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Facts and Falsehoods Concerning the War On the South 1861-1865 (Chapter 13) by Elizabeth Avery Meriwether (Pseudonym George Edmonds)

Facts and Falsehoods Concerning the War On the South 1861-1865
Elizabeth Avery Meriwether (Pseudonym George Edmonds)

Chapter 14

The True and the False. Apotheosizing Writers. Miss Tarbell Takes the Lead. Why Thomas Lincoln Left Kentucky. Apotheosizing Twaddle. Mr. Lincoln and Tzuo Little Girls.

It is curious to compare some of what Lamon called the "pretended biographies" of Lincoln with the true story told by men who knew Lincoln and painted him just as he was in life, faults and all. In the smallest thing the "pretended biographies" misrepresent and misstate. Instance the following from Miss Tarbell's "Life of Lincoln:"

"If Mr. Lincoln was not strictly orthodox, he was profoundly religious. He was a regular and reverent attendant at church."

And this: 

"Lincoln never for a moment courted personal ambition before the cause of negro freedom." Lincoln's own words convict him of utter indifference to the cause of negro freedom. This from Tarbell (p. 220, Vol. I):

''So great an evil did Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln (Lincoln's parents) hold slavery, to escape it they left their home in Kentucky and moved to a free state. Thus their boy Abe's first notion of slavery was that it was some dreadful thing to flee from, a thing so dreadful that it was one's duty to go to pain and hardship to escape it."

Holland and other apotheosizing biographers tell about the same story on this subject. The falsity of this is proved by Herndon, Lamon and Mr. Dennis Hanks, Lincoln's cousin. Lamon refutes the story thus:

"It has pleased some of Mr. Lincoln's biographers to represent that Lincoln's father's move from Kentucky was a flight from the taint of slavery. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There was not at that time more than fifty negroes in all Harden County, which then composed a vast area of territory. It was practically a free community. There is not the slightest evidence that Lincoln's father ever disclosed any conscientious scruples concerning slavery. Abraham Lincoln's father got into trouble with a man named Enslow. They fought like savages. Lincoln bit off Enslow's nose. This affray and the talk it made was the cause of Thomas Lincoln's escape from Kentucky." (See Lamon's Life of Lincoln, p. 916.)

Lies are hard to kill. Notwithstanding the most positive evidence on this subject, the pretended biographers continue to tell falsehoods about Lincoln's hatred of slavery and his great piety.

Although General Piatt at first opposed the deification of President Lincoln, and disliked the "pious lies," still as the years went by and the "pious lies" continued with an ever-increasing "piety," they got in their work on Piatt's mind, despite his personal knowledge of how little they comported with the dead President's character. In 1887 Piatt wrote as follows:

"It is strange now to know that during President Lincoln's life, and for years after his death, he was popularly regarded as a shrewd, cunning sort of man."

There was nothing strange in it. Lincoln was a shrewd, cunning sort of man, and the people knew it.

During Lincoln's life, and for years after his death, Piatt well knew that Lincoln was a "shrewd, cunning sort of man." Every one who well knew Lincoln knew that Seward had judged correctly when he said Lincoln had a cunning which was genius. It was admitted by his friends that he was the shrewdest politician of his age. "But," continues Piatt, "the public mind will slowly come to dwell entranced on that grand central figure—Abraham Lincoln."

Entranced? Yes; not with the real Lincoln, but with the deified man the public is taught to think was the Lincoln of the 6o's. Piatt himself had drawn Lincoln's pen portrait before the deified theory had entranced his faculties.

"I saw," said Piatt, "a man of coarse, rough fibre, without culture. His views of human nature were low, but good natured. This low estimate of humanity blinded him to the South. He could not believe that men would fight for an idea. Lincoln considered the Southern movement a game of political bluff. 'The men of the South/ he said, 'won't give up the offices. Were it believed that vacant placescould be had at the North Pole, the road there would be lined with dead Virginians.'"

Had this man been born of the blood and blackness of the Hottentot race, had he grown up in the jungles of Africa, he could not have known less of the nature of Virginia's sons. Did he ever come to see his mistake? Did he ever come to realize how men will fight for the idea of independence? When Robert E. Lee refused to accept high rank in the Union Army because he would not, could not, fight his own people, but was willing to fight and die in their defense, did Mr. Lincoln realize that at least one Virginian valued ideas and principles more than office? In Herndon's suppressed Life of Lincoln we are told that from early youth Lincoln's whole and sole ambition was to gain office. Politics was Lincoln's trade, office his aim. Did Lincoln look into his own soul and measure Virginians thereby?

On p. 237 of Lamon's Life of Lincoln is this:

"Mr. Lincoln was never agitated by any passion more intense than his wonderful thirst for distinction; distinction was the feverish dream of his youth. Thirst for distinction governed all his conduct up to the day the assassin ended his life. Mr. Lincoln struggled incessantly for place."

