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Abraham Lincoln as interpreted in the drama of today

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ABRAHAM LINCOLN AS INTERPRETED
IN THE DRAMA OF TODAY
A Thesis
Presented to
the Faculty of the Department of English
The University of Southern California
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
,
by
LuOrra Louise Nichols
March 1941
UMI Number: EP44158
All rights reserved
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UMI EP44158
Published by ProQuest LLC (2014). Copyright in the Dissertation held by the Author.
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T h i s thesis, w r i t t e n by
X»IIOBBA-LQUXSE...KICH.OLS.........
u n d e r the d i r e c t i o n o f h.&T. F a c u l t y C o m m i t t e e ,
a n d a p p r o v e d by a l l its m e m b e r s , has been
presented to a n d accepted by the C o u n c i l on
G r a d u a t e S t u d y a n d Research in p a r t i a l f u l f i l l ­
m e n t o f the re q u ire m e n ts f o r the degree o f
MASTER
OF
ARTS
D ean ^
Secretary
D ate.
June,1941
F aculty Com m ittee
U 4a H U J J L ......
C hairm an
(53
)
1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
PAGE
INTRODUCTION
I.
................................
iv
DRAMATIZATIONS OF LINCOLN’S BOYHOOD . . . . . .
-1
4 Child of the F r o n t i e r ............
3
The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln
(Rockett f i l m ) ..............
* . . . . .
Abraham Lincoln (Griffith f i l m ) ........ ..
Abe ’s First Fish
.
10
..........................
12
Line oln Dramatization .
...................
14
Abraham Lincoln, the B o y ................
14
4 Little Life of L i n c o l n ................
14
Training for the P r e s i d e n c y ..............
16
The Tree I n c l i n e d ........................
18
Grampa' Tells about Lincoln
II.
7
.................
DRAMA OF LINCOLN’S NEW SALEM D A Y S .........
21
26
Abraham Lincoln (Martin B u n g e ) ..........
28
The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln (Rockett
f i l m ) ...................................
29
Spirit of Ann R u t l e d g e ..................
30
Prologue to G l o r y ........................
39
.Abe Lincoln in I l l i n o i s ..................
31
Young M r . Lincoln (20th Century-Fox film)
. .
66
Abe Lincoln in Illinois (RKO Radio film)
. .
67
iii
CHAPTER^
III.
PAGE
DRAIVlA OP LINCOLN'S LINE IN S P R I N G F I E L D .........
Abe Lincoln in Illinois
M r s . Lincoln
.................
71
...................
75
Mary Lincoln in "Young Mr. L i n c o l n " ...........
77
Mary Lincoln in "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" . . .
77
.............
105
Abraham Lincoln (John Drinkwater)
IV.
70
DRAMA OF LINCOLN'S PRESIDENCY
. '..................113
Abraham Lincoln or the R e b e l l i o n ............... 113
The Masque of the Titans of F r e e d o m ............. 114
Abraham Lincoln (John Drinkwater)
.............
4 Man of the People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Mantle of Lincoln
Spirit of Ann Rutledge
115
130
.......................... 146
.................
147
It Booth Had M i s s e d ............................. 150
V.
C O N C L U S I O N S ..........
156
B I B L I O G R A P H Y ............
A P P E N D I X ...................; . . . . .
' 161
.
167
INTRODUCTION
Anyone who tries to add anything of significance to
the already long list of studies of Abraham Lincoln must run
the risk of being thought presumptuous.
Poets, norelists,
dramatists, and biographers have, with the help of the folk
mind, built up a Lincoln who is often incomprehensible as a
human.
In the belief that no previous investigation of this
kind has been attempted before, it has been the purpose of
this thesis to separate dramatic interpretation from histor­
ical fact and to give an estimate of Lincoln and of a few
persons closely linked with his life as they have been in­
terpreted in drama.
Raymond Holden has remarked, "When the
real Abraham Lincoln lay on his death bed, someone said, or
later said that he had said,
*Now he belongs to the ages.1
The ages seem to have taken possession of him."
For three-
quarters of a century the real Lincoln has been increasingly
obscured by legends and folktales about him.
National fig­
ures have suffered at the hands of myth-makers.
Although
recent biographers have done much to destroy the myths, the
task is still a difficult one.
Drama, it is to be feared,
has done its best to carry on the deception.
Belonging to the world as he does, the extent to which
Lincoln has been accurately portrayed should be discovered
and made known.
The legitimate theater reaches thousands of
people; the cinema reached millions.
Many theater-goers, no
V
doubt, have access to the latest biographies and criticisms
of them; but many members of those audiences have neither
the time nor the inclination to distinguish false from true
in historical drama, well-rounded interpretations from mere
sketches..
By necessity a biographical drama is limited to
selected portions of a complete life story.
To avoid re­
peated dealings with the same incident in Lincoln*s life
over a wide scattering of pages, the chapters of this study
have been divided into four easily distinguished periods as
they have been presented in drama of the stage, and moving
picture since 1900.
They are: (1) Lincoln*s early life
before the death of his mother and the years of his step­
mother* s influence,
(2) the New Salem days,
(3) the years in
Springfield as a young lawyer, politician, husband, and
father, and (4) the years in Washington.
The plays dis­
cussed in any of these various periods of Lincoln*s life
have been presented in the chronological order of their pub­
lication.
Since this study was begun, a new play depicting
Mrs. Lincoln has been written and produced in Los Angeles.
Because of the meager and unsympathetic treatment of Mrs.
Lincoln in all of the earlier, full-length dramas of her
husband, the writer asks to be allowed to digress in com­
menting upon this play.
In dealing with cinema productions,
the writer does not always speak from the vantage point of
having seen the picture.
In such cases it is hoped that
the criticisms of qualified witnesses will prove adequate.
During the search for and perusal of Lincoln plays, so many
were found which may he useful to teachers and research
workers that an appendix listing them has been added.
CHAPTER I
DRAMATIZATIONS OP LINCOLN’S BOYHOOD
The study of the life and character of the boy Lincoln
and of his parents, however varied and even contradictory the
the accounts may be, reveals one consistent effort on the
part of most writers: the young Lincoln forecasts the older
Lincoln.
Too many writers of children’s plays have forced
him into that pattern, and only plays for the young present
him in his boyhood.
The reason for the similarity among the
presentations of him is clear enough.
Paced with a Lincoln
whose fame had become nationally and internationally estab­
lished, but the facts of whose boyhood were few and obscure,
each writer presented a boy worthy of the man.
With the
exception of a few of the best, biographers started the proce­
dure and playwrights followed it.
Our most important source of information on Lincoln’s
early days is William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner.
Ward
Lamon may be overlooked because his first chapters were taken
from Herndon’s notes.
Of the information that Herndon had,
a very small part was given by Lincoln in conversation with
his partner before anyone had a thought of writing Lincoln’s
biography.
We have Herndon’s own words for the little
Lincoln ever said.
"Lincoln to the world is a profound
mystery, an enigma, a sphinx, a riddle, and yet I think that
I knew the man.
. . .1,1
He was uncommunicative, silent, retic^ent,
The greatest amount of information was collected
after Lincoln’s death.
Old settlers and surviving relatives
were visited and questioned.
In most cases memories were
probed for events of fifty years before, at the least,
thirty years earlier.
Basler puts the matter plainly when
he says:
. . . those persons who felt that because of a geo­
graphic proximity they should know something of the
man, but did not, began to gather what they could and
manufacture what they could not gather. Hence there
came into existence a body of material between fact,
fiction, and folklore that will never permit an en­
tirely accurate evaluation.2
No well-developed, full-length play including the
period of Lincoln’s boyhood has been written.
Several one-
act plays and two films will be mentioned in this chapter
asillustrative of the popular and important phases
early
years.
of those
An attempt to relate the plays to one or more
of those phases of his life for the purpose of discovering
the beginnings of the legends and the general significance
each achieves is the aim of this chapter.
It must not be
concluded that any one play mentioned is the only one which
portrays young Lincoln so lucidly< or obscurely, as the case
may be, as mention here might infer.
^ Emanuel Hertz, editor,, The Hidden Lincoln, p. 208.
2 Roy P. Easier, The Lincoln Legend, p. 104*
3
Elma Levinger took the humble birth of Lincoln rather
than any other occasion in his life for giving us a dramatic
picture of pioneer existence.
In A Child of the Frontier,
baby Lincoln presented no difficulty, but in the presenta­
tion of Nancy and Thomas Lincoln, Miss Levinger was con­
fronted with an enormous amount of conflicting biography.
It is Basler’s opinion that Nancy Lincoln and her little son
have become pure legend.
He says this about the mother:
. . . Those who claim to remember Nancy differed in
their opinions even of her physical appearance.
Dennis
Hanks, who certainly knew her as well as anyone then
living, first described her as "spare Made thin Yisage.
. . . Lite Hare and Blue Eyes,” and later maintained
that her "hair was dark— eyes bluish green" that she
was five feet< eight inches tall and weighed "one hundred
and thirty pounds.” The several other describers dif­
fered among themselves as much as Dennis Hanks did with
himself. . . .
In regard to her qualities of mind and character
those who knew her are quite in agreement in essen­
tials. She was uncommonly intelligent— intellectual,
in fact.
"Her memory was strong, her judgment . . •
accurate. She was spiritually and ideally inclined.”
She was above all, kind and affectionate.
It is in­
teresting to note that these excellent qualities were
assigned to her, before Herndon began collecting his
material, by such biographers as W. M. Thayer, who
had little information other than his own imagination.’
Many years later Lincoln is quoted as saying "God bless my
mother; all that I am or ever hope to be I owe to her.
It is such an expression as any man is likely to make of his
3 Ibid., p. 107.
^ William Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s
Lincoln. I,. 4 .
4
mother long dead, but which in this case has taken on
greater significance.
The father of Abraham Lincoln lived too long to attain
the legendary, interest which attached itself to Nancy Hanks.
Biographers writing of Thomas Lincoln wrote plainly of an
ordinary man who had numerous shortcomings.
The entire life
of Lincoln’s father was an-alternation of hard and easy
times, during which he moved along neither gaining much nor
losing much.
Pioneer life was rough and the Lincolns were
poor; but their life was neither rougher nor poorer than that
of Polly Friend, Nancy’s aunt, and her husband, or Thomas and
Elizabeth Sparrow, Nancy’s foster parents.
In her intro­
duction to The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln. Ida M. Tarbell
writes:
. . . We have not made it a sign of shiftlessness that
Thomas Lincoln dwelt in a log cabin at a date when there
was scarcely anything else in the State. . . . The pov­
erty and wretchedness of their life has been insisted
upon until it is popularly supposed that Abraham Lincoln
came from a home similar to those of the ’poor white
trash1 of the South . . . poverty was a temporary con­
dition incident to pioneer life . . . Thomas Lincoln’s
restless efforts to better his condition . . . are suf­
ficient proof that he had none of the indolent accept­
ance of fate which characterizes the ’poor whites.’*
Basler very shrewdly opines that had not Thomas Lincoln’s
son become great, the father would never have been accused
of being a failure.^
^ Ida M. Tarbell, The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln.
p. 4.
Basler, op. cit.. p. 114.
The scene of Miss Levinger’s play, A Child of the
Frontier, is accurate in every detail.
(1) Aunt Sally, the granny woman,
The cast includes
(2) Nancy, a young mother,
(3) Kate, Aunt Sally's daughter, and (4) Nancy’s newborn
son.
The inference is that during the early Sunday morning
hours the granny woman has worked alone and unaided.
Early
in the play we read this explanation:
. . . (She raises the patient a trifle upon the pillow.
Nancy is a beautiful woman of twenty-six . . . she has
such radiant eyes that she seems almost vigorous; her
long black hair falls in confusion over her coarse
gown. Her voice in its low refinement, is in great
contrast to Aunt Sally’s slovenly speech.)
Nancy: Hasn’t my man come back yet?
Aunt Sally: No.
Snow’s, powerful deep . . .
Nancy: Maybe it was just as good he was away when the
baby came— you don’t need a man,around then.
Aunt Sally: (picking up baby) Lord, he’s a spindly,
little thing, ain’t he? A n awfully unpromising baby.
The granny woman’s opinion about the staying powers
of the baby could be founded upon Dennis Hanks’s oft-quoted
story about A b e ’s appearance soon after birth.
While the
statements of Dennis Hanks are often colored by his imagi­
nation, he is, after all, our best witness concerning
Lincoln’s boyhood.
Sandburg, who quotes from Eleanor
Atkinson’s interview with Dennis, deemed these words
7
Frank Shay, editor, The Appleton Book of Holiday
Plays, pp. 46-47.
6
authentic:
. . . he took a long look at the baby and said to him­
self, ”Its skin looks just like red cherry pulp squeezed
dry, in wrinkles.”
He asked if he could hold the baby. Nancy, as she
passed the little one into Dennis’s arms, said, ”Be
keerful, Dennis, fur you air the fust boy he's ever
seen.”. . .
The baby screwed up the muscles of its face and began
crying with no let-up.
Dennis turned to Betsy Sparrow, handed her the baby
and said to her, ”Aunt take him! He'll never come to
much.
Soon into the scene of Miss Levinger's play comes
Aunt Sally's daughter Kate, and the two women attending
Nancy complain bitterly of her husband's neglect and the sad
lot of women generally.
Many of these words are, it is to
be feared, a modern woman's opinion of a difficult life.
Dr.
Barton's words show disagreement with Miss Levinger*s inter­
pretation:
. . . let no one suppose that Nancy was overworked.
Women had plenty of spare time until the invention of
the sewing machine and other labor-saving devices. . . .
There was a certain unhurried spirit about the labors
of the pioneer household, a spirit which we have quite
lost in these more leisurely times.9
Several biographers have done their best to discredit
the old story of Tom Lincoln's shiftlessness and neglect of
wife but to no avail.
Barton writes this of Thomas and Nancy
8 Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, the Prairie Years,
I, 16.
^ William E. Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln.
I, 90.
7
at Abraham* s birth:
. . . Of one thing we may be certain: Abraham Lincoln
had such care at the time of his birth as w e deemed
requisite in the backwoods. His mother was not ne­
glected, . . .
Not in 1809, but soon afterward, there died in
Elizabethtown, Doctor Daniel B. Potter . . . He left
debts . . . The court appointed a commission to collect
the much larger sum that was due him from those who had
been his patients, . . . The commissioners reported
also the men who had paid and among them was the name
of Thomas Lincoln . . . It is a simple matter, but it
shows that when Nancy needed a doctor, she had one, and
that Thomas Lincoln paid the bill.10
Sandburg accounts for even greater devotion on Tom
Lincoln*s part.
He writes:
One morning in February of this year, 1809, Tom
Lincoln came out of his cabin to the road, stopped a
neighbor and asked him to tell "the granny woman,"
Aunt Peggy Walters, that Nancy would need help soon.
On the morning of February 12, a Sunday, the granny
woman was there at the cabin. And she and Tom Lincoln
and the moaning Nancy Hanks welcomed into a world of
battle and blood, of whispering dreams and wistful dust,
a new child, a b o y . H
It is believed that the first
four which attempt to film the story
sented his birth and boyhood.
motion picture of the
of Lincoln's life pre­
In 1924, A1 and Ray Rockett
made The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln.
Miss Frances
Marion, who wrote the narrative of the film, may have be­
lieved the opening scenes to be true to fact, or the factual
10 Ibid., pp. 6-7.
11 Sandburg, op. pit., p. 15.
material may have been supplemented because it seemed to
*lack entertainment value.
In his foreword to the book The
Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln. A1 Rockett explains tHat
an attempt has been made in the film to treat historical
subject matter in a manner true to fact and yet make it
carry all the elements of great photodrama entertainment.
For, he wrote, n. . . the picture-going public pay to be
entertained and it is the box-office returns that enable
the producer to pay for his picture . . .n^
The picture-going public of 1924 no doubt thrilled
at the sight of a furious blizzard roaring through the dense
Kentucky forests that February of the year 1809.
A lone
frontiersman is caught in.the trackless drifts and is near
collapse when he stumbles into the Lincolns* bleak cabin.
Ho smoke curls from the chimney; no flicker of light comes
through the chinked log walls.
The wanderer thinks the
cabin deserted when a thin wail from one corner denotes a
baby*s presence.
Groping his way to the bedside, the man
stoops over a woman lying there and says that he is Isom
Enlow, lost in the storm and mighty glad to find the Lincoln
cabin.
Nancy weakly whispers that he can help her save her
baby born that morning and which she fears is dead of the
cold.
Hours later when the fire has dispelled the cold and
12 A. M. R . , Wright, The Dramatic Life of Abraham
Lincoln, p. vii.
Mrs. Lincoln and the two children, Sarah and Abraham, have
been fed, some neighbors arrive in the storm with supplies
and comforts for the family.
later.
Thomas Lincoln comes home even
The parents decide to name the new son Abraham after
Mr. Inlow’s son who died.
The early scenes of the film seem to have been taken
from the account by J. Rogers Gore, who lived for some years
in Hodgenville, gathered up all the tradition of the neigh­
borhood and for the sake of. unity in his published work, The
Boyhood of Lincoln, gave all credit for it to Austin Gollaher.
Mr. Gollaher bore a good reputation for truthfulness, and men
who interviewed him as an old man, had the distinct impres­
sion that he tried at first to tell what he actually remem­
bered about Lincoln.
But as he was pressed by interviewers
to remember additional details, those which he could not
supply the interviewer sometimes did.
Mr. Gollaher thought
that his mother was present at the birth of Lincoln yet he
also, ascertained that the Gollaher family did not reside in
Hardin County, Kentucky, until 1812.
Austin Gollaher’s memories of Lincoln’s boyhood must
have been very meager.
very frequently.
The boys cannot have seen each other
Barton, who traveled the road between, the
two homes, says it cannot be less than three miles from one
house to the other and in rough, wooded country, that is not
a short distance.
Nine neighbors lived nearer to the
10
Lincolns.
No one whose family moved into the neighborhood
when Lincoln was three and who separated from him when he was seven could rely upon his own unaided memory fifty years
later without having heard from his friend during that long
period.1^
No one will argue the dramatic value of picturing
a life brought into the world during a raging blizzard, sym­
bolical of the life of storm which lies ahead, in contrast
to the simple story of the granny woman who was present.
D.
W. Griffith knew the value of such a scene, for Harry Evans
wrote of the 1930 film version of Abraham Lincoln:
The most inspiring scene, and the most typical of
Mr. Griffith*s genius for exciting the imagination, is
the introduction to the birth of Lincoln. A forest of
wind-swept trees passes before the camera— the rush of
rain, the noise of the gale and the howling of a dog
create an atmosphere that personifies the tragic
majesty of the personality being born that night in a
lonely backwoods cabin.14
It remains for Barton to most clearly refute the in­
terpretation of the playwrights and film writers with Aunt
Peggy Walter’s own account.
It was at a neighborhood picnic,
in the summer of 1861, near the spot where the Lincoln cabin
once stood.
Someone said he had heard that when the Lincolns
lived in that place, they were a "no-’count” family, and per­
haps not even married.
Aunt Peggy Walters answered the im­
putation thus:
13 Barton, op. cit., I, 81-82.
Harry Evans, ”D. W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln.”
Life. 96:17, September 12, 1930.
11
"Mis* Lincoln was a fine woman,” she said.
"I knew
her well. We lived just three-quarters of a mile over
yonder, and I was here right often. She was a good
woman, and nobody ever spoke a word against her while
they lived here, nor against her husband either."
Aunt Peggy Walters was a woman of character, related
to half the people present, and her word had weight . . .
She told this story of the birth of Nancy Lincoln*s
baby: . . . "It was winter, but it was mild weather, and
I don’t think there was any snow . . . I was here all
night .. . . They sent for her two Aunts, Mis* Betsy
Sparrow and Mis* Polly Friend, and these both came, .. .
we all had quite a spell to wait, . . .
"They were poor folks, but so were most of their
neighbors, and they didn*t lack anything they needed.
Nancy had a good feather-bed tinder her; . . .
. . . The baby was born just about sunup, on Sunday
morning.
"After the baby was b o m , Tom came and stood beside
the-bed and looked down at Nancy, . . . sort of guilty
like,.but .mighty proud, and he says to me.
’Are you
sure she*s all right, M i s ’ Walters?* . . . Tom Lincoln
was mighty anxious about his wife, . . . and mighty
good to her too . . . Nancy says to Tom, ’Now we can
use the name we couldn’t use before.*
"And Tom says, says he, 'Yes, Nancy, and i t ’s a right
good name. This here baby boy,* says he, *is named
Abraham Lincoln.*”15
Aunt Peggy Walters narrative constitutes the only reliable
story we have of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.
Perhaps to
the mind of a playwright those stories lack drama; perhaps
it is that some of them are not known.
It probably was inevitable that the life of the young
Lincoln was remembered in after years against the back drop
^
81 84
-
*
William S. Barton, The Women Lincoln Loved, pp.
12
of his illustrious manhood and final martyrdom.
of his early life t ook on a special significance.
Every act
As the
man was the defender of the weak and abused, in the imagi­
nation of the dramatist, the child must also have been; as
the man was great, so was the boy.
Thus it was that, colored
by recent memories of his greatness, the legends of the model
boy as he is presented in scores of short plays came to be
accepted as facts.
The play A b e *s First Fish^6 by Alice J. Walker pre­
sents the little boy as generous, kind, and mindful of
parental instructions.
He gives his first fish to an old
soldier of the Revolution to show his gratitude to all
soldiers.
Six-or seven-year-old Abe is dressed in deerskin
trousers and a coarse shirt.
It would have been a rare bit
of pioneer local color to have a playwright costume the
little boy in just a linsey-woolsey shirt.
Nicholas Rapier;
born across the road from the Lincoln cabin, is quoted by
Barton as having written,
All boys at that time used to wear just one long
garment in the summer time; the darkies still run
around in their shirt-tails, and in those days all
the boys wore long tow shirts. But in school, trousers
were expected, and Austin* said Abe had his first pair
of pants when he went to school.17
^ A. P. Sanford and Robert H. Schauffler, editors,
Little Plays for Little People, pp. 3-8.
17
Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, I, 79.
* The boy mentionedTs Austin Gollaher, Abraham
L i n c o l n ^ boyhood friend.
13
By the time Abraham was born, his father had accumu­
lated at least six hundred acres of land and could never be
called a poverty-stricken man in either the Kentucky or
Indiana days.
Barton writes that Thomas Lincoln was never
without horses after his coming of age, and on Knob Creek he
owned a stallion and several brood mares.
He habitually
attended auctions where he bought dishes, basins, and spoons
for Nancy, heifers, and once a sword which he wanted to make
over into a drawing-knife.
At a sale in the summer of 1814
he bought a "truck-wagon” for eight and a half cents.
a toy wagon could have been bought for such a price.
Only
Abraham
was then five years old.
He must have been a happy boy on
Knob Creek that night.^8
These are trivial incidents, but
they afford us little flashes of light on the boyhood of
Lincoln which help to clarify the distorted pictures in the
plays from which audiences may draw many untenable conclu­
sions.
The stories of Abraham Lincoln's kindness to animals
are numberless.
Doubtless those which Lincoln himself re­
lated in later life are true, but certainly many of them are
fiction.
If young Abe in the plays were allowed to show a
spark of boyish mischief, we could willingly accept the rest.
18 I k M - » P* 88«
14
In.Lincoln Dramatization^ by E. E. Preston, Abe rescues
bis dog from the icy water of the river, saves a good Indian
in the Black Hawk War, restores a bird*s nest to a tree, and
releases the pig stuck fast in the mud.
Abraham Lincoln.
20
the Boy w by Rosamond Kimball dramatizes Abe*s kindness to
birds and his dislike for killing turkeys or deer.
The fact
that Abe never cared for the one great sport of the frontier,
hunting, has given rise to innumerable sentimental stories of
his "chicken-heartedness."
Yet recent biographers give him
the reputation of being the best hog butcher in the neigh­
borhood.
Sandburg writes this of an impulsive mistake which
any boy might make:
He had . . . the riotous blood that has always led
youth in reckless exploits . . . His father*s yellow
cur, which always yelped and gave warning when Abe and
John Johnston tried to get off for a coon-hunt or a
trip to JoneS’s store, was picked up and taken alone one
night on a coon-hunt.
The skin of the coon they killed
that night was sewed onto the f,yaller cur," which ran
for home, was caught by bigger dogs- and torn to pieces.21
In the short play A Little Life of Lincoln.22 by
Eleanore Hubbard, Abe writes in the cover of a book for the
other children present the oft quoted lines.of verse:
Preston, "Lincoln Dramatization," Normal
Instructor and Primary Plans. 37t78,80, February, 1928.
20
21
22
Sanford and Schauffler, op. cit., pp. 9-17*
Sandburg, op. cit., I, 50.
Eleanore Hubbard, Little American History Plays
for Little Americans, pp. 139-151*
15
Good boys who to their books apply
Will all be great men by and by.
From this bit of educational philosophy comes the popular
legend of Abe Lincoln, the student and great reader.
The
facts of the studiousness of Lincoln have been so highly
colored that the fable can never be dispelled.
Scenes of
young Lincoln lying full length before the flickering fire,
sitting in the forest braced against a tree, or leaning
against the handles of a plow with the ever-present book in
hand are to be found in every play and film.
To Thomas
Lincoln, John and Dennis Hanks, the three Johnston children,
and even to Sarah Bush Lincoln, all of meager education and
generally low ambition with regard to study, the reading of
Abraham probably appeared enormous.
To say that he read all
the books in the neighborhood means that in all he read
about a dozen.
Some day a playwright may present a real boy
by adding to the above specimen of Abe*s handwriting the
following lines which he also wrote in his copybook:.
Abraham Lincoln
his hand and pen.
he will be good but
god knows When. '
Often the lines in children*s plays are quoted- ones
and accurately so.
The fallacy lies with the tone of deep
prophecy given to a few .words originally said in a jocular
Sandburg, op. cit.. I, 53*
16
way.
Training for the Presidency2^ by Mary Ellen Whitney
retells the story of the two days* work to repay Josiah
Crawford for Parson Weem's book of Washington damaged by the
rain.
In the play Mrs. Crawford seriously asks Abe where he
expects to use all his reading and what he expects to become,
Abe solemnly answers,
"The President of the United States."
In The Prairie Years the same incident is told thus:
. . . When he was cuttin up didoes one day at the
Crawford farm-house, Mrs. Crawford asked, "What's going
to become of you, Abe?" And with mockery of swagger, he
answered, "Me? I'm going to be president of. the United
States."^5.
Many of the plays are inaccurate in the portrayals of
Lincoln's boyhood as are the biographies which they followed.
Much mention is made of the half-faced camp in which Thomas
Lincoln so poorly housed his family their first winter in
Indiana,
Beveridge's Abraham Lincoln has the most complete
description of the camp.
