On April 12, 1861, came with the bombardment of Fort Sumter the actual beginning of the War. The foreseeing shrewdness of Lincoln had resisted all suggestions for any such immediate action on the part of the government as would place upon the North the responsibility for the opening of hostilities. Shortly after the fall of Sumter, a despatch was drafted by Seward for the guidance of American ministers abroad. The first reports in regard to the probable action of European governments gave the impression that the sympathy of these governments was largely with the South. In France and England, expressions had been used by leading officials which appeared to foreshadow an early recognition of the Confederacy. Seward’s despatch as first drafted was unwisely angry and truculent in tone. If brought into publication, it would probably have increased the antagonism of the men who were ruling England. It appeared in fact to foreshadow war with England. Seward had assumed that England was going to take active part with the South and was at once throwing down the gauntlet of defiance. It was Lincoln who insisted that this was no time, whatever might be the provocation, for the United States to be shaking its fist at Europe. The despatch was reworded and the harsh and angry expressions were eliminated. The right claimed by the United States, in common with all nations, to maintain its own existence was set forth with full force, while it was also made clear that the nation was strong enough to maintain its rights against all foes whether within or without its boundaries. It is rather strange to recall that throughout the relations of the two men, it was the trained and scholarly statesman of the East who had to be repressed for unwise truculency and that the repression was done under the direction of the comparatively inexperienced representative of the West, the man who had been dreaded by the conservative Republicans of New York as likely to introduce into the national policy “wild and woolly” notions.
In Lincoln’s first message to Congress, he asks the following question: “Must a government be of necessity too strong for the liberties of its own people or too weak to maintain its own existence? Is there in all republics this inherent weakness?” The people of the United States were able under the wise leadership of Lincoln to answer this question “no.” Lincoln begins at once with the public utterances of the first year of the War to take the people of the United States into his confidence. He is their representative, their servant. He reasons out before the people, as if it constituted a great jury, the analysis of their position, of their responsibilities, and the grounds on which as their representative this or that decision is arrived at. Says Schurz: “Lincoln wielded the powers of government when stern resolution and relentless force were the order of the day, and, won and ruled the popular mind and heart by the tender sympathies of his nature.”