Abraham Lincoln Online Speeches and Writings
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Speaking About Lincoln

Some of the most interesting glimpses of Abraham Lincoln come from his contemporaries -- fellow lawyers, politicians, soldiers, cabinet members, diplomats, reporters, White House visitors. This small collection of quotations offers remarks which appeared earlier on our home page. Additional quotations may be added later. Take a look -- you may find some surprises.

ACCLAIM

The arrival of the President [in Richmond] soon got noised abroad, and the colored population turned out in great force, and for a time blockaded the quarters of the President, cheering vociferously.
--New York Times, April 4, 1865

Everything which made Abraham Lincoln the loved and honored man he was, it is in the power of the humblest American boy to imitate.
--New York Times, April 19, 1865

I met him on the west side of the [Springfield] Square before anyone else had told him and to my cry, "Mr. Lincoln you're nominated" he said, "Well, Clinton, then we've got it," and took my outstretched hand in both of his. Then the excited crowds surged around him and I dropped out of sight.
--Clinton Conkling's Address to the Illinois State Historical Society, 1909

APPEARANCE

The impression produced by the size of his extremities, and by his flapping and wide projecting ears, may be removed by the appearance of kindliness, sagacity, and the awkward bonhommie of his face...
--William Howard Russell in My Diary North and South, March 27, 1861

On my way to dinner at the Legation I met the President crossing Pennsylvania Avenue, striding like a crane in a bulrush swamp among the great blocks of marble, dressed in an oddly cut suit of gray, with a felt hat on the back of his head, wiping his face with a red pocket-handkerchief.
--William Howard Russell in My Diary North and South, July 18, 1861

He was dressed in gray woolen clothing, and had upon his head a most ordinary broad-brimmed slouch. He was covered with dust and came in alone with the peculiar swinging gait that characterizes the old "Rail splitter."
--Benjamin French in Witness to a Young Republic, September 4, 1861

The President looked somewhat worn and fatigued, and remained seated a portion of the evening, but was in good spirits, and had a pleasant word for every one.
--Washington Star, March 23, 1864

I rode beside him on horseback as he left the review ground and could not help noticing his silent abstracted manner and sad careworn face.
--John Gibbon in Recollections of the Civil War

There he was, tall, shambling, plain and good-natured. He seemed shy to a degree, and very awkward in manner; as if he felt out of place...
--Charles Francis Adams 1835-1915; An Autobiography

The last time I saw Mr. Lincoln was in January 1861, at his house in Springfield. His little parlor was full of friends and politicians. He introduced me to them all, and remarked to me aside that, since he had sat for me for his bust, he had lost forty pounds in weight.
--Leonard Volk in "Intimate Memories of Lincoln"

[At Gettysburg] Mr. Lincoln was mounted upon a young and beautiful chestnut bay horse, the largest in the Cumberland Valley, and his towering figure surmounted by a high silk hat made the rest of us look small.
--Henry C. Cochrane in The Star and Sentinel, May 22, 1907

But even under his personal disadvantages, Lincoln's homely face and uncouth figure failed to diminish a profound respect on the part of all who stood in his presence.
--Charles Tuckerman in "Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln"

If ever there was a diamond in the rough, or good fruit enclosed in shabby husk, it was Abraham Lincoln.
--Erasmus D. Keyes in Fifty Years' Observations of Men and Events

[After Appomattox] His whole appearance, poise and bearing had marvelously changed. He was, in fact, transfigured .... He seemed the very personification of supreme satisfaction.
--James Harlan quoted in his biography by Brigham Johnson

ASSASSINATION

That a man so gentle, so kind, so free from every particle of malice or unkindness, every act of whose life has been so marked by benevolence and good will, should become the victim of a cold-blooded assassination, shocked the public heart beyond expression.
--New York Times, April 16, 1865

Lincoln is now the greatest of all Americans. The tragic prestige which assassination lends its victims has conferred upon him a superiority over Washington himself.
--Marquis Adolphe de Chambrun in Impressions of Lincoln and the Civil War, April 16-18, 1865

