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1864 April 16: Interesting Incidents in the Life of President Lincoln

April 21, 2014

From the April 16, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.

Interesting Incidents In the Life of President Lincoln.

In the House of Representatives, recently Mr. ARNOLD, of Illinois made a remarkable and beautiful speech upon “Reconstruction,” of which he made Freedom the cornerstone, and ABRAHAM LINCOLN the architect.  We re-produce the following most interesting incidents in the President’s life :


Abraham Lincoln, February 4, 1864, from the Library of Congress

Abraham Lincoln, February 9, 1864, from the Library of Congress¹

His previous training for his great work was not the training of the schools, it was better.  It was a struggle with difficulties among the people.  He had the foundation of perfect integrity, truth, candor, sobriety, self-control, reliance, modesty.  With clear judgement, sound common sense, shrewd knowledge of human nature, he is the most American of all Americans.  He had served a single term in Congress, but his education, his preparation was among the people, in humble and homely positions ;  a flat boatman, a rail-splitter, a surveyor, a member of the Legislature in a frontier State, a lawyer in the log courthouse of the West.  While he had no university schooling, few, if any have had a better training to develop and strengthen his intellectual powers than he.  This may seem strange, but let me explain, and its truth will, I think, be conceded.¹

He was trained at the bar in a school where giants were his competitors, and he bore off the crown.


Some twenty years ago, there gathered around the plain, pine tables of the frontier court-houses of central Illinois a very remarkable combination of men.  Among them and concededly their leader was Abraham Lincoln.  Stephen A. Douglas, his great political rival ;  Lyman Trumbull, chairman of the judiciary Committee of the Senate ;  E. D. Baker, the able, the eloquent Senator, soldier, and martyr to liberty ;  Gen. James Shields, who won a high reputation at Washington and on the battle-fields of Mexico ;  Gen. John J. Hardin, an able and eloquent lawyer, who fell on the bloody field of Buena Vista ;  Jas. A. McDougall, the present Senator from Illinois ;  and Gen. John A. McClernand, now in the field.  Besides these was the late Gov. Bissell, whose manly vindication of the bravery of the Illinois volunteers in Mexico, against the aspersions of Jefferson Davis, will be well remembered—a vindication which resulted in a challenge from the traitor Davis, which was accepted by Bissell, but from which Davis backed down, it is said, under the advice of General Taylor [Richard Taylor].  These men, of national reputation, and others equally able, but whose pursuits have been confined at home, where the competitors with Lincoln.  These were the men in contest with whom, Lincoln was trained for the terrible ordeal through which he is passing.


The contest between Lincoln and Douglas, in 1858, was the most remarkable in American history.  They were the acknowledged leaders, each of his party.  Both men of great and marked individuality of character.  The prize was the Senator-ship of the great State of Illinois, and the success of the Republican or Democratic party.  Douglas had the additional stimulant of the Presidency in view.  These two trained leaders met, at designated places, and, in the presence of immense crowds of people debated the great questions at issue.

Douglas went through his campaign like a conquering hero.  He had his special train of cars, his band of music, his body guard of devoted friends, a cannon carried on the train, the firing from which announced his approach to the place of meeting.  Such a canvass involve, necessarily very large expenditures, and it has been said that Douglas did not expend less than $50,000 in this canvass.  Some idea of the plain, simple, frugal habits of Mr. Lincoln may be gathered, when I tell you that at its class, having occupied several months, Mr. Lincoln said, with the idea, apparently, that he had been some what extravagant, “I do not believe I have spent a cent less than $500 in this canvass.”

Senator Douglas was at that time the leading debater in the United State Senate.  He had been accustomed to meet for years in Congress the trained leaders of the nation and never be either in a single combat, or taking the fire of a whole part, had he been discomfited.  He was bold, defiant, confident, aggressive, fertile in resources, terrible in denunciation, familiar with political history, practiced in all controversial discussion, or indomitable physical and moral courage, and unquestionably the most formidable man in the nation on the stump.  The friends of Mr. Lincoln were not without misgivings when the challenge was given and accepted for a campaign with Douglas on the stump.

Lincoln was cool, candid, truthful, logical, never betrayed into an unfair statement ;  and it was wonderful now, in these discussions, as in every other act of his public life, he has impressed the people with his honesty and fairness.  Every hearer of these debates went away with the conviction, whatever his political views, “Mr. Lincoln believes what he says, he is candid, and he would not misstate a fact, or take an unfair advantage to secure a triumph.”  He had one advantage over Douglas.  He was always good humored.  He had always his apt illustration and while Douglas was sometimes irritable, and would lose his temper, Lincoln never lost his.

