The first part of this review dealt with Abraham Lincoln’s gift for collaborating with his cabinet. But a cabinet chosen by a politically canny and well-informed leader will develop its own routine; and in periods of relative tranquillity, a policy can be executed by any of a number of agents. War, which crushes, tears up, and redirects government with a ferocity the most sanguine leaders can never predict, makes for a different kind of test. No routine can be looked for here. The diligence and the capacity for responsive change in a leader are on the line at every moment. The joke sometimes attributed to Lincoln, that if he knew what brand of whiskey Grant used he would send it to his other generals, may be apocryphal but it catches an appropriate mood of gallows humor. The Union’s greatest impediment from the start of the war had been its lack of military competence at the top.
Some fascinating pages of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals are taken up by the perplexity Lincoln faced in dealing with General George McClellan, the Union general in chief and commander of the Army of the Potomac. A West Point patrician with an acquired affection for Southern interests, McClellan was personally indifferent to slavery; yet he went beyond the call of duty in an opposite direction from the abolitionist generals John C. Frémont and David Hunter, who gave their own emancipation orders against Lincoln’s early counsel of restraint. McClellan assured the people of western Virginia—before it joined the Union as a state—that he had no intention of ever disturbing their institutions in any way. He forbade the singing of abolition songs and always gave a ready audience to Peace Democrats. His need for ever-enlarging complements of troops before he would move against the rebel army; his anxiety to mark out secure lines of retreat before plotting an advance; his arrogance and isolation and dilatoriness—all these were a legend in the War Department and in Congress after a year of war. Yet McClellan, handsome, young, already laden with honors, and singled out, as he thought, by destiny, was loved by the Union troops. He was, Lincoln recognized, the best possible organizer of drills and preparations; only he would not fight. McClellan had “the slows.” He was an engineer whose engine was stationary.
All of Lincoln’s wit and all his ingenuity show in his protracted effort to understand this man, to grapple honestly with his weaknesses, to sympathize if possible, and finally to rouse him. “I will hold McClellan’s horse,” he said in the early days when he almost believed the general’s predictions, “if he will only bring us success.” His later messages take a more skeptical turn:
I have just read your dispatch about sore-tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?
None of it was made easier by the fact that the radicals in Congress had their own reasons for getting rid of McClellan.
Goodwin catches this secondary drama of the inside war. She also offers glimpses of McClellan’s character from his correspondence with an adoring wife who was spared no boast of his genius and his purity of heart. When Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war, ordered the taking of Norfolk and oversaw the action from Fort Monroe, and the first shelling prodded the Confederate troops to decamp, McClellan announced that Norfolk “is in ourpossession…the result of my movements.” The leading marks of his character were self-delusion and hypochondria, middling vices that added up, with perhaps one tinge of baser alloy: “I must not unnecessarily risk my life—for the fate of my army depends upon me & they all know it.” In his mind, he was the inspirational head of the republic, a genius who must secrete himself behind the lines because the country depended on him. His self-conceit was more incorrigible than that of Salmon Chase, the secretary of the Treasury, and his loyalty more questionable.
Admittedly, political intrigue had stripped McClellan of the supporting troops he wanted in 1862; yet his delays were never the result of numbers alone. It was thoroughly in character for him to fix the blame on Stanton for his own failure in the Peninsula campaign, fought from March to July 1862 in southeastern Virginia. He called Stanton “the most unmitigated scoundrel I ever knew.” True, Stanton was no less political and calculating a man, but he was an able and vigilant secretary of war, and he did his job. Goodwin’s picture of Stanton minding the telegraph through the nights in the War Department makes an unforgettable contrast with McClellan letting the secretary of war and the President cool their heels in his waiting room while he dealt with higher matters.
McClellan considered Lincoln his inferior in class, intellect, military knowledge, and political sophistication, and referred to him as a “gorilla.” Lincoln came to look on McClellan as a man who could not admit failure and would not take responsibility for his actions. What turned him against McClellan irreversibly was the “Harrison’s Landing letter”—named after the headquarters in Virginia where Lincoln paid him a personal visit in July 1862. McClellan there set out to Lincoln the terms on which he would continue to serve. He asked for a limited war, not at all “upon population” and solicitous to protect slaves as property. Lincoln read it silently in the general’s presence, and said he was obliged. The letter confirmed everything he had long suspected; indeed, it confirmed the worst (short of treason) that the radicals had urged against McClellan. Lincoln chose now to appoint Henry W. Halleck as general in chief, a desk job of obscure import that put somebody anyway over McClellan. Meanwhile, to relieve Stanton of the blame for the Peninsula campaign that McClellan ignobly had laid at his door, Lincoln took the blame himself.
