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346. Elliott B. Herndon (statement for William H. Herndon).

[1865 — 66]

E. B. Herndon

[I am] particularly requested to write down my [opinio]n of the mind of Abraham Lincoln late [Presi]dent of the United States. I concent do so [wi]thout any other motive than to Comply [with] the request of a brother. for if I Know [myse]lf no other motive would induce me [to do it] because I believe myself wholly [indif ]ferent as to the future of his memory. [The o]pinion I now have was formed by an [usu]al personal and professional acquaint. with the man for a period of say ten years. and which opinion has not altered since he was elected President. I Know of no official act which in the least dist[urbs] that opinion. and on the other hand t[here] may have been many now and forev[er] resting in oblivion which might hav[e] confirmed my opinion. The adulation [of ] base multitudes of a living and the peg[eantry] and hypocarcy surrounding a dea[d] President does not shake my w[ell] settled convictions of the mans ment[al calibre.]

The American people are about as well [qualified] to form a correct opinion of mental c[apacity] as an idolitor is to judge of the christ[ian] religion, and are just as Susceptabl[e to] imposition of their own credulity as [the] chinaman who believes in his go[d Josh] — Hence I am not under that sort [of ] influence. So here we go. Physio[logically] and Phrenologically the man was a [sort] of monstrosity. His frame was large lo[ng, bony] and muscular — his head dis-prop[ortionately] small and shaped. He had large [square jaws] — large heavy nose, small lacivious mouth and Soft tender bluish eyes. I would say he was a cross between Venus and Hercules. I believe it be inconsistant with the laws of [hum]an organization for any such creature [to p]ossess a mind capable of any thing [cal]led great. The mans mind partook [of ] the incongruities of his body. His mind [was] incongruous. He had no mind [not] possessed by the most ordinary of [men]. It


was simply the peculiarity of [his] mental, the odity of his physical and [qualit]ies of his heart that singled him out [from] the mass of men. His nature love of [truth] justice and humanity led his mind [a gre]at way in the accomplishment of his [object]s in life. That passion or sentiment [stead]ied and determined an otherwise [inde]cisive mind. According to the analysis [of men]tal philosophy his mind was not [unco]mmon in any part or division in [perce]ption, memory, reasoning. immagin[ation] &c. but all those qualities of the mind [in his] were irregular and confused. He had such an organized mind as was incapa[ble] of Comprehending thoroughly and co[mpletely] from foundation to Turret — By [reason of ] its Confusion of ideas his min[d tended] to monamaniaism. I never [knew him to] thoroughly understand any [thing, in law] mathamatics, phylospy, [poetry, history,] mechanics, anatomy, chess, [billiards, checkers,] backgammon, cards, or wha[t not. He was] decidedly common in ev[ery thing he ever] undertook within [my observation.] His mind was visionary a[nd impractable.] He had a feverish and unsettled m[ind] incompatable with a brain of power. [He had] tenacity of purpose, but not of min[d. To] wind up what can be said of [that] mind which honestly and conf[idently] is capable of its own conv[iction] that it can equally comprehend the [law,] invent a patent right, compose [poetry,] write a tradegy, understand [illegible] and polotics, master logic an[d] mathamatics and demon-stra[te d] geometrical absurdity, criticise [Milton an]d Shakespear, become dreamy over [Volney] and yet cannot compose [or write] three good english sentances. [I say wha]t can be thought or said [of such a mind] except, that it is visionary, [irregular, we]ak and incongruous. [Those who admire] Webster for his mental greatness. May well [point to his reply to] Hayne. So it may be said of all great [minds, but let] the admirer of the mental greatness [of Lincoln point] out if they can one intellectual act [of his whole lif ]e. Which stands out prominently [as a proof of a]ny great mental power. [He had the position,] the name, and favorable circumstances [in which to do some] intellectual act demonstrative of great intellect.

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3921 — 22; Huntington Library: LN2408, 2:454 — 56



1. The manuscript is badly torn, and the text is here partially reconstructed from the Springer transcription.

2. Phrenology, which had a considerable vogue in the nineteenth century, purported to explain character and mental capacity from the shape of the skull.

3. The writer first wrote, then struck out: wild.