His authority is, no doubt, William
Herndon whose notes he used.
According to Louis A* Warren,
Herndon secured his information about this half-faced camp
from Dennis Hanks who claimed to have lived in the structure,
but, three years before Dennis Hanks was interviewed by
Herndon, Charles M. Thayer had told the story of the half-faced
camp in his book, The Pioneer Boy.
How much this book, which
Mary Ellen YiThitney,. Some Little Plays and How to
Act Them, pp. 41-47.
25
' Sandburg, op. cit.. p. 52.
17
Dennis Hanks had read before he was interviewed by Herndon,
.influenced his reminiscence of the event fifty years before,
one cannot say.2^
Of course every one knows Thomas Lincoln never lived
in a half-faced camp in Kentucky.
¥iFarren also believed that
he did not live in a ho^el for an entire year in Indiana as
Herndon wrote.
He points out as a complete refutation of
the story a portion of the autobiographical sketch which
Abraham Lincoln prepared for John Locks Scripps in June,
I860.
In a bulletin entitled "Lincoln Lore," Warren writes:
. . . Lincoln wrote out the sketch in the third person
and it contains this reminiscence:
"From this place (Kentucky) he removed to what is
now Spencer County, Indiana, in the autumn of 1816,
Abraham then being in his eighth year. . . . A few days
before the completion of his eighth year, in the ab­
sence of his father, a flock of wild turkeys approached
the new log cabin,, and Abraham with a rifle-gun, stand­
ing inside, shot through a crack and killed one of
them."
The incident of the turkey shooting occurred some few
days previous to February 12, 1817.
The LincolnSr had
been in the state at that time less than two months, and
as Lincoln states precisely, they were living in "the
new log cabin," not in' a three-faced camp or a hovel but
a log cabin. . . .
At the time Mrs. Hanaford was writing her Lincoln
biography in 1865, she interviewed John Hanks who was
exhibiting in Boston the cabin built by the Lincolns at
Decatur, Illinois, in 1830.
John Hanks who helped build
the cabin told Mrs. Hanaford,.. . . "four days were
26
Louis A. Ifarren, editor, "Lincoln Lore," Bulletin
of the Lincoln National Life Foundation, No. 557, December
11, 1939.
18
spent in building it." . . .
There was no reason on earth why Thomas Lincoln
should expose his family to the elements in a half­
faced camp when a. typical log eabin could b e built in
four days. A year before Thomas Lincoln moved to
Indiana, other Lincoln relatives had preceded him and
settled not far from where he built his cabin home,
so there were plenty of settlers to help him cut the
timber and erect his pioneer dwelling.
Thomas Lincoln
was, furthermore, an experienced woodsman and cabinet­
maker and had built several cabins and had one contract
for getting'out timber for a large mill.
The story of
the half-faced camp is but another one of Herndon’s
gross exaggerations.2?
The reports of the Lincolns to their Kentucky kins­
folk must have been encouraging news, for Thomas and
Elizabeth Sparrow and their fostor son Dennis Hanks and
afterward Levi and Nancy Hall came on to Indiana to live
near the Lincolns.
The first sorrow in the life of Abraham Lincoln oc­
curred in the autumn of 1818, when five of the settlement
died of malarial fever; pioneers called it the "milk-sick.”
The Sparrows and the Halls died and were buried by Thomas
Lincoln.
A few days later Nancy Hanks Lincoln died.
A little more than a year later, Thomas Lincoln re­
turned to Elizabethtown and asked Sarah Bush Johnston, a
widow with three children, to marry him and return to his
motherless children.
The Tree Inclined .^8 a play by Grace
D. Ruthenberg, depicts the days of Thomas’s absence and his
Warren, loc. oit.
A. P. Sanford, editor, Lincoln Plays, pp. 215-235-
19
return with a new mother for Abe and Sarah early in December,
1819.
The playwright must be commended for the excellence
of the dialect.
The play opens with Sarah and Abe becoming anxious
about their father who has been gone several days.
Abe, who
should be portrayed as nearly eleven, and Sarah, who is
thirteen, are hungry and cold.
Dennis Hanks, who was twenty
years old at the time and had been living in the Lincoln
household since the death of Thomas and Elizabeth Sparrow,
could have been helping to provide food and fuel for them,
but he has been gone three days in the woods shooting bear.
The tradition that Abe would not kill anything is found in
these lines:
Abraham.
1*11 take keer of you sister . . . Iffen a
wolf comes out of the woods 1*11 go bang and h e *11
fall down dead.
Sarah.
(laughing) Iffen a wolf came out of the woods
yo're that tender-hearted y o u ’d say, "Hi, thar, Mr.
Wolf. Be you hungry, pore Mr. Wolf?"-an* give him
your last mite of corn pone.29
Later in the play Sarah has a line which follows the
many biographical attempts to credit the pious Abraham with
the religious service conducted over the grave of his mother
by Reverend David Elkin some months after her death.
Sarah’s
line in the play reads:
Sarah.
’Pears somehow like it couldn’t have been a
whole year since Mammy was tuck. I ’m glad you wrote
29 Ibid., p. 218.
20
that letter to that thar preacher Mr. David Elkins.
It was a sight of oomfort him coming.”30
To the average member of an audience the line is almost
meaningless; only those who have heard the legend would
grasp its meaning and there is no good authority for this
legend.
Barton can carry us a step farther than the play­
wright with an incident of even more sentimentality.
The latest writer to lend to the incident of Nancy
Lincoln’s funeral the aid of.a vivid imagination and a
versatile pen is Rose Strunsky.
Discarding the theory
that Abraham wrote his first letter to invite a minis­
ter to come from Kentucky to preach his mother’s funeral,
she sends him on foot to a nearer settlement:
"The boy Abraham had his standards of life.
There
were things of too much meaning to let pass without some
gesture.
And the unceremonious burial in the forest
haunted him. When he heard that a wandering preacher
had reached the neighborhood, he tramped many miles in
the snow to bring him to the spot where the dead body
lay, so that a funeral sermon might be delivered over
the now white grave.” (Abraham Lincoln, p. 6 .)31
Barton, who knows Kentucky circuit preaching from personal
experience, adds that there was nothing unusual about the
deferred funeral.
These writers simply do not know the con­
ditions of life in which the boy Lincoln lived.
It was cus­
tomary among those people to hold the funeral service some
weeks or months after the burial.
buried on the day following death.
The dead were commonly
Preachers were nearly all
30 Ibid., p. 219.
31 William E. Barton, Soul of Abraham Lincoln, p. 40.
21
farmers; and the particular minister with whose church the
family was affiliated might be living at a considerable dis­
tance or be at that time at some distant place on his wide
circuit.
The more remote settlements were not reached by
any one preacher oftener than once in three months.32
Later in the play, The Tree Inclined, some neighbors
come to the Lincoln cabin.
the fire.
Sarah asks them to sit down near
Mrs. Baldwin*s lines follow:
Mrs. Baldwin.
Sit down indeed. Why don’t that shift­
less Tom Lincoln git a top side on his house? I t ’s
been this way a year an more. . . . Cold enough here
to freeze your nose off. I don’t like the look of
it, him goin’ off like that, a n ’ the pore youngsters
hangin’ out of their clothes since their rna died.33
It is strange that Dennis, twenty, and Abe eleven, who had
handled an &x since coming to Indiana should have been with­
out fuel.
It is difficult to believe that Thomas Lincoln,
who was able to pay off the debts of the widow Johnston at
the time of their marriage,would have left his own children
half naked and half frozen in the Indiana cabin.
The chil­
dren’s loneliness, fear, and hunger make a good play but add
another indictment against Thomas Lincoln.
Grarapa Tells about Lincoln34 by Phillis Marshall in­
cludes one of those rare bits of humor for which Lincoln was
32 Ifeid* > PP« 40-41*
^
Sanford, op. cit., p. 223.
24 Ibid., pp. 23-46.
22
so famous in later years.
It is one authentically quoted
from an interview with Sarah Bush Lincoln.
Sandburg1s. ac­
count of the incident so well done in the play is this:
. . . His stepmother told him she didn’t mind his bring­
ing dirt into the house on his feet; she could scour the
floor; but she ashed him to keep his head washed or h e ’d
be rubbing the dirt on her nice whitewashed rafters.
He put barefoot boys to wading in a mudpuddle near the
horse-trough, picked them up one by one, carried them to
the house upside down, and walked their muddy feet
across the ceiling.
The mother came in, laughed an hour
at the foot-tracks, told Abe he ought to be spanked—
and he cleaned the ceiling so it looked new.33
Many a story which reveals Abe to have been a real
boy full of normal pranks have been thus far overlooked by
the playwrights.
An episode of his days with Austin Gollaher
was told to Dr. Rodman by Lincoln while he was President.
Lincoln asked about his old friend and then said:
. . . MI shall never forget an amusing but very scurvy
trick he once played on me when we were boys. With
weapons no more formidable than hickory clubs he and I
had been playing in the woods and hunting rabbits.
After several hours of vigorous exercise we stopped to
rest. After a while I threw down my cap, climbed a
tree, and was resting comfortably in the forks of two
limbs. .Below me stretched out full length on the grass
was Austin apparently asleep. Beside him lay his cap,
the insides facing upwards.
In the pocket of m y little
jacket reposed a paw-paw which I had shortly before
found.
The thought suddenly occurred to me that it
would be great fun to drop it into Austin's upturned
cap. It was so ripe and soft I could scarcely withdraw
it whole from my pocket.
Taking careful aim I let it
fall. I had calculated just right; for it struck the
cap center and I could see portions of soft yellow paw­
paw spattering in
every direction.
I paused to observe
t
35 Sandburg, op. oit.. p. 50.
23
the result, convinced that Austin would resent the
indignity; but, strange to relate, the proceeding
failed to arouse him. Presently I slid down the tree,
but judge of my surprise on reaching the ground when I •.
learned that, instead of sleeping, Austin had really
been awake; and that while I was climbing the tree he
had very adroitly changed caps . . . so that . . . I
had simply besmeared my own h e a d g e a r . " 3 6
Abe Lincoln was a normal boy with regard to work.
Some of his old neighbors, among them several who had been
his employers, were not so awed by his greatness that they
would not say frankly that he was lazy.
He could work hard
and occasionally did, but he interrupted his work with his
storytelling, his fondness for talk, and by periods of deep
thought or daydreaming.,
John Romaine said of him in 1865:
He worked for me, but was always reading and think­
ing. I used to get mad at him for it. I say he was
awful lazy. He would laugh and talk, crack his jokes
and tell stories all the time; but he didn’t love his
work
half as much as his pay. He said to me one time
that his father taught him to work, but he never taught
him to love it.37
It is not difficult to understand why Thomas Lincoln
looked with disapproval upon the reading done by his powerful
and lazy
young son, thatboy who imprudently asked the first
question
of any stranger who passed his father’s fence.
In­
quisitive, talkative children were out-of-order for many
years after A b e ’s boyhood.
her understanding of him.
A b e ’s stepmother was unusual in
She helped him and justified his
3^ Jesse W. V/eik, The Real Lincoln, pp. 17-18.
3? Herndon and Weik, op. cit., p. 42.
24
actions.
If he broke out laughing when others failed to
see the joke she excused him.
to her nor lied to her.
unaccountable things.
ahead for his son.
a pioneer.
He never spoke a cross word
Thus he had the right to do some
How could Thomas Lincoln look so far
His own learning had been sufficient for
He said:
. . . "How I hain’t got no eddication, but I get along
far better’n if I had.
Take bookkeepin— why I ’m the
best bookkeeper in the world!
Look up at that rafter
thar. Thar’s three straight lines made with a fire­
brand: if I sell a peck of meal I draw a black line
across, and when they pay, I take a dishcloth and jist
rub it out . . .38
Barton, in concluding his chapter on Lincoln’s boy­
hood, says about the child and his surroundings:
Not only did Lincoln spend his childhood in the midst
of these primitive conditions, but he was in all essen­
tials a part of his environment. He had in him dormant
qualities which were later to lift him above these con­
ditions, but he was not in his childhood superior to the
life around him. He was to the manner born.
Later he
came to think meanly of his poverty-stricken youth; but
at the time his was the life of a normal backwoods boy.,,
and he was the logical product of the life in the midst
of which he lived.39
The perusal of many plays based on the boyhood of
Lincoln leads to these conclusions.
Each short play has
been built around a few historical facts and much hearsay
and conjecture.
That the boy was truthful,
just, gentle,
38 Sandburg, 0£. cit., p. 111.
^
Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln. I, 110-111.
strong, and honest has been told innumerable times and can
be proved.
That he was also lazy, careless of his appear­
ance, capable of artfully dodging a licking, and mischievous
can also be proved but rarely is mentioned.
The error lies
not with the inaccuracy of detail but in omission, wrong
emphasis, and lack of balance which lead to a misinterpreta­
tion of the boy and his parents.
Logically the Lincoln of
the boyhood plays should be a less heroic figure than the
man who emerges at the close of the Civil War.
Thomas
Lincoln has been presented more shiftless and less of a pro­
vider than he was; Haney has become a backwoods madonna.
And young Abe, who has been portrayed in so few plays as the
delightful child he was, in most of them
is hot a real boy
at all, but rather a moral lesson to young Americans.
CHAPTER II
DRAMA OF LINCOLN’S NEW SALEM DAYS
The child Lincoln belonged to Kentucky and the youth
to Indiana; but the man, until he set out for Washington as
President of the United States, spent the.greatest part of
his lifetime in Illinois.
In March, 1830, less than three
weeks after Abe's twenty-first birthday, Thomas Lincoln,
Sarah Bush Lincoln, Abraham, and the rest of the family
numbering thirteen in all, left their home in Indiana for a
new home on the Sangamon River in Illinois.
Abraham remained
with his father while the cabin was built, ten acres of
prairie ground broken, a crop of corn raised, and the ten
acres enclosed with a split rail fence, and then set forth
alone to seek his own fortune.
For a year young Abe depended on such labor as he
could get from the various farmers in Macon County.
He
could have taken up some land himself as John Hanks had done ,
and as his other kinfolk seemed about to do, but he had no
love for farm work.
He had, moreover, made a political
speech in or near Decatur the summer before which had been
well received by his listeners.
Impromptu as the entire
affair was, Lincoln had enjoyed it.
The approval was pleas­
ant, and within him was stirring a consuming ambition.
One day, early in 1831, John Hanks asked Abraham to
27
ride with him to Decatur to meet a remarkable man stopping
at the tavern there.
The man was Denton Offutt.
He had a
plan which included the buying of cargoes of grain and pork
in Illinois and flat-boating them to New Orleans to market.
Offutt did not pretend to know river navigation, but he did
boast of business acumen.
He needed three men to handle his
boat, and in John Hanks, John Johnston, and Abe Lincoln he
found his crew.
Herndon says of this journey that Lincoln
later:
. . . assured those with whom he came in contact that he
was a piece of floating driftwood; that after the winter
of deep snow he had come down the river with the freshet,
borne along by the swelling waters, and aimlessly float­
ing about, he had accidentally lodged at New Salem.1
The fact that the Sangamon had been dammed at New Salem and
that Offutt’s flat boat floated free over the dam after
Abraham’s own ingenious scheme had helped it over was to have
real significance in the young m a n ’s career.
During the
month’s journey down-stream and their stay in New Orleans,
it became evident to Offutt that this mode of making a living
was too monotonous for a man of his ambitions.
He determined
to set up a store of goods at New Salem and the surrounding
country with Abraham as his clerk.
For obvious reasons, only the cinema productions of
Lincoln in New Salem have included any portion of Lincoln’s
^ William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s
Lincoln. I, 79.
“
28
trip in Offutt*s flatboat.
Plays for the legitimate stage
are limited to the arrival of the young man as Offutt*s new
cleric.
It will be the purpose of the chapter to present the
several plays and film productions which have presented
Lincoln during his six years in New Salem and their inter­
pretation of him.
In 1911, Martin L. D. Bunge published his play
Abraham Lincoln, an historical drama in four acts.
quires but brief mention here.
theatrical success.
It re­
No record lists it as a
It Is an extremely sentimental play pre­
senting Lincoln in Act I as a boarder at the Rutledge Tavern.
Annie, who is putting her baby sister to sleep, is compli­
mented for her motherly kindness.
Abe, who is reading, re­
marks that he wishes he had such a sister.
In Act II, Annie
receives a letter which releases her from her thoughtless,
absent lover, John McNamar.
In the following act, Lincoln
and Annie have decided to marry.
The last act is set in
Lincoln*s office in Vandalia where he has gone for his first
term in the legislature.
Two men are consulting him about
law cases, which he refuses when Bowling Greene comes to tell
him of Annie*s death.
The absurd old legend about Annie*s broken heart and
broken health as the result of being jilted by John McNamar
is given as the reason for her death.
The fact that many
people in that community, among them Ann Rutledge and her
29
father, were ill with malarial fever in the late summer of
1835, seems an inadequate reason for her death to the writer
of sentimental drama.
Before the final curtain
spirit comes to Lincoln.
Annie’s
The names of the characters and the
setting bear the only resemblance there is in Bunge*s play
to the real Lincoln of New Salem.
Not again until 1924, when A1 and Ray Rockett*s cinema
production covered the entire life of Lincoln, were his years
in New Salem used by playwright or scenario writer.
George A.
Billings, once a cowpuncher in New Mexico, a miner in
Colorado, a carpenter in Arizona, a farmer in Minnesota, and
a salesman in Oregon, aspired to play Lincoln in the film
production.
The Literary Digest stated that **Mr. Billings
is the same height as Lincoln, has the same gait, mannerisms,
voice, temperament, physiognomy, and the same gentleness of
spirit.
He . . . hasn’t the least idea that he is a great
artist.”2
Robert E. Sherwood, who was then a member of the New
York Herald staff and who since has distinguished himself as
a Lincoln dramatist, wrote, *!It is historical drama, but it
is not colored by the tints of fiction.
There are no char­
acters introduced who did not actually exist— no incidents
2 "A Life Preparation to Act Lincoln on the Film,”
Literary Digest. 80:30-31, February 23, 1924.
30
that, . . . did not actually occur.” 3
But Andrew A. Freeman
of The Evening Mail was not so easily pleased.
His comments
voice this more general disapproval:
The photoplay was more or less like a reading of the
life of Lincoln illustrated by pictures, the narrative
on one side of the page and the pictures on the other.
Most everyone in the theater was acquainted with the
Lincoln they saw on the screen. What they wanted to
see was something of the other side of the man.
. . , What a chance for a director to outdo himself.
But the Rockett brothers were satisfied with a printed
title to tell the story.
Thus the producers have done one thing. They have
animated the printed page of history. And this they
have done well. To call the film "The Dramatic Life
of Abraham Lincoln" is misleading, for the drama is
not there. . . . They have treated their production
with the reverence it deserves but have failed to make
a great picture. 4As time passed, Lincoln dramas continued to appear,
but it was not until 1927 that an author again concerned him­
self with Lincoln’s New Salem days.
In the preface to his
play Spirit of Ann Rutledge. Harold W. Gammans explains that
the influence of Ann Rutledge on Lincoln and Lincoln’s belief
in the spirit life furnished the dominant motive for his work.
Only the first of four acts is set in New Salem.
year is 1835.
The
The play opens with the belated return of John
McNamar, former fiance of Ann.
On the road near A b e ’s store
Dr. Allen and a man named Hill, residents of New Salem, hold
^
P« 31.
^ Loo, oit.
31
McNamar and take tlie gun with which he planned to take Abe *s
life.
They release him at his promise to go and not return.
Reverend Cameron enters and waits with Dr. Allen for two run­
away slaves
w h o m they intend to hide until escape across the
border is possible.
Abe in his woodshed.
The blacks stumble in and are hidden by
Very soon Ann Rutledge enters the scene
where she is met by Abe when he comes from hiding the slaves.
Ann is very depressed and asks Abe:
Ann.
. . . Can your mind travel to the beyond, Abraham?
Abe. Ann, I know that there is a beyond, but I cannot
see into it. Ann, you are my guidei you are my hope.
Oh, Ann, Ann— (Grasps both her hands)— it cannot be
that your wonderful self can ever be parted from me,
that your body can be snatched from m y body. My
whole life is only you.
Ann. I believe that you mean it, Abraham, although I
have known a man who did not mean it.
Abe. Ann, I will lay my life bare before you. I have
told you of the tender mother who carried me so
close to her heart and of the fair soul who took her
place and who still lives.
Ann.
Yes, and I revere them as you revere them.
Abe. I can never forget the life I owe to them, the
love I owe to them.
I was in them, a part of them,
you understand. So I will become even more a part of
you. You understand how they are everything and yet
how you are everything?5
GairtmansV; young Lincoln is more articulate in the
presence of a woman than we are led to believe the real Abe
ever became.
Much as he liked to be with them, he felt
^ Harold W. Gammans, Spirit of Ann Rutledge, p. 14.
32
awkward among women.
Barton writes of this Lincoln trait:
. . . when his personal relations with a woman ap­
proached a degree of intimacy, Lincoln appears to have
suffered to a high and unusual degree an inherent inhi­
bition that halted him a long way on the hither side of
propriety .°
Several times Lincoln was accused of being afraid of women.
Once he laughed it off by saying, "A woman is the only thing
I am afraid of that I know can't hurt me."7
From a letter to William Herndon in 1866, are these
words of Mary Owens to whom, after two refusals to marry him,
Lincoln directed yet a third plea:
. . . I did on one occasion say to my sister, who was
very anxious for us to be married, that I thought Mr.
Lincoln was deficient in those little links which make
up the chain of w o m a n s happiness . . . Not that I be­
lieved it proceeded from a lack of goodness of heart;
but his training had been different from mine . .
Lincoln hated pretty speeches and often spoke of his
inability to make them.
After a tea party at the home of
Mayor Boyden of TJrbana one evening, the mayor and Whitney
excused themselves for an hour, and left Lincoln with his
hostess, Mrs. Whitney, and her mother.
Whitney later de­
scribed Lincoln on his return as "ill at ease as a country
boy," eyes shifting about the room, too much of arms and legs
^ William E. Barton, The Women Lincoln Loved, p. 200.
? Garl Sandburg. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years.
II, 266.
® Herndon and Weik, o£. cit.. I, 148.
33
which tied and untied as though he tried to hide them.
In
his sympathy for the man he could not account for it "unless
it was because he was alone in a room with three women."9
A return to the play, Spirit of Ann Rutledge, takes
us to the discovery of the slaves in A b e ’s woodshed by the
pursuing owners, an offer by Ann to buy the negroes’ freedom,
and McNamar pressing his claims for Ann.
Into this welter of
conflicting desires strides Abraham, and into his anas the
ailing Ann faints.
Lincoln rids the stage of all but Ann
and himself and with these lines the act concludes:
Ann.
. . . I wanted to buy their slaves and free them.
Slavery is wrong. Y o u ’ll free them, w o n ’t you?
Abe. Yes, Ann. I ’ll buy them; I ’ll free them.
d o n ’t leave me. .
Ann.
I will never leave you, Abraham.
with y o u .
Abe.
Ann, I believe you.
Only
I will always be
(Ann falls back in his arms)10
Thus Gammans puts Abraham’s high commission for freeing the
slaves in A n n ’s last request.
Her promise that her spirit
will ever be near him is kept during the remainder of the
p!ay.
Gammans’s attempt to invest Lincoln with elements of
mysticism resulted in a puerile explanation of the inspira­
tion actuating the Emancipation Proclamation.
9 Sandburg, op. cit., p. 266.
10 Gammans, op. cit.. p. 22.
There were
several rumors to the effect that the President and Mrs.
Lincoln were spiritualists.
But Lincoln’s own comment about
the value of mediums establishes his opinion on the matter.
Barton has written:
We learn from other sources that Lincoln permitted
two or three mediums to come to the White House and to
tell him what the spirits said he ought to know; but
Lincoln said of them that the advice of the spirits, as
thus received, was as contradictory as the voices of his
own Cabinet, of whose meetings the seances reminded
him.11
If, as has been said of our literary and historical
portraits, the element of romance in them is often under­
stated, the same cannot be said of many Lincoln portraits of
his New Salem years.
The romantic truths are few, but in the
Ann Rutledge romance has been concentrated enough sentimen­
talism to make up for any lack of it in other periods of
Lincoln’s life.
It was inevitable that such an aspect should
have been added to his legends for he so obviously lacked the
quality himself.
Few writers have made his courtship and
marriage to Mary Todd a sentimental matter, though many of the
indignities suffered by Mary have been repudiated by careful
authorities.
Mrs. Lincoln was not a romantic figure during
the years following Linsoln’s death; she was a mentally un­
balanced woman whose pathetic situation should have invoked
nothing but pity.
Mary Todd had been a very human woman in
H William E. Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln,
p. 232.
:
35
her earlier years.
She had her faults, the same faults to he
found in good women every day.
But to her inconsiderate con­
temporaries she was a disgrace to the sainted memory of her
husband, and she was too well known to be considered in the
same romantic light as Ann Rutledge.
Community life in Hew Salem lasted less than seven
years.
In the life of,,Abraham Lincoln, who was a resident for
six of those seven years, it was a highly important period.
In its greatest glory Hew Salem probably had fewer than twenty
houses.
But to Abe Lincoln it was not a poor, little prairie
village; it was the largest town he had ever lived in.
There were a few people in Hew Salem who had quite re­
markable educational attainments for the time and for young
Lincoln’s purpose.
There were such men as Dr. John Allen,
the beloved physician, and Mentor Graham who taught Lincoln
grammar and mathematics, and strange Jack Kelso, a shiftless
elocutionist who taught Lincoln to admire Shakespeare and
Byron and Burns.
Hew Salem offered Abe a variety of new experiences.
He cast his first vote there.
He had his first experiences
as a businessman, first as a clerk for Denton Offutt, then
as a clerk in the stores of Christman and Hill, and finally
as a partner in the disastrous commercial enterprise with
William F. Berry, whose failure left Lincoln saddled with so
heavy a debt that he took more than ten years paying it.
In
36
New Salem lie established his prowess as an athlete, served as
an enlisted soldier in the Black Hawk War, and held his first
government office, the position of postmaster, for three years.'
Less than a year after his arriyal in the town, Lincoln
proclaimed himself a candidate for the legislature and polled
so large a Vote that, although failing in his first attempt,
he ran again and was elected to the next four terms.
At
Vandalia, he framed his first public declaration against
slavery, the culmination of many discussions in the grocery
stores of New Salem.
Little, if any, of this authentic por­
tion of his life in New Salem is used by the playwrights but
of his love for Ann Rutledge there is considerable.
Lincoln had two love affairs in New Salem.
Of his
love for Ann Rutledge much has been said and written, but
nothing is really known.
