Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Lincoln would lean back on his chair to do his thinking. He would think about his speeches months in advance, writing and re-writing (yes it appears people wrote their own speeches back then). He would mumble the words out loud, get friends to read them aloud; and when it came time, he would read his speeches slowly (as I'm sure he did in Kalamazoo). What amazed me about this biography is that Lincoln's so called "eloquence" came with a lot of work. As a poor young man he would walk six miles to get a grammar book. Largely self-taught, he would devour books on grammar and speaking. Lincoln was very fond of the Psalms and used them for his speeches. For example, the main point of his Second Inaugural comes from Psalms 19:9: “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Lincoln really was a brave man. On his way to office he said: “I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it.” By "it" he meant the American promise "that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance." Indeed he was.
Now his track record on slavery is, according to the many biographies and books, ambiguous. He was sort of a split personality. His personal attitude towards slavery seemed to stay the same throughout his political career; but his political attitudes changed.
First Inaugural address:
"I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."
Later, after the war breaks out, Garrison and others are screaming for Lincoln to make a statement on slavery, to the make the war to be about slavery (as I said in my previous blog, people like Emerson wouldn't even let his son enlist for this reason). Lincoln replies immediately:
“if I could save the union and not save a single slave, I would do it. If I could save the union and save all the slaves, I would do it." Which this ends: "personally I wish all men were free." He also said “if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.”
Eventually he does make slavery the cause of the war:
“Without slavery the rebelion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue” (181).
He realized that “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free” (187), or as Martin Luther King would say, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” and “I must not ignore the wounded man on life's Jericho Road, because he is a part of me and I am a part of him. His agony diminishes me, and his salvation enlarges me."
the eloquent president