Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln/Volume 3/Lincoln's Early Oratory

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Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 3
G. S. Hubbard, Alexander H. Stephens, William H. Herndon & J. M. Sturtevant., ed. Marion Mills Miller
Lincoln's Early Oratory.

LINCOLN'S EARLY ORATORY[1]

Lincoln in the Legislature.

By Gurdon S. Hubbard, Legislator at Vandalia.

My acquaintance with the lamented President Lincoln began in the winter of 1832-3, during the session of the Legislature of this State, of which I was a member, and warmly interested in procuring an act for the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, for which I had introduced a bill, which was defeated. I then introduced a bill for a railroad, instead of a canal, which passed the House, lost in the Senate by the casting vote of the Speaker, Zadoc Casey. At the next session Mr. Lincoln was a member. I, as a lobbyist, attended that and the successive sessions until the passage of the act to construct the canal. Mr. Lincoln, in and out of the Legislature, favored its construction at the earliest possible moment, by his advice, and rendered efficient aid. Indeed, I very much doubt if the bill could have passed as early as it did without his valuable help. We were thrown much together, our intimacy increasing. I never had a friend to whom I was more warmly attached. His character was nearly faultless. Possessing a warm, generous heart, genial, affable, honest, courteous to his opponents, persevering, industrious in research, never losing sight of the principal point under discussion, aptly illustrating by his stories always introduced with good effect, he was free from political trickery or denunciation of the private character of his opponents. In debate firm and collected, with "charity towards all, malice towards none," he won the confidence of the public, even of his political opponents.


Lincoln in Congress.

By Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederate States of America.

I knew Mr. Lincoln well and intimately. We were both members of the Thirtieth Congress, that is, from 1847 to 4th March, 1849. We both belonged to the Whig organization of that day, and were both ardent supporters of General Taylor to the Presidency in 1848. Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Wm. Ballard Preston, and Mr. Thos. S. Flournoy of Virginia, Mr. Toombs of Georgia, Mr. E. C. Campbell of Florida, and one or two others, and myself formed the first Congressional Taylor Club; we were known as the Young Indians, who by our extensive correspondence organized the Taylor movement throughout the country, which resulted in his nomination at Philadelphia. Mr. Lincoln was careful as to his manners, awkward in his speech, but was possessed of a very strong, clear, and vigorous mind. He always attracted the riveted attention of the House when he spoke; his manner of speech as well as thought was original. He had no model. He was a man of strong convictions, and was what Carlyle would have called an earnest man. He abounded in anecdotes; he illustrated everything that he was talking or speaking about by an anecdote; his anecdotes were always exceedingly apt and pointed, and socially he always kept his company in a roar of laughter. In my last interview with him at the celebrated Hampton Roads Conference in 1865, this trait of his character seemed to be as prominent and striking as ever. He was a man of strong attachments, and his nature overflowed with the milk of human kindness. Widely as we were separated in politics in the latter days of his life, yet I ever cherish for him a high degree of personal regard.


The Elements of Lincoln's Eloquence.

By W. H. Herndon, Lincoln's Law Partner.

Mr. Lincoln's eloquence lay, first, in the strength of his logical faculty, his supreme power of reasoning, his great understanding, and his love of principle; second, in his clear, exact, and very accurate vision; third, in his cool and masterly statement of his principles, around which the issues gather; in the statement of those issues, and the grouping of the facts that are to carry conviction, aided by his logic, to the minds of men of every grade of intelligence. He was so clear that he could not be misunderstood nor misrepresented. He stood square and bolt upright to his convictions, and formed by them his thoughts and utterances. Mr. Lincoln's mind was not a wide, deep, broad, generalizing, and comprehensive mind, nor versatile, quick, bounding here and there, as emergencies demanded it. His mind was deep, enduring, and strong, running in deep iron grooves, with flanges on its wheels. His mind was not keen, sharp, and subtile; it was deep, exact, and strong.


Lincoln's Love of Truth.

By J. M. Sturtevant, President of Illinois College, Jacksonville, Ill.

I knew Mr. Lincoln very well, I may say somewhat intimately, before he was ever thought of in connection with the exalted station to which he was afterwards elected. In those years of his comparative obscurity, I knew him as preëminently a truthful man. His love of truth was conspicuous in all his thinking. The object of his pursuit was truth, and not victory in argument or the triumph of his party, or the success of his own cause. This was always conspicuous in his conversation. It constituted the charm of his conversation. In his society one plainly saw that his aim was so to use words as to express and not conceal his real thoughts. This characteristic had formed his style, both of conversation and of writing. His habitual love of truth had led him successfully to cultivate such a use of language as would most clearly and accurately express his thoughts. His words were a perfectly transparent medium through which his thought always shone out with unclouded distinctness. No matter on what subject he was speaking, any person could understand him. This characteristic of his mind and heart gave a peculiar complexion to his speeches, whether at the bar, or in discussing the great political issues of the time. He always preferred to do more than justice rather than less to an opponent. It was often noticed that he stated his opponent's argument with more force than his opponent himself had done. In the opening of his argument, his friends would often feel for the moment that he was surrendering the whole ground in debate. They had no need to concern themselves on that subject; it would always turn out that he had only surrendered fallacious grounds, on which it was unsafe to rely, while the solid foundation on which his own faith rested was left intact, as the enduring basis on which he would build his argument. He was a very conscientious man; his anti-slavery opinions had their seat in no mere political expediency, but in the very depths of his moral nature. In the summer of 1856 he delivered a speech to a very large audience assembled on the public square in this city; the population of this country were at that time very largely of Southern origin, and had those views of slavery which prevailed in the States from which they came. Yet Lincoln made a very frank avowal of his opposition to slavery on moral grounds, and drew his argument from the deepest roots of natural justice; yet he presented the case with such irresistible eloquence that his speech was received with the greatest favor, and often with bursts of hearty applause. That speech went far in all this region to establish his reputation as a popular orator.

  1. In 1882 Osborn H. Oldroyd of Springfield, Ill., published under the title of "The Lincoln Memorial" a collection of tributes to Lincoln, chiefly from those who had known him personally. With the editor's permission we reproduce a few extracts bearing upon Lincoln's oratory during the period (1832 to 1856) covered by the present volume.