There was a last act to be played. For McClellan, though shorn of supreme command, was still relied on to protect the capital and engage the enemy where possible. His final exhibition of “the slows” came with his delay in sending troops to relieve General John Pope at the second battle of Bull Run in Virginia on August 29 and 30, 1862. From that moment, Stanton joined the radicals in accounting McClellan a traitor. He asked Halleck for his opinion of the delay and was told that an order given on August 3 and not followed for weeks, if considered alongside McClellan’s remark that Pope should “get out of his own scrape,” suggested a standard of conduct below military propriety. Even so, Lincoln ordered McClellan to stay on—an apparent failure of nerve that drove a rift between himself and Stanton; yet Lincoln’s gamble paid off when on September 17 McClellan gave the Union a victory at Antietam. The advantage was undercut by McClellan’s usual failure to pursue the enemy; but Lincoln had resolved to issue the Emancipation Proclamation as soon as Lee was driven out of Maryland: that much, at least, was done. On September 22, he read his cabinet the preliminary declaration. “My word is out to these people,” he would say later, referring to the slaves, “and I can’t take it back.” As for McClellan, an explicit order had come from Halleck to “move now while the roads are good,” before the autumn rains, but McClellan declined to move. Lincoln would comment to his secretary John Hay: “I saw how he could intercept the enemy on the way to Richmond. I determined to make that the test. If he let them get away I would remove him. He did so & I relieved him.”
Throughout the McClellan ordeal, one notes an extraordinary deliberateness in Lincoln. The radicals, such as Chase and the abolitionist senator from Ohio, Benjamin Wade, had wanted to oust McClellan early on: with them, emancipation was always an overt goal of the war. Yet McClellan was popular, the other generals in the east were hardly faring better, and Lincoln waited to fire the charismatic officer until he had crossed the line of insubordination. He let him gain a victory first, and used the moment to announce his plan of emancipation. Only when McClellan scuttled a visible chance to end the war did Lincoln let him go. Three generals later, disappointed by Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg, by Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, and by George C. Meade in the unbudging aftermath of Gettysburg, he found in Grant a commander who would fight. The war was to be won, both realized, by a method that had not before been fully understood. Lincoln had done the “awful arithmetic” after the Union defeat at Fredericksburg in December 1862. The Union forces there crossed the Rappahannock and captured the town itself, but were moved down as they charged the Confederate guns on the opposite hillside, so that Fredericksburg was more a massacre than a defeat: 13,000 Federal casualties against 5,000 Confederate. Calculation showed that if subsequent battles ended in a defeat of the same proportions, the Union still would win, because it had more soldiers to sacrifice.
This knowledge informed Grant’s strategy through 1864. Yet nothing less than the victories of the late summer and autumn of that year, culminating in the capture of Mobile Bay and the fall of Atlanta, could have assured the reelection of Lincoln. He chose not to go on the stump after his second nomination; and from then until his death he spoke only as president, almost a hundred times but with generally “modest remarks,” as Richard Carwardine puts it, “often unscripted.”
On emancipation, Lincoln’s restraint met with greater success than can be imagined for any swifter policy. His tolerance of neutrality on the issue, in turn, led the border states Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri to send to the Union army three times the numbers they gave to the Confederacy; and against contrary advice, he endured as well the neutrality of Great Britain under Palmerston, though he was capable of acknowledging in an eloquent letter the boycott of Southern goods by the working men of Manchester: an act, Lincoln said, of “sublime Christian heroism.” The language of that public letter, however, brings up a larger question. Lincoln did evidently believe in the moral sublimity of certain actions. He once wrote a “Meditation on the Divine Will.” And he speaks freely of God in a number of his speeches and letters. What religious beliefs did he hold?
Richard Carwardine—a professor of American history at Oxford whose earlier books dealt with evangelical Christianity—comes to this question armed with much relevant knowledge. His attempt at an answer takes up most of a chapter and several digressions, and the results are only a little tendentious. Thus Carwardine speaks of Lincoln as a churchgoing man: true, if it means he went to church from time to time. John Scripps’s campaign biography of 1860, in the same vein, described Lincoln as “a pew-holder and liberal supporter of the Presbyterian church in Springfield”—a reassuring testimonial that actually says very little.
