Abraham Lincoln attained the Presidency through two processes. The second of these was the sequel of the first, with a totally different time scale. The first was slow like the growth of a tree that has survived the buffeting of storms and the heat and cold of changing seasons. The second was swift like a horse-race or a football game. Through the first process Lincoln had become what is known as "presidential timber." There are those who like to think of him as a mystical character, a superman without the usual background of recognized growth, suddenly lifted from obscurity to the highest place, by unseen powers guarding the fate of America. But hero-worshippers who prefer a Lincoln thus enshrouded are not careful students of available information. Our Presidents and other foremost leaders in Cabinets, in Congress, and on the Bench, have as a rule made their way through years of gradual advancement. Abraham Lincoln was no exception; and he became a presidential possibility by virtue of a thirty-year period of testing and maturing, through experiences that lifted him to the rank of a well-seasoned statesman, as he turned his fiftieth year.
The second process, as I have remarked, was a rapid and exciting one. Among the many millions of American fellow-citizens in a given election year, there are a few men, perhaps twenty, perchance a round hundred, who are no longer on the slow upward path to recognition, but who are already inside the ring fence of what we may call the "presidential field." Some of these belong to one party, some to another. Some are so prominent that they and their friends have high expectations. Any one of the others, all being admittedly competent, might under given circumstances be chosen as a party's nominee. The field is large enough, and its envied occupants are numerous enough to include -- generally speaking -- all those recipient though less conspicuous aspirants termed in political parlance "dark horses." Lincoln, having climbed the long ascent to this field of presidential candidates, must go through the further process, with all its hazards and complications, that finally leaves all rivals behind, bringing him to the White House in a time of great emergency.
I am defining these two processes as explaining the purpose and method of the present volume and of the one which accompanies it as its companion and sequel. The first volume relates to the process of Lincoln's preparation, and I have chosen to call it "His Path to the Presidency." The second volume deals with the affairs of politics and government in "The Year of His Election." For the purposes of this second volume, the year in question begins in March, with Lincoln's return from his speaking adventure in New York and his tour of New England. It ends on the fourth day of the following March, thus including the occurrences of the four months during which Buchanan was rounding out his term, while Lincoln was waiting in the capacity of President-elect. In these trying months he was planning for his administration, selecting his Cabinet, settling in his own mind the main points of his policy, noting the efforts of President Buchanan to keep the peace, and watching with eager attention the progress of the Secession movement in the South, as it culminated in the forming of the Confederate government under the Presidency of Jefferson Davis.