Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

By William O. Stoddard; Michael Burlingame | Go to book overview

Sketch 2

My Dear General--It is with more than a little hesitation that I attempt a description of the occupants of the White House during the first term of Mr. Lincoln's administration. Those who may take the trouble to read these sketches will be likely to obtain clearer ideas of them incidentally than I can hope to convey by a labored portraiture, and propriety forbids me to discuss too fully those who are still living. Different phases of Mr. Lincoln's character have been given with fair correctness by several writers, but none have painted the entire man as he really was. Nor can it now be well done. There are whole books stocked with his sayings and doings, and many living men who knew him intimately and loved him well; but we were and are too near to him, and our memories are crowded too full of the great events through whose eddying dust we saw him, for him to be thoroughly understood or appreciated by the present generation.

For five years Mr. Lincoln was the central figure of our age, and on him were concentrated the love, the faith, the reverence, the hate, the fear, and the calumny, of half the civilized world. The "plain people" understood him better than did the politicians; and he in turn had a wonderful perception of the real condition of the popular heart and will. For newspaper public opinion he cared little. At one time in 1861 he directed me to make a regular synopsis, every morning, of what I might deem the most important utterances of the leading public journals. I kept it up for a fortnight, and gave it up in utter despair of securing his attention to the result of my labors. He knew the people so much better than the editors did, that he could not bring himself to listen with any patience to the tissue of insane contradictions which then made up the staple of the public press.

Most people have a fair idea of his personal appearance, though the various paintings and photographs are open to like criticism with the pen portraits. Of the latter, the best which I have seen by far is the well known one

-148-

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