Bross, walked the floor. He saw Lincoln sitting alone at the end of the hall, his head bowed, his gangly arms bent at the elbows, his hands pressed to his face. As Bross approached, Lincoln noticed him and said, "I'm not very well. Lincoln's look at that moment—the classic image of gloom—was familiar to everyone who knew him well.
Such spells were just one thread in a curious fabric of behavior and thought that his friends called his "melancholy. He told jokes and stories at odd times—he needed the laughs, he said, for his survival. As a young man he talked more than once of suicide, and as he grew older he said he saw the world as hard and grim, full of misery, made that way by fate and the forces of God. Lincoln's character," declared his colleague Henry Whitney, "was so marked, obvious and ingrained as his mysterious and profound melancholy.
In I chanced upon a reference to Lincoln's melancholy in a sociologist's essay on suicide. I was intrigued enough to investigate the subject and discovered an exciting movement in the field of Lincoln studies. Actually, it was a rediscovery of very old terrain. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Lincoln's melancholy was widely accepted by students of his life, based as the subject was on countless reminiscences by people who knew him.
But in the s professional historians—taking what they regarded as a "scientific" approach to the study of the past—began to reject personal memories in favor of "hard" evidence. Their wildly inconsistent application of the rule suggests that they really wanted to toss out evidence they found distasteful.
Still, the effect was profound and long-lasting. Then, in the late s and the s, an emerging group of scholars began, independent of one another, to look anew at original accounts of Lincoln by the men and women who knew him. These historians, including Douglas Wilson, Rodney Davis, Michael Burlingame, and Allen Guelzo, had come of age in an era when the major oral histories of Lincoln were treated, as Davis has described it, "like nuclear waste.
They reassessed some accounts, dug up others that had been long forgotten, and began to publish these findings, many for the first time, in lavishly annotated volumes. This work felicitously coincided—post—Richard Nixon—with popular demand for frank portraits of public figures' private lives. Today the combination of basic materials and cultural mood allows us a surprising, and bracing, new view of Abraham Lincoln—one that has a great deal in common with the view of him held by his closest friends and colleagues.
Lincoln did suffer from what we now call depression, as modern clinicians, using the standard diagnostic criteria, uniformly agree. But this diagnosis is only the beginning of a story about how Lincoln wrestled with mental demons, and where it led him. Diagnosis, after all, seeks to assess a patient at just a moment in time, with the aim of treatment. But Lincoln's melancholy is part of a whole life story; exploring it can help us see that life more clearly, and discern its lessons.
In a sense, what needs "treatment" is our own narrow ideas—of depression as an exclusively medical ailment that must be, and will be, squashed; of therapy as a thing dispensed only by professionals and measured only by a reduction of pain; and finally, of mental trials as a flaw in character and a disqualification for leadership. Throughout its three major stages—which I call fear, engagement, and transcendence—Lincoln's melancholy upends such views. With Lincoln we have a man whose depression spurred him, painfully, to examine the core of his soul; whose hard work to stay alive helped him develop crucial skills and capacities, even as his depression lingered hauntingly; and whose inimitable character took great strength from the piercing insights of depression, the creative responses to it, and a spirit of humble determination forged over decades of deep suffering and earnest longing.
The word appears in an age-old definition of melancholia: "fear and sadness without cause. With Lincoln it's instructive to see how he collapsed, but even more so to see how his collapses led him to a signal moment of self-understanding. By Lincoln had lived for four years in New Salem, a village in central Illinois that backed up to a bluff over the Sangamon River. Twenty-six years old, he had made many friends there. That summer an epidemic of what doctors called "bilious fever"—typhoid, probably—spread through the area. Among those severely afflicted were Lincoln's friends the Rutledges.
One of New Salem's founding families, they had run a tavern and boardinghouse where Lincoln stayed and took meals when he first arrived. He became friendly with Ann Rutledge, a bright, pretty young woman with golden hair and large blue eyes. In August of she took sick. Visiting her at her family's farm, Lincoln seemed deeply distressed, which made people wonder whether the two had a romantic, and not just a friendly, bond. After Lincoln's death such speculation would froth over into a messy controversy—one that cannot be, and need not be, resolved. Regardless of how he felt about Rutledge while she was alive, her sickness and death drew Lincoln to his emotional edge.
