I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
Running down the origin of this quote was a lot of fun. It sounded like something that Abraham Lincoln would have said, but I had difficulty finding a source for it. It is cited all over the internet, but no reference is given other than a speech in 1865, and such a lack of citation is often the sign of a spurious quote. After some searching I found it. It is sourced in a conversation that Joseph Gillespie had with Abraham Lincoln. Gillespie was a fellow member with Lincoln of the Illinois General Assembly. With Lincoln he helped found the Republican party in Illinois. Elected a circuit court judge in 1861, he helped set up the Illinois Appellate Court.
During a visit to Washington in Spring of 1864, Gillespie met with Lincoln and, among other subjects they discussed, Lincoln mentioned the problem of captured paroled Confederate troops who were found in arms before they had properly been exchanged:
These men are liable to be put to death when recaptured for breach of parole. If we do not do something of that sort, this outrage will be repeated on every occasion…It is indeed a serious question, and I have been more sorely tried by it than any other that has occurred during the war. It will be an act of great injustice to our soldiers to allow the paroled rebels to be put into the field without exchange. Such a practice would demoralize almost any army in the world if played off upon them. It would be nearly impossible to induce them to spare the lives of prisoners they might capture. On the other hand, these men were no doubt told by their superiors that they had been exchanged and it would be hard to put them to death under any circumstances. On the whole, my impression is that mercy bears richer fruits than any other attribute.
Recently at a library book sale I purchased two volumes Lincoln 1840-1846 (1939) and Lincoln 1809-1839 (1941). Both volumes were written by Harry E. Pratt and published by the Abraham Lincoln Association of Springfield, Illinois. These two volumes attempted to relate the events of Lincoln’s life day by day. They joined two earlier volumes that accomplished the same task for the years 1847-1861.
The Abraham Lincoln Association still exists. Go here to view their website. The Association did pioneer work in the last century in studies about the Sixteenth President, particularly in assembling documents written by Lincoln and publishing them. The publication of the eight volume work of the writings of Lincoln bankrupted the Association for a time.
The volumes about the day to day activities of Lincoln often focused upon legal documents filed with courts by Lincoln, and proved an effective weapon against the cottage industry of the forging of Lincoln legal documents. I find the volumes make fascinating reading, perhaps because I am not only a Lincoln student, but also a lawyer. I have nothing but admiration for the hard work that went into compiling them and everyone who studies Lincoln is in the debt of Mr. Pratt and the two other authors of the series.
Wonder how Jefferson Davis
Feels, down there in Montgomery, about Sumter.
He must be thinking pretty hard and fast,
For he’s an able man, no doubt of that.
We were born less than forty miles apart,
Less than a year apart–he got the start
Of me in age, and raising too, I guess,
In fact, from all you hear about the man,
If you set out to pick one of us two
For President, by birth and folks and schooling,
General raising, training up in office,
I guess you’d pick him, nine times out of ten
And yet, somehow, I’ve got to last him out.
These thoughts passed through the mind in a moment’s flash,
Then that mind turned to business.
It was the calling
Of seventy-five thousand volunteers.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Commenter Greg Mockeridge asked my recommendation for a Lincoln biography. The above video shows the Lincoln tower of books, a 34 foot tower of books about Lincoln located at the Ford’s Theater Center for Education and Lincoln. The tower includes books about Lincoln as of 2011. The number of books written about Lincoln are estimated to be approximately 16,000. No one of course has read all of these books, nor should they. Life is too short for such monomania, and in any case most of the books would be greatly repetitious and many of them mere hack work of little intrinsic value. Here are the books I recommended:
1. Carl Sandburg-Poor scholarship even when it was written back in the forties, it is a magnificent oil painting of a biography that gets to the essence of Lincoln, while lacking the accurate detail of a photograph.
2. Michael Burlingame’s recent massive two volume bio is great for looking at the more recent Lincoln scholarship.
3. T. Harry Williams’ Lincoln and His Generals still remains, after more than six decades, the best look at Lincoln as commander in chief.
4. James G. Randall’s Lincoln the President is an exhaustive look at Lincoln as President, from an interesting standpoint: an admirer of Lincoln who also thought the Civil War was unnecessary. Scholarship was superb, albeit dated after six decades.
5. Allen Guelzo’s Redeemer President views Lincoln as a thinker, a surprisingly overlooked aspect of Lincoln as he first and foremost was a man of ideas. Lincoln had the ability of taking abstract and complicated concepts, stripping them down, and presenting them in his writing and speaking in a straightforward manner. He makes it all look easy, which perhaps detracts from what a powerful mind he possessed.
