A True Estimate of Abraham Lincoln
and Vindication of the South
by Mildred Lewis Rutherford
Studying carefully and honestly all history written of Lincoln before his death — history given by friends, relatives, and the press — nothing can be found to justify the fulsome praise we find after his death. According to Judd Steward, "Here in this new world country with no pride of ancestry arose the greatest man since the meek and lowly Nazarene; a man whose life had a greater influence on the human race than any teacher, thinker or toiler since the beginning of the Christian Era."(1) P.D. Ross, an Englishman, said, "Abraham Lincoln is the greatest man that the world has ever possessed."(2) Don Piatt, after Lincoln’s "martyrdom," called him "the greatest figure looming up in our history."
Before his death, Stanton, in a letter to President Buchanan, expressed his contempt for Lincoln. He also advised the revolutionary overthrow of the Lincoln government in order that McClellan be made military dictator. After his assassination, standing over Lincoln’s dead body, he said, "Now he belongs to the ages," and from thenceforth he began to eulogize the man whom he once despised.
John Hay, Secretary of State, eulogized Lincoln after his death as "the greatest, wisest, godliest man that has appeared on earth since Christ." Others seemed to wish to outdo one another in offering their praise to the dead President. J.G. Holland waited until after Lincoln had died to say:
Lincoln unequaled since Washington in service to the Nation. Mr. Lincoln will always be remembered as eminently a Christian President. Conscience, not popular applause, not love of power, was the ruling motive of Lincoln’s life. No stimulant ever entered his mouth, no profanity ever came from his lips.
Abraham Lincoln was the first of all men who have walked the earth since the Nazarene.(3)
William M. Davidson praised Lincoln as "the greatest statesman of the Nineteenth Century." J.B. Wade went even further to assert, "History will show Abraham Lincoln to be the greatest man that ever lived."
It is queer that a Southern-born man and a Confederate soldier should be Lincoln’s greatest glorifier. Henry Watterson, undoubtedly posted by James Breckenridge Speed, Lincoln’s friend, who asked him to present the statue of Lincoln to Kentucky, said among other things:
You lowly cabin which is to be dedicated on the morrow may well be likened to the Manger of Bethlehem, the boy that went thence to a God-like destiny, to the Son of God, the Father Almighty of Him and us all. Whence his prompting except from God? His tragic death may be likened also to that other martyr whom Lincoln so closely resembled.
There are utterances of his which read like rescripts from the Sermon on the Mount. Reviled as Him of Galilee, slain, even as Him of Galilee, yet as gentle and as unoffending a man who died for men.
J.M. Merrill, in the Detroit Free Press, said:
Abraham Lincoln is so far above every other man in human history that to compare him to others seems sacrilege.
No where on the earth is there a historic character to compare to our sainted martyr, Abraham Lincoln.
Albert Bushnell Hart said, "Abraham Lincoln was the greatest man of the Civil War Period." The Sunday School Times said, "Abraham Lincoln is the Christian exemplar for children today."
It will not be safe for ministers of the Gospel, editors of Christian newspapers, Sunday School teachers, public speakers or true historians to quote from those who deified Lincoln after martyrdom. Parents testify that they are obliged to keep their children from Sunday School and church on the nearest Sunday to Lincoln’s birthday so dreadful is this deification, making such a man as great as God Himself.
Walter McElreath, after reading Rothschild’s Lincoln: Master of Men, said:
Mr. Lincoln was not an ordinary man we all agree, but greatness is a relative term and considering the opportunities and responsibilities and station which Mr. Lincoln occupied he must be judged by the standards of greatness by which other men are judged. Judging him by these standards I cannot see how Mr. Lincoln was at all a great man or how he can be said to possess even the second order of greatness.
How can a man be considered great when the men associated with him four years in such an enterprise as civil war were not impressed with his greatness until the enterprise was over, is more than I can understand.
McClellan had known him years before the war and was not impressed with his greatness. Chase, Seward and Stanton never thought him a great man until after his death. It is strange that such men living close to him for four years could not recognize in him some signs of greatness while he lived. I cannot see anything great in his choice of men or generals. His ministers were chosen to remove them from opposition to the administration. He held the power to depose — his mastery over men came from his power to exercise unlimited authority.
Seward testified that this power was greater than that of Queen Victoria. The St. Louis Globe Democrat brashly asked the question, "Where now is the man so rash as to even warmly criticize Abraham Lincoln?"(4) This is certainly true for one adverse comment subjects one to the accusation either of prejudice or injustice, and brings forth a storm of abuse upon the one brave enough to dare it. However, as one writer stated:
In seeking the truth about him, it would be most unjust to take only the testimony of his enemies, and it would be equally as unjust to take only the testimony of his glorifiers. Lincoln was a man as other men with weak points and strong points of character, and the fairest testimony ought to come from those who knew him best, loved him well, honored him and yet were friendly enough, truthful enough and just enough to see and acknowledge his faults.
In the Preface to The True Story of a Great Life, written by Herndon and Weik after the first Life of Lincoln by Herndon had been destroyed, is found the following:
With a view of throwing light on some attributes of Mr. Lincoln’s character hitherto obscure these volumes are given to the world. The whole truth concerning Mr. Lincoln should be known. The truth will at last come out, and no man need hope to evade it. Some persons will doubtless object to the narrative of certain facts, but these facts are indispensable to a full knowledge of Mr. Lincoln. We must have all the facts about him. We must be prepared to take Mr. Lincoln as he was. Mr. Lincoln was my warm and personal friend. My purpose to tell the truth about him need occasion no apprehension. God’s naked truth cannot injure his fame.(5)
Would to God that this sentiment had prevailed!
1. Address delivered at North Plainfield, New Jersey, 10 February 1917.
2. Harper’s Weekly, 7 November 1908.
3. Abraham Lincoln.
4. 6 March 1898.
5. True Story of a Great Life (Chicago, Illinois: Bedford, Clark and Company, 1889).