Around the time of her burial a rainstorm, accompanied by unseasonable cold, shoved him over. Indeed, the villagers' anxiety was intense, both for Lincoln's immediate safety and for his long-term mental health. Lincoln "told Me that he felt like Committing Suicide often," remembered Mentor Graham, a schoolteacher, and his neighbors mobilized to keep him safe.
One friend recalled, "Mr Lincolns friends … were Compelled to keep watch and ward over Mr Lincoln, he being from the sudden shock somewhat temporarily deranged. We watched during storms—fogs—damp gloomy weather … for fear of an accident. After several weeks an older couple in the area took him into their home. Bowling Green, the large, merry justice of the peace, and his wife, Nancy, took care of Lincoln for a week or two.
When he had improved somewhat, they let him go, but he was, Mrs. Green said, "quite melancholy for months. Was Lincoln's melancholy a "clinical depression"? Yes—as far as that concept goes. Certainly his condition in the summer of matches what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders labels a major depressive episode. Such an episode is characterized by depressed mood, a marked decrease in pleasure, or both, for at least two weeks, and symptoms such as agitation, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Five and a half years later, in the winter of —, Lincoln broke down again, and together these episodes suffice for modern clinicians to make an assessment of recurrent major depression. Such labels can help us begin to reckon with Lincoln. Most basically, "clinical depression" means it was serious, no mere case of the blues. Someone who has had two episodes of major depression has a 70 percent chance of experiencing a third.
And someone who's had three episodes has a 90 percent chance of having a fourth. Indeed, it became clear in Lincoln's late twenties that he had more than a passing condition. Robert L. Wilson, who was elected to the Illinois state legislature with Lincoln in , found him amiable and fun-loving. But one day Lincoln told him something surprising. Lincoln said "that although he appeared to enjoy life rapturously, Still he was the victim of terrible melancholly," Wilson recalled.
Yet as we learn about Lincoln, a fixation on modern categories should not distract us from the actual events of his life and the frameworks that he and his contemporaries applied to his condition. In his late twenties Lincoln was developing a distinct reputation as a depressive. At the same time, he was scrambling up the ladder of success, emerging as a leader of the Illinois Whig Party and a savvy, self-educated young lawyer.
Today this juxtaposition may seem surprising, but in the nineteenth-century conception of melancholy, genius and gloom were often part of the same overall picture. True, a person with a melancholy temperament had been fated with an awful burden—but also, in Lord Byron's phrase, with a "fearful gift. But the gift was a capacity for depth and wisdom. Both sides of melancholy are evident in a poem on suicide that Lincoln apparently wrote in his twenties.
Discussed by his contemporaries but long undiscovered, the poem, unsigned, recently came to light through the efforts of the scholar Richard Lawrence Miller, who was aided by old records that have been made newly available. Without an original manuscript or a letter in which ownership is claimed, no unsigned piece can be attributed definitively to an author.
But the evidence points strongly to Lincoln.
Chicago Lithograph of the Emancipation Proclamation by ABRAHAM LINCOLN -
The poem was published in the year cited by Lincoln's closest friend, Joshua Speed, and its syntax, tone, meter, and other qualities are characteristic of Lincoln. The conceit, in other words, is that this is a suicide note. As the poem begins, the anguished narrator announces his intention. Often understood as an emotional condition, depression is to those who experience it characterized largely by its cognitive patterns.
The novelist William Styron has likened his depression to a storm in his brain, punctuated by thunderclaps of thought—self-critical, fearful, despairing. Lincoln clearly knew these mental strains he wrote once of "that intensity of thought, which will some times wear the sweetest idea thread-bare and turn it to the bitterness of death" ; he knew how, oppressed by the clamor, people often become hopeless, and seek the most drastic solution.
This poem illustrates the complex quality of Lincoln's melancholy in his late twenties.