Lincoln seems to have wished for a faith his reason could not grant to any religious institution; and some way into his speeches and writings, one is struck by his habit of using other words for God: “providence,” “my maker”—as if he were groping for a truer term. It remains a fact that his concern with more-than-human purposes was strong in 1860, when he mentioned God in many of his short speeches on the way to Washington, and it seems to have been even stronger in 1864–1865. Yet in the Second Inaugural (the proof of his piety for those who see Lincoln as a God-haunted man), a curious reservation gives a conditional cast to an all-important sentence:
If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?
What is strange is the third-person reference to “the believers in a Living God.” Would someone sure of his own belief have chosen this long way around the saying of it?
Lincoln did not believe in a personal God. His “providence” is an idea of fate, wholly impersonal, which no ritual or text can be supposed to capture. Though the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount find echoes in his speeches, the character of Jesus as a redeemer is never mentioned. The potent words “under God,” in the Gettysburg Address, almost certainly do not mean “under the guidance of a watchful and loving God”; rather, as Lincoln’s other uses of “under God” make clear, his intended sense is likely to be the plainer and more provisional “God willing.” While defending some of his weightiest judgments by allusion and proximity to God, Lincoln may have believed in a power as elusive as a Spirit of the Years. When he ran for Congress in 1846, a rumor forced him to respond to the charge of “infidelity” (at the time a synonym for atheism); and the handbill Lincoln wrote to clear his name is instructive. He says that he is “not a member of any Christian Church” but has “never denied the truth of the Scriptures” or “spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general.” Yet he admits that in his younger years, he engaged in discussions of “Necessity” (broadly speaking, the thesis that every physical effect has a traceable, nonaccidental, and nonmiraculous cause). Even in this critical position, with his back against the wall, Lincoln took care not to say that he was a believer. Concerning the origin of things, he seems to have thought nothing whatever could be known. His writings contain not a word about the afterlife.
Yet he believed with unwavering conviction in the reality of the moral order. Whether or not the attributes of God can be vouched for, men and women with a conscience know the difference between right and wrong; and mention of God or providence may be the most effective and uncontroversial way of affirming that knowledge to the believing majority. “If slavery is not wrong,” Lincoln declared, “nothing is wrong”: Carwardine suspects the sentence is an echo of the anti-slavery preacher Leonard Bacon. There should be nothing incongruous in that. Lincoln concerned himself with the truths of justice that people believed and practiced; not with the sources of the belief in personal interest, experience, or doctrine.
A New Salem friend, Isaac Cogdal, said of Lincoln that “his mind was full of terrible enquiry”: a suggestive phrase which manages to imply that his search for truth was frightening because it could lead anywhere. Maybe Cogdal meant to suggest, too, that Lincoln was partly driven by fear of what he would find, and that most people lack the courage to pursue such an inquiry. It takes a stretched reading of the evidence to discern, with Carwardine, a “dialogue” between Lincoln and the evangelical preachers which brought his “changing ideas on divine intervention” closer to “the evangelical mainstream.” To give credence to this view, one must accept a remarkably attenuated idea of “dialogue.”
The truth is that people who speak of ultimate things often resemble each other to the extent that they believe morality has an imperative claim beyond any question of utility. Lincoln did think this. One need not go on to say, as Carwardine does in his preface by a quotation from Norman Judd (an Illinois politician and friend), that “Lincoln never told mortal man his purposes—Never.” Judd, in this remark, was not a penetrating observer; the comment hardly rises above commonplace mystification. After all, Lincoln for most of his life was telling his purposes to all who would listen. His largest continuous and avowed purpose was to interpret the Constitution in the frame of the Declaration of Independence.
Recent disputes about Lincoln and religion proceed from an honorable struggle with ambiguous materials. No such excuse can be made for a coarser fallacy, a concocted mystery, as it were, which has gained some currency among journalistic supporters of America’s war in Iraq. They argue that the purpose of the Civil War, like that of the war in Iraq, changed essentially while the battles were in progress. The original cause of war was to preserve the Union, to keep the North and South together, by permitting slavery where it was already established and not allowing it to spread. The late-found purpose of the war was emancipation. This much has always been acknowledged. The new reading adds that Lincoln, like other adroit war presidents, improvised justifications as he went.