But Mr. Lincoln's death came at a time propitious to the glorification of his memory. He died at a time when he was preaching reconciliation and the forgetting of the past, when he was nobly repressing the blameworthy exultation of the victorious faction.
--Editorial in the Paris La Patrie, April 28, 1865

Standing, as, we do to-day, by his coffin and his sepulcher, let us resolve to carry forward the policy which he so nobly began. Let us do right to all men.
--Rev. Matthew Simpson in the Lincoln Burial Address, May 4, 1865

I was present at the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, the 4th of March, 1865. I felt then that there was murder in the air, and I kept close to his carriage on the way to the Capitol, for I felt that I might see him fall that day. It was a vague presentiment.
--The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself

Frequent letters were received warning Mr. Lincoln of assassination, but he never gave a second thought to the mysterious warnings. The letters, however, sorely troubled his wife.
--Elizabeth Keckley in Behind the Scenes

BALANCE

We cannot bring ourselves to think that Mr. Lincoln has done anything that would furnish a precedent dangerous to our liberties, or in any way overstepped the just limits of his constitutional discretion. If his course has been unusual, it was because the danger was equally so.
--James Russell Lowell in the North American Review, January 1864

Of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of greatness, combined with goodness, than any other.
--William Sherman in Memoirs of General William T. Sherman

Lincoln had great respect for the superior knowledge and culture of other persons. But he did not stand in awe of them.
--The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz

Fortunate, indeed, was it that he was not a man of hot impulse on the one hand, nor a lover of arbitrary power on the other.
--William Lloyd Garrison in the New York Times, Nov. 11, 1881

DOUBTS

When we were troubled and sat in darkness, and looked doubtfully towards the presidential chair, it was never that we doubted the goodwill of our pilot -- only the clearness of his eyesight.
--Harriet Beecher Stowe in The Living Age, February 6, 1864

At the only interview I had with him, he shook my hand paternally at parting, and said, "Don't be troubled. I guess we shall get through." We have got through it, at least the fighting, and still I cannot believe it.
--Letter from Curtis in George William Curtis

ELOQUENCE

Mr. Lincoln's eloquence was of the higher type, which produced conviction in others because of the conviction of the speaker himself.
--Horace White in "Abraham Lincoln in 1854"

The Speech of Abraham Lincoln at the Cooper Institute last evening was one of the happiest and most convincing political arguments ever made in this City, and was addressed to a crowded and most appreciative audience.
--New York Tribune, February 28, 1860

The President read to-day a paper which he had prepared in reply to Erastus Corning and others. It has vigor and ability and with some corrections will be a strong paper.
--Diary of Gideon Welles, June 5, 1863

This speech [at Bloomington] was full of fire & energy & force. It was logic -- it was pathos -- it was enthusiasm. It was Justice -- Equity -- Truth -- Right & the Good set ablaze by the divine fires of a soul maddened by the wrong.
--Lecture by William Herndon, December 26, 1865

If Mr. Lincoln was six feet, four inches high usually, at Bloomington that day he was seven feet, and inspired at that. From that day to the day of his death he stood firm in the right.
--William Herndon in Life of Lincoln

Never was there a more persuasive speaker. His quaint logic and taking, unaccustomed ways were absolutely irresistible.
--Albert G. Riddle in Recollections of War Times 1860-65

[the "House Divided" speech] It introduced Mr. Lincoln to the country at large, and prepared the way for his nomination to the Presidency two years later.
--Shelby Collum in Fifty Years of Public Service

The sentiments of the "house divided against itself," seemed wholly inappropriate. It was a speech made at the commencement of a campaign, and apparently made for the campaign. Viewing it in this light alone, nothing could have been more unfortunate, or unappropriate; it was saying first the wrong thing, yet he saw it was an abstract truth, but standing by the speech would ultimately find him in the right place.
--Leonard Swett in Herndon's Informants, January 17, 1866

