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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Sweet, Leonard. 'Leonard Swett to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon162.html


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-- 166 --

he never seemed to see that part of it. If it had the sharp ring of wit, nothing ever reached him but the wit. Almost any man that will tell a very vulgar story, has got in a degree a vulgar mind, but it was not so with him. With all his purity of character and exalted morality and sensibilty, which no man can doubt, when hunting for wit, he had no ability to discriminate between the vulgar and the refined — substances from which he extricated it. It was the wit he was after — the pure jewel, and he would pick it up out of the mud, or dirt just as readily as he would from a parlor table.

He had very great kindness of heart. His mind was full of tender sensibilities; he was extremely humane, yet while these attributes were fully developed in his character and unless intercepted by his judgement controlled him, they never did control him contrary to his judgment. He would strain a point to be kind, but he never strained to breaking. Most of men of much kindly feeling are controlled by this sentiment against their judgment, or rather that sentiment beclouds their Judgment. It was never so with him. He would be just as kind and generous as his judgment would let him be — no more. If he ever deviated from this rule, it was to save life. He would sometimes I think, do things he knew to be impolitic and wrong to save some poor fellow's neck. I remember one day being in his room when he was sitting at his table with a large pile of papers before him. After a pleasant talk, he turned quite abruptly and said, "Get out of the way, Swett; to morrow is butcher-day, and I must go through these papers and see if I cannot find some excuse to let these poor fellows off."

The pile of papers he had were the records of Courts Martial of men who on the following day were to be shot. He was not examining the Records to see whether the evidence sustained the findings. He was purposely in search of occasions to evade the law in favor of life. I was one time begging for the life of a poor devil. [7] It was an outrageously bad case — I confessed I was simply begging. After sitting with his head down while I was talking, he interrupted me saying — "Grant never executed a man did he?" "I have been watching that thing." [8] Some of Mr. Lincoln's friends insisted that he lacked the strong attributes of personal affection which he ought to have exhibited. I think this is a mistake. Lincoln had too much justice to run a great government for a few favorites, and the complaints against him in this regard when properly digested amount to this, and no more: that he would not abuse the privileges of his situation.

He was certainly a very poor hater. He never judged men by his like, or dislike for them. If any given act was to be performed, he could understand that his enemy could do it just as well as any one. If a man had maligned him, or been guilty of personal ill-treatment and abuse, and was the fittest man for the place, he would put him in his Cabinet just as soon as he would his friend. I do not think he ever removed a man because he was his enemy, or because he disliked him.

The great secret of his power as an orator, in my judgment, lay in the clearness and perspicuity of his statements. When Lincoln had stated a case, it was always
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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Sweet, Leonard. 'Leonard Swett to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon162.html
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