Douglas carried away the most popular applause, but Lincoln made the deeper and more lasting impression.  Douglas did not disdain an immediate triumph, while Lincoln looked to permanent conviction.  Douglas addressed the feelings and prejudices with a power and adroitness never surpassed.  Lincoln stated his propositions and proved their truth with irresistible logic.  Douglas carried the majority of the Legislature of Illinois, but Lincoln had the majority of the popular vote.  Douglas accrued the Senator-ship but Lincoln gained the Presidency.  The wonderful endurance of these men, both of iron constitution was strikingly manifest during this contest.  But at the close, Douglas could not articulate clearly for some weeks while Lincoln’s voice was altogether stronger, and he himself was in better health at the end than he was at the beginning of the contest.

The friends of such of these great leaders claimed the victory.  All must admit that he so met in his antagonist a foeman worthy of his steel.

The nomination of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency came to him unsought and unsolicited.  The great leaders of national parties struggled by their powerful friends and organizations for his nomination at Chicago.  Mr. Lincoln remained quietly at his home in Springfield, pursuing the usual course of his quiet, simple life, and the Presidency sought him, he did not go after or seek it.  Many have seen in the manner in which he was called to the Executive Mansion the finger of province.


I need not recall the dark and threatening aspect of affairs in the winter of 1860-61.  A long-planned, deep laid conspiracy, about to break upon the land, with all the horrors of civil war.  Patriots saw the tornado coming, saw the traitors plotting and planning the destruction of the Government, disarming, plundering it, binding it, preparing it to fall an easy victim into the hands of traitors and yet had no means to resist, because all its machinery was in the hands of traitors.  How impatiently and fearfully they waited for the 4th of March all will remember.  The President elect felt the oppressive weight of responsibility resting upon him.  There is not a more simple, touching, and beautiful speech in the English language than that which he uttered to his neighbors from the platform of the rail-car, on bidding good-bye to his home, to enter upon the duties of the Presidency :  “For more than twenty-five years I have lived among you, and during all that time I have received nothing but kindness at your hands.  Here the most cherished ties of earth were assumed.  Here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried.

“To you, my friends, I owe all that I have, all that I am.  All the strange checkered past seems to crowd now upon my mind.  To-day I leave you.  I go to assume a task more difficult than that which devolved upon Gen. Washington.  Unless the great God who assisted him shall be with and aid me, I cannot prevail ;  but if the same Omniscient mind and the same Almighty arm that directed and protected him shall guide and support me, I shall not fail.  I shall succeed.”  Let us pray that the God of our fathers may not forsake us now, To Him I commend you all.  Permit me to ask that, with equal sincerity and faith, you will all invoke His wisdom and guidance for me.”

The feeling of the people was impressively exhibited by the mottoes on the banners which they extended across the streets through which he passed on his way to the Capital.  “We will pray for you” was often the significant motto.


Here I will pause a moment to state a most remarkable prediction made by Douglas, in January, 1861.  The statement is furnished to me by General C. B. Stewart of New York, a gentleman of the highest respectability.

Douglas was asked by Colonel Stewart (who was making a New Year’s call on Mr. Douglas,) “What will be the result of the effort of Jefferson Davis and his associates to divide the Union ?”  Douglas replied :  “The cotton States are making an effort to draw in the border States to their schemes of secession, and I am too fearful they will succeed.  If they do succeed, then will be the most terrible civil war the world has ever seen, lasting for years.  Virginia will become a charnel house ;  but the end will be the triumph of the Union cause.  One of the first efforts will be to take this capital, to give them prestige abroad ;  but they will never succeed in taking it.  The north will rise en masse to defend it ;  but it will become a city of hospitals ;  the churches will be used for the sick and wounded ;  and even this house and the Minnesota block (now the Douglas Hospital) may be devoted to that purpose before the end of the war.”  General Stewart inquired :  “What justification is there for all this?”  Douglas replied :  “There is no justification nor presence of any.  If they will remain in the Union, I will go as far as the Constitution will permit to maintain their just rights, and I do not doubt but a majority of Congress will do the same.  But,” said he, rising on his feet and extending his arms, “if the Southern States attempt to secede from this Union without further cause, I am in favor of their having just so many slaves and just so much slave territory, as they can hold at the point of the bayonet, and no more.”

1.  Portrait, by Anthony Berger, used for the engraved bust of Abraham Lincoln that appeared on the United States five dollar bill for many years (1914 to 2007), from the Prints and Photographs Division’s collections in the Library of Congress. The photograph was taken on February 9, 1864, but printed later.

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