That lovely girl died August 25,
1835, and there are no contemporary records which speak of
her death.
Of his love affair with Mary Owens a few months
later we have an abundance of written evidence.
It is a
little remarkable, but on the whole characteristic of much of
our writing,that we say almost nothing of Lincoln’s love for
Mary Owens, a proud, handsome, well-bred, and well-educated
young woman and that we talk a great deal of the other love
on which our evidence is so scanty and mostly wrong.
Such
fragments of knowledge as we have of Lincoln in that summer
and autumn of 1835 reveal nothing unusual in his occupation
37
or his frame of mind.
Ann Rutledge had earlier been betrothed to John
McNamar who came to New Salem in 1829 and for three years
bore the name of John McNeil.
In 1832 he returned to New
York state, professedly to relieve the poverty of his parents
and bring them to New Salem where he had acquired consider­
able property.
The three years in which Ann heard nothing
from him he later explained by three weeks of sickness which
befell him enroute to New York.
In the autumn of 1835,
McNamar returned to Illinois, bringing with him his widowed
mother, who did not long survive.
She was buried in the old
Concord graveyard, near the two new graves of Ann Rutledge
and her father.
Some years later, when there was a question
about the graves, he was unable to identify any of them,
though they lay one mile from his home.
He had never visited
either A n n ’s grave or his mother’s.
Barton has no reasonable doubt as to why John McNamar
jilted Ann Rutledge, for he writes:
. . . She whom he had first known as the prospective
heiress . . . of New Salem, was now a poor girl. Her
father had lost his mill, lost his farm, lost his courage.
. . . John McNamar, who had left home when his own father
was in financial straits, and had changed his name to
escape financial obligations on his father’s account was
not the man to marry . . . into a family like that of the
Rutledges or Camerons. He had their farms already . . .
and that was the thing of chief concern.12
1^ Barton, The Women Lincoln loved, pp. 175-1 7 6 .
38
Sam Hill, the store proprietor, and Abraham Lincoln,
his clerk, grew interested in A n n ’s desire for a letter from
the absent McNamar, and they soon concluded they both were
caring for Ann.
She no longer loved McNamar and preferred Abe
to the more prosperous Sam Hill.
That Abraham and Ann were
ever formally engaged is not known, but that each cared for
the other seems to be an established truth.
Lincoln went to Vandalia to the legislature between
December, 1834, and February of the next year, when he re­
turned to New Salem and resumed his work as postmaster and
surveyor.
At the end of that summer Ann, with many others,
was sick with malarial fever.
McGrady Rutledge, A n n ’s cousin,
rode to New Salem to inform Lincoln of A n n ’s serious sickness.
Abraham went to the Sand Ridge farm about two weeks before her
death and visited her.
Ann Rutledge died, and we have good reason to believe
that her death profoundly saddened Abraham.
How little was
said'in New Salem about.her death seriously affecting Abe’s
mind or blasting his life, however, may be found in this evi­
dence from Barton:
. . . But Mary Owens, to whose heart he soon laid siege,
and who was related by marriage to half the women of New
Salem, could not remember ever to have heard of her,
[Ann] and Joshua Fry Speed, to whom Lincoln bared his
heart as never in all his life to any other man said,
”it was all new to him,” and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, as
her nieces declare, could- hardly recall the Jyadition
beyond the fact that there had been such a girl whom
Lincoln had honorably loved in his youth, and who had
39
died. Virtually she knew all that anyone knows, and
all there is to be known.
The rest is partly the un­
worthy creation of John McNamar and the imagination of
sentimental writers.13
The popular story which dramas and cinemas often use
is that Lincoln raved and contemplated suicide, that for
months he was incapable of doing his work, and that he never
wholly recovered from the valley of despair into which he
sank.
A letter from the Oliver R. Barrett collection written
by Matthew S. Marsh of New Salem, three weeks after A n n ’s
death had no mention of Lincoln’s inability to carry on the
post office business.
Lincoln franked the letter in a firm
hand and a little later made a survey for Marsh and computed
the measurements and area of the lot which Bowling Green sold
to Matthew Marsh.
Lincoln’s mind was apparently normal so
far as measurements, computation, draughtmanship, and penman­
ship can disclose the conditions of a mind. 14A play covering something more than a year of Abraham
Lincoln’s young life in New Salem was written in 1936.
Ellsworth P. Conkle entitled his play Prologue to Glory.
In
a note before the text he claims to have made no attempt to
keep it true in all its historical details, but rather to be
true to the spirit of the times and the leading character.
^ William E. Barton, "Abraham Lincoln in New Salem, **
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. 19:95-96,
October, 1926-January, 1927.
Loc. cit.
Conkle’s Lincoln is a great, awkward youth of slum­
bering ambitions.
One of his conquering urges, his passion
for learning, is wakening'within him.
As the play opens we
find Abe, twenty-two, in a sunny field near Tom Lincoln’s
farm, ostensibly there to grub stumps, but at the moment
seated with his back against a tree, reading aloud to Denny,
a boy of thirteen.
Denny.
Abe.
Denny can’t see why Abe enjoys reading.
D o n ’t you never wisht you had nothin’?
Not much— (-Stretches.)— only to read, maybe.
Denny. D o n ’t you never have no hankerin’ t* go down
th* pike to see what’s on t* other side-a Pattison’s
clearin’s?
Abe.
I know a lot-a things that’s there.
’em readin’.
I kin 1 ’arn
Headin’ l ’arns you things you never'd know otherways, Denny.
I never seed Washington nor heard tell
of him till I got this book.
(Stands— hitches pants.)
You can set right yur an* l'arn things— th’out movin*
your little finger.15
In as brief a space as the last six words of A b e ’s
speech, Conkle has characterized the slow-moving, indecisive,
reluctant youth.
A b e ’s curiosity about world affairs seems
likely to be satisfied somewhat when a sorrel horse, carry­
ing a "furriner,” who looks like a "town-feller” is seen
approaching.
y^the election.
The stranger might know how *Indianny” came in
The stranger, who is Denton Offutt, tells
them Indiana came in free.
After he invites Abe to come to
-*•-* E. P. Conkle, Prologue to Glory, p. A.
41
New Salem to work for him and takes his leave, Abe’s step­
mother urges him to give some heed to Offutt*s suggestion.
Abe’s habitual indecision comes.over him again as his goodhumored but evasive answers show:
Sarah. Abe, it’s time you was goin* on— for your own
good. Goin’ where there’s more things for a young
feller to do— where there’s newspapers and books—
where you could get some real l ’arnin’ and eddycation.
Abe. This-yur Offut feller only thinks he’s big punkins,
Ma.
Sarah.
. . . You cud see the world and meet other kinds
of people you never met b ’fore— down there at New
Salem.
Abe.
Yeh?
Sarah. Git up and.git a mite-a gumption about you, Abe.
. . .Offut mayn’t be much, but his improvidence’ll
show ye what not t’ be, Abe.
Abe. Person ort t ’ do a leetle thinkin’ ’bout a thing
like this, Ma. Better eat beans and bacon in comfort
an’ peace than cakes and ale in fear an’ tremblin’.lo
Conkle*s Lincoln is habitually genial.
His complacent
good-nature coupled with his droll manner of speaking is ap­
parent throughout the play.
Lincoln seemed to know from boy­
hood the value of the well-placed compliment, the manner of
avoiding a quarrel or of pacifying an enraged companion.
His
ability to tell a story or to engage in an exchange of re­
partee, is written into the second scene of Prologue to Glory.
Conkle portrays him with the complacency which is native to
16 Ibid., p. 13.
42
most big men.
Denny and Abe have just walked into New Salem.
It is election day and the men of the village are sitting
around as Denny says,
Denny.
Abe.
Perty hot a-walkin'J
Yeah, turrible hot.
Summers.
(Looking at Abe’s feet.)
a turrible lot tT walk on!
No wonder,— you got
(The men laugh; Abe grins.)
Emory.
What’s yer perfession, feller?
Abe. I s ’pect you’d call it carpenterin’.
P a ’s.
That was my
Dave. Look's like a plane tooken t ’ you wouldn't hurt
none.
Denny.
(Turning to Abe.) Abe, they air a-laughin* at
youl
Abe.
I don’t keer— if they enjoy it.
Joe. You'll find we got some mighty lively people lives
here in New Salem.
Abe.
(Shrewdly.)
Well— you mightn’t know itI
(Pause.)
Joe.
You ain't a feller t ’ make much noise, air ye?
Abe.
Much noise?
Denny. Say— you ever heard Abe tell the story about the
noise. . . ?
Men.
Let’er flicker . . . How’s she start?
Abe. (Crossing to table.) Well— this feller was
blunderin’ and flounderin’ about in darkness— except
when th* lightnin* showed the trees failin' all about
him.
(Sits on table— puts bag on floor.)
43
Dave.
Ye-eh?
Jibe. At last a turrible thunder-clap scairt him nigh t*
death. He lunged here and he lunged there tryin* t*
find his way. He wasn’t a prayin’ man; but right
then he let up a genuine prayer.
”0h, Lord— if i t ’s
all the same t ’ you, please give us a little less .
noise, a n ’ a little more light.”. . .17
In the remainder of the scene Abe reluctantly fights
Jack Armstrong after Offutt has boasted of his clerk’s
ability to ”out-fight— out-wrestle an* throw down any man in
Sangamon County.”
Abe is scarcely interested in the fight
until Armstrong calls him a liar, whereupon A b e ’s immediate
anger brings the fight to a swift end.
Allen linger to congratulate Abe.
Squire Green and Dr.
The Squire invites Abe
and Denny for supper and the night.
While Denny goes to find
a creek for them to wash in, Ann Rutledge, Mary and Lou
Cameron come rushing toward the Inn.
Conkle presents the
legendary heroine with exhuberant vitality.
”Last one there’s
an old maid!” shouts Ann, and runs head-long into Abe.
A
second later she has backed away with a curtsey and an apol­
ogy.
Throwing away whatever evidence there is that Abe was
shy with women in favor of a quip, Conkle h a s >Abe answer,
’’You go tell your Ma you just been restin’ on Abraham’s
bosomJ”
*1 &
With few more words Ann joins her friends, and
when Denny returns he finds Abe grinning broadly and looking
17 Ibid., pp. 20-22
18 Ibid., p. 34.
44
i
t
s
after Ann.
Scene three of act one is set in the interior of
Offutt’s store.
A wintry wind blows outside as Abraham
wraps up a package of tea for a customer, Mrs. Rankins.
She
asks him to write a letter home for her, and Abe is per­
fectly willing to take on the writing assignment.
wright has worked two old legends into this scene.
is Abraham1s remark to Mrs. Hankins;
milk-sick.
The play­
The first
"I lost my Ma with—
They was no doctor— no preacher to lay her poor
head down.”
The loss of Haney Hanks Lincoln with the "milk-
sick” is not legend but the lack of a preacher at the time
is an item, noted earlier in this study, which could not
possibly have impressed a little boy who lived among people
who rarely saw a preacher more than four times a year.19
The second legend used concerns A b e ’s walking eight miles to
give back the change which he accidently withheld from Mrs.
Bankins.
Apparently feeling that there was too little in
his play to keep his audience in mind of Lincoln’s sobriquet
’’Honest Abe,” Professor Conkle has once more retold the
hackneyed little tale.
Basler writes of this particular
legend;
, . . Anyone who frowns upon the Washington cherry-tree
episode must find many stories of ’Honest A b e ’ too dis­
gusting for words.
Those which have the least claim to
^
Of. ante, p. 20.
45
fact seem to be the most popular. The two most often
told anecdotes are of ancient standing and have, so far
as I have been able to discover, not even the usual
authority of some old friend of New Salem. The one
tells how he closed up shop and walked several miles to
return an overcharge of a few cents; the other how he
gave a customer short weight . . . discovering his mis­
take, again closed the store and carries the balance due
the customer.20
The remainder of scene three is devoted to a serious
talk between Ann and Abe as to what he ever expects to make
of himself.
She has her dfffieulties obtaining his consent
to debate at the Forum meeting the following night.
The
same slow, lazy, reluctance is found here as in the earlier
scenes.
Ann has just asked him if he means to stay in this
store his "live-long" life and to have no refinement.
To
which he replies:
Abe. I know I ’m rough. But there's so many things I
want to learn. I know there’s places a lot better
than around here,-^I*ve read of ’em. But all my
life I .never seed a. nicer store than th-is-’n, an’
bein’.clerk here is two notches higher’n any sityation my Fa ever had. Bver’body here thinks I’m doin’
fust-rate. I b ’gun.t* think so m ’self till you come,
along and set a charge-a gunpowder under me
Ann.
(Taken back a little.)
Abe.
Ann— ?
Ann.
Yes, Abe?
Abe.
(Grinning.)
I wasn’t aiming to.
Set some more under me!2-*-
In scene four which concludes Act I, we see a Lincoln
20 Roy P. Basler, The Lincoln Legend, pp. 123-124
21
Conkle, 0£. cit., pp. 44 -4 3 .
46
who, for him, has made some revolutionary decisions.
He
has decided with the aid of the doctor and perhaps Bowling
Green and Mentor Graham to turn his debate speech into an
announcement of his candidacy for office to the Legislature
of the State of Illinois.
The same drollery which charac­
terized his early answers in the play is heard with a hint
of the raciness in his speech of later years.
The debate
question for the evening, his. own half of which Abe would
willingly ignore, is: Resolved that bees are more valuable
than ants.
After thanking the chairman for his introduction,
.1
Abe turns to the youth who.has just given the "positive”
arguments with this compliment:
Abe. . . . I should like to add my praises to theirs
though, Henry, for the able manner in which you
handled them bees— without gettin’ stung!
. . . ants are known to have better sense, and
more of it, than to stand arg’yin* on such snivelin’
subjects as we are. Ants ain’t a ’gin bees. Both of
them are valuable and have their God-given purposes,
folks. Mr. Speaker, it don’t worry me a continental
which is more valuable s ’long as each keeps into its
proper place. Now, if Henry’s bees was to get into
your bonnets, or my ants was to git into your britches
— that would be a subject for discussion— an’ imme­
diate action! . .
The latent ambition of the youth, the urge toward
public service is making its first appearance in his life.
He finds that the prodding of his stepmother, of Ann, and of
men who seem to realize his possibilities has led to a little
22 IM-d., pp. 56-57
47
approval which is heady in its sweetness.
He muses over his
own temerity in these words:
Abe.
It just don’t seem like a Lincoln t* start a thing
like this. -Everything inside me was saying— "Lord
sakes, Abe, set down. Why'd you ever stir up,this
mess?” Tom Lincoln could see me now, h e ’d not know
his boy!
It— was right interestin’ standin’ up there,
watchin* people think this-way-and~that.
I— feel
powerful better— doin’ this— thanks t* you, Ann!
Abe.
— could I fetch you home, Ann?
Ann.
(Smiling.)
It wouldn't seem like a Lincoln to
start such a thing as that, either, would it?
Abe.
Well, I suppose not— but—
Ann.
(Laughing.)
You can fetch me, Abe.
(She turns slowly; goes to door.)
Abe.
Thanks, Ann— ! (He picks up coat and hat; follows.)
My Pa could see me now!23
The opening scene of Act II is Abraham’s love scene
with Ann in which he asks her to marry him and is accepted.
His poverty makes it necessary for him to review seriously
his possibilities for earning a living.
It makes a good
scene to have Ann the inspiration for all his ambitions, some
of which include an office in the legislature, becoming a
surveyor, studying law, or being a blacksmith.
Historically,
of course, A b e ’s amiitions must have come from other sources.
He was store clerk, bankrupt store owner, postmaster, surveyor,
and student of law while Ann was betrothed to John McHamar.
23 Ibid., p. 63
1+8
T h e r e is plenty of evidence, however, in his later life that
having given his word to a girl, Lincoln left nothing undone
intentionally which would add to her happiness.
Thus the
interpretation of the youth is accurate although much of the
chronology and some parts of the story are not.
Scene two takes us with Abraham making stump speeches
throughout Sangamon County.
It is his first experience of
this nature and he is following his cues very closely in his
dealings with these men whom he is persuading to vote for
him.
Though his mental processes are slow, they are accu­
rate; and he is quick to respond to stimuli in conversation.
For a man who seemed slow, the real Abe Lincoln was surpris­
ingly quick in repartee.
and infinitely patient.
of righteous anger.
He was kind, generally considerate,
Few people knew how capable he was
A political opponent who provoked such
wrath in him had reason to remember the sharp sally or
scourging retort which Lincoln administered.
Conkle retells an incident in this scene which actu­
ally occurred after Lincoln had announced his candidacy for
re-election in the fall of 1836.
This was Lincoln’s third
campaign, not his first as Conkle infers, and it proved to
be more exciting than either previous contest.
Party lines
were beginning to be drawn more closely, and personal antag­
onism became a marked characteristic of the campaign.
essentials Conkle’s scene is historically accurate,
In its
but the
49
Lincoln in Lis play is a youth four years younger in years
and many years younger in experience than the man who warded
off his political attackers so skillfully.
To the campaign
of 1836 belongs this famous incident of his reply to George
Forquer, whom Conkle renames George Yorhees in his play.
Forquer had been a Yfhig, but had changed polities
simultaneously with his appointment as Register of the Land
Office.
At this time he was being much talked of in his
locality by his purchase of the first lightning rod in those
•parts.- Herndon retells Joshua F. Speedfs story of the oc­
casion.
Lincoln was little known to Speed then, but later
he was his intimate friend.
The impression made upon Speed
was lasting, for he'says:
". . . At the conclusion of Lincoln's speech the cfowd
was about dispersing, when Forquer rose and asked to be
heard. He commenced by saying that the young man would
have to be taken down, and was sorry the task devolved
on him . . . his whole manner asserted and claimed su- ’
periority." At length Forquer concluded, and he [Lincoln]
mounted the stand to reply.
"I have heard him often since," continued Speed, . . .
"but never saw him appear and acquit himself so well as
upon that occasion. . . . I shall never forget the con­
clusion of that speech: 'Mr. Forquer commenced his speech
by announcing that the young man would have to be taken
down.
It. is for you, fellow citizens, not for me to say
whether I am up or down.
The gentleman has seen fit to
allude to my being a young man; but he forgets that I am
older in tyears than I am in the tricks and trades of poli­
ticians.
I desire to live, and I desire place and dis­
tinction; but I would rather die now than, like the
gentleman, live to see the day that I would change my
politics for an office worth three thousand dollars a
year, and then feel compelled to erect a lightning rod
50
to protect a guilty conscience from an offended God.'"2^
The scene ends with Dave Vance bringing the fearful news of
Ann's illness.
The third and fourth scenes bring* Ann's death and
Abe's anguished reaction.
Colonel Rutledge puts a hand on
Abe's shoulder with the comment:
Colonel.
I guess we've got to bear these things like
men, Abel
Abe.
(Anguish.)
I've— I've got to feel it like, a man,
first!
(He crosses to the outside door, rushes into
the night.)25
Lincoln was by nature a man of powerful emotions.
Grief at the death of a loved one took possession of him as
it does many women and but few men.
Thus men were inclined
to think his mind unbalanced because of the intensity of his
grief.
Too, he was capable of a meloncholy so deep that it
blackened his whole sky.
It came over him a few years later
when Bowling Green died.
Lincoln had been asked days in
advance to speak at the funeral but when the moment came his
grief so overcame him that he could not.
Conkle makes his
final use of the love-story legend by ascribing to Ann's
death the lack of interest Abraham takes in his future.
Barton claims was due to the failing life of New. Salem,
Conkle claims was true because Ann died.
Barton writes:
2^ Herndon and Weik, op. cit., pp. 171-172
Conkle, o£. cit.. p. 97.
?Jhat
51
. . . He was so constituted as not willingly to make any
new ventures, and lie might not have consented to a re­
moval of his few effects to Springfield with the risks
of that new venture if New Salem had continued to live,
and he had been able to continue there in a practice of
law that would have yielded him a living, and the assur­
ance that as long as he chose to do so he could return
to the Legislature.
Now at the end of the play, with considerable good argument
from Bowling Green and his wife Nancy, Abe extracts enough
courage and determination to set out for Springfield.
Prologue to Glory has pressed into a one-year drama a
few incidents from the six-year period of Abraham Lincoln’s
life in New Salem.
The author has fashioned a great, good-
natured frontier hero who doesn’t dare anyone "to come on and
whet his horns" but who can and does win a wrestling match.
This Lincoln is a slowly maturing -youth with ambition still
slumbering, a popular, romantic Lincoln with no trace of the
older man.
His brooding, melancholy strain is passed over
quickly, and we see little hardening of the fiber as the re­
sult of his experiences.
He has, however, extracted some
courage and determination from them.
What there is of the
frontier hero in the Lincoln of Prologue to Glory has been
softened by omission and invention.
The latest and one of the best dramas inspired by
Lincoln is Robert 1. Sherwood’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois, which
opened on Broadway in October, 1938.
"I have not tried,"
William E. Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, I,
227.
52
writes Sherwood,
"to establish, a convincing case for myself
as a learned biographer.
The playwright*s chief stock in
trade is feelings, not facts . . .
preter . . . "27
g 0>
he is at best, an inter­
a- series of twelve scenes spread
over some thirty years of Lincoln’s life, Sherwood has given
us a Lincoln whom'he presents as a man won to action and u l ­
timate greatness almost against his will.
We first meet Abe Lincoln in Mr. Sherwood’s play in
the cabin of Mentor Graham, the schoolmaster of New Salem,
Illinois.
Abe is sitting opposite Graham, who, although it
is late at night, is giving him a lesson in grammar.
They
are stuying the moods, and in the opening lines we find that
Graham is Sherwood's interpreter of Lincoln.
us has many moods.
them, Abe.
acter.
"Every one of
You yourself have more than your share of
They express the various aspects of your char­
So it is with the English language— ”
As we listen,
the intent young student adds the saltiness and the wistful
tenderness which were a part of him to his examples of moods.
Abe.
. . . The Imperative Mood is used for commanding,
like ’’Get out and be damned to you. "
Mentor.
(Smiling.)
think of?
Is that the best example you could
Abe. Well— you can put it in the Bible way— "Go thou
in peace." But i t ’s still imperative.
27 Robert E. Sherwood, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, p.
189.
53
Mentor.
. . . You can use it in a very different sense
— in the form of the humblest supplication.
Abe.
Like MGdve us this day our daily bread and forgive
us our trespasses.”28
One by one the moods are named and anlayzed until Mentor in­
terrupts Abe to have him read aloud a speech on the right of
any state to secede from the Union delivered by Mr. Webster.
Going on with his example of Potential Mood we find
notes of bitterness and plaguing worry in A b e ’s words.
Sherwood*s Lincoln is haunted by an unshakable sense of his
own failure.
Abe.
That signifies possibility— usually of an un­
pleasant nature.
Like, ”If I ever get out of debt,
I will probably get right.back in again."
Mentor.
(smiles) Why did you select that example, Abe?
Abe. Well— it just happens to be the thought that’s
always heaviest on my mind.
Mentor.
Is the store in trouble again?
Abe. Yes. Berry’s drunk all the whiskey we ought to
have sold, and w e ’re going to have to shut up any day
now.
I guess I ’m my father’s own son, all right.
Give me a steady job and I ’ll fail at it.
Mentor. You haven’t been a failure here, Abe.
There
isn’t a manjack in this community that isn’t fond of
you and anxious to help you get ahead.
Abe.
(with some bitterness) I know— just like you,
Mentor, sitting up late nights, to give me learning,
out of the goodness of your heart. . . . I ’ve got
friends. But they can’t change my luck, or maybe
i t ’s just my nature.29
Ibid., pp. 3-5
Ibid., pp. 8-9
54
Mentor reminds M m
that failure at everything else
still leaves two professions open to him: schoolteaching and
polities.
In the answering lines we glimpse Abe, the unam­
bitious, artful dodger whose reason for disliking Mentor*s
suggestions is the likelihood that the work would carry him
to the city where he would be killed.
The mystical fore­
bodings and the powers of feeling and imagination which grew
in him over a long period of years to a marked degree are im­
planted in these early scenes.
Abe answers Mentor*s sugges­
tions by making a definite choice:
Abe. Then 1*11 choose school-teaching.
politics, and you may get elected.
Mentor.
You go into
Yes— there*s always that possibility.
Abe.
And if you get elected you*ve got to go to the
city.
I don*t want none of that
Mentor.
What*sf your objection to cities, Abe?
you e,ver seen one?
Have
Abe. Sure I ’ve been down river twice to New Orleans.
And, do you know, every minute of the time I was
there, I was scared?
Mentor.
Scared of what, Abe?
Abe. Well— it sounds kind of foolish--I was scared of
people.
Mentor.
(laughs) Did you imagine they’d rob you of all
your gold and jewels?
Abe.
(serious) No.
I was scared they’d kill me.
Mentor.
(also serious) Why?
kill you?
Abe.
I don’t know.
Why should they want to
55
Mentor.
(after a moment) You think a lot about death,
don’t you?
Abe.
I ’ve had to, because it has always seemed to be
so close to me— always as far back as I can remember.
When I was no higher than this table, we buried my
mother. . . . used to watch the deer running over
her grave with their little feet.
I never could
kill a deer after that. . . . I always compare the
looks of those deer with the looks of men— like the
men in New Orleans— that you could see had murder in
their hearts.
Mentor.
(after a moment) Y o u ’re a hopeless mess of in­
consistency, Abe Lincoln.
Abe.
How do you mean, Mentor?
Mentor.
I ’ve never seen any one who is so friendly and
at the.same time so misanthropic.
Abe.
W h a t ’s that?
Mentor. A misanthrope is one who distrusts men and
avoids their society.
Abe. Well-— maybe that’s how I am.
Oh— I like people,
well enough— when you consider ’em one by one.
But
they seem to look different when they're put into
crowds, or mobs, or armies.30
Lincoln’s home country was a land of superstition.
The backwoods was aregion, in which witches were understood to
exist; it was a land of "haunts,” "ghostes," warnings, and
"bad signs."
Lincoln grew up amid such beliefs from which
none of his neighbors was free.
He inherited some of these
superstitions and never outgrew them.
It is doubtful whether
many members of a listening audience will fully appreciate
the wisdom of Sherwood’s interpretation in these words of
30 Ibid. p p .
10-12
56
Mentor Graham:
Abe Lincoln.*'
"You*re a hopeless mess of inconsistency,
Men who have studied Lincoln thoroughly will
agree with Barton when he writes:
. . . I read with genuine admiration, if not approval,
the books by men to whom the mind and soul of Abraham
Lincoln are not merely an open book . . . I have less
and less confidence in the popular interpretations of
his life. His character was the synthesis of many con­
tradictions. 31
In the early part of scene two, Ninian Edwards, Judge
Bowling Green, and Joshua Speed have gathered in the rude tap
room of the Rutledge Tavern in New Salem.
