bestowed but slight attention on what is purely outward and incidental but detected with a discriminating eye the analogies and oppositions the causes and consequences of events.” Zane recalled that Lincoln “had a mental Capacity for classifying and forming general abstract truths or principles and of applying and using them; and for Contemplating the particular nature of things divested of all superfluous and specific circumstances.” 83 Noted Lincoln scholar Herman Belz: “There is abundant evidence that Lincoln’s statesmanship was grounded in rational-philosophical analysis. Reflecting on the nature and sources of the American experiment in the weeks before his inauguration in 1861, Lincoln wrote: ‘All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause.’ The Constitution and the Union were necessary elements, but they were not the primary reason for the nation’s success. Behind these, ‘entwining itself more closely about the human heart,’ was ‘the principle of Liberty to all.’ This was the ‘philosophical cause’ of ‘our free government and consequent prosperity.’”84
Lincoln’s political and economic philosophy was based on liberty and opportunity to work and earn the fruits of one’s labor. He was an unabashed promoter of free labor. In April 1864, President Lincoln gave a speech at a Sanitary Fair in Baltimore in which talked about “liberty” and revealed the depth of his thinking on the subject: “The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable [sic] things, called by the same name – liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two difference and incompatable names – liberty and tyranny.” Lincoln continued:
“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.”85
Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “The shepherd in this fable was, of course, Lincoln himself; the black sheep was the slave; and the wolf was the slave’s owner.” He noted Lincoln’s notion as one of “positive liberty,” the freedom to do things rather than the freedom not be bothered by laws. 86 Lincoln strongly believed that the “love of liberty” was one of the chief bulwarks of the nation. In a speech in the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas campaign, Lincoln said: “What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.” 87 A few days weeks earlier at the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, Lincoln proclaimed: “Henry Clay said of a class of men who would repress all tendencies to liberty and ultimate emancipation, that they must, if they would do this, go back to the era of our independence and muzzle the cannon which thunders its annual joyous return; they must blow out the moral lights around us; they must penetrate the human soul, and eradicate there the love of liberty; and then, and not till then, could they perpetuate slavery in this country!”88
Mr. Lincoln was admittedly not a systematic philosopher in the conventional sense. Lincoln scholar William Baringer nevertheless concluded: “Though Lincoln was no Plato, his mental processes were finer, more powerful, than those of any other public man of his day.” 89 Historian Richard N. Current wrote: “Lincoln never took the time to work out and write down a systematic statement of his views on society and politics. But throughout his life – in several lectures delivered on nonpolitical occasions, in fragmentary notes jotted down on scraps of paper for possible later use, in his many letters, and especially in political speeches and state papers – he expressed himself in relation to the controversies of his time.” Current wrote: “Lincoln’s genius lay not in theorizing about government, but rather in taking familiar ideas and giving them new life and vigor, both by applying them through practical politics and by expressing them in superb prose….His most memorable statements were the fruit of long reflection and repeated revision.”90
Given core principles, Lincoln sought innovative ways to pursue them. He was not as passive as he sometimes tried to appear. Jacques Barzun argued that Mr. Lincoln “certainly introduced into his correspondence and state papers more reasonings, more theoretical comments than any other president on record….For example, in the message to Congress of December 1862, Lincoln argues at length the rightness of compensated emancipation and he throws in the remarks ‘As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.’ That is the theory of pragmatism in a nutshell. On another occasion, after a torrent of abuse in which he was called a drifter, he said to his secretary of John Hay, ‘My policy is to have no policy.’ I read this as a sign of his ‘relational’ mind, conscious of the ever shifting reality and the folly of prefabricated abstractions. Again, when accepting the senatorial nomination in 1858, his opening words were: ‘If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it.’ These are not platitudes, they state the pattern, the very march of Lincoln’s thought; they were spoken as reminders of method to those who did not think but jumped to favorite conclusions.”91