Wit and Wisdom of the American Presidents: A Book of Quotations
He articulated a sense of himself as degraded and humiliated but also, somehow, as special and grand. And though the character in the poem in the end chooses death by the dagger, the author—using his tool, the pen—showed an impulse toward an artful life. Lincoln's poem expressed both his connection with a morbid state of mind and, to some extent, a mastery over it. But the mastery would be short-lived. Like the first, Lincoln's second breakdown came after a long period of intense work. In he had been studying law; in the winter of — he was trying to keep the debt-ridden State of Illinois from collapsing and his political career with it.
On top of this came a profound personal stress. The precipitating causes are hard to identify precisely, in part because cause and effect in depressive episodes can be hard to separate. Ordinarily we insist on a narrative line: factor x led to reaction y. But in a depressive crisis we might feel bad because something has gone awry. Or we might make things go awry because we feel so bad. Or both. For Lincoln in this winter many things were awry. Even as he faced the possibility that his political career was sunk, it seemed likely that he was inextricably bound to a woman he didn't love Mary Todd and that Joshua Speed was going to either move away to Kentucky or stay in Illinois and marry Matilda Edwards, the young woman whom Lincoln said he really wanted but could not even approach, because of his bond with Todd.
Then came a stretch of intensely cold weather, which, Lincoln later wrote, "my experience clearly proves to be verry severe on defective nerves. In January of Lincoln submitted himself to the care of a medical doctor, spending several hours a day with Dr. Anson Henry, whom he called "necessary to my existence. On January 23 Lincoln wrote to his law partner in Washington: "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.
Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me. This spare, direct letter captures the core of depression as forcefully as the Gettysburg Address would distill the essence of the American experiment.
It tells what depression is like: to feel not only miserable but the most miserable; to feel a strange, muted sense of awful power; to believe plainly that either the misery must end or life will—and yet to fear the misery will not end. The fact that Lincoln spoke thus, not to a counselor or a dear friend but to his law partner, indicates how relentlessly he insisted on acknowledging his fears. Through his late twenties and early thirties he drove deeper and deeper into them, hovering over what, according to Albert Camus, is the only serious question human beings have to deal with.
He asked whether he could live, whether he could face life's misery. Finally he decided that he must. Speed recorded the dramatic exchange that began when he came to Lincoln and told him he would die unless he rallied. Lincoln replied that he could kill himself, that he was not afraid to die. Yet, he said, he had an "irrepressible desire" to accomplish something while he lived. He wanted to connect his name with the great events of his generation, and "so impress himself upon them as to link his name with something that would redound to the interest of his fellow man.
In his middle years Lincoln turned from the question of whether he could live to how he would live. Building bridges out from his tortured self, he engaged with the psychological culture of his time, investigating who he was, how he might change, and what he must endure. Having seen what he wished to live for, Lincoln suffered at the prospect that he might never achieve it. Even so, he worked diligently to improve himself, developing self-understanding, discipline, and strategies for succor that would become the foundation of his character. The melancholy did not go away during this period but, rather, took a new form.
Beginning in his mid-thirties Lincoln began to fall into what a law clerk called his "blue spells.
Shop by category
In his memoirs the Illinois lawyer Henry C. Stuart"—Lincoln's first law partner—"while a case was being tried, and our conversation was, at the moment, about Lincoln, when Stuart remarked that he was a hopeless victim of melancholy. I expressed surprise, to which Stuart replied; 'Look at him, now. In one sense these spells indicate Lincoln's melancholy. But they may also represent a response to it—the visible end of Lincoln's effort to contain his dark feelings and thoughts, to wrestle privately with his moods until they passed or lightened.
Cohen, "recovery may be a matter of shifting from protest to more effective ways of mastering helplessness. He worked well and consistently at his law practice, always rousing himself from gloom for work. He and Mary Lincoln whom he had wed in had four boys. He was elected to a term in the United States Congress. Yet his reaction to this honor—he wrote, "Though I am very grateful to our friends, for having done it, [it] has not pleased me as much as I expected"—suggested that through booms and busts, Lincoln continued to see life as hard. Indeed, he developed a philosophical melancholy. Lincoln took the book and wrote,.
