Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lincoln As President

       Throughout the war Lincoln displayed that firmness, generosity and foresight which he had disclosed in his previous career. He was tenderhearted, patient and absolutely lacking in malice, but unyielding when it came to a question of principle. Therefore he resolutely refused to come to terms with the South until the idea of secession should be abandoned. Though he hated slavery as an inhuman and undemocratic institution, he stated publicly in August, 1862, ''My paramount object is to save the Union, it is not either to save or to destroy slavery." When he became convinced that the nation could never endure half slave and half free, he decided on one of the most important steps of his career, the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. This decision had the effect of uniting and strengthening the anti-slavery people of the North, and it gave the government increased prestige abroad.
       Though the North had been fighting the first two years of the war without signal success, there were encouraging signs of a turn in the tide in the summer of 1863, when Meade checked Lee at Gettysburg, and Grant captured Vicksburg. In November, 1863, Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the battlefield of Gettysburg, giving a short, simple address that has since become a classic of American literature. (For the full text, see Gettysburg Address.) These stirring events were followed by the appointment of Grant as commander in chief of the Union armies, and the Presidential and Congressional elections of 1864.
       In the light of the universal esteem in which Lincoln is held to-day it seems difficult to realize that he had bitter opponents in the North. His enforcement of the unpopular draft act, his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and certain arbitrary measures which were taken to check Southern sympathizers, aroused much hostile criticism, and he was denounced as a tyrant. A strong faction also clamored for peace on the ground that the war was a failure, and on this platform the Democrats nominated McClellan in 1864. The result showed that the people as a whole trusted Lincoln and knew that he was exercising what seemed to be autocratic power because he had the consent of the people. He was returned to office by an electoral vote of 212, against twenty-one for McClellan. The popular vote was 2,330,552 against 1,835,985. In his second inaugural address Lincoln again rose to heights of simple eloquence and to and idealism rarely equaled in American oratory, and in closing he uttered words that could come only from the mind and heart of a truly great man:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations." 

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