lincoln was overmatched – 1/24/22

Today's selection -- from The Last American Aristocrat by David S. Brown. Some of Massachusetts’ elite, including Governor Charles Francis and author Henry Francis, looked on newly nominated Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln as “too small” and “overmatched” to handle the growing national emergency

"That May, … Republicans gathered in Chicago and awarded their party's presidential nomination to the Illi­nois lawyer Abraham Lincoln. The Adamses, having supported New York's Senator William Henry Seward, a protege, as a young Whig, of John Quincy Adams, were greatly disappointed. The Governor and his sons looked upon Lincoln as a novice from nowhere, too 'small' to tackle the immense task ahead. 'In '56,' Henry reported to Courier readers with thick sarcasm, 'we had the satisfaction of rejecting our Garibaldi [John C. Fremont, opposed to slavery's extension, lost that year's presidential election to James Buchanan], and now in '60 we have done still better; we have deserted our Cavour [Seward].'...

"Accustomed to elite rule in the republic, a snobbish [Massachusetts Governor] Charles Fran­cis took one look at the new president and his plain wife, Mary Todd, and ran to his diary. 'Neither of them,' he wrote, 'is at home in this sphere of civilization.' Nominated in March to serve as U.S. minister to the United Kingdom, the Governor, back in New England, returned to Washington to acknowledge his benefactor. Some years later Charles Francis Jr., privy to his father's private remembrances, recorded the strained interview between the Boston Brahmin and the prairie politi­cian. His account stressed Lincoln's supposedly awkward and ungainly carriage before the poised Governor, whose education, experience, and patrimony, the younger Charles suggested, deserved a better reception then they received:

Presently a door opened, and a tall, large-featured, shabbily dressed man, of uncouth appearance, slouched into the room. His much­-kneed, ill-fitting trousers, coarse stockings, and worn slippers at once caught the eye. He seemed generally ill at ease, -- in manner, constrained and shy. The secretary [Seward] introduced the min­ister [Charles Francis] to the President, and the appointee of the last proceeded to make the usual conventional remarks, expres­sive of obligation, and his hope that the confidence implied in the appointment he had received might not prove to have been mis­placed. They had all by this time taken chairs; and the tall man lis­tened in silent abstraction. When Mr. Adams had finished, -- and he did not take long, -- the tall man remarked in an indifferent, careless way that the appointment in question had not been his, but was due to the secretary of state, and that it was to 'Gover­nor Seward' rather than to himself that Mr. Adams should express any sense of obligation he might feel; then, stretching out his legs before him, he said, with an air of great relief as he swung his long arms to his head: --  'Well, governor, I've this morning decided that Chicago post-office appointment.' Mr. Adams and the nation's for­eign policy were dismissed together! 

"Appropriating the family view, Henry thought Lincoln clumsy, rus­tic, and decidedly too western. The Harvard in him scorned what he called the 'stump oratory' and crabbed education that he associated with Ohio Valley politicians. Seeing Lincoln only once, at the Inaugu­ral Ball, he scored the sixteenth president as anxious, overmatched, and lacking in 'apparent force,' nervously clasping at his 'white kid gloves.' The future of the republic seemed to Henry a very uncertain thing that evening."



David S. Brown


The Last American Aristocrat




Copyright 2020 by David S. Brown


62, 68-69
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