Messages and Papers of Abraham Lincoln

Author: Abraham Lincoln

Messages and Papers of

March 4, 1861, to April 18, 1865

Tested by the standard of many other great men, Lincoln was not great, but tested by the only true standard of his own achievements, he may justly appear in history as one of the greatest American statesmen. Indeed, in some most essential attributes of greatness I doubt whether any of our public men ever equalled him. If there are yet any intelligent Americans who believe that Lincoln was an innocent, rural, unsophisticated character, it is time that they should be undeceived. I venture the assertion, without fear of successful contradiction, that Abraham Lincoln was the most sagacious of all the public men of his day in either political party. He was, therefore, the master-politician of his time. He was not a politician as the term is now commonly applied and understood; he knew nothing about the countless methods which are employed in the details of political effort; but no man knew better, indeed, I think no man knew so well as he did, how to summon and dispose of political ability to attain great political results; and this work he performed with unfailing wisdom and discretion in every contest for himself and for the country.

Lincoln’s intellectual organization has been portrayed by many writers, but so widely at variance as to greatly confuse the general reader. Indeed, he was the most difficult of all men to analyze. He sought information from every attainable source. He sought it persistently, weighed it earnestly, and in the end reached his own conclusions. When he had once reached a conclusion as to a public duty, there was no human power equal to the task of changing his purpose. He was self-reliant to an uncommon degree, and yet as entirely free from arrogance of opinion as any public man I have ever known.

Unlike all Presidents who had preceded him, he came into office without a fixed and accepted policy. Civil war plunged the Government into new and most perplexing duties. But Lincoln waited patiently--waited until in the fullness of time the judgment of the people was ripened for action, and then, and then only, did Lincoln act. Had he done otherwise, he would have involved the country in fearful peril both at home and abroad, and it was his constant study of, and obedience to, the honest judgment of the people of the Nation that saved the Republic and that enshrined him in history as the greatest of modern rulers.

While Lincoln had little appreciation of himself as candidate for President as late as 1859, the dream of reaching the Presidency evidently took possession of him in the early part of 1860, and his efforts to advance himself as a candidate were singularly awkward and infelicitous. He had then no experience whatever as a leader of leaders, and it was not until he had made several discreditable blunders that he learned how much he must depend upon others if he would make himself President.

There were no political movements of National importance during Lincoln’s Administration in which he did not actively, although often hiddenly, participate. It was Lincoln who finally, after the most conclusive efforts to get Missouri into line with the Administration, effected a reconciliation of disputing parties which brought Brown and Henderson into the Senate, and it was Lincoln who in 1863 took a leading part in attaining the declination of Curtin as a gubernatorial candidate that year.

Abraham Lincoln was not a sentimental Abolitionist. Indeed, he was not a sentimentalist on any subject. He was a man of earnest conviction and of sublime devotion to his faith. In many of his public letters and state papers he was as poetic as he was epigrammatic, and he was singularly felicitous in the pathos that was so often interwoven with his irresistible logic. But he never contemplated the abolition of slavery until the events of the war not only made it clearly possible, but made it an imperious necessity. As the sworn Executive of the Nation, it was his duty to obey the Constitution in all its provisions, and he accepted that duty without reservation. He knew that slavery was the immediate cause of the political disturbance that culminated in civil war, and I know that he believed from the beginning that if war should be persisted in, it could end only in the severance of the Union or the destruction of slavery. His supreme desire was peace, alike before the war, during the war, and in closing the war. He exhausted every means within his power to teach the Southern people that slavery could not be disturbed by his Administration as long as they themselves obeyed the Constitution and laws which protected slavery, and he never uttered a word or did an act to justify, or even excuse, the South in assuming that he meant to make any warfare upon the institution of slavery beyond protecting the free territories from its desolating tread.

It was not until the war had been in progress for nearly two years that Lincoln decided to proclaim the policy of Emancipation, and then he was careful to assume the power as warranted under the Constitution only by the supreme necessities of war. There was no time from the inauguration of Lincoln until the 1st of January, 1863, that the South could not have returned to the Union with slavery intact in every State.