It is July 4«
Mr.
Edwards has come to consider Abe Lincoln as a possible Whig
candidate from New Salem to the Illinois legislature in the
‘fall.
Josh Speed goes in search of Abe; and during his ab­
sence, Ann Rutledge serves the guests with the liquor which
they ordered.
The men are deep in a political discussion for
counterbalancing the power of Andrew Jackson when the Clary's
Grove Boys burst into the room led by Jack Armstrong.
The gang are in a challenging mood; they demand a keg
of liquor and only laugh at Ann when she remonstrates.
They
are rough and insolent when Ninian comes to Ann's assistance.
Jack at once selects him as their victim.
The gang is prom­
ising him a real taste of their talent as bone crushers when
Abe appears quietly in the doorway.
In the scene which fol­
lows, Sherwood has combined Abe's amiable manner of handling
31 Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln. II, 457*
57
men and a touch of the good-humored arrogance which as the
”big buck of the lick” h'e might well have had.
Abe. ¥!ait a minute, boys.
what day it is?
Jack, have you forgotten
Jack. No, I ain’t! But I reckon the Fourth is as good
a day as any to whip a politician!
Abe.
(amiably) . . . Being postmaster of this thriving
. town, I can rate as a politician, myself, so y o u ’d
better try a fall with m e — (He thrusts Jack aside
and turns to Ninian.) And as for you, sir, I haven’t
the pleasure of your acquaintance; but my n a m e ’s
Lincoln, and I ’d like to shake hands with a brave man.
Ninian.
(shaking hands with Abe) I ’m greatly pleased to
know you, Mr. Lincoln.
Abe. You should be. Because I came here just in time
to save you quite some embarrassment, not to mention
injury. . . .
Abe.
. . . Y o u ’d better hurry, Jack, or y o u ’ll get a
beating from Hannah.
Jack.
(to Ninian) All right! Abe Lincoln saved your
hide.
I ’ll consent to callin’ off the fight just
because h e ’s a friend of mine.
Abe.
(as he sits) And also because I ’m the only one
around here you can’t lick.32
After the tavern is cleared of the gang, the talk
turns to the object of Ninian Edward’s.visit.
Abe is not
inclined to think much of the suggestion that he become a
politician.
It is Josh Speed’s idea that the election would
give Abe the thing he most wants, a chance to learn, a chance
to associate with the finest lawyers in the state.
Sherwood, op. cit., pp. 26-28.
Abe isn’t
58
sure the finest lawyers will want to know him.
Ninian
replies,
Ninian. You needn’t worry about that.
I saw how you
dealt with those ruffians. You quite obviously
know how to handle men.
Abe.
I can handle the Clary’s Grove boys because I can
outwrassle them— but I can’t go around Sangamon
County throwing all the voters.33
When Mr. Edwards and Judge Green have gone, the play­
wright again brings in the influence of Lincoln’s friends
upon his destiny.
Although Josh Speed has been introduced
prematurely into the chronology of Lincoln’s life, he is a
logical person to talk to Abe about his future.
Speed knew
a little later from personal experience how easy it was to
trust Lincoln at sight.
Lincoln’s personal magnetism was an
element which astonished all who ever had occasion to meet
him.
There are many contemporary testimonials of that strange
conflicting evidence in his life that though he seemed often .
to be miserably lonely, he was surrounded by loyal friends.
Occasionally Sherwood pauses in the proeess of .urging Lincoln
forward to admit that, reluctant as Abe was to move along his
destined path, in these early scenes he did not resent the
management of his friends nor did he dislike the idea of fi­
nancial ease.
Josh Speed justifies his own urging in these
lines:
33 Ibid., p. 35
59
Josh.
I can see you’re embarrassed by this— and you’re
annoyed. But— whether you like it or not— y o u ’ve
got to grow; and here’s your chance to get a little
scrap of~importance.
Abe.
A m I the kind that wants importance?.
Josh. Y o u ’ll deny it, Abe— but y o u ’ve got a funny kind
of vanity— which is the same as saying y o u ’ve got
some pride— and its badly in need of nourishment.
So,
if y o u ’ll agree to this— I d o n ’t think you’ll be sorry
for it or feel that I ’ve' betrayed you.
Abe.
(grins) Oh— I w o n ’t hold it against you Josh. But
that Mr. Ninian Edwards— h e ’s rich and h e ’s prominent
and h e ’s got a high-class education.
Politics to him
is just a kind of a game. And maybe I ’d like it if I
could play it his way.
(He turns to Josh.) But when
you get to reading Blackstone, not to mention the
Bible, you can’t 'help feeling maybe there’s some
serious responsibility in the giving of laws— and
maybe there’s something more important in the busi­
ness of government" than just getting the Whig Party
back into power.34
That there is ’’something more important in the business
of government” than getting a certain party in power was
Lincoln’s cornerstone idea.
Just what he considered more im­
portant than party politics can be traced through his achieve­
ments.
But, on Sherwood’s own admission,
this is not a play
of Lincoln’s achievements; it is,
. . . a play about the solidification of Lincoln himself
— a long, uncertain process, effected by influences some
of which came from within his own reasoning mind, some
from his surrounding circumstances, some from sources
which we cannot comprehend.35
34 Ibid., pp. 33-39.
33 Ibid., pp. 190-191
60
The remainder of tlie scene includes A b e ’s declara­
tion of love to Ann Rutledge; her encouraging replies are
used by the author to help Abe make his decision to enter
politics.
Sherwood knows that there are no available reb-
03?4s: to indicate such ah influence upon A b e ’s purpose, but
these lines, nevertheless, conclude a charming scene:
Ann.
Abel
Where are you going?
Abe.
I ’m going to find Bowling Green and tell him a
good joke.
Ann.
A joke?
What about?
Abe.
I ’m going to tell him I ’m a candidate for the
Assembly of the State of Illinois.36
The third and concluding scene of Act I is set in
Bowling Green’s house near New Salem.
It is late in the
evening, a year or so after Scene ii.
A raging storm beats
against the house as Judge Green reads to his wife while she
sews.
Yery soon the scene is interrupted by Josh Speed who
is looking for Abe.
Abe has come over from Vandalia where
he is in the Assembly, but this evening he is out at the
Rutledge Farm visiting Ann who is very ill.
Sherwood has
used Bowling Green’s word to convey the modern biographers
opinion of A n n ’s place in Lincoln’s life.
This line of
Nancy Green* s opens the discussion:
Nancy.
I suppose you know that Abe came rushing down
36 Ibid., p. 50.
61
from Yandalia the moment he heard she. was taken.
H e ’s deeply in love with her.
Bowling.
Now, Nancy— don’t exaggerate.
Josh.
The last time I saw him, he seemed pretty moody.
But when I asked him what was wrong, he said it was
his liver.
Bowling.
(laughing) That sounds more likely. . . .
Nancy.
. . . the sooner they are married, the better
for both of them.
Bowling.
Better for her, perhaps— but the worse for him.
Bowling.
. . . Abe has his own way to go and--sweet and
pretty as Ann undoubtedly is— she’d only be a hin­
drance to him.
Bowling.
He could go to Springfield and set up a law
practice and make a good thing of it. Ninian Edwards
would help him get started. And h e ’d soon forget
little Ann. He has just happened to fasten on her
his own romantic ideal of what’s beautiful and un­
attainable.
Let him ever attain her and she’d break
his heart.37
Eorget her Lincoln did, sufficiently, at any rate, to
seek another sweetheart.
With great promptness, and not
without his knowledge and cooperation, the women of New Salem
set out to find him a suitable wife.
The story of Lincoln’s
courtship of Mary Owens would not shock us if it were not for
the popular impression that Lincoln so held Ann Rutledge in
perpetual regard that he could love no other woman.
Abraham
Lincoln did love Ann Rutledge; but she died, and he had no
thought of remaining single forever.
37 Ibid., pp. 55-56.
Sherwood is the first
62
playwright to have written this scene with some regard for
reasonable truth*
Partly to justify A b e ’s anguish and bitterness at
Ann*s death with which the scene ends and partly to add to
A b e ’s characterization as a man of melancholy moods and hope-:
less inconsistencies, Sherwood gives Josh Speed these lines
before A b e ’s entrance.
Mrs. Green has just asked Josh his
opinion about Abe's ability to find happiness with Ann.
Josh replies,
I can’t say, Mrs. Green. I ’ve abandoned the attempt
to predict anything about Abe Lincoln. . . . I thought,
"Here is a reliable man." So I cultivated his acquaint­
ance, believing, in m y conceit, that I could help him
to fame and fortune.
I soon learned differently.
I
found out that he has plenty of strength and courage in
his body— but in his mind h e ’s a hopeless hypochondriac.
He can split rails, push a plough, crack jokes, all day
— and then sit up all night reading ’Hamlet’ and brood­
ing over his own fancied resemblance to that melancholy
prince. Maybe h e ’s a great philosopher— maybe h e ’s a
great fool.
I d o n ’t know what he is.3&
Shortly thereafter Abraham enters with the awful news
that Ann is dead.
More awful than the news is A b e ’s reaction
to the portent of it.
The distracted young man makes some
embittered remarks, among them these words:
. . . I believed in God. . . . And then I had to stand
there . . . and watch her die. And her father and
mother were there, too, praying to God for her soul.
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be
the name of the Lor.dl That’s what they kept on saying.
38 Ibid., p. 56 .
63
But I couldn’t pray witli them.
I couldn’t give any
devotion to one who has the power of death, and uses
it. . . . (He goes to the door and opens it.
The storm
continues.)
I can’t hear to think of her out there
alone139
In his supplementary notes, Mr. Sherwood speaks of
the doubtful authenticity of A b e ’s last words, "I can’t
bear to think of her out there alone.”
Lincoln’s embittered
words about the Rutledges’ prayers and the power of the Lord,
however, the playwright considers justifiable because of
A b e ’s tastes in reading at this time and a tract on religion
which he wrote, a paper ’’which, had it survived, might have
made his name anathema to all church-going people.
It was
mercifully burned by a friend named Samuel Hill who was also
a suitor for the hand of Ann Rutledge.”^
Mr. Sherwood’s defense of his lines at the end of
scene ii.L is disqualified by his failure to note the fact
that the alleged book or argument against Christianity burned
by Sam Hill has been proved a mistaken notion of James
Matheny, William Herndon, and Ward Lamon.
None of these men
had personal knowledge of the facts, but each had taken the
word of the others.
Barton fully discusses the evidence in
a chapter entitled "Lincoln’s Burnt B o o k . C o n c e r n i n g the
29 ibid., pp. 60-61.
40 Ibid., p. 212.
'^
Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 146-156.
64
opposite argument, Barton writes:
. . . in his letter to Mr. Irwin, under date of March 17,
1874 t Mentor Graham relates that when Lincoln was living
in Graham’s house in New Salem in 1833» studying English
grammar and surveying under this good schoolmaster,
Lincoln one morning said to him:
’’Graham, what do you think of the anger of the Lord?”
Graham replied, ”1 "believe the Lord never was angry or
mad, and never will be; that His loving kindness endureth
forever, and that He never changes.”
. Lincoln said, ”1 have a little manuscript written
which I will show you.”
. . . Mentor read it.
"It was a defense of universal salvation.
The com­
mencement of it was something about the God of the uni­
verse never being excited, mad or angry.
I had the
manuscript in my possession some week or ten days.
I
have read many books on the subject, and I d o n ’t think
in point of perspicacity and plainness of reasoning I
ever read one to surpass it. . . .”42
Sherwood states in his supplementary notes in the
printed text that in dealing with Lincoln "a strict regard
for the plain truth is more than obligatory; it is obviously
desirable. ”43
g e -thus invites a critical review of the his­
torical accuracy of his work, especially as it relates to
Lineoln.
Great injustice is done to all the Lincolns and the
Hankses back of Abraham.
Although none of them appears as
a character in the play, they are classed as "riff-raff.”44
42 Ibid., pp. 132-153-
43 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 190.
44 ibid., p. 55.
65
Lincoln’s maternal grandmother was not named "Betsy" and
she did not die in Indiana as Sherwood’s Lincoln seems to
think.^
The Betsy of whom Lincoln speaks was the aunt of
his mother with whom Nancy Hanks lived after she was twelve.
Surely Abe Lincoln, a grown man, knew that his great-aunt
was not his grandmother.
Both grandmother and her daughter,
Lincoln’s mother, are recalled as women of bad reputation in
the lines of Nancy G r e e n , ^ which is not in keeping with the
actual evidence about them.
Of these tales Barton has made
a most thorough and commendable investigation; at the con­
clusion of his work which explains how Lincoln's mother,
Nancy Hanks, has become thoroughly confused by biographers
- with his great-aunt, Nancy Hank^ he writes of the President’s
mother:
. . . Cruel aspersions on her character were circulated
after her son became famous, but not one of these orig­
inated in any place where she had ever lived, nor can
■ any tradition be discovered, taking its rise among those
who knew her, s^ve those that proclaim her a young woman
of marked ability and of high moral character, a woman
fitted in mind and heart to be the mother of her illus­
trious son.^7
In summary of the New Salem period of Abe Lincoln in
Illinois, it may be said that Sherwood interprets his
Lincoln as a young pioneer who has lived so near to nature
45 Ibid., p. 11.
Ibid., p. 57.
4^ Barton, Life of Abraham Lincoln, I, 66.
66
as to plumb the secrets of its deep silence.
Yet this
Lincoln, beset by brooding melancholy and a sense of failure,
is ambitiously preparing himself for a future which a subtle
pride encourages him will be his.
In the summer months of 1939, Twentieth Century-Fox
Film Corporation released a moving picture entitled "Young
Mr. Lincoln."
The film company had been interested in Mr.
Sherwood’s play but refused to p a y the amount asked for the
film rights to it.
This story from the pen of Lamar Trotti
is an ingenuous jumble of history and fancy.
The main theme
is the story of young Lawyer Lincoln, at thirty, who won his
famous murder case with the help of a farmer’s almanac, a
trial which actually took place when Lincoln was nearing
fifty.
It is interesting to note in passing that the inves­
tigations of Barton have so limited the former emphasis
placed on the use of the almanac in that trial that biogra­
phers are crediting the story with little truth.48
In the
words of Time Magazine’s cinema columnist, the film’s ’’.
trial story is off its historicai'base in almost every par­
ticular.
Although the picture has its trial scene in
Springfield, it is so loosely constructed and legendary as
48 I M d ., pp. 310-318.
49 ny0Ung
Lincoln," Time, 33;78, June 12, 1939-
67
to almost defy classification.
It does open in New Salem
and It does present a youthful Lincoln.
During the brief
and disconnected scenes we glimpse Ann Rutledge and her
grave, follow Abraham as he rides to Springfield, watch him
cut his own hair and strum on a jew’s-harp in a law office
which has few clients.,,
The anniversary of Illinois’s eh**
trance into the Union is being celebrated when the murder
occurs.
Lincoln offers to defend the Clay boys who are ar­
rested.
Briefly Lincoln meets Mary Todd and dances with her.
Even amid this welter of confusing scenes this Lincoln
establishes himself as a dryly humorous and capable person.
The prevailing quality about him is his loneliness.
Only in
the last moments of the picture is there any knowledge of
purpose in him and that is very casual:
’’Just going up the
hill a piece,” he says and he walks up a country road in a
lowering storm.
While ’’Young Mr. Lincoln" was being shown, the RKO
Radio Film Company which purchased the rights to Sherwood’s
Abe Lincoln in Illinois, started work on a film by the same
name with Raymond Massey, the original legitimate star, in
the role of Lincoln.
in 1940.
The picture was completed and released
Nothing can be said here about the opening minutes
of the film set in New Salem which has not already been said
of Sherwood’s play.
the picture,
A few additional episodes were added to
two of which can be filmed with more ease than
68
they can be staged: Denton Offutt’s flat-boat trip and the
i
wrestling match with Jack Armstrong.
The greater share of
the picture as well as the stage drama is discussed in the
following chapter.
From this investigation of the plays presenting
Lincoln in his early manhood, it appears that he means dif­
ferent things to each dramatist, and even when he means the
same things, that sameness is only superficial.
To Bunge and
Conkle he is a romantic lover, yet Conkle’s Lincoln for all
his-romantic sincerity is groping through the chaotic inde­
cisions of late adolescence toward something greater.
Gammans’s Lincoln is a romantic one also, but the dramatist
felt the hero’s life needed symbolism to make it pertinent.
The Bockett film seems to have attempted nothing but the
filming of a bit of history.
"Young Mr. Lincoln" sends its
audience away with the memory of a wandering, lonely young
man.
Though written of the same period in Lincoln’s life,
Prologue to Glory and Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Act I, are
studies of differing Lincolns.
The one is an awkward youth
not yet awake to the ambition within him, the other a rapidly
maturing young man, solemnly apprehensive about his destiny.
It has always been impossible, in pursuit of realistic
candor, to write fully of anyone heroic.
For all our confi­
dent freedom of speech, these plays of Lincoln's Hew Salem
days, suffer each in its own way from this same cause.
Abe
Lincoln was undoubtedly more varied, contagious, sharp,
bold, shy, and glowing, certainly more given to coarse, witty
humor than any of these stage portraits has interpreted him.
CHAPTER I I I
DRAMA
Few lives
OF LINCOLN*S LIFE IN SPRINGFIELD
have been exposed to such searching inves­
tigation as have those of Abraham Lincoln and Mary, his wife.
As a man of marked contrasts, Lincoln has been difficult to
portray in drama.
sented.
Mary often has been cruelly misrepre­
So great is the power of tradition that Mr. and Mrs.
Lincoln, in more than one play, have been made the victims of damaging legend.
Only two plays, Abe Lincoln in Illinois and
Drinkwater*s Abraham Lincoln,present the lives of these two
people during their years in Springfield, the latter play
including but one brief scene.
by Ramon
A recent drama, M r s . Lincoln.
Romero, is built entirely around Mary Todd Lincoln.
Sherwood and Romero
use the period of Abraham and Mary*s
courtship; Drinkwater begins his play on the eve of Lincoln’s
acceptance of the candidacy for the highest office in the
United States.
In order of their appearance before an audience the
plays were Drinkwater*s Abraham Lincoln. 1919; Abe Lincoln
in Illinois. 1937; and M r s . Lineoln. 1939.
But because of
the chronology of the material used in each, for the better
purposes of this chapter, they will not be considered in
that order.
71
About five years in the life of Lincoln have passed
between scene iii, which closed Act I, and scene iv of
Sherwood*s play.
During those years Lincoln has moved from
New Salem to Springfield, has practiced law as the partner
of John T. Stuart, and has unsuccessfully courted Miss -Mary
Owens.
We find a mature Lincoln entering the office of
Stuart and Lincoln where young Billy Herndon is working as a
clerk.
Billy hands Lincoln a letter asking him to speak at
an Abolitionist rally.
Reflectively Lincoln replies,
It's funny, Billy— I was thinking about Lovejoy the
other day— trying to figure what it is in a man that
makes him glad to be a martyr.
I was on the boat coming
from Q,uincy to Alton, and there was a gentleman on board
with twelve Negroes. He was shipping them down to
Vicks bttug for sale— had *em chained six and six together.
. . . those negroes were strung together precisely like
fish on a trot line.
I gathered they were being sepa­
rated forever from their homes . . . going to be whipped
into perpetual slavery, and no questions asked.
It was
quite a shocking sight.1
But, for all his sympathy, Lincoln refuses Billy*s plea that
he speak at the rally to ”a pack of hell-roaring fanatics.”
Sherwood has claimed in his notes to have quoted the
above speech, almost verbatim, from a letter to Mary Speed.^
The real Lincoln, however, added lines to that letter which
are scarcely compatible with Sherwood's apprehensive man.
These are the words which point the contrast:
1 Robert E. Sherwood, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, p. 68.
2 Ha id., p. 214.
72
. . . they were the most cheerful and apparently happy
creatures on boaird.
One whose offense for which he had
been sold was an over fondness for his wife, played the
fiddle almost continually, and the others danced, sang,
cracked jokes, and played various games with cards from
day t o d a y . . How true it is that "God tempers the wind ,
to the shorn lamb," or in other words, that he renders
the worst of human conditions tolerable, while he per­
mits the best to be nothing better than tolerable.3'
Throughout the remainder of the scene there are lines
expressive of Lincoln’s reluctance to become involved in
national affairs and his awareness of his friends* attempts
to stimulate him to action.
Billy Herndon, Josh Speed, and
Bowling Green try and fail.
Abe is referring to Herndon as
he speaks these lines:
. . . Billy’s a firebrand— a real, radical aboli­
tionist— and he can’t stand anybody who keeps his
mouth shut and abides by the Constitution.
If he had
his way, the whole Union would be set on fire and w e ’d
all be burned to a crisp.
Eh, Billy?
Billy.
(grimly) Yes, Mr. Lincoln.
And if y o u ’ll permit
me to say so, I think y o u ’d be of more use to your
fellow-men if you allowed some of the same incendiary
impulses to come out in you. 4
Mr. Sherwood admits in his supplementary notes that
he has built up the character of William Herndon.
The play
places much emphasis on the little influence which Herndon
may have had on Lincoln’s thinking.
The young man had little
contact with Lincoln until 1844 when he was taken into
^ John G. Nicolay and John Hay, editors, Complete Works
of Abraham Lincoln, I, 52-53.
^ Sherwood, op. cit., p. 72.
73
partnership by the lawyer ten years his senior. ^The letters
which passed between Lincoln and Herndon give no evidence
that the junior partner was molding the character of the
older man.
Most certainly Herndon was not lecturing Lincoln
on his duties to the country as early as 1840.
A more ac­
curate picture of their relationship can be formed from
Herndon’s own words:
" I f a man betrayed undue familiarity, Mr. Lincoln drew
about himself a shield, a sort of charmed circle which
• effectually barred too near approach . . . he was my
senior by almost ten years and so much superior in every
other respect I would not for the world have given evi­
dence of any objection or even i n d i f f e r e n c e . "5
In these words there is little indication that Herndon
wielded great influence over Lincoln.
Yet in the interests
of the play, Sherwood had no person more fervent in his be­
lief in Lincoln’s destiny than the radical Herndon to whom
he could give such impetuous lines.
As the scene ends, Lincoln’s friends have made very
little progress toward showing him his future.
Mr. Ninian
Edwards, however, has entered and invited them all to his
home that evening to meet his sister-in-law, Miss Mary Todd.
The next scene opens in the parlor of the Edwards’s
home in Springfield some six months after the preceding one.
Elizabeth Edwards, sister of Mary Todd, is growing very a g i - .
tated as she discusses with her husband the possibility of
^ Jesse W* Weik, The Real Lincoln, pp. 104-105.
7U
marriage between Mary and Abraham Lincoln,
The scene
gathers momentum when Mary enters and confirms Elizabeth's
fears.
Erom Elizabeth's lines we are expected to conclude
that the Todds frowned upon the marriage and doomed it to
fail from the outset*
Elizabeth did try to get her sisters
excellent husbands; these words to Mary may have been her
true opinions:
Elizabeth. Haven't you sense enough to know you could
never be happy with him? His breeding— his back­
ground— his manner— his whole point of view . . . ?
Mary.
(gravely) I could not be content with a "happy"
marriage in the accepted sense of the word. I have
no craving for comfort and security.
Elizabeth. And have you a craving for the kind of life
you would lead? A miserable cabin, without a ser­
vant, without a stitch of clothing that is fit for
exhibition in decent society?°
William Barton would object to this scene as he would one of
similar import in Romero's play Mrs. Lincoln.
In his work
entitled The Women Lincoln Loved are these conclusions:
Abraham Lincoln won Mary Todd against all competi­
tion. The Edwards family did not object. John Todd
Stuart [Lincoln’s law partner] did not object. The
Honorable Robert Todd, Esquire, of Lexington, Kentucky,
did not object. Any who declare that Mary Todd's family
looked down on Lincoln or thought Mary had made an un­
worthy match are misinformed. Robert Todd wrote a joint
letter to his four Illinois daughters, declaring his
satisfaction with their marriages, and admonishing them,
in the precise and formal language of the time, to be
good wives and prove worthy of the good men whom they
6 Sherwood, op. cit., p. 87,
75
had married.
And that included Abraham Lincoln.7
As Lincoln is admitted to the room by the Edwards’s
maid and Mary and Abraham are left alone, the scene comes to
a close.
The audience knows that he will ask for her hand
and that Mary will say, "Yes."
The majority of biographers have led dramatists to
take the view that the family opposed M a r y ’s choice.
Evans,
Morrow, Sandburg, and' Tarbell all describe the situation as
one which lacked the approval of M a r y ’s relatives.
That in­
terpretation does make good drama, but it is not, after all
the important inference in scene v.
That lies in M a r y ’s
stumbling reply to Ninian Edwards’ question ”. . .
what is
it about him that makes you choose him for a husband?”
Mary.
(betraying her first sign of uncertainty) I
should like to give you a plain, simple answer,
Ninian.
But I cannot.8
Sherwood’s choice of historical subject matter goes
back to an earlier period in Lincoln’s relationship with
Mary Todd than any other play which presents her.
The play
M r s . Lincoln takes up the story at about the same date.
But,
beginning as early as 1840 or as late as i860, not one dram­
atist presents Mary Todd as feeling any love for Abraham
Lincoln.
Can Herndon’s biased narrative have blinded every
? William E. Barton, The Women Lincoln Loved, p. 234.
8 Sherwood, op. cit., p; 86.
76
playwright to other evidence, or is it to build up the ele­
ment of long-suffering endurance in Abraham that they have
thus presented Mary?
right.
Lincoln is forever glorious in his own
We need no better proof than the character of Lincoln
himself to know that he would scorn Herndon* s "lamb to the
slaughter" interpretation of the Lincoln love story.
Ramon Romero has presented Mary, in the early scenes
of the play Mrs. Lincoln, with the vivacious sparkle and
physical beauty which biographers agree were hers in her
girlhood.
Mary’s fondness for lovely clothes, her many ad­
mirers, her interest in the politics of her father and Henry
Clay, her first meeting with Lincoln at General Assembly ball
in Illinois, her aptness at mimicry, her quick temper, her
sharp words, and immediate c o n t riti on are all in the open­
ing scenes of Romero’s play.
This, the best portrayal of
the girl Mary Todd in drama, ends scene i with these lines:
Mary. Gh, why can’t I control my tongue?
sorry for everything I said.
I ’m sorry—
Mrs. Edwards. Being sorry isn’t enough. If you are
going to make a battlefield of your life, then be
prepared to carry its scars. . . . If you’ve re­
fused John Breckinridge, what can you see in that
backwoodsman? He will only end up as a countycircuit lawyer at best.
