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T was now but a few weeks until Mr. Lincoln was to
become the constitutional ruler of one of the great nations of the earth, and to begin to expend appropriations, to wield armies, to apportion patronage, powers, offices, and honors, such as few sovereigns have ever had at command. The eyes of all mankind were bent upon him to see how he would solve a problem in statesmanship to which the philosophy of Burke and the magnanimity of Wellington might have been unequal. In the midst of a political canvass in his own State but a few years before, impressed with the gravity of the great issues which then loomed but just above the political horizon, he had been the first to announce, amid the objections and protestations of his friends and political associates, the great truth, that “a house divided against itself cannot stand;" that the perpetuity of the Union depended upon its becoming devoted either to the interests of freedom or slavery. And now, by a turn of fortune unparalleled in history, he had been chosen to preside over the interests of the nation; while, as yet unseen to him, the question that perplexed the founders of the government, which ever since had been a disturbing element in the national life, and had at last arrayed section against section, was destined to reach its final settlement through the fierce struggle of civil war. In many respects his situation was exceptionally trying. He was the first President of the United States elected by a strictly sectional vote. The party which elected him, and the parties which had been defeated, were inflamed by the heat of the canvass. The
former, with faith in their principles, and a natural eagerness for the prizes now within their reach, were not disposed to compromise their first success by any lowering of their standard or any concession to the beaten ; while many of the latter saw in the success of the triumphant party an attack on their most cherished rights, and refused in consequence to abide by the result of the contest. To meet so grave an exigency, Mr. Lincoln had neither precedents nor experience to guide him, nor could he turn elsewhere for greater wisdom than he possessed. The leaders of the new party were as yet untried in the great responsibilities which had fallen upon him and them. There were men among them who had earned great reputation as leaders of an opposition ; but their eloquence had been expended upon a single subject of national concern. They knew how to depict the wrongs of a subject race, and also how to set forth the baleful effects of an institution like slavery on national character. But was it' certain that they were equally able to govern with wisdom and prudence the mighty people whose affairs were now given to their keeping ?
Until the day of his overthrow at Chicago, Mr. Seward had been the recognized chief of the party; had, like Mr. Lincoln, taught the existence of an irrepressible conflict between the North and the South, and had also inculcated the idea of a law higher than the Constitution, which was of more binding force than any human enactment, until many of his followers had come to regard the Constitution with little respect. It was this Constitution which Mr. Lincoln, having sworn to preserve, protect, and defend, was to attempt to administer to the satisfaction of the minority which had elected him, and which was alone expected to support him. To moderate the passions of his own partisans, to conciliate his opponents in the North, and divide and weaken his enemies in the South, was a task which no mere politician was likely to perform, yet one which none but the most expert of politicians and wisest of statesmen was fitted to undertake. It required moral as well as intellectual qualities of the highest order. William of Orange, with a like duty and similar difficulties, was ready at one time and another to give up the effort in despair, although aided by " the divinity that hedges round a king." Few men believed that Mr. Lincoln possessed a single qualification for his great office. His friends had indicated what they considered his chief merit, when they insisted that he was a very common, ordinary man, just like the rest of “the people,” – “Old Abe," a railsplitter and a story-teller. They said he was good and honest and well-meaning; but they took care not to pretend that he was great. He was thoroughly convinced that there was too much truth in this view of his character. He felt deeply and keenly his lack of experience in the conduct of public affairs.
He spoke then and afterwards about the duties of the Presidency with much diffidence, and said, with a story about a justice of the peace in Illinois, that they constituted his "great first case misunderstood.” He had never been a ministerial or an executive officer. His most intimate friends feared that he possessed no administrative ability; and in this opinion he seems to have shared himself, at least in his calmer and more melancholy moments.
Having put his house in order, arranged all his private business, made over his interest in the practice of Lincoln & Herndon to Mr. Herndon, and requested “ Billy," as a last favor, to leave his name on the old sign for four years at least, Mr. Lincoln was ready for the final departure from home and all familiar things. And this period of transition from private to public life -- a period of waiting and preparing for the vast responsibilities that were to bow down his shoulders during the years to come — affords us a favorable opportunity to turn back and look at him again as his neighbors saw him from 1837 to 1861.
