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Lincoln was understandably tentative in the use of his presidential powers when he first took office in March 1861. He attempted to formulate policy amid a welter of conflicting advice, information, and pressures. The nation’s new president confronted an unprecedented crisis with an untested cabinet and a shaky military apparatus. He was committed to maintain the Union but the path to do so was unclear – especially with the two southern forts still in Union hands – Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and Fort Pickens in Florida. Newly-installed Secretary of State Seward was a persistent proponent of compromise and abandoning Fort Sumter. Commanding Union General Winfield Scott also advised abandoning the forts, but President Lincoln was determined to maintain them and let the Confederate army initiate hostilities. Historian James L. Abrahamson wrote: “Lincoln had anticipated that violent Southern resistance to supplying Sumter would unite the North. By reducing the fort even before that attempt could be made, [Jefferson] Davis made his government doubly the aggressor – at least in the minds of Northerners already outraged by secession, the seizure of so much federal property, and months of inaction in Washington. Even so, historian Kenneth Stampp rightly concluded that Lincoln had not set out to provoke war but rather to enforce the law and secure federal property.”11

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Mr. Lincoln’s judgment was not infallible but it was perceptive. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote: “He is sometimes, but not often, deceived by heartless intriguers who impose upon him. Some appointments have been secured by mischievous men, which would never have been made had he known the facts. In some respects he is a singular man and not fully understood. He has great sagacity and shrewdness, but sometimes his assertion or management is astray. When he relies on his own right intentions and good common sense, he is strongest. So in regard to friends whom he distrusts, and mercenary opponents, in some of whom he confides. A great and almost inexcusable error for a man in his position.” Robert L. Wilson knew Mr. Lincoln three decades earlier in Sangamon County: “His practical common sense, his thorough knowledge of human nature made him an overmatch for his compeers, and for any man that I have ever known”203

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In Alexander K. McClure’s judgment, “I have seen Lincoln many times when he seemed to speak with the utmost candor, I have seen him many times when spoke with mingled candor and caution, and I have seen him many times when he spoke but little and with extreme caution. It must not be inferred because of the testimony borne to Lincoln’s reticence generally and to his singular methods in speaking on subjects of a confidential nature, that he was ever guilty of deceit. He was certainly one of the most sincere men I have ever met, and he was also one of the most sagacious men that this or any other country has ever produced. He was not a man of cunning, in the ordinary acceptation of the word; not a man who would mislead in any way, unless by silence; and when occasion demanded he would speak with entire freedom as far as it was possible for him to speak at all. I regard as one who believed that the truth was not always to be spoken, but who firmly believed, also, that only the truth should be spoken when it was necessary to speak at all.”202

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Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents

Such communication was a key to Lincoln’s use of power. The disciplined use of language was useful on and off the battlefield. Frank Williams argued: “As commander-in-chief, Lincoln was careful to distinguish clearly between when he was giving orders and when he was making recommendations, when he expected to be obeyed and when he wished his views merely to be considered. In giving military analysis to General Don Carlos Buell he said, ‘I have not offered, and do not now offer them as orders; and while I am glad to have them respectfully considered, I would blame you to follow them contrary to your own clear judgment – unless I should put them in the form of orders.'”119

‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,Rough-hew them how we will.'”32

Abraham Lincoln and Power - Abraham Lincoln's …

Lincoln scholar F. Lauriston Bullard wrote: “One of the finest things about Abraham Lincoln is that he never tried to gloss his simple ways with any varnish of artificiality. His life in the West may have saved him from the hypocritical veneer which not seldom marks the ceremonies of fashion. We need not worry about the occasional outcropping of the habits of the prairie lawyer. At no public function was he found wanting in the gravity and dignity that benefited his rank. All undazed by power and position he put visitors of every class at ease and this in itself is a test of refinement.”79

Richard J. Carwardine, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power(Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).

Abraham Lincoln Predicted Brexit and Trump's Rise. …

Lincoln chronicler Francis Fisher Browne wrote: “As each visitor approached the President, he was greeted with an encouraging nod and smile, and a few moments were cordially given him in which to state the object of the visit; the President listening with the most respectful and patient attention, and deciding each case with the greatest tact, delicacy, and clearness. ‘His Yes,’ says Mr. Albert Gallatin Riddle, ‘was most gracious and satisfactory; his No, when reached, was often spoken by the petitioner, and left only a soothed disappointment. He saw the point of a case unerringly. He had a confidence in the homely views and speech of the common people, with whom his heart and sympathies ever were.'”53