Mary. The trouble with you, dear sister, is that you
cannot see any further than your nose. And you have
a very'small nose.
Mrs. Edwards.
Mary.
God help the man who marries you.’
God won’t have to, Eliza dear— because I willJ
77
(Annie, the maid accidently spills some coffee on
M a r y ’s gown.
There is a tense moment. Mary rises
with smouldering fury . . . But she quickly controls
■her anger.)
Mrs. Edwards.
Y o u ’d better go to bed, Annie.
(Annie exits R.
M a r y ’s eyes trail her off)
Mary.
(steadily)
I don’t reckon I shall ever get used
to white servants.
Mrs. Edwards.
Remember you are not in the South now,
Mary. Someday you may have to . . . when there are
no more slaves.
Mary.
Yes . . . Especially if I marry Mistah Lincoln.
Mrs. Edwards.
asked you?
Mary.
No.
(Gasps.
Almost drops her cup)
Has he
But he will.9
Two recent cinema productions have attempted to por­
tray Mary Todd.
In ’’Young Mr. Lincoln,” Marjorie Weaver’s
performance gave no true conception of the character.
The
brevity of the role and the lines were at fault for she ap­
peared entirely without vivacity.
In the film production of
"Abe Lincoln in Illinois," Ruth Gordon was chosen to play
the belle of Lexington.
The screen presentation, adapted
from the play by Sherwood himself, only added to the unfa­
vorable impression which the actress on the legitimate stage
had been asked to make upon the audience.
Although the make-up department achieved a desirable
9 Ramon Romero, "Mrs. Lincoln" (unpublished manu­
script), Part I, scene i, p. 14.
78
effect in making Massey, who is about forty, look like
Lincoln in his early twenties, it appeared unequal to the
task of making Ruth Gordon even approach the attractive
qualities in make-up or costuming of her sister Mrs. Edwards,
played by Dorothy Tree.
Miss Gordon was directed, or allowed, to play Mary
Todd not as. an impulsive, merry, and lovable young person
with a penchant for wit which sometimes stung but as- a de­
liberate, craftily shrewd woman.
Charles Angoff writes of
the stage interpretation, "Mary Todd, though ably played by
Muriel Kirkland, is a comment rather than a character.”1°
And again in comment of the stage role, Stark Young writes,
"Miss Muriel Kirkland, as Mrs. Lincoln, brought an under­
written and elusive role to the point of distinction; a cer­
tain boldness in approach to this ungrateful part helped to
stamp the impression on our minds . .
Sherwood*s Mary
Todd is so calculating that, although the lights of scene v
fade out vfith Mary looking at Abraham with melting eyes, the
audience feels that Abraham is trapped against his will.
It
is, indeed, an under-written role; it portrays only the unworthier part of an otherwise genprous, affectionate, and
^ Charles Angoff, "Drama: Brief Reviews of This
Season*s Significant Productions," North American Review,
246:373.
.
11
Stark Young, "Lincoln and Huston," The New Republic,
97:18.
devoted nature.
William E. Barton, who has made an extensive study
of Mary Todd, writes in his book: The Women Lincoln Loved
that she was born of a good family.
She was well educated
in the then famous school of Madame Mentelle, located near
the home of Henry Clay.
No English conversation was permit­
ted at Madame Mentelle’s school, and Mary learned to write
and speak French fluently.
and animated manner.
She had a n unusually quick mind
Though her answers were sometimes too
pointed, they were always apt.
both men and women.
She liked the company of
Among women she was admired rather than
loved, but she was not without lovable qualities.
She was
an alluring girl with blue eyes which flashed a challenging
gaiety, with Warning of a hot, uncertain temper.
On the night in December, 1839, when Mary entered the
General Assembly ball at Springfield, that city was aware
that she had arrived.
In Barton*s words, nThere was not a
m an there who did not turn and look after her, nor a woman
who-did not look after her without turning.”12
was the belle of that ball.
Mary Todd
She may not have had all the
glory of the evening, but she had more than her share.
She
danced beautifully; both Stephen A. Douglas and William
Herndon said so.
But of all the young men and members of
Barton, op. cit., p. 226.
80
the General Assembly whom she met that night only two were
important to her life.
One was the brilliant Stephen A.
Douglas, whom she rejected as a lover and retained as a
friend; the other was the tall Abraham Lincoln.
Of all the young men who made advances toward Mary
Todd that winter of 1839-1840, she chose Abraham Lincoln.
People said it was a strange match, but they say that about
most matches.
Strange or not, Abraham Lincoln turned his
back on several interesting matrimonial possibilities and
made love to Mary Todd.
In all the drama which presents their married years
and in many of the biographies, far too much emphasis has
been placed on the influence of Mary Todd over Abraham
Lincoln's political aspirations.
He had been elected to the
Illinois legislature for three terms before he met her and
had already become the outstanding Whig leader in Illinois.
That she encouraged him to a very great extent in his sub­
sequent political efforts is true.
Abraham Lincoln courted Mary Todd as all men have
courted their sweethearts.
We have heard the words "that
strange courtship— and marriage" applied to the lives of
those two people so often that the world has come to look
upon them with horror and pity.
In the summer of 1840, Abe
traveled rather far making campaign speeches.
He visited
the Missouri State Whig Convention which-was held at
81
Rocheport, June 18-20.
That summer Mary Todd was visiting
her uncles, vThe Honorable North Todd and Judge David Todd,
at Columbia, twenty miles by stagecoach from Rocheport.
Abe
Lincoln went to Columbia and spent the week end with Mary.
They had not seen each other for a month, and it was pleasant
to meet where they knew only each other.
In a day or two he
went back to Illinois and plunged into politics.
But early
in the autumn he and Mary were together again in Springfield.
Abraham escorted Mary to parties and they may have
gone to the dramatic production "Therese” which played in
Springfield.
For two days in October, 1840, a menagerie and
circus were there.
The Journal advertised the show and
listed among those who attended the names of Mr. Lincoln and
Miss Todd.
When all the competition for the hand of Mary Todd
was past, and everyone understood that Abraham and Mary were
engaged, they began to quarrel.
He was negligent and did
not come to see her as often as she thought he should.
His
excuses that he was occupied with political matters were no
longer valid after the November elections.
They quarreled,
and Lincoln -began to fear that they always would.
Lincoln wrote a letter to Mary cancelling their en­
gagement.
He read the letter to Josh Speed, who told him
not to sent it, but to go.to Mary and tell her himself.
is at this point that Sherwood begins scene vi, Act II of
It
82
Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
It is New Y e a r ’s Day; the men are
in A b e’s law office where Josh Speed has just read Abe's
letter to Mary.
Josh agrees that the wording is perfect,
Josh.
. . . But your method of doing it, Abel
It's
brutal, it's heartless, it's so unworthy of you that
I— I'm at loss to understand how you ever thought
you could do it this way.
Abe.
I've done the same thing before with a woman to
whom I seemed to have become attached.
She approved
of my action.13
It is presumed that the other woman mentioned by
Sherwood's Lincoln refers to Mary Owens.
When Lincoln first
contemplated taking Mary Owens as his wife, he doubted,
wavered, feared, and backed off just as he did later in his
courtship with Mary Todd.
His letters to Miss Owens and Mrs.
Browning are documentary proof of his lack of faith in him­
self.1^
It is reasonable to conclude that Lincoln's vacil­
lation was grounded in a fear of marriage and not fear of
Mary Todd.
He was beset by fears that he could not make
her happy nor comfortable.
Mary Todd, like her predecessor,
moved in a higher social circle than he, came from an influ­
ential and wealthy family, was not accustomed to the hard­
ships of poverty, and appreciated luxuries.
Whatever diffi­
culties Mary Owens would have been called upon to face as
Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd would have been also.
^3 Sherwood, o£. cit., p. 94.
^ William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon's
Lincoln. I,'152-161.
83
Sherwood has persisted in telling again the tradi­
tional wedding story which has long been discarded as fic­
tion by all dependable historians.
Hinian Edwards enters
the scene and finding a very depressed bridegroom with losh
Speed and Billy Herndon, he attempts to lift the gloom.
Making a gallant attempt to assume a more cheerily nuptial
tone, he says,
Hinian.
. . . I ’ve made all the arrangements with the
Reverend Dresser, and Elizabeth is preparing a bangup dinner— so you can be sure the whole affair will
be carried off handsomely and painlessly.
I brought you a wedding present, Abe.
Thought
y o u ’d like to make a brave show when you first walk
out,with your bride.
It came from the same place in
Louisville where I bought mine.
(He, picks up one of
the canes and hands it proudly to Abe, who takes it
and inspects it gravely.}
.
Abe.
I t ’s very fine, Hinian.
And I thank you.
Hinian.
Well— I ’ll frankly confess that in getting it
for you, I; was influenced somewhat by consideration
for Mary and her desire for keeping up appearances.
. . . Abe, . . . you must keep a tight rein on her
ambition. My wife 'tells me that even as a child,
she had delusions of grandeur— she predicted to one
and all that the man she would marry would be
President of the United States.; . . . D o n ’t let her
talk you into a n y .gallant crusades or wild goose
chases.
Let her learn to be satisfied with the
estate to which God hath brought h e r . i 5
After a few more words, Hinian leaves.
Billy Herndon drinks
a toast to ’’the President of the United States and
^
Sherwood,
o j d
.
cit.. pp. 99-101.
84
Mrs. Lincoln,” but Abe tells there isn*t going to be a
wedding and he wishes him to deliver a letter to Miss Todd.
Josh takes the letter from his pocket but puts it in the
stove.
tained.
Josh tells the astonished Billy what the letter con­
As his anger fades, Abe, deeply distressed asks,
If it i s n ’t the truth, what is?
Josh.
I ’m not disputing the truth of it.
I ’m only
asking you to tell her so, to her face, in the manner
of a man.
Abe.
It would be a more cruel way.
It would hurt her
more deeply.
For I couldn’t help blurting it all
out— all the terrible things I didn’t say in that
letter.
{He is speaking with passion.} I ’d have to
tell her that I have hatred for her infernal ambition
— that I d o n ’t want to be ridden and driven, upward
and onward through life, with her whip lashing me,
and her spurs digging into me.’ If her poor soul
craves importance in life, then let her marry Stephen
Douglas.
H e ’s ambitious, too. . . . I want only to
be left alone.* lo
The scene ends after an impassioned word-battle over
Lincoln’s destiny.
h e ’s going away.
Lincoln says h e ’ll see Mary, and then
He doesn’t know where.
How closely Sherwood has kept to-historical truths is
not of primary interest unless the legend misinterprets
Lincoln or his wife.
tion on both of them.
This scene has placed a false concep­
Lincoln’s fear of M a r y ’s ”whip-lash”
has delineated a woman whose remorseless ambitions for exalted
social position border on fanaticism.
16 Ibid.-. p. 104
The legendary story of
85
desertion at the altar insinuates a cowardly action of which
Lincoln was not guilty.
On the word of Joshua Speed,- who read the letter,
Lincoln did seek to break his word by writing to her.
Josh burned the letter and persuaded Abe to go to her.
But
In­
stead of accusing him, she accused herself and denounced her­
self in such passionate language that tender-hearted Abe took
her in his arms and kissed her.
When he came back to his
rooms over Speed’s store some hours later, Abraham Lincoln was
more undeniably engaged that ever.-*-7 Their affairs did not
run smoothly, however, after that, for in Lincoln*s own words
nthe fatal first of January, 1841” dated another break in
their engagement.
Herndon*s story of the wedding guests who arrived at
the Edwards* home January 1, 1841; the prepared wedding supper
which was never eaten; the failure of the bridegroom to appear;
the messengers who were sent to look for Lincoln and found him
wandering miserable and desperate, an object of pity; the
friends who watched him day and night to prevent his suicide;
his long absence from his seat in the legislature; and his
trip to Speed’s home in Kentucky immediately after adjournment1^
has been completely refuted.
^
Herndon and Weik, op. cit., II, pp. 212-213.
Ibid. , pp. 214-216.
86
William Barton proves most of Herndon*s allegations
false.
He writes,
. . . TJie story . . . is just about impossible. . . .
There was no announcement in the Springfield papers.
No single invitation has been produced, saved as a
souvenir of what would have been counted by all
Springfield as a notable event of tragic import.
Springfield was a small town and was full of people,
and Lincoln was prominent in politics and the Todds
and the Edwardses were among the prominent people.
Such an incident if it had occurred would of necessity
have produced a sensation at the time, and we should
not lack evidence of it.
In the next place, Lincoln did not go stark mad as
has been represented.
He continued to attend the
legislature, and answered to the roll-call with reason­
able regularity. . . . he attended to his legal business
that summer until after the adjournment of all the
courts.
. . . he did not leave Springfield under the care of
Joshua F. Speed or any one else. . . . his absence from
Springfield occurred "late in the summer."19
William Herndon who enlarged upon the evidence of the tragic
wedding, it must be remembered,
is the same man who con­
cluded that the marriage between Abraham and Mary in 1842
was a loveless one.
Of the entire play, the seventh scene, Mr. Sherwood
admits, is the most completely fictitious.
Lincoln, appar­
ently having wandered without motive for nearly two years,
comes to the prairie near New Salem.
There, by accident,
he finds his old friend Seth Gale enroute to the West in a
Barton, op. oit., pp. 249-250.
87
covered, wagon with his wife and seven-year-old son.
The
wagon is halted now for the boy has a raging fever and needs
a doctor.
Seth describes the hardships of their three
months’ trip but courageously tells Abe that they are head­
ing for Oregon.
The immensity of the undertaking staggers
Abe and thrills him.
The presence of Gobey, a free negro in the party, has
made it necessary for them to travel well up in free terri­
tory.
Abe asks,
Abe.
Seth.
Do you think it will be free in Oregon?
Of course it will !
I t ’s got to—
Abe.
(bitterly) Oh no, it h a s n ’t, Seth. Not with the
politicians in Washington selling out the whole West
piece by piece to the slave traders.
Seth.
(vehemently) That territory has got to be free.’
If this eountry a i n ’t strong enough to protect its
citizens from slavery, then w e ’ll cut loose from it
and join with Canada.
Or, better yet, w e ’ll make a
new country there in the far west.
Abe.
Seth.
(gravely). A new country?
Why not?
Abe.
I was just thinking— old Mentor Graham once said
to me that some day the United States might be
divided into many hostile countries, like Europe.*0
The enormity of losing such fine Americans as the Gales
occurs to Abe as Seth breaks at the thought of losing his
son.
20
Sherwood, op. cit., p. 119.
88
No sorrowing woman ever made an appeal to Abraham
Lincoln that he did not try to help her.
When Aggie Gale,
fearful that her little son is dying, asks Abe to pray for
him, he does.
Lincoln could have made such a prayer.
His
religious beliefs were given few public demonstrations, it
is true, until 1850 when his own son, Edward, died.
But
Lincoln was not unfamiliar with prayer, and he had been a
constant reader of the Bible since boyhood as much perhaps
because he enjoyed its incomparable literary style as he did
its comfort.
Of this scene which is the turning point in the play,
Sherwood gives this explanation in his supplementary notes:
. . . in the course of his life, Lincoln underwent an
astonishing metamorphosis, from a man of doubt and
indecision^-even of indifference— to a man of passion­
ate conviction and decisive action.
This metamorphosis
was not accomplished in one stroke, by one magnificent
act of God.
It was so slow and gradual that its progress
was not visible to any one, even (in all likelihood) to
■Lincoln himself. . . .
. . . When he did go forward, it was entirely under
his own steam.
But what were the deep fires of wrath
that produced that steam?
We know that Lincoln was always opposed to slavery
in theory, but he was even more opposed to the stirring
up of trouble— . . .
. . . in these stirred, troubled years, the United
States was refusing to remain as it had been, divided
into North and South.
The wheels of the covered wagons
were beginning to cut long furrows across the plains
beyond the Mississippi river. . . .
, . . it was not the mere fact of slavery which converted
Lincoln into the leader of a militant cause: it was the
question of its extension.
If he was willing to let the
South mind its own business, he was not willing to stand
'by in silence when it threatened to establish domination
of the West. . . .
I have tried . . . to provide evidence of L i n c o l n ^
awareness of the West, of his feeling of kinship for
those who were to be its first settlers, and the sense
of responsibility which he ultimately had to them.
To
crystallize all this, to indicate that Lincoln had at
length made up his mind and the influences that forced
him to do it, is the purpose of this symbolic seventh
scene.
The prayer . . . is, in effect, a prayer for
the survival of the United States of America.21
Scene viii which ends Act II of Sherwood's play is
the reconciliation between Abe and Mary.
Actually Lincoln
returned to Springfield when the courts opened in September;
he had been gone only a few weeks.
From the fatal first of
January, 1841, till late in the Autumn of 1842, Abraham
Lincoln and Mary Todd kept away from each other.
He had
found no lasting happiness nor had she.
Abraham indulged in another proposal of marriage
during those months, however, this time to seventeen-yearold Sarah Rickard.
The proposal was hasty and ill-considered
Lincoln knew it to be, but he had committed himself and felt
that he could not leave her disconsolate.
had more sense in the matter than he.
Fortunately she
She refused his offer.
A letter from Lincoln to Speed, dated March 27, 1842,
quoted by Barton, says:
21 Ibid., pp. 220-223.
90
"One thing I can tell you which I know you will be
glad to hear, and that is that I have seen Sarah, and
have scrutinized her feelings as well as I could, and
am fully convinced that she is far happier now than
she has been for the past fifteen months.1,22
• Fifteen months prior to the dating of that letter, Abe and
Mary quarreled and parted.
Is not Barton1s conjecture that
Mary Todd made jealous inquiries'about Sarah which precipi­
tated an angry scene a reasonable one?23
Lincoln was not indifferent to the happiness of Mary
Todd during the twenty-two months that they were estranged,
nor was he unaware of her movements.
From the same letter
to Speed quoted above are these words:
". . . it seems to me I should have been entirely happy
but for the never absent idea that there is one still
unhappy whom I have contributed to make so. That kills
my soul.
I cannot but reproach myself for even wishing
to be happy while she is otherwise.
She accompanied a
large party,on'the railroad cars to Jacksonville last
Monday, and on her return spoke, so that I heard of it,
of having enjoyed the trip exceedingly.
God be praised
for that*"24
Nor wao Mary Todd indifferent to the welfare of Abraham
Lincoln.
Paul M. Angle in his recent work, Mary Lincoln.
Wife and W i d o w , published in conjunction with C a r l ,Sandburg,
goes into the correspondence of Mary Todd; her friend, Mercy
Levering; and James C. Conkling, friend to Mercy Levering.
All these letters, save one- of Mary Todd’s were written after
22 Barton, op. cit., p. 2 56.
23
Ibid., p. 257.
2if Herndon and Weik, op. cit.. II, p. 223.
January 1, 1841.
Mr. Angle shows that this correspondence
does not contain the slightest hint that any wedding had been
planned; that Mary Todd in her letters held no ill will
against Lincoln and was even anxious that their former rela­
tions be resumed, which is not likely to have been the case
had Lincoln jilted her at the altar; that a proud woman like
Mary Todd would have held Lincoln in scorn had he so wronged
her; and that Mary Todd realized that Lincoln was not himself
when he broke their engagement, which explains why she w e l ­
comed him back.
Mr. Angle holds that; the "Conkling-Levering
correspondence proves conclusively that no such episode as
Lamon and Herndon describe could have occurred on that day.
Two matters occurred to help bring Abraham and Mary
together.
One was Speed*s answer to Lincoln's question about
his own happiness since marriage.
He wrote to Lincoln that
his married life was happy beyond his expectations.
Speed
had previously had much the same misgivings about marriage
that Abe had.
Oddly enough;. Lincoln who could not "gain
confidence in his own ability to keep hi's resolves’* wrote to
Speed,
,TI have no doubt it is the peculiar misfortune of
both you and me to dream dreams of Eylsium far exceed­
ing all that anything earthly can realize.
Far short of
your dreams as you may be, no woman could do more to
25
x Carl Sandburg and Paul M. Angle, Mary Lincoln.
Wife and Widow, p. 330.
92
realize them than that same black-eyed Fanny.
If you
could but contemplate her through my imagination, it
would appear ridiculous to you that any one should for
a moment think of being unhappy with her.
The other matter involved a prank of Mary Todd and
her friend Julia Jayhe.
Lincoln had written an anonymous
article for the Sangamon Journal holding up to public ridi­
cule one of his political rivals.
The girls wrote a second
article and signed it with the same name as the first.
To
shield the girls, the editor gave Lincoln’s name as the
author of both articles when it was demanded of him.
Lincoln
was challenged to a duel, but happily it was called off.
Subsequently Mary and Abraham met at the editor’s home and a
reconciliation resulted.
Hurrying, it seemed, before they
had cause to change their minds again, they were married
November 4, 1842.
Sherwood’s Lincoln comes back to Mary because he sees
her as a part of his destiny.
A b e ’s reason for returning.
Sherwood knew that not to be
Twelve more years of searching
thought, talk, and observation with Mary at his side, keeping
the domestic bark afloat by the most rigid economy were
necessary to a clear understanding of his own destiny.
Sherwood’s Lincoln does not love Mary Todd though he offers
again to marry her.
^
Her last lines in scene viii are:
Herndon and Weik, op., cit. , II, 222.
93
Mary.
. . . AbeJ
I love you— oh, I love you.’ Whatever
becomes of the two of us, I ’ll die loving you.*
(She
is sobbing wildly on his shoulder.
Awkwardly, he
lifts his hands and takes hold of her in a loose
embrace. He is staring down at the carpet, over her
shoulder.)27
Sherwood has patterned his interpretation after Mrs.
Hinian Edwards’ opinion that Abraham and Mary were "not
suited" to one another.
We may well ask ourselves what evi­
dence of love and suitability between those two can be found.
A glance at what they had in common may counterbalance their
often discussed differences.
Both Mary and Abe enjoyed an apt story or clever
answer, and both used them.
M a r y ’s sharp retorts did not
wouiid the feelings of Abraham as often as supposed.
Even of
her temper he said good-naturedly that it did her good and
di d n ’t hurt him.
He himself knew the use of sarcasm as his
"skinning of Thomas,” his temperance speech of Washington’s
birthday, 1842, and his answer to Forquer attest.
They were
both clever mimics, and M a r y ’s ability to simulate Abe's
political opponents, or his ability to tell a quaint story
must have afforded them many a good laugh.
Both Abraham and Mary were intelligent people with a
passion for politics.
Any who think it unfeminine of Mary
to have attempted to influence her-husband's career know
little of women or history.
Mary Todd was always trying to
Sherwood, op. cit., p. 128.
make someone president.
As a young girl, she confessed to
Henry Clay, her neighbor, that she couldn't understand her
father's lack of interest in the presidency.
Failing to
stimulate Robert Todd, she said, there wasn't another person
she'd rather see in the office than Mr. Clay.
He promised
if he ever did reach that high place that she should be his
first quest.
Had Mary been a stumbling block to Abraham
there might be reason for condemning her, but her judgment
on political moves and her keen estimates of people were
often wiser than his.
True, his mind was slow in its relent­
less thoroughness where hers was intuitively quick, but they
were mental equals for all that.
Another bond between Mary and Abraham was their mutual
admiration for the other's intelligence.
Lincoln excelled
anyone Mary had ever known in mental and moral power.
He was
the only person she had ever known whose sense of humor ex­
ceeded her own.
Her temper at times interfered with her
sense of humor; Lincoln’s never did.
She, in turn, was the
most accomplished, versatile, and fluent woman he had ever
met.
Such thoughtful gallantry as Lincoln rendered to Mary
during the long years of their married life can only be at­
tributed to his love for her.
Never did a storm gather when
he was near enough to reach, home that he did not hurry there
to lessen her nervousness.
He remained but a few moments
95
when his nomination news came in to receive the congratula­
tions of his friends before hurrying home to make her happy
with the news.
When one considers the words wfaich Lincoln
had inscribed within her wedding ring: "Love is eternal," it
is difficult to believe that he married her to save his
honor.
M a r y ’s love for Abraham was first questioned by
Herndon, who wrote,
. . . . in him she saw position in society, prominence
in the world, and the grandest social distinction.
By
that means her ambition would be satisfied.
Until that
fatal New Y e a r ’s day in 1841 she may have loved him,
but his action on that occasion forfeited her affection.
. . . Love fled at the approach of revenge. . . .28
Why, if Mary Todd were so ambitious for social distinction,
did she choose debt-encumbered Abraham Lincoln and work by
his side for nineteen years to reach her goal when Douglas,
who had greater influence, superior social connections, and
a brilliant political record, was so accessible?
The answer
lies in the most motivating of human forces; Mary did not
love Douglas, and she did love Lincoln.
Herndon has written
pages constructing an agrument to prove that a woman will
marry a man for revenge and in her revenge bear him four sons,
sew all their clothing and her own, keep his house, economize
on the household budget, and encourage her husband to strive •
for higher office over a period of two decades.
One wonders
Herndon and Weik, op. cit., pp. 229-230.
96
that it did not occur to Herndon that the punishment to the
avenger might outweigh the satisfaction in the revenge*
If,
as Jesse Weik says, Mary Lincoln did not hate Herndon,29 ft
would be understandable had she done so; for while she still
lived, he grossly misrepresented her love for Abraham and
denied Abraham*s love for her.
but neither was she a demon.
Mary Lincoln was not an angel,
No one for a moment has thought
of Lincoln as a gorilla becuase Stanton applied that word to
him, nor was Mary a she-wolf because Herndon called her that.
Love is not manifested only by submission.
Like every
woman interested in her husband, Mary Lincoln wanted Abraham
to improve himself.
This is what William H. Townsend says of
Mary.
It may have been that gentle Ann Rutledge, or portly,
complacent Mary Owens, or youthful, light-hearted Sarah
. Richard could have endowed the tall Sycamore of the •
Sangamon with richer measure of marital bliss, but never
did a young wife bring to a husband, interested in
statecraft and anxious for a preferment, such wealth of
first-hand information on a grave moral and political
subject--such fruits of intimate association with great
public men of her day, as did Mary Todd to Abraham
Line oln.30
Lincoln was not unappreciative of his w i f e ’s contributions to
his success, and when the news, of his election came over the
wires, his first thought was of her.
Rushing to his home, he
Weik, op. cit. , p. 96.
30
William H. Townsend, Lincoln and His W i f e ’s Home
T o w n , p. 87.
97
shouted, ’’Mary, w e ’re elected;”
Both of these people had peculiarities of temperament.
He had to hear with her temper, which he did, and she with
his melancholy moods.
