The Inaugural of Mr. Lincoln

Jersey City American Standard, March 5, 1861

The Inaugural Address of President LINCOLN, has by this time, we presume, been read by all our subscribers. We made extraordinary efforts to place it in the hands of all our patrons last evening but were forced to send off our edition for New Brunswick and other places in the State, without it or disappoint them entirely. They received, however, a full account of all the ceremonies attending the inauguration. By holding back our issue for Jersey City until 6 1/2 o'clock, we were enabled to place the Inaugural also in the hands of our citizens at a seasonable hour in the evening, and we have no doubt but that it was read with avidity and discussed with the earnestness which so important a document was entitled to. We propose now to present our own views concerning it.

In undertaking to examine this performance of our new Chief Magistrate, we find that our criticisms fall into the following order, namely: As to its merit as an effort of the intellect; its general tone or temper; and its avowals of public policy. And we propose to speak of it in reference to these several aspects, with perfect frankness and candour.

First, as an intellectual performance. After a careful reading, making all allowances for the errors necessarily attending a telegraphic report so extended and so hurriedly made; and also after a careful comparison of it with other similar production[s] we are forced to say that it is immeasurably inferior in point of elegance, perspicuity, vigor, talent, and all the graces of composition to any other paper of a like character which has ever emanated from a President of the Republic. Compared with the massive Inaugural speeches of WASHINGTON and the elder ADAMS, or of JEFFERSON, it sinks into comparative insignificance, while the efforts of those whom we have been accustomed to look upon as the weakest successors of these founders of a Government, rise into positive dignity by the contrast. Mr. LINCOLN's style as exhibited in this carefully prepared document is involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of ease and grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax. As an intellectual effort it is trite, and commonplace, and while it lacks the calmness of true power it never rises to eloquence. We defy Mr. LINCOLN's warmest admirer to point out in it a single passage of real eloquence or pathos or beauty. It is cold,. phlegmatic, almost lifeless. Not a fine thought vivifies a single one of its harsh and staccato like paragraphs. No profound observation redeems the cold, and obvious level of his very common ideas. There is not a gleam of statesmanship visible from the beginning to the end of the chapter, nothing to indicate a degree of sagacity or of wisdom superior to what are to be found in our most ordinary citizens. Its argument, of which by the way there is far too much, is feeble and without any touch of acuteness or adroitness, and could be re-produced by the youngest members of the Bar of our State. There are this day in Jersey City five hundred gentlemen who, without the least strain upon their mental organism, could have prepared an Inaugural Address in every respect the equal of that pronounced by ABRAHAM LINCOLN as President of the United States. As a literary production it is unworthy of many a school boy, while as an intellectual effort it has nothing to rescue it from mediocrity.

Second, as to its tone or temper. This feature of the Inaugural we consider much more important in its bearing upon our national affairs than the correctness or the talent displayed in it. For, a faultless taste and almost superhuman talent may be so marred or distorted by passion as to be positively hideous to thoughtful minds. No such criticism can apply to Mr. LINCOLN's INAUGURAL. If coarse and commonplace, it is yet good tempered. Scarcely ever rising to warmth, it is still relieved by a certain glow of good humor—not over perceptible perhaps, but still plainly within the range of the observation of all who look with eyes not scaled by inveterate prejudice. Mr. LINCOLN is evidently not a man of the temperament of a PAUL or a LUTHER, a CROMWELL or a JACKSON. There is nothing implacable in his composition. A grand and master emotion like that is altogether above his comprehension and his capacity. He is naturally genial, jovial, and of an easy disposition. He prefers quiet to confusion, a jest to a sarcasm, peace to war.

And this brings us to the third stage in our criticism of the President's Inaugural—its avowals of public policy. Fairness requires, we think, that his avowals of the policy by which he shall be governed should be interpreted in accordance with the general spirit or temper in which they are uttered. We admit there is a great want of precision and directness in the language of Mr. LINCOLN, and that different constructions will be given to it. One party will assert that it points to overt acts of coercion and force and that it means war; while another party will declare that it is conciliatory, kindly, and temporizing. Judging it by its general tone, we are inclined to coincide with the latter rather than the former. Under all the circumstances of the case, we think it was hardly possible for Mr. LINCOLN to speak with more mildness or less decision than he has done in his inaugural. And if what he has said in reference to his duty to maintain and defend the Union had been uttered by any other than a Republican President—for instance by Mr. BUCHANAN, or Mr. CASS, or Mr. DOUGLAS, or Mr. BELL, it would fail to excite any alarm. Nay, we greatly doubt if Mr. BELL, or Mr. GILMER, or Mr. GRAHAM, or Mr. CRITTENDEN would have been content with the milk and water phrases of Mr. LINCOLN when dealing with this essential point. We stake our life upon it that if it were Mr. BELL who had spoken instead of Mr. LINCOLN there would have been less of the word of the stage manager and far more of the gleam of the battle axe. The one would have been as frank as the other will be believed to have been reticent. The one would have had nothing to conceal, the other will be credited only with what he may be supposed to have held back.

Until his acts shall have proved to the contrary then, we shall prefer to believe that Mr. LINCOLN will rigidly enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, which he so unequivocally declares to be in accordance with the Constitution; that he will defend and maintain the Union as he in common with all who have gone before him has sworn to do; that he will use the power confided to him to hold the property of the Federal Government, and collect duties and imposts, and that beyond what is necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion and no using of force among the people anywhere; that he will not force obnoxious strangers in federal offices—as collectors of customs, &c., among the people that object, but that he will for the time rather forego the use of those offices; that he will continue to furnish mail facilities to all parts of the Republic unless repelled; and that he reserves the right to change or modify the plan here laid down as current events and experience may seem to demand, always acting, as he says, "with a view and hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections."

We think that if Mr. LINCOLN's avowals of the policy which he proposes to pursue in reference to the public property and the collection of the revenue are taken in connexion with these limitations of his own announcement, we have no just occasion to fear that he will resort to extreme coercive measures. So also of his avowal that it is his duty faithfully to execute the laws in all the States, he anxiously declares that he desires this not to be construed as a menace, but only as the expression of a duty expressly flowing from constitutional obligation. And, if to these anxiously guarded sentences be added those with which he concludes his address, and which, coming after the points that may be offensively construed, serve to modify and soften them, we think that Gander and fair dealing demand of us that we put a favorable construction upon his avowals of policy. We refer to his declarations: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen," (plainly appealing to the Southern secessionists,) "and not mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you:" And, again—"I am loth to close. We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

If to these pleadings be added the teaching to be derived from experience and from human nature, that as Mr. LINCOLN becomes insensibly day by day further removed from mere party to his duty as President of the whole people, he will also be less and less inclined to minister to the passions of partisans, and more and more to put forth efforts for the reestablishment of comity and goodwill—if all this be considered, we say we think there is fair ground for the belief that the policy of MR LINCOLN'S administration will be peaceful rather than belligerent. In this hope, we shall wait for events.