The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
ABRAHAM LINCOLN

EVERY American may be presumed to be familiar with the external facts of Abraham Lincoln's early life,--the rude cabin, the shiftless father, the dead mother's place filled by the tender step-mother; the brief schooling, the hungry reading of the few books by the fire-light; the hard farm- work, with a turn now of rail-splitting, now of flat-boating; the country sports and rough good-fellowship; the upward steps as store-clerk and lawyer. But the interior qualities that made up his character and built his fortune will bear further study.

He was composed of traits which seemed to contradict each other. In a sense this is true of everyone. Dr. Holmes says (in substance): "The vehicle in which each one of us crosses life's narrow isthmus between two oceans is not a one-seated sulky, but an omnibus." Sometimes, as depicted in that wonderful parable, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one inmate ejects the others. But in Lincoln the various elements were wrought as years passed by into harmony.

He was prized among his early companions as a wit and story-teller. The women complained because at their parties all the men were drawn off to hear Abe Lincoln's stories. When he came to be a public speaker, he feathered the shafts of his argument with jest and anecdote. The vein of humor in him was rich and deep; it helped him through the hard places. When as President he announced

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