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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

One might really say singularly mathematical


impetuously accepted the decision and, forgetting the precedent of his own hero Jackson, denounced all who challenged it as wicked impugners of lawful authority. Yet, in fact, the decision was as fatal to his own policy as to that of the Republicans. It really made "Popular Sovereignty" a farce, for what was the good of leaving the question of Slavery to be settled by the territories when the Supreme Court declared that they could only lawfully settle it one way? This obvious point was not lost upon the acute intelligence of one man, a citizen of Douglas's own State and one of the "moderates" who had joined the Republican Party on the Nebraska issue.

Abraham Lincoln was by birth a Southerner and a native of Kentucky, a fact which he never forgot and of which he was exceedingly proud. After the wandering boyhood of a pioneer and a period of manual labour as a "rail-splitter" he had settled in Illinois, where he had picked up his own education and become a successful lawyer. He had sat in the House of Representatives as a Whig from 1846 to 1848, the period of the Mexican War, during which he had acted with the main body of his party, neither defending the whole of the policy which led to the war nor opposing it to the extent of refusing supplies for its prosecution. He had voted, as he said, for the Wilmot Proviso "as good as fifty times," and had made a moderate proposition in relation to Slavery in the district of Columbia, for which Garrison's

_Liberator_ had pilloried him as "the Slave-Hound of Illinois." He had not offered himself for re-election in 1848. Though an opponent of Slavery on principle, he had accepted the Compromise of 1850, including its Fugitive Slave Clauses, as a satisfactory all-round settlement, and was, by his own account, losing interest in politics when the action of Douglas and its consequences called into activity a genius which few, if any, had suspected.

A man like Lincoln cannot be adequately described in the short space available in such a book as this. His externals are well appreciated, his tall figure, his powerful ugliness, his awkward strength, his racy humour, his fits of temperamental melancholy; well appreciated also his firmness, wisdom and patriotism. But if we wish to grasp the peculiar quality which makes him almost unique among great men of action, we shall perhaps find the key in the fact that his favourite private recreation was working out for himself the propositions of Euclid. He had a mind not only peculiarly just but singularly logical, one might really say singularly mathematical. His reasoning is always so good as to make his speeches in contrast to the finest rhetorical oratory a constant delight to those who have something of the same type of mind. In this he had a certain affinity with Jefferson. But while in Jefferson's case the tendency has been to class him, in spite of his great practical achievements, as a mere theorizer, in Lincoln it has been rather to acclaim him as a strong, rough, practical man, and to ignore the lucidity of thought which was the most marked quality of his mind.

He was eminently practical; and he was not less but more practical for realizing the supreme practical importance of first principles. According to his first principles Slavery was wrong.

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