A lawyer and an intimate friend of
Lincoln, Henry C. Whitney, who rode the circuit with him and
was often a visitor in his home, writes of Mary Lincoln:
. . . the world does not and cannot know how much it
is indebted to this lady that her distinguished hus­
band’s ambition was fired and stimulated to reach for
the grand prize finally awarded him; nor how much it
was indebted to her for words of cheer— of*' hope— of
comfort and solace, when all seemed dark. . . . Lincoln
thoroughly loved his wife.
I had many reasons to know
this in my intimacy with him.31
Lincoln’s own words should conclude these inquiries
about his love for his wife most definitely.
In his
Cincinnati speech on September 17, 1859» he told a Southern
audience:
. . . We mean to remember that you are as good as we
are, that there is no difference between us other than
the difference of circumstances.
We mean to recognize
and bear in mind always that you have as good hearts in
your bosoms as other people, or as we claim to have,
and treat you accordingly.
We mean to marry your girls
when we have a chance— the white ones I mean, and I
have the honor to inform you that I once did have a
chance in that w a y . 32
Mr. Romero is the first of the dramatists to present
Abraham and M a r y ’s wedding night.
We do not see the wedding,
for Lincoln is not listed in the cast of characters.
^
p. 97.
During
Henry C. Whitney. Life on the Circuit with Lincoln,
'
Hicolay and Hay, op. oit., I, 569 .
98
the entire play, he is but a personality with a voice.
scene is largely filled with M a r y ’s rejected suitors.
The
One
of them, John Breckenridge is alone when Mary Lincoln enters,
lovely in white bridal clothes.
Actually Mary did not have
formal bridal array; her wedding was too hastily planned.
In the two lines she has in this scene Romero manages again
to portray a girl who had a reputation as a charming talker,
not one whose every word was biting.sarcasm.
Mrs. Lincoln.
(. . . as she and Breckinridge face one
another there is a hushed pause of heavy silence— )
A r e n ’t you going to congratulate the bride, John?
Breckinridge.
(bowing with a graceful sweep— kisses
her hand tenderly) May you be happy, always— Mrs.
Lincoln.
Mrs. Lincoln.
(tenderly) Gallantry becomes you, John,
more than any other man I ’ve ever known.
(Slowly she draws her hand away, and turning abruptly,
slips into the shadows. . . . )33
Caroline Owsley Brown, in her article "Springfield Society,”
has written,
. . . Some one has told me of a letter by Mrs. Trumbull
(Julia Jayne, who was Mary Lincoln’s bridesmaid) during
her first season in Washington in which she said, ”1
have seen a great many prominent women since I have been
here, but I have not met . . . as pretty a talker as
Mary Lincoln? . . . 34
The last of the three scenes comprising "The Springfield
33 Romero, op. cit. , Part I, Scene 2, p. 3.
Ol
Caroline Owsley Brown, "Springfield Society,"
Journal of the Illinois State.Historical Society. 15:448.
99
Cycle” of the play M r s . Lincoln is set in the parlor of the
Lincolns' Eighth Street house on a day in October, 1846.
Abraham- has been elected to Congress and today his family
leaves for Washington.
Romero should have debated his scene
‘ 1847 f or“Congress did not convene until December of that
year, but this is of no account.
The scene is one in which
Mary manages' domestic affairs with masterly technique.
She
placates the grocer with less than one quarter of the money
which is due him and sends him away humbly thankful that he
has been allowed to play a part in national politics.
John Stuart, M a r y ’s cousin and Lincoln’s law partner
enters with exasperating news.
Stuart.
. . . I ’ve just come from the printers.
He
threatens to tell Abraham and create a public scandal
unless you pay him the five hundred dollars you owe
him for the campaign posters and literature.
Mrs. Lincoln.
The blackguard.'
I offered him two
hundred, and promised to send the rest from Washington.
I owe other people as well.
All day it's been bill
collectors, bill collectors, until I ’m almost out of
my head.
Stuart.
. . . He swears h e ’ll go to the editor of the
Springfield Gazette and give him a story that will
not read so well in print.
Mrs. Lincoln.
Rubbish.'
Stuart.
He says you tried to bribe him with promises of
a government job in exchange for this debt. He says
the editor will be only too glad to spring the facts
about Mr. Lincoln’s domestic life and how his wife
meddles in his political affairs.
Mrs. Lincoln.
He wouldn’t dare.’
100
Stuart.
We*11 have to raise the money somehow, Mary.
Abraham w o n ’t like what we've done behind his back.
Mrs. Lincoln.
It elected him, d i d n ’t it? But h e ’ll go
on believing his friends and his ideals got him his
votes and sent him to Congress.
How can I make him
understand that a printer is as important in a
political campaign as a platform.
John, aren’t there any outstanding debts we can
collect?
Stuart.
I brought these ledgers from the office for
you, Mary.
There are five thousand dollars in un­
collected fees.
Mrs. Lincoln.
What were you and Abraham running— a
charity office? If no one in the firm had a head
for business why didn’t you let me do the collecting?
Stuart.
I t ’s too late now. Most of the people have
moved away and some of them are dead. . . . 35
The scene is excellent throughout in showing M a r y ’s effec­
tive, if sometimes ill-considered, help to Abraham’s success.
Her courage during trying times balances the examples of her
folly and temper.
The source material of the scene above is
not given but it might well have been these words of Sandburg:
So there was talk about Mrs. Lincoln over Springfield.
,She economized in the kitchen in order to have fine
•clothes; she had a terrible temper and tongue; so the
talk ran.
That her husband had married her a thousand
dollars in debt, that he charged low fees as a lawyer
and was careless about money, and that she had managed
the household so well that her husband trusted her and
let her have her own way in all the household economy,
d i d n’t get into the gossip.
That she was often sorry,
35 Romero, op. cit. . Part I, Scene 3, pp. 4-5.
101
full of regret, after a bad burst of temper, d i d n ’t
get into the gossip.36
Between the close of Act II and the opening of Act
III of Abe Lincoln in Illinois
of sixteen years.
there has elapsed a period
The year is 1858, and the scene, a debate
between Douglas and Lincoln in the campaign for the office
of United States Senator from Illinois.
Sherwood writes in
his notes,
A philosophy was slowly developing, a philosophy
relentless in its thoroughness.
Lincoln had the soul
of a poet, but he had the mind of a pure scientist, and
these may be said to have been his laboratory years.
He would not acknowledge that he had seen things at all
until he had seen them whole, and all the implications
beyond them.37
Sherwood has admittedly made Lincoln’s reply to Douglas a
patchwork of quotations and paraphrases from various Lincoln
speeches, debates, and letters.
He has striven to show an
aroused Lincoln, and he accomplished his purpose.
In scene
x, however, the playwright has allowed Lincoln to slip
placidly back into his former attitude of indifference.
Sherwood’s scene x and Drinkwater’s scene i are set
on the identical evening, early in I860.
In Abe Lincoln of
Illinois the scene includes Abe, Willie, Tad, and Robert
Lincoln, and Joshua Speed.
^
The father has been telling his
Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years,
I, 431.
Sherwood, op. cit., p. 228.
102
sons a story of pioneer days when Mary Lincoln interrupts
it, orders Robert to cease smoking in her parlor, and sends
the young children to make ready for supper.
Josh reminds
Abe that "those men will be here any minute," and Abe admits
to his uninformed wife that three men from the last will be
calling on them soon.
When she asks what for, he replies,
"I d o n ’t precisely know— but I suspect that it’s to see if
I ’m fit to
Urging
be a candidate for President of the United States."
him to change his suit or at least, his filthy boots,
Mary seats herself and bitterly speaks these words to Josh:
Mary.
There never could have been another man such as '
he is.’ I ’ve read about many that have gone up in
the world., and all of them seemed to have to fight
to assert themselves every inch of the way, against
the opposition of their enemies and the lack of under­
standing in their own friends.
But h e ’s never had
any of that.
H e ’s never had an enemy, and every one
of his friends has always been completely confident
in him.
Sven before I met him, I was told that he
had a glorious future, and after I ’d known him a day,
I was sure of it myself.
But he d i d n ’t believe it—
or, if he did, secretly, he was so afraid of the
prospect that he did all in his power to avoid it.
. . . And now, opportunity, the greatest opportunity,
is coming here, to him, right into his own house . . .
He must take itj But I can’t persuade him of it.’ I'm
tired— I ’m tired to deathj
(The tears now come.) . . .
I ’ve succeeded in nothing— but in breaking myself.
. . . (She sobs bitterly.)38
This is the keynote of Sherwood’s interpretation of Lincoln.
He has dramatized a man. with little self-confidence, remark­
able friends, and a wish to be left alone.
38 i&id-> PP- 146-147
Historians agree
103
that Lincoln was serious-minded enough to realize the enor­
mous, task of the presidency and his own lack of schooling
for it.
But Sherwood’s Lincoln seems never to have had the
remotest idea concerning the presidency cross his mind.
Mary
has gone to prepare a refreshment for the guests who will be
there soon when Abe says to Josh:
Abe.
I presume these men are pretty influential.
Josh.
They’ll have quite a say in the delegations of
three states that may swing the nomination away from
Seward.
Abe.
Suppose, by some miracle f or fluke, they did
nominate me; do you think I ’d stand a chance of
winning the election?
Josh.
An excellent chance, in my opinion.
There’ll be
four candidates in the field, bumping each other, and
opening up the track for a dark horse.
Abe.
But the dark horse might.run in the wrong direc­
tion. 39
In contrast to the import of Lincoln’s attitude in
this scene is the evidence that from 1858 on he developed a
political acumen which, except for momentary fears of fail­
ure, kept his hand on the national pulse constantly.
He knew
exactly what he had at stake during the race with Douglas for
the seat in the United States Senate.
Win or lose, Lincoln .
knew what those debates would mean to his political future.
Douglas knew it, too, and was reluctant to thus strengthen
Lincoln’s cause.
39 ibid., pp. 148-149.
104
On the last Saturday before the election, October 30,
1858, Lincoln spoke in the public square of Springfield.
His speech closed with these words:
. . . I claim no insensibility to political honors; but
today could the Missouri restriction be restored, and
the whole slavery question replaced on the old ground of
"toleration” by necessity where it exists, with unyield­
ing hostility, to the spread of it, on principle, I
would, in consideration, gladly agree, that Judge Douglas
should never be out, and I never in an office, so long
as we both, or either, live. ^0
These are not the words of an opportunist,
it is true; but
neither are they the words of a man unstimulated by the chal­
lenge of his destiny.
Lincoln was not crushed when Douglas defeated him.
He
had foreseen the result with a feeling that his own loss would
bring ultimate success nearer, and he was right.
To Henry
Asbury, a friend who had written him a cheerful letter admon­
ishing him not to give up the battle, Lincoln responded:
”. . . The fight must go on. The cause of civil liberty
must not be surrendered at the end of one or even one
hundred defeats. Douglas had the ingenuity to be sup­
ported in the late contest both as the best means to
break down and to uphold the slave interest.
Ho in,genuity can keep these antagonistic elements in harmony
long. Another explosion will soon come."^1
A few weeks prior to the day when these scenes of
i
Sherwood and Drinkwater are set, Lincoln had made his address
^ Paul Angle,
Lincoln, p. 198.
^
editor, Hew Letters and Papers of
Herndon and Weik, ojg. cit. , II, 414.
105
at Cooper TJnion, New York City.
success.
His t r i p was a heart-warming
When he returned, he knew that there was a possi­
bility of his nomination as President.
Seward was the most
likely nominee; Chase was next; but strange things happen in
politics, and Lincoln knew that Seward and Chase and the
other leading candidates might kill each other off and leave
him as the most available candidate.
Herndon wrote of this
period,
. . . It was apparent now to Lincoln that the Presidential
nomination was within his reach.
He began gradually to
lose his interest in the law and to trim his political
sails at the same.time. His recent success had stimulated
his self-confidence to unwonted proportions.
He wrote to
influential party workers everywhere.
I know the idea
prevails that Lincoln sat still in his chair in Springfield,
and that one of those unlooked-for tides in human affairs
came along and cast the nomination into his lap; but any
man who has had experience in such things knows that great
political prizes are not obtained in that way.
The truth
is, Lincoln was as vigilant as he was ambitious, and there
is no denying the fact that he understood the situation
perfectly from the start.
In the management of his own
interests he was obliged to rely almost entirely on his
own resources.- He had no money with which to maintain a
political bureau, and he lacked any kind of personal or­
ganization whatever.
Sewkrd had all these things',, and,
behind them all, a brilliant record in the United States
Senate with which to dazzle his followers.
But with all his
prestige and experience, the latter was no more adroit and
no more untiring in the pursuit of his ambition than the
man who had just delivered the Cooper Institute s p e e c h .
There w a s n ’t s. chance of the dark horse running the wrong way.
Abraham Lincoln wanted that, nomination.
In 1919, John Drinkwater wrote an American chronicle
42 Ibid.-. Ill, 457
106
play including six episodes in the life of Abraham Lincoln.
In an article in Current Opinion. March, 1920, after John
Drinkwater had given his British conception of Lincoln to
the world, William Barton asked this question:
"How can a
play be wrong in virtually all the details and be right in
the essential message?"
Historical fact and legendary truth
were fused to produce so poetical a conception that even
American authorities on Lincoln have accepted the play with
all its mistakes.
The opening scene is the parlor of Abraham Lincoln*s
home in Springfield, Illinois, early in 1B60.
Two of
Lincoln’s neighbors sit before a grate fire quietly smoking.
The two neighbors gravely ask: "Will Abraham accept the
nomination?*'
The answer of the play is: Personally, he would
have been too m o d e s t , too gravely aware of the heavy respon­
sibilities thrust upon him, too certain of the coming of
civil war; but Mrs. Lincoln is ambitious, and aware of her
husband’s powers; she will tell him to accept, and he will
accept. . Now the truth is that Abraham Lincoln did not antic­
ipate civil war; that he was mightily ambitious and needed no
urging in this instance from Mrs. Lincoln; that he had worked
hard for the nomination and for every office that he ever saw
within his reach and promising substantial advancement; and
that nothing could have withheld his acceptance, which was
already virtually given.
107
That substantially is Barton’s opinion of the opening
scene of a play in which every detail is wrong or legendary
but which gives an interpretation of Lincoln dear to the
world.
In the few moments before the committee comes to see
Lincoln about accepting the plans for his nomination,
Drinkwater*s Lincoln has a few words with his wife.
Refer­
ring to his forthcoming answer to the committee", Lincoln asks,
Lincoln.
. . . Y o u * r e sure about it, Mary?
Mrs. Lincoln.
Yes, aren’t you?
Lincoln.
We mean to set bounds to slavery.
The
will resist.
They may try to break away from
Union.
That cannot be allowed.
If the Union
aside America will crumble.
The saving of it
mean blood.
Mrs. Lincoln.
Lincoln.
South
the
is set
may
Who is to shape it all if you d o n ’t?
There's nobody.
I know it. ^3
This man seems weighed down by the burden of his destiny—
even before it is put on his back.
He has, however, pride of
purpose in his heart and being less cautious than Sherwood’s
Lincoln, commits himself more definitely than Abraham is
f
•
likely to have done.
Drinkwater’s Lincoln speaks boldly to
the members of the committee.
Lincoln.
Do not be under any misunderstanding, I beg
you.
I aim at moderation so far as is honest.
But
I am a very stubborn man, gentlemen.
If the South
John Drinkwater, Abraham Lincoln, p. 15.
108
insists upon the extension of slavery, and claims the
right to secede, as you know it very well may do, and
the decision lies with me, it will mean resistance, in­
exorable, with blood if needs be.
I would have every­
body’s mind clear as to that.44
Lincoln’s characteristic caution is here superseded
by his equally characteristic honesty.
Under similar cir­
cumstances Sherwood’s Lincoln says, ”1 cannot answer that,
bluntly, or any other way; because I cannot tell what I should
do, if elected.”45
Lincoln’s speeches enroute to Washington
after his election seem to bear out this policy of caution.
Lincoln deliberately avoided facing the issue before his in­
augural address, or he did not realize how serious the situa­
tion really was.
The former conjecture is more reasonable
than the latter.
Scene xi of Abe Lincoln in Illinois is set on the
nerve-wracking night of Lincoln’s election to the Presidency.
The campaign headquarters is filled with hurrying men.
Mrs.
Lincoln is sitting at the table across from Abe, who is read­
ing newspaper clippings.
The nerve--tension which increases
as they wait and count the returns is too much for Mary. Her
voice is trembling as she rises and says,
Mary.
Abe.
I can’t stand it any longer.1
Yes, my dear— I think you’d better go home.
be back before long.
44 Ibid. , p. 19.
Sherwood, op. cit. , p. 154.
I ’ll
109
Mary*
(hysterical) I w o n ’t go home* You only want to
be rid of me*
T h a t ’s what y o u ’ve wanted ever since
the day we were married— and before that.
Anything
to get me out of your sight, because you hate mej
(Turning to Josh, Tinian, and Billy.)
And i t ’s the
same with all of you— all of his friends— you hate
m e — you wish I ’d never come into his life.46
Abe, who is himself in a fearful state of nervous tension,
asks the others to step out and turns on Mary with strange'
savagery*
Abe.
Damn you.’ Damn you for taking every opportunity
you can to make a public fool of m e — and yourself.’
It's bad enough, God knows, when you act like that in
the privacy of our own home.
But here— in front of
people.’ Y o u ’re not to do that again. Do you hear
me? Y o u ’re never to do that again/
(Mary is so aghast at this outburst that her hyster­
ical temper vanishes, giving, way to blank terror.)
Mary.
AbeJ
You cursed at me.
. . .
Abe.
(in a strained voice) I lost my temper, Mary.
And I ’m sorry for it. But I still think you should
go home rather than endure the strain of this— this
Death Watch.
(She stares at him, uncomprehendingly, then turns
and goes to the door;)
Mary.
. . . This is the night when I ’m waiting to hear
that my husband has become President of the United
States. And even if he does— it's ruined, for me.
I t ’s too late. . . .47
The scene is a powerful one, a logical one.
In explanation
Sherwood writes,
. . . I did not feel that this play concerning a part
of the tragedy of Lincoln’s life would be complete in
Ibid. , p. l66i
47 Ifria. , PP- 167-168
110
its attempted honesty if I did not include the admis­
sion that, on occasion, his monumental patience
snapped. . . .
Feeling that one such outburst from Lincoln to his
wife was necessary, I placed it in this scene on
Election Night, considering that this was the most
appropriate moment. . .
The regret is not that Mr. Sherwood included the scene but
that nowhere in his twelve scenes did he feel impelled, for
the sake of justice, to show Mary and Abraham enjoying their
life together.
It is admittedly a faithful presentation of
Herndon who reiterated often that Mary wed Abraham for re­
venge and that he married her because, in a foolhardy moment,
he pledged his troth.
The play closes with the Lincolns'; departure from
Springfield.
Threats of assassination have been made, and
the new President is carefully guarded.
Standing on the rear
platform of the train, he gives a speech which is a blend of
several utterances, made before and after this occasion.
His
first words are those which he actually spoke to his neigh­
bors and friends in farewell:
No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feel­
ings of sadness at this parting.
To this place, and the
kindness of you people, I owe everything.
I have lived
here a quarter of a century, and passed from a young to
an old man.
Here my children have been born and one is
buried.
I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever
I may return. . . . I commend you to the care of the
48 Ibld» , pp. 244-245
Ill
Almighty, as I hope that in your prayers you will
remember me. . . .49
A review of the three plays which present Abraham
Lincoln and his family during their life in Springfield
brings these conclusions.
Sherwood’s play is a dark picture
of reluctance, melancholy, loneliness, and domestic bitter­
ness.
The supplementary notes to the text of the play include
this admission: "Perhaps, in this play, I have exaggerated the
fact that he [Lincoln] was forever pushed forward by his wife
and his friends."50
^n^ again in the notes are these words:
This tenth scene may seem to over-emphasize Lincoln’s
shrinking from great responsibility, suggestion again
that he never sought public office for himself, but
was always being thrust into it by others.
Such was
not my intention. . . . 51
Those uncomfortable moments, which most marriages know, are
faithfully done, but we miss those periods of humor, gaiety,
and eagerness which must have belonged to the Lincolns.
Ramon Romero, having studied Mary Todd and dramatized
her in a leading role, has not shown her only as a thorn in
her husband’s flesh.
Either Drinkwater or Sherwood could
have included a happy scene had they been convinced that
there were any such in the Lincoln home.
None of these dram­
atists used the contrasting shades of light and dark in these
49 I M i * » PP- 182-184.
5° Ibid. » P- 220.
51 Ibid. , P. 237.
112
lives.
We must wait for yet another Lincoln playwright to
present the picture whole.
CHAPTER I V
DRAMA. OF LINCOLN'S PRESIDENCY.
Biographers have said that Lincoln was like
Shakespeare, in that he seemed to run the whole gamunt of
human nature; from the shadowy superstitions of the young
frontiersman to the profound faith of a great man, Lincoln
experienced the entire transition-.
Perhaps it was on such an
idea that Franklin P.. Norton Lased the inspiration for his
drama of 1915, entitled Abraham Lincoln, or the Rebellion.
In five acts and twenty-one scenes, the author of the
play proceeds to dramatize the presidential years of Lincoln
and Jefferson Davis in their respective capitols.
The lang­
uage is Shakespearean, and the outline of the play resembles
a composite of several Shakespearean plays.
In Act I,
Lincoln is warned of his danger by a soothsayer; Act III
includes a grave-diggers' scene with Lincoln and Seward
standing near; and after Lee's surrender, Act V finds a
disguised Jefferson Davis wandering in the forest with a
fool.
A very few lines of Lincoln’s inauguration speech
will illustrate Norton's strange jargon of mingled
Shakespearean and frontier-American idiom.
Lincoln:
The 'little giant,* Stephen A. Douglas,
Is holding my hat. His defeat by me for
The Presidency, has not made him sore.l
1 Franklin P. Norton, "Abraham Lincoln, or the Rebelion," Six Dramas of American Romance and History, p. 82.
114
The general failure to portray the characteristics of
Lincoln or to interpret the President precludes further con­
sideration of the play.
I n -1918, William C. Langdon wrote a Christmas mystery
of the war entitled The Masque of the Titans of Freedom.
The shades of Washington, his step-granddaughter and grand­
son, Lincoln, and Tad with contemporaries in the background
meet and discuss their respehtive positions in the hearts of
Americans in 1918.
virile.
The language is beautiful, fitting, and
There are many quoted lines inserted.
is the kindly, good-natured father of Tad.
This Lincoln
He says,
Lincoln.
Tad, go over and pay your respects to General
Washington, the Father of your Country. And these
are his grandchildren.
This is my closest friend,
Tad.2
After greetings have been exchanged, Washington
speaks of the appalling state of affairs on earth:
Washington.
There is not rest for us when all to which
we gave our souls each moment stand in jeopardy. Ho
rest but vigilance and prayer!
Lincoln.
I< have been driven to my knees many times by
the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else
to go.' Without the assistance of that Divine Being
who ever attended you'we cannot succeed.
But with
that assistance we cannot fail.
Washington.
With that assistance we cannot fail.
2 William C. Langdon, The Masque of the Titans of
Freedom, p . 13.
115
Lincoln. I am not deeply concerned to know if the Lord
is on my side, but Whether I am on the Lord's side.3
There is no plot development, and the characters re­
main as we see them at first.
The two men concerned about
the nation to the formation and preservation of which they
both gave so much of themselves have again in the emergency
of the World War taken recourse to the aid that Washington
found at Valley Forge and Lincoln found during the Civil War:
the Divine Being.
Music to accompany the masque was com­
posed by John Lawrence Erb.
During the last months of the florid War* John
Drinkwater wrote one of the finest pieces of literature in­
spired by Lincoln.
In the note which prefaces his play the
author disclaims any purpose as an historian or a political
philosopher.
His chief concern, he says, is "with the pro­
foundly dramatic interest in his Lincoln's character, and
with the inspiring example of. a man who handled war nobly and
with imagination."4-
But for the few moments in scene i when
Lincoln is with his 'neighbors and his wife, the British
dramatist would have us feel that Lincoln was fully aware of'
his great destiny.
When the Republican committee has gone,
the stage is empty of all save the lonely figure of Lincoln
on whom the burdens of the world seem to rest.
3 Ibid., p. 25.
4- John Drinkwater, Abraham Lincoln, p. viii.
116
Mr. Drinkwater admittedly follows Lord Charnwood's
analysis of Lincoln*s career and character.
That may he the
reason that he shows no evolution in Lincoln*s ideas of
secession, war, and emancipation of the negro.
To the
British mind Lincoln’s abolition policy was definite and
established after his "house-divided-against-itself” speech.
Perhaps the answer lies in the necessity to telescope his­
torical events for the purpose of unifying the character.
Whatever the cause, Drinkwater’s Lincoln emerges from the
humbleness of the first scene, which is the only one set in
Springfield, with his firmness of purpose, his certain faith
in what must be done, and his frank, democratic honesty well
established.
Scene il opens in Secretary of State Seward’s room,
ten months later.
In the scene the author begins to show
how this man of common simplicity will deal with the vast
problems that confront him.
Two representatives of the
Confederate States, White and Jennings,have come to bribe
Seward.
By flattering him that he is the true head of the
government, they would have him influence the President to
withdraw Prom Sumter.
.Seward to do.
The meeting is a disloyal thing for
In the midst of this private conversation,
Mr. Lincoln comes into the room.
With characteristic frank­
ness and keen perception, he realizes the situation and goes
straight to the root of the treachery.
Clearly understand­
ing the dissembling explanations of :Seward and Southerners,
117
the President requests the men to state their purpose.
Jennings answers,
Jennings.
It's this matter of Fort Sumter, Mr. Presi­
dent. If you withdraw your garrison from Fort Sumter
it won't be looked upon as weakness in you. It will
merely be looked upon as a concession to a natural
privilege. We believe that the South at heart does
not want secession.
It wants to establish the right
to decide for itself.
Lincoln.
The South wants the stamp of approval upon
slavery.
It can't have it.5
Rapidly the President outlines the situation for his three
listeners.
The question, he says, is not one of secession
but one of slavery.
Lincoln.
. .
Because it
avoid it.
extend the
. Why does the South propose secession?
knows abolition may come, and it wants to
It wants more:
it wants the right to
slave foundations . . .
Jennings.
I see how it is. You may force freedom as
much as you like, but we are to beware how we force
slavery.
Lincoln. It couldn't be put better, Mr. Jennings. . . .
Be clear about this issue.
If there is war, it will
not be on the slave question. If the South is loyal
to the Union, it can fight slave legislation by
constitutional means, and win its way if it gnu. . . .
We won't break up the Union, and you shan't.°
When the Confederate representatives have gone to
telegraph the President's words to the South, Lincoln re­
proves Seward, kindly but firmly, and the Secretary of State
5 ibid.,
p .
32.