In Weik's Story of a Great Life he says:

"Mr. Lincoln's restless ambition found its gratification only in the field of politics."

Piatt gives a pen portrait of Mr. Lincoln's face and form: "Mr. Lincoln," says Piatt, "was the homeliest man I ever saw. His body seemed one huge skeleton in clothes. Tall as he was (six feet four inches), his hands and feet looked out of proportion, so long and clumsy were they. Every movement was awkward in the extreme. He had a face which defied the artist's skill to soften or idealize. It was capable of but few expressions. When in repose his face was dull and repellant. It brightened like a lit lantern when animated. I discovered that he was a skeptic."

Being a zealous abolitionist, Piatt sounded Mr. Lincoln on the question of slavery. Piatt says:

"I soon discovered that Mr. Lincoln could no more feel sympathy for the wretched slaves than he could for the horse he worked or the hog he killed." "Descended," continued Piatt, trying to explain Mr. Lincoln's want of feeling for negroes, "from the poor whites of the South, he inherited the contempt, if not the hatred, held by that class for the negro race. It is the popular belief that Mr. Lincoln was of so kind a nature his generous impulse often interfered with his duty. To prove this, attention is called to the fact that he never permitted a man to be shot for desertion or sleeping at his post. This belief is erroneous. I doubt whether Mr. Lincoln had at all a kind, forgiving nature. There was far more policy than kind feeling which made him refuse to sanction the death penalty for desertion. It pleased Mr. Lincoln to be the source of mercy as well as the fountain of honor."

Piatt's study of Lincoln's character led him to believe he was incapable of feeling pity for the suffering of others. Piatt also believed that God had created Lincoln callous of feeling to save him (Lincoln) from the pain of pity on witnessing the soldiers' sufferings. Lincoln told General Schenck that the sufferings he witnessed never interfered with his comfort. "I eat my rations three times a day," said Lincoln, "and sleep the sleep of the innocent." And this despite the horrors around him.

In her life of Lincoln, Miss Tarbell describes the sights of Washington City, which Mr. Lincoln could not avoid looking upon.

"After battles," says Miss Tarbell, "for days and days long, straggling trains of mutilated men poured into the city on flat cars, piled so close together that no attendant could pass between the wounded men. Occasionally these wretched men were protected from the cold by blankets, which had escaped with its owner, or from the sun by boughs put in their hands, to be held over their faces on reaching Washington. These suffering men were laid in long rows on the wharf or platform waiting until the ambulance carried them to hospitals. When one considers the wounded in the great Virginia battles he will realize the length and awfulness of the streams of bleeding, suffering men which flowed into Washington City. At Fredericksburg they numbered 9,600, at Chancellorsville 9,762, in the Wilderness 12,070, at Spottsylvania 13,406. After the battle of Bull Run, churches, dwellings and government buildings were seized to put the wounded in. The hospitals could not begin to hold them.

"By the end of 1862 Mr. Lincoln could hardly walk or drive in his carriage in any direction without passing a hospital full of the maimed, the dying. Even in going to his summer cottage he could not escape the sight of the wounded. The hillsides were dotted with tents during the entire war. Tents were close to the roadside, so as to get more fresh air. Mr. Lincoln frequently looked from his carriage window on the very beds of the wounded soldiers."

"The very beds." What does this mean, if not that Miss Tarbell's pity goes out not to the poor, mutilated, wounded, dying men in the tents, but to the high functionary who—

"Could hardly walk or drive in his carriage in any direction without seeing suffering soldiers?"

"When Mr. Lincoln/' continues Miss Tarbell, "visited these wretched sufferers, he freely shook hands with them, for which they were profoundly grateful."

"Freely?" And why "profoundly grateful?" If gratitude was due from one side or the other, surely these maimed and bleeding men should have received it from the President who invited, or forced, them into the ranks to fight. They suffered while obeying his command.

Miss Tarbell puts on record other equally important acts of Mr. Lincoln. Instance the following:

"On one occasion two little girls, shabbily dressed, strayed into the White House. While gazing about, scared, President Lincoln happened to see them, and said: 'Little girls, are you going to pass me without shaking hands? Then he shook each child by the hand. Everybody was spellbound."

Can any man or woman in America see any good reason why "everybody" or anybody should be spellbound because an American President shook two little girls by the hand? Does Miss Tarbell look on all American Presidents as so high above common mortals that common mortals are "profoundly grateful" for a shake of their hands, whether "freely" made or otherwise? Does Miss Tarbell feel this way about every President, or is the above only the usual apotheosis twaddle Republican writers indulge in about Mr. Lincoln?

On the wall of one of the splendid art galleries in the palace of Versailles hangs a large painting representing a street scene in Paris. The central figure is a portrait of a Bourbon King. He stands amid a group of little beggar children, one royal hand on the top of a little beggar girl's head; the  other is scattering coins among the children. In the background stands the King's attendants. If anybody was "spellbound" because a King patted the head of a little beggar girl on the street, no French historian has recorded the fact.

