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Abraham Lincoln, Volume 1 (of 2) by Herndon

Lincoln acquired that rare power of expression


Let

me repeat and emphasize what I have here said. Mr. Lincoln never gave his assent, so far as my knowledge goes, to any plan or project for getting votes that would not have borne the full light of day. At the same time, he had no objection to the getting of votes by the pledge of offices, nor was he too particular what kind of men got the offices. His preference was always for good men; but he could not resist pressure where persons were concerned, even though his conscience told him that he was doing wrong.

We have seen what kind of debating school Mr. Lincoln grew up in. It was the best possible school for him, and it was an advantage to him that he had able men for his competitors. Among them was Stephen A. Douglas, the most versatile, indomitable, and unscrupulous of all of them. He was Lincoln's rival, as is shown in these pages, for almost everything, from the hand of Mary Todd to the presidency of the United States. He had the strength and presence of a lion, with all the cunning of a fox. He possessed every quality which wins popular favor and high station except veracity, and I know of nothing in the pages of history more cheering to pious souls than the eventual triumph of Honest Abe over the Little Giant.

It was by restless competition and rough-and-tumble with Douglas and others that Mr. Lincoln acquired that rare power of expression, by mouth and pen, which drew to himself the attention of the State

and afterward of the nation and the world. He rarely used ornament in his speeches. Although gifted with the power of humor to an extraordinary degree, he seldom employed it in his later years except in private circles. Thus it came about that this growing master of logic, this profound and earnest debater of the most serious questions of the day, was the most popular of tavern loungers, and could draw more people together and hold them longer by mere drollery and _cameraderie_ than any other man I ever knew. Mr. Lincoln's nature was one of almost child-like sweetness. He did not "put you at your ease" when you came into his presence. You felt at your ease without being put there. He never assumed superiority over anybody in the ordinary intercourse of life.

A good test of this trait in his character was furnished in my own experience. When I was first thrown into his society I was just out of college, and was as callow and as self-confident as boys usually are at that time of life. Mr. Lincoln was at the maturity of his powers. I was often with him when he had no other companion. In our intercourse he always paid marked deference to my opinions, and if we differed he would argue the point with me as earnestly as though I had been the opposing counsel in a lawsuit. And this he would do with anybody, young or old, ignorant or learned. I never heard him express contempt for any man's honest errors, although he would sometimes make a droll remark or tell a funny story about them. Deference to other people's opinions was habitual to him. There was no calculation, no politics in it. It was part and parcel of his sense of equal rights. His democracy was of the unconscious kind--he did not know anything different from it. Coupled with this was a habit of unselfishness and kindly temper most engaging to all who knew him or had any dealings with him. At the same time he knew when he was imposed upon, and it was unsafe for anybody to presume upon his good nature or to take him for a flat.

But more than intellectual gifts, more than good-fellowship, did the sense of justice give him his hold on others. That was a magnetic field whose influences could not be escaped. He carried it as unconsciously as he carried his hair. The Athenians would never have ostracized him--indeed, they would never have called him the Just. They would have taken him as they took the bees on Hymettus--as one naturally searching after sweet things.


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