As a writer he was fluent and forcible. His papers bore few marks of revision, and while his style was not Ciceronian, it was clear, pure, and easily comprehended. He composed letters amid distractions which would have appalled other men.
--Edward Neill in Reminiscences of the Last Year of President Lincoln's Life

Lincoln is eloquent in his own way. He can speak a long time and utter no idle words.
--Louis Moreau Gottschalk in Notes of a Pianist

EMOTIONS

In the absence of news the President strives to feel encouraged and to inspire others, but I can perceive he has doubts and misgivings, though he does not express them.
--Diary of Gideon Welles, May 5, 1863

He is exceedingly thin, not so very tall. His face denotes an immense force of resistance and extreme melancholy. It is plain that this man has suffered deeply.
--Marquis Adolphe de Chambrun in Impressions of Lincoln and the Civil War, February 27, 1865

Mr. Lincoln had not a hopeful temperament, and, though he looked at the bright side of things, was always prepared for disaster and defeat.
--Noah Brooks in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, July 1865

...in August 1835 Ann sickened and died. The effect upon Mr. Lincoln's mind was terrible; he became plunged in despair, and many of his friends feared that reason would desert her throne.
--Robert B. Rutledge in Lincoln's Informants, ca. November 1, 1866

[after Willie Lincoln died]: I never saw a man so bowed down with grief. He came to the bed, lifted the cover from the face of his child, gazed at it long and earnestly, murmuring, "My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home."
--Elizabeth Keckley in Behind the Scenes

At about five o'clock this afternoon I was lying half asleep on the sofa in my office when his [Lincoln's] entrance roused me. "Well, Nicolay," said he, choking with emotion, "my boy is gone -- he is actually gone!" and, bursting into tears, turned and went into his own office.
--John Nicolay in Lincoln's Secretary

Yesterday the monotony was a little broken by a visit early in the morning to the President's, when I had quite a long, and quite a satisfactory interview with the President & Mrs. Lincoln, it being the first time I have seen either since poor Willie was buried. The President looks & appears careworn. Mrs. L. looks distressed & pale...
--Benjamin French in Witness to a Young Republic, March 23, 1862

It was a rainy day early in February and my brother stood in the middle of the track, close against the bumper of the car on the platform of which Mr. Lincoln was standing. My brother said that he never forgot Lincoln's sorrowful face as he bade all of them farewell.
--Fred Dubois in Lincoln Among His Friends

He was never quite as sad as he looked, and amid his heaviest responsibilities he generally decorated the situation with a story, an allegory, or a joke...
--William A. Croffut in "Lincoln's Washington"

Like many men who have a keen sense of humor, Lincoln was easily moved by the pathos which is so nearly allied to jocularity.
--Noah Brooks in Scribner's Monthly, August 1879

The White House continued to be a very busy place, but it was never, during the Lincoln administration, a gay one. Yet probably no President laughed more often than he did.
--Helen Nicolay in Lincoln's Secretary

[after receiving the 1860 presidential notification committee] Mr. Lincoln looked much moved, and rather sad, evidently feeling the heavy responsibility thrown upon him. He replied briefly, but very pointedly. All appeared to have a foreboding of the eventfulness of the moment...
--Memoirs of Gustave Koerner

Mr. Lincoln never looked sadder in his life than when he walked through the streets of Richmond and knew it saved to the Union and himself victorious.
--William Crook in Through Five Administrations

None of his hearers enjoyed the wit -- and wit was an unfailing ingredient -- of his stories half as much as he did himself. It was a joy indeed to see the effect upon him.
--Henry Villard in Recollections of Lincoln

GREATNESS

So has ended a brilliant week's campaign of the President, for I think it quite certain that if he had not come down [to Norfolk], it would still have been in possession of the enemy and the Merrimac as grim and defiant and as much a terror as ever.
--Letter by Salmon Chase, May 11, 1862