Mr. Lincoln was about six feet four inches high, the length of his legs being out, of all proportion to that of his body. When he sat down on a chair, he seemed no taller than an average man, measuring from the chair to the crown of his head; but his knees rose high in front, and a marble placed on the cap of one of them would roll down a steep descent to the hip. He weighed about a hundred and eighty pounds; but he was thin through the breast, narrow across the shoulders, and had the general appearance of a consumptive subject. Standing up, he stooped slightly forward; sitting down, he usually crossed his long legs, or threw them over the arms of the chair, as the most convenient mode of disposing of them. His “ head was long, and tall from the base of the brain and the eyebrow;" his forehead high and narrow, but inclining backward as it rose. The diameter of his head from ear to ear was six and a half inches, and from front to back eight inches. The size of his hat was seven and an eighth. His ears were large, standing out almost at right-angles from his head; his cheek-bones high and prominent; his eyebrows heavy, and jutting forward over small, sunken blue eyes ; his nose long, large, and blunt, the tip of it rather ruddy, and slightly awry toward the right-hand side ; his chin, projecting far and sharp, curved upward to meet a thick, material, lower lip, which hung downward; his cheeks were flabby, and the loose skin fell in wrinkles, or folds; there was a large mole on his right cheek, and an uncommonly prominent Adam's apple on his throat ; his hair was dark brown in color, stiff, unkempt, and as yet showing little or no sign of advancing age or trouble ; his complexion was very dark, his skin yellow, shrivelled, and “ leathery.” In short, to use the language of Mr. Herndon," he was a thin, tall, wiry, sinewy, grizzly, raw-boned man,” “ looking woe-struck.” His countenance was haggard and careworn, exhibiting all the marks of deep and protracted suffering. Every feature of the man - the hollow eyes, with the dark rings beneath; the long, sallow, cadaverous face, intersected by those peculiar deep lines ; his whole air; his walk; his long, silent reveries, broken at long intervals by sudden and startling exclamations, as if to confound an observer who might suspect the nature of his thoughts — showed he was a man of sorrows, not sorrows of to-day or yesterday, but long-treasured and deep,
He was a plain, homely, sad, weary-looking man, to whom one's heart warmed involuntarily, because he seemed at once miserable and kind.
On a winter's morning, this man could be seen wending his way to the market, with a basket on his arm, and a little boy at his side, whose small feet rattled and pattered over the ice-bound pavement, attempting to make up by the number of his short steps for the long strides of his father. The little fellow jerked at the bony hand which held his, and prattled and questioned, begged and grew petulant, in a vain effort to make his father talk to him. But the latter was probably unconscious of the other's existence, and stalked on, absorbed in his own reflections. He wore on such occasions an old gray shawl, rolled into a coil, and wrapped like a rope around his neck. The rest of his clothes were in keeping. “He did not walk cunningly, — Indian-like, - but cautiously and firmly.”. His tread was even and strong. He was a little pigeon-toed; and this, with another peculiarity, made his walk very singular. He set his whole foot flat on the ground, and in turn lifted it all at once, — not resting momentarily upon the toe as the foot rose, nor upon the heel as it fell. He never wore his shoes out at the heel and the toe more, as most men do, than at the middle of the sole ; yet his gait was not altogether awkward, and there was manifest physical power in his step. As he moved along thus silent, abstracted, his thoughts dimly reflected in his sharp face, men turned to look after him as an object of sympathy as well as curiosity: “his melancholy,” in the words of Mr. Herndon, “ dripped from him as he walked.” If, however, he met a friend in the street, and was roused by a loud, hearty “Good-morning, Lincoln !” he would grasp the friend's hand with one or both of his own, and, with his usual expression of “ Howdy, howdy,” would detain him to hear a story : something reminded him of it; it happened in Indiana, and it must be told, for it was wonderfully pertinent.
After his breakfast-hour, he would appear at his office, and