Mr. Lincoln and Friends
by Lewis E. Lehrman
By 1863, General Robert Anderson’s health precluded a strenuous military command, but he needed the compensation of an Army commission. President Lincoln concluded an August 1863 letter to Anderson: “And now, my dear General allow me to assure you that we here are all your sincere friends.”1 As a Union Army major in early 1861, Anderson had commanded Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston until a Confederate bombardment forced him to surrender. Anderson’s steadfast attention to duty was not forgotten by Mr. Lincoln. The President had a careful memory—especially for those who had once given him aid. The Lehrman Institute’s “Mr. Lincoln and Friends” website commemorates President Lincoln’s circle, and provides the personal context for his decisions during the Civil War.
Mr. Lincoln had a special talent for friendship which colleagues often recalled after his death. One Illinois businessman, G.S. Hubbard, recalled: “We were thrown much together, our intimacy increasing. I never had a friend to whom I was more warmly attached. His character was nearly faultless. Possessing a warm, generous heart, genial, affable, honest, courteous to his opponents, persevering, industrious in research, never losing sight of the principal point under discussion.”2
This talent for friendship played an important role in Mr. Lincoln’s personal and political rise once he left his father’s home in 1831. Historian William Lee Miller recently wrote in Lincoln’s Virtues: “Once Lincoln is on his own, in his early twenties, intellectually self-confident as well as amiable, personable, humorous—it is striking how rapidly his life opens out and heads upward. How easily the doors open for him. How few barriers there appear to be. How readily he finds sponsors, and supporters—including persons in the upper ranks of New Salem and Springfield, insofar as New Salem has any upper ranks.”3 According to noted biographer Ida Tarbell, “Lincoln’s simple, sincere friendliness and his quaint humor soon won him a sure, if quiet, social position in Washington” when he went there as a Congressman in 1847.4
Mr. Lincoln’s Illinois friends came repeatedly to his aid , most dramatically when they engineered his nomination for President in 1860. His election, however, cast his friendships in a new light; hishis friends were now potential applicants for jobs for themselves and others.
Mr. Lincoln became a referee—among friends, among factions, among different political interests—for causes, policies, principles and employment. It was a role he had often played, but on a much reduced level compared to the intensity and stresses of the Civil War. Not all his friends adjusted easily to the requirements of his position. Illinois Democrat John A. McClernand, for example, was a valuable ally for the President but a constant source of friction with his military superiors such as Generals Henry W. Halleck and Ulysses S. Grant. In January 1863, President Lincoln wrote McClernand the sort of fatherly counsel for which he became known: “I have too many family controversies, (so to speak) already on my hands, to voluntarily, or so long as I can avoid it, take up another. You are now doing well—well for the country, and well for yourself—much better than you could possibly be, if engaged in open war with Gen. Halleck. Allow me to beg, that for your sake, for my sake, & for the country’s sake, you give your whole attention to the better work.”5
President Lincoln’s focus was always on the “work” so sometimes friendships suffered. He did not need to be surrounded by people who liked each other even though nothing gave him so much joy as conversation with an old friend. For Mr. Lincoln, it was more important to unify his party, restore the national Union, and secure freedom for all Americans.
- Roy P. Basler, ed. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Bruswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953-55), Volume VI, p. 387 (Letter to Robert Anderson, August 15, 1863).
- Recollections of G. S. Hubbard, Chicago, 1882, in The Lincoln Memorial: Album- Immortelles, ed. Osborn H. Oldroyd (Boston: D. L. Guernsey, 1882), p. 305.
- William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography ( Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), p. 24.
- Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, 2 vols. (New York: The Doubleday and McClure Co., 1900), Volume I, p. 210.
- Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 70 (Letter to John A. McClernand,January 22, 1863).