This man who has raised himself by his own unaided efforts from a "log cabin" deep in the Indiana woods to the presidency of the United States cannot possibly be a run-of-the-mill person.
--Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne in A Frenchman in Lincoln's America

While it is true that the details of the private life of a public man have always a great interest in the minds of some -- it is after all his works which make him live -- & the rest is but secondary.
--Robert Todd Lincoln in Herndon's Informants, January 8, 1866

Mr. Lincoln was generous by nature, and though his whole heart was in the war, he could not but respect the valor of those opposed to him.
--Elizabeth Keckley in Behind the Scenes

...Mr. Lincoln was the central figure of our age, and on him were concentrated the love, the faith, the reverence, the hate, the fear, and the calumny, of half the civilized world. The 'plain people' understood him better than did the politicians; and he in turn had a wonderful perception of the real condition of the popular heart and will.
--William O. Stoddard in White House Sketches

I left for home with a strong conviction, which never left me, that he was the right man in the right place, and the longer he lived the stronger that conviction grew.
--S.J. Kirkwood in the Iowa Historical Record, January 1891

He no longer stands for what is best in American life and genius, but for what is best in humanity. He belongs to the world, not alone to us.
--Noah Brooks in the New York Times, February 12, 1898

HABITS

The President had not much order in the arranging and keeping of his papers; his table was generally filled up with papers and long as they would lie on it. He did not seem to have any difficulty in finding any paper that he wanted amongst the huge mass thrown promiscuously there.
--John P. Usher in President Lincoln's Cabinet

He has no system or method whatever, but allows his time and strength to be exhausted in listening to office-seekers, and doing other drudgery, which belongs to the Departments.
--New York Times, March 16, 1861

...his little dog Jip ... was never absent from the Presidential lunch. He was always in Mr. Lincoln's lap to claim his portion first, and was caressed and petted by him through the whole meal.
--Rebecca Pomroy in Echoes from Hospital and White House

He probably had as little taste or style about dress or attire as any man who was ever born. He simply wore clothes because it was needful and customary; whether they fitted or looked well was entirely above or beneath his knowledge.
--Henry Whitney in "Mr. Lincoln's Habits and Tendencies"

MIND

He keeps his main object -- the preservation of the Union and the Constitution -- distinctly in view, and steadily directs all his actions to it.
--Goldwin Smith in The Living Age, March 4, 1865

He was no fanatic, wedded to one idea, or any abstract principle. If one plan would not do, he would try another.
--Charles Hodge in The Princeton Review, July 1865

I thought him always master of his subject -- He was a much more self possessed man than I thought -- He thought for himself, which is a rare quality nowadays.
--David Davis in Herndon's Informants, February 22, [1866]

When he was with me, I have seen him get a case and seem to be bewildered at first, but he would go at it and after a while he would master it. He was very tenacious in his grasp of a thing that he once got hold of.
--Stephen Logan in the Lincoln Centennial Association Bulletin, September 1, 1928

He may not have been trained in much of the technical learning of the schools, but in point of mental development and mental discipline, the chief aim and object of education, he was highly educated.
--Smith Stimmel in Personal Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln

In conversation, he was a patient, attentive listener, rather looking for the opinion of others, than hazarding his own, and trying to view a matter in all of its phases before coming to a conclusion.
--William E. Doster in Lincoln and Episodes of the Civil War

MYSTERIOUS

Mr. Lincoln only revealed his soul to but few beings -- if any, and then he kept a corner of that soul from his bosom friends. A twenty-five years acquaintance with this man convinced me that I never knew the all of Mr. Lincoln.
--Lecture by William Herndon on December 26, 1865

He was a stranger to deceit, incapable of dissembling; seemed to be the frankest and freest of conversationalists, and yet few understood him even reasonably well, and none but Lincoln ever thoroughly understood Lincoln.
--Alexander McClure in Lincoln and Men of War-Times

SPIRITUALITY

...he remarked that he had made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle, he would consider it an indication of Divine will, and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation.
--Diary of Gideon Welles, September 22, 1862

