The Northern President

The Northern President

New Orleans Daily Crescent, February 21, 1861

If any one can read the speeches which Mr. Lincoln has made on his recent trip to Washington City without a feeling of intense disgust, we envy him not his disposition. Instead of displaying some of the qualities of a statesman and a patriot, he has, in point of fact, shown a “plentiful lack” of both. Instead of rising to the dignity of a President, he has fallen to the level of a stump orator, addressing, for temporary effect, a miscellaneous assemblage of the populace.

His speech at Indianapolis, which we believe was the first he delivered after leaving home, more especially challenges attention for its evasion of the real issue, its unnatural levity in the presence of great and serious events, and its illustrations drawn, not from anything grand or sublime in nature, but from the “passional attraction” of “free-love,” and the “little pills” of the homeopathic practice of medicine! Who would have supposed that a man elevated to the Presidency of a nation would indulge in comparisons of this sort? Imagine George Washington or James Madison, on their way to the capital, making public speeches, destined to be read by the whole world, in which illustrations were drawn from such sources as these!

Mr. Lincoln betrays an utter inability to rise to the dignity of his subject. He resorts to the indirect and unsatisfactory and undignified expedient of asking questions of the populace before him, instead of coining out like a man, and saying flatly what he means. Too timid to express boldly his sentiments, he resorts to the roundabout way of putting interrogatories, thereby suggesting what he would not declare openly—and then, for fear of its being considered too great a committal, reminding the people that they must recollect he was only asking questions, not expressing opinions! Was there ever before such an instance of lack of directness and dignity in any one called to so high an office?

Then we discover also that the Northern President has totally misconceived the nature of the Government, and the Federative system by which the old Union was formed. He asks what the difference is between a county and a State, supposing the county to be equal to the State in population and territorial extent—deducing from this that a State has no more right of secession than a county! This absurd pretension shows how little Mr. Lincoln, like most other Northern politicians of all parties, knows of the character of the old Federal Union. He thinks that there is no sovereignty whatever in the respective States—that they are the dependencies of the Federal Government, instead of being the constituents of it, and that there is no such thing as a Federal Government without an unlimited surrender of their sovereignty on the part of the respective members. He thinks that the Union is the creature of the States, the latter losing their identity in the operation, for all purposes except that of tribute to the central authority. The doctrine of State Rights and State Sovereignty, it is plain to see, is something to which the President of the North is altogether a stranger.

It is but fair to say that Mr. Lincoln, as he traveled farther North, became more dignified in his harangues, and more cautious in his utterances. Under the manipulation of politicians more discreet than himself, he began to see that he must change his style. His later speeches are just as free from “passional attraction” comparisons as they are from the mistakes of the ill-informed politician.

Compare the Indianapolis speech of Lincoln with the inaugural address of President Davis, and how great the contrast! The reader of the latter cannot fail to be impressed with its dignified, manly, serious tone—its freedom from every kind of clap-trap—its abstinence from all insinuations or suggestions—its open, bold, honorable and fair statement of the opinions held by the distinguished orator. In nothing is the difference between Northern and Southern sentiment and morality better illustrated than in these two addresses. No wonder Seward, who, with all his anti-slavery bigotry and fanaticism, has some regard for outward appearances, should hesitate to accept a position in the Cabinet of one who has so poor an opinion of the popular intelligence, and so small an appreciation of the dignity of his office, as Mr. Lincoln displayed in his speech at Indianapolis.