Lincoln did not have the opportunity to read deeply in classical or Enlightenment philosophers, but he had the opportunity to observe and reflect on human nature. Hans Morgenthau noted: “Lincoln’s political philosophy is not the result of theoretical reflection and study nor even of experience, but of innate qualities of character and mind. The qualities of his mind are as extraordinary as the quality of his character. His sheer brainpower must have exceeded that of all other presidents, Jefferson included….That extraordinary intelligence revealed itself in a philosophic understanding of public issues, in a judicious concern with politically relevant, in a mastery of political manipulation, in military judgment.”92
The Civil War forced President Lincoln to further distill the political ideas he had been developing and expounding upon during the 1850s. In May 1861, Mr. Lincoln told aide John Hay: “For my part, I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail, it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves. There may be one consideration used in stay of such final judgment, but that is not for us to use in advance. That is, that there exists in our case, an instance of so vast and far-reaching a disturbing element, which the history of no other free nation will probably ever present.” 93 Retribution against the South was not part of his plan – as he made clear in his Second Inaugural. And, despite frequent and vicious attacks on his character and motives, Lincoln did not believe in personal retaliation either. His grace and tolerance was evident throughout his life. Sometimes his willingness to forgive and forget greatly annoyed his friends. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: “Though nettled by [John] Hardin’s failure [in 1846] to abide by the Pekin accord, Lincoln insisted that nothing be said’ against him. When Gibson Harris proposed that he respond in kind to Hardin’s tactics, Lincoln said: ‘Gibson, I want to be nominated. I should like very much to go to congress; but unless I can get there by fair means I shall not go. If it depends on some other course, I will stay at home.’”94
Lincoln understood the great political and moral issues at stake in the Civil War. Theologian Reinhold Niehbuhr, who was a great student of American history, wrote: “A conscientious politician is compelled to relate all the moral aspirations and all the moral hesitancies of the social forces of a free society to the primary goal, the survival of the community. In the political order, the value of justice takes an uneasy second place behind that of internal order. In reviewing Lincoln’s catalogue of values one must come to the conclusion that his sense of justice was strong enough to give that value a position immediately beneath survival, not only of the nation’s physical life but also of its system of democratic self-government, which he identified – perhaps too simply, as did all our fathers – with the survival of democracy throughout the world.”95 Lincoln scholar William Lee Miller noted that Lincoln “did not continually invoke absolute moral claims or his own stern duty, as many moral reformers and abolitionists would do, without regard to consequences. But he was also one who recognized a point at which compromise was no longer morally permissible.” 96 Lincoln always understood the political context in which principled actions must be taken. Niebuhr added: “Lincoln evidently believed that the whole democratic cause was being tested in the destiny of our nation – a belief which was natural in the middle of the nineteenth century when many European critics were prophesying the failure of our system of government and the trends of history which would make democracy a universal pattern of government in western Europe were not yet apparent.”97
Perseverance was a necessary corollary to any important Lincoln value. Another Lincoln virtue was persistence in the face of adversity and in the face of criticism. President Lincoln said in early 1862: “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no different.”98 Speaking to Missouri Radicals in October 1863, “I do not intend to be a tyrant. At all events I shall take care that in my own eyes I do become one. I shall always try and preserve one friend within me, whoever else fails me, to tell me that I have not been a tyrant, and that I have acted right.”99 Speaking to a Republican meeting in Chicago in March 1859, Mr. Lincoln concluded: “Stand by your principles, stand by your guns, and victory, complete and permanent, is sure at the last.” 100 Lincoln scholar William Miller wrote: “Much of Lincoln’s distinction as a defining spokesman for America’s moral meaning has to do not with content but with style, tone, and mood.” 101 Lincoln had a good ear for the American heartbeat and a very clear sense of the imperfection of humanity. Journalist Noah Brooks recalled that President Lincoln once said: “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 man I am.”102