Yes; by his steady enduring confidence in God, and in the complete ultimate success of the cause of God, which is the cause of humanity, more than by any other way, does he now speak to us and to the nation he loved and served so well.
--Dr. Phineas D. Gurley in White House Funeral Sermon, April 19, 1865

She [Mary Lincoln] addresses him [her murdered husband] in sleep & in her delirium from raging fever in terms & tones of the tenderest affection -- She constantly refers to his religious faith -- but never to her own.
--Elizabeth Blair Lee in Wartime Washington, April 22, 1865

Nor should I ever forget to mention here that the last act of Congress ever signed by him, was one requiring that the motto, in which he sincerely believed, "In God we trust," should hereafter be inscribed upon all our national coin.
--Address of Schuyler Colfax, April 30, 1865

Lincoln was more familiar with the bible than any other book in the language, and this was apparent, both from his style of his illustrations, so often taken from that book. He verified the maxim that it is better to know thoroughly a few good books than to read many.
--Isaac Arnold in "Lincoln and Douglas as Lawyers"

STRENGTH

Never did a President enter upon office with less means at his command, outside his own strength of heart and steadiness of understanding, for inspiring confidence in the people, and so winning it for himself, than Mr. Lincoln.
--James Russell Lowell in the North American Review, January 1864

Lincoln is a strong man, but his strength is of a peculiar kind; it is not aggressive so much as passive, and among passive things, it is like the strength not so much of a stone buttress as of a wire cable.
--Harriet Beecher Stowe in The Living Age, February 6, 1864

Twenty months ago he was without a party. The Copperheads hated him; the "Conservative Republicans" thought him too fast; the "Radical Republicans" thought him too slow; the War Democrats were looking for the chance of a return to political power. He held steadily upon his way.
--Harper's Weekly, March 5, 1864

Criticised ever so unjustly, he would reply with no word of reproof, but patiently and uncomplainingly, if he answered at all, strive to prove that he stood on the rock of right.
--Address of Schuyler Colfax, April 30, 1865

Mr. Lincoln was an extremely strong man when in the Right -- the most sincere & powerful man I ever saw. His sincerity was all over his face, integrity & honor were there.
--Lecture by William Herndon, December 26, 1865

He was calm, steady and even smiling, and in half a minute I was no longer conscious of the room, only of Abraham Lincoln filling the place brim full.
--William Stoddard in Lincoln's Third Secretary

He was a man of wonderful power before a court or jury. When he was sure he was right, his strength and resourcefulness were well-nigh irresistible.
--Shelby Cullom in Fifty Years of Public Service

... to those of us who came in contact with the man himself there was vouchsafed a revelation of personal power transcending any similiar experience which we might know.
--John Eaton in Grant, Lincoln and the Freedmen

Many infer from his exceedingly kind disposition that he was less firm than he ought to have been ... but the truth was, that in whatever Mr. Lincoln believed to be right he was as immovable as the rock of ages.
--Cornelius Cole in Memoirs of Cornelius Cole

UNASSUMING

Still there is about him a complete absence of pretension, and an evident desire to be courteous to everybody, which is the essence, if not the outward form, of high breeding.
--Edward Dicey in Macmillan's Magazine, May 1862

Others have gone forth to power and fame with gladness and with song. He went forth prayerfully as to a sacrifice.
--Charles Sumner's Eulogy on Abraham Lincoln, June 1, 1865

Lincoln was one of the most unassuming of men. In time of success, he gave credit for it to those whom he employed, to the people, and to the Providence of God.
--Memorial Address by George Bancroft, February 12, 1866

When we arrived at Quincy, we found a large number of friends waiting for him, and there was much hand-shaking and many familiar salutations again. Then they got him into a carriage, much against his wish, for he said that he would prefer to "foot it to Browning's," an old friend's house...
--The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz

If I was asked what it was that threw such charm around him, I would say that it was his perfect naturalness. He could act no part but his own. He copied no one either in manner or style.
--Joshua Speed in Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln

