There is something in Washington or in Lincoln or Grant, that defies analysis. It is a moral elevation, a magnanimity, a nobleness and profoundness of mind. It is force of character and ability by which man is able to meet great emergencies. This is true greatness.
Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. If you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test.
Judged by this standard Abraham Lincoln stands out one of the purest, grandest and noblest characters of all time. Greatness was never more unconscious of itself than it was in him. It consisted in the fact that he made mistakes but rose above them.
Lincoln was a man of marvelous growth. The statesman or the military hero born and reared in a log cabin is a familiar figure in American history; but we may search in vain among our men of honor and fame for one whose origin and early life equaled Abraham Lincolnís in obscurity and lack of education.
He sprang from the poorest class in the border south. Hard work his early lot; his education a minus factor. In the year of his majority his father moved to Illinois. Here Lincoln began for himself the hard battle of life. He became an ambitious young man. Unquestionably in some mysterious way, he arrived at the conclusion that this world had something far higher for him than neighborhood joker, champion wrestler or prize wood chopper.
A lawyer lent him a copy of Blackstone and he commenced the study of law; was admitted to the bar in 1836; rose rapidly in his profession and became an eminent lawyer. Being more adapted to the part of jurist than an advocate, owing to the striking uprightness of his character, he applied himself to this branch of his profession, and it may truly be said that his vivid sense of truth and justice had much to do with his effectiveness as a jurist. When he felt himself to be the protector of innocence, the defender of justice, or the prosecutor of wrong, he frequently disclosed such unexpected resources of reasoning, such depth of feeling, and rose to such fervor of appeal as to astonish and overwhelm his hearers, and make his appeal irresistible.
He continued to "ride the circuit," read books, tell funny stories to his fellow lawyers in the tavern, chat familiarly with his neighbors and become more and more widely known, trusted and beloved among the people of his State for his ability as a lawyer and politician for the integrity of his character and the ever-flowing spring of sympathetic kindness in his heart. His main ambition was that of political distinction, yet no one, at that time, would have suspected that he was the man destined to lead the nation through the greatest crisis of the century.
Nevertheless, he was growing, indeed, this is one prominent fact in Lincolnís lifeóhe never ceased growing. As captain in the Black Hawk war, as candidate for the legislature, as storekeeper, postmaster, surveyor and law student, he was always growing.
In 1846 he was elected to congress where he distinguished himself as a humorous speaker and rapidly advanced to the front as a statesman.
Lincoln was a statesman in the truest and grandest sense of the word. He was a type of honesty and moral integrity. He had a conscience "void of offense toward God, and toward men." A lover of the truth and men learned to trust him. He was just and for that reason would not put upon others that which he would not put upon himself. He studied the questions of the day ad founded his opinions on truth and justice.
It was not until 1854 when the slavery question had been thrust into politics as the paramount issue, that Lincolnís powers were aroused to their fullest capacity. He plunged into arduous study of the question, in its legal, historical and moral aspects, until his mind became a complete arsenal of argument.
Now he was able to cope with any political antagonist. The time had come when the Republican party required a man to put forward as their standard bearer one who would be equal for the coming election.
It was during this canvass that he first revealed, in his great debates with Stephen A. Douglas, the full scope of his originality and genius. Subsequent to this combat of giants, he was duly elected President.
No President, before or since, ever took his seat under such difficulties. The situation which confronted him was appalling; secession of the Southern States was fully organized, and less than a month before his inauguration seven of them had already seceded.
During his inaugural address he declared his fixed purpose to uphold the Constitution and preserve the integrity of the Union. It was his policy to ignore the action of the seceded States as a thing in itself null, and void and of no effect.
Lincoln was the man whom Providence placed at the head of the nation in the supreme hour of its destiny. When he assumed the reins of government he was surrounded by traitors. The government was without army, without navy, without credit. He spoke, and two millions of men sprang, as from the ground. He breathed, and the bosom of the ocean was covered with ships of war. He placed his hand upon Wall street and the credit of the government was secured. He surrounded himself with the best and truest counselors of the time.
He signed his name and the shackles fell from the limbs of four million of slaves. His was a greatness for the time. He was the Moses of a new dispensationócalled of God to lead the hosts of captives out of the bondage house of their oppression. Like his great prototype he was not permitted to see the land of promise. He led the people safely through, but he was not allowed to guide them across the Jordan.
On the morning of April 15, 1865, God called Abraham Lincoln away from mortal sight.
Measured by what he did as a statesman and leader, he stands head and shoulders above all rulers of men in the annals of the six thousand years of Human History.
While a "solitary strip remains in our banner," while a "single star is blazoned on its field of blue," so long will the deeds, the heroism and loyalty of Abraham Lincoln be told to generations yet unborn.