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BRAHAM LINCOLN was the President during this dark time in our nation's
history,—the Civil War.
He was not a handsome man, not an educated man, not
a society-mannered man; but a more honest, more loyal-hearted,
more grand-souled man than Abraham Lincoln,
never stood at the head of our government. He was as
honest as George Washington, as sturdy as Andrew Jackson,
as brave as the bravest General, and, in the end, as noble
as the noblest martyr.
He had had a hard life as a boy. He had been brought
up on a Kentucky farm, where he had learned to hoe and to
 plant, to drive oxen, to build log-houses, to split rails, to
fell trees;—everything that a farmer boy away out in a
new country would have to do, this boy had done. Indeed,
when he was named for President by the Republican party,
the opposing parties sneered at him, calling him a "vulgar
rail-splitter," "an ignorant boor, unfit for the society of
LINCOLN'S FIRST HOUSE IN ILLINOIS
But for all his hoeing and his rail-splitting, for all his
poverty and his hard labor, for all his rough home and his
common companions, Abraham Lincoln soon proved that he
had a something in his head and in his heart that any gentleman
might well have been proud to own—a something that
a world of fine houses and fine clothes could not buy—
 something which, by and by, prompted him to set all the
poor black men and women free.
Although Abraham Lincoln did live in the backwoods,
and did not go to school, nevertheless, he was all this time
in the best of society. Fortunately for him, his mother was
a real lady in heart, and tried always to keep her boy from
growing up a coarse, ignorant "rail-splitter," as his party
opponents called him. She taught him always to keep his
eyes open, and his thoughts awake to the beauties about
him in nature. She taught him that it was a noble heart
that could see God in the beautiful flowers, in the birds, in
the fields, in the forests, and in the waters; that it was the
artist's soul that loved to watch the beautiful sunset lights
and the deepening shadows; she taught him to read the few
books that she owned, and helped him to earn a few more;
she encouraged his love for reading, and was careful that
his reading was always of the best kind.
The result was, that when Abraham Lincoln came to be
President, and had to write letters and make speeches, he
always had the very best style of English at his command.
When he said a thing, it was so simply and so correctly
said, that every one knew just what he meant. And behind
his words, too, there was always his big, honest, truthful
heart. Is it any wonder, then, when, by and by, this
good man died—shot down by an enemy of our Union—
that all the country mourned for him, and felt for a time as
if no one could be found to fill this good, great man's place.
 Here is what a good woman says of him: "When
Abraham Lincoln wrote a thing, you read what he meant.
The meaning was not covered up under a heap of useless
words. One thing was apparent in him from boyhood.
This was his straightforward truthfulness and sincerity of
purpose. No political experience ever twisted him; he
ended life as he began it, an honest, sincere, trustworthy
man. One of the great outcries against him by his opponents
after he was elected was, 'He is an uncouth, rough
backwoodsman. He is no gentleman.' It is true that he
was very uncouth in face and figure; never handsome to
look at, although the soul of the man sometimes shone
through the plain features in a way that transfigured them,
and his deep gray eyes were full of a great sadness, that
seemed almost to prophesy his tragic fate. He had not the
manners of a court, but he did deeds from the promptings
of a simple, manly heart that a king might have been proud
to own, and if he was not a true gentleman, God does not
make many now-a-days."
When the Republicans chose Abraham Lincoln, the South
was furious—not because they had chosen Lincoln,
because they had chosen any one at all. "If a Republican
President is elected," said these Southern States, "we will
go out of the Union."
Now, it is said that the Southerners really were in hopes
that a Republican President would be elected, so that they
 might have an excuse for leaving the Union. "We will go
off by ourselves," said one of the Southern leaders, "and
build up a government of our own; and we will have slavery
for its very corner stone." They were very angry, these
Southern slave-holders; for one reason, because they were
now made by the United States Government to pay such
high prices for slaves. One slave-dealer said, he wasn't
going to pay a thousand dollars for a slave in Virginia, when
he could go to Africa and buy better ones for fifty dollars a
head! What do you think of a business that employed
agents to catch colored men and women as you would catch
animals, bring them into market, and sell them at a price,
according to their size, or weight, or age, or strength for work!
We ought all to be glad that the United States
Government at last came to its senses, and made all the States give
up this wicked traffic.
Lincoln was in due time elected President, and the
Southern States, as they had threatened, declared themselves
no longer members of the Union. They made for themselves
a new government, put Jefferson Davis at its head as
President, and called themselves "The Confederate States
These Southerners believed that, although the States had
all at one time banded together under one government, still
each State had a right to step out and set up a government
 of its own if it chose. This is what John C. Calhoun said
in his speeches before Congress, and without doubt he
believed what he said was true. This
was the same old question of "State
rights" of which you heard away back
as far as when Washington was President.
Don't you remember how jealous of each other the political
parties were even in those early times?
How afraid one party was that too
much power would be given to
the central government, that is, to
the President and Congress? And
how equally afraid the other party
was that the power would be too
much scattered around among the different States? And
do you remember in Jackson's administration, that some of
these same Southern States declared the central government
"null and void," and said they had a right to leave the
Union if they wanted to? They even went so far as to
form a league, and would really have made trouble enough
had not Jackson rushed down upon them before they had
time to do any mischief.
Here was this same old question up again, in a new dress
to be sure, but it was the same old question.
The Northern people had no idea how much this matter
 meant to the Southern people. Even when South Carolina
really "seceded" from the Union—even then the
Northerners thought it was only a threat.
But lest we should be too severe in our judgment on these
Southerners, let us stop and see why it was they cared so
little about that "Union," which, to a Northerner, is so
dear. This is the reason: the Southerner had been brought
up from his babyhood to love his State, his State flag, his
State Government. To him, his State was everything.
He had been brought up to say, "I am a Virginian!" or
"I am a South Carolinian!" It was his State flag that he
had seen raised on festal days; it was the State flag that
waved over the public buildings, and over their forts.
Everything to him was State! State! State! He loved his
State, he was proud of her, and he was ready to die for her.
Now let us see how the Northerner had been brought up.
He, I am inclined to think, hardly knew what his State flag
was—he never heard anything about it, never saw it. It
was always the "Stars and Stripes" that floated before him
in these Northern States. "The Star Spangled Banner,"
"My Country, 'tis of Thee," "God Bless Our Union,"
were the songs he had always sung. He never said, "I am
a New Yorker!" or "I am a Rhode Islander!" but always,
"I am an American!" Everything to him was Union!
Union! Union! He loved the Union, he was proud of her,
he was ready to die for her. So you see, these two parties
 could not understand each other. The Northerner could not
believe that the Southerner would do such an awful
thing as to break up the sacred Union, and the Southerner,
on the other side, could not see that there was anything
awful at all in breaking up the Union, which to him was not
sacred at all.