6 I b i d ., PP. 33-35.
118
realizes how little he has comprehended the problems or his
Chief as he hears these words:
Lincoln.
. . . You urge me to discretion in one breath
and tax me with timidity in the next. . . . Seward,
you may think I ’m simple, but I can see your mind
working as plainly as you might see the innards of a
clock. You can bring great gifts to this government,
with your zeal, and your administrative experience,
and your love of men. D o n ’t spoil it by thinking I've
got a dull brain.
Seward. Yes, I see. I've not been thinking quite
clearly about it a l l .7
Mr. Drinkwater has invented for his play a character
whom he calls Burnet Hook.
Into the lines of this ficti­
tious member of the Cabinet, the playwright has put all the
criticism of the administration which he did not wish to
charge up against any of the,real secretaries.
The device
works well but it has a weakness; it leaves the Cabinet a
group of nonentities who emerge only to be foils for the
wisdom and kindness of Lincoln.
The real Seward was an
ambitious, disappointed man who thought himself a greater
leader than Lincoln, and for a time he was hostile to the .
President.
But he was not a weak schemer.
The weight of
Lincoln's character and the strength of his intellect would
have rung truer if Seward, and other members of the Cabinet,
had not so easily been made to feel shamefaced by their
Chief.
This underwriting of the roles of the Cabinet results
? Ibid., p. 38.
119
in a misinterpretation of Lincoln; it makes him appear to be
continuously lecturing bis friends as well as bis enemies.
Lincoln calls a burried Cabinet meeting and presents
tbe problems of Fort Sumter.
The greater number of them
oppose the P r e s i d e n t s plan to provision the fort.
Over­
riding tbe vote of his Cabinet, Lincoln takes the entire
responsibility for issuing the orders to Major Anderson to
hold the fort as tbe scene ends.
Nearly two years elapse between scenes ii and iii.
This scene in which the plot does not progress is an inter­
pretative one which sounds the keynote of the entire play.
It is said that Mr. Drinkwater added an explanatory note to
the bill of his play to the effect that he tried to lend to
this scene "heightened significance to a certain strain in
Lincoln's character.”
and justice.
That strain was his belief in mercy
In this scene, particularly, we see the un­
couth, kindly man of the people who is tolerant of all things
which do not seek to swerve him from essential rightness.
Mrs. Lincoln has received two callers for tea, Mrs.
Otherly and Mrs. Goliath Blow.
Mrs. Otherly, nearest to
whose heart the horror of conflict between the states has
fallen, would ask the President a question. Her son has
i
been killed in the Union army and so she asks,
Mrs. Otherly.
Isn’t it possible for you to stop this
v/ar? In the name of a suffering country, I ask you
that?
120
Mrs. Blow. I ’m sure such a question would never have
entered my head?
Lincoln.
. . . Ma'am, I, too, believe war to be wrong.
It is the weakness and the jealousy and the folly of
men that make a thing so wrong possible. . . . But
there it is, and itfs there in millions of good men.
. . . I believe that the world must come to wisdom
slowly. . . . But in the meantime there will come
moments when the aggressors will force the instinct to
resistance to act.
Then we must act earnestly, praying
always in our courage that never again will this thing
happen. . . . It’s a forlorn thing for any man to have
this responsibility in his heart. I may see wrongly,
but that’s how I see.
Mrs. Blow. I quite agree with you, Mr. President.
These brutes in the South must be taught, though I
doubt whether you can teach them anything, except by
destroying them.
That's what Goliath.says.8
While Mrs. Otherly takes her leave of Mrs. Lincoln,
the President rebukes Mrs. Blow with words which show his
righteous indignation.
There is much contemporary evidence
that Lincoln became very impatient and annoyed with people
of Mrs. Blow’s- type and often showed his annoyance.
How he
he rids himself of her presence with these words:
Lincoln.
. . . I ' d like to offer ye a word of advice.
That poor mother told me what she thought. I don't
agree'with her, but I honour her. S h e ’s wrong, but.
she is noble. You've told Die what you think.
I
don't agree with you, and I ’m ashamed of you and your
like. You, who have sacrificed nothing, babble about
destroying the South while other people conquer it. .
. . . And you come to me, talking of revenge and der struction and malice, and enduring hate.
These
gentle people are mistaken, but they are-mistaken
clearly, and in a great name. It is you that
® Ibid., pp. 58-60.
121
dishonour the cause for which we stand— it is you
who would make it a mean and little thing.
Good
afternoon.9
The President has sent for William Custis, an old
Negro preacher.
The man was born a slave, but gaining his
freedom he has spent his life working for his people.
For
all its incongruities of Negro dialect and action, this
scene is one of the most effective in the play.
There is no
false note in Lincoln*s natural friendliness toward the
Negro.
They talk, as he says, like one old man to another.
It is to the old Negro that the President first intimates his
intention of freeing every slave.
and his decision is made.
He has considered it long
Slavery shall be abolished.
Scene iv is set a few days later at a Cabinet meeting
called by the President.
Caleb Smith is gone and Stanton
has succeeded Cameron. The others are Seward, Chase, Blair,.
Wells, and Hook.
While they await the arrival of Lincoln,
they make surmises of its purpose.
Hook, who is unalterably
opposed to the Emancipation Proclamation, believes that
issue will be brought up again.
Stanton explains that the
Union forces have just scored their greatest victory and
that it will probably mark the turning point of the war.
The President comes in; he is in fine spirits.
So
much so that he feels a page of Artemus Ward would prove a
9 Ibid.,pp.62-63
122
useful mental sedative.
severely criticized.
This portion of scene
iv
has been
Drinkwater’s Lincoln has none of that
humor which always has been associated with him.
Thus the
reading at the Cabinet meeting seems out of character for
two reasons:
first, Drinkwater’s Lincoln would not have
done it; second, the real Lincoln would not have asked the
indulgence of his Cabinet before reading nor felt the need
of asking.
The scene, however, is historical in its accuracy.
The reading of Artemus Ward, the second presentation of the
Emancipation Proclamation, and Lincoln’s request that the
Cabinet refrain from any further advice on
the matter,cheek
with the diary record of Gideon Wells for Monday,
September 22, 1862 and the diary of Secretary Chase for the
same date.-*-®
*
Lincoln was forced to fight and maneuver himself into
the position of recognized supremacy that is generally
accorded a President on his election.
Within the Republican
party, Lincoln did not have unanimous support at any time
during the first two years of his administration.
The
members of his Cabinet did not think him capable of handling
the difficult situation which confronted him in 1861.
Drinkwater* s Lincoln takes on a quality of ever-increasing
firmness which according to Barton is in keeping with
10 William E. Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln,
pp. 281-28A.
123
the real Lincoln.
Barton writes:
. . . That genial good-nature of his had behind it stub' bornness, irony, and a sullen but mighty temper which
rarely broke the bounds of self-control, but sometimes
manifested itself on very slight provocation.
Just when
men thought they had discovered in Abraham Lincoln a
nose of wax which they could shape to their own liking,
they encountered in him a wholly unexpected element of
passive inertia and of active obstinacy. . . . It was this
quality in him which enabled him to rule a rampant
Cabinet. . .
Those do greatly err who see in Lincoln only genial
good humor and teachableness; there was a point at which
his good humor became withering scorn or towering passion
and his gentle and tractable disposition became adaman­
tine inertia.11
As the Cabinet meeting disperses, Lincoln recalls
Hook and remonstrates with him over his jealousies and in­
trigues.
President.
Hook remains hostile, resigns, and leaves the
When Hook is gone, "the travelled, lonely cap­
tain” rings for Hay.
The
Tempest.
Lincoln asks him to read a little from
Hay reads these words:
Hay.
(reading) Our revels now are ended;
these our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
and as the curtain falls, Lincoln thoughtfully repeats:
Lincoln. We are such stuff
As dreaul's are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.12
H
Ibid., p. 253.
I2 Drinkwater, ££. cit., p. 87.
124
Lincoln's fondness for Shakespeare is well estab­
lished by several biographers. Drinkwater has chosen a
passage from The Tempest which is consistent with a story
told by Senator Charles Sumner of the last days of Lincoln.
On the way back to Washington from City Point, after Lee's
surrender, Lincoln read Shakespeare to his party aboard the
River Q,ueen.
He read from a beautiful quarto copy the
tribute to the murdered Duncan, Macbeth being his favorite
•
)
play; and [these words are Sumner’s] "impressed by the
beauty of the words, or by some presentiment unuttered, he
read the passage a second time. "-*-3
The passage repeated was,
Duncan is in his grave;
After life's fitful fever he sleeps well;
Treason has done his worst; nor steel, nor poison,
Malice, domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Can touch him further.
Sumner was deeply touched and after the assassination recol­
lected the reading of the passage.
Remembering that
Sandburg lists eighty threatening letters, which Lincoln
filed under the word "Assassination” we do not wonder at the
significance of Shakespeare's words for Lincoln.
Scene v is set in a farmhouse near Appomattox.
April, 1865*
There are two parts to the scene:
It is
the evening
during which William Scott is pardoned by the President and
E-. L. Pierce, Memoir and Letters of Charles
Sumner, IV, 235.
125
the
following morning on which Lee
Literature of the
pardons issued by Lincoln.
that material distinctly
Civil War
surrenders.
is full of stories of
Basler considers the majority of
legendary
and says this ofit:
In no other phase of the legend do we have a better
example of fiction becoming recognized as fact than in
the matter.of Lincoln’s pardons. . . . Two of the cases
which are so often cited and romanticized are now, thanks
to the investigation of W. E. Barton, known to be myth.
It is certain, however, that there were two hundred and
sixty-seven soldiers executed by the United States
military authorities, and that each of these cases was
tacitly sanctioned by Lincoln.14
Wholesale release of political prisoners was not the type of
thing to be romanticized.
That can be explained too easily
as a convenient political move.
In his essay, ’’Lincoln the
Man,” Bonn Piatt offers a similar explanation for Lincoln’s
pardon of death sentences which Basler quotes:
There was far more policy in this course than kind
feeling.
To assert the contrary is to detract from
Lincoln’s force of character, as well as intellect.
. . . He knew that he was dependent upon volunteers for
soldiers, and to force upon such men as those the stern
discipline of the Regular Army was to render the ser­
vice unpopular. . . .15
Of all the stories the case of William Scott is the
best known.
One of the earliest versons appeared in a New
York newspaper with an exciting conclusion. Pearing that
14 Roy P. Basler, The Lincoln Legend, pp. 126-127.
15 Ibid., p. 127.
126
his pardon might not reach the boy in time, Lincoln ordered
his carriage, dropped his affairs of state, and in the
broiling sun rode ten miles to camp to save the "Green
Mountain boy.”
Francis Janvier celebrated the story in
verse, James Murdock published it in 1866, but it remained
for L-. E. Chittenden to give the folk-story claims to his­
torical truth when he falsely published it in 1891 as an
incident in his own life.
In the chapter "Justice and Mercy” in his Life of
Abraham Lincoln, William Barton refutes the entire story;
but he
adds, "There is ho evidence that Lincoln ever knew
of the
case, though he may have done so.
If any
such case
came to his knowledge, with such mitigating circumstances,
it is easy to guess what he would have
done."l6
It is upon this myth then that Drinkwater has based
one of
the finest scenes in his play.
That such a story
symbolizes what the world believes about Abraham Lincoln is
reason enough for Drinkwater’s inclusion of it.
He handles
it without sentimentality and the audience feels that, as
Lord Charnwood said of the Scott myth, "If the story is not
true.
. . still it is a remarkable man of whom people spin
yarns of that kind. "17
....
William E. Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln,
II, 251-252.
17 Lord Charnwood, Abraham Lincoln, p. 4-22.
127
The second rising of the curtain on scene v finds
Lincoln waking from a night spent on two chairs.
Grant
comes with the news that Lee is about to surrender.
Lincoln
approves Grant’s generous terms and starts back to the
Capitol.
The sixth and last scene takes place in Ford’s
Theater.
In the lounge outside the President’s box there is
small talk until cries of "Lincoln,” ’’Speech,” ’’the President"
are heard.
The President rises and speaks from his box.
The speech is made up from parts of his addresses and closes
with a paragraph of the Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg
address.
Like a benediction his voice falls on the theater
of people, " . . .
all,
. . .’’18
With malice toward none, with charity for
The play within the play proceeds.
from the entrance at the left Booth appears.
Suddenly
Pulling open
the door of the President's box he fires, slams the door
closed, and hurries away.
in pursuit of Booth.
the President.
An officer dashes out from the box
Mrs. Lincoln can be seen kneeling beside
A doctor is summoned.
Soon the theater is
silent, and Stanton comes from the box to pronounce the
words, "Now he belongs to the ages."
Ever since the death, of Lincoln, there has been a
growing tendency to present the spirit of Lincoln as
Drinkwater, op. pit., p. 110.
128
presiding over all our national problems.
Drinkwater*s
Chronicler, who speaks after the curtain falls on the last
scene, invokes that spirit’s help during the aftermath of the
World War.
Second Chronicler.
But, as we spoke, presiding every­
where
Upon event was one m a n ’s character.
And that endures; it is a token sent
Always to man for m a n ’s own government.**-9
Drinkwater wisely set his play after Lincoln's nomina­
tion and thus could afford to present him as a man of deci­
sion with little or no evolution in his ideas.
To
Drinkwater Lincoln was a statesman of great power and gentle
understanding who made war and governed nobly.
His gentleness
and justice are revealed in his relations with his
- Springfield neighbors, Mrs. Otherly, the Negro preacher, and
William Scott.
His firmness in dealing with insincerity is
shown in his treatment of the Confederate representatives,
Hook, and Mrs. Blow.
Lincoln’s religious faith which underlies every scene
is not without substantial proof.
The prayer at the end of
scene i has been criticized as ’’stagey” which it may have
been, but it was Lincolnian for all that.
quotes this incident told by Mrs. Lincoln:
19 ifria- * P* 1-12.
William Barton
129
"Mr. Lincoln wrote the conclusion of his inaugural
address the morning it was delivered.
The family being
present, he read it to them. He then said he wished to
be left alone for a short time.
The family retired to
an adjoining room, but not so far distant but that the
voice of prayer could be distinctly heard.
There,
closeted with God alone, surrounded by the enemies who
were ready to take his life, he commended his country’s
cause and all dear to him to God’s providential care,
and with a mind calmed by coimaunion with his Father
in heaven, and courage equal to the danger, he came
forth from that retirement ready for duty*”20
Barton also quotes Eoah Brooks who wrote in Harper’s
Monthly for July, 1885, that the deepening sense of Lincoln’s
responsibility again and again drove him to his knees.^1
In issuing the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln was
keeping a solemn covenant with God.
When we remember
Lincoln’s extreme reticence on such matters, and the fact
that he knew his Cabinet was not entirely in favor of the act,
his quietly spoken and repeated declaration that he had
promised this thing to his Maker is sufficient evidence of
the religious character of Abraham Lincoln.
Drinkwater has presented an understanding, a com­
passionate, and spiritual Lincoln.
In so doing he has not
drifted too far from history nor included too much of
legend.
Lincoln was, undoubtedly, a man of moral earnestness
and stern tenacity of purpose.
But, according to unanimous
20 Barton, T h e .Soul of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 86-87.
Ibid. , p. 9 6 .
130
contemporary evidence, his humor, his quaintness, and his
sagacity in dealing with men were his more salient character­
istics.
Drinkwater has portrayed Lincoln* s earnestness and
tenacity and suppressed his humor and quaintness.
Although
this Lincoln is not without a number of very human qualities,
he is implicitly a figure of supernatural proportions de­
signed as an ideal hero in whom all things are noble and
grand.
Close on the heels of Drinkwater’s theatrical success
came Thomas Dixon’s play, A Man of the People.
apparently, in answer to Drinkwater*s play.
Lincoln has two devout purposes:
and the other to free the slaves.
It was written,
Drinkwater*s
one to preserve the Union
Both seem equally important.
In opposition to such a presentation Dixon writes his basis
for interpreting Lincoln in this note which prefaces his play:
While the popular conception of Lincoln as the
Liberator of the Slave is true historically, there is a
deeper view of his life and character.
He was the savior,
if not the real creator, of the American Union of free
Democratic States. His proclamation of emancipation was
purely an incident of war.
The first policy of.his ad­
ministration was to save the Union.
To this fact we owe
a united Nation to-day.
It is this truth of history
which I try to make a living reality in my play.22
The action of the play is confined to a period of
eleven days during August and September, 186 a , when the
Union and the election of Lincoln seem secured by the fall
22 Thomas Dixon, A Man of the People, p. vii.
131
of Atlanta.
The plot of the action is based on a letter
from Lincoln’s secretary, John Nicolay, to his other secre­
tary, John Hay, who was not then in Washington.
Dixon quotes
this opening paragraph of Nicolay*s letter dated August 25,
I864;
’’Hell is to pay. The New York politicians have got a
stampede on that is about to swamp everything.
Raymond and the National Committee are here to-day. R. thinks
a Commission to Richmond is about the only salt to save
us; while the President sees and says it would be utter
ruination. The matter is now undergoing consultation.
Weak-kneed damned fools are in the movement for a new
candidate to supplant the President.
Everything is
darkness, doubt, and discouragement.”23
As Dixon says, he has taken no liberty with the
details of history of those important days before the
Presidential election of I8 64 .
The play includes a prologue
showing the death of Nancy Lincoln and her last words to her
son and an epilogue of the second inauguration.
But we will
confine ourselves to the interpretation of Lincoln in the
three acts which present the ten days before the fall of
Atlanta.
Act I opens in the President’s room in the White
House.
John Nicolay is sorting an enormous pile of mail.
He is discouraged at the great number of letters which
demand that Grant be dismissed from command of the army and
23 Dixon, loc. cit.
132
that the President stop the war at once.
Mrs. Lincoln enters,
very much disturbed because the Republican National Committee
is in Washington.
They are in conference at Senator Winter’s
house, and Mrs. Lincoln would know the reason for this meet­
ing.
Nicolay says there are ugly rumors which he cannot dis­
cuss until, the Chief knows, and h e ’ll know soon,for the
committee demands to see Lincoln today before his office is
open to the public.
Nicolay hints that the committee is
dissatisfied with their nominee for the next election.
The
doorman announces Miss Betty Winter.
With Betty, Mrs. Lincoln plans to discover the pur­
pose of the committee.
She fears they may be discussing her,
her possible disloyalty to the Union, or, what is worse, her
enormous account at A. T. Stewart and Company of which
Lincoln is unaware.
Betty promises to discover what the
committee is discussing if Mrs. Lincoln will get an appoint­
ment in private with the President for her fiance.
The
women leave before Lincoln comes into his office.
The President commiserates with Nicolay over the pile
of letters but asks that no person who comes to save a human
life be refused admission to him.
He is sorry that a boy in
Virginia must go before a firing'squad this morning; the
President could not find an excuse to save him.
But for all
the saddening burdens of war,' this Lincoln has a laughterprovoking humor about his speech which was true of the real
133
Lincoln.
He asks of Nicolay,
Lincoln.
. . . Any news from the front, this morning?
Nicolay.
(Handing him a telegram) Prom General Grant's
lines--only this, sir—
Lincoln.
(Reads) ’Confederate Cavalry raiders capture
a Brigadier General and fifty army mules.’— Too bad—
rush a regiment after the mules— they're worth §200 a. piece— Jeff Davis can have my Brigadier General—
Nicolay urges President Lincoln to see the Republican
committee at once, and intimates that the members bear ill
news.
Lincoln replies,
Lincoln.
Spare me the rumors!
We've enough of them
flying around Washington to poison us all. They can
only wish me to hedge on some of my principles in
this crisis.
I've made all the campaign statements
I ’m going to make.
I've faith in the good sense of
the people.
I ’m going to plant my feet squarely on
that faith and wait the verdict of this election— 25
There is abundant evidence that the.attitude voiced
by Dixon’s Lincoln was that of the real Lincoln at this
time.
Among those who hated slavery as Lincoln did, there
were many who disapproved of his way of getting rid of it.
The Democrats declared that the Emancipation Proclamation
had made abolition the actual purpose of the war.
The elec­
tions of 1862 weakened Lincoln’s support and prepared him
for the bitter campaign of I864.
But the victory at
Gettysburg, the election in I863 of several state governors
24- Ibid., p. 29.
25 Ibid., p. 32.
134
favorable to the administration, and victories around
Chattanooga were destined to turn the tide.
Early in the fall of 1863 friends of the Union of all
parties called a large meeting in Illinois to consider the
grave situation.
He
Lincoln was invited to
could not go; but he
address the meeting.
sent a letter tohis old friend,
Honorable James C. Conkling, to be read at the meeting with
these single instructions, ’’Read it very slowly.” . Here was
Lincoln’s opportunity to address the entire country through
these people who believed in the Union but were confused by
his acts and the apparent hopelessness of the war.
Dixon’s
claim26 that his Lincoln, primarily a saver of the Union,
is the true Lincoln is weil illustrated in the following
excerpts from the President’s letter to the Illinois meeting,
August 26, 1863‘:
There are those who are dissatisfied with me. . . .
You desire peace, and you blame me that we do not have it.
But how can we attain it? There are but three conceivable
ways:
First, to suppress the rebellion by force of arms.
This I am trying to do. Are you for
it? If you are, so
far we are agreed. If you are not for it, a second way
is to give up the Union.
I am against this. Are you for '
it? . . . If you are not for force, nor yet for dissolu­
tion, there only remains some imaginable compromise. . . .
I do not believe that any compromise embracing the main­
tenance of the Union is now possible.
. . . allow me to assure you that no word or intimation
from that rebel army, or from any of the men controlling
26 cf. ante., p. 129.
it, in relation of any peace compromise, has ever come
to ray knowledge or "belief.
You dislike the emancipation proclamation, and per­
haps would.have it retracted.
You say it is unconsti­
tutional.
I think differently.
I think the Constitution
invests its commander in chief with the law of war in
time of war. . . . Is there— has there ever been— any
question that by the law of war, property, both of ene­
mies and friends, may be taken when needed? And is it '
not needed whenever it helps us, or hurts the enemy?
You say you will not fight to free negroes. . . .
Fight you, then, exclusively, to save the. Union.
I
issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving
the Union.
Whenever you shall have conquered all re­
sistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue
fighting, it will be an apt time then for you to declare
you will not fight to free negroes.
Peace does not appear so distant as it did.
I hope
it will come soon and come to stay, . . . It will then
have been proved that among freemen there can be no
successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet, and that
they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case
and pay the cost.
. . . never doubting that a just God, in his own good
time, will give us the rightful result.
Yours very truly,
A. Lincoln.27
That was President Lincoln’s platform upon which he stood
unfalteringly, believing that in the jfall of I864. the people
of his country would prove their trust in him at the elec­
tion polls.
Dixon’s Lincoln argues his right to grant pardons
much to Secretary of War Stanton’s disapproval.
In a.rage
27 John G. M c o l a y and John Hay, editors, Complete
Works of Abraham Lincoln, II, 396-399-
136
of impatience Stanton has hurst into the P r e s i d e n t s office
and says angrily to him,
Stanton.
You have no right to exercise it under the
present conditions'. Discipline in our armies must he
maintained.
You are hamstringing me and every
General in the field hy suspending the death penalty
of our Courts-Martial. Men are deserting in thousands.
and we've got to put a stop to it.
Lincoln.
That's what I say— ! Bring to me the traitors
who are causing them to desert, and see what I'll do
to them!28
The traitors who were causing men to desert were the
most violent of the outspoken enemies of the administration.
They were called Copperheads and had for the purpose of
their organization the discouragement of enlistment and the
encouragement of desertion, thus impeding the work of putting
down the rebellion.
Lincoln suspended the xvrit of habeas
corpus as a safety measure from the insidious schemes of
those hostile to the Union.
Bitter criticism fell upon him
for many of the arrests of suspected Copperheads which
followed while Stanton and the army generals quarrelled with
him over his leniency with boy deserters.
Lincoln answered
both elements with the following question:
.
. Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who
deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator
who induces him to desert?29
28 Dixon, o p . cit., pp. 33-34-.
29 Nicolay and Hay, op. cit. , II, :34-9.
137
Again in a letter to the Democratic Convention of Ohio, in
June, 1863, he said:
. . . he who dissuades one man from volunteering, or in­
duces one soldier to desert, weakens the Union cause as
much as he who kills a Union soldier in battle. Yet
this dissuasion or inducement may be so conducted as to
be no defined crime of which any civil court would take
cognizance. 30
The morning passes with Dixon's Lincoln helping every
woman or child who asks his help.
Among the petitioners is a
Dutch girl whose brother deserted the army
to be shot.
She has with her
and is sentenced
a propaganda booklet,, circu­
lated by a Copperhead member,, which had been given to her
brother to encourage his desertion.
The case used by Dixon
is a real one, and Lincoln’s sympathy for the boy and burning
indignation toward the agitator is correctly presented.
This
Lincoln is not disposed to tolerate the crime of slave trad­
ing, however, for he refuses a pardon with these words:
Lincoln. I might pardon a murderer from old
Massachusetts, she's done glorious service in this
war— but a man who can make a business of going to
Africa and robbing her of helpless men, women and
children and selling them into bondage— ! (He pauses
and stiffens.)— before that man can have liberty by
an act of mine, he can stay in jail and rot 131
These words illustrate Lincoln's unswerving conviction on
the matter of pardons.
The case of John Yates Beall,.
30 I b i d ., p. 347.
31 Dixon,
0£.
c i t ., pp. 41-42
138
conspirator, and that of Nathaniel Gordon, slave-trader, are
two of many which parallel such action by the President.
Examples of his firmness in dealing with the crafty agitator
and his leniency with the humble folk who needed his help
can be found throughout Lincoln’s stay in the White House.
Act I concludes with a visit from the Republican
Committee; the leaders of which group demanded Lincoln’s
withdrawal as their nominee in the forthcoming election.
Dixon uses the scene to establish again Lincoln’s primary
interest in saving the Union.
The leader of the House of
Representatives, Thaddeus Stevens, is the principal spokes­
man of the group.
Henry Raymond, editor of the New York
Times, however, states the reason for this meeting of the
national committee:
Raymond. In view of your unpopularity,
criticism of your policies, and your
war— they have decided to ask you to
the ticket and permit them to name a
in view of the
conduct of the
withdraw from
new candidate— 32
Lincoln asks them what policies they are referring
to.
His first mistake, they answer, was his freeing of the
slaves in only the seceded states.
Why pat on the back a
Maryland slaveholder and strike at one in South Carolina?
Lincoln’s answer is Dixon’s thesis:
32 Ibid., p. 53.
139
Lincoln.
The first policy of my Administration has been
to save for the Union the great border states. . .
with these border slave- states, we have such a balance
of power that the Union may be savedi
. . . My Proclamation was not a sermon on the rights
of man--black or white.