At a time when newspapers were stuffed with ads for substances to cure all manner of ailments, it wouldn't have been unusual for Lincoln to seek help at a pharmacy. He had a charge account at the Corneau and Diller drugstore, at South Sixth Street in Springfield, where he bought a number of medications, including opiates, camphor, and sarsaparilla.
On one occasion he bought fifty cents' worth of cocaine, and he sometimes took the "blue mass"—a mercury pill that was believed to clear the body of black bile. To whatever extent Lincoln used medicines, his essential view of melancholy discounted the possibility of transformation by an external agent. He believed that his suffering proceeded inexorably from his constitution—that, in a phrase he used in connection with a friend, he was "naturally of a nervous temperament. Some strategies in response were apparent. As noted, work was a first refuge; he advised a friend, "I think if I were you, in case my mind were not exactly right, I would avoid being idle.
He told stories and jokes, studiously gathering new material from talented peers and printed sources. And he gave vent to his melancholy by reading, reciting, and composing poetry that dwelled on themes of death, despair, and human futility. Yet, somewhat in the way that insulin allows diabetics to function without eliminating the root problem, this strategy gave Lincoln relief without taking away his need for it. Consider his favorite poem, which he began to recite often in his mid-thirties.
It was in one sense, as a colleague observed, "a reflex in poetic form of the deep melancholy of his soul," and in another a way to manage that melancholy. One story of his recitations comes from Lois Newhall, a member of the Newhall Family troupe of singers. During an Illinois tour in the late s the troupe encountered Lincoln and two colleagues, who were traveling the same circuit giving political speeches.
They ended up spending eight days together, and on their last they sat up late singing songs. As the night wore down, Lincoln's colleagues started pressing him to sing. Lincoln was embarrassed and demurred, but he finally said, "I'll tell you what I'll do for you. You girls have been so kind singing for us. I'll repeat to you my favorite poem.
Lincoln first came across the poem in the early s. Then, in , he saw it in a newspaper, cut it out, and committed it to memory. He didn't know who wrote it, because it had been published without attribution. He repeated the lines so often that people suspected they were his own. When Lincoln finished, the room was still. Lincoln, who wrote that? She was eating pancakes the next morning when she felt something behind her. A great big hand came around her left side and covered hers. Then, with his other hand, Lincoln laid a long piece of blue paper beside her. In his mid-forties the dark soil of Lincoln's melancholy began to yield fruit.
When he threw himself into the fight against the extension of slavery, the same qualities that had long brought him so much trouble played a defining role. The suffering he had endured lent him clarity and conviction, creative skills in the face of adversity, and a faithful humility that helped him guide the nation through its greatest peril.
Some people, William Herndon observed, see the world "ornamented with beauty, life, and action; and hence more or less false and inexact. The hunch of old Romantic poets—that gloom coexists with potential for insight—has been bolstered by modern research. Whitcomb, which was published in the Oshkosh Northwestern , April 21, , and in issued in pamphlet form by John E. Misattributed [ edit ] Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.
A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded. Alledgedly from a speech to the Illinois House of Representatives 18 December its called "a remarkable piece of spurious Lincolniana" by Merrill D. Peterson: Lincoln in American Memory. Oxford UP , books. Spurious archive. He only has the right to criticize who has the heart to help. It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to Infidelity.
Claimed by atheist Franklin Steiner, on p. I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky! See, for example, Albert D. The quotation is based on a comment by Rev. Moncure D. Conway about the progress of the Civil War. It is evident that the worthy President would like to have God on his side: he must have Kentucky. Conway , The Golden Hour To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men. Sometimes attributed to Lincoln since a speech of Douglas MacArthur citing him as its author, this is actually from a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
My earlier views on the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them. Letter to Judge J. Wakefield , after the death of Lincoln's son Willie in , as cited in Abraham Lincoln: was he a Christian?
ISBN 13: 9780880880664
America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. First attributed to Lincoln in , this seems a paraphrase of a statement in the Lyceum address of , while incorporating language used by Thomas E. Dewey c. They can only fail if they fail to lend their united support to full production in a free society". Now, I say to you, my fellow-citizens, that in my opinion the signers of the Declaration had no reference to the negro whatever when they declared all men to be created equal.