Abraham Lincoln

ABRAHAM LINCOLN was born in Hardin County, Ky., February 12, 1809. His earliest ancestor in America was Samuel Lincoln, of Norwich, England, who settled in Hingham, Mass., where he died, leaving a son, Mordecai, whose son of the same name removed to Monmouth, N.J., and thence to Berks County, Pa., where he died in 1735. One of his sons, John, removed to Rockingham County, Va., and died there, leaving five sons, one of whom, named Abraham, emigrated to Kentucky about 1780. About 1784 he was killed by Indians, leaving three sons, Mordecai, Josiah, and Thomas, and two daughters. Their mother then located in Washington County, Ky., and there brought up her family. The youngest son, Thomas, learned the trade of a carpenter, and in 1806 married Nancy Hanks, a niece of the man with whom he learned his trade. They had three children, the second being Abraham, the future President of the United States. In 1816 Thomas Lincoln removed to Indiana, and settled on Little Pigeon Creek, not far distant from the Ohio River, where Abraham grew to manhood. He made the best use of his limited opportunities to acquire an education and at the same time prepare himself for business. At the age of 19 years he was intrusted with a cargo of farm products, which he took to New Orleans and sold. In 1830 his father again emigrated, and located in Macon County, Ill. Abraham by this time had attained the unusual stature of 6 feet 4 inches, and was of great muscular strength; joined with his father in building his cabin, clearing the field, and splitting the rails for fencing the farm. It was not long, however, before his father again changed his home. locating this time in Coles County, where he died in 1851 at the age of 73 years. Abraham left his father as soon as his farm was fenced and cleared and hired himself to a man named Denton Offutt, in Sangamon County, whom he assisted to build a flatboat; accompanied him to New Orleans on a trading voyage and returned with him to New Salem, Menard County, where Offutt opened a store for the sale of general merchandise. Mr. Lincoln remained with him for a time, during which he employed his leisure in constant reading and study. Learned the elements of Englishgrammar and made a beginning in the study of surveying and the principles of law. But the next year an Indian war began, and Lincoln volunteered in a company raised in Sangamon County and was immediately elected captain. His company was organized at Richland April 21, 1832; but his service in command of it was brief, for it was mustered out on May 27. Mr. Lincoln immediately reenlisted as a private and served for several weeks, being finally mustered out on June 16, 1832, by Lieutenant Robert Anderson, who afterwards commanded Fort Sumter at the beginning of the civil war. He returned to his home and made a brief but active canvass for the legislature, but was defeated. At this time he thought seriously of learning the blacksmith’ s trade, but an opportunity was offered him to buy a store, which he did, giving his notes for the purchase money. He was unfortunate in his selection of a partner, and the business soon went to wreck, leaving him burdened with a heavy debt, which he finally paid in full. He then applied himself earnestly to the study of the law. Was appointed postmaster of New Salem in 1833, and filled the office for three years. At the same time was appointed deputy county surveyor. In 1834 was elected to the legislature, and was reelected in 1836, 1838, and 1840, after which he declined further election. In his last two terms he was the candidate of his party for the speakership of the house of representatives. In 1837 removed to Springfield, where he entered into partnership with John T. Stuart and began the practice of the law. November 4, 1842, married Miss Mary Todd, daughter of Robert S. Todd, of Kentucky. In 1846 was elected to Congress over Rev. Peter Cartwright. Served only one term, and was not a candidate for reelection. While a member he advocated the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Was an unsuccessful applicant for Commissioner of the General Land Office under President Taylor; was tendered the office of governor of Oregon Territory, which he declined. Was an able and influential exponent of the principles of the Whig party in Illinois, and did active campaign work. Was voted for by the Whig minority in the State legislature for United States Senator in 1855. As soon as the Republican party was fully organized throughout the country he became its leader in Illinois. In 1858 he was chosen by his party to oppose Stephen A. Douglas for the Senate, and challenged him to a joint debate. The challenge was accepted, and a most exciting debate followed, which attracted national attention. The legislature chosen was favorable to Mr. Douglas, and he was elected. In May, 1860, when the Republican convention met in Chicago, Mr. Lincoln was nominated for the Presidency, on the third ballot, over William H. Seward, who was his principal competitor. Was elected on November 6, receiving 180 electoral votes to 72 for John C. Breckinridge, 39 for John Bell, and 12 for Stephen A. Douglas. Was inaugurated March 4, 1861. On June 8, 1864, was unanimously renominated for the Presidency by the Republican convention at Baltimore, and at the election in November received212 electoral votes to 21 for General McClellan. Was inaugurated for his second term March 4, 1865. Was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater, in Washington, April 14, 1865, and died the next day. Was buried at Oak Ridge, near Springfield, Ill.


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Chicago: Abraham Lincoln, "Title Page," Messages and Papers of Abraham Lincoln in 3203-D–3206. Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: Lincoln, Abraham. "Title Page." Messages and Papers of Abraham Lincoln, in , pp. 3203-D–3206. Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Lincoln, A, 'Title Page' in Messages and Papers of Abraham Lincoln. cited in , , pp.3203-D–3206. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from