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THE NEW PRESIDENT'S TACT
For a time the President was allowed to go through the ordinary course of his duties with no great shock of either success or disaster, although the cry“ On to Richmond !” ringing in his ears taught him that a forward movement before long was a political necessity. He found Congress giving him 500,000 men where he had asked for 400,000 and $500,000,000 where he asked for $400,000,000. He felt the North strongly behind him, but to keep it so, and to win the doubtful states, it was imperative that he keep in touch with the politicians and the people. Much of his time went to this, but he found hours to go out and test new guns himself, to examine balloons for war purposes, to listen to inventors of every sort. He met every problem, every emergency, that offered itself, and he remained the simple Westerner. He was forced occasionally to change his
appearance slightly for official occasions, but throughout his term the utterly popular nature of his life and manners never lessened. He spoke of the White House as “this place.” He often
went to see his cabinet officials where another would have called them to him. Joke books stood piled up on his miscellaneous work-table with papers of State. While a long line of people were waiting to shake hands with him at a public reception, he stopped one man for several minutes while he extracted in whispers the point of a story which he imperfectly remembered. He read much in “Recollections of A. Ward, Showman," “ Flush Time in Alabama," “ Petroleum V. Nasby's Letters.” While his head was full of military plans and political details, he talked about Shakespeare and recited the King's Speech in Hamlet, “Oh my offence is rank,” from memory, or anon went about saying in a singsong:
“ Mortal man, with face of clay,
Here to-morrow, gone to-day.” Life was responsibility, tragedy, burlesque, to him. He took the machine as he found it. He found great problems of State, foreign complications, questions of warlike strategy, politicians and their tricks, widows and their sorrows, old friends and Illinois jokes; and he mixed them all in his daily life, and responded to all, smelling of the Western prairie's soil, hard sense and no “frills.”
At one time John Ganson of Buffalo, who was perfectly bald, called on Lincoln and said: “We are voting and acting in the dark in Congress, and I demand to know what is the present situation; what are the prospects and conditions of the several campaigns and armies. Ganson,” said the President, gazing at the top of his head, “ how clean you shave."
A member of Congress from Ohio came into his presence inebriate, and, knowing Lincoln's fondness for a certain poem, sank into a chair and exclaimed: “Oh, why should (hic) er spirit of mortal be proud ?”
“My dear sir,” replied the President, “I see no reason whatever."
A New Jersey congressman introduced two friends to him, saying “ they are among the weightiest men in southern New Jersey." When they had gone Lincoln said, “I wonder that end of the state didn't tip up when they got off of it.”
Lord Lyons, the British minister, presented to him an autograph letter from Queen Victoria, announcing, in the usual royal manner, a marriage in her family, and added that whatever response the President would make he would immediately transmit to his royal mistress. Shaking the document at the bachelor minister, Lincoln exclaimed: “Go, thou, and do likewise.”
The Austrian minister introduced a Count who wished a position in the Federal army. Although after such an introduction no further recommendation was called for, the nobleman rather elabo. rately described his title and his family. Tapping him on the shoulder the President remarked, “ Never mind, you shall be treated with just as much consideration, for all that. I will see to it that your bearing a title shall not hurt you.”
This was the man whom the South had been taught to believe half tiger and half ape. As he sat at his table biting his pen, or squatted onto the White House steps to finish a chat, or went with the strength of perfect lucidity to the heart of matters in his messages to Congress or his advice to generals, or bore insults from his inferiors and yet ruled then inexorably, his was a kind of greatness with which the world was for the first time to become familiar. Perhaps if anybody had pointed the way, it was Benjamin Franklin. John Stuart Mill said: “ Abraham Lincoln was the kind of man Carlyle in his better days taught us to worship as a hero,” and some one else has remarked that his was a character in which Plutarch would have rejoiced.
The next great event which we are to see him undergo was the first pitched battle of the war. On July 21, 1861, General McDowell, unwillingly, forced by the President, who voiced the imperious will of the North, with 35,000 men attacked the Confederate army at Bull Run. At first victory seemed certain for the Federal troops, but through the incompetency of General Patterson, who failed to do what he had been told to do, and the promptness of General Johnson in coming to the assistance of Beauregard, the Union army was surprised, defeated, and hurled back panic-stricken to the Potomac. The North was in despair, the South reached the very madness of confidence and joy. A little later the Southern Congress warned all persons not in sympathy with the Confederacy to get out within forty days.
For the President, who had forced General Scott and General McDowell into taking a step which was probably not a misfortune, since the beginning had sometime to be made, it now remained to take immediate action for recuperation. On the day after the battle he called to Washington General George B. McClellan, a young man of thirty-four, highly educated in military matters, who had been doing good work in small battles in West Virginia. It was the general opinion that he was the best officer in the North to get the army into shape. He arrived in Washington on July 26, and the next day he wrote privately: “I find myself in a new and strange position here: President, Cabinet, General Scott, and all deferring to me. By some strange operation of magic, I seem to have become the power of the land.” Deference immediately went to his head, but he knew one part of his business thoroughly, and the raw troops rapidly became a