The Civil War was in truth Lincoln's war. Those modern pacifists who claim him for their own are beside the mark. They will never get over their illusions about Lincoln until they see, as all the world is beginning to see, that his career has universal significance because of its bearing on the universal modern problem of democracy. It will not do ever to forget that he was a man of the people, always playing the hand of the people, in the limited social sense of that word, though playing it with none of the heat usually met with in the statesmen of successful democracy from Cleon to Robespierre, from Andrew Jackson to Lloyd George. His gentleness does not remove Lincoln from that stern category. Throughout his life, besides his passion for the Union, besides his antipathy to slavery, there dwelt in his very heart love of and faith in the plain people. We shall never see him in true historic perspective until we conceive him as the instrument of a vast social idea--the determination to make a government based on the plain people successful in war.
He did not scruple to seize power when he thought the cause of the people demanded it, and his enemies were prompt to accuse him of holding to the doctrine that the end justified the means--a hasty conclusion which will have to be reconsidered; what concerns us more closely is the definite conviction that he felt no sacrifice too great if it advanced the happiness of the generality of mankind.
The final significance of Lincoln as a statesman of democracy is brought out most clearly in his foreign relations. Fate put it into the hands of England to determine whether his Government should stand or fall. Though it is doubtful how far the turning of the scale of English policy in Lincoln's favor was due to the influence of the rising power of English democracy, it is plain that Lincoln thought of himself as having one purpose with that movement which he regarded as an ally. Beyond all doubt among the most grateful messages he ever received were the New Year greetings of confidence and sympathy which were sent by English workingmen in 1863. A few sentences in his "Letter to the Workingmen of London" help us to look through his eyes and see his life and its struggles as they appeared to him in relation to world history:
"As these sentiments [expressed by the English workmen] are manifestly the enduring support of the free institutions of England, so am I sure that they constitute the only reliable basis for free institutions throughout the world.... The resources, advantages, and power of the American people are very great, and they have consequently succeeded to equally great responsibilities. It seems to have devolved upon them to test whether a government established on the principles of human freedom can be maintained against an effort to build one upon the exclusive foundation of human bondage. They will rejoice with me in the new evidence which your proceedings furnish that the magnanimity they are exhibiting is justly estimated by the true friends of freedom and humanity in foreign countries."
Written at the opening of that terrible year, 1863, these words are a forward link with those more celebrated words spoken toward its close at Gettysburg. Perhaps at no time during the war, except during the few days immediately following his own reelection a year later, did Lincoln come so near being free from care as then. Perhaps that explains why his fundamental literary power reasserted itself so remarkably, why this speech of his at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on the 19th of November, 1863, remains one of the most memorable orations ever delivered:
"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
"But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us: that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."