Abraham Lincoln eBook

George Haven Putnam
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 516 pages of information about Abraham Lincoln.
he met with the negro in a way that to him was more memorable.  He and the young fellows with him saw, among the sights of New Orleans, negroes chained, maltreated, whipped and scourged; they came in their rambles upon a slave auction where a fine mulatto girl was being pinched and prodded and trotted up and down the room like a horse to show how she moved, that “bidders might satisfy themselves,” as the auctioneer said, of the soundness of the article to be sold.  John Johnston and John Hanks and Abraham Lincoln saw these sights with the unsophisticated eyes of honest country lads from a free State.  In their home circle it seems that slavery was always spoken of with horror.  One of them had a tenacious memory and a tenacious will.  “Lincoln saw it,” John Hanks said long after, and other men’s recollections of Lincoln’s talk confirmed him—­“Lincoln saw it; his heart bled; said nothing much, was silent.  I can say, knowing it, that it was on this trip that he formed his opinion of slavery.  It ran its iron into him then and there, May, 1831.  I have heard him say so often.”  Perhaps in other talks old John Hanks dramatised his early remembrances a little; he related how at the slave auction Lincoln said, “By God, boys, let’s get away from this.  If ever I get a chance to hit that thing, I’ll hit it hard.”

The youth, who probably did not express his indignation in these prophetic words, was in fact chosen to deal “that thing” a blow from which it seems unlikely to recover as a permitted institution among civilised men, and it is certain that from this early time the thought of slavery never ceased to be hateful to him.  Yet it is not in the light of a crusader against this special evil that we are to regard him.  When he came back from this voyage to his new home in Illinois he was simply a youth ambitious of an honourable part in the life of the young country of which he was proud.  We may regard, and he himself regarded, the liberation of the slaves, which will always be associated with his name, as a part of a larger work, the restoration of his country to its earliest and noblest tradition, which alone gave permanence or worth to its existence as a nation.

CHAPTER II

THE GROWTH OF THE AMERICAN NATION

1. The Formation of a National Government.

It is of course impossible to understand the life of a politician in another country without study of its conditions and its past.  In the case of America this study is especially necessary, not only because the many points of comparison between that country and our own are apt to conceal profound differences of customs and institutions, but because the broader difference between a new country and an old is in many respects more important than we conceive.  But in the case of Lincoln there is peculiar reason for carrying such a study far back.  He himself appealed unceasingly to a tradition of the past.  In tracing the causes which up to his time had tended to conjoin the United States more closely and the cause which more recently had begun to threaten them with disruption, we shall be examining the elements of the problem with which it was his work in life to deal.

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Abraham Lincoln from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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