Speaking at Cincinnati in February 1860, President-elect Lincoln said: “I hold that while man exists, it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind; and therefore, without entering upon the details of the question, I will simply say, that I am for those means which will give the greatest good to the greatest number.” 103 In the midst of war, Lincoln did not abandon his values. Mark E. Neely, Jr. observed that President Lincoln clearly understood the legitimate limits of warfare: “Lincoln left a meager written record, but what exists is clear and uncontradicted by contrary texts. He affirmed adherence to the rules of ‘civilized’ warfare in public. ‘Civilized belligerents,’ he said in a public letter in the summer of 1863, ‘do all in their power to help themselves, or hurt the enemy, except a few things regarded as barbarous or cruel. Among the exceptions are the massacre of vanquished foes, and noncombatants, male and females.’”104 Neely wrote that “Lincoln never really believed in” retaliation, “and that separated him from many other policy makers in the Civil War.” He added: “Of course, Lincoln was not going to issue public orders and admonitions against retaliation, lest they constitute an invitation to the enemy soldiers to take any license they wished. And indeed such a consideration militated against any statement of the principles of limitation of force by the commander-in-chief.”105
Historian T. Harry Williams cited four principles that guided Lincoln: “These principles were the common beliefs of most Americans in the middle period of our history….The first principle was a conviction that a guiding providence or some supernatural force largely directed the affairs of men. A corollary to this belief was that God had created a moral law for the government of men and that men should seek to approximate human law to the Divine law. The second principle was a concept of human nature. The man of Lincoln’s time believed that man had a higher nature. He possessed a mind and a conscience, and consequently he was capable of governing himself through democratic government. He could also achieve a more and more perfect society. The third principle dealt with the economic activities of man and the relationship of those activities to the general welfare….They believed in an economic system in which most people would own property and in which all had equal opportunities to acquire it. The way to property must be open to all; no group should enjoy special privileges which gave it an artificial advantage over others. The fourth principle was an exaltation of the idea of the American Union….The United States was the supreme demonstration of democracy. But the Union did not exist just to make men free in America. It had an even greater mission – to make them free everywhere.”106
Lincoln’s core values included freedom, justice, reason, mercy, and honor. One of Abraham Lincoln’s other dominant virtues was gratitude: “To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing,” said President-elect Lincoln as he left Springfield on February 10, 1861. “Here I have been a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail.”107 Abraham Lincoln knew from whence he came and where he wanted to go.
- Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 718.
- John Bigelow, Retrospections of an Active Life, p. 367.
- William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman, p. 476.
- William Lee Miller, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 2001, pp. 1-2.
- Frank. J. Williams and William D. Pederson, editors, Lincoln Lessons: Reflections on America’s Greatest Leader, p. 59 (Harry V. Jaffa, “A Political Philosopher’s Defense of Lincoln”).
- William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, p. 82.
- Emanuel Hertz, The Hidden Lincoln, p. 407 (Letter from William H. Herndon, August 21, 1887).
- Stewart Winger, “Lincoln’s Economics and the American Dream: A Reappraisal”, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 2001, p. 56.
- James Oakes, The Radical and The Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, p. 106.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (CWAL), Volume I, p. 109 (Speech to Young Men’s Lyceum, Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838).
- CWAL, Volume I, p. 112 (Speech to Young Men’s Lyceum, Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838).
- Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided: Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, p. 226.
- Brian R. Dirck, editor, Lincoln Emancipated: The President and the Politics of Race, p. 17 (Kenneth J. Winkle, “Paradox Thought it May Seem”).
- Elliott Abrams, Editor, Democracy–how Direct?: Views from the Founding Era and the Polling Era, p. 34 (Herman Belz, “Lincoln’s View of Direct Democracy and Public Opinion”).
- William E. Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues, p. 192.
- Charles M. Hubbard, Thomas R. Turner, and Steven K. Rogstad, editors, The Many Faces of Lincoln, p. 222 (Mark E. Neely, Jr., “Abraham Lincoln’s Nationalism Reconsidered,” Lincoln Herald, Spring 1974).
- CWAL, Volume I, p. 272 (Speech delivered before the Springfield Washington Temperance Society, February 22, 1842).
- Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial, p. 31.
- William E. Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues, p. 236.
- Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, p. 313.
- Charles M. Hubbard, Thomas R. Turner, and Steven K. Rogstad, editors, The Many Faces of Lincoln, p. 223 (Mark E. Neely, Jr., “Abraham Lincoln’s Nationalism Reconsidered,” Lincoln Herald, Spring 1974).
