Companions of the Maryland Commandery:
Abraham Lincoln was long since declared by eminent authority, a mighty master of statecraft. John Hay pronounced a deliberate judgment that Lincoln, despite all his foibles, is the loftiest character since Christ. Carl Schurz esteemed the measure of his achievements full enough for immortality.
For who best meets the needs of his own hour Will live forever in the minds of men.
The cotemporaneous world unanimously accords to Lincoln a statesmanship of highest rank, and the verdict of that world justifies the faith of you, the soldiers of the Republic, who, under the martyr-President, reeked not of your own lives, that the Nation might endure. His transcendent greatness conceded by all men, it would be vain indeed to seek to demonstrate it here. But we may, without too close analysis, refer in tender memory of the glorious events in which you were participants, to salient features of his high career illustrating his indisputable leadership.
Lincoln, during service in the Legislature of Illinois, took an advanced position concerning slavery. In early professional experience before the courts of his State, he displayed distinguished forensic ability and acumen. Having taken an earnest part in the Harrison campaign of 1840, he accepted the Whig nomination for Congress, and was elected to the House of Representatives. Returning from duty at Washington to vivid and successful activity at the bar of Illinois, he finally engaged in the famous debates with Douglas, which, if they sent his adversary to the Senate, yet reserved for Lincoln himself the greatest gift of the Republic.
I charge you, he said, to drop every paltry and insignificant thought for any man's success. It is nothing; I am nothing; Judge Douglas is nothing. But do not destroy that immortal emblem of humanity - the Declaration of American Independence."
The eloquence of that patriotic appeal is still reverberate for you who stood with him, consciously, upon the precipice of awful war. Nor can the fortunate obliteration of old animosities make you unmindful of the violent vituperation which prevailed during the Lincoln administration, nor cause you to forget the confusion of its own adherents, both civil and military - although the bitterness of strife has been allayed, by reason, in large degree, of the influence of his exalted self-oblivion and statesmanship.
Breathing the spirit of moderation, union and peace, Lincoln's first inaugural failed, nevertheless, to restrain those whose anger it sought to appease. The text cannot be too often repeated. Supreme in its noble dignity, it thus proceeds:
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection . . . . The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
You need only recall the conditions preceding the inauguration of 1861 to appreciate the following encomium of your commander-in-chief from a Philadelphia journal :
"Men felt," it says, "that a new political era had dawned, and breathed more freely, even in the face of the dangers which encompassed the Republic. They saw that Lincoln had carefully studied the situation of affairs, and was prepared to bring all the powers of his sterling good sense and comprehensive practical judgment to the mastery of the problems to be solved by him as the head of the Nation. They fully appreciated the rare foresight and skill in briefly presenting the true questions at issue in their proper bearings, and the calm, candid appeal to the Nation in all its parts, in behalf of law, order and peace, which made this speech the wisest utterance of the times.
In the years when you, Brethren, were with the colors, it was Lincoln's task to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to maintain the national integrity, to restore the spirit of union among vindictive belligerents. It seemed indeed a task beyond human competence, but amid all the anxieties and vicissitudes and the costly sacrifices upon the altar of freedom, the President wrought out his great purposes magnificently, and magnificently solved the problems of constructive statesmanship.
The tide of his power was rising in continuous crescendo. The Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Speech and the Second Inaugural have become his most renowned master-pieces. They belong to the history of the race, and need no quotation here. The first has been said to constitute with Magna Charta and the Declaration of Independence, a trio of the great state papers which mark the progress of Anglo-Saxon civilization. "If," says Bryce, "the Proclamation was of doubtful constitutionality, it has been approved by posterity." Lincoln himself modestly invoked for his great ordinance of liberty the considerate judgment of mankind; richly has it been bestowed.
Men had, it is true, already perceived Lincoln's lucidity of thought and inflexibility of logic; they bad grasped his tact and discrimination; they had recognized his profound knowledge of human nature - his mastery of every subject which claimed his earnest attention; they had observed his accurate interpretation of the popular will. But these, his most exalted addresses, revealed, with all the dignity, of native faculty and sheer intellectual potency, a religious and poetic inspiration, a conviction and prophetic fervor, a compassion and spirit of forgiveness, as novel in a ruler as the addresses themselves were universal. The statesman who bad learned comparatively little from books, bad read the human heart with infallible discernment.
No Englishman since Oliver Cromwell had wielded so great authority. No ruler other than Lincoln has ever exercised supreme power with his calm sanity and regard for the rights of the people. Here, indeed, was an equipoise of head and heart and conscience before unknown of men. The President said in 1864:
I could not feel that to the best of my ability, I had even tried to preserve the constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of government, country and constitution altogether.
Companions of the Legion! you who bore.the battle, and have cared, as Lincoln bade you, for the widow and the orphan of the consecrated dead, - think you, there was ever other commander who taught his triumphant legions affirmatively the doctrine of charity for all - of malice toward none? What victor of the past concerned himself with binding up a nation's wounds, or with achievement of just and lasting peace among his people and with all nations?
Fate placed Lincoln, "says a recent commentator, "at the cross-roads of national destiny. The muse of history thrust before him a blank tablet and bade him write upon it the life or death of the New World republic. It is our privilege to read from that tablet the record of a Union preserved, and a new conception of dominion, majesty and power, tempered by the Golden Rule. "
And still more directly applicable to the aspect of his character which we are now considering, is this estimate by his former partner of his majestic personality:
A natural king - not ruling men, but leading them along the drifts and trends of their own tendencies; always keeping in mind the consent of the governed, he developed what the future historian will call the sublimest order of conservative statesmanship.
His life was an _expression of the motto of Marius, the Epicurean, - to render no one unhappy: Tristem neminem fecit. The hand that steered the ship of state had still time to pluck the thistle and plant the rose for those who suffered or were dismayed. The world has noted well; and long it will remember.
Soldiers of the Legion, you have known great things; you have lived history! Having served the cause of the Union and human freedom, you may well be content with silence. But as "the dropped sword passes to another arm," it is your cherished remembrance, and it will be the proud heritage of your children, to recall that your leader was the great commander whose heroic figure marks an era - whose gratitude for victory was ever free from taint of personal triumph. His tribute has enhanced your deeds of valor. The words he thought would lightly be forgotten have augmented the glory of Gettysburg.
Yes, this is he who ruled a world of men,
As might some prophet of the older day -
Brooding above the tempest and the fray
With deep-eyed thought and more than mortal ken.
A power was his beyond the touch of art
Or armed strength - his pure and mighty heart.
Whitelock, G. 1913. LINCOLN, THE STATESMAN. Address at the Lincoln Anniversary Banquet of the Maryland Commandery Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Hotel Belevedere, Baltimore, Maryland, February 27, 1913. Published by the Commandery. 7p.
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