6. Stephen Mansfield’s Lincoln’s Battle With God is the best book on Lincoln in years. First rate scholarship directed at Lincoln’s religious views, a perennial subject of vitriolic debate in Lincoln Studies. Mansfield details the difficulties of making iron clad assertions about Lincoln on many topics because Lincoln often kept his cards tucked against his vest, and contemporary accounts by people who knew Lincoln often disagree about the most basic items.
7. Stephen B. Oates’ With Malice Towards None, stands out as perhaps the best one volume bio of Lincoln.
Hattip for the above video to commenter Greg Mockeridge.
I have never liked Presidents’ Day. Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln? However, most presidents, for good and ill, have shaped the story of America.
To say that presidents have had a large impact on our history is to merely recite a truism. Presidential assassins, regrettably, have also had a large impact on our history.
On this President’s day we will look at the murderer of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth. The rest of the week we will look at other successful assasins of presidents.
On July 4, 1835 Junius Brutus Booth, founder of the Booth theatrical family, sat down and penned a letter to President Andrew Jackson. Booth and Jackson knew each other and were friends, which makes the letter quite odd indeed. The text of the letter:
To His Excellency, General Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, Washington City,
You damn’d old Scoundrel if you don’t sign the pardon of your fellow men now under sentence of Death, De Ruiz and De Soto, I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping. I wrote to you repeated Cautions so look out or damn you. I’ll have you burnt at the Stake in the City of Washington.
Your Master, Junius Brutus Booth.
You know me! Look out!
Booth was one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his day, and he often gave unforgettable performances. However, he was often noted for his off stage escapades, usually fueled by copious amounts of alcohol. I have little doubt that when he penned this missive Booth was quite drunk. De Ruiz and De Soto had been convicted of piracy. Many Americans had asked for clemency for the men. De Soto did receive a Presidential pardon on July 6, 1835 after an interview with De Soto’s wife and defense attorney with Jackson. In 1832 De Soto had saved the lives of 70 Americans aboard the burning ship Minerva in 1831 and that made him a sympathetic figure to the American public and Jackson. De Ruiz and the other men convicted of piracy were hung. Go here for the details of the piracy trial.
And what happened to Booth? Nothing apparently. I assume that Jackson probably laughed off the letter, assuming that his friend was drunk when he wrote it, and in any case threatening to assassinate the president was not a crime in 1835. One fervently wishes that Booth’s son, John Wilkes Booth had merely written a letter threatening to assassinate Lincoln.
Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves’
Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,
Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field-
Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down
The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,
And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay
As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine
Plutarchan sentences carved in Latin bronze;
The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,
The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,
State-character but comparative failure at forty
In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,
Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,
Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,
And a self-confidence like an iron-bar:
This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,
Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches
Which make the monumental booming of Webster
Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
Today is the 207th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Faithful readers of this blog know that I am an admirer of our sixteenth president. My admiration is not a matter of mere historical antiquarianism. I believe that many of the issues of Lincoln’s day are with us in our time under different guises.
Are all men created equal, or may we treat part of the “great family of man”, as Lincoln called humanity, as sub-humans, mere disposable property?
Who should decide the great issues of our day: the Supreme Court or the voters at the ballot box?
What are the proper roles of the state governments and the federal union?
Does God punish nations for sins?
Are the Founding Fathers merely men of the past, or did they establish a movement that we should adhere to today?
What is the meaning of freedom?
Is this nation worth dying and killing for?
Should the Constitution be amended to address the problems confronting us today?
Are their evils like slavery that must be confronted no matter what the cost?
Is a Republic a viable form of government long term?
When pondering these issues, I think Lincoln has much to teach us.
As we approach Lent in this Year of Mercy it is striking to me how most who call themselves Christians have lost any sense of sin. Christ seems to be perceived as a divine Pal, with a dog like eagerness to embrace us just the way we are. Such a deity would seem to resemble Barney the Dinosaur more than the God of the Bible. Forgotten is the need for sorrow for sins, repentance for sins and amendment of life. Our ancestors tended to think much differently. Consider Proclamation 97 of Abraham Lincoln calling for a national day of prayer and humiliation to pray for forgiveness of national sins. Here is the text of the proclamation:
By the President of the United States of America.
Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.
And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.
All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.
Last night I was watching an old Rifleman episode and it was an odd one. One of Lucas McCain’s neighbors turns out to be Abraham Lincoln! Well, not the real Abraham Lincoln, but rather a man who incurred psychic trauma during his Civil War service and now he believes he is Abraham Lincoln. However, the man, portrayed by the late actor Royal Dano, looks and acts just like Abraham Lincoln. This show was broadcast in 1961 when the Civil War centennial was big news, and this was a clever way of getting Lincoln on the Rifleman show, a series set in the 1880’s, without having to invoke time travel! The episode was moving and as I listened I thought the actor portraying Lincoln sounded familiar. Then it struck me: the Disney Animatronics Lincoln!
