Abraham Lincoln: A story and a Play/Lincoln The President
Lincoln the President
Before Mr. Lincoln left his quiet home for Washington, he went to visit his old stepmother, whom he had always loved dearly. She cried as she bade him good-bye.
"I fear that enemies will take your life," she told him.
She seemed to feel that she would never see this dear stepson again, and Mr. Lincoln himself was overcome with sadness. He could not shake it off for some time.
The White House, the beautiful home for presidents at Washington, was waiting for the Lincoln family, and here they settled themselves after the thundering of cannon and the cheers of the people told the world that Abraham Lincoln was now at the head of the government.
Four baby boys had been born to the Lincolns in Springfield. One of them had died there, but there were still three little sons to enjoy the new life of the big city, and President Lincoln was never so happy as when he could frolic with his boys in the White House gardens. Heavy cares, however, began to press upon him and kept him very busy. There was great trouble in the land. Clouds of war were fast spreading over the blue sky of peace. The question Lincoln had asked himself when a young man must now be settled.
Should there be slaves in the country or not? Some of the states said "No," and others said "Yes," declaring that each state should have the right to decide for itself.
Lincoln had scarcely time to get used to his new duties before the war burst forth,—a terrible war. Then it was that the new President showed how great he was,—how wise and strong, how loving towards all, whether they believed as he did or not.
No other man in the whole country could have rilled his place, for no other had such a great heart and farseeing mind. Night and day he was busy planning how the war might be ended and the country saved. Yet, with the great load of care, he was ever willing to stop and listen to the stories of those who were in trouble.
More than one unhappy woman came to beg for the life of her husband or son who had been sentenced to die. They were never turned away.
"Let the man live and have one more chance," the President would say in one case after another. "His heart is too tender," people sometimes declared. But they did not know him. When firmness was needed, no one could be more fearless than he. He seemed then to forget everything else in doing his duty.
How he grieved for the soldiers dying in battle, and for the loved ones at home who were left to grieve for them! His great heart would have been broken over the sorrows of others if his strong will had not turned his thoughts at times to other things.
Because of this he was still able to see the fun in whatever was happening around him. He might be discussing a most serious question with the men who made up his cabinet. Suddenly he would think of a funny story which he would repeat so cleverly, that all were set laughing. Moreover, this very story might make them understand the question which had troubled them better than if they should spend hours in talking seriously about it.
Whenever he could spare the time, President Lincoln would ride out to the hospitals near Washington to visit the sick and wounded soldiers. He had kind and tender words for each, and the sight of his sorrowful face, so full of love for all, gave courage to many a suffering man.
While Lincoln was feeling so strongly for others, a great sorrow came into his own home. His favorite son Willie, a bright, lovable boy, was taken ill and died. It seemed as though the father's heart would break. New lines of sadness came into his face and he never seemed quite the same afterwards.
After Willie's death President Lincoln tried to comfort himself with his youngest son "Tad," a merry little fellow. No matter how busy his father might be, Tad was allowed to run in and out of the office whenever he wished. Many a time the little boy spent the whole evening there, curling himself up upon the floor when he was tired out, and dropping off to sleep. Then his father would lift the child tenderly in his strong arms and carry him off to bed.
Tad probably had more freedom in the White House than any other President's child since then. The little boy was very fond of a tame goat and once when he was away with his mother, Mr. Lincoln wrote his wife: "Tell dear Tad that poor Nanny Goat is lost, and Mrs. Cuthbert and I are in distress about it. The day you left, Nanny was found resting herself and chewing her little cud on the middle of Tad's bed, but now she is gone. The gardner kept complaining that she destroyed the flowers till it was concluded to bring her down to the White House. This was done, and the second day she disappeared and has not been heard of since. This is the last we know of poor Nanny."
We can thus see that even in the midst of terrible care and worry over his country, President Lincoln found time to interest himself in what was dear to his little boy. The older son Robert was away at this time in college, but after he graduated he came home to take part in the war.
On the first day of January, 1863, President Lincoln signed his name to a very important paper about which he had been thinking for a long time. By this paper all the slaves in the United States were set free. When the news spread that this had been done, the whole country was greatly excited. Many of President Lincoln's best friends thought he was unwise. They said: "It is too early to set the slaves free." Afterwards, however, people came to see that it was the best thing possible, and that Lincoln had chosen the right time. The war raged on and news kept coming to Washington of one terrible battle after another. Sometimes it seemed as though one side would win, and sometimes the other. Then came the hard fight at Gettysburg, when the turning-point was reached.
