No president of the United States ever assumed office under more difficult conditions than Abraham Lincoln. By the time of his inauguration day, a large portion of the South had already seceded as soon as they heard of his election. Nor did he have the support and confidence of a large portion of the North either.
To most Americans, Lincoln was a relative unknown and his homespun image and penchant for humor often led both his opponents and his staff to underestimate him. General McClellan dismissed his commander-in-chief as a buffoon while the abolitionist Wendall Phillips described Lincoln as a first-rate, second-rate man' who was always waiting like any other servant for the people to come and send him on any errand they wish.'
Such estimations show that Lincoln's true intelligence and political acumen were widely misunderstood, perhaps owing to the fact that he was a complex and very private man, not readily given to sharing his inner thoughts with even his closest advisors. He also appeared on the surface to be a man of great contradictions. He was anti-slavery and yet he hesitated to free the slaves. He was a staunch believer in the Constitution and yet he suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
The answer to these seeming contradictions lies in Lincoln's character. He was both a man of high ideals and a pragmatist. His paramount goal was the preservation of the Union. When the number of spies and secessionists living in Maryland seemed a threat to the government, Lincoln responded with the practical measure of suspending the writ of habeas corpus. He delayed issuing the Emancipation Proclamation until the time seemed right to him both politically and for maximum advantage in the war effort.
Lincoln's cautious approach to handling political affairs often made him seem passive. He preferred to respond to events, rather than act, declaring himself that "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have... [continues]
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