Dano provided the voice of Lincoln.in the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln show which Disney premiered at the World’s Fair in 1964. Disney chose Dano because he believed his voice was most like what Disney imagined Lincoln sounded like. In this Disney was probably incorrect. Most contemporaries described Lincoln as having a high pitched voice. However, Disney was a showman and not an historian, and I think Disney hit upon a voice that did fit the popular imagination of what Lincoln sounded like, said imagination having been formed by deep voiced portrayals of Lincoln on film by actors such as Walter Huston, Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey. The Animatronics Lincoln now has a new voice actor as Lincoln, but to generations that came of age in the final decades of the last century and visited Disney World, Dano’s voice will be that of Lincoln’s.
Henry Fonda didn’t resemble Abraham Lincoln, but in his folksy mannerisms and stump speech oratory, he conjures up well the spirit of Lincoln the prairie lawyer in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). Fonda didn’t want to take the role at first, feeling himself inadequate to play the Great Emancipator. Ford called him up, and in a profanity laced tirade told Fonda that he would not be portraying President Lincoln, but rather Lincoln as a wet behind the ears attorney. Fonda took the role.
Four years later, Fonda would star in the great anti-lynching movie, The Ox Bow Incident (1943):
One of the recurring themes of this blog is that reality always prevails in the end. Professor Anthony Esolen, who has commented here, has a brilliant post at Crisis on this theme:
It may be that all of the mad errors of the last hundred years have risen from one first and terrible error: that of refusing to honor reality, including human reality, as it is. In generations past, if you did not honor reality, you paid for it swiftly and severely. Try to plant strawberries in a desert, or fig trees in a swamp, and your belly will tell you that you have been a fool, even if your mind is stubborn and slow to admit it. Send your women out with the oxen and the plow, the cross-cut saw and the mattock, while your boys do the laundry and the mending, and the very stones will testify to your stupidity. But our wealth and sophisticated technology are a great buffer between us and those stones. We can seem to ourselves, for a while, to get away with ignoring the real.
Not that we actually do get away with it. Ideologies treat man as if he could be pressed into any shape, like molten plastic poured into a form. Stalin tried his hand at the human extruding machine, ignoring the ordinary farmer’s love for the land to which he and his forebears had given their sweat and their souls. The result was to turn one of the great breadbaskets of the world, the Ukraine, into barrens, while six million people died—not before some of them had sunk below the beast and eaten their own dead. Mao tried his hand at the human extruding machine, ignoring the ordinary man’s piety towards his ancestors and their ways, and the result was a mass destruction of culture, and sixty million people dead.
These are flagrant sinners against God and the reality he made. But the murderer of only one man is a murderer all the same, and more pleasant or vacuous sinners against reality are still sinners and still work harm. In the aggregate they can destroy every bit as much as Stalin and Mao did. Abortion of course is one obvious example of a refusal to look at reality. The child-making act has as its natural and foreseeable end the making of a child. We do know this, just as we know that men should revere their parents and grandparents, and that people who have lived on a tract of land for a hundred years love it and will tend it more carefully than a cadre of bureaucrats could ever imagine. We simply pretend that we do not know it. We pretend that when a man and a woman do the child-making thing, and they make a child, it can strike them as an utter surprise, a bolt from the blue. If you are walking beside a row of high-rise row houses, and you are struck by a piano falling from a great height, that is a surprise, that is an unnerving accident. Not the other.
But, having stiffed the real and embraced a fantasy, here the ideology of sexual liberation, having played at being husband and wife without being husband and wife, we claim all at once to be Surprised by Baby, Dismayed by Baby, Utterly Undone by Baby, and, hence, we want Baby out of the way. To have it out of the way, we have to plunge ourselves even deeper into the unreal. We have to pretend that the baby is not human, when we know, of course, that it is, and that it is not alive, when we know that if it were dead, it would be called a miscarriage, and no moral problem would arise. We have to cleave our minds in half to have our lives of license whole.
So it is that Planned Parenthood, which has never helped any woman to become a parent, sells as human body parts the members of the human beings they have killed under the fiction that they were not human at all, calling it “medical care” when nothing is remediated. So also the Pill, destructive of the common good and (like all synthetic growth hormones) deleterious to the health of the women who use it, is called “medical care,” when no disease is cured, and no limb or organ is restored to its normal and natural function; rather, its purpose is to thwart the natural function of the reproductive system, even at the cost of the woman’s health. It is thus not like an inoculation to protect you against a communicable disease. It is like deliberately putting a joint out of socket.
