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Biography of Abraham Lincoln - James Russell Lowell

Biography of Abraham Lincoln - James Russell Lowell

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Published by Ashu Gupta
Biography of Abraham Lincoln - James
Biography of Abraham Lincoln - James

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Published by: Ashu Gupta on Jul 05, 2013
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Abraham Lincoln by James Russell LowellTHERE have been many painful crises since the impatientvanity of South Carolina hurried ten prosperous Commonwealthsinto a crime whose assured retribution was to leave themeither at the mercy of the nation they had wronged, or of theanarchy they had summoned but could not control, when nothoughtful American opened his morning paper without dreadingto find that he had no longer a country to love and honor.Whatever the result of the convulsion whose first shocks werebeginning to be felt, there would still be enough squaremiles of earth for elbow-room; but that ineffable sentimentmade up of memory and hope, of instinct and tradition, whichswells every man's heart and shapes his thought, thoughperhaps never present to his consciousness, would be gonefrom it, leaving it common earth and nothing more. Men mightgather rich crops from it, but that ideal harvest ofpriceless associations would be reaped no longer; that finevirtue which sent up messages of courage and security fromevery sod of it would have evaporated beyond recall. Weshould be irrevocably cut off from our past, and be forced tosplice the ragged ends of our lives upon whatever newconditions chance might leave dangling for us. We confessthat we had our doubts at first whether the patriotism of ourpeople were not too narrowly provincial to embrace theproportions of national peril. We felt an only too naturaldistrust of immense public meetings and enthusiastic cheers.That a reaction should follow the holiday enthusiasm withwhich the war was entered on, that it should follow soon, andthat the slackening of public spirit should be proportionateto the previous over-tension, might well be foreseen by allwho had studied human nature or history. Men actinggregariously are always in extremes; as they are one momentcapable of higher courage, so they are liable, the next, tobaser depression, and it is often a matter of chance whethernumbers shall multiply confidence or discouragement. Nordoes deception lead more surely to distrust of men, thanself-deception to suspicion of principles. The only faiththat wears well and holds its color in all weathers is thatwhich is woven of conviction and set with the sharp mordantof experience. Enthusiasm is good material for the orator,but the statesman needs something more durable to work
 
in,--must be able to rely on the deliberate reason andconsequent firmness of the people, without which thatpresence of mind, no less essential in times of moral than ofmaterial peril, will be wanting at the critical moment.Would this fervor of the Free States hold out? Was itkindled by a just feeling of the value of constitutionalliberty? Had it body enough to withstand the inevitabledampening of checks, reverses, delays? Had our populationintelligence enough to comprehend that the choice was betweenorder and anarchy, between the equilibrium of a government bylaw and the tussle of misrule by *pronunciamiento?* Could awar be maintained without the ordinary stimulus of hatred andplunder, and with the impersonal loyalty of principle? Thesewere serious questions, and with no precedent to aid inanswering them. At the beginning of the war there was,indeed, occasion for the most anxious apprehension. APresident known to be infected with the political heresies,and suspected of sympathy with the treason, of the Southernconspirators, had just surrendered the reins, we will not sayof power, but of chaos, to a successor known only as therepresentative of a party whose leaders, with long trainingin opposition, had none in the conduct of affairs; an emptytreasury was called on to supply resources beyond precedentin the history of finance; the trees were yet growing and theiron unmined with which a navy was to be built and armored;officers without discipline were to make a mob into an army;and, above all, the public opinion of Europe, echoed andreinforced with every vague hint and every specious argumentof despondency by a powerful faction at home, was eithercontemptuously sceptical or actively hostile. It would behard to over-estimate the force of this latter element ofdisintegration and discouragement among a people where everycitizen at home, and every soldier in the field, is a readerof newspapers. The peddlers of rumor in the North were themost effective allies of the rebellion. A nation can beliable to no more insidious treachery than that of thetelegraph, sending hourly its electric thrill of panic alongthe remotest nerves of the community, till the excitedimagination makes every real danger loom heightened with itsunreal double. And even if we look only at more palpabledifficulties, the problem to be solved by our civil war wasso vast, both in its immediate relations and its futureconsequences; the conditions of its solution were sointricate and so greatly dependent on incalculable and
 
uncontrollable contingencies; so many of the data, whetherfor hope or fear, were, from their novelty, incapable ofarrangement under any of the categories of historicalprecedent, that there were moments of crisis when the firmestbeliever in the strength and sufficiency of the democratictheory of government might well hold his breath in vagueapprehension of disaster. Our teachers of politicalphilosophy, solemnly arguing from the precedent of some pettyGrecian, Italian, or Flemish city, whose long periods ofaristocracy were broken now and then by awkward parenthesesof mob, had always taught us that democracies were incapableof the sentiment of loyalty, of concentrated and prolongedeffort, of far- reaching conceptions; were absorbed inmaterial interests; impatient of regular, and much more ofexceptional restraint; had no natural nucleus of gravitation,nor any forces but centrifugal; were always on the verge ofcivil war, and slunk at last into the natural almshouse ofbankrupt popular government, a military despotism. Here wasindeed a dreary outlook for persons who knew democracy, notby rubbing shoulders with it lifelong, but merely from books,and America only by the report of some fellow-Briton, who,having eaten a bad dinner or lost a carpet-bag here, hadwritten to *The Times* demanding redress, and drawing amournful inference of democratic instability. Nor were menwanting among ourselves who had so steeped their brains inLondon literature as to mistake Cockneyism for Europeanculture, and contempt of their country for cosmopolitanbreadth of view, and who, owing all they had an all they wereto democracy, thought it had an air of high-breeding to joinin the shallow epicedium that our bubble had burst. Butbeside any disheartening influences which might affect thetimid or the despondent, there were reasons enough of settledgravity against any over-confidence of hope. A war--which,whether we consider the expanse of the territory at stake,the hosts brought into the field, or the reach of theprinciples involved, may fairly be reckoned the mostmomentous of modern times--was to be waged by a peopledivided at home, unnerved by fifty years of peace, under achief magistrate without experience and without reputation,whose every measure was sure to be cunningly hampered by ajealous and unscrupulous minority, and who, while dealingwith unheard-of complications at home, must soothe a hostileneutrality abroad, waiting only a pretext to become war. Allthis was to be done without warning and without preparation,

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