During his one and only term in the House of Representatives delegates remembered Lincoln’s answering a colleague's objection to federal improvement of the Illinois River because it ran through only one state, by asking through how many states the federally improved Hudson River ran.
'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 his orphan, and to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. '
distinctive facet to Lincoln's abiding appeal was/is the matchless power of his
words – an absolute essential in a leader of men since we humans are creatures
that live and move and have our being in a world of words as fish in a world of
water and birds in a world of air.
his words were so powerful was that he used them so sparingly. How often did he
say that his personal inclination was to refrain from saying anything unless he
sought to achieve some good by it? [By contrast, how many politicians do we
know today who are firm believers that there is no such thing as bad publicity,
who simply can’t resist the seductive power of a TV news crew?] But when
Lincoln did have something to say he would weave a distinctively subtle alchemy
of words that invariably had a way of sweeping up his audience into his world
with the concerted power of one who is master of that world down to the final
semi-colon. And since writing was a skill he practiced virtually all his life,
he could – and did – impress effortlessly. That is the part of what came to be
called the Gettysburg Address that is ho-hum: he put relatively little time
into its composition because he had little time to give to it. But that
condition applied to virtually everything he ever wrote. He wrote in keeping
with his own early description of his politics – short and sweet like the old
lady’s dance with no wasted movements. In short, whatever left his pen
habitually had had all the dross already burnt off, leaving only a residue of
The next few entries will show some dazzling examples of
Lincoln’s wizardly working of words.
Lincoln's death was an unparalleled international
phenomenon. Of course heads of state, like his great and good friend Queen
Victoria, sent condolences. But what was astonishing was that, according to one
historian, condolences also came from the Working Class Improvement Association
of Lisbon, the Students in the Faculty of Theology in Strasbourg, the Teachers
of the Ragged School in Bristol, the Vestry of the Parish of Chelsea, the
Cotton Brokers' Association of Liverpool, the Men's Gymnastic Union of Berne,
Switzerland [all 44 members]. As if moved inexorably by some powerful if unseen
gravitational pull, people thousands of miles away all made it their business
to express their profound sorrow at the passing of this most enigmatic of men.
For somehow Lincoln had managed to capture their imaginations, this man carved
from the granite of the great American heartland, who had clambered through the
dense entangling undergrowth of misunderstanding and greed, of violence and
stupidity, to burst forth onto God's very own broad, sunlit uplands.
Long-term reactions to Lincoln's death came from as far away
as Russia in the early 20th century. In the eyes of the great Russian novelist
Leo Tolstoy Lincoln was a kind of world folk legend through 'peculiar moral
powers and greatness of character... He was what Beethoven was in music, Dante
in poetry, Raphael in painting and Christ in the philosophy of life. If he had
failed to become President, he would be no doubt just as great, but only God
could appreciate it. We are still too near his greatness, and so can hardly
appreciate his power; but after a few centuries more our posterity will find
him considerably bigger than we do.'
Horace Greeley, the editor of the New
York Tribune, had on many occasions attacked the Lincoln administration for
any number of reasons. But on Lincoln's death he wrote arguably the most
prescient obituary of Abraham Lincoln ever penned, one that any of us might
justifiably long for: 'He was not a born king of men but a child of the common
people who made himself a great persuader, therefore a leader, by dint of firm
resolve, patient effort, and dogged perseverance. He slowly won his way to
eminence and fame by doing the work that lay next to him - doing it with all
his growing might - doing it as well as he could, and learning by his failure,
when failure was encountered, how to do it better. He was open to all
impressions and influences and gladly profited by the teaching of events and
circumstances, no matter how adverse or unwelcome. There was probably no year
of his life when he was not a wiser, cooler, and better man than he had been
the year proceeding.'
'I do the very best I know how and I mean to keep doing so until the
end. If the end brings me out all right what's said against me won't amount to
anything. If the end brings me out wrong ten angels swearing I was right would
make no difference.'