The gravity of the crisis being undeniable, the people of the North queried, with more anxiety than ever before, as to what kind of a chief they had taken to carry them through it. But the question which all asked none could answer. Mr. Lincoln had achieved a good reputation as a politician and a stump speaker. Whatever a few might think, this was all that any one knew. The narrow limitations of his actual experience certainly did not encourage a belief in his probable fitness to encounter duties more varied, pressing, numerous, novel, and difficult than had ever come so suddenly to confound any ruler within recorded time. Later on, when it was seen with what rare capacity he met demands so exacting, many astonished and excitable observers began to cry out that he was inspired. This, however, was sheer nonsense. That the very peculiar requirements of these four years found a president so well responding to them may be fairly regarded, by those who so please, as a specific Providential interference,—a striking one among many less striking. But, in fact, nothing in Mr. Lincoln’s life requires, for its explanation, the notion of divine inspiration. His doings, one and all, were perfectly intelligible as the outcome of honesty of purpose, strong common sense, clear reasoning powers, and a singular sagacity in reading the popular mind. Intellectually speaking, a clear and vigorous thinking capacity was his chief trait. This sounds commonplace and uninteresting, but a more serviceable qualification could not have been given him. The truth is, that it was part of the good fortune of the country that the President was not a brilliant man. Moreover, he was cool, shrewd, dispassionate, and self-possessed, and was endowed really in an extraordinary degree with an intermingling of patience and courage, whereby he was enabled both to await and to endure results. Above all he was a masterful man; not all the time and in small matters, and not often in an opinionated way; but, from beginning to end, whenever he saw fit to be master, master he was.
This last fact, when it became known, answered another question which people were asking: In whose hands were the destinies of the North to be? In those of Mr. Lincoln? or in those of the cabinet? or in those of influential advisers, something like what have been called “favorites” in Europe, and “kitchen cabinet” in the more homely phrase of the United States? The early impression was that Mr. Lincoln did not know a great deal. How could he? Where and how could he have learned much? It must be admitted that it was entirely natural that his advisers, and other influential men concerned in public affairs, should adopt and act upon the theory that Mr. Lincoln, emerging so sharply from such a past as his had been, into such a crisis as was now present, must need a vast amount of instruction, guidance, suggestion. Accordingly there were many gentlemen who stood ready, not to say eager, to supply