Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Lincoln Still Had Much To Learn'


34th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
Throngs attended the White House reception on New Year's Day 1863. First came the members of the diplomatic corps, in full court dress, who were presented to the President by the Secretary of State. Lincoln shook hands with everyone in a cordial but businesslike manner, which reminded some observers of a farmer sawing wood. Then he passed the guests along to Mrs. Lincoln, who wore a rich dress of velvet, with lozenge trimming at the waist; it was black since she was still in mourning for Willie. Members of the cabinet followed the diplomats, and then came officers of the army and navy. In their wake what young Fanny Seward, daughter of the Secretary of State, called "people generally" passed through the reception line. Not until after noon could Lincoln escape upstairs to his office, where Seward and his son Frederick, the assistant secretary of state, presently brought him the duly engrossed copy of the final proclamation of emancipation. Excepting Tennessee and portions of other Southern states that were already under the control of the Union armies, it declared that all slaves in the states or portions of states still in rebellion, "are, and henceforward shall be free.: For this "act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity," the President invoked "the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.: "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper," Lincoln remarked, but he added ruefully that his arm was so stiff and numb from so many handshakes that he was not sure he could control a pen. "Now, this signature is one that will be closely examined," he said, "and if they find my hand trembled, they will say 'he had some compunctions.' But, any way, it is going to be done!" Then, grasping the pen firmly, he slowly and carefully wrote his name at the end of the proclamation.

In the months ahead he would frequently need to exhibit the same care and firmness, for his administration was beset from all sides. Union armies were defeated or immobilized. Union naval expeditions were spectacular failures. The border states were in turmoil, and Missouri was the scene of a guerrilla war. Foreign powers offered to mediate the conflict between the Union and the Confederacy. Discontent was on the rise in the North, and confidential sources told the President that secret pro-Confederate societies were plotting to overthrow the administration. Within the Republican party factional lines sharpened, and both Conservatives and Radicals agreed that Lincoln was a failure as President. Whatever self-assurance Lincoln had gained from the cabinet crisis of December 1862 was sorely tested during the first six months of 1863, for he found that the shrewdness, tact, and forbearance that had served him so well in face-to-face disagreements were not easily applied to large groups in conflict. In short, Lincoln still had much to learn about being President.

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