- Charles M. Hubbard, Thomas R. Turner, and Steven K. Rogstad, editors, The Many Faces of Lincoln, p. 221 (Mark E. Neely, Jr., “Abraham Lincoln’s Nationalism Reconsidered,” Lincoln Herald, Spring 1974).
- Norton Garfinkle, “Lincoln and the American Dream”, Lincoln Forum Bulletin, Spring 2008, p. 9.
- Gabor Boritt, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, p. 161.
- Frank Coburn, “Abraham Lincoln and the Right to Rise: Rewriting History”, Lincoln Herald, Fall 2007, p. 156.
- Harry V. Jaffa, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War, p. 156.
- CWAL, Volume IV, p. 556 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to George Ramsay, October 17, 1861).
- Frank J. Williams, William D. Pederson, and Vincent J. Marsala, editors, Abraham Lincoln: Sources and Style of Leadership, p. 52 (Joseph R. Fornieri, “Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence: The Meaning of Equality”).
- Joseph R. Fornieri in Frank J. Williams, William D. Pederson, and Vincent J. Marsala, editors, Abraham Lincoln: Sources and Style of Leadership, p. 61.
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 238.
- Michael Burlingame, Editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 41 (Conversation with J. K. Moorhead, May 12-13, 1880).
- William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 45.
- CWAL, Volume I, pp. 383-384 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Allen N. Ford, August 11, 1846).
- Richard Norton Smith, Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Politics: 46th Annual Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture, p. 17.
- Dwight G. Anderson, Abraham Lincoln: The Question for Immortality, p. 101.
- CWAL, Volume I, p. 114 (Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838).
- Douglas L. Wilson, editor, Great Lincoln Documents: Historians Present Treasures from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, p. 24 (Allen C. Guelzo, “‘That glorious consummation, which my own poor eyes may not last to see’: Lincoln on the Abolition of Slavery”).
- Kenneth L. Deutsch and Joseph R. Fornieri, Lincoln’s American Dream: Clashing Political Perspectives, p. 425 (Rogan Kersh, “Forever Worthy of the Saving: Lincoln and a More Moral Union”).
- CWAL, Volume I, p. 485 (Speech in United States House of Representatives on Internal Improvements, June 28, 1848).
- CWAL, Volume III, p. 315 (Debate at Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858).
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 303 (Ellis Henry Roberts, Utica Morning Herald, June 27, 1860).
- James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, p. 194.
- Douglas L. Wilson, Honor’s Voice, pp. 322-323.
- William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s Life of Lincoln, p. 438.
- Richard North Smith, “Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Politics”, 46th Annual Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture, p. 25.
- Walter A. McDougall, Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877, p. 435.
- Jacques Barzun, Lincoln’s Philosophic Vision, p. 10.
- Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, p. 152.
- CWAL, Volume I, p. 289 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Joshua Speed, July 4, 1842).
- Eric Foner, editor, Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World, p. 260 (Catherine Clinton, “Abraham Lincoln: The Family that Made Him, the Family He Made”).
- CWAL, Volume IV, p. 370 (Speech at Chicago, March 1, 1859).
- CWAL, Volume V, p. 535 (Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862).
- Norton Garfinkle, “Lincoln and the American Dream”, Lincoln Forum Bulletin, Spring 2008, p. 8.
- John Channing Briggs, Lincoln’s Speeches Reconsidered, p. 299.
- Elbert B. Smith, “Abraham Lincoln, Realist”, The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Winter 1968-1969, p. 160.
- William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, p. 26.
- Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition, p. 169.
- William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, p. 254.
- CWAL, Volume VI, p. 409 (Letter from Abraham LIncoln to James C. Conkling, August 26, 1863).
- Russell McClintock, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession, p. 233.
- Russell McClintock, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession, p. 248.
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews and Statements About Abraham Lincoln, p. 186 (Letter from Joseph Gillespie to William H. Herndon, January 31, 1866).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews and Statements About Abraham Lincoln, p. 489 (Statement by Charles Zane, ca 1865-1866).
