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Abraham Lincoln, Volume I   By: (1840-1937)

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[Illustration: Abraham Lincoln]

American Statesmen


[Illustration: The Early House of Abraham Lincoln .]







The fifth and final group of biographies in the American Statesmen series deals with the Period of the Civil War. The statesmen whose lives are included in this group are Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Charles Francis Adams, Charles Sumner, and Thaddeus Stevens.

The years of the civil war constitute an episode rather than an independent period in our national history. They were interposed between two eras; and if they are to be integrally connected with either of these, it is with the era which preceded them rather than with that which followed them. They were the result, the closing act, of the quarter century of the anti slavery crusade. When the war came to an end the country made a new start under new conditions. Yet it is proper to treat the years of the war by themselves, not only because they were filled by the clearly defined and abnormal condition of warfare, but because a distinct group of statesmen is peculiarly associated with them. The men whose lives are found in this group had been struggling for recognition during the years which preceded the war, but they only arrived at the control of affairs after that event became assured. Soon after its close their work was substantially done.

For a long while before hostilities actually broke out, it was evident that a civil war would be a natural result of the antagonism between the South and the North; it is now obvious enough that it was more than a natural, that it was an absolutely inevitable result. Looking backward, we can only be surprised that wise men ever fancied that a conflict could be avoided; but, as usual, the strenuous hope became father to an anxious belief. Abraham Lincoln, in the first year when he gave indication of his political clear sightedness, said truly that the country could not continue half slave and half free. That truth involved war. There was no other possible way to settle the question between the two halves; talk of freeing the slaves by purchase, or by gradual emancipation and colonization, was simple nonsense, the forlorn schemes of men who would fain have escaped out of the track of inexorable destiny. Yet the vast majority of the nation, appalled at the vision of the great fact which lay right athwart their road, was obstinate in the delusive expectation of flanking it, as though there were side paths whereby mankind can circumvent fate and walk around that which must be , just as if it were not. Thus it came to pass that when the South seceded, as every intelligent man ought to have been perfectly sure would be the case, a confusion fell for a time upon the North. In that section of the country there was for a few months a spectacle which has no parallel in history. There was paralysis, there was disintegration; worse than either, there was an utter lack of straight sense and clear thought. There were politicians, editors, writers, agitators, reformers in multitudes whose reiteration of their moral convictions, whose intense addresses and uncompromising articles, had for years been bringing about precisely this event; yet when it came, it appeared that no one of them had contemplated it with any realizing appreciation, no one of them was ready for it, no one of them had any sensible, practical course of action to recommend. There was no union among them, no cohesion of opinion or of purpose, no agreement of forecast; each had his own individual notion as to what could be done, what should be done, what would be the train of events. Politically speaking, society was a mere parcel of units, with topical proximity, but with no other element of aggregation. The immensity of the crisis seemed to shake men's minds; the enigma of duty involved such possibilities, in case of a wrong solution, that the wisest leaders, becoming dazed and overawed, uttered the grossest follies... Continue reading book >>

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