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.
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.