They desired to express by that phrase, white men, men of European birth and European descent, and had no reference either to the negro, the savage Indians, the Fejee, the Malay, or any other inferior and degraded race, when they spoke of the equality of men. One great evidence that such was their understanding, is to be found in the fact that at that time every one of the thirteen colonies was a slaveholding colony, every signer of the Declaration represented a slave-holding constituency, and we know that no one of them emancipated his slaves, much less offered citizenship to them when they signed the Declaration, and yet, if they had intended to declare that the negro was the equal of the white man, and entitled by divine right to an equality with him, they were bound, as honest men, that day and hour to have put their negroes on an equality with themselves.
No historical record of such a debate actually exists, though there was a famous set of speeches by both in Peoria on 16 October , but transcripts of Lincoln's speech on that date do not indicate that he made such a statement. It in fact comes from a speech made by Douglas in the third debate against Lincoln at Jonesboro, Illinois on 15 September As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless. Purportedly in a letter to Colonel William F. Elkins 21 November after the passage of the National Bank Act 3 June , these remarks were attributed to Lincoln as early as but were denounced by John Nicolay , Lincoln's private secretary and biographer. Nicolay: "This alleged quotation from Mr. Lincoln is a bald, unblushing forgery. The great President never said it or wrote it, and never said or wrote anything that by the utmost license could be distorted to resemble it.
It is more despotic then monarchy. More insolent than autocracy. More selfish then bureaucracy. I see the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned. An era of corruption will follow and the money power of the country, will endeavor to prolong it's reign by working upon the prejudices of the people. Until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
The money power preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him. Be honest, but hate no one; overturn a man's wrongdoing, but do not overturn him unless it must be done in overturning the wrong.
Stand with a man while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong. The last sentence is from the 16 October Peoria speech, slightly paraphrased. No known contemporary source for the rest. Not by Lincoln, this is apparently paraphrased from remarks about honoring him by Hugh Gordon Miller: "I do not believe in forever dragging over or raking up some phases of the past; in some respects the dead past might better be allowed to bury its dead, but the nation which fails to honor its heroes, the memory of its heroes, whether those heroes be living or dead, does not deserve to live, and it will not live, and so it came to pass that in nearly a hundred millions of people [ You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man's initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves. Actually a statement by William J. Boetcker known as "The Ten Cannots" , this has often been misattributed to Lincoln since when a leaflet containing quotes by both men was published. There is no room for two distinct races of white men in America, much less for two distinct races of whites and blacks. I can conceive of no greater calamity than the assimilation of the Negro into our social and political life as an equal Within twenty years we can peacefully colonize the Negro in the tropics and give him our language, literature, religion, and system of government under conditions in which he can rise to the full measure of manhood.
This he can never do here. We can never attain the ideal Union our fathers dreamed, with millions of an alien, inferior race among us, whose assimilation is neither possible nor desirable. On some sites this has been declared to be something Lincoln said "soon after signing" the Emancipation Proclamation, but without any date or other indications of to whom it was stated, and there are no actual historical records of Lincoln ever saying this. Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.
If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will. This is attributed to Lincoln in the film adaptation of Pollyanna. In reality, it was fabricated by screenwriter and director David Swift , who had to have thousands of lockets bearing the false inscription recalled after Disney began selling them at Disneyland. Money is the creature of law and creation of the original issue of money should be maintained as an exclusive monopoly of national government.
These remarks in support of a government-regulated money supply were written by Gerry McGeer , who presented them as his interpretation of what Lincoln believed. McGeer, Gerald Grattan The Conquest of Poverty. Gardenvale, Quebec: Garden City Press. Retrieved on To ease another's heartache is to forget one's own. Quoted in a Edith A. Sawyer , Mary Cameron If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.
Quoted in Herbert V. Prochnow , Speaker's Book of Epigrams and Witticisms The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it. Grant in his First Inaugural Address 4 March : "I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution". The only person who is a worse liar than a faith healer is his patient.