The President impressed me more favourably than I had hoped. A frank, sincere, well meaning man, with a lawyer's habit of mind, good clear statement of his fact, correct enough, not vulgar, as described, but with a boyish cheerfulness...
--Ralph Waldo Emerson's Journal

As he leaned back in his chair, he had an air of unstudied ease, a kind of careless dignity, that well became his station; and yet there was not a trace of self-consciousness about him.
--James R. Gilmore in Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War

The soldiers were called out by the officers, arranged in a straight line, and Mr. Lincoln, in his unpretentious way, with his hat off, shook hands with each one, asking his name and the name of his regiment and company.
--Rebecca Pomroy in Echoes from Hospital and White House

UNSUSPECTING

...he certainly did not dream that his principal duty would be to raise great armies and fleets, and the means to sustain them, for the suppression of the most determined and sanguinary rebellion, in defense of slavery, that our planet ever witnessed.
--Henry Villard in "Recollections of Lincoln"

Mr. Lincoln entered Washington the victim of a grave delusion. A genial, quiet, essentially peaceful man, trained in the ways of the bar and the stump, he fully believed that there would be no civil war, -- no serious effort to consummate Disunion.
--Horace Greeley in Recollections of a Busy Life

WISDOM

Conversation ensued for some minutes, which the President enlivened by two or three peculiar little sallies, and I left agreeably impressed with his shrewdness, humor, and natural sagacity.
--William Howard Russell in My Diary North and South

The prevailing quality of Mr. Lincoln as a statesman is his confidence, as he has himself expressed it, in "government of the people, by the people, for the people." From his first expression as President, this has been his ruling idea.
--Henry J. Raymond in the North American Review, January 1865

None of us knew then -- how could we have known? -- how deeply God's wisdom had touched and inspired that devout and patient soul. At the moment few people praised or trusted him.
--Julia Ward Howe in Reminiscences 1819-1899

Although one of the mildest of men, he was unyielding to efforts which were made to force him to acts which he considered erroneous in themselves, or erroneous because untimely.
--Hugh McCulloch in Men and Measures of Half a Century

His great love, his great respect, were for the American people. The spokesman of the nation, he aspired neither to guide nor to resist it. He chose to walk by its side.
--Auguste Laugel in The United States During the Civil War

His confidence in the ability and power of Grant, when the press and many of the people had turned against the hero of Vicksburg, was but another proof of his sagacity and sound judgment.
--William H. Herndon in Herndon's Life of Lincoln

WORKLIFE

While I was in command of the State of Missouri, there was hardly a day passed but what I saw some evidence of President Lincoln's kindness. The appeals that would go to him from the people whose sons or themselves were in trouble, would always have his attention...
--Grenville Dodge in Personal Recollections of President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant and General William T. Sherman

Almost every day about ten o'clock I would accompany Mr. Lincoln to the War Department. He was exceedingly anxious about General Sherman's army, which was at that time marching through the South. On one occasion he remarked to me that he felt very uneasy about Sherman's army, since he had not been able to receive any information regarding it for three weeks.
--Thomas Pendel in Thirty-Six Years in the White House

The President has great regard for Chase's abilities, but is glad to be relieved of him, for C. has been a load of late, -- is a little disappointed and dissatisfied, has been captious, and uncertain, favored the faultfinders, and, in a way, encouraged opposition to the President.
--Diary of Gideon Welles, July 1, 1864

As a Statesman, he was deeply imbued with the Principles of Henry Clay, but was conscientously [sic] opposed to slavery all his life, & he expressed his views honestly & truly to the Ky delegation when he urged them so strongly to accept compensated emancipation.
--Orlando B. Ficklin in Herndon's Informants, June 25, 1865

Mr. Lincoln's attachment to Mr. Stanton arose less from any merely personal feeling, than from a thorough conviction of his patriotism and business efficiency.
--William Stoddard in White House Sketches

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