One of my favorite stops at the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield.
The Thirty-third Infantry Illinois Volunteers was organized at Camp Butler, Illinois, in the month of September, 1861, by Colonel Chas. E. Hovey, and mustered into the United States service by Captain T. G. Pitcher, U. S. A.
Americans traveling through Argentina are sometimes surprised when they come across the town of Lincoln. Founded in 1871, the name of the town was the result of a decree of the government of Argentina on August 23, 1865 which ordered that the employees of the government of Argentina observe three days of mourning for Lincoln and decreed that the next town founded be named in honor of Lincoln. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, President of Argentina from 1868-1874, was such an admirer of Lincoln, that he wrote the first biography of him in Spanish.
You’re going from dealing with people to dealing with what most people here at the Center consider a real hurdle, to do sterile room, because you have to deal with the actual abortion tissue. And for some people that’s really hard. They can be abstractly in favor of abortion rights, but they sure don’t want to see what an eighteen-week abortion looks like.
Anonymous clinic worker Abortion at Work: Ideology and Practice in a Feminist Clinic Wendy Simonds (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick) 1996 p 69.
Today I will be driving by Galesburg, on my way to take my daughter back to college. In the Lincoln-Douglas debate held at Galesburg on October 7, 1858, Lincoln got to the heart of the difference between him and Stephen Douglas regarding slavery:
In our current struggle in this country for freedom, it is good to recall champions of it. Two names stand above all others: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln
In that regard, Bishop Sheen retold the life of Abraham Lincoln on his television show. Originally broadcast in 1954, it is an interesting take on the Great Emancipator. Completely fascinating. A great tribute by a son of Illinois to the greatest son of Illinois.
As a native of Peoria, Sheen knew that Lincoln re-emerged into political life on October 16, 1854 when he gave a speech in Peoria that attacked the repeal of the Missouri Compromise by Stephen Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act. Go here to read that speech. The rest of Lincoln’s political life was set by that speech that catapulted him into the challenge to Douglas for his Senate seat in 1858, and his Presidential campaign against Douglas in 1860. For Lincoln personally, the Peoria speech was the most significant of his life.
Of course Bishop Sheen did not celebrate Lincoln simply because of his connection with Illinois and Peoria. In addition to his winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves, Lincoln was also ever a friend to Catholics.
In the 1840s America was beset by a wave of anti-Catholic riots. An especially violent one occurred in Philadelphia on May 6-8. These riots laid the seeds for a powerful anti-Catholic movement which became embodied in the years to come in the aptly named Know-Nothing movement. To many American politicians Catholic-bashing seemed the path to electoral success.
Lincoln made clear where he stood on this issue when he organized a public meeting in Springfield, Illinois on June 12, 1844. At the meeting he proposed and had the following resolution adopted by the meeting:
“Resolved, That the guarantee of the rights of conscience, as found in our Constitution, is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic, than to the Protestant; and that all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights, either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly, have our decided disapprobation, and shall ever have our most effective opposition. Resolved, That we reprobate and condemn each and every thing in the Philadelphia riots, and the causes which led to them, from whatever quarter they may have come, which are in conflict with the principles above expressed.”
Lincoln remained true to this belief. At the height of the political success of the Know-Nothing movement 11 years later, Mr. Lincoln in a letter to his friend Joshua Speed wrote:
“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”
On July 4, 1864, when Lincoln had much else to occupy his mind, he attended a fundraising for a Catholic church for Washington blacks. Lincoln had given permission for the fund raiser to be held on the lawn of the White House.
Some quotes from Abraham Lincoln in how to react to illegitimate Supreme Court decisions. An illegitimate decision is one in which the Court arrogates to itself the power of a legislature under the mendacious guise of merely interpreting the Constitution:
1. I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case, upon the parties to a suit; as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the government.
2. Judicial decisions have two uses-first, to absolutely determine the case decided, and secondly, to indicate to the public how other similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter use, they are called “precedents” and “authorities.”
3. We think its (the Supreme Court) decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution.
4. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.
5. Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedents, according to circumstances. That this should be so, accords both with common sense, and the customary understanding of the legal profession.
Although a Thursday, the national day of mourning struck most Northerners like a Sunday. Businesses and government offices were closed and people repaired to their churches where they prayed and heard sermons on Lincoln. Pat McNamara at his blog in 2012 noted the remarks after communion of Father Sylvester Malone, the founder of Saints Peter and Paul parish in Brooklyn: