During the first winter I spent in Washington in the War Department I had constant opportunities of seeing Mr. Lincoln, and of conversing with him in the cordial and unofficial manner which he always preferred. Not that there was ever any lack of dignity in the man. Even in his freest moments one always felt the presence of a will and of an intellectual power which maintained the ascendancy of his position. He never posed, or put on airs, or attempted to make any particular impression; but he was always conscious of his own ideas and purposes, even in his most unreserved moments.
I knew, too, and saw frequently, all the members of his Cabinet. When Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated as President, his first act was to name his Cabinet; and it was a common remark at the time that he had put into it every man who had competed with him for the nomination. The first in importance was William H. Seward, of New York, Mr. Lincoln's most prominent competitor. Mr. Seward was made Secretary of State. He was an interesting man, of an optimistic temperament, and he probably had the most cultivated and comprehensive intellect in the administration. He was a man who was all his life in controversies, yet he was singular in this, that, tho forever in fights, he had almost no personal enemies. Seward had great ability as a writer, and he had what is very rare in a lawyer, a politician, or a statesmanimagination. A fine illustration of his genius was the acquisition of Alaska. That was one of the last things that he did before he went out of office, and it demonstrated more than anything else his fixt and never-changing idea that all North America should be united under one government.
Mr. Seward was an admirable writer and an impressive, tho entirely unpretentious speaker. He stood up and talked as tho he were engaged in conversation, and the effect was always great. It gave the impression of a man deliberating "out loud" with himself.
The second man in importance and ability to be put into the Cabinet was Mr. Chase, of Ohio. He was an able, noble, spotless statesman, a man who would have been worthy of the best days of the old Roman republic. He had been a candidate for the Presidency, tho a less conspicuous one than Seward. Mr. Chase was a portly man; tall, and of an impressive appearance, with a very handsome, large head. He was genial, tho very decided, and occasionally he would criticize the President, a thing I never heard Mr. Seward do. Chase had been successful in Ohio politics, and in the Treasury Department his administration was satisfactory to the public. He was the author of the national banking law. . . .
Mr. Stanton was a short, thick, dark man, with a very large head and a mass of black hair. His nature was intense, and he was one of the most eloquent men that I ever met. Stanton was entirely absorbed in his duties, and his energy in prosecuting them was something almost superhuman. When he took hold of the War Department the armies seemed to grow, and they certainly gained in force and vim and thoroughness. One of the first things which struck me in Mr. Stanton was his deep religious feeling and his familiarity with the Bible. He must have studied the Bible a great deal when he was a boy. He had the firmest conviction that the Lord directed our armies.
There was never any cant in Stanton's religious feeling. It was the straightforward expression of what he believed and lived, and was as simple and genuine and real to him as the principles of his business. Stanton was a serious student of history. He had read many books on the subject more than on any other, I should sayand he was fond of discussing historical characters with his associates; not that be made a show of his learning. He was fond, too, of discussing legal questions, and would listen with eagerness to the statement of cases in which friends had been interested. He was a man who was devoted to his friends, and he had a good many with whom he liked to sit down and talk. In conversation he was witty and satirical; he told a story well, and was very companionable. . . .
There were certain men in whom he had little faith, and I have heard him speak of some of these in a tone of severity. He was a man of the quickest intelligence, and understood a thing before half of it was told him. His judgment was just as swift, and when he got hold of a man who did not understand, who did not state his case clearly, he was very impatient. If Stanton liked a man, he was always pleasant. I was with him for several years in the most confidential relations, and I can now recall only one instance of his speaking to me in a harsh tone. . . .
The Secretary of the Navy throughout the war, was Gideon Welles, of Connecticut. Welles was a curious-looking man: he wore a wig which was parted in the middle, the hair falling down on each side; and it was from his peculiar appearance, I have always thought, that the idea that he was an old fogy originated. I remember Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts, coming into my office at the War Department one day, and asking where he could find "that old Mormon deacon, the Secretary of the Navy." In spite of his peculiarities, I think Mr. Welles was a very wise, strong man. There was nothing decorative about him; there was no noise in the street when he went along; but he understood his duty, and did it efficiently, continually, and unvaryingly. There was a good deal of opposition to him, for we had no navy when the war began, and he had to create one without much deliberation; but he was patient, laborious, and intelligent. . . .
The relations between Mr. Lincoln and the members of his Cabinet were always friendly and sincere on his part. He treated every one of them with unvarying candor, respect, and kindness; but tho several of them were men of extraordinary force and self-assertionthis was true especially of Mr. Seward, Mr. Chase, and Mr. Stantonand tho there was nothing of self-hood or domination in his manner toward them, it was always plain that he was the master and they the subordinates. They constantly had to yield to his will in questions where responsibility fell upon him. If he ever yielded to theirs, it was because they convinced him that the course they advised was judicious and appropriate. I fancied during the whole time of my intimate intercourse with him and with them, that he was always prepared to receive the resignation of any one of them. At the same time I do not recollect a single occasion when any member of the Cabinet had got his mind ready to quit his post from any feeling of dissatisfaction with the policy or conduct of the President. Not that they were always satisfied with his actions; the members of the Cabinet, like human beings in general, were not pleased with everything. In their judgment much was imperfect in the administration; much, they felt, would have been done better if their views had been adopted and they individually had had charge of it. Not so with the President.
He was calm, equable, uncomplaining. In the discussion of important questions, whatever he said showed the profoundest thought, even when he was joking. He seemed to see every side of every question. He never was impatient, he never was in a hurry, and he never tried to hurry anybody else. To every one he was pleasant and cordial. Yet they all felt it was his word that went at last; that every case was open until he gave his decision.
This impression of authority, of reserve force, Mr. Lincoln always gave to those about him. Even physically he was impressive. According to the record measurements, he was six feet four inches in height. That is, he was at least four inches taller than the tall, ordinary man. When he rode out on horseback to review an army, as I have frequently seen him do, he wore usually a high hat, and then he looked like a giant. There was no waste or excess of material about his frame; nevertheless, he was very strong and muscular. I remember that the last time I went to see him at the White Housethe afternoon before he was killedI found him in a side-room with coat off and sleeves rolled up, washing his hands. He had finished his work for the day, and was going away. I noticed then the thinness of his arms, and how well developed, strong, and active his muscles seemed to be. In fact, there was nothing flabby or feeble about Mr. Lincoln physically. He was a very quick man in his movements when he chose to be, and he had immense physical endurance. Night after night he would work late and hard without being wilted by it, and he always seemed as ready for the next day's work as tho he had done nothing the day before.
Mr. Lincoln's face was thin, and his features were large. His hair was black, his eyebrows heavy, his forehead square and well developed. His complexion was dark and quite sallow. His smile was something most lovely. I have never seen a woman's smile that approached it in its engaging quality, nor have I ever seen another face which would light up as Mr. Lincoln's did when something touched his heart or amused him. I have heard it said that he was ungainly, that his step was awkward. He never imprest me as being awkward. In the first place, there was such a charm and beauty about his expression, such good humor and friendly spirit looking from his eyes, that when you were near him you never thought whether he was awkward or graceful; you thought of nothing except, What a kindly character this man has! Then, too, there was such shrewdness in his kindly features that one did not care to criticize him. His manner was always dignified, and even if he had done an awkward thing, the dignity of his character and manner would have made it seem graceful and becoming.
The great quality of his appearance was benevolence and benignity; the wish to do somebody some good if he could; and yet there was no flabby philanthropy about Abraham Lincoln. He was all solid, hard, keen intelligence, combined with goodness. Indeed, the expression of his face and of his bearing which imprest one most, after his benevolence and benignity, was his intelligent understanding. You felt that here was a man who saw through things, who understood, and you respected him accordingly.
Lincoln had the most comprehensive, the most judicious mind; he was the least faulty in his conclusions of any man I have ever known. He never stept too soon, and he never stept too late. When the whole Northern country seemed clamoring for him to issue a proclamation abolishing slavery, he didn't do it. Deputation after deputation went to Washington. I remember once a hundred gentlemen, drest in black coats, mostly clergymen from Massachusetts, came to Washington to appeal to him to proclaim the abolition of slavery. But he did not do it. He allowed Mr. Cameron and General Butler to execute their great idea of treating slaves as contraband of war and protecting those who had got into our lines against being recaptured by their Southern owners; but he would not prematurely make the proclamation that was so much desired. Finally the time came, and of that he was the judge. Nobody else decided it; nobody commanded it; the proclamation was issued as he thought best, and it was efficacious. . . .
This unerring judgment, this patience which waited and which knew when the right time had arrived, is an intellectual quality that I do not find exercised upon any such scale and with such absolute precision by any other man in history. It proves Abraham Lincoln to have been intellectually one of the greatest of rulers. If we look through the record of great men, where is there one to be placed beside him? I do not know.
Another interesting fact about Abraham Lincoln is that he developed into a great military man; that is to say, a man of supreme military judgment. I do not risk anything in saying that if one will study the records of the war, and study the writings relating to it, he will agree with me that the greatest general we had, greater than Grant or Thomas, was Abraham Lincoln. It was not so at the beginning; but after three or four years of constant practise in the science and art of war, he arrived at this extraordinary knowledge of it, so that Von Moltke was not a better general, or an abler planner or expounder of a campaign, than was President Lincoln. To sum it up, he was a born leader of men. He knew human nature; he knew what chord to strike, and was never afraid to strike it when he believed that the time had arrived. . . .
Another remarkable peculiarity of Mr. Lincoln's was that he seemed to have no illusions. He had no freakish notions that things were so, or might be so, when they were not so. All his thinking and reasoning, all his mind, in short, was based continually upon actual facts, and upon facts of which, as I said, he saw the essence. I never heard him say anything that was not so. I never heard him foretell things; he told what they were, but I never heard him intimate that such and such consequences were likely to happen without the consequences following. I should say, perhaps, that his greatest quality was wisdom. And this is something superior to talent, superior to education. It is again genius; I do not think it can be acquired. All the advice that he gave was wise, and it was always timely. This wisdom, it is scarcely necessary to add, had its animating philosophy in his own famous words, "With malice toward none, with charity for all."
1 From Dana's "Recollections of the Civil war." By permission of the publishers, D. Appleton & Company. Copyright, 1898. Mr. Dana was Assistant Secretary of War under Stanton. Before the war he had long been managing editor of the New York Tribune. After the war he became editor of the New York Sun, and so remained until his death.