The end of the war was now in sight. After that battle it was decided that the field where it had taken place should be made into a great cemetery. Soldiers who fell in the war, no matter on what side they had fought, should be buried there.
A day was chosen on which the field of Gettysburg should be dedicated. Thousands of people from different parts of the country gathered there. William Everett, a great orator, was the chief speaker. For two hours the immense gathering before him listened in wonder. The grace of the man, the charm of his voice, the beauty of his words, all moved his listeners deeply, and when the speech came to an end, the applause was tremendous.
At last the people became quiet, and another speaker rose before them. It was President Lincoln, tall, thin, homely, ungraceful. Many of those present had never seen their President before. They were almost shocked at the difference between him and the elegant, polished William Everett. And now Lincoln began to speak.
His manner was awkward, but the first sentence was scarcely finished when there came a change. The eyes of the speaker began to burn with the fire of deep feeling. His voice became deep and powerful. His manner was no longer lacking in grace. He had forgotten himself in his message.
And his listeners? The words of the speaker were so simple, yet so strong, that they longed to do the bidding of this man who seemed to-day as one sent from God. Yes, their country must have a new birth of freedom and it should be through their unselfish devotion.
It was not strange, therefore, that when the speech came to an end there was no sound in that great gathering. The feeling was too deep. The silence spoke more strongly than the loudest applause could have done.
To-day the world looks upon the Gettysburg Address as one of the greatest speeches ever made. The boys and girls of America take delight in reciting it, and as they do so they think of Abraham Lincoln, the hero, the lover and savior of his country.
On the fourth of March, 1865, Lincoln was again made President, and on that day he made another wonderful speech which will be long remembered. He pled for good will towards all men, whether they had fought for or against their country, for more tender love toward the sick and sorrowing,—everything, in fact, that might bring about, "a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all Nations."
The clouds of war were now fast scattering and the President had reason to be happy. Through his love and patience and wisdom the country would be saved.
"Take better care of yourself," his friends kept saying to him. "The times are full of danger. Bad men are everywhere about us, and may work you harm unless you are protected."
But Lincoln would not heed them. With his great kind heart, he would not let thoughts of enemies enter his mind.
He went in and out of the White House and through the streets of the city as simply as a common workman might have done. Every day hundreds of people sought him, and he received them freely, whether they were friends or strangers.
"If I were to guard against all danger, I should have to shut myself up in an iron box," he said with a laugh. "And then I could not do my duty as President."
So, though his friends finally insisted on having a guard to watch daily about the White House, and a squad of mounted soldiers to follow his carriage whenever he went out to drive, he was still careless about protecting himself in many ways.
The 14th of April was at hand. It was Good Friday, and in the churches that day there were many grateful prayers because of the news of coming peace which had reached the people. President Lincoln was very happy.
In the morning he talked with the men in his cabinet. He said that all anger must be put aside. He himself would take no part in hanging those who had fought against the Union, for the one thought now should be peace.
Robert Lincoln had just came back from the war and his father was able to spend a pleasant hour talking with him about what he had seen. Then came a delightful afternoon when the President took a long drive with his wife. He talked of the quiet, happy life they would have together when his work in Washington should be over. He spoke, too, of his gratitude to the good God who had brought such blessings to the country.
Never had he seemed more full of love towards all men than he did that Good Friday afternoon.
Then came the evening, when with his wife and two friends the President went to the theater. The play had already begun when they entered the box but the band immediately began, "Hail to the Chief," and the audience stood up and cheered.
After that the play went on. Lincoln, cheerful and happy, sat back to enjoy it. He little dreamed that a man, a noted actor, was already drawing near to carry out a deadly plot. The heart of this man was full of hatred for his country and that country's chief. His mind was crazed by liquor. It was almost ten o'clock when, suddenly, a shot was heard in the box where Lincoln was sitting.
A cry rang out through the theater, "He has shot the President," as the great leader's head fell forward and his eyes closed. Those eyes would never look again upon this world, and with the dawn of a new day, the last breath had been drawn by the greatest of all Americans. His work had been done and his country saved.
He might not live to enjoy with his people the peace which he had prayed for so earnestly. He had entered forever into a greater peace where war and hate could have no place. Great was the sorrow in the land. In the homes of rich and poor, the white man and the black, could be heard the sobs of women and children. Even strong men were not ashamed to weep.
The friend of all creatures, whom God had given to this country in its greatest need, had been suddenly taken away. The booming of the cannons and the tolling of bells could tell but little how great was the loss. The humble railsplitter, the youth to whom a dollar had once seemed a fortune, had climbed alone, step by step, from the lowland of poverty and ignorance to the very summit of the mountain of progress. He had become a savior and a martyr.