444. Henry Wilson to William H. Herndon.
Natick, Mass. May, 30th, 1867.
My Dear Sir,
In looking over my papers, I find a letter of yours of the 20th of August last requesting me to give you my ideas of Mr Lincoln's character as a man and a public officer. With this letter, I find another letter of Yours dated December 21st 1860 in answer to a letter of mine, asking you to give me your opinion of the President just elected. In this letter to me you say of Mr Lincoln, what more than four years of observation confirmed. After stating that you had been his Law partner for sixteen years, and his most intimate and bosom friend all that time you say, — "I know him better than he does himself. I know this seems a 'Lie', but I will risk the assertion. Mr Lincoln is a man of heart — aye as gentle as a woman's and as tender, — but he has a will as strong as iron. He therefore loves all mankind — hates Slavery — every form of Despotism. Put these together — Love for the Slave and a determination — a will that justice, strong and unyielding, shall be done, where he has got a right to act; and you can form your own conclusion. Lincoln will fail here — namely, if a question of political economy — if any question comes up, which is doubtful — questionable — which no man can demonstrate, then his friends can rule him; — but when on justice — right — Liberty the government and Constitution — Union — humanity, then you may all stand aside; he will rule them and no man can move him — no set of men can. There is no fail here. This is Lincoln, and you mark what I say. You and I must keep the people right: God will keep Lincoln right. Dont you fear, Mr Wilson. I have conversations with him but am not authorized to speak."
These words of yours made a deep impression upon my mind, and I came to Love and trust him even before I saw him. After an acquaintance of more than four years, I found that your idea of him was in all respects correct — that he was the Loving, tender, firm and just man you represented him to be, while upon some questions in which moral eliments did not so clearly enter he was perhaps, too easily influenced by others. As Chairman of the Military Committee, I had nearly fifteen thousand nominations of his to act upon, and was often consulted by him in regard to nominations, and, also, the Legislation for the army and I had the best opportunity to see him under all circumstances. I saw him often under the most trying circumstances at the War Department by day, and by night too. and I had the best possible opportunities to study and judge him, and I can truly say that your discription of this Loving, tender, true, Just man was a correct one.
Mr Lincoln was a genuine Democrat in feeling, sentiment and action. How patiently and considerately he listened, amid the terrible pressures of public affairs, to the people that thronged his Anti Room I remember calling upon him one day during the war on pressing business. The Anti Room was crouded with men and women seeking admission. He seemed oppressed, care-worn, ueasy. I said to him, — "Mr President, you are too exhausted to see this throng waiting to see you; you will wear yourself out, and you ought not to see these people to-day". He replied
562with one of those smiles in which sadness seemed to mingle — "they dont want much and they dont get but Little, and I must see them."
During the war his heart was oppressed and his life burdened with the conflict between the tenderness of his nature and what seemed to be the imperitive demands of duty. In the darkest hours of the conflict disertions were frequent, and army officers urgently pressed the execution of the sentences of the Law, but it was with the greatest effort he would bring himself to consent to the execution of the judgements of the Military tribunals. I remember talking early one Sabbath morning with a wounded Irish officer who came to Washington to say that a soldier who had been sentenced to be shot in a day or two for desertion had fought bravely by his side in battle. I told him that we had come to ask him to pardon the poor soldier. After a few moments reflection he said, "My officers tell me the good of the service demands the enforcement of the Law, but it makes my heart ache to have the poor boys shot. I will pardon him, and then you will all join in blaming me for it. You all censure me for granting pardons, and yet you all ask me to do so." No man ever had a more loving and tender nature than Mr Lincoln.
He was as you say a firm man when he clearly saw duty. His most earnest, devoted and ablest friends in and out of Congress pressed him for months to issue a declaration of Emancipation, but he could not be coaxed nor driven into action till he saw the time had come to do it. His firmness was again tried after he wrote the letter to Mr Clay and other rebels in Canada, at the time of Mr Greeley's mission. Our timid politicians were alarmed. The Democratic Convention at Chicago was about to meet. Some of our most active men hurried on to Washington to induce him to write another letter modifying the other. Learning this, I hurried to Washington, saw these timid Leaders about the White House, and made an appointment in the [evening?] with Mr Lincoln. When the time came, I said to him that I had come to Washington to say to him, that I believed it would be fatal to us if he qualified his Letter, — that the Letter would be great strength in the canvass, that it had given great confidence to the Anti Slavery men and they would determine the result. He spoke of the pressure upon him, of the condition of the country, of the possible action of the coming Democratic Convention and of the uncertainty of the election in tones of sadness. After discussing for a long time these matters, he said with great calmness and firmness, — "I do not know what the result may be, we may be defeated, we may fail, but we will go down with our principles. I will not modify, qualify nor retract my proclimation, nor my Letter." I can never forget his manner, tones, nor words nor cease to feel that his firmness, amid the pressure of active friends, saved our cause in 1864.
Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3011 — 14