It was an act of w a r — a blow
aimed at the heart of the seceding South to break
its wealth and power, end the war, and save the
Union. . . .33
Lincoln’s letter to the Illinois meeting in August, 1863,
includes this argument.34
He had replied similarly to an
open letter by Horace Greeley printed in the Tribune on
August 22, 1862, which accused Lincoln of undue kindness to
Southern slaveholders and demanded a statement of his policy
and purpose.
Lincoln’s memorable letter to the public in
answer to Greeley contained these statement's:
As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing," as you say,
I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.
I would save the Union.
I would save it the shortest
way under the Constitution. . . . If there be those who
would not save the Union unless they could at the same
time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. M y
paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union,
and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.35
Lincoln’s wisdom concerning the necessity for keeping
the loyal border states pacified brought definite results in
the election a few weeks later.
Only the states of
33 Ibid* » P- 55.
3^
ante•» pp. 134^135.
'35 Nicolay and Hay, o£. cit., II, 227.
140
New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky gave their vote to
McClellan; and of those, the border state of Kentucky cast
a stronger vote for Lincoln in 1864 than in i860.
Lincoln
had 212 of the 233 electoral votes and a clear popular
majority of 411,421 in a total of 4,015,902.36
In Dixon’s play, Thaddeus Stevens continues to heap
accusation upon the President to which Lincoln makes such
telling replies that Stevens impatiently blurts,
Stevens.
I t ’s a waste of time to talk— !
Lincoln.
I ’ve thought so from the first, but I ’ve tried
to be polite—
Stevens.
(Trying to go.) Good day, sir— !
Lincoln.
(cordially) Good day, Stevens— (Pauses) You
know this meeting reminds me of what happened in
Illinois once-Stevens.
(Throwing up his hands in anger.) I w o n ’t
hear it, sir! You and your stories are sending this
country to hell— it’s not more than a mile from there
now!
Lincoln.
I believe it is just a mile from here to the
Capitol where you sit!37
Although it is Thaddeus Stevens in Dixon’s play who is en­
raged by Lincoln’s good-humored imperturbability rather than
Senator ?/ade of Ohio of whom Ward Lamon and Helen Nicolay
tell the same story, it serves well to portray the real
36 Barton, Life of Abraham Lincoln, II, 302.
37 Dixon, o p . cit., pp. 67-68.
141
Lincoln.
The Committee gives the President ten days to answer
their demand for his withdrawal from the Presidential nomina­
tion and then take their leave of him.
Lincoln plans to
secretly interview General McClellan that night.
He takes
John'Nicolay into his confidence with these words:
Lincoln.
. . . I ’m going to put McClellan to the supreme
test, John.
If he will make me one pledge on the
Copperhead issue which I will ask of him, I ’ll name
for this Committee a candidate they’re not looking
for— I ’ll give them the surprise of their life— so
help me God138
The seriousness of the turn which events took on
August 23, I8 6 4 , and the days which led to the election in
November is a matter of history.
After the meeting of the
Republican National Committee in June, which recorded the
popular will in selecting Lincoln, came a summer of frightful
losses in the armies.
The necessary draft of fresh troops
brought panic to the politicians.
Lincoln was seriously
criticized for his refusal to sign a measure passed by
Congress for the reestablishment of state governments based
on the assumption that they had been out of the Union.
Men clamored for an end of the war.
-Horace Greeley
insisted with such urgency that a Confederate commission'
was ready to wait upon the Federal authorities, that Lincoln
38 ibid., p. 72.
142
empowered Greeley to meet the alleged commissioners.
The
meeting proved to the editor how wrong he had been in his
assertions as Lincoln supposed it would.
The political picture grew darker.
Victory on the
battlefield, whieh would have encouraged faith in Republican
success, was not achieved.
Democratic party managers post­
poned their national convention until September realizing the
advantage of forcing their opponents to fight an undeclared
foe.
They spent all their energy in attacks on the adminis­
tration.
Toward the close of August, Lincoln became convinced
that the election might be lost to him.
He felt that McClellan
was the coming Democratic candidate and also that no wing of
that party offered a program that could save the Union from
destruction.
On August 23, the President wrote these words:
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceed­
ingly probable that this administration will not be re­
elected.
Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with
the President-elect as to save the Union between the
election and the inauguration; as he will have secured
his election on such ground that he cannot possibly
save it afterward.
A. Lincoln39
He folded and pasted the sheet of paper so that the contents
were.hidden; and as the members of the Cabinet entered their
meeting, he asked each one to endorse the back of it.
39 Hieolay and Hay, 0£. cit., I I ,
568.
The
143
paper was put away without anyone but Lincoln knowing its
contents.
Two days later Nicolay wrote the letter to Hay
which Dixon quoted in the preface to his play.40
Act II of Dixon’s play opens with M r s . Lincoln inter­
rogating Edward, the doorman, about the secrecy with which
the President’s private office is being prepared for a guest.
She learns that Nicolay and Edward are alone on duty; all
the guards, both inside and out, have been dismissed.
With
better understanding than most dramatists have used, Dixon
presents this opening scene between Mrs. Lincoln and the
President.
To Nicolay, Lincoln says:
Lincoln. See that he [Edward] goes before our visitor
arrives. I have asked him to say nothing about this
'appointment.
Nicolay. You can trust him implicitly, sir— (Nicolay
exits)
Mrs. Lincoln.
it seems—
But, you can’t trust your wife, tonight,
Lincoln.
(Whimsically) Well, you know y o u ’re a woman,
Mother--^"
Mrs. Lincoln.
Lincoln.
Amen!
(Angrily) Thank God—
So say I!
Mrs. Lincoln.
. . . 1 thought this morning that you
would treat those scoundrels with the contempt they
deserve when they dared to ask you to sacrifice your­
self and the cause of the Union to the ambitions of
some traitor behind them.
^
ante, p . 131!.
1U
Lincoln.
No!
No!
T h e y ’re honest in what they say—
Mrs. Lincoln.
(Furious) Y o u ’re too good and simple for
this world! D o n ’t you know that some schemer is
behind all this— ?
Lincoln. Maybe— It's not a crime, Mother, for a man to
aspire to high office, if the b e e ’s in his bonnet.
You know I ’ve felt it tickle me lots of times—
Mrs. Lincoln.
(With simple dignity) The country needs
you— you are the man, and the only man who has the
simple common sense to save this Union first, and
settle all other questions afterwards—
Lincoln. Mary, I ’ve got to fight this thing out alone,
with myself and God—
Mrs. Lincoln. I sometimes think, Father, that you’re
the stubbornest man the Lord ever made!
Lincoln.
I ’ve got to be— to do this job— (Mrs. Lincoln
exits.)41
In the scene following with McClellan, Lincoln offers
to resign as candidate for reelection and to suggest the
General in his place if McClellan will boldly declare himself
for preservation of the Union at the Democratic mass meeting
the following night.
McClellan feels that his chances for
election are secure without Lincoln’s help and refuses to
pledge himself to the Union.
At the first Cabinet meeting following Lincoln's reelection, the President took, from his desk the paper which he
had asked the members to endorse several weeks before.
Hay was asked to open it, and it was read.
4-1 Dixon, o£. c i t ., pp. 77-81.
John
The President's
145
explanation to his Cabinet for having them sign a sealed
paper is found in these words:
’'You will remember that this was written at a time
six days before the Chicago nominating Convention, when
as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no
friends.
I then solemnly resolved on the course of
action indicated in this paper.
I resolved in case of
the election of General McClellan, being certain that he
would be the candidate, that I would see him and talk
matters over with him. I would say, 'General, the elec­
tion has demonstrated that you are stronger, have more
influence with the American people than X. Now let us
get together, you with your influence, and I with all
the executive power of the government, try to save the
country. You raise as many troops as you possibly can
for this final trial, and I will devote all my energy
to assisting and pushing the war.'”42
Dixon does not present the writing of this letter nor the
Cabinet meeting at which it was read.
the inferences of both.
Instead he dramatizes
Dixon’s Lincoln has the same mag­
nanimity, the same nobility of purpose which Lincoln pos­
sessed in dealing with McClellan whose own letters to his
wife illustrate how contemptuously the subordinate treated
his chief.
Dixon’s Lincoln has humor, sympathy, a great
capacity for work, and a fighting spirit which will give up
generously only after his countrymen have repudiated him.
The remaining half of Act II and Act III portray
Lincoln’s fight to save himself from the necessity to with­
draw from the Presidential candidacy.
Finding that Miss
Winter’s fianc6 has come to plead for his father’s life and
Nicolay and Hay, op. cit.. II, 568.
146
that the hoy, a member of the Copperhead organization known
as The Knights of the Golden Circle, is willing to carry a
message to Sherman in return for Lincoln’s pardon of his
father, the President plans the b o y ’s immediate departure.
The.young man gets through to Sherman who advances and takes
Atlanta.
The message of the victory comes through at the
precise moment that Henry Raymond and his. committee are de­
manding Lincoln’s answer.
necessary.
The victory makes a reply un­
The nomination is not withdrawn.
Considerable of the Act III plot is imaginative
rather than historical, but that has no direct bearing upon
the accuracy of Lincoln’s interpretation.
Dixon’s Lincoln
is perhaps the most accurately drawn of the dramatized
Lincolns.
The play is so limited in time that it was not
necessary to suggest the evolutionary changes Y/hich took
place in the man.
This Lincoln is master of his destiny,
the man of keenly logical mind and buoyant disposition, the
man of ideals but no illusions while he looks ahead to plan
action to save his country.
This is a laughing Lincoln
•
whose final words in Act .III are, ”If I couldn’t laugh I ’d
have died long ago at this job’” '
In 1926 Test Dalton published his play The Mantle of
Lincoln.
Lincoln does not appear as a character in the play
but rather as the guiding spirit over a modern emulator of
the great man.
The ehief character, by acting always as he
147
thinks Lincoln would have acted, achieves success.
Occasion­
ally as a scene ends, the audience catches a glimpse of
Lincoln's figure posed in "benign approval over the decisions
of Dalton's hero.
The next play to present Lincoln in his years as the
President has been introduced in Chapter II.
of Ann Rutledge.
It .is Spirit
The four-act play by Harold Gammans opens
in Hew Salem but continues with Acts II, III, and IV in
Washington.
Years have passed since his New Salem days, and
Lincoln's love for Ann since her death has become for him a
mystical tie with the world beyond.
Act II opens the morning of March 4, 1861, in a re­
ception room in the White House.
William Rutledge, who
never saw his Aunt Ann Rutledge, is waiting to see the
President before the inauguration.
message from the spirit world.
The young man has a
Mrs. Lincoln unsympathetically
refuses him admittance to her husband and advises the door­
man to deny Rutledge further entrance.
In an attempt at
earthly reality of Lincoln's crudeness Gammans brings his
Lincoln on stage wiping the last traces of his .breakfast
from his mouth with the back of his hand.
Almost at once
Lincoln becomes solemnly apprehensive and humble about his
new duties; he broods over the lack of confidence of the
South in the new President.
In contrast to all existing
evidence of her knowledge of political affairs, Mary Lincoln
148
here believes that the civil war, if any, will be little
more than a skirmish and the slavery problem simply solved.
Her bungling deceitfulness in this scene is not justifiable.
The guidance of the spirits is mentioned by Lincoln
to his wife.
Later when she has gone and he is in the
company of Seward, Lincoln again brings up the subject.
He
takes his Secretary of State into his confidence, as he was
seldom known to have done, in these lines:
Abe.
. . . I will confess to you that it means more
to me to know that one woman’s spirit will be with
me today as I walk to take the oath of office as
President of these United States than that there are
thousands of soldiers who much against mv wish will
guard my every step to the Capitol . . .^3
in Act III Lincoln makes the journey to Gettysburg.
Ann Rutledge’s young nephew who tried to obtain an interview
with the President on inauguration day is now one of the
trainmen carrying Lincoln.to the scene of his famous speech.
This time William Rutledge does not fail in his mission to
carry a message from Ann's spirit to Lincoln.
He tells the
President how often Ann is with him to which Lincoln re­
plies ,
Lincoln. You have spoken the truth.
The dead, indeed,
are the living. . . Little I know, but Ann has come
to me and she has taught me.
If it were not for the
spirit-urge from beyond, . . . I would still be a
poor storekeeper in a country town spending every
4-3 Harold Gammans, The Spirit of Ann Rutledge, pp.
31-32.
149
leisure moment beside a little grave.
I was mad; I
did not want to live for weeks, following the death
of Ann, till I heard her voice and saw her face to
face, and she has directed me on and on, and she will
direct me till death shall call me.44
Such an interpretation of Lincoln is absurd in the
knowledge of his courtship of Mary Owens the season follow­
ing Ann's death.
Before her illness he was no longer a
"poor storekeeper" but a striving young politician.
isno trustworthy evidence that
There
Lincoln's love for Ann
lasted long after her death, or that his memory of her was
of such efficacy in his later life.
Gammans’ Lincoln, having been told by William
Rutledge of Ann's spiritual guidance, now meets her shade
before the close of Act III.
To her he gives all the credit
for his successes; she comforts and advises him.
Under the
influence of her message Lincoln calls John Nicolay to write
as he dictates his Gettysburg address.
Act IV is set in Ford’s Theater.
scene.
It.is the customary
After the shooting, Ann's spirit comes for Abe and
he follows her as she disappears behind the drawn curtains
of the stage.
On the portrayal of Lincoln with such senti­
mental extravagance and insipidity Basler has this to say:
. . . If Lincoln was anything, he was realistic and occa­
sionally crude in his dealings with women. Certainly
one cannot find anything sentimental in his correspon­
dence with women. Yet, from Herndon on down, the
44 Ibid., pp. 45-46.
150
writers of the Ann Rutledge episode would have it
believed that Lincoln was sickly sentimental in at
least this one affair.45
The most recent play to present Abraham Lincoln dur­
ing his Presidential years is Arthur Goodman's If Booth Had
M issed, published in 1932.
Mr. -Goodman has tried to prove
that even if John Wilkes Booth had not succeeded in killing
Lincoln,
the President would have been impeached for treason
by his enemies, acquitted,
Senate chamber.
and finally murdered in the
The playwright’s idea is that the jealous
bitterness which brings Lincoln's death in the play was de­
veloping even at the time Booth fired his shot.
Interest
here in Goodman's hypothetical Lincoln is based solely-on
the man he was known to be until April, 1865.
The play begins with a scene outside the Presidential
box in Ford’s Theater, Washington, the evening of April 14,
1865.
Sambo, a negro porter, saves Lincoln’s life by strug­
gling with Booth and spoiling his aim.
A saintly Lincoln
faces the struggling assassin sorrowfully, meekly agrees
with his hysterical wife that he should have had a- bodyguard,
and rewards Sambo with a job at the White House.
Important
men in the Administration, General Butler, Thaddeus Stevens,
and others now urge that the Southern leaders be courtmartialed.
Hilton, an editor, cries,
45 Easier, ojo. oit. , p. 160.
151
Hilton.
Lincoln.
Death is the penalty for treason!
We can't cry treason forever.
Hilton.
If you do not punish for. it you will have it
again!
Butler.
(Attacking again and recalling the President’s
attention)
Through the treason of these men hundreds
of thousands of loyal men have lost their lives!
Lincoln.
I know, Butler:— I know.
tears.
God has seen my
Stevens.
(Taking a step forward)
It is merely this,
Butler!
The President wishes to convey that we
have lost the war in winning it. A true Christian,
you know, only finds his life by losing it.
Lincoln. Ah, Stevens--your tongue.
If the Devil ever
needs a new barb to his tail— and he asks me— look
out, Stevens! ' (Lincoln leaves . . .)46
In the second scene of these imaginary events,
Stanton is presented as turning traitor for the Presidential
honors offered him by Thaddeus Stevens if he will help in
the plan to impeach Lincoln.
In the interviev/ between these
men, Lincoln's motives and character are presented in a
light seldom found in dramatic portrayals.
Stevens remarks,
Stevens.
Lincoln catches his flies with molasses.
But
under that sugar, Stanton, he's as hard as the mouth
of Jehovah!
Stanton.
I have that same feeling about him--at times.
Stevens.
A greater egotist never lived!
Stanton.
There’s something in what you say . . .
Arthur Goodman, If Booth Had Missed, pp. 20-21.
152
Stevens.
To get M s own way he'd jeopardize the safety
of the whole country all over again.
Stanton.
But must we— impeach him?
Stevens.
(Sanctimoniously) For the good of our
country . . .
Stanton.
But how can we do it?
Stevens. By taking issue with him on his reconstruction
policy.
Stanton.
Yes—
Stevens.
And hog-tying him with legislation—
by transferring his prerogatives as Commander-inChief of the Army and Navy to the War Department-to you*
And then Abraham Lincoln needs to make only one
mistake. . . .47
Such a presentation of the forces opposing Lincoln during
his last months as President sets the scene for effective
conflict-.
Goodman’s Lincoln has more opportunity to display
his "great-man” theories without seeming to preach to his
associates.
Mary Lincoln is throughout the play her husband’s
greatest burden.
Her nagging jealousy culminates in an
attempt to be of service to her husband.
She makes public
some dangerous private letters sent to the President.
Her
childish confidence and total lack of political acumen shown
in the closing lines of Act, II, scene i, are not qualities
47 Ibid., pp. 41-42.
153
which the playwright was justified in presenting.
reverse was true of Mary Lincoln.
Quite the
The President and his wife
seem to have exchanged roles since Act I:
Mrs. Lincoln.
(Advancing into the room) Ahram--Itve
done something to help you. . . .
Lincoln.
(Abstractedly) Yes?
Mrs. Lincoln.
Those letters from the mustered out
soldiers which Nicolay.read to you—
Lincoln.
(Looking up sharply) What about them?
Mrs. Lincoln.
Lincoln.
I gave them to Mr. Stanton.
. . .
(Aghast) You gave them to Stanton!?
Mrs. Lincoln. He can organize those men for you,
Abram— and he can be trusted—
Lincoln.
(Sinking limply into a chair) Mary—
Mrs. Lincoln.
Abram?
Lincoln.
right.
I haven’t done anything wrong, have I,
(Anguished) You have never done anything
. . .48
Except for the last quoted line, which is most unlike
Lincoln, Mr. Goodman’s interpretation conforms closely to a
single aspect of Lincoln’s character, its sweetness and
humility.
At the moment of his arrest on the charge of
treason and again when he summarizes the case in his own
defence, Goodman’s Lincoln is the humble'man.
ing lines are these:
48 Ibid.. pp. 92-94.
His conclud­
154
Lincoln.
. . . To me is given the task of pleading.
I
must ask you to examine your consciences, to lpok
deep, deep, into your hearts. Are you sitting here
as impartial judges, sensitive of your oath and jeal­
ous of your privilege to deal out even-handed justice
— or are you sitting here in party caucus, as poli­
ticians, determined, pre-determined, to end the
political life of a member who is unfortunately out
of accord with h-is party?
If the former, my c l i e n t s
.case is safe; if the latter, I must plead with you
again: Do not, in God's great, name, once more incur
God's wrath against our nation by doing so great a
wrong149
If Goodman's Lincoln has nobility stamped too obviously at
times in his speeches, there is also a straightness and
goodness of hard struggles and simple hopes which Lincoln's
years in the White House revealed.
With Goodman’s play the study of Lincoln's Presidency
in drama comes to a close.
This public Lincoln is one upon
whom writers can more nearly agree, yet Norton, Langdon, and
Dalton made no attempt to interpret him.
Langdon's masque,
of course, needed no elaborate development.
Norton and
Dalton present Lincoln as a great influence in the lives of
men without reference to his personal struggle.or to the
possible sources of his greatness.
The four remaining playwrights interpret the President
in one of two ways: Gammans and Goodman see principally a
sweet and humble man, tired and anxious to end his burdens.
Gammans' Lincoln never comes to grips with any real problems.
49 ibid., p. 125.
155
Drinkwater and Dixon present a glorious conqueror, respec­
tively presenting "Lincoln the" Emancipator*' and "Lincoln
the Savior of the Union."
Both Dixon and Drinkwater interpret Lincoln as a
strong man who was faced with great problems and the need
for making careful decisions and who felt himself equal to
the task.
Each dramatist presents the President possessed
of a keenly logical mind, a firm will in dealing with in­
sincerity, and a kindly tolerance with people.
Although.the
two authors disagree upon Lincoln’s purpose as President,
they interpret him as a statesman of great power and gentle
understanding.
Dixon’s Lincoln, however, has a buoyant good­
nature in contrast to Drinkwater’s hero who has none of that
quality which has .always been associated with him.
The
greatest lack in all the plays yet written about Lincoln is
the failure of the playwrights to recapture that charming
humor which saved Lincoln and his sense of balance during
the weary years in ¥/ashington.
Di x o n ’s Lincoln has much of
the earth about him; Drinkwater’s is a spiritual Lincoln.
CHAPTER V
CONCLUSIONS
The study of' Lincoln dramas reveals the extent to
which this extraordinary man and his associates have captured
the imagination of many decades of dramatists.
have been inspired by better biographies.
Better plays
With each new play
comes a new interpretation from the pen of the playwright.
The endless procession of plays and films about Lincoln bear
witness that interest in him is not lessening.
Abraham Lincoln*s individuality included many contra­
dictions.
The fact that he was both friendly and remote,
common but impressive, ambitious but indecisive has led to
many interpretations which agree on general terms but which
vary in the emphasis placed on a single characteristic.
' Dramatists are prone to summarize him with a single appella­
tion.
The Lincoln of children’s drama is Honest Abe; Dixon's
Lincoln is Father Abraham and Saver of the Union; Drinkwater*s
Lincoln is the Great Emancipator.
Knowledge of the early life of Lincoln is based so
largely on the popular opinion of those who knew him that if
any of it is to be credited, all of it has the same claim to
worth until proved false.
The plays of Lincoln's boyhood are
never contradictory in one respect; the child was a model boy
of more than ordinary ambition.
The great majority of plays
157
for children have lost all trace of the real hoy in the wonder
of the man who developed from such humble beginnings.
A study of plays written of Lincoln’s life in New Salem
reveals the varying degrees to which each playwright believed
that period to have been important in his development.
Martin
Bunge, Harold Gammans, and Ellsworth Conkle present Lincoln
as a romantic lover.
Bunge limits himself to the story of a
sweetheart, loved and lost.
Gammans makes A n n ’s dying request
of freedom for the slaves a goal for Abe's life and during
the remainder of the play simplifies all Abraham’s struggles
and decisions through the guiding spirit of Ann.
A casual
attempt to make his Lincoln coarse fails to make him real,
and Lincoln’s humorous acceptance of M a r y ’s earthly ambitions
makes him seem more detached from the world.
Conkle's Lincoln is also motivated by his love for
Ann Rutledge.
Having been content to drift aimlessly and
contentedly with the tide of his fortunes, this Lincoln, how­
ever, is suddenly confronted with the necessity to earn a
better living if he expects to marry Conkle's stimulating
Ann.
Of all the interpretations of the young Lincoln,
Conkle's youth is the best humored and least melancholy and
apprehensive about the future.
Sherwood, the most recent dramatist to have used the
Ann Rutledge story, gives it the most reasonable proportions
of importance.
Starting his first act with Abe's contacts
158
with. Mentor Graham, and continuing with Bowling Green and
Joshua Speed urging Lincoln to seek office in the state as­
sembly, Sherwood gives the motivating force which Ann may
have had on A b e ’s decisions a proper value.
Sherwood’s
Lincoln differs from the other interpretations; this is a man
beset by nameless melancholy so overwhelming that as the play
prpceeds he tries to hide himself from the responsibilities
pressing down upon him.
Sherwood has made it possible for
himself to show the relative importance of Lincoln’s years in
New Salem by ending his play with the Springfield years
rather than with A n n ’s death.
The cinema production ’’Young Mr. Lincoln” was so dis­
cursive that it was confusing.
Henry Fonda, however, did es­
tablish a Lincoln of droll humor, personal magnetism, and a
deep, prevailing loneliness.
Only two plays have been written which present
Lincoln’s life in Springfield.
They are Drinkwater’s Abraham
Lincoln and Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
Ramon Romero
has written a play about the life of Mrs. Lincoln which, if
it could be combined with Sherwood’s interpretation, might be
judged an excellent portrayal of the private life of the
Lincolns.
Drinkwater sets only one scene in Springfield and
uses Mrs. Lincoln briefly and ungraciously.
Sherwood’s Lincoln in Springfield presents a dark
picture.
His reluctance to try for office, his miserable
acceptance of his life with Mary, his melancholy loneliness
presented without the humor, joy, and eagerness which at
times were his
what he set
of Lincoln,
assisted in
depressing.
However, Sherwood achieved
out to do: to write a play about the solidificaHe has made use of every outside force which
the process.
If he has interpreted the man as
too indecisive and reluctant
to accept his destiny,
too ap­
prehensive about his prospective burdens, and too lacking in
joyousness in his fame, we still have the phase of Lincoln’s
character which Sherwood saw.
No twelve episodes can encom­
pass all the complex elements of character which were
Lincoln.
Mr. Sherwood has written one of the best stage
Lincolns ever to embody the American tradition.
Following
Sandburg’s epic biography, Sherwood’s Lincoln seems nearest
the American ideal, a man whose lowliness and greatness are
one and the same quality.
Drinkwater’s Lincoln is almost the direct antithesis
of Sherwood’s lawyer.
True the British dramatist weighs him
down with a sense of burdened destiny but he also invests him
with self-confidence and pride which did not falter before
the opposition of his cabinet members.
Drinkwater*s homely,
democratic Lincoln is the shell which houses a genius whose
highest achievements were those of an extraordinary states­
man.
His greatness is superior to his homely character.
In
writing his play during the period of the World War, Drinkwater
160
saw in Lincoln a message of spiritual values to all ages.
No playwright has presented an entirely satisfying con­
ception of the public and private Lincoln.
Men have caught
separate aspects of his character— fragments.
It has been
necessary for each dramatist to build up a struggle for
Lincoln against his destiny for, without that struggle, his
life is not dramatic material. ■ Thus, Sherwood has him strug­
gling against indecision and the ambitions of his wife and
friends.
Drinkwater, Dixon, and Goodman have his struggle
against his cabinet members.
We have Lincolns with rugged
honesty, sense of duty, kindness of heart, and simplicity.
But we have no dramatized Lincoln with a caustic wit and
kindly, frolicsome humor.
The play of Lincoln has not yet appeared; perhaps, it
never will appear.
It may be a legitimate question whether
Lincoln can be portrayed in all his phases and yet be con­
vincing.
Apparently Lincoln was too complex for anyone to
see or to portray whole.
unsolved.
In drama he remains unmeasured and
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