It is said that Lincoln, an unimportant Illinois lawyer running for Congress, insinuated himself into Stephen A. Douglas’s speaking engagements in order to promote himself. Law partner William Herndon is a reliable source for the true character of Abraham Lincoln, as are the latter’s personal secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay. Both were with Lincoln as he left Illinois for Washington in early 1860 – as well as at Gettysburg in November of 1863.
Lincoln was not a writer and depended heavily on his secretaries; regarding the speech at Gettysburg, it was described by hearers as “a wet blanket” — Hay later admitted that Lincoln’s text released for publication had been revised.
Destined for Politics
“William Seward knew two men well. He said Jefferson Davis never told a lie and Lincoln never told the truth. Of Davis: “His private and public thoughts were the same.” Of Lincoln: “All his words were to a purpose.” “He had a cunning that was genius.” Charles Francis Adams was shocked at Lincoln’s crude and cynical nature.
The man who put on the humble mask in politics, who called himself “humble,” his peers called self-important, self-confident, self-absorbed, “thinks he can do anything,” “regards himself superior to everybody.” There was no more assertive or self-promoting member of the Illinois Legislature.
Where was his humility, this lawyer who collected a $5,000 fee, married into one of the most prominent families in the West, his wife a social leader, he one who took charge of every group? He worked to be the center of every gathering, entertaining, performing, but never candid. He sought popularity without friendship, familiarity without intimacy.
His closest associates said they never knew him. Herndon said Lincoln’s peers, those who knew them best, did not like him, that his popularity was with the distant public, Lincoln’s “common man.”
A lifelong agent of the money party, he was reckless with public money. He aggressively led the Legislature to spending the Illinois government into insolvency. Close with his own money; he was free with the money of others. He parasitized personal acquaintances, let them support him, after using them left them without gratitude.
He let debts run for years. “He did no charity – individual or institutional.” “He had not avarice, but had no generosity.” “He had not the sin of the ‘git’, but he lacked the goodness of the ‘give’,” said Herndon.
Indifferent to business, he evaded administration and management, made others attend his personal business, was fortunate to have associates do it for him. He was a hard worker in politics but confined his work to vote-getting. He never would preside over even a political meeting.
Zealous in campaign, he evaded work when elected. As candidate he wrote thousands of letters; as President “he wrote and read less than one letter a day. We read, and wrote them,” said [secretaries] Nicolay and Hay.”
(Southern Independence – Why War?, Charles T. Pace, Shotwell Publishing, 2015, excerpts pp. 97-98)