The widening of Lincoln’s emphasis from 1863 onward is one of the conspicuous facts about the war, but this development was neither accidental nor opportunistic. The longer one looks at the record, the more impressed one becomes by how little Lincoln had to change of his earliest reasoning. The cause of the war was plain: the South had seceded and attacked Fort Sumter. Lincoln dedicated himself to preserving the Union because he thought the idea of constitutional democracy would perish if it was not allowed to persist in the form of a single, spread-out republic, with representatives from the most diverse states and regions. With secession, he saw the prospect of a multiplication of slave republics in the New World, possibly including the Caribbean and South America, which would destroy the meaning and tarnish the example of the United States.
During the early months of the war, he had grown aware of the enormous cost the South was spared by its use of black slave laborers, who dug trenches, built fortifications, and worked in messes and hospitals and transportation, while many continued to work in the fields at home. This was a resource of which Lincoln believed he ought to deprive the South; and it was nothing against that argument that it would also allow him to right a wrong. He was kept for a time from proposing emancipation by particular hopes and fears: the hope that the South would accept conciliatory approaches and re-enter the Union; the fear that premature abolition would squander the loyalty of the border states; the fear that the slaves once liberated would have no prospect for equality with white people; the hope that the voluntary adoption of gradual and compensated emancipation would bring a less astounding result, with a less fundamental shock.
In the end, he convinced himself that emancipation was justified as a military necessity, and he supported it on that narrow ground with absolute firmness. “The promise being made, must be kept.” From each stage of justification to the next, his logic was sound, and though it was possible to argue the opposite side, no intelligent person of charitable instincts who wanted to win the war could have doubted his cogency. If ever a war had coherence of purpose from start to finish, the American Civil War had it. Then again, coherence is not a thing we should look for wars to supply; and Lincoln had more regret than pride in thinking of himself as commander in chief. He reviewed the cases of deserters from the army condemned to death, and gave orders for clemency where he could see a possible doubt or extenuating circumstance.
He relied on his cabinet, in the ways that Doris Goodwin exhibits in great detail, but his hardest decision was made alone. Lincoln bided his time on emancipation to be certain it would seem inevitable when it did come. The idea of a new policy began to occupy him steadily in summer 1862, and he shared his thoughts with William Seward, the secretary of state, and Gideon Welles, the secretary of the Navy, on July 13; the initial reading of a draft of the proclamation to the cabinet occurred on July 22.
At first, only Edward Bates, the attorney general, and Stanton backed the measure, the former conditioning his approval on the deportation of blacks to Central America or Africa. Unexpectedly, Chase, as Stanton’s notes reveal, argued that the new law “would lead to universal emancipation” and thence to anarchy in the South, “depredation and massacre on the one hand, and support to the insurrection on the other.” Once Lincoln had decided to go forward, Seward gave his support, but he had reservations about the expediency of taking such a step when the Union was discouraged by a series of military setbacks. Lincoln saved emancipation for a moment after a victory.
A second popular fallacy has crept into recent discussions of the Civil War in the light of the present “war on terror.” Two groups, unrestricted libertarians and admirers of an imperial presidency, now look back on Lincoln as a radical innovator in the use of emergency powers. Libertarians deplore what they think Lincoln did, while champions of executive power endorse it, but the two agree that he went extraordinarily far. How true is this? Let us remember that Lincoln was president at a time not of foreign but of civil war, the only extended war on American soil, when the very existence of the republic was in peril. He spoke of the situation candidly: “Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?” He had both a profound and a practical love of liberty, and a notably unexaggerated view of the meaning of “maintaining its own existence.” He was in fact, by the standards of later presidents such as Roosevelt, Nixon, and George W. Bush, restrained in his use of emergency powers. Lincoln went by a contracted not an expansive definition of state security.
His first invocation of such powers gives a sense of the purpose that informed his policy. Habeas corpus was suspended in 1861 to protect the railroad—used for the transportation of soldiers and supplies—against the danger that rioters in secessionist Maryland would tear up the tracks. A celebrated later episode turned on the arrest by General Burnside of the anti-Union demagogue Clement Vallandigham (an Ohio congressman and later a gubernatorial candidate): an arrest that Lincoln, without having ordered it, defended in a closely reasoned public letter. Having made his argument, he drew back and offered to revoke the order against Vallandigham if his supporters would swear not to foment desertion and sabotage.