In the study of Mr. Lincoln's character I find traits which no biographer has seemed to see. When Lincoln was only one of the common people, only a plain, poor man, his speeches and letters indicate a liberty-loving nature. After he became what his worshippers fondly term a "great ruler," his every act and some of his writings betray the spirit of autocracy as strong as any Caesar ever felt. A few instances will illustrate. In 1854, i6th of October, in a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois, Lincoln said: "No man is good enough to govern any other man without his consent." This is good Democratic doctrine. On hearing these words fall from Lincoln's lips in 1854, who would have thought it possible that within six short years from that time Lincoln would make himself the absolute master, not of one man alone, but of millions? In 1859 Lincoln still seemed to think and feel as a liberty-loving man. In that year a Boston committee invited Mr. Lincoln to speak at the celebration of Thomas Jefferson's birthday. Unable to accept, Lincoln wrote to the committee as follows:

"It is no child's play to save the principles of Jefferson from overthrow in this Nation. Some call these principles 'dashing generalities,' others 'self-evident lies;' expressions which tend to the supplanting of the principles of freedom. All honor to Jefferson, to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for independence, had the courage to forecast and the capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth applicable to all men all times, and so embalm it that in all coming days it shall be a stumbling block to the harbingers of a reappearing tyranny and oppression. Abraham Lincoln.''

This has the true ring of freedom. Alas! Alas! How soon did Lincoln lose sight of Jefferson's grand truths? How soon did he trample them out of sight deep down in the bloody mire of a hundred battlefields. I beg the reader to hold the above letter in mind, that he may compare it with one Mr. Lincoln wrote four years later (1863), after he had made himself the absolute master of all the millions in the Northern States, and was hard at work to subjugate the millions in the South. Had the one letter been written by Thomas Jefferson himself, and the other by the Czar of Russia or the Sultan of Turkey, the spirit, the tone, the words, the meaning of the two could be no more widely opposed. The one is as Democratic as the other is despotic. (See letter, second part, in reply to committee requesting the liberation of Vallandingham.)

In a speech at Springfield, Illinois, June 26th, 1857, Lincoln quoted liberally from the Declaration of Independence, and laid great emphasis on the immortal words:

"Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." "The author of the Declaration of Independence meant it to be as, thank God I it is now proving itself to be, a stumbling block to all those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back to the hateful paths of despotism. They know the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant, when such should appear in this fair land, for them at least to find one hard nut to crack."

Lincoln never attempted to crack that nut; he simply ignored it until he was Commander-in-Chief of over 2,000,000 armed men and felt himself the absolute ruler of the unarmed millions of the North; then he boldly kicked that nut out of his way, and turned a free people back to the hateful paths of despotism. Those who believe in the possibilities of human foresight may easily fancy Mr. Lincoln at times possessed that occult power. In 1837, when Lincoln was 28 years old, he delivered a lecture in Springfield which seemed to foreshadow the part he himself was destined to play in the awful drama of the 6o's. The title of this lecture was ''The Perpetuation of Our Free Institutions'' Lincoln began by talking of the danger that was approaching the people of this country and the direction whence it would come.

"At what point," he asked, "shall we expect the approach of this danger? Shall we expect some trans-Atlantic military giant to step across the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa, combined, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a thousand years. The danger will not come from abroad. If destruction be our lot. we ourselves must be its author and its finisher. As a nation of free men, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

Lincoln then expressed the belief that the danger would come from the demoralization of the American people.

"That," he cried, "will be the time when the usurper will put down his heel on the neck of the people, and batter down the fair fabric of free institutions. Many great and good men may be found whose ambition aspires no higher than a seat in Congress, or a Presidential chair, but such belong not to the family of the Lion, or the tribe of the Eagle. What! Think you such places would satisfy an Alexander? a Caesar? or a Napoleon? Never! Towering ambition disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions unexplored. It sees no grandeur in adding story to story upon the monuments already erected to the memory of others. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts, it burns, for distinction, and. if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or enslaving free men."

When we remember Herndon's and Lamon's testimony that Lincoln's "thirst for distinction" was the master passion of his life, that his youth and manhood were spent in the restless and eager pursuit of office, of power, of place, the above words possess a strange, if not prophetic, significance. Did Lincoln feel or fancy himself of the Lion family? Or of the Eagle tribe. Did his "towering ambition" disdain to walk in the path trodden by the feet of preceding Presidents? Did he see no distinction in adding "story on story upon a monument already erected to others?" Did he "scorn to walk in the footsteps of any predecessor." Was it "burning thirst for distinction above all other American Presidents" which made Lincoln "rush on carnage," enslave 5,000,000 of his own race, color and blood, and set free 4,000,000 of an alien race, a different color, blood and kin?

George Edmonds, Facts and Falsehoods Concerning the War On the South 1861-1865 (1904), 78-85.


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