November 10, 1864 (Thursday)
In his first semi-formal address upon winning the election, President Lincoln said a few words to the serenaders out his window. They were unscripted and informal. On this night, however, he had more to say – so much more that he, in fact, committed them to paper prior to appearing.
When they arrived, he was ready, appearing again at the second story window.
It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies.
On this point the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test; and a presidential election occurring in regular course during the rebellion added not a little to the strain. If the loyal people, united, were put to the utmost of their strength by the rebellion, must they not fail when divided, and partially paralyzed, by a political war among themselves?
But the election was a necessity.
We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forgo, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. The strife of the election is but human-nature practically applied to the facts of the case. What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in similar cases. Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.
But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility. It shows also how sound, and how strong we still are. It shows that, even among candidates of the same party, he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people’s votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began. Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.
But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.
While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.
May I ask those who have not differed with me, to join with me, in this same spirit towards those who have?
And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skillful commanders.
And with that, he was finished. He turned, leaving the window, to his personal secretary, John Hay. “Not very graceful,” he said, “but I am growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing things.”1
- Sources: Collected Works, Vol. 8 by Abraham Lincoln; Diary by John Hay. [↩]