Abraham Lincoln: From His Own Words and Contemporary Accounts

By Roy Edgar Appleman; Abraham Lincoln | Go to book overview

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we can not hallow--this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

LINCOLN, ADDRESS AT DEDICATION OF SOLDIERS' NATIONAL CEMETERY AT GETTYSBURG, NOVEMBER 19, 1863.


34. A STATESMAN SPEAKS

Surely Mr. Lincoln's letter to Mr. Hodges, of Kentucky, in the spring of 1864 is one of the most remarkable documents he ever penned. It is a confession of faith. It reviews a war policy. It states his understanding of the oath he took to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. It is masterful prose. The reasoning is close, the composition compact and terse. Every word serves a purpose. None could be omitted without destroying the precise intent of the writer. Throughout there is a dignity, and at the same time a humility, which graces every word. This letter is a document that deserves the closest study of every student of American constitutional history, of the war policy of the Lincoln administration in relationship to the emancipation of the slaves, and of the man, Lincoln, himself. Of its kind, it is unfellowed.

My dear Sir: You ask me to put in writing the substance of what I verbally said the other day in your presence, to Governor Bramlette and Senator Dixon. It was about as follows:

"I am naturally antislavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel, and yet I have never understood that the presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times, and in many ways. And I aver that, to this day, I have done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery. I did understand, however, that my oath to

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