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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-01-14 21:25:06
Typefacelarge in Small

The feeling with which Lincoln was regarded by the men in the front, for whom through the early years of their campaigning he had been not only the leader but the inspiration, was indicated by the manner in which the news of his death was received. I happened myself on the day of those sad tidings to be with my division in a little village just outside of Goldsborough, North Carolina. We had no telegraphic communication with the North, but were accustomed to receive despatches about noon each day, carried across the swamps from a station through which connection was made with Wilmington and the North. In the course of the morning, I had gone to the shanty of an old darky whom I had come to know during the days of our sojourn, for the purpose of getting a shave. The old fellow took up his razor, put it down again and then again lifted it up, but his arm was shaking and I saw that he was so agitated that he was not fitted for the task. "Massa," he said, "I can't shave yer this mornin'." "What is the matter?" I inquired. "Well," he replied, "somethin's happened to Massa Linkum." "Why!" said I, "nothing has happened to Lincoln. I know what there is to be known. What are you talking about?" "Well!" the old man replied with a half sob, "we coloured folks—we get news or we get half news sooner than you-uns. I dun know jes' what it is, but somethin' has gone wrong with Massa Linkum." I could get nothing more out of the old man, but I was sufficiently anxious to make my way to Division headquarters to see if there was any news in advance of the arrival of the regular courier. The coloured folks were standing in little groups along the village street, murmuring to each other or waiting with anxious faces for the bad news that they were sure was coming. I found the brigade adjutant and those with him were puzzled like myself at the troubled minds of the darkies, but still sceptical as to the possibility of any information having reached them which was not known through the regular channels.

In March, 1861, Lincoln had accepted the task of steering the nation through the storm of rebellion, the divided opinions and counsels of friends, and the fierce onslaught of foes at home and abroad. In April, 1865, the national existence was assured, the nation's credit was established, the troops were prepared to return to their homes and resume their work as citizens. At no time in history had any people been able against such apparently overwhelming perils and difficulties to maintain a national existence. There was, therefore, notwithstanding the great misfortune, for the people South and North, in the loss of the wise ruler at a time when so many difficulties remained to be adjusted, a dramatic fitness in having the life of the leader close just as the last army of antagonists was laying down its arms. The first problem of the War that came to the administration of 1861 was that of restoring the flag over Fort Sumter. On the 14th of April, the day when Booth's pistol was laying low the President, General Anderson, who four years earlier had so sturdily defended Sumter, was fulfilling the duty of restoring the Stars and Stripes.

The whole people had come to have with the President a relation similar to that which had grown up between the soldiers and their Commander-in-chief. With the sympathy and love of the people to sustain him, Lincoln had over them an almost unlimited influence. His capacity for toil, his sublime patience, his wonderful endurance, his great mind and heart, his out-reaching sympathies, his thoughtfulness for the needs and requirements of all, had bound him to his fellow-citizens by an attachment of genuine sentiment. His appellation throughout the country had during the last year of the war become "Father Abraham." We may recall in the thought of this relation to the people the record of Washington. The first President has come into history as the "Father of his Country," but for Washington this r?le of father is something of historic development. During Washington's lifetime, or certainly at least during the years of his responsibilities as General and as President, there was no such general recognition of the leader and ruler as the father of his country. He was dear to a small circle of intimates; he was held in respectful regard by a larger number of those with whom were carried on his responsibilities in the army, and later in the nation's government. To many good Americans, however, Washington represented for years an antagonistic principle of government. He was regarded as an aristocrat and there were not a few political leaders, with groups of voters behind them, who dreaded, and doubtless honestly dreaded, that the influence of Washington might be utilised to build up in this country some fresh form of the monarchy that had been overthrown. The years of the Presidency had to be completed and the bitter antagonisms of the seven years' fighting and of the issues of the Constitution-building had to be outgrown, before the people were able to recognise as a whole the perfect integrity of purpose and consistency of action of their great leader, the first President. Even then when the animosities and suspicions had died away, while the people were ready to honour the high character and the accomplishments of Washington, the feeling was one of reverence rather than of affection. This sentiment gave rise later to the title of the "Father of his Country"; but there was no such personal feeling towards Washington as warranted, at least during his life, the term father of the people. Thirty years later, the ruler of the nation is Andrew Jackson, a man who was, like Lincoln, eminently a representative of the common people. His fellow-citizens knew that Jackson understood their feelings and their methods and were ready to have full confidence in Jackson's patriotism and honesty of purpose. His nature lacked, however, the sweet sympathetic qualities that characterised Lincoln; and while to a large body of his fellow-citizens he commended himself for sturdiness, courage, and devotion to the interests of the state, he was never able for himself to overcome the feeling that a man who failed to agree with a Jackson policy must be either a knave or a fool. He could not place himself in the position from which the other fellow was thinking or acting. He believed that it was his duty to maintain what he held to be the popular cause against the "schemes of the aristocrats," the bugbear of that day. He was a fighter from his youth up and his theory of government was that of enforcing the control of the side for which he was the partisan. Such a man could never be accepted as the father of the people.

General Pope had, as a result of his defeat at the second Bull Run, in July, 1862, lost the confidence of the President and of the country. The defeat alone would not necessarily have undermined his reputation, which had been that of an effective soldier. He had, however, the fatal quality, too common with active Americans, of talking too much, whether in speech or in the written word, of promising things that did not come off, and of emphasising his high opinion of his own capacity. Under the pressure of the new peril indicated by the presence of Lee's troops within a few miles of the capital, Lincoln put to one side his own grave doubts in regard to the effectiveness and trustworthiness of McClellan and gave McClellan one further opportunity to prove his ability as a soldier. The personal reflections and aspersions against his Commander-in-chief of which McClellan had been guilty, weighed with Lincoln not at all; the President's sole thought was at this time, as always, how with the material available could the country best be served.


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