These examples suggest the tenor of Lincoln’s security measures in a war that every day threatened many thousands of Americans close to home. “What is remarkable,” says Carwardine, “about Lincoln’s success in sustaining support for the Union’s formidable four-year war effort is just how little it depended on executive coercion, repression, and the long arm of the War Department.” And again: “His presidential leadership rested chiefly on persuasion, not coercion.”
Lincoln believed that obeying the laws, and purging the laws of cruelty, were essential duties of a constitutional democracy at all times. Carwardine, looking at the record as a whole, is struck by “the resilience of the ‘rational-legal’ system of republican constitutionalism during the Civil War, not its fragility.” Yet this was a war that pressed like no other upon the geographical centers of American life. A successful Confederate army at Gettysburg would have been within days of sacking Independence Hall in Philadelphia. No panic was worked up and no new system of powers declared to meet that contingency.
Carwardine is deft at scaling back the myth of Lincoln as a cynical propagandist and a tyrant-in-waiting. It is unfortunate that he should not have resisted as well the idea that Lincoln was an interpreter of common dreams. His biography is the result of years of learning informed by sympathy, and sympathy made keener by a mastery of Lincoln’s language. And yet, in a puzzling afterword, he says that Lincoln’s greatness lay merely in his “refusal to be complicit in the destruction of the Union” and in his giving Americans “their chance of moral and economic self-fashioning.” Both here and in a short preface, Carwardine’s prose and his thinking appear oddly inhibited. “Refusal to be complicit,” “moral and economic self-fashioning”—what formal, dry, and played-out conclusions these are to extract from such a life. The scholarly idea of Lincoln as an accommodator, a “pragmatist,” a manipulator craftily versed in the language of principle, dies hard. This view had a strenuous workout in David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln, published a decade ago, and Carwardine pays it his dutiful respects. Yet his book is its truest refutation.
The previous one-volume study that warrants comparison is Lord Charnwood’s Abraham Lincoln of 1917. Of the two books, Charnwood’s is the more somber and inward study: a searching moral and psychological analysis, with eloquent chapters on the public life of America from the Age of Jackson through the war. Carwardine, on the other hand, does more to integrate the local texture of politics with the momentum of Lincoln’s career, and he conveys a vivid feeling for the political life of Illinois and the country at large. He has mastered the literature of nineteenth-century democracy, and lesser figures are allowed to throw their characteristic lights and shadows on Lincoln. Majestic as Charnwood’s narrative was, it did not give a continuous account of the war. Carwardine’s is the more widely resourceful book in this respect, and it shares with Charnwood’s masterpiece a deep understanding of Abraham Lincoln. Almost a century apart, two of the best biographies of Lincoln have been written by Englishmen; and maybe this points to a fact about Lincoln himself: he is—as Lloyd George said (and Carwardine quotes him)—“one of those giant figures, of whom there are very few in history, who lose their nationality in death.”
Doris Goodwin’s group portrait of the cabinet is not quite so finished or well-sifted a piece of work. Yet Goodwin is a popular historian with a fine eye for the illustrative detail, and she has collected and put into order a tremendous fund of anecdotes and data. One comes to be grateful for her attentiveness to such memories as that of Samuel Busey, a doctor who dined at the boarding house where Lincoln and his wife lived during his congressional term. Everybody knew when Lincoln was about to tell one of his stories, said Busey, because he “would lay down his knife and fork, place his elbows upon the table, rest his face between his hands, and begin with the words ‘that reminds me,’ and proceed.”
In the interstices of Goodwin’s narrative are miscellaneous nuggets of Lincoln folklore, including several quotations that seem to be spurious. After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln is reported by T. Lyle Dickey, a friend who was then a colonel in the Illinois cavalry, to have said confidentially, “I tell you, Dickey, this nation cannot exist half-slave and half-free.” A clear anticipation of the House Divided speech, four years ahead of its time; but Don and Virginia Fehrenbacher in their indispensable Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln—which grades A through E many scores of such reports on the basis of their contemporaneity, the strength of the confirming evidence, and the reliability of the witness—award Dickey’s quotation a D.1
This sort of anecdote may be alluring. It should have been easier for Goodwin to avoid ascribing to Lincoln a dreary encomium on Edwin Stanton. Though Lincoln had a chance to watch Stanton in Cincinnati, early in his legal career, he is not likely to have said anything so scripted as: “I am enough for any man we have out in that country; but these college-trained men are coming West…and when they appear I will be ready.” To this trite foreshadowing, the Fehrenbachers again award a D. Nor can one credit Lincoln’s saying of his meetings with ordinary people—his “public opinion baths,” as he called them—that they served “to renew in me a clearer and more vivid image of that great popular assemblage out of which I sprung; and though they may not be pleasant in all their particulars, the effect, as a whole, is renovating and invigorating to my perceptions of responsibility and duty.” Renovating and invigorating? The manner here is contemporary with Lincoln, but it comes from a fictional character, Mr. Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit.
There is a residuum that must remain hard to fathom. Was Lincoln rendered more human by a touch of misanthropy? To outward view, he was a gregarious man, thriving in the company of all sorts (men more than women), a virtuoso of jokes and stories. But he did not love the tangled undergrowth of selfishness that he found in many whom he knew or met; and as he contemplated the wrongs of American society, “what man has made of man” became with him a large subject of pity and regret. One can see the start of his distrust, and the resolve not to let bitterness overwhelm him, as early as the Lyceum address of 1838, where he laments the rise of “mobocracy” and the brutalization of society by which “the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice.” Lincoln hopes to create a possibility for generous action that he suspects may lie at the outermost limits of people’s abilities. The hope is still audible in his April 1865 speech on reconstruction: his belief in self-restraint comes from a carefully guarded opinion of his fellow men. Lincoln was capable of thinking of white people in the third person—an ability perhaps related to the power of conceiving of humankind as a species in which one is not quite at home.
This remoteness of temperament lies behind the few deeply inscrutable moments of his writings and speeches. Consider the passage of his lecture on inventions and discoveries, given in February 1859, where he counts among the “important events” in the history of discoveries “the invention of negroes, or, of the present mode of using them, in 1434.” He must mean the idea of using Negroes as things, indifferent to their status as persons. What is the tone of such a remark? It seems as far from bigotry as it is from philanthropy. This is not to deny Lincoln’s fidelity to an idea of progress in human rights that will “lift artificial weights from all shoulders.” But he never supposed that human nature was getting better all the time. People always knew that slavery was wrong: that was the presumption of his speeches of the 1850s. When a wrong is to someone’s advantage, he will practice it anyhow and find new ways of calling it good.
Lincoln hated war, and he hated slavery. His hatred of war was larger than his hatred of slavery. Would he have freed the slaves if the war had ended with a military victory in 1862? No. Would he have continued working toward emancipation (however gradual) had the secession collapsed? Probably. There are reformers whom one can eventually count out because they are sensitive to the moment, changers of the minds of men in the short run only. Lincoln was not one of those. It is significant that, like Garrison, he took an early interest in colonization, the favorite nostrum of his “beau ideal” Henry Clay, but by the fall of 1862 he had shed all but a formal interest in such a solution. On the other hand, he directed considerable energy to the idea of compensated emancipation, on the ground that it might bring over part of the South that felt the wrong of the institution but did not want to surrender property. Conscience may be present in acts that appear to lack a perfect consistency, and even selfishness may have a limit—willingly yielding to the “extinction” of its own cherished instruments.
One can imagine Lincoln standing, and Lincoln speaking, but it is hard to picture him in motion, let alone rapid motion. We have had presidents who step, who slip, who saunter, who hunch and ooze forward, who stride or roll or strut. There has never been a word for Lincoln’s walk. “He moved,” wrote William Herndon near the end of his Life,
cautiously but firmly; his long arms and giant hands swung down by his side. He walked with even tread, the inner sides of his feet being parallel. He put the whole foot flat down on the ground at once, not landing on the heel; he likewise lifted his foot all at once, not rising from the toe, and hence he had no spring to his walk. His walk was undulatory—catching and pocketing tire, weariness, and pain, all up and down his person, and thus preventing them from locating. The first impression of a stranger, or a man who did not observe closely, was that his walk implied shrewdness and cunning—that he was a tricky man; but, in reality, it was the walk of caution and firmness.2
The weariness and pain were distributed all over. The firmness and caution were felt by onlookers, and gave some promise that they would be confirmed in word and action. At any given moment, probably the last thing he wanted to seem was remarkable.
—This is the second of two articles.
November 2, 2006