- William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, p. 316.
- Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 69 (Conversation with Joseph Holt, October 29, 1875).
- Brian R. Dirck, editor, Lincoln Emancipated: The President and the Politics of Race, p. 9 (Kenneth J. Winkle, “Paradox Thought it May Seem”).
- Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 219 (July 4, 1864).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants, p. 499. (Letter from Joshua F. Speed to William H. Herndon, December 6, 1866).
- William H. Herndon and Jess Weik, Herndon’s Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 480.
- Stewart Winger, “Lincoln’s Economics and the American Dream: A Reappraisal,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 22, No. 1, Winter, 2001, p. 65.
- Kenneth L. Deutsch and Joseph R. Fornieri, Lincoln’s American Dream: Clashing Political Perspectives, p. 23.
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews and Statements About Abraham Lincoln, p. 184 (Letter from Joseph Gillespie to William H. Herndon, January 31, 1866).
- William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Lincoln’s Herndon, pp. 203-204.
- Albert Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, Volume I, p. 540.
- William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues, p. 169.
- Herman Belz, “The ‘Philosophical Cause’ of ‘Our Free Government and Consequent Prosperity’: The Problem of Lincoln’s Thought”, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 1988, p. 71.
- Jacques Barzun, Lincoln’s Philosophic Vision, pp. 18-19.
- T. Harry Williams, “Abraham Lincoln: Principle and Pragmatism in Politics”, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1953, p. 96.
- Richard N. Current, editor, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, p. xxix.
- Brian R. Dirck, editor, Lincoln Emancipated: The President and the Politics of Race, p. 75 (James N. Leiker, “The Difficulties of Understanding Abe”).
- Louis A. Warren, Lincoln Lore.
- William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, p. 19.
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews and Statements About Abraham Lincoln, pp. 487-488 (Charles S. Zane statement, ca. 1865-1866).
- Herman Belz, “The ‘Philosophical Cause’ of ‘Our Free Government and Conseuqent Prosperity’: The Problem of Lincoln’s Thought”, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 1988, pp. 70-71.
- CWAL, Volume VII, p. 301-302 (Speech at Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, April 18, 1864).
- Frank. J. Williams and William D. Pederson, editors, Lincoln Lessons: Reflections on America’s Greatest Leader, p. 85 (James M. McPherson, “Lincoln’s Legacy for Our Time”).
- CWAL, Volume III, p. 95 (Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, September 11, 1858).
- CWAL, Volume III, p. 29 (Debate with Stephen A. Douglas, Ottawa, August 21, 1858).
- William Baringer, Lincoln’s Rise to Power, p. 147.
- Richard N. Current, editor, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, pp. xxx-xxxi.
- Jacques Barzun, Lincoln’s Philosophic Vision, p. 17.
- Kenneth W. Thompson, editor, Essays on Lincoln’s Faith and Politics, p. 59 (Hans Morgenthau, “The Mind of Abraham Lincoln”).
- Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, pp. 20 (May 1861).
- Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume I, p. 234.
- Kenneth L. Deutsch and Joseph R. Fornieri, Lincoln’s American Dream: Clashing Political Perspectives, p. 383 ( “Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Religion of Abraham Lincoln”).
- William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, p. 28.
- Kenneth L. Deutsch and Joseph R. Fornieri, Lincoln’s American Dream: Clashing Political Perspectives, p. 381 ( “Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Religion of Abraham Lincoln”).
- Francis B. Carpenter, Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 258-259.
- Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 63 (Memorandum, September 30, 1863).
- CWAL, Volume III, p. 370 (Speech at Chicago, Illinois, March 1, 1859).
- William Lee Miller, “Lincoln’s Profound and Benign Americanism, or Without Malice”, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 2001, p. 11.
- Don E. and Virginia E. Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 54.
- Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 9.
- Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction, p. 202.
- Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction, pp. 194-195.
- T. Harry Williams, “Abraham Lincoln: Principle and Pragmatism in Politics”, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1953, p. 97.
- CWAL, Volume IV, p